Socially Conscious Sheltering is a compassionate, transparent and thoughtful model of how shelters can best support vulnerable animals. Socially Conscious Sheltering is a shared set of beliefs that animal welfare organizations around the world are embracing to create best possible outcomes for companion animals.

There are eight tenets of Socially Conscious Sheltering. Shelters across the country have committed to this way of caring for animals and, as a result, animals in these shelters and rescues are having superior outcomes. Every community has a responsibility to its animals and should demand that animals receive the care and respect they deserve. What follows is a summary of these tenets:

  1. Place every healthy and safe animal. Every single one. Healthy means either having no signs of clinical disease or evidence of disease that has a good or excellent prognosis for a comfortable life. Safe means that the animal has not exhibited behavior that is likely to result in severe injury or death to another animal or person.
  2. Ensure every unwanted or homeless pet has a safe place to go for shelter and care. An animal’s opportunity to be nurtured, healed and rehomed should not depend on their age or condition—every community must have a shelter that accepts all animals. It is unacceptable to turn animals away because they are too old, sick or broken.
  3. Assess the medical and behavioral needs of homeless animals and ensure these needs are thoughtfully addressed. The health and medical needs of animals housed in shelters and rescues must be assessed for disease and injury and treated so the animal does not suffer. These animals must also have their behavioral needs assessed and met, including enrichment sufficient to make them comfortable and to prevent self-destructive, obsessive-compulsive coping behaviors.
  4. Align shelter policy with the needs of the community. Socially Conscious Sheltering is designed to fit the needs of individual communities. Does the community allow trap-neuter-return programs? If so, offer them. Will members of your community adopt animals with chronic disease and are they willing to assume the time and expense of managing that disease? If so, with full disclosure, place them in these homes. Socially Conscious Shelters listen to their communities.
  5. Alleviate suffering and make appropriate euthanasia decisions. Compassionate euthanasia is a gift. It is not acceptable to let a terminally ill, suffering animal languish in a cage until it dies naturally when compassionate euthanasia can ease that endless pain. It is not acceptable to house a known dangerous animal who cannot be safely placed in the community for years until it goes crazy in a cage. Each euthanasia decision is difficult and taken seriously to ensure the welfare of the individual animal.
  6. Enhance the human-animal bond through safe placements and post-adoption support. Integrating a new pet into your home can be difficult. As adoption agencies, Socially Conscious Shelters have a responsibility to support the adopting family, which, at a minimum, means the shelter will accept the animal back without shaming the adopter. Other ways organizations can provide post-adoption support include behavior advice, classes for new pet caregivers, and addressing shelter-related medical needs. It also means not placing animals into homes that disrupt the human-animal bond by injuring children, other pets and other people. There are many behavior issues that can be addressed through behavior modification and positive experiences. There are other behaviors that are dangerous and cannot be mitigated.
  7. Consider the health, wellness and safety of animals for each community when transferring animals. Shelters save lives when animals are moved from a community that does not have homes available, to one that does. However, bringing pets into a community is a responsibility. It is a responsibility to the animals already living in that community to not bring in infectious diseases that would make them sick. It is a responsibility to those living within the community to bring in animals that will live in harmony. And there is a responsibility to the community from which animals are being moved to address that community’s animal welfare struggles through programs such as humane education and spay and neuter.
  8. Foster a culture of transparency, ethical decision-making, mutual respect, continual learning and collaboration. Socially Conscious Shelters are committed to full transparency, including reporting accurate statistics, sharing policies and fully and quickly admitting when mistakes are made. Integrity must be the foundation of all decisions. Every shelter can learn something from every other shelter—it is important to be curious and to share innovative solutions to common problems. Only by working together can we ensure the best outcomes for all animals.