Community-Based Solutions to Managing Companion Animal Populations
For previously owned stray and abandoned animals, placing them into a new home with a new owner (rehoming or adoption) is an ideal welfare solution. However for many animals, including most feral and many street and community pets, confinement in a home or in a shelter facility is likely to cause unacceptable stress, and may pose potential health risks to humans through human-directed aggression. In such cases, alternatives such as TNR should be sought. Euthanasia may have to be considered to avoid long-term confinement if there are no available suitable options.
Where rehoming of animals is being undertaken, an organized approach is essential. This may include using a network of interim foster homes with well-trained caregivers, and/or a sheltering facility, and/or leaving the animal in place (with support) until an appropriate placement can be found.
The success of a rehoming/adoption intervention depends on the availability of holding facilities such as shelters or foster homes, and on the community’s attitude towards adopting pets; if there is no past precedence of owners obtaining pets via adoption, the number of animals held will likely increase, leading to overcrowding and poor welfare. If negative ideas exist towards adoption, an educational intervention on the advantages of adopting should be in place before starting any population management program.
In many shelter situations, the potential number of animals entering greatly outweighs resources, space and the availability of new homes. Therefore, organizations should target resources appropriately to home as many suitable animals as possible with a minimum length of stay and adequate quality of life.
Organizations must understand the limits of their resources, and the capacity of any facility should not be exceeded in a manner that is detrimental to the quality of care provided and/or increases risks of disease and stress to animals already in the facility.
Where placement of an animal (regardless of its source) with an owner in a home is being considered, a safety assessment is critical. The welfare of the individual animal, the sustainability of the rehoming program, and human health and safety are compromised if an animal is placed in an inappropriate home. Alternatively, placing an inappropriate animal into a particular homing situation may also yield the same results.
When animals are rehomed, organizations have a responsibility to appropriately match the animal’s temperament, behaviour, health and required lifestyle to the anticipated new environment and resources within it, so that welfare needs are met and the new owner is able to care for it.
Sheltering organizations should provide facilities that minimise stress and maximise biosecurity. Measures should be in place to ensure that animals remain healthy (physically and psychologically). This can be achieved through reduced length of stays, careful design of the facilities, adequate resources and careful management of the animals.
Sheltering organizations also have a responsibility to ensure that all animals are spayed or neutered before they are rehomed. To rehome animals without a guarantee that they will not breed is irresponsible and directly contributes to the overpopulation issue. These organizations also have a responsibility to provide animals in their care with appropriate preventive care (which may include vaccinations, parasite control and tattoo/microchipping) before they are rehomed.
Under any circumstance, long-term caging is not acceptable. Residence in a shelter facility should be for the shortest possible time, allowing for adequate assessment, treatment, etc. Long-term caging of animals or permanent confinement in a shelter facility is not acceptable.
Holding facilities should be managed to a high animal welfare standard, and be designed to meet the animals’ needs while minimizing the risks of disease. Such facilities can be very expensive and time-consuming to manage, so adequate funds and personnel must be available to ensure their success. Awareness of the full costs required for appropriate facilities is extremely important. Facilities should also play an education role on responsible pet ownership within a community, in order to counteract any possible encouragement of abandonment they may represent. Owners of unwanted or problematic pets should be encouraged to consult professionals for advice and help, and to rehome their animals rather than abandoning them outdoors.
Policies should be written to cover important topics such as sterilization, rehoming, capacity and criteria for euthanasia. These should take into account the welfare of individual animals, the cost implications, the aims and objectives of the facility and the impact of the facility on the long-term management of the population. Protocols should be designed for each stage of shelter activities, from quarantine on arrival, to daily routines such as cleaning, feeding and exercise, to record keeping and rehoming practices.
The design of the centre should take into account the welfare needs of the animals and also consider public access, physical characteristics, services (such as drainage and water sources), potential noise disturbance, planning permission and potential for future expansion.
A network of foster homes may be an alternative to shelters, especially for very young or very old animals, those recovering from illness or injury, or those requiring behavioural rehabilitation.
Guidelines for the design and management of animal shelters
http://www.icam-coalition.org/downloads/Shelter%20guidelines.pdf from www.icam-coalition.org. (2008).
Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters
https://www.sheltervet.org/assets/docs/shelter-standards-oct2011-wforward.pdf from www.sheltervet.org. (2010).
Webinar Series: ASV Shelter Guidelines
https://www.aspcapro.org/webinar-series-asv-shelter-guidelines from www.aspcapro.org.
Webinar: Shelter Intake Parts 1 and 2
https://www.aspcapro.org/webinar/20170808/shelter-intake-1 from www.aspcapro.org (2017).
Webinar: Shelter Sanitation Parts 1 and 2
https://www.aspcapro.org/webinar/20170711/shelter-sanitation-1 from www.aspcapro.org. (2017).