Dr. Catsby

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The Landscape of Shelters

What’s the state of cat welfare work?

When I first took Jade in, theoretically as a foster cat (although that quickly changed), I knew I needed to get her spayed, get her a checkup, and make sure she had all her shots. But, as a 22-year-old just out of college, I didn’t have the funds for a full workup at the vet.

Luckily, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) had a mobile spay and neuter clinic near my neighborhood. Jade got everything taken care of for $125 – a fraction of what it typically costs just to get a cat fixed. If I’d qualified as low-income, it would have cost me $5.

The ASPCA is not the only organization doing amazing work to care for cats and fight the homelessness problem. https://drcatsby.com/blogs/news/overpopulation-and-rescue And, as animal lovers, many of us want to help. But the landscape of shelters and animal welfare work is wide, inconsistent, and riddled with controversies. Let’s take a look at that landscape and figure out how to navigate it so that you can act in the best interest of kitties.

Volunteering – How can you choose a reputable shelter?

Shelters are often shorthanded and overtaxed. You might want to volunteer, and get some time to interact with furry friends (great stress relief!). Or, you might even want to donate money to keep your local shelter running.

There’s barely any regulation written into the law governing how shelters operate. The one federal law that applies, the Animal Welfare Act, mainly governs how farm animals are treated. On the state level, regulation is also scant and inconsistent.

So, how do you figure out whether a shelter does work you can feel good supporting? The shelter and veterinary community does a lot of great self-regulation. Organizations like the Humane Society, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), offer guidelines and support for local shelters.

The AVMA guidelines for shelters are very technical and detailed since they’re written for and by veterinarians. But, they include some questions that us laymen cat-lovers can ask ourselves to assess whether a shelter is safe and healthy for the animals it takes in.

  • Is there a veterinarian on staff or who is consulted about policies related to the maintenance of physical and behavioral animal health?
  • Are staff adequately trained?
  • Are records kept clearly?
  • What is their “capacity for care” and how do they ensure they never exceed it? (must take into consideration: physical space limits, number of enclosures, enough time and staff to meet basic care needs, i.e. at least 15 minutes of feeding/cleaning time per animal every day – going over the capacity to care is deemed unacceptable.)
  • How’s the environment? Is there adequate space and separation between eating, resting, and urinating/defecating spaces?
  • What are the sanitation practices? (The recommendation is for about 9 minutes of cleaning per animal every day.)
  • What are protocols for infectious diseases, such as rabies?
  • What are the spaying and neutering policies?
  • Does the shelter use unattended drop boxes where animals could get injured or die?
  • If the shelter uses euthanasia, what is that protocol/policy?

If the answers to any of these questions give you pause, you can step in and help. Remember that shelters with less-than-ideal practices almost definitely have their heart in the right place. But, they are too often faced with an overwhelming population of homeless animals. The Humane Society http://www.humanesociety.org/animal_community/resources/tips/concerned_shelter.html offers great resources for people concerned about their local shelters.

If you’re not up to volunteer or donate, remember you can foster a cat in your home for your local shelter or the ASPCA https://www.aspca.org/take-action/volunteer/fostering-aspca. This frees up space in shelters and offsets overcrowding.

In the next blog post, we’ll examine the issue of euthanasia, and how concerned cat-lovers can offset it. But, in the meantime, I want to hear from you. Do you volunteer at your local shelter? Why, and what’s it like? Email me at hannah@drcatsby.com.

With love,
Hannah and Jade

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