About Fear Free Shelters

Why is the Fear Free Shelter Program Important?

Today, an estimated 13,000 sheltering organizations care for an estimated 6-7 million homeless animals annually—mostly cats and dogs. Organizations vary in size from those that are very large, handling tens of thousands of animals per year, to those that are very small, including grassroots groups and private individuals. For some animals, the amount of time spent in the care of a sheltering organization is brief. Others, however, spend extended amounts of time, ultimately remaining in shelter facilities for months, years, or even for the duration of their lives.

Shelters Can Cause Animals Stress

Admission to any shelter or rescue is stressful for animals because of the abrupt change in their environment. The strange sights, smells, and sounds combined with the presence of unfamiliar people and animals cause uneasiness, thus almost all animals experience at least some degree of fear and anxiety following admission. Their day-to-day interactions may be inconsistent and unpredictable, making it difficult for them to learn what to expect and more difficult for them adapt.

The Short- & Long-Term Effects of Shelters

For all of these reasons, even short-term confinement in an animal shelter or rescue can cause severe fear, anxiety, and stress. Long-term, animals can suffer from social isolation, inadequate mental stimulation, lack of exercise, and chronic anxiety—all of which can negatively affect their physical and emotional health and lessen their chances of getting adopted. Tragically, some animals ultimately develop persistent or even lifelong emotional problems as a result of experiencing severe or chronic stress during a shelter or rescue stay. We want to change this.

How We Are Making a Difference

The goal of the Fear Free Shelter Program is to improve the experiences of animals by educating shelter, rescue, and animal welfare employees and volunteers like you about their emotional needs. We aim to empower you to apply key strategies and techniques designed to reduce the negative emotional states that are commonly experienced by shelter and rescue animals—including fear, anxiety, stress (FAS), and frustration—and increase their enrichment opportunities. The Fear Free Shelter Program provides training suitable for all of the individuals involved in the care and oversight of shelter and rescue animals—from medical and behavioral staff to intake, reception, kennel, and cattery staff to animal control officers, adoption counselors, foster caregivers, and shelter volunteers.

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