Don personally visited several life care facilities and shelters around the United States, including Home for Life. Based on his visits and observations, he suggests several criteria pet owners can employ when evaluating a facility. His article,even though a few years old, is more relvant than ever for anyone concerned about the fate of their beloved pets should they no longer be able to care for them due to disability or death.
About a year and a half ago I decided it was about time I updated my estate plans and create a living trust for the disposition of my assets after I died. Of particular concern to me was what would happen to my dogs. I had no relatives or friends who would take them, especially since there might be several and I wanted them to stay together. But just because I died I did not think it right that my dogs should die too (be euthanized or put to sleep). And yet that is what happens too often to an animal when its human dies or becomes incapacitated. No one wants the animal or will take the responsibility for it and thus it is turned over to the local animal shelter to find it a new home. This almost never happens, especially for an animal over three years of age. And so after a few days the animal is euthanized to make room for more discarded animals.
Thus I began a search for an animal facility that would provide lifetime care for my animals should I die or become incapacitated.
I started with a publication I had received several years prior entitled “2000 No-Kill Directory”. From this I compiled a list of potential shelters/sanctuaries that the listing said “Accepts Retirement Pets with Endowments” or “Care-for-Life”. From this list I deleted any facilities that did not have at least 50 dogs or that had not been established for a number of years since most animal shelters/sanctuaries fail in their early years due to lack of financial support, and then what would happen to my dogs?
I also contacted the American Humane Association (AHA) and, after discussing my needs, they sorted their extensive data base and provided me a list of organizations that had indicated “no-kill” and “sanctuary” on their application to the AHA.
Another source I used was the web site www.saveourstrays.com/nokill to obtain a list of such organizations by state. This web site also has links to some of the organizations.
Now I had names of more organizations than I could use practically and so began the process of whittling it down. I was only interested in sanctuaries, as opposed to shelters, so let me give the official definition of each:
Shelter: The term “shelter” means a facility which is used to house or contain animals and which is owned, operated or maintained by a duly incorporated humane society, animal welfare society, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals or other non-profit organization devoted to the welfare, protection and humane treatment of animals. The primary goal of the organization is the adoption of the animals by third parties.
Sanctuary: The term “sanctuary” means a facility which is used to house or contain animals for the remainder of their natural lives in happiness, good health, cleanliness and satisfactory comfort thereby ensuring that the animals live a full and normal life, and which is owned, operated or maintained by a duly incorporated humane society, animal welfare society, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals or other non-profit organization devoted to the welfare, protection and humane treatment of animals. An animal sanctuary does not include facilities that house or contain animals primarily for the purpose of adoption by third parties. Further it does not include organizations that euthanize animals at any of its facilities for other than humane reasons when the quality of life of the animal has deteriorated such that the animal’s pain and suffering are perpetual and irreversible.
For the first cut I eliminated those facilities that were listed on only one of the resource lists. Then I selected those that had web sites believing they would be the more financially secure ones) and reviewed the information provided on the web sites. But this was only partially successful since each web site presented the best picture of the facility and sometimes with limited specifics.
Now came numerous telephone calls to each of the remaining facilities. At first I was disorganized and thus obtained different information from each shelter or sanctuary contacted. Subsequently I generated a standardized list of questions to ask. Among them were:
• Total number and types of animals and number that will remain for life
• Where do the animals come from?
• Where do the animals come from?
• Description of the facilities including animal containment or enclosures, heating and A/C, access to the
• Description of location of facility and amount of land used
• Source of funding and major expenses
• Number of employees (full and part time) and volunteers
I also requested of each person I contacted, names of other facilities that might meet my needs, and I asked to receive a copy of their newsletter.
Surprisingly what I learned from all this communication and literature is that there are almost no facilities in this country devoted to providing lifetime care of animals. Almost all are geared toward finding the animals a new home and do not voluntarily accept animals that are more than 3 years old because it takes 10 times the work to find a new home for an older animal. It looks much better on the balance sheet to say you adopted out 2000 animals in a year (even though they be the more easily adoptable young ones) rather than to say you adopted out 200 animals in a year (even though they be the harder to place older ones). Go into any SPCA or other animal shelter in your area and see how many dogs older than 3 years are on display for adoption.
The limited space goes to the easily adopted young ones. Some have no physical facilities themselves, instead using only foster homes.
Since some of the shelters/sanctuaries remaining on my whittled down list were within a days drive of my home, I decided to visit some of them (and it gave me an excuse to make a trip).What I found is that no matter how much information one thinks they have about an animal facility, an in person visit is absolutely essential to get an accurate picture of the facility and its operation. The web site, the literature and the information gathered by telephone present the facility in only the best light. I have since made 2 more trips to other parts of the country (except for New York and New England) and have visited 25 animal shelters/sanctuaries in 11 different states (CA, MO, NC, NE, OK, PA, TX, UT, VA, WI,WV) which I thought might provide quality long-term care for animals, and to educate me and satisfy my curiosity about animal facilities in general. Generally what I found confirmed that most do not have facilities or the capability to provide lifetime care for animals (even though they claim to be no-kill) and thus tend to be very selective and accept only those animals they believe are adoptable, the younger, healthy ones. They are shelters, not sanctuaries. In all my research I have found only a handful of true sanctuaries for dogs, 4 of which I have visited.
I found the people running all the facilities I visited extremely dedicated to the animals, putting in untold hours day and night, weekdays and weekends because after all this is a 24/7 job. But in too many cases they are one person or one family operations and I was concerned what would happen to the animals should something unforeseen happen to that key caregiver. Generally too they are not financial managers or fundraisers and thus the facility constantly struggles to raise the money and pay the bills. They want to care for every needy animal they come across without giving appropriate consideration to the resultant financial implications, and thus they may risk the care of the animals currently in the shelter/sanctuary.
Animals need daily human contact and some of the facilities were significantly understaffed in caregivers. Considering the daily work necessary for feeding, washing dishes, pooper-scooping, bathing and toenail clipping, transporting to veterinarian or elsewhere, et cetera, in my unschooled opinion a caregiver should be responsible for no more than 30 dogs. For cats it could be higher since generally they do not require so much constant and personal care.When you visit a facility, check some of the animals’ general health, look at the length of their toenails, try to get an estimate of the time each animal has human contact on a daily basis. Are the dogs walked daily or played with by either a caregiver or a regular volunteer, and if so, for how long.
Another factor that weighed into my evaluation of the animal facilities is whether the animals are housed alone, in pairs, or whether there was communal housing. Of course there are some animals that are aggressive or who want to be alone, and thus there can be a logical rationale for such a situation in limited cases, but it should not be the general rule. There was a German study that concluded that most social confrontations between dogs housed together were settled by the use of behavioral rituals, that keeping dogs in groups led to a significant reduction in barking, and that communal housed dogs were more human friendly and thus adopted quicker and returned less often. Single housing may be acceptable for a limited period of time, but it is not a situation I would want for my dog for the rest of his/her lifetime. Dogs are social creatures and want regular contact with their kind.
Two other factors went into my evaluation of the animal shelters/sanctuaries. The first were the buildings themselves. Some of the facilities kept the dogs outside all the time with only an igloo or covering made of scrap lumber even in cold winter (Virginia) or hot summer (southern California) with little, if any, shade. Others did not have air conditioning (Oklahoma). In a few cases the inside of the building was dark and dreary with insufficient windows; I wouldn’t want to work there, much less live there for the rest of my life. It is recognized that each state has its own minimum requirements for the care of the animals, some being much stricter than others. But I was reviewing these facilities to determine where I would want to have my animals live when I was no longer able to care for them.
The second factor is whether or not the animal had ready access to an outdoor area. I found it was much more common for cats to be able to access a screen room than for dogs. Again it somewhat depended upon whether the facility was a shelter or a sanctuary. As a shelter where the stay will hopefully be short, direct access to the outdoors is not so important. But for long term or perpetual living I think it is imperative for the dog to be able to go outside at his/her leisure.When provided, dogs generally were able to access either an outdoor concrete pad (typically 4 feet by 8 feet) or a large yard (either covered with small stone or grass/dirt). Obviously the latter is the better for a dog. It allows him to have the room to get exercise as he wants and needs it, and if the fencing between runs is underlined with concrete, he will wear down his toenails while walking on it. Some will be concerned with fence fighting, but most shelters/sanctuaries I visited did not find that a major problem. In fact the dogs seemed to use it as a form of social interaction. You may be told that the dogs are walked daily. Don’t believe it or the walks will be very short. This will require more people (and associated cost). And what about in bad weather?
During this review process I discovered 3 books which provide much useful information and which anyone interested in providing for their animal when they are no longer able to, should read. These books are:
“All My Children Wear Fur Coats” by Peggy R. Hoyt“PerPETual Care” by Lisa Rogak
“When Your Pet Outlives You” by Congalton & Alexander
Each of these books provides extensive information on such subjects as finding a caretaker both temporary and long term, estate legal planning including wills and trusts, trustees, financial planning for the pet, backup plans, references to related articles and internet sources, and lists of some long term care sanctuaries. I have visited only a few of them and therefore cannot endorse them or vouch that they continue to have a suitable long term care program. Some of them require a significant endowment contribution before they will accept your animal into their facility, and thus you must contact them directly for more information. I have taken the liberty of abstracting from these books and other sources the names of some sanctuaries. You can obtain a copy of my chart at my email below.
The Humane Society of the United States is one other resource that can provide some perpetual care information. Finally the veterinary schools at Purdue University, Kansas State University, and the University of Minnesota have endowment programs that will find a new home for your animal, but they do not have care facilities themselves.
In conclusion, then, if you are seeking to make lifetime care plans for your animal should you no longer be able to care for them, first read one or more of the books referenced above. Then decide if you are willing to have your animal adopted into another home. Contact your local SPCA or other animal rescue organization to see if they can help. If instead you want to locate a lifetime care sanctuary, contact those in the attached list to determine if they can satisfy your needs. Visit the facility you select; I cannot emphasize this too much. And take pictures and notes lest you forget some specifics. I have hundreds of pictures of the 25 shelters/sanctuaries I have visited. From my own visits and observation I think you will find any of the following sanctuaries, in alphabetical order, deserving of your serious consideration for perpetual care of your dogs or cats. This list is not intended to be all inclusive or deliberately exclude other worthy sanctuaries which I might not have visited.
• College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University,College Station, TX (Stevenson CompanionLife-Care Center)
• Home for Life®, Star Prairie,WI, (Angel Care Program)
• SPCA of Texas, McKinney, TX (Life Care Cottage)
**Don Jones worked for over 25 years in private industry on military electronics, primarily in the Boston area. He has also taught 7th-12th grade mathematics. Over the past 40 years, Don has enjoyed the companionship of as many as 5 dogs at a time, primarily shelties, one of whom earned her CDX in obedience contests, where she usually came in first. Don is retired and moved to the mountains of North Carolina about 12 years ago. You can reach him at email@example.com.