Some years ago I gave a workshop on Customer Service at the Coastal Animal Services Authority (CASA) in San Clemente, CA. A woman approached me after the workshop and told me she was an active volunteer at CASA, but previous to this she had “boycotted” animal shelters for over 20 years. She explained she had gone to a shelter to adopt a dog and the shelter was dirty and smelly, the animals were unkempt and the staff was rude and dismissive. She vowed never to adopt a shelter animal and kept to the personal pledge for over two decades. Years later she moved to San Clemente and found a dog who had just been hit by a car on the side of the road. She called her veterinarian, but it was Sunday and the clinic wasn’t open. She then called the police, who suggested she call CASA; she had doubts but had run out of options. So she called and, long story short, CASA sent someone to pick up the dog, arranged for emergency treatment and found the owner who was frantically looking for the dog—a perfect ending. A couple of days later out of curiosity she went to CASA to check it out, and she found it to be everything the “shelter” she remembered was not. It was warm, welcoming and clean, and the animals were happy and well-kept. She started to volunteer and hasn’t stopped since.
Bad shelters give us all a black eye
If it’s true that a rising tide lifts all ships, then the opposite is possible, too; low tides (or in our case low standards—or lack of standards altogether) can leave us all... well... stuck in the mud! The public doesn’t discern the difference between Shelter A and B. If Shelter A is bad (providing poor care, maintaining unfriendly staff, failing to meet even minimum standards), the conclusion is Shelter B is bad as well. Without standards to which all shelters are held accountable, the reputation of one subpar organization can affect us all. Standards set minimum specifications regarding shelter operations that protect the mental and physical health of the animals cared for and housed by the shelter, helping to ensure better outcomes.
A great place to start, when considering what minimum guidelines might be appropriate for your community or state, are the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, published by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. ASPCApro has also packaged the ASV Guidelines into a set of easily understandable and actionable checklists. The ASPCA, like ASV, recognizes that shelters come in all shapes, sizes and configurations and sure, each community is unique, but that does not negate the need for minimum standards with which all shelters must comply.
Standards for the operation of shelters can address a wide range of issues including facilities, sanitation, medical protocols and animal care. Standards ensure reliability and assure the public that their expectations are met. Standards are the underpinning of consistency and credibility.
"The time has come for shelters to demand minimum standards that help ensure that animals do not become less likely to be adopted as a result of their shelter stay."
The five goals of our position statement
ASPCA’s position statement on the Responsibilities of Shelters is organized by five goals, the first of which is that animals in shelters routinely receive necessary and appropriate care. In support of that goal, we believe minimum standards for facilities, sanitation, medical protocols and enrichment/socialization should be required by law.
In some states, like Colorado, minimum guidelines are already in place. The Pet Animal Care Facilities Program is responsible for ensuring that pet care facilities meet, or exceed, minimum standards for physical facilities, sanitation, heating, cooling, spatial and enclosure requirements, nutrition, humane care and more.
The time has come for shelters to demand minimum standards that help ensure that animals do not become less likely to be adopted as a result of their shelter stay. They also must advocate in their own communities for the financial support needed, from both public and private sources, to provide shelter animals’ proper care. I think we can all agree—the animals in our shelters deserve nothing less!