The Professionalization of Animal Sheltering: Introduction to Series

In recent years the animal-shelter industry has made giant strides in professionalizing its operations. This blog post is an introduction to an Out the Front Door series about changes in sheltering that are part of that professionalization. The series has five parts:

  1. A look at some of the new programs that have become widespread in recent years and reflect empirical evaluations of shelter lifesaving methods.
  2. A look at new methods of implementing best practices.
  3. A discussion of the historical progress of No Kill in three waves. We are currently in the second wave and beginning to enter the third, and final, wave.
  4. An analysis of the rapprochement between the traditional shelter industry and No Kill.
  5. A consideration of the future of sheltering. Part of the professionalization of animal sheltering is setting long-term goals. What will the shelter of the future look like, and what will be its mission?

As an introduction to this series about professionalizing animal sheltering, I want to set the historical stage with a brief look at the work of Ed Duvin on this issue. Duvin was an animal rights advocate and non-profit consultant, and he saw first-hand the failure of the shelter industry to adopt basic procedures for effective management. In a series of essays written in the 1980s and published in his popular newsletter Animalines, he set out a no-holds-barred critique of the industry’s failure to meet even minimal standards of professionalism.

In a 1984 essay called Hello Out There, Duvin referred to the national animal-welfare organizations as “timid and unimaginative.” He urged the awakening of those “sleeping giants,” and noted that they had “the potential to lead the way if only they were willing to take creative risks and damn the organizational consequences.” In order to do that, “they must begin to ask themselves some agonizing questions about where they have been and where they want to go.”

Duvin continued to criticize the lack of professionalism in the animal shelter industry in essays written over the next five years. In 1989 he published In the Name of Mercy, the essay that is often credited with sparking the No Kill movement. Mercy set forth Duvin’s vision of No Kill sheltering, but the essay also made some very specific observations about the shelter industry’s failure to adopt even minimal professional standards. Duvin noted that in his years of assessing non-profit organizations, he had yet to encounter one that had “a comprehensive performance assessment program to ensure that stringent quality standards are met.” He specifically mentioned the failure of animal shelters to use data to guide their operations, pointing out that they existed in a “statistical nightmare” which made it “literally impossible to draw any conclusions that stand the test of empirical scrutiny.” He argued: “It’s evident that the shelter community either doesn’t know enough or care enough to meet even the most marginal professional standards.”

Change within an industry does not happen overnight, but today, 28 years after the publication of In the Name of Mercy, the shelter industry is making rapid strides in professionalizing its operations. In my interviews with a wide variety of shelter leaders, some consistent themes about this process have emerged, and it is those themes that I present in this series of blogs. My hope is that we can begin to agree on a comprehensive picture of how animal shelters should operate and how they should relate to their communities, both now and in the future.

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