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The need for standards of care in animal shelters (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2011

* Adapted from a presentation developed by Dr. Gary Petronek, VMD,PhD, Vice President for Animal Welfare and New Program Development, Animal Rescue League of Boston

Seven to eight million dogs and cats are admitted to animal shelters each year in the United States. Until recently no comprehensive set of medical care standards for animal shelters had been published. In December 2010 the Association of Shelter Veterinarians published a comprehensive set of standards based upon the "five freedoms;" freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.

Goals of the shelter standards document

The primary goal of the standards document is as a tool for improvement and to assist those who are working on behalf of animals to obtain the support they need from their communities for proper care. It is intended to provide shelters and communities a tool for self-assessment and improvement, increase consistency of care of shelter animals across the United States, promote the highest standards of welfare, for existing facilities as well as new construction, provide sound reference material for regulatory purposes when communities look for guidance, provide a benchmark for action when corrective action is needed and create a living document that will be responsive to developments in shelter medicine and animal care.

Scope and intentions

The scope of this project was very broad, and in that context the term "shelter" is used very broadly, to reflect the wide range of organizations and even individuals caring for populations of homeless companion animals. The intent was to develop a document that would be relevant regardless of philosophy or mission or size of an organization; a document that would place the focus on the animals and their needs.

The five freedoms

The concept of the Five Freedoms originated with the Report of the UK Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, the Brambell Report, December 1965. The concept was subsequently refined by Farm Animal Welfare Council so that it actually took the form of five freedoms. It has since been further updated and is now the most visited page on the Council's Website. These principles are relevant and appropriate measures of welfare for any animal specie and we tried to be mindful of this throughout the process.

     1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst - by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
     2. Freedom from Discomfort - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
     3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease - by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
     4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
     5. Freedom from Fear and Distress - by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.