Emma’s blog

Welcome to my blog

This is my blog about our role on the planet as Animal Balance. This involves all of us and through this blog, we can connect, open up minds and essentially shake things up in order to move our collective direction forward; increasing global love and compassion.

Thank you for taking the time to read it.


Emma Clifford

Founder and Executive Director

Animal Balance


Blog #5:Shelter Freedom

In this blog, I would like to talk about the US sheltering system.

You might wonder why I have any right to speak to this as Animal Balance does not work on mainland USA. Simply stepping outside the US can provide you with a clearer view of what is occurring at home. We find ourselves humbled and we reevaluate our priorities. Our amazing volunteers come from every single part of the animal welfare world. They share a slice of current opinions, experiences and thoughts. Quite often, our meal times become debates on how we can do better back home. Listening and talking to other countries' authorities and community’s about creating the right strategy for their unique situation, helps us open our minds and hearts to different approaches.

In my humble opinion, we are now moving beyond No Kill in the US. We are all talking and thinking about how we can do even better for the animals. The social change that is necessary to spark change, is already occurring across the US.

We, at Animal Balance, have named this next step, Shelter Freedom. Freedom for the shelter to use resources more efficiently to save lives, and Freedom for the animals so they may live in homes, not cages.

Even though we named it Shelter Freedom, every community will use the name that best resonates within that community. No one can own social change movements - they organically develop as more and more people think and talk about a subject. Then, changes in behavior follow the thought process and before you know it, we are all living a different ‘now’. This change starts with our own evolution.

Essentially Shelter Freedom boils down to 4 main changes: -

  • The Building: used for helping the animals most at risk and those held by law.
  • Community Sheltering: all other animals are placed in temporary homes.
  • The Staff: expert consultants, helping people keep their companion animals with their family, providing day-time off-site adoption services, community sheltering support, return-to-field-services etc. (see diagram below).
  • Funding: grants and donations are given in support of this strategy.

It is already happening across the United States in varying degrees. Progressive animal welfare institutions are repurposing their funds and therefore, the use of their building. Foundations are gradually starting to change their guidelines to push this new agenda. Animal Community Centers and Centers of Compassion are being established. However, changing the name alone doesn’t get the animals out of the cages… but it is exactly the right path to that end. Sometimes changing the name, sparks the social change that is to come. Click on the diagram below to enlarge.

We can all agree upon the fact that a home with a family is a much better accommodation for a dog or cat than a cage. We know from our experience of institutionalizing humans at risk, that a home and social environment helps people reconnect with society again in a healthy way. Taking away freedom, increases poor social interactions and perpetuates problems for any species.

It’s time for us to embrace and celebrate our communities, trust them and make animal foster care the norm in every household. It is certainly time for a new name for foster care. It needs to be hip and fun and make people feel good, e.g. Freedom Friends, Nugget Nannies, or whatever works in your community. The goal is to embrace it and make it fit your community using fun words that will increase community support. Sheltering animals in the community is key.

While we initially built fancy shelters to encourage people to visit them and to change the image of the sad pound, we actually went way too far down that road. We have created a multi-million dollar industry based on fancy shelters, rather than saving those at risk. The wrong beings are benefiting from this effort, essentially the architects and construction companies. The building should be used to provide specialized help for the most critical cases (medical and behavioral) spay/neuter and all the community support services as described in the diagram above.

The shelter staff, who have such an incredible wealth of knowledge about every animal-human issue and every resource in their community, must be recognized and respected as a major resource. This strategy is dependent on their unique knowledge. Their jobs transform and evolve to companion animal counsellors and specialists. Their goals become to prevent relinquishment and provide key counselling services to the foster parents and to those who are having challenges with their own companion animals. Their jobs would be so much more rewarding and, as such, staff turnover would decline. The shelter vets would be providing care to the most critical of cases, ensuring the best use of their specialized skill sets. Everyone would be using their particular skill sets in a targeted manner, helping the most at risk animals. It is a much more efficient system and allows the same ‘shelter team’ to help those animals and people, who really need their help.

Foundations and large animal welfare groups are just starting to listen to this and take note. Most of us are dependent on their funding parameters and choices. Their recommendations often directly influence the funds that can be obtained from government by NGO’s. Their collective choices are incredibly important as to the direction of animal welfare in the US.

Animal Balance acts to stop the ‘shelter cycle’, globally. When we plan a program in another country, I always meet with the ministers of government and every single time, I am asked when we are going to build an animal shelter, like we have in the US. My response is this;

More animals are killed in the US at shelters, than die from disease, or accidents. Shelters are not the answer, but let me explain to you how we can create a program together, that is based on social change, rather than a building. The animals are an integral part of your community and as such, we work with the community to take care of them. We will use our collective resources to not only humanely reduce your cat and dog populations, but also provide the tools to the community so they can better take care and responsibility for them. You do not need an animal shelter, we just need to work together to create balance again.


#4 ‘Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’! Audrey Hepburn

January 2017 I have been going to the Galapagos Islands for 13 years now. It is my second home. For most people, the sharks, giant rays, tiny penguins, blue footed boobies, flamingos, giant tortoises and pre-historic looking iguanas blow their mind and change them forever. It is not that I have become blasé about the amazing creatures who live there, not at all. I saw more animals on this trip that I have ever seen, which tells you that they are being well protected by the Agency for the Protection of Bio-Diversity – ABG, The Galapagos National Park Service and all the other agencies. For example, we used to see about 6 flamingos at the ponds on Isabela Island and this time we saw over 50 and we saw baby iguanas everywhere, in places the ground was a moving black mass of them. The native animals are returning, a sign that the new protection plans are working. What totally blew my mind however, was the number of old dogs we said hello to. You see, when we started the dog sterilization program, everyone died around 2 years of age, there were no middle aged, and certainly no old dogs on the Galapagos. Children thought that this was normal and would be given another puppy to play with, once their other one died. The children didn’t form long-life bonds with their animals, they simply acquired another one. While on Isabela Island, I ran into Sara, Lara’s Mum. Lara is now 13 years old and was the first dog that we spayed. She and her Mum came up to me and Sara smiled andsaid ‘it worked Emma, the program really worked’. Lara gave me a tail way of ‘hey it’s you, nice to see you’, it was beyond magical. Then Pelusa popped out of a local restaurant where she lives and came over for hugs. Her Dad said she is now 16 years old and probably the oldest dog on the islands. He was dead proud I might add. These old dogs represent what is possible.

Another magical moment was when we arrived on Santa Cruz Island, which is the main island with the largest human population and where all agencies have their headquarters.  Dra. Marilyn Cruz, who is the Director of ABG, had managed to keep her new spay/neuter clinic a secret from me until we arrived. It had been built at ABG’s Headquarters, I cried, as did the entire Animal Balance team, as did Dra. Cruz. She and I had dreamt about building a clinic for 13 years and now, here it was. What was once laughed at as a ridiculous concept, had happened.

What they said was impossible, was possible.

What we have all done together is create social change. It took all of us to achieve it. The people who are mandated to protect the native species, worked with those who are mandated to protect the non-native species. Once the community was given the tools and training, they took responsibility for their animals and every relationship changed. We all understood the only way to create a more harmonious living space for all species was for all humans from all spheres to work together. Essentially, if we could not work together, the animals could not live together and many would die as a result; so we did.

Old dogs, a new spay/neuter clinic and vast numbers of native species in the same space. Never let anyone tell you that something is impossible, never. Oh! and I also swam with 6 feet long, very scary looking sharks, I would have said that was impossible too Nope, I did it. I’m possible.

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#3 Animal Warriors in American Samoa!

We currently have a team deployed in American Samoa, working with Alofa Mo Meaola (Love for Animals) the Department of Agriculture and the whole Samoan community. They are in the middle of an intense and targeted, community cat sterilization program. We are sharing the campaign news on our Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AnimalBalance/

Alley Cat Allies kindly funded this clinic, which is the first targeted cat clinic of its kind in American Samoa. Over the past 6 months, the 100 Tru-Catch cat traps and transfer cages were shipped down, in donated space available in containers of car tires. Everyone has worked tirelessly to create this clinic and now we are seeing incredible results come out of American Samoa; they are trapping around 50 cats most nights and systematically moving from village to village! The Department of Agriculture has joined forces with us and they are sterilizing the dogs at the clinic at the same time – amazing international teamwork!

Our volunteers are hard core; they are Animal Warriors! They traveled for 24 hours and then within hours of their arrival they met their partners, unpacked the supplies, set the clinic up in a pavilion and trapped the first cats. Kaboom!  The days are long, hot, sweaty and it is demanding physical work, that often has harsh emotional elements to it. I really do have so much respect for every single person who participates in an Animal Balance campaign; you are pushed to your limit and your life is changed forever.

The Team is currently teaching the Park Service how to safely trap feral cats, deliver them to the clinic and return them to their territories. We all understand the challenges when working with predator and prey species, and rather than fight with one another over which is perceived as the more important species ‘to save’, we instead share our techniques and information and work together to protect all species in the most humane, efficient and logical manner. This has been Animal Balance’s approach since we started on the Galapagos Islands in 2004.


We encourage and coach local community members with whom we work, to set up their own non-profits in order to raise funds for medications and receive off-island veterinary teams like ours. Love for Animals was created by Mona and Nick King, following a MASH clinic for dogs which Animal Balance held in 2012. They saw their community’s need and knew they had to create a way for vet teams to come and help, as the island does not have the capacity to sterilize the large numbers of cats and dogs themselves. They are now collecting their own database of veterinary volunteers who want to help in the future. Alofa Mo Meaola will act like Animal Balance and bring in veterinary teams to help humanely reduce the cat and dog populations on their island.

Participating in an Animal Balance clinic, or one with our partners, is an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience. Many of our volunteers now ‘need’ to go on a campaign every few years, to rejuvenate, to remind themselves of why they do what they do and to meet like-minded people from around the world. Sharing our collective mission with strangers might seem scary, and what we find is, we are all the same, wanting to work towards a greater good. When we unite and share, we are an immensely strong force for positive change and as a consequence, the world becomes a kinder place.

There really is no other adventure like it!

To apply to Animal Balance, click here 

To apply to Alofa Mo Meaola directly in American Samoa, please email them at alofamomeaola@gmail.com