Onboard Lifesaving: Shelter Jargon

November 1st, 2019

Rapid turnover at entry and mid-level positions in animal shelters make training and on-boarding new team members a constant job. There are always new people coming into the field who likely have a huge amount of information to learn, often in a short amount of time. Many organizations don’t have useful, comprehensive employee training manuals or an organizational culture that emphasizes continuous learning. In this blog series, we’ll offer you readings and videos for you to use to onboard and empower your employees to grow and develop the skills and lifesaving philosophy they need to become the next leaders in animal sheltering. 

In Shelter Jargon, we define over 30 of the most common terms used in animal shelters today.


  • Adoption Barriers: policies or procedures that make adoption, fostering, or volunteering a challenge.
    • Example barriers include: landlord checks, background checks, or veterinarian references.
    • Barriers can also be put into place for foster caregivers, too.
  • Closed Adoption: adoption policies with strict rules, guidelines, or background checks.
  • Animal Protection Officer: the updated language for animal officers that places emphasis on community services.
  • Animal types:
    • Behavior dogs: dogs who have been labeled as having challenging behaviors.
    • Community Cat: an unowned cat, can be human social or feral.
      • TNR / Trap Neuter Return: cats that are being cared for by colony caretakers. They are brought to a shelter or offsite spay/neuter clinic, spay/neutered and vaccinated, and returned to the colony. TNR cats are often not taken into the custody of organization because they generally have established caretakers or colonies.
      • SNR / Shelter Neuter Return: stray, unowned cats who are brought into the custody of the shelter, spay/neutered, vaccinated, and returned to where they were found.
    • Feral: A companion animal who is not human social and shows little to no signs of being interested in becoming social with humans.
      • Semi-feral: A companion animal who may display some unsocial behavior with humans, but shows signs of curiosity.
    • Fearful: A companion animal who displays fearful behavior with humans or other animals.
    • Neonates: animals between 0-6 weeks of age.
      • Bottle babies: neonatal animals who rely on human intervention to be fed and nourished.
  • Breed Labels: breeds assigned to a dog or cat by an organization, often aribitrarily.
  • Brick and Mortar Shelter: an organization with a physical facility used to house animals.
  • Closed Intake: an organization that does not accept pets from the public and instead transfers animals into custody from other shelters.
  • Dead on Arrival: an animal that was dead at the time of intervention or pick-up.
  • “Dictionary Definition of Euthanasia”: medical intervention to end the life of an animal that is irremediably suffering with no chance of recovery.
    • The term euthanasia has become synonymous with killing, many shelter advocates are pushing to reserve this word only when referring to animal who fits the description above.
  • Foster-Based: typically an organization that does not have a facility and whose animals are housed in volunteer homes.
  • Foster Care: temporary placement for animals while in the custody of an organization. Animals are housed outside of a shelter facility in a home environment.
    • Adoption ambassadors/foster adopters: foster caregivers who have been empowered to complete the adoption process for the animals in their care.
    • Day trips/field trips: Animals spend an hour or a few hours outside of the shelter with a volunteer or potential adopter.
    • Foster caregiver: a person who houses an animal in their home temporarily.
    • Foster to adopt: a trial adoption period that allows for a caregiver to take a pet home and have time to make a decision to adopt.
    • Foster failure: a term used to describe a foster who decided to adopt their foster pet.
    • Long term foster care: foster placement that lasts longer than a day or two.
    • Sleepovers: animals spend the night or a couple nights with a foster family or potential adopter.
  • Foster centric shelter: a shelter that believes foster care is the most humane method of housing homeless pets and that works to find foster homes for all viable animals in their care.
  • Government Contract: any contract an organization might have with the local county or city government.
    • Some examples include:
      • A nonprofit organization overseeing animal protection for a city or county.
      • A government shelter taking over the operations of another local jurisdiction.
  • Kill: language used to describe animals whose life was ended through medical intervention, but that was neither irremediably suffering, nor was a direct, known risk to public safety.
  • Known History: any records an animal has of her behavior or health before taken into the custody of an organization, eg. owner surrender notes.
  • Intake Types: the various ways animals can enter an organization’s custody:
    • From the Field: picked up by an officer
    • Over the Counter: brought in either by an owner or a good Samaritan
    • Transferred-In: an animal transferred into custody from another organization
    • Stray: an animal without a known owner
    • Owner Surrender: an animal surrender by the legal owner
  • Live Outcome Types:
    • Adoption: an animal is adopted
    • Return-to-Owner: an animal is returned to the custody of their human/s
    • Transferred-Out: an animal is transferred to the custody of another organization
    • Shelter Neuter Return (SNR): an animal is returned to their habitat or community after being taken into the custody of an organization for medical services, including spay/neuter
  • Live Release Rate / LRR: the percentage of animals taken into custody who leave an organization alive. Live release rate can be calculated by total live animal outcomes divided by all animal outcomes.
  • Low Hanging Fruit: the easiest-to-place animals who are not yet being saved in a community.
  • Managed Intake: appointment-based intake process or policies.
  • Open Adoption/Conversation Based Adoption: adoption practices that encourage matching animals to people based on their needs or desires through conversation and a ‘getting to know you’ approach.
  • Open Admission: shelters that accept animals from the public via owner surrender.
  • Other Outcomes Types:
    • Died in care: any animal who died while in the custody of the shelter, not by euthanasia.
    • Euthanized/killed: any animal whose life was ended purposefully while in custody of the organization.
    • Lost/missing in care: any animal who did not have a live outcome and can not be located.
  • Pet Retention: keeping pets with their human companions.
  • Pet Resource Center: programs designed to connect people with resources to help keep their pets outside of the shelter whenever necessary.
  • Shelter History: notes an animal has acquired related to the behavior, health or well-being during the time they are housed in the shelter.
  • Shelter Software: software that has been designed specifically for organizations who shelter animals. Examples include ShelterLuv, Chameleon, and Petpoint.
  • Shelter Types:
    • Municipal: an organization that provides the animal care services of a city, county, or counties.
    • Municipal Contract: a private organization that provides contracted services for the animal care of a city, county, or counties.
    • Rescue without a Municipal Contract: a private organization that has no affiliation to the city or county animal services.
    • Foster based rescue without shelter: an organization who houses all animals in their custody in foster homes.
  • Transparent Shelter: A shelter that publicly posts animal data, including all animal intake, all live outcomes (adoption, SNR, transfer-out, return-to-owner) and all other outcomes (died in care, owner requested euthanasia, lost/missing, euthanized).
  • Raw Data: An organization's data that includes all animals, regardless of the reason for intake or type of outcome.
  • Return in the Field: An animal that was not taken into the custody of an organization but services were utilized to return the pet to its home or habitat.
  • Return to the Field: an animal who has been returned to her home or habitat.

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