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The Building Does Not Dictate the Program

Are you running a shelter out of a less-than-ideal facility? Is that getting in the way of providing good programs for the animals in your care? The ASPCA’s Kate Pullen asks some more tough questions and shares an inspiring example of an all-volunteer agency that’s making it work out of a decommissioned fire station!



“The building does not dictate the program.”

Anyone who has spent any time working with me has more than likely heard me say that phrase. You’ll hear it whenever I am especially impressed with an agency that has focused on working hard to establish an excellent program in spite of a building that’s less than ideal.

Yes, a building that’s falling down or dysfunctional presents challenges. But having seen many instances in which organizations have exercised incredible creativity and ingenuity (and common sense!) to surmount those challenges, I’m convinced that just as a new building isn’t THE solution, an old one shouldn’t serve as an excuse.

So these agencies, the ones working out of less–than-ideal facilities—some as less than ideal as a series of out buildings strung together!—What are they doing to make things work?

For one, they have operational infrastructure. They have clarity on how to use the space to create isolation and separation between species, and for health. They have given their staff and volunteers clear direction on how to clean and care for the animals to maintain consistency (dare I say Standard Operating Procedures?!). They may have decided that the building cannot support the treatment of infectious animals, so they have foster arrangements for treatment of these animals, or arrangements with the local vet to provide care. Or, they may have decided there are only certain illnesses they can treat in-house, so they’ve strengthened pathways out for those animals. They have evaluated their adoptions program to move animals out with a sense of urgency, keeping the population moving and healthy. They have looked at their facilities through a new lens, and decided, say, that the contents of the storage room could be kept in an outside shed—and by adding some ventilation and rearranging, that room could be an excellent, quieter location for small dogs with injuries.

Need an example? Denison Animal Welfare Group, a small but mighty nonprofit run out of a decommissioned fire station, 100-percent directed and managed by volunteers, is a true illustration of the importance of this type of infrastructure. They have runs with cross contamination, but no outbreaks of illness. Their dog runs are single-sided (that’s another topic for another blog!), so to manage better, they set up outside cleaning rotation runs so the dogs can get outside, still separate with no nose-to-nose contact while their main kennels are cleaned in the morning. All animals have daily enrichment both outside for stretching and in the cage/run during the day.



Additionally, the volunteers have access to current SOPs that are posted in each area with a lead volunteer each day holding everyone accountable to process. They have an active relocation and adoption program and are not okay with any dog or cat staying longer than necessary—because everyone is on the same page with a goal to move them out and into homes quickly. This agency is the perfect example of not letting a building (or, in this case, an old fire station!) get in the way of excellent programs for the animals in their care. 


So, a hard question for you: How many of us are using the building as an excuse? I challenge everyone to look at it another way and instead ask, How can we ensure we’re delivering the best possible programming in spite of building limitations?


The ASPCA’s Kate Pullen, Senior Director, Shelter Outreach, has over 26 years of shelter experience. She is a sought-after advisor and expert on shelter operations, program development, shelter design, program implementation, disaster response, crisis intervention, board operations and strategic development.


Related Links

Creating SOPs
Implementing SOPs
Tips on Segregating Animal Populations