Posted July 05, 2018 at 11:40 AM Under "Everything else!"
The Future of Sheltering

Hi folks -- Just wanted to let you know I've posted a new blog. It's on a subject near and dear to my heart -- the future of animal sheltering. We have two very different futures that are possible, and right now I think we are hurtling toward one even though most of us would prefer the other. I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, and suggestions. It's at date July 5, 2018.

  • Fearless Kitty    July 14, 2018 at 07:41 AM

    Hi Susan, you are spot on getting this conversation going. While I don't agree 100% with everything you are stating I think the most important component of your discussion is true, it will ALL change in the future. There will be factors that will come into play that none of us see on the horizon that will impact both the reductionist and expansionist views. Like any hypothesis, it will be interesting to see how your position unfolds. Please add me to your blog, I look forward to following you and learning more.

    • Susan Houser    July 14, 2018 at 05:13 PM

      Hi Fearless -- You can subscribe to the blog by going to and filling out the e-mail sign-up form. And I'll definitely add you to the list of people to invite to the MPF Future of Sheltering group. Bonney Brown and I are co-administrators of the group and we're deciding on some projects to kick off the group. Stay tuned!

      • Fearless Kitty    July 15, 2018 at 06:43 AM

        Thank you Susan, I just subscribed, I can't wait to delve into your information. Kim Kamins, Fearless Kitty Rescue

  • Tracy Mohr    July 12, 2018 at 01:34 PM

    Please add me to the list as well. I've been in animal welfare for over 40 years (yes, I remember the 70's!) and have run both non-profit and municipal shelters. Currently I run a municipal shelter that has both decreased intake AND increased adoptions.

    I don't really worry about where animals are going to come from in the future because we still have a lot of work to do here in the US, particularly in the South. We're still a long way from no healthy or treatable animal being euthanized in the US, although transport has helped. Shelters are largely shaped by the communities they serve, and this is a function of socioeconomics, culture, availability of low-cost spay/neuter, breed prevalence, availability of free pets, and the list goes on. I don't think there is one single model that will apply to every shelter, but the future of sheltering is indeed changing.

    • Susan Houser    July 13, 2018 at 10:48 AM

      Added, and welcome aboard!

  • SeanaDG    July 12, 2018 at 06:54 AM

    Great blog, such an important topic. We've been talking about this in New England for awhile, as our shelter populations have declined, our remaining animals in shelters become more challenging to care for and adopt out, and transport activity increases. The Center for Shelter Dogs is currently focused on studying transportation activities across the country but we expect this research to evolve into an exploration of the future of sheltering. I would love to be part of this conversation on a national level, as the experiences and perspectives vary pretty widely depending on region and type of organization, though the overall trend seems pretty clear. Thank you for raising this topic here!

    • Susan Houser    July 13, 2018 at 10:45 AM

      Thanks Seana -- You're added. We're going to announce a new group soon.

  • Katie.Lisnik    July 09, 2018 at 09:58 AM

    Excellent, thought-provoking blog, Susan- thank you! Historically, our field hasn't been great about picking our heads up from the day-to-day needs to recognize new trends and envision where we're headed- but it is so needed! I remember when dog transport started in New England- one or two organizations transporting up a few dogs and puppies- it grew from there quickly, but with no real plan or discussion as to what else we could be doing- or where the transport trajectory would lead us- and what unintended consequences may occur. Now we're in that same boat with cats- and the future of the "community animal shelter". I'd love to be added to the list/conversations.

    • Susan Houser    July 09, 2018 at 10:24 AM

      Thank you -- I've added your name to the growing list. Just to update, I'm having discussions with a couple of people about how we can get something started on this, but it may be a couple of months before we have anything to report.

  • Kay Stout    July 08, 2018 at 01:45 PM

    We have massive over population - -

    IF, in the next 5 years, we establish hubs in the states with huge, chronic, over-population and that is followed by an well-thought out S/N for the municipal shelters that are part of the hub – – most importantly with funding to be paid to the local veterinarians for S/N until they are swamped. Then Phase II – a mobile clinic. But this should not be a part of the conversation until the veterinarians are “slammed” in a good way with too many appointments, too long a waiting list and funding is still available.

    IF, we use the figures for our transfer program and our S/N programs as an example, then 2030 just might be the “tipping point” to move forward with a collaborative point of view that is close to reality – but not an extreme.

    Here’s our current story and the facts:

    PAAS is a transfer hub for homeless dogs/cats/puppies/kittens. We currently have 20+ municipal shelters and/or 501©3 rescues who’re our partners. And 3,500+ dogs/cats/puppies/kittens have made the trip to Dumb Friends League.

    So if you use a multiplier of 5 (each dog would have increased the population by 5 had they not been “fixed” ) – – you get this staggering number. And 5 is a conservative number. 3,500+ (DFL), 800+ local Spay/Neuters (Pets for Life and Pet Over Population grants).

    First year 4,300 fewer puppies/kittens.
    Second year (4,300 x 5) – 21,500 fewer
    Third year (21,500 x 5) – 107,500
    Fourth year (107,500 x 5) -537,500

    We can’t transfer our way out of over population – – we can transfer and S/N our way out of over population – it should be a long-term S/N commitment. If implemented, the transfer organization would be able to reach isolated communities and rescue/save the unwanted/homeless dogs and cats. And the transfer needs to be regular – at least twice a month – -30 – 40 pets.

    IF all the current transfer organizations, ie Pilots n Paws, Wings of Rescue, Fetch Fido a Flight – and those who transport going down the road – – – were backed up with S/N programs – – then – – by 2030 those of us who live in the puppy mill, backyard breeder, “can’t afford to “fix ‘em states (predominantly southern states) both the Reductionists and Expansionists would need to work together moving forward.

    For now, there’s a growing focus on transport – – thankfully – – but to be truly successful – it needs funders who “get the picture” and are willing to fund S/N programs in the transport regions for at least 5 years.

    And, true to form, after the 4th of July – – yes – we have lots of calls for lost pets – – and lots of people who’ve “found” lost pets and want to give them to us.

    As for adoption – – that isn’t even an option at this point for those of us who are faced with the Pet Over Population epidemic. We will know we’ve been successful when we can hold an adoption event and people show up to get a pet – – not drop one off when no one is looking!!!

    • Susan Houser    July 09, 2018 at 10:35 AM

      Hi Kay -- It looks like you're in Oklahoma? One thing that's enlightening is to calculate Adoptions per Thousand People (APTP) for your local shelter. Areas that have a true culture of adoption can have APTP as high as 28, whereas traditional shelters usually have APTP in single digits. Spay-neuter is important for areas that have high intake, but don't underestimate the importance of a culture of adoption. To learn how to do the calculations and assess the situation, see my blog at

      • Kay Stout    July 10, 2018 at 11:59 AM

        Will do the calculation. The Chief of Police is on our Board and we have an excellent relationship with the police department . They have no adoption programs - but do an excellent job of reuniting pets with owners and are very flexible re: fines. Facebook has been our friend for our transfer program..... but it is also the place to go to find a pet in this area for little/no money. The area is economically depressed - and the bench mark in Oklahoma is school classification for sports. Vinita will go from a 3A to a 2A this coming year. The towns close to Oklahoma City and Tulsa are experiencing growth - - the rural communities continue to see a downturn in population numbers as well as school enrollment.

        I have a home in Edmond, suburb of Oklahoma City. That area is booming - new schools, new homes - - etc. They have multipole adoption options... It's truly two different cultures - only 180 miles apart.

  • Peter    July 08, 2018 at 09:27 AM

    Thanks for sparking this important conversation, Susan!

    It's a topic I've discussed intermittently (including, at HSUS Expo, with Stacy LeBaron, who's commented here), but as you point out, this is a conversation that needs to take place more formally among key stakeholders. I hope to be part of those conversations.

    • Susan Houser    July 09, 2018 at 10:26 AM

      Happy to add you to the list, Peter!

  • Cindy D.    July 07, 2018 at 09:25 AM

    Thank you for bringing this up. At the Humane Society of Chittenden County in South Burlington, VT, we have been experiencing the decline in stray and owner surrenders over the past several years. We are moving towards surrender prevention and finding ways to be a community resource. Transports help with meeting the public's demand for pets but imagine that won't last forever. We are also full of behaviorally challenged dogs (so many dogs who don't do well with other dogs!) which the public is generally not interested in. This causes a bottleneck with space for other dogs to come in (community and transport). Definitely interested in this discussion. Please add me to this list. Thanks!

    • Susan Houser    July 08, 2018 at 06:33 AM

      Thanks! Will do.

  • MichelleTes    July 07, 2018 at 06:05 AM

    Lots to think about! I'm interested in following this discussion.

    • aboc    July 25, 2018 at 04:41 AM

      @Susan Houser I'm interested in following this discussion also. Please add me to the list!

    • MichelleTes    July 09, 2018 at 06:58 AM

      Please add me to the list as well.

  • Stacy    July 07, 2018 at 03:39 AM

    Hi Susan;

    Excellent blog post. This has been an ongoing conversation in New England and one that I have been having since 2010 in Massachusetts. Many of you know that I am a very strong advocate of aggressive, targeted spay/neuter programs and deep diving into communities to help with other supportive programs. I envision shelters becoming more of a community outreach center providing all kinds of supportive care(as well as a cat cafe or two). Yes, they will still serve as safety nets but with a lower volume. So.. the question of the sourcing new cats for adoption(kittens and young friendly, healthy adult cats) is a very good one. I do think even in New England we have quite a few cats and kittens that are being "left behind" in their communities that could be assisted by adoption programs since they are still waiting for folks to bring cats to the shelters and aren't out in the community, but that may be changing. Larger organizations now have trapping agents and community outreach liaisons which will help reach the communities that need assistance. In my dream world we could see more community outreach liaisons and trapping agents than animal law enforcement officers.

    Right now, trapper agents(locally) and transport(out of state) are sourcing many of the kittens and friendly adults in Massachusetts. I do believe if spay/neuter programs scale back you will see an increase of postings online about free kittens. Not sure if they will make it to the shelter though. I don't believe that is the way to go.

    Anyone know what happens in other countries that have lower over-population rates?

    I would like to be added to the list.

    • Susan Houser    July 07, 2018 at 06:20 AM

      Hi Stacy -- I'll add you to the list. You make a great suggestion about looking at other countries that have few homeless pets to see where they get pets. I believe Sweden and some other European countries fall into that category, and Great Britain to some extent. I'd never thought of that and it's a wonderful idea.

  • Joyce    July 06, 2018 at 10:55 PM

    Excellent blog, Karen. Thank you! I have been thinking about this for awhile with a growing passion for the topic and would love to be on your list. This is Joyce Briggs with the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs working on non-surgical fertility control, I also volunteer with the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland. I believe that as market demand for dogs as pets increasingly surpasses supply, organizations with animal welfare missions need to be in leadership roles to help provide balance- or else that demand will be met by entities with very different missions. We should not abandon animals in need of rehoming, but we need to grapple with how to reinvent ourselves, and I can imagine that intentional breeding is part of that picture. These complexities are a challenge to navigate with donors, but that doesn't mean the hard work to evolve or even transform isn't important. Thanks again, and please keep me posted.

    • Susan Houser    July 07, 2018 at 06:22 AM

      Thank you Joyce -- will definitely add you to the list. Maybe we should start by forming a group within Maddie's Pet Forum. -- Susan

      • Kim at Maddie's   Maddie's Fund Staff  July 10, 2018 at 12:30 PM

        Susan, adding a group within the forum for this topic is a great idea! Please let me or Charlotte know if you need help setting it up when you're ready.

        • Susan Houser    July 11, 2018 at 09:57 AM

          Will do -- thanks!

  • Karen Green    July 06, 2018 at 03:43 PM

    I'd like to be on the list, please! Karen Green from Cat Adoption Team in Portland, Oregon.

    • Susan Houser    July 07, 2018 at 06:23 AM

      Will do.

  • Scott PRC Tampa    July 06, 2018 at 06:03 AM

    We are already seeing a shift in public animal sheltering and it appears that the longer term goal will be to have the private sector take the sheltering piece and the government continue to run animal control. On the good side we are starting to see proactive work in the field rather than the "gotcha - ticket issued" mentality. Our County approved two positions that are designated to help improve pet ownership in the field rather than write citations. They will provide resources as needed to those that just can't afford doing things right or are just ignorant to good pet ownership principles due to generations of old school thought. The strong likelihood for government entities is to provide certain programs akin to social services to help pet owners - pet food banks, low cost services, and other owner improvement. Due to the relentless attacks by a small number of public "advocates" against everything public shelters do even though they achieve high results is pushing politicians to want to get out of the adoption business. The big challenge is that the private sector is not prepared to take on the tens of thousands of animals that come in as strays and to deal with tough issues like dogs with bite histories. The role of private shelters is slowly declining because the government has been forced into a position of operating like a real shelter with full programming. The time is now to begin to have those talks about what the various roles will be in the future because real change is happening as we speak and often behind closed doors. Reductions in staffing and funding have been taking place across the country from an animal control/public sheltering perspective - let's hope that it not counter productive to our ultimate goal of ending unnecessary euthanasia of adoptable pets.

    Leaders take not - it's time to have forums of top professionals to discuss what's happening and where it's likely to move. Animal welfare is moving at a pace that is unprecedented and let's not lose sight of the lives of the pets in our public sheltering system.

    • Susan Houser    July 06, 2018 at 06:26 AM

      Scott, you bring up an important point, which is how the public-private division of responsibilities will work in the future. The most successful communities so far have public-private partnerships with a large private shelter that has a primary mission of helping the public shelter. Under that arrangement the private shelter can cultivate goodwill and that serves as a shield for the public shelter, if needed. As you know, this has worked well in Washoe County, Austin, Jacksonville, and other places. A coalition, as exists in Portland, can serve the same purpose. The Expansionist vision of the future would preserve and encourage that model. The problem of some advocates attacking public shelters willy-nilly is severe, and it leads to difficulties in recruiting good people to run shelters. I see that as more of a current problem than an issue for the future, but it will impact the future if it continues, because we need good leadership now to plan for the future. As to your suggestion of a forum for shelter leadership, one of my goals in writing this blog was to start that conversation and eventually establish a means of formalizing it. I'll put you down as interested.

      • Scott PRC Tampa    July 09, 2018 at 05:52 AM

        While I worked hard to establish and maintain the relationships we made in Jacksonville, it is not any easy or universal model. It's my understanding that the relationship with the government in Jacksonville has been declining and that Rick & Denise are really the ones holding it together. Here in Tampa the same group that has been attacking us also attacks the Humane Society and when we try to build those bridges by having the collaboration they go on the attack against the programs trying to say we are somehow "cheating" by transferring pets for adoption, having them take in strays under contract and other programs that have helped us reach our highest live outcome rates ever. They actually work on killing these agreements through the press and politicians. I'm sure other communities are having similar difficulties and looking at the great work in Jacksonville, Austin and Washoe (along with other places) is still the exception and not the rule. We'd hope that these types of relationships would build but it will be important to watch Jacksonville as the government begins to pull away. They did some sort of long-term audit and unfortunately it looks like the government is going to be criticizing some of the collaboration that was built to benefit the pets of that community.

        • Susan Houser    July 10, 2018 at 06:27 AM

          Some communities definitely seem to have more of a problem than others with people attacking positive changes and making unsubstantiated allegations. I've never been able to figure out what sets that off, and why such people get an audience in some communities and not others. The good news is that those critics rarely wind up derailing shelter lifesaving efforts, although they definitely can inflict some harm.

  • Lisa Bragg    July 05, 2018 at 01:10 PM

    Thanks for writing this Susan. For putting into words what I have recently begun thinking in my head. I read your blog and agree with you 100% I recently heard Sue Sternberg speak and this blog follows her line of thinking as well. I have posted your blog link to my personal facebook page and to our shelter volunteer page. I feel it's time to open this discussion. I am on the Spay and Neuter bandwagon. But it may be time to look at this again. The demand for puppies and kittens is still high, everywhere. If shelters can't meet that demand, where will the public go to get these? Pet stores, breeders, and on line options. Rescue transport is working, and if the S/N effort keeps making huge strides, eventually we will have spayed and neutered ourselves out of well rounded, behaviorally sound and healthy animals. This discussion can branch off into so many different directions. I look forward to reading the comments from others.

    • Ingrid    July 06, 2018 at 05:18 AM

      Try to find a webinar by Emily Weiss where she talks about shelters becoming breeders to meet the demand. As she reasons, we are supposed to be the ones with knowledgrle so use it wisely to breed healthy animals and meet the demand. I live in the south and with an overabundance of puppies and kittens, at first had a hard time wrapping my head around this. But after taking Humane Network's Shelter Management program and exploring the future of sheltering I can look at this more objectively. "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." Buckminister Fuller

      • Susan Houser    July 06, 2018 at 06:40 AM

        Ingrid, thanks for mentioning that Emily Weiss has discussed this issue. I recall a blog she wrote on future pet shortages, but just did a search and couldn't locate the link. Weiss is a great thought leader for animal sheltering.

        • Ingrid    July 07, 2018 at 06:48 PM

          Link is not to be found but here is a pic of the article.

          please include me on list to discuss this topic.

          • Susan Houser    July 08, 2018 at 06:38 AM

            Great -- thanks very much.

            • Books & Bulldogs    July 11, 2018 at 07:45 PM

              Interesting! Thanks for sharing this )

    • Susan Houser    July 05, 2018 at 02:09 PM

      Thanks! One thing I'd like to do is start making a list of people interested in this topic, so that we can have some organized discussions in the future. Maybe around things like how we could do a better job helping transport senders and receivers communicate, or connecting with overseas ngos.

      • Lisa Bragg    July 06, 2018 at 06:34 AM

        Sure! You can add me to the list.