Explore our policies and positions on important issues in animal welfare
Save-An-Angel takes a stance on a variety of issues across many aspects of the animal welfare movement that are deemed to be important to not only us, but to our members and partner rescue organizations. These policy and position statements have been approved by the Senior Leadership Team and when appropriate the Board of Directors.
- Aggressive Animals policy
- Dog debarking / devocalization
- Dog training methods
- Euthanasia policy
- Euthanasia vs. killing
- Food policy
- Gas chamber as a method of euthanasia
- Non-surgical sterilization
- Policy statement on partnerships
- Pregnant spays
- Responsible pet ownership
- What is a no-kill community?
Aggressive animals policy
Save-An-Angel believes every animal is an individual and deserves to be treated as such. No matter what the animal’s history is, we’ve proven through our work over the years that every animal deserves, at the very least, an opportunity to be evaluated and given the opportunity to overcome any undesirable behaviors.
If a dog commits an unprovoked attack on a human or another animal that results in a serious injury, the dog should be managed appropriately to protect the public and other animals. Such management might include confinement to an adequately secured owner’s property, muzzling when in public, mandatory behavior modification training and other non-lethal means to protect the public during any attempts at rehabilitation.
Save-An-Angel believes that every effort should be made to rehabilitate any dog who has aggression issues. There are myriad reasons why a dog can become psychologically damaged and dangerous, including abuse, neglect, under-socialization, aggression training or medical issues. Extreme cases may require sanctuary placement as the only option, if rehabilitation or appropriate management are just not available.
If, after considering the previous points, appropriate care for a dangerous dog cannot be secured, then euthanasia may be considered. A behavioral and veterinary consultation should be obtained to ensure that experts in care and behavior are helping to make this decision.
In our local programs, Save-An-Angel’s policy is to not euthanize animals solely because of aggressive behavior. We instead prefer to find or create an environment and management protocol that will protect the animal and his or her human handlers and offer the animal a reasonable quality of life. In the event that the aggression is so severe or has unrelievable physical suffering as its underlying cause and/or the necessary management protocol is so restrictive as to seriously compromise the animal’s quality of life, then Save-An-Angel would consider euthanasia an acceptable method for relieving that animal’s suffering and poor quality of life. Such a decision would be made by animal care management and a veterinarian, after careful consultation with the animal’s caregivers.
Save-An-Angel is opposed to the practice of cat declawing. Only in cases where it is deemed medically appropriate (such as tumors, infection or other chronic health issues determined by a licensed veterinarian) should the onychectomy procedure be considered. Even with advancements in technology, such as laser claw removal, maiming a cat and potentially leaving him/her with long-term issues cannot be justified for what is ultimately an owner-convenience procedure. The onychectomy procedure seeks to remove the existing claw and prevent further growth. To do so, a portion of the bone must be removed.
Cat owners who have concerns about scratching behavior should seek non-surgical management techniques such as vinyl nail caps, or simply offer scratching posts. Keeping the cat’s nails trimmed can also help with destructive scratching.
Dog debarking / devocalization
Save-An-Angel is opposed to the practice of debarking of dogs and asserts that it should never be used as a method of convenience for owners. A surgery to remove the tissue of the vocal cords may in fact reduce the noise level of the bark, but it does nothing to address the behavioral issue underlying the excessive barking. Owning a dog is a commitment, and we believe owners should commit to working through behavioral issues through training to address issues instead of looking to surgeries that do not address the underlying problem.
Devocalization, or debarking, as a medical procedure has been available for decades. However, ethically, devocalization is controversial with many animal welfare organizations and veterinarians. Most recently, the veterinary giant Banfield outlawed the practice at all of its more than 700 offices. Banfield will continue to perform the procedure when it is deemed medically necessary for an animal.
The surgery removes tissue from the vocal cords of the animal, reducing the noise level of the bark.
Dog training methods
Save-An-Angel recognizes that training is an essential tool in helping to achieve our mission of No More Homeless Pets and save the lives of more dogs. Training is used to modify behavior to help dogs succeed in a shelter or sanctuary environment, increasing their adoptability and giving them the tools to be successful in a home. It is also used to help owners understand how to communicate better with their dogs, resulting in dogs staying in their forever homes.
We also recognize that there are many methodologies and philosophical approaches to training, and believe that the approach taken should be tailored to the individual dog, his/her history and current circumstances. For example, the approach and tools needed for keeping a play group safe may be very different from the tools and techniques used to help a dog learn to sit on cue.
Save-An-Angel does not stand behind training methods that use excessive force or cause pain. We do acknowledge that there are techniques that cause mild temporary discomfort (for example, the use of air horns or water bottles to deter behavior that is risking the safety of a group of dogs in a play group setting) that may be acceptable in some scenarios. We recognize that there are risks that come with some training techniques, such as aversion, and to minimize those risks, these techniques should only be used in certain situations with very skilled trainers.
While Save-An-Angel primarily uses relationship-based training, we do not exclusively practice or endorse one specific methodology. In our support of adopters, rescuers and shelters, we engage trainers who use a variety of methods to achieve positive outcomes in a dog’s particular environment. In every instance, our primary goals are to keep dogs safe, get them adopted and keep them in loving homes.
Save-An-Angel believes that no healthy or otherwise treatable animal should be killed when alternatives exist to save them, as stated in our no-kill communities policy. The term “euthanasia,” by definition, means an act of mercy. Therefore, it should be reserved solely for ending the suffering of an animal who has experienced serious and irreversible reduction in his/her quality of life.
Save-An-Angel does not consider population control by any lethal means, including lethal injection, to be euthanasia by definition. Any healthy or treatable animal who has his/her life ended to make space for other animals, or for some other reason, such as treatable medical conditions or old age, should be considered to have been killed.
Save-An-Angel will euthanize animals in our care if they are irremediably suffering and our veterinarians advise that there is no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life. While this is a difficult choice, we approach this decision from the perspective of what is in the best interest of the animal.
Any of these four conditions are sufficient to recommend euthanasia:
- An inability of the animal to breathe on his/her own without distress that cannot be treated medically or surgically
- Extreme physical pain that cannot be managed with medication or surgery and that seriously compromises the animal’s ability to enjoy life
- End-stage organ failure
- Uncontrollable seizures
The following conditions are red flags that require further investigation and are not usually sufficient on their own to justify euthanasia, depending on severity:
- If the animal’s desire and/or ability to take in adequate water or food is very low for more than a few days, this could indicate significant suffering. If not already done, a veterinarian’s advice should be obtained.
- The animal is chronically soiling himself or herself to the point of inflammation or damage to the skin.
- The animal is unable to move about in relative comfort.
- The animal is unable to enjoy the activities that he/she did before. The animal’s overall enjoyment of life appears minimal to nonexistent.
- The animal has dementia that significantly impairs his/her ability to function and to enjoy social relationships with human family members.
- The animal has extreme emaciation for which a cause cannot be found.
In our local programs, it is not Save-An-Angel’ policy to euthanize animals for aggressive behavior. We instead prefer to find or create an environment and management protocol that will protect the animal and his or her human handlers and offer the animal a reasonable quality of life. In the event that the aggression is so severe or has unrelievable physical suffering as its underlying cause and/or the necessary management protocol is so restrictive as to seriously compromise the animal’s quality of life, then Save-An-Angel would consider euthanasia an acceptable method for relieving that animal’s suffering and poor quality of life. Such a decision would need to be made by animal care management and a veterinarian, after careful consultation with the animal’s caretakers. You can read more about our position on aggressive animals here.
Method of euthanasia
The only method of euthanasia that Save-An-Angel finds acceptable is that recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association, specifically the use of veterinarian prescribed sedatives and FDA-approved euthanasia solutions administered in as comforting and loving a situation as possible. We do not support the use of the gas chamber. You can read more about our position on the use of the gas chamber here.
Euthanasia vs. Killing
Save-An-Angel strongly believes in the difference in the meaning of the words “euthanasia” and “killing.” Here’s why: We believe that the only animals euthanized in shelters should be the ones for whom ending the animal’s life is a true mercy. No healthy or treatable animal should be killed in a shelter when alternatives exist to save them. Any healthy or otherwise treatable animal who has his/her life ended to make space for other animals, or for some other reason, such as treatable medical conditions or old age, should be considered to have been killed.
For Save-An-Angel, euthanasia is defined purely as an act of mercy. This act should be reserved for situations when an animal is irremediably suffering and a veterinarian has determined that the animal has no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life, or the animal’s behavior doesn’t allow him/her to be a candidate for rehabilitation.
While there may be differences of opinion about the path to achieving no-kill communities, the ultimate goal for every animal lover, rescuer, advocate and shelter employee should be to see a day when no healthy or treatable animal is killed.
At Save-An-Angel, the pursuit of our mission to achieve our vision specifically involves promoting preventative healthcare measures, such as premium food for our foster animals.
Principle 3: Create a standard of excellence recognized by the rescue & cancer research community as superior.
Feeding non-premium food is discrepant with our guiding principles to represent a standard of excellence in each of the companion animals in our care.
Gas chamber as a method of euthanasia
Save-An-Angel focuses on ending the killing of pets in shelters, not how they are killed, but we believe that in cases of true euthanasia, it is critical that the only stress-free and pain-free method be employed — that being a high-dose intravenous injection of either sodium pentobarbital or sodium thiopental.
The gas chamber is a cruel practice from what should be a bygone era. The term “euthanasia” itself derives from the Greek eu, meaning “good,” and thanatos, meaning “death.”1 The gas chamber can hardly be considered a “good death” as studies2 have proven the added stress caused to animals during the unnecessarily prolonged death in gas chambers. There have been enough anecdotal cases of animals surviving the chamber4,5 for states to enact bans on the gas chamber.
As far back as 1990, states began banning the gas chamber as a method of euthanizing animals. Georgia was the first state to mandate intravenous injection as the only allowable method for animal euthanasia.3 Until that point, Georgia, just like every other state, had no mandate at all for how shelter animals should be euthanized. Since then, more than a dozen states have declared intravenous injection as the sole method of humane euthanasia.
6 AVMA Guidelines for the euthanasia of animals, 2013 edition. https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Euthanasia-Guidelines.aspx
Save-An-Angel believes that prevention of unwanted litters is a primary goal, and any humane method that meets that goal should be seen as a positive step. We accept the cost-effective and relative ease of administration of the currently approved non-surgical methods, and understand that, in some cases, non-surgical sterilization may be preferred (such as high-volume stray animal projects or situations in which cultural or personal biases exist against castration). However, due to some issues in non-surgical sterilization, including the amount of viable semen remaining post-injection for up to four months, we still believe surgical castration is the preferred method of sterilization for the vast majority of cases.
We welcome and support the advancement of science in the field of animal welfare and non-surgical castration techniques. However, the current advancements are not yet compelling enough to replace surgical castration in most scenarios.
Globally, cat and dog populations are an ongoing concern. Non-surgical techniques are highly desirable in many areas of the world where funding and trained veterinarians are in short supply. Developed by Ark Sciences, Zeuterin is the latest product to be approved. Zeuterin is an injectable drug containing zinc gluconate that sterilizes male dogs. The drug’s maker claims that sterilization using Zeuterin is painless and that the drug is cheap, easy to administer and removes any potential complications that may arise from anesthesia. The injection, into the center of each testicle, renders the male dog sterile for life through irreversible fibrosis2.
In the case of Zeuterin, roughly 50 percent of the testosterone remains after administration1 into the testicles. Testosterone in male dogs is believed to be partly responsible for many of the unwanted behaviors — such as marking, roaming, mounting and aggression — that can result in shelter surrenders. Also, with surgical castration, the risk of testicular cancer is completely removed. It is unknown what risk of cancer remains for dogs castrated using non-surgical methods.
Policy statement for partnerships
Because partnerships may give the appearance of an organizational endorsement of a company, person or organization, our guiding principle is to avoid partnering with any entity whose activities or mission conflict with our own mission and vision.
Mission: To help save the lives of dogs diagnosed with lymphoma by funding cutting edge research and providing education, support and access to state of the art treatments that offer cures.
Save-An-Angel also rescues; networks, rehabilitates, re-homes & transports dogs saved from kill shelters and those found abandoned on the street. Our goal is to help the rescued dogs become part of loving families who will love them through all of life’s challenges.
Vision: A better world through kindness to animals.
Save-An-Angel will not enter into partnerships with companies, persons or organizations engaged in the following:
- Animal testing: Companies or product brands that test on animals unless such a partnership would demonstrably help move that company away from animal testing, or the specific product brand is no longer tested on animals and its purpose is strongly aligned with Save-An-Angel’ mission.
- Breeding: Companies whose primary business is the trafficking and/or breeding of animals, or the sale of animals who have been bred for commercial purposes.
- Animal products: Companies whose purpose is the slaughter or inhumane keeping of animals for the purpose of food, fur, leather or other products.
- Reputation issues: Companies whose public reputation would adversely impact Save-An-Angel by association. This also includes companies that are part of an inappropriate business category, such as pornography.
- Weapons: Companies whose primary business is the manufacture, distribution or sale of firearms or other devices, such as traps, that do cause harm to animals.
- Animals in entertainment: Companies whose primary business is the use of animals for public entertainment, such as rodeos, circuses, horse and dog racing enterprises, and zoos and aquariums.
Types of partnerships that will fall under this policy may include, but are not limited to:
- Corporate partnerships
- Celebrity spokespersons or ambassadors
- Public relations or social media promotional opportunities
- Advertising relationships
- Partnerships with other nonprofit organizations
- A product or brand will not be disqualified from partnering with Save-An-Angel based solely on the behavior or practices of its parent company.
Two of our guiding principles also offer clarity on why these categories are important for exclusion from partnerships:
Principle 1: To treat all living things as we ourselves would wish to be treated.
Principle 2: Be compassionate and respectful toward all living creatures.
Save-An-Angel believes that, ideally, animals determined to be pregnant should be placed in foster care through shelter volunteer networks or by placement with rescue organizations until the offspring are old enough to be fixed and placed for adoption.
In circumstances with sufficient resources available for the number of animals cared for, late-term dogs and cats may be sequestered until their pups or kittens are whelped and weaned. In circumstances that do not have the luxury of available space and if a foster home is not available, those responsible for making such decisions must act to save the most lives possible with the resources at hand. Frequently, the decision will involve balancing the needs of previously born, living neonatal kittens and puppies already in the sheltering system on the one hand with the needs of fetal animals on the other. In these cases, Save-An-Angel prioritizes the care of those already born and will spay pregnant animals.
Feral cats in our care are fixed no matter what the status of their pregnancy is. Because of their behavioral challenges, we simply cannot properly examine feral cats until after they’ve been anesthetized, and feral mothers are likely to ignore or kill kittens born into the threatening captive environment.
Responsible pet ownership
Pets are part of the family, and we believe they should be treated as such. Everyone who cares for a pet has the ultimate responsibility to lead by example and ensure that the animal they care for is well-behaved and appropriately managed.
It is also the responsibility of every owner to ensure that their pet is sterilized, microchipped and wearing an identification tag. This is especially critical for cats who are allowed outdoors, because owned cats are often killed in shelters long before they can be reunited with their owners. Most cats who are brought into the shelter environment are incredibly frightened, so they are mistaken for feral cats and killed long before a hold period has expired.
Other considerations to ensure that you’re being a responsible pet owner include:
- Choose the right animal for you and your family. Consider your living situation, budget and time constraints, and ensure that the pet you choose has the right energy level for your family.
- Appropriately budget the time and money necessary for proper care. Pets are both a time and financial commitment and they deserve lifetime care.
- Responsibly care for your pet at home, in cars, outside and everywhere.
- Make sure your pet is fixed and properly vaccinated. Consider pet insurance to ensure that your pet has medical care whenever necessary.
- Never allow your animal to be a nuisance. Think of your pet as an ambassador at all times; well-trained pets are critical for harmony within communities.
- Take the time to create a plan to ensure that your pet will be cared for during unexpected life events, such as a natural disaster or home fire.
- Consider setting up a formal arrangement for your pet’s well-being in the event that something happens to you. A relative or friend could take your pet; some organizations (including Save-An-Angel) offer lifetime care programs. Appropriate research should be conducted to understand the costs and details associated with lifetime care programs.
- We believe ideally that all owned cats belong safely indoors. Indoor cats can easily receive all the exercise and stimulation they require to be happy and healthy while safely indoors, which also keeps them away from wildlife.
If you would like to offer your cat a taste of the outdoors, there are accommodations you can make that minimize risks to both cats and wildlife. Walking your cat on a leash is a growing trend, and something that we do with some of the cats who live at Save-An-Angel. A cattery or catio (an enclosed space attached to the exterior of a building that allows cats to be outside) or another form of commercially available cat containment can be effective ways to offer your cat some fresh air while keeping him/her safely confined.
What is a no-kill community?
As the leader of the no-kill movement, Save-An-Angel is committed to ending the killing of pets in shelters. Achieving no-kill is not only possible, it has already happened in communities both large and small, urban and rural, across the nation.
At Save-An-Angel, we believe the no-kill philosophy is underpinned by one simple fact: Every healthy or treatable animal should be saved. In our view, for a community to be considered truly no-kill, it means that no healthy or treatable animal is killed. The community’s focus should be on saving as many lives as possible through positive outcomes (adoption, transfer to rescue groups, etc.), not solely on reducing the killing to achieve a numerical goal.
However, we also understand the importance of having a quantitative benchmark, as it gives communities a goal to aim for and generates accountability for no-kill program efforts. Generally, the no-kill threshold for a community is considered to be 90 percent. That means the shelter (or shelters), private organizations, SPCAs and/or humane societies handling the animal control intake and surrenders must be collectively saving 90 percent or more of the animals who come through the system.
It is important to note that a 90 percent save rate is not necessarily defined as no-kill. This is because a community with a 90 percent save rate could still be killing animals who are not cases of true euthanasia. It is also possible that the opposite could be true — that a given community may achieve no-kill even if the save rate isn’t 90 percent. Each community is different, and data must be tracked efficiently, comprehensively and accurately in order for the outcomes of animals to be understood.
Healthy or treatable animals: This segment of the population includes animals who are fully healthy, and friendly to both humans and other animals. It also includes animals with behavioral and medical issues that are correctable or manageable, such as*:
- Upper respiratory infection
- Need for amputation
- Resource guarding
- Ear Infections
- Aggression issues
- Dental disease
- Urinary tract infections
*Please note that this list is just a small sample of the kinds of manageable conditions that should be treated.
Unhealthy/untreatable animals: This category includes animals with severe behavioral and medical issues who are irremediably suffering with no possibility of a positive outcome.
Euthanasia: Defined purely as an act of mercy, euthanasia should be reserved for animals who are in irredeemable medical situations, or whose behavior obstacles make them unsuitable for rehabilitation. Euthanasia should be reserved solely for ending the suffering of an animal who has experienced serious and irreversible reduction in his/her quality of life.
Killing: The definition of killing is ending the life of an animal who is healthy or treatable (either medically or behaviorally) as a means of creating space for incoming animals in a shelter or for other considerations.