Five Freedoms for Companion Animals in Shelters, New Standards Guide

by Mary Haight on December 20, 2010

There’s a new Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters out, written by shelter veterinarians and recently reported by Steve Dale  on his blog at Chicago Now. ” New” because there was no Standards Guide for animal shelters, beyond the Five Freedoms published in the UK back in 1965.  Go ahead, gasp…I can’t blame you. The Five Freedoms are (descriptions of what each freedom means have in some instances been edited for space without altering the meaning): 

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst–ready access to fresh water, healthy diet
  2. Freedom from discomfort–appropriate environment, comfortable resting area
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease–prevention by diagnose or rapid treatment
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior–sufficient space, animals of own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress–conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

These basics are by no means complete in defining what’s needed, but are assumed rights with written resulting outcomes when those right are conferred.  What has not been written is the roadmap of how to achieve those expected outcomes; that is what the New Standards provide, using these five freedoms for animal welfare as the basis for the document.   

For the past two years the Association of Shelter Veterinarians have worked to get these guidelines, and the “how to” roadmap, published and while we can all wonder why such a document had not been formulated long ago, we have something in writing today.  Progress in these areas cannot wait for some major change to come to animal management practices or the structures in which these functions are carried out.

There are many points that stand out given my recent experience at Chicago’s Animal Care and Control and it is clear that CACC would fail based on this document, but there is a major concern here:  There is no provision for enforcement, or outreach to failing agencies to help implement immediate changes or transfer and close. I’m not saying the onus falls on this document to provide oversight, but while standards are necessary and desirable, when you have ineffective Departments of Agriculture combined with a lack of will to investigate and hold failed agencies accountable, how can we ensure that these guidelines will be followed? 

The truth is we can’t enforce these guidelines, not always.  Human inaction, denial, and resistance to change can foil the best of plans. Yet there are good ideas out there; there should be alliances of shelters in every city to act as a stop-gap for failing sheters, rescues, city legislatures who need to understand how to do the best they can for animals welfare.  Never has there been a greater need for including wayward outliers in educational programs given by alliances or other organizations. Those who do not have the necessary resources or knowledge to do the best job they can to help the animals they are trying to save need to know what tools are available.  As with everything, education is key, and we can all use more of  it.

 The recent nightmare of the Cadiz, Ohio “shelter” that had no building, reported by Examiner Penny Elm where animals were out in below freezing  temperatures, no medical treatment, frozen water bowls, sick and dying, rescuers finding dogs with Parvo in this taxpayer funded hell is a prime example of no one, absolutely no one, doing their job.  If they had these guidelines, maybe they would have seen their own cruelty, transferred the animals, and closed the doors, as they are clearly incapable of sheltering anything. 

Animals and their agencies should benefit from a layered approach to animal welfare: Now armed with these new guidelines, a Task force comprised of prime stakeholders and a City rep, a Friends of Animal Care and Control made up of private citizens independent of ACC, and a City shelter alliance that is strong enough to hold its members to standards can all act as checks and balances in making quality of life better for animals being sheltered.  I would appreciate never again  hearing of another Cadiz, Ohio type report, or seeing cats living in soft-sided carriers with no room to move, or place for water, food, or litter pans at ACC.

When you have some spare time, give the new standards a read; the information could come in very handy one day.

13 comments
Baz Wedlock
Baz Wedlock

Wow....sounds pretty good......love the five freedoms. By the way I totally appreciate with you or at least include definite points or references to best practices for horses and other livestock. Thanks for posting up. ;)

Mary Hunter
Mary Hunter

Found your post from the link on Eric's Dog Spelled Forward Blog. I scanned the guidelines document. I would love to see someone come up with a similar document for horse shelters and rescues. Or at least include specific points or references to best practices for horses and other livestock. Most of the recommendations seemed to be aimed toward the traditional dog/cat shelter environment. Many rural counties pick up stray horses/livestock, in addition to cats and dogs. I think the quality of care varies widely, depending on the facilities and resources available. It’s interesting, though, because I think most private non-profit horse rescues keep adoptable animals in environmental conditions very similar to what the animal’s adopted home will resemble. (As opposed to many dog and cat shelters, where shelter life is vastly different from life in a home.) In this regard, I think some horse rescues don’t have many of the welfare issues that dog/cat rescues do. Mary

Kyla Duffy
Kyla Duffy

Thanks for posting about them. I know about the standards set forth in the UK but did not know about the Assoc. of Shelter Veterinarians. This is of great interest to me because I'm kicking around the idea of writing a best practices manual for rescues along with some of the rescue organizations I work with. Do you know of anything like that? I think it's an important document that needs to be written because right now rescues don't seem to have anything to compare themselves with to even know if they are doing a good job. (Note: I'm not referring to shelters here but rather private rescue organizations that generally house their animals in foster homes.)

Mary
Mary

I agree with all of you about this...unbelieveable that we'd have to write this document. Thanks for posting this, Mary. You're always keeping me thinking... The Five Freedoms are outlined in the curricula I use in classrooms... published by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, so I was familiar with them. I didn't know, however, that these freedoms were not in place here in the states. Hmm... it took the Association of Shelter Veterinarians two years to work these out?

Chris Dignan
Chris Dignan

Totally agree with Kim. The need to talk about the creation and enforcement of the 5 freedoms would be greatly reduced if the right people were calling the shots. We must always strive to go above and beyond where animal care in concerned and there has to be some degree of organizational internal motivation for self compliance. Until we can get to a place where we are focused not on the minimum standards of care but rather maximum achievable standards then we are lost.

Kim
Kim

These are very simple, common sense guidelines that frankly, shouldn't have to even be written. However, at least they are out there now and can be used to some extent for keeping things in check but as you mentioned, how to enforce? I'll just never be able to comprehend in the first place how any human being that chooses to work in this type of area would do anything less than what is stated in those guidelines. After all, aren't they working with animals because they LOVE animals?! it certainly isn't for the high pay. I just don't get it and there should never be an Ohio Shelter situation such as the one you described. It sickens me. Aren't there enough human beings out there already being cruel to animals without being paid to do it?! Thanks for this post Mary.

Kristine
Kristine

Without set standards, I can imagine these things are fairly difficult to enforce or prove. Thank you for taking the time to write about this document. I hope word gets out and more animals are saved from this type of cruelty.

Previous post:

Next post: