Behavior Assessment Editorial

2007 by Rich Avanzino

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

One of the hottest topics in animal sheltering continues to be behavior assessment, or as it's sometimes called, temperament testing.

Critics say temperament tests are subjective, overly stringent and unfair. The animals who fail are euthanized in the name of public safety, and the shelters go on to talk about the great job they're doing in saving lives.

Of course every animal shelter must make determined efforts to ensure its animal placements are not a threat to public safety. This is the only responsible thing to do.

But I'm in total agreement with Dr. Sheila Segurson when she says in her article Behavioral Assessment in Animal Shelters: "It's virtually impossible for a shelter to assess 'temperament' via a one-time test. Temperament is something that we learn about someone by watching their reactions over a broad range of environments and experiences."

In a perfect world, an initial assessment would be just the first step in a broader program that would include evaluations by different experts at different times, different settings for evaluations including foster homes, treatment plans for rehabilitation, and time and resources to implement treatment plans.

Some progressive animal shelters may be able to provide this already. And I'm looking forward to the day when all shelters can put comprehensive behavior programs in place - when 'one time only' pass/fail tests are a thing of the past.

Dogs and cats in animal shelters deserve to be given a real chance to show who they really are, and to demonstrate that their initial behavior may be a reaction to a very stressful and scary environment, not a threat to public safety.

In a shelter world focused on the importance of every pet's life, all avenues will be explored before a final decision is made to put a dog or cat to death.

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