Animal hospital, shelter or sanctuary?

Animal shelter is a very commonly used word in India to describe a various set ups providing housing and veterinary care usually for street dogs as well as for any abandoned and rescued animals of different species. Every now and then in newspapers you also read about plans to establish big shelters to round up all street dogs from a given town or area. In such articles this idea is often presented as if it was cheapest, easiest and most effective way to control free-roaming dog populations on the streets. That, is of course not true at all.

Obviously, the requirements for the facilities needed and therefore the expenses involved, depend a lot on what actually is the purpose of the establishment, and it is good to keep in mind that shelter, by definition, means something temporary, something from where the animals eventually leave when they are re-homed. To run a successful re-homing shelter, lot of effort, time, money and human resources are needed to find good homes for the rescued animals and to do that, the animals need to be really well taken care of and well socialized, to improve their chances for finding forever homes. Since the animals may spend long time in the shelter, it is important to provide them with sufficient space, good food as well as enrichment for their mental well-being. Needless to say, all the animals taken to a shelter, should be always immediately surgically sterilized to enable them to be housed in mixed-sex groups while avoiding pregnancies.

Animal hospital, such as an ABC (Animal Birth Control) center, is not the same as a shelter. The in-patient facilities in animal hospitals are meant for the short period of time after the surgical procedure when the animal is required to be kept under daily veterinary care and observation or for the time when an animal is requiring daily IV-fluid therapy or complex bandage and splint changes. The space requirements, such as access to outdoor areas and enrichment, are less because the time spent in these in-patient kennels is very short for most of the patients. Obviously, any patients that require longer term in-patient care – such as those who have had orthopedic surgery performed – should be given controlled access to spending time outdoors and taken for short walks in a lead at least. If an animal field clinic, hospital or dispensary is entirely focusing on providing spay/neuter surgery services for owned dogs, there is no need for any post-operative kennel facilities because owners bring the dogs themselves, wait while the surgery takes place and the dog is returned to the waiting owner right after the surgery.

Animal sanctuary or animal refuge is a place where the animals are given the kind of life what they could have in a good home or farm environment, where the facilities are adequate to provide them with good quality life for the rest of their lives (and this may be up to 20 years!). This is again very different from a shelter. The Hill View Farm Animal Refuge is an example of an animal sanctuary, specifically focusing on providing peaceful life for retired and rescued working equines. The resident dogs of the Animal Refuge run and play around the farmland just like any farm dogs would do. No resident dog is kept locked up in any kennel apart from the nights when we close them in to protect them from panthers.

Rescued dog in the Hill View Farm Animal Refuge
Rescued dog in the Hill View Farm Animal Refuge

Sadly, the success of an animal shelter is often measured by the number of animals it houses at a given time, even though it should be much more focused on improving adoption rates, if indeed, the focus is to provide shelter, that is temporary care and protection to abandoned animals. Sanctuaries, on the other hand, need to be able to provide better facilities than shelters for the resident animals since they are there for life. ABC-centers should focus on maintaining such high surgery standards that post-operative complications are avoided and post-operative in-patient kenneling time can be reduced to minimum and program can focus on operating more dogs and creating bigger impact in the community from where the dogs are from and to where they are getting released after recovering from the surgery. ABC centers do not need to be shelters. Animal shelters do not need to be ABC centers, BUT all the animals kept in shelters need to be sterilized.

Foster home network is the fourth concept and the ideal way to handle the care of abandoned/orphan young puppies that are waiting to be rehomed. This is ideal way to take care of abandoned puppies that generally have very poor survival rate when dumped into overcrowded shelters or busy ABC centers. Foster homes will provide better environment, better chance for individual care for the puppies and are also in a better position to find new homes for the puppies. Especially if the foster homes are organized as a network. Let’s Live Together in Bangalore is an excellent example of a foster home network and high puppy survival and adoption rates.

However, even the best-run facilities in India, do struggle in finding good homes for all the abandoned animals that come through their doors and therefore it has to be remembered that shelters or sanctuaries are no answer to the surplus of animals that have nowhere to go. Responsible ownership and improved access to veterinary surgery services, to help to control roaming populations are very much needed.

Stay tuned and keep spaying.

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