It has taken decades to achieve the level of success that is happening in animal welfare—and in Colorado, especially, this intense work has led to statewide outcomes that were unimaginable only 30 years ago. Shelters across Colorado have committed to this way of caring for animals and, as a result, animals in Colorado are having superior outcomes: the entire state is at an average 90 percent live release rate. And most of the state is achieving this success while ensuring that no animal is allowed to suffer and that we keep our communities safe. This success has been made possible by thoughtful leadership, by people in our community, by veterinarians, by thousands of shelter workers and volunteers, by many rescue groups, and by collaboration.
Now is the time for a different animal sheltering model. A compassionate model. A transparent model. A thoughtful model. Socially Conscious Sheltering is the future of animal welfare. The fundamental goal of Socially Conscious Sheltering is to create the best outcomes for all animals; which is achieved through:
Every single one. Healthy is defined as either having no signs of clinical disease or evidence of disease that a veterinarian determines has a good or excellent prognosis for a comfortable life. Safe means that the animal has not exhibited behavior that is likely to result in severe injury or death to another animal or person.
An animal’s opportunity to be nurtured, healed, and rehomed should not depend on their age or condition—every community must have a shelter that accepts all animals brought to it. It is unacceptable to turn animals away because they are too old, too sick, too broken.
Animals housed in shelters and rescues must be assessed for disease and injury and must have all medical conditions addressed so the animal does not suffer. These animals must also have their behavioral needs assessed and met, including enrichment sufficient to make them comfortable and to prevent self-destructive, obsessive-compulsive coping behaviors.
Does the community allow trap-neuter-return programs? If so, offer them. Will members of your community adopt animals with chronic disease, are they willing to assume the time and expense of managing that disease? If so, with full disclosure, place them in these homes. Socially Conscious Shelters listen to their communities.
Compassionate euthanasia is a gift. It is not acceptable to let a terminally ill, suffering animal languish in a cage until they die naturally when compassionate euthanasia can ease that endless pain. It is not acceptable to house a known dangerous animal who cannot be safely placed in the community for years until it goes crazy in a cage. Each euthanasia decision is difficult, and every decision must consider the welfare of the individual animal.
Integrating a living being into a new home can be difficult. As adoption agencies, Socially Conscious Shelters have a responsibility to support the new family. This can mean post-adoption behavior advice, classes for new pet caregivers, addressing shelter related medical needs and being willing to accept the animal back if the pet and the family are not a good fit. It also means not placing animals into homes that disrupt the human-animal bond by injuring children, other pets and other people. There are many behavior issues that can be addressed through behavior modification and positive experiences. There are other behaviors that are dangerous and that cannot be mitigated.
Moving dogs and cats from communities that do not have homes available for them to communities where people are actively seeking pets saves lives. However, bringing pets into a community is a responsibility. It is a responsibility to the animals already living in that community to not bring in infectious diseases that would make them sick. It is a responsibility to those living within the community to bring in animals that will live in harmony. And there is a responsibility to the community from which animals are being moved to impact that community’s animal welfare struggles through humane education and spay and neuter programs.
Socially Conscious Shelters are committed to full transparency. This can include reporting accurate statistics, sharing policies, and fully and quickly admitting when mistakes are made. Integrity must be the foundation of all decisions. Every shelter can learn something from every other shelter—it is important to be curious and to share innovative solutions to common problems. Only by working together can we ensure the best outcomes for all animals.