Many individuals and groups have important roles in animal welfare, but you and your colleagues in animal sheltering—on the front line of saving lives in communities—have some of the most enormous and challenging responsibilities.
So many of you are doing exemplary work—innovating and acting boldly, deepening your connections with your communities and community leaders, and embracing new models of effectiveness and efficiency in service of both people and pets.
But we also know shelters and communities across the United States not living up to those responsibilities, or adequately meeting the needs of animals in their care or their communities.
These shelters too often fail to engage potential adopters and partners, remain passive and conservative instead of proactive and progressive, and are commonly guarded and defensive about their work and outcomes. Instead of leading their communities toward improving the welfare of local animals through direct engagement and increased transparency, these shelters are doing a great disservice to those most in need.
But we’ve seen community successes in every corner of the country—including those through the ASPCA Partnership Program and the $100K Challenge, and we have ample proof that positive change can happen, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
For struggling shelters to improve, three things must happen:
- We must continue to work together. When the very best partner with those who are struggling, more lives are saved and struggling shelters improve.
- Shelters must continue to evolve—transforming from places where animals go, to places where animals leave. Or better yet, places where animals never enter in the first place.
- Community leaders must step up their support for animal services, both financially and philosophically.
"Shelters must continue to evolve, transforming from places where animals go, to places where animals leave. Or better yet, places where animals never enter in the first place."
A call to elevate expectations of shelters
To help guide the continued positive impact of our field, the ASPCA crafted a statement on the responsibilities of animal shelters, which I’m happy to outline here.
This call to elevate the expectations we have of shelters—and of one another—means setting baseline standards on housing, sanitation, medical treatment, disease control, socialization protocols, and other behavior interventions.
It means removing delays to making surrendered animals immediately eligible for adoption.
It means acting without prejudice against people—based on economic, social, racial or cultural reasons. Likewise it means not acting against animals based solely on breed.
It means ensuring shelters have the flexibility to reduce or waive adoption fees. We simply can’t afford to put barriers between suffering animals and safe homes.
It means continuing our efforts—with the highest standards—to transfer shelter pets to rescue groups or to areas where they stand a better chance of adoption, and doubling down on efforts to reconnect owners with their lost pets.
It means legally requiring ID tags for all owned dogs and cats living or venturing outdoors, and ending any use of hold times as a reason for euthanasia.
Finally, it means shelters committing to transparency—releasing data on intake and outcomes, including euthanasia. Transparency is one of the most effective ways to build community trust and support; secrecy is one of the fastest ways to lose it.
With so many lives at stake, best efforts from all animal shelters are not just helpful, not even just important; they are required.
Many of you reading this are already leading the way with your innovative work. Let’s model our successes to lift communities that need help, and improve the lives of people and pets across the country.
These goals and positions can hopefully be a compass on that journey.
Please read the complete ASPCA Position Statement on Responsibilities of Animal Shelters and let us know you think they might mean for your agency and for our field in general.
ASPCA President and CEO
Matthew Bershadker has been president and CEO of the ASPCA since May 2013. A nearly 15-year veteran of the nation’s first animal welfare organization, Bershadker previously served as senior vice president of the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Group, the division responsible for programs and initiatives that confront animal cruelty and suffering on all levels across the country. He has been at the forefront of many of the ASPCA’s most innovative programs, including a groundbreaking collaboration between the ASPCA and the New York City Police Department in order to provide enhanced protection to New York City’s animals.
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