Defining What it Means to Have a Model

2003 by Rich Avanzino

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

Over the past year I've read dozens of news articles about animal shelters, many of them describing overcrowded, dirty, and poorly managed facilities. So what might a really good animal shelter look like and how might it operate? Here are my thoughts.

In a top-notch shelter, every pet has ample space to move about freely in clean quarters and comfortable surroundings.

Every shelter pet has an enriched environment. For dogs, that includes daily walks, toys, social interaction with other dogs, and play time with people. Cats have toys to chase, places to hide, towers to climb, and ample attention from loving humans. Cats and dogs have natural light streaming in through outside windows, allowing them to stay attuned to the natural rhythms of life and enjoy the warmth of the sun.

Quality medical care is available. At least one full time veterinarian implements a program to keep the "herd" healthy. Medical staff is available to diagnose and treat sick or injured animals and take care of those who become sick during their shelter stay.

Animal behaviorists are on hand to maintain the behavior of well-socialized, friendly, outgoing dogs and cats, and to improve the behavior of shy, rambunctious, or fearful animals.

The shelter is designed to prevent the spread of disease. The facility includes areas for intake/diagnosis, observation, quarantine, and medical treatment. All animal housing areas have proper airflow, circulation, humidity and temperature. The shelter is laid out to reduce environmental stresses such as barking and provocative visual stimulation.

The shelter is a welcoming place that looks more like a community center than a jail. It has an outdoor park for dog exercise, play, socialization, and training. Inside, the facility is cheery, quiet, odor free and well-maintained.

Animals are displayed in ways that enhance their appeal and speed their adoption. Black dogs might wear brightly colored neckerchiefs. Habitats might be decorated, perhaps like kindergartens with painted backgrounds and dog agility equipment or like homes with soft animal beds and chairs. Animal quarters are inviting and roomy enough to allow a potential adopter to step inside and get acquainted.

Shelter staff provides high quality customer service. Paid staff and volunteers are upbeat, friendly and outgoing. They are knowledgeable about their "inventory," and able to educate potential adopters in areas of basic animal behavior and responsible pet care.

The shelter maintains "adopter friendly" hours (staying open evenings and weekends) and "adopter friendly" pricing so that not just the wealthy can take home a pet.

Shelter staff analyze their "inventory" at intake, determining whether the animal is healthy and immediately adoptable or in need of medical or behavioral intervention and treatment. Appropriate treatment or foster care is provided to those in need.

Aggressive adoption programs find loving new homes for pets quickly to save more lives and prevent health and behavior problems associated with length of stay. One to two weeks is the placement goal for every animal. Animals that linger beyond four weeks are given extra attention in terms of behavior modification, training, advertising and promotion.

Shelter managers track the number of animals coming in, the number adopted, the number treated and the number euthanized as a means of determining lifesaving successes and failures. Routine evaluations of goal attainment are conducted.

Potential adopters are screened to insure suitable animal placement.

All animals are spayed and neutered prior to adoption.

Every healthy dog and cat is guaranteed a loving new home.

Every sick, injured and poorly behaved pet is rehabilitated and placed.

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