The Shelter Voice: What’s in a Name?

by: Darlene Duggan

Part three of a multi-part series explaining the differences in the various types of animal shelters. Read part one and part two.

As already established in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, there are many types of animal shelters, and numerous approaches to animal sheltering. And just as the animals within their walls come in many different shapes and sizes, so too do the names of these shelters. Moving forward in this series, we will now discuss shelter names, and what the average person or casual visitor can assume from an organization’s name.

SPCA and Humane Society. Many traditional shelters use these terms in their organization’s title, but they do not imply any larger industry connection or affiliation with each other. In other words, Your Town SPCA and The Other Town SPCA are not related to each other, and in the same way, Your Town Humane Society and The Other Town Humane Society are not related. SPCA stands for Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and it pulls from the name of the first animal welfare organizations that were founded in the late 1800s. There does exist an ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This organization was the first animal welfare organization in the United States (read a brief history here) and continues its tradition of animal advocacy and rescue today. The ASPCA is located in New York City, and although a shelter in your area may use “SPCA” in their title, they have no affiliation with the ASPCA. However, the ASPCA does provide grant opportunities for qualified shelters across the nation.

Animal Care and Control or Animal Services. Organizations with the above terms in their title are considered municipal shelters. These taxpayer-funded groups primarily serve as enforcement services to the community, with adoption and placement a secondary role.

Rescue Groups. Rescue groups have the most variety amongst the names of the organizations—Cynthia’s Second Chance Rescue, All Paws Animal Rehabilitation and Rescue, Mutt Magic Rescue and Adoption, German Shepherd Rescue of Ohio, etc. These groups are often started by well-intentioned citizens with the missions of filling a void in the animal welfare services within their community. In other words, a group of proactive friends get together to start their own animal rescue. These groups are funded primarily through donations and adoption fees.

Multi-site Organizations. It is a common misunderstanding that all animal shelters/organizations are related. When I was working in a traditional shelter that accepted guardian surrenders, it was not uncommon for a caregiver to tell us he/she adopted the animal at our shelter, but when we searched through our records, we found no indication of doing business with the pet parent or animal. After a little more conversation, we would come to realize that the caregiver meant the shelter or rescue across town and just assumed we were the same organization.

No, all animal shelter are not related. However, some larger traditional shelters or municipal facilities within a specific jurisdiction may have multiple sites. For example, the Ontario SPCA in Ontario, CA has over 15 branches around the area from which they deliver their animal services to the community. Situation such as these, though, are the exception rather than the rule.

So the next time your neighbor tells you they volunteer at the animal shelter, you hear a promotional advertisement for a local animal group, or your friend shares her adoption story from the humane society, ask them to tell you the organization’s name and see if you can figure out what type of group they are!


For many years, Darlene worked behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago–overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, will explore the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. She hopes to broaden the understanding and education of shelter supporters so they can act as well-informed advocates for the cause and help spread the adoption and rescue message throughout their community.

To read more from Darlene, check out her Blog–Shelter Report.


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