It’s time to evolve as an industry and in how we measure success. The Michigan Humane Society is committed to be a socially conscious animal community. Our focus is to look at the individual lives we impact through the totality of our programs—through both our industry-leading shelter care and our impactful work in the community driving change.

Colorado, which originated and has seen many industry leaders and communities implement the concept of socially conscious sheltering, has been incredibly successful. Colorado is not alone, though, as other communities are beginning to adopt the concept of being a socially conscious animal community.

Socially conscious animal communities are about taking organizational and personal responsibility to balance compassionate care, create stronger community relationships, support the animals in our shelters and community, and foster a culture of collaboration within the industry to create solutions.

What does being a socially conscious animal community mean?

The socially conscious animal community concept is a framework that allows us to understand our role in creating the best, most appropriate outcomes for the pets in our communities. This concept is based on respectful, compassionate care of animals. It is the placement of every healthy, treatable, and safe animal entrusted to our shelters and the support of pets in our communities. It’s about transparency and thought leadership. It’s about thoughtful public policy. It’s about safe communities. We must work together to create the best outcomes for all animals while nurturing the human–animal bond.

The eight core tenets of a socially conscious animal community are to:

  1. Place every healthy and safe animal.
  2. Ensure every unwanted or homeless pet has a safe place to go for shelter and care.
  3. Assess the medical and behavioral needs of homeless animals and ensure these needs are thoughtfully addressed.
  4. Align shelter policy with the needs of the community.
  5. Alleviate suffering and make appropriate euthanasia decisions.
  6. Enhance the human-animal bond through safe placements and post adoption support.
  7. Consider the health, wellness and safety of animals for each community when transferring animals.
  8. Foster a culture of transparency, ethical decision making, mutual respect, continual learning and collaboration.

Language is important.

The shelters in Michigan have come a long way.

Recently the media has reported that “Michigan is now a no-kill state.”

The term “no-kill” itself is divisive. While divisive in the animal welfare profession it is even more misunderstood in the broader community. The term “no-kill” implies that therefore there must be a “pro-kill”. The reality of this industry, and the factors that must be considered in our work, is much more complex than arbitrary and misleading labels.

There are varying definitions of what “no-kill” means, some of which are arbitrary in nature—for example, “no-kill” means a 90% live release rate. We believe that sheltering should be based on the principle that each animal is an individual, with its own story, and should be given the utmost respect and cared for in the most compassionate manner; further, that any animal that is healthy and treatable should be placed in a way that considers the organization’s capacity for care, the safety of the community, and the quality of life of both people and pets. Using an arbitrary number such as 90% does not consider each community’s unique factors and is sheltering to a number rather than a principle.

The Michigan Humane Society does not support use of the term “no-kill.” That said, we unwaveringly support the core principles of compassionate, responsible care. At the Michigan Humane Society, no animal is euthanized unless it is unsafe or irremediably suffering.

Reading this, you might think that I’m opposed to the declaration of Michigan as a “no-kill state.”

I am.

It doesn’t adequately reflect modern sheltering and a community-based look at our work. I am firmly in support of the principles of compassionate care, safe placements, and saving lives. I am also in support of evolving as an industry and measuring success in a different way.

It is true that live release rate is a metric that all shelters use, but it cannot be permitted to be the only metric used to measure success. Our industry is too complex and there are too many factors to consider to be hyper-focused on a single metric that has proven to divide our industry and create confusion among the public more than it has united our industry and provided clarity.

It’s time to start looking at our shelters in a more positive, collaborative, and productive way.

What can you do?

Know the facts about how animals are faring in your local shelter and in your community and how each organization plays a role in the collective safety net for the pets we all care so much about.

As industry professionals and leaders, we expect—and demand—that every animal receives compassionate care and the most appropriate outcome. You should expect the same.

You should also expect that organizations understand the impact they have on the community as a whole and work towards raising the quality of life for people and pets. The highest level of animal welfare and the highest level of public safety are not mutually exclusive.

You should expect your community, and your local shelter, to adopt the concept of being a socially conscious animal community. In this, we will find a positive, productive, and collaborative way to move our industry forward towards more wholly fulfilling our missions.