The Transparency Checklist: How to Know if Your Community’s Animal Shelter is Truly Transparent

March 28th, 2019

Inspired by Kristen Auerbach's 2019 presentation at the American Pets Alive! Conference The word ‘transparency’ gets used a lot when it comes to animal shelters, but what does it really mean? For shelters saving more than 90% of pets making a commitment to true transparency is a key element in becoming and sustaining No Kill.

What follows are six components of a No Kill shelter.

1. There is no ‘back of the shelter.’

In the high-kill, ‘pound’ model of animal sheltering, the vast majority of animals are kept in the back away from public view. Only the select, few, those animals lucky enough to be deemed“highly adoptable” are put on display. In pounds, most animals are killed without ever being seen by the public.

In a No Kill shelter, it’s the opposite. The vast majority of animals can be viewed by the public and only a tiny number of pets, those with severe medical issues are housed in off-public areas. In No- Kill shelters, even animals who are housed in critical care areas are shown on social media so people can start helping them immediately.

2. The organizational culture IS transparency.

There is nothing that is kept ‘secret’ in a transparent shelter. This means that people who want to help are allowed to photograph, film, and write about the shelter so that they can garner more support for the animals. In transparent shelters, telling the stories of ALL the pets, even the sick, injured, abused or neglected, is the norm. The idea that the public needs to be ‘protected’ from the harder realities of animal sheltering is replaced with the belief that the public wants to know everything because they want to help save every animal. Start telling the harder stories and you’ll be amazed at how much your community wants to support your work!

3. Every life is counted and made public.

In transparent shelters, every pet’s life is valued as much as every other pet. This means the life of the geriatric tabby who was surrendered for euthanasia by his owners because they could no longer afford his special food, is just as important to save, as the litter of bouncy, poodle-mix puppies that will draw a crowd of eager adopters. In No Kill shelters every animal is given the same chance at life and the same value. Transparent shelters recognize that there are as many people who want to provide lifelong love and attention to special-needs pets, as there are for the adorable puppies and kittens. If your shelter is transparent, no animal will be excluded from lifesaving efforts or from being counted in shelter data.

4. Every death is counted and made public.

Even in the most successful shelters, not every animal survives. Sometimes tiny kittens fail to thrive without their mothers and don’t survive, or shelters euthanize animals who are sick or injured if they’re medically suffering and in pain with no chance of recovery. Other times, shelters will even kill dogs who pose a safety risk and have no options for rehabilitation. The transparent shelter honors these pets’ lives by telling their stories and encouraging staff and volunteers to remember them too. This means sharing photos, stories, and memories of the pets who don’t make it out of our shelters alive. This truth-telling lets the public know about some of the hardest struggles our organizations have not yet solved and engages them in helping us find solutions to these challenges in the future.

5. The shelter asks for help every day.

Through social media, news releases, e-mails, and other forms of communication, the transparent shelter asks for help from the public every, single day. Beyond asking for adopters, fosters and volunteers, the transparent shelter asks for the community’s help with everything, from rescuing pets at risk of being euthanized, to becoming emergency fosters during space crises and disease outbreaks, to donating funds to help a pet whose life depends on a costly medical procedure. Transparent shelters treat every animal as if their life is as important as an owned pet. This means asking the community for help to save all of their lives.

6. The shelter makes it easy to help.

There are few barriers to helping in a transparent shelter. People who want to help don’t have to go through a lengthy application and onboarding processes to help save lives. They simply contact the shelter or just stop by and can start helping within hours or days of reaching out. No Kill shelters succeed because they say ‘yes!’ when people want to be part of the lifesaving efforts. Sign up to foster, take home a pet on the same day. Want to volunteer? Here are the things we need help with now. Have a great idea? Let’s hear it!

No Kill shelters have made a huge departure from the old pound model. The old model, which saw homeless cats and dogs as a problem of ‘overpopulation’ tackled the issue by mass killing and hid the animals from public view. The transparent shelter takes the opposite approach, believing every homeless pet has an inherent right to live and deserves to receive the same care and attention as owned pets. If we want our shelters to be No Kill, we have to take the step to become truly transparent because people can’t help problems (or animals) they don’t know exist.


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