Partners in Animal Care & Compassion
We have spoken extensively about the outdated shelter model currently in place at the Coyote Point shelter managed by Peninsula Humane Society - so what does modern sheltering look like? Below are a few key components to modern sheltering:
Ditch the Fake Hand!
Back in the day, it was widely accepted that to determine if a dog could be a safe household member, it was a shelters obligation to subject dogs to "common scenarios" to see how the dog would react. Scenarios like eating were tested by giving the dog food, and then taking the food away with a fake hand. If the dog passes the first, "kibble" level of the test, the dog is given something tastier (a hot dog say) which is also taken away with the fake hand, and so on. Many shelters would prod and provoke the dog as part of this test, and if the dog growled or tried to bite the hand, it was euthanized because the logic at the time was that if humans tried to take the dogs food away, they could be bitten.
The food guard type of test, was applied to all kinds of other "common scenarios", e.g., seeing how the dog tolerates "handling" by gently tugging its tail, poking its ears, pulling back its gums to expose its teeth and if any of this elicited a growl, euthanzing the dog; having a person dressed as a postperson rush up on the dog and if the dog growled, euthanizing it, and so on.
To test friendliness with other dogs, dogs were exclusively introduced on leash (now well known to be the best way to introduce terrified dogs if you want to elicit a very negative and unreliable response) and if one or both dogs growled or lunged, they were euthanized.
Fast forward to today, when we now know these tests are highly flawed and invalid (see research section of this website). Yet Peninsula Humane Society continues to use these outdated and invalid evaluations to make life and death decisions, regularly leading to unnecessary euthanasia.
Invite the Dog to be a Dog
You might note that all of the testing methods outlined above subject the dogs to negative scenarios to see how they react. Modern sheltering recognizes at its core that the shelter environment is an extremely stressful, largely artificial environment, and that testing animals in circumstances so far afield from the environment they will ultimately live in - makes very little sense. Today, evaluations are done by observing the dogs in a variety of more natural, fun, engaging and positive scenarios from which the dogs behavior is observed:
On walks away from the stressful shelter environment
In classes where the dog is learning basic skills and engaging in stimulating activities e.g., scent work and agility
In playgroups where the dog is invited to play with other dogs
On weekend outings where the dog is observed in more normal settings
In foster homes (longer term versions of the above)
Modern shelters no longer subject the dogs to negative, contrived scenarios to determine the dogs temperament. Nor do they acknowledge any value in provoking a dog to see how it might react when provoked. Instead they engage the dog as described above, to more accurately evaluate the true (not the high-security prison) temperament of the dog.
NOTE: While today, most shelters offer various versions of the above activities - like Peninsula Humane Society, some continue to view those activities as separate and distinct from the outdated, highly flawed behavioral evaluations which they continue to conduct to determine if the dog lives or dies.
Every Dog, Every Day (coined by Dogs Playing for Life)
Modern sheltering acknowledges that dogs deteriorate rapidly when confined to kennels for long periods of time. Progressive shelters are doing whatever it takes (which can be done absent more money) to commit to getting every dog out of the kennel for quality time, every day - a standard we would like upheld for the dogs in San Mateo County's care.
Stay on top of current research and modern practices
Given that “principles of animal care that were believed to be appropriate just a few years ago may no longer be considered to be effective or humane” (Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters The Association of Shelter Veterinarians, 2010, pg 1) shelters must stay on top of and be open to current research and promising contemporary practices. For example there is currently a movement towards kennel-less shelters. While currently this feels like a leap for open-admission shelters, monitoring the progress and safe practices around this approach is worthy exploration of something that may be possible in the not too distant future.