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Improving Animal Shelter Care with Five Freedoms

Anyone who’s walked through an animal shelter knows the pain of seeing pets caged and frightened, but improving animal shelters’ care can sometimes be as easy as a few simple alterations. In fact, everything you need to know about improving care at animal shelters is covered by five basic “freedoms.”

According to the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the five freedoms are as follows:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
  • Freedom from Discomfort
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behavior
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress

Originally written in the UK as a guide to farm animal care, these freedoms are a great way to evaluate any animal’s care and can be hard to accomplish in a shelter setting. Let’s go over each one.

Freedom from Hunger and Thirst. This is pretty straightforward. Make sure each animal has enough food and water. It’s also a great way to help your local shelter if you’re short on volunteer time – donate some food.

Freedom from Discomfort. Also fairly straightforward, this freedom covers each animal’s need for shelter and a comfy resting place. Since most shelters keep their animals inside, shelter is a given, but a comfortable spot to rest can be a bit more difficult to provide. Donated beds, blankets, and towels can usually do the trick. This freedom also includes the need for space to stand, lie down, turn around, and stretch out.

Freedom from Pain, Injury, or Disease. A veterinarian is obviously important for this freedom, since each shelter pet needs to be vaccinated, dewormed, and have any medical issues addressed. However, volunteers are very important, too. Not only are volunteers often responsible for cleaning and sanitizing the shelter (which is huge in keeping animals healthy), but they’re also responsible for alerting shelter vets when an animal doesn’t seem to be feeling well.

Freedom to Express Normal Behavior. Basically, this means letting animals be animals. Let dogs have a chance to run outside, play with tennis balls, and socialize with other dogs. Give cats the chance to sharpen their claws and chase toys. Giving animals the chance to express their normal behavior can be tricky in a shelter setting, but it’s extremely important. Regular socialization, especially, is key to keeping animals happy and adoptable.

Freedom from Fear and Distress. It may seem simple, but this freedom can be difficult to accomplish, especially when dealing with skittish animals. There are no clean-cut ways to ensure every animal is free from fear and distress, so shelters might have to evaluate animals on more of a one-on-one basis. For instance, if a cat is terrified of dogs, don’t house him near the puppies.

If you’re involved at a shelter, keeping these five freedoms in mind can help maintain a happy, healthy environment for all your residents. If you’re a volunteer, maybe this can inspire a few ideas to help out at your local shelter.