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.
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.