October 9, 2018
Categories: Collaboration
Shelter cat with tie

Take what you think you know about the history of animal sheltering and throw it out the window.

Susan Houser, the author of the popular blog, Out the Front Door, recently published her book, Prodigal Pets, which dives deep into the history of animal sheltering and the origin of the no-kill movement. For example, in the early 1800s, due to the fear of rabies, the city of New York paid 50 cents for each unmuzzled dog. A lot has changed since then, and her book offers insights on how far animal sheltering and the no-kill movement have come.

Since little has been written about the history of animal shelters, it took Houser three years to research and report the book, which was published in August 2018. You can request access to the free book.

We spoke with Houser about what she found the most surprising, the effects of euthanasia on shelter professionals, and how things are changing. Here is a rundown of what she had to say:

On what she found surprising
Up until about the year 2000, there was a severe pet overpopulation problem. Around 1970, it became possible for private veterinarians to perform spay surgery safely, at a somewhat reasonable cost. It could then be offered as routine veterinary care. Before that, there was not a lot of check on pet reproduction.

On psychological effects of euthanasia
The euthanasia of animals can have a profound effect on shelter professionals, Houser says, and she hopes the no-kill movement can make more of an issue of it. Those actually responsible for having to carry out the euthanizing of animals can have psychological problems. It can also disrupt their physical health. It’s a problem that hasn’t gotten enough attention, she said. Shelter workers might learn that they aren’t alone and it is a serious problem.  

On the transportation of animals
It’s a huge lifesaver. Right now it’s more of a distribution problem rather than an overpopulation problem.

On shelter burnout and how it’s changing
Compassion fatigue is a real problem, even for those in no-kill environments. Things are changing rapidly, so Houser is hopeful that the worst of compassion fatigue will be in the past. One philosophy for combating burnout is for workers to think about how they want shelters to be, and make a commitment to work towards that. Look to the future. From 1970 — 2000 there were a lot of unsung heroes working on the spay/neuter movement, and other ways to help homeless animals, which laid the groundwork for the no-kill movement.

On marketing
It comes down to the attitude towards the public, Houser says. When you’re working in a traditional shelter, you can develop a resentment towards the public because the animals keep coming in. North Shore Animal League wanted to draw the public in. They went head-to-head with the pet stores, by encouraging people to adopt their homeless animals. If you’re truly welcoming and trust the public, that sets the stage for a successful relationship.

Want to read Prodigal Pets? Request access.