Animal sheltering in the United States: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow - Veterinary Medicine
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Animal sheltering in the United States: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow
Dog pounds are a thing of the past. Today's animal shelters are community centers that provide numerous public services. But these services, such as behavior classes, often require veterinary input. Are you up to the challenge?


No-kill movement

One of the most profound trends is the rise of the no-kill movement, which began in San Francisco in 1989 under the leadership of Richard Avanzino. The San Francisco SPCA relinquished its contract for animal control to instead work with the San Francisco municipal animal control agency to end the euthanasia of adoptable animals. This action had a far-reaching impact on the entire animal welfare movement. Many other animal sheltering agencies followed suit, leading to an often heated and ongoing philosophical debate about the use of euthanasia as a primary means of animal control. Open-admission shelters, which must accept every animal regardless of the circumstances, felt a stigma was attached to them by the no-kill shelters, which often have the means and resources other than euthanasia for managing their numbers.

Despite the rift in the animal welfare community, the result of the debate has been a concerted effort by shelters and communities across the country to reduce the number of adoptable animals that are euthanized by focusing on programs that increase adoptions and reduce relinquishments and the number of unwanted animal births. Maddie's Fund (, a multimillion-dollar charitable foundation, has contributed substantially to the development of university and community programs designed to end the euthanasia of adoptable companion animals.

Asilomar Accords

The Asilomar Accords (available at were drawn up in 2004 by a group of leading animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA, HSUS, American Humane, North Shore Animal League America, Best Friends Animal Society, Dumb Friends League, and Society of Animal Welfare Administrators. The groups agreed to work with each other in the spirit of collegiality and to end the use of inflammatory terms that are self-defeating to the common cause of ending the euthanasia of healthy animals. The accords also strived to encourage animal welfare organizations to share information and use common terminology, definitions, and statistics to create consistency in reported data. For example, according to the accords, "healthy means and includes all dogs and cats eight weeks of age or older that, at or subsequent to the time the animal is taken into possession, have manifested no signs of a behavioral or temperamental characteristic that could pose a health or safety risk or otherwise make the animal unsuitable for placement as a pet, and have manifested no sign of disease, injury, a congenital or hereditary condition that adversely affects the health of the animal or that is likely to adversely affect the animal's health in the future." Other definitions provided by the accords include treatable, rehabilitatable, and manageable.


Although microchipping is only now achieving widespread attention in veterinary practices, shelters have been scanning and implanting microchips for years. In New York State, although microchipping is defined to be a practice of veterinary medicine, an exemption was created in the veterinary practice act that allows shelter personnel to implant microchips in shelter animals awaiting adoption.4

Colony housing

The way animals are housed in shelters has undergone many changes. Shelters that once housed animals in groups in the 1970s and '80s and then switched to individual cages to reduce disease are now switching back to group and colony housing in an attempt to reduce stress and thereby possibly decrease susceptibility to disease. Some people believe that appropriately designed colony housing has also resulted in decreased loneliness in shelter animals and an increased adoption rate because animals appear more natural, relaxed, and attractive to potential owners.

Fewer puppies and kittens

The typical animal relinquished to shelters is now thought to be an adolescent or older pet, rather than a puppy or kitten. Some animal shelters in the Northeast and elsewhere have experienced shortages of adoptable puppies, which some have attributed to their aggressive neutering efforts. So transport programs have been developed to transfer adoptable puppies from areas in the South where there is an oversupply to areas of high demand and low supply.


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