What Is a Treatable Shelter Pet Editorial

2005 by Richard Avanzino

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

Maddie's Fund is using its resources to help build a no-kill nation. We define a no-kill nation as one in which all healthy and treatable shelter dogs and cats are guaranteed a loving home.

But what is a "treatable" dog or cat?

Many shelters determine a treatable pet by looking at how much they can afford to spend in relation to the animal's prognosis. Others consider treatable to be what the furthest reaches of science can provide.

A new approach was recently pioneered by a group of respected animal welfare leaders. After months of negotiation, they reached a consensus on a definition for treatable and published it in the Asilomar Accords.

According to the Asilomar Accords, treatable shelter animals are those likely to become healthy or maintain a satisfactory quality of life if given intervening medical, foster, behavioral or other care "equivalent to the care typically provided to pets by reasonable and caring pet guardians in the community."

I believe, at the very least, shelters should attempt to provide homeless pets the same kind of care that a reasonable and caring pet guardian in their community would offer their own companion animal. But what is reasonable care? Would a reasonable and caring pet guardian in your community treat their puppy if he came down with parvo? Would they see their cat through a bout of URI? What about all the other conditions we see in our shelters? Short of compiling extensive and costly surveys, how do we know what a reasonable and caring pet guardian in any given community would do? How do shelter workers apply such notions to their day to day operations?

I would start by bringing together a representative group of professionals who interact with pet guardians the most - animal welfare workers and veterinarians - and ask them to develop a consensus. The outcome of the session would be what we call a matrix, a guide for the community's shelters that lists the various conditions seen in the shelters, whether the conditions are treatable (based on the standard of a reasonable pet guardian in that community) and a treatment protocol for each.

The treatable designation need not require the shelters to provide the called-for treatment or rehabilitation. The idea is to put in writing what the shelters are aiming to achieve for the community's homeless pets.

After initial determinations are made by the representative group, a serious effort should be made to expand the number of stakeholders, particularly private practice veterinarians since they unquestionably see the greatest number of guardians who are dealing with the question of treating or not treating their companion animals.

In previous editorials, I've talked about the importance of definitions and statistics. A matrix is the next step in developing accountability and transparency. When published with definitions and community statistics, a matrix (and an explanation of how it was determined) gives shelters and the public a much better picture of where they've come from, where they're at and where they must go to reach their lifesaving goals.

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