To Optimize Outcomes, Animal Shelter Regulations Need Nuance

Annie Hornish

This year, The Humane Society of the United States joined the Department of Agriculture and many others in filing testimony in opposition to House Bill 6016, a state bill that would have made animal shelter regulations exactly the same for both municipal shelters and private rescue shelters. This bill was fortunately killed, as it would have had unintended negative consequences for both types of shelters: some municipal shelters may have been forced to close down, and progressive, state-of-the-art private shelters may have had to “downgrade” their facilities.

When considering shelter regulations, it’s vital to understand that municipal shelters and private rescues have different roles and functions. Municipal shelters are public entities that take in stray and injured animals, many with unknown veterinary or vaccination histories, and thus must focus primarily on disease control, including the provision of quarantine areas. Private animal rescue shelters often take in animals with a known history of veterinary care (and often do not have an obligation to quarantine animals), and are positioned to provide longer stays and robust behavioral enrichment that will increase chances of adoption—a service outside the fiscal means and scope of most municipal animal control shelters.

The undesirable real-world result, if this bill had passed, would be that municipal shelters would be forced to close down if they could not afford to upgrade their facilities and services. (Note: Shelters must already comply with regulations from the Department of Agriculture, per Section 22-336-15, and most everyone, including the Department of Agriculture, agrees that these regulations should be strengthened.)

On the other end of the spectrum, there would have been negative consequences to progressive shelters who operate utilizing the very highest facility standards of care. These state-of-the-art private shelters would incur the costs of down-converting to kennels, confounding their ability to provide the specialized care that includes cage-free and home-like environments with labor-intensive behavioral training. Instead of a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach, such progressive, state-of-the-art private shelters should be acknowledged for satisfying the “highest tier” of quality sheltering (example: Our Companions Animal Sanctuary in Ashford).

Many municipal shelters work hand-in-hand with private rescues to help find homes for animals; such partnerships provide evidence of not only these different roles and functions, but how public and private shelters complement each other in furtherance of finding homes for animals.

Promoting these partnerships between municipal shelters and private animal rescue shelters is essential so that all animals can receive the care they need to find forever homes. Regulations that dictate standards of care must be nuanced in order to make sense of real-world concerns, namely, function and fiscal means. Only then will the best outcomes for shelter animals, as determined by the metric of successful adoptions, be achieved.

Annie Hornish is Connecticut State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a member of The Sierra Club

To Optimize Outcomes, Animal Shelter Reg

Three elderly dogs who were adopted into a loving home. There is increasing demand for elderly dogs and cats, with kind-hearted people seeking to make the final years of life for these elderly dogs as good as possible. Photo credit: Annie Hornish.