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.

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