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FOSTERING A REVOLUTION: Inside the plan to revolutionize animal shelters

According to the ASPCA, U.S. shelters take in about 6.5 million animals annually; of those, 1.5 million are euthanized. It is the time to dramatically alter what animal shelters do.

NATE BERG: In the spring, when it became clear that COVID-19 was going to dramatically alter society for the foreseeable future, many people went to the pound. Animal shelters across the United States saw adoptions rise and unexpected numbers of people sign up to foster animals in their homes. Pets became the go-to salve for a time of great uncertainty.

For animal shelters, this sudden interest caused a moment of reckoning. “We’re looking at the situation now and saying, ‘Wait a minute, were all of these foster homes available prior to this?’” says Peter Wolf, research and policy analyst for Best Friends Animal Society, a nationwide animal welfare nonprofit. “Somehow, because we were clinging to old assumptions, we weren’t taking advantage of this. So now there’s this whole big conversation going on around community-supported sheltering or community-based sheltering”…

Animal shelters and the people who run them are now rethinking the way the shelter system looks and operates. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, U.S. shelters take in about 6.5 million animals annually; of those, 1.5 million are euthanized. While saving animals is most shelters’ main goal, most of the work turns out to be holding those animals in cells. This has led to the creation of Human Animal Support Services, a network of people working in animal shelters around the United States and Canada who believe now is the time to dramatically alter what animal shelters do…

The model focuses on rethinking 12 key areas of sheltering, including getting lost pets home more quickly, providing need-based medical care, fostering and partnerships that help with everything from mending fences to finding pet-friendly housing. More than 30 shelters have pledged to implement these concepts. Eighteen are putting these practices in place right now…

“It was really a statement by so many of us that things need to change,” says Kristen Hassen, one of the cofounders of HASS and the director of Pima Animal Care Center, a county shelter in Tucson, Arizona. “So many animal shelters, particularly government shelters, are still working off a model that started 150 years ago, which was to treat dogs and cats as nuisances that need to be taken off the streets and impounded, and that the ones that aren’t reclaimed are disposable.” Hassen says animal intake at shelters has become too transactional. “We’ve trained communities that if you find a stray animal or you can’t keep your pet you bring it to the shelter. We have really taught the public that’s how you help”…

HASS is trying to reeducate communities to avoid bringing animals to the shelter unless necessary, giving animals in the shelter more space and freeing up funding to provide a wider range of services and support. “So if you find a stray dog today, instead of just driving it to the shelter, we ask you to call the shelter, we get all the information, and we ask you if you’re able to hold the animal for a couple of days to give the owner time to get it home,” Hassen says. “And we do the detective work.” Instead of taking in the animal and doing the typical cleaning and medical checks, the shelter staff can focus on tacking down the animal’s microchip information and contacting the owner, or posting the animal on social media…

Shelter facilities are also being changed or redesigned to shift how services are provided. Heather Lewis leads the HASS building and facility working group to develop concepts for how shelters can physically adapt to achieve the initiative’s goals… “Traditionally animal shelters have been essentially warehouses for animals,” she says. “We’ve learned over the years from shelter medicine experts, we’re giving animals far too little room. And once we move past this warehousing mentality, we can actually completely revolutionize how we’re housing these pets, and give them better housing and less stressful housing.” SOURCE…

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