By Dr. Shelley Hutchings, Chief Veterinarian, Ottawa Humane Society and Vice-President and Vice-Treasurer, CASCMA
Does your team struggle to make individual medical and behavioural case management decisions in your shelter? Is decision making time consuming, conflict causing, sometimes inconsistent, and taking an emotional toll on those that have to make these difficult decisions? If so, using Asilomar, and creating a pet evaluation matrix (PEM) can help.
A PEM is an invaluable tool for shelter staff that are involved in pathway planning for animals in their care. It is a list of common medical and behavioural conditions for cats and dogs, with each condition assigned an Asilomar category. In addition to the Asilomar category, the matrix provides additional utility if each condition is also assigned an ‘adoptabililty’ or ‘pathway’ category. Each shelter’s PEM is customized to reflect their communities typical standard of care (Asilomar category), and their shelters resources for medical and behavioural interventions (adoptability/pathway category).
The Asilomar categories are healthy, treatable rehabilitatable, treatable manageable, and unhealthy and untreatable (1). These are defined based on the standard of care typically provided in that community. This allows shelters to benchmark how they are doing, in relation to the community they serve. If a shelter is saving some unhealthy untreatable animals, they are exceeding the standard of care typically provided in their community (2). It is important to understand that simply having a condition that is categorized as ‘unhealthy and untreatable’ does not necessarily mean that the animal can’t be saved. It is also important to note that it would be incorrect to update an animal’s Asilomar status to ‘unhealthy and untreatable’ just because a decision is made to euthanize (1). Asilomar status alone does not decide the outcome of the animal (1).
The ‘adoptability’ category provides support for decision makers, in determining what conditions are adoptable, potentially adoptable, or not adoptable, for their sheltered dogs and cats (3). A cat or dog that is ‘healthy’ with a minor condition that is ‘adoptable’, will be placed on a pathway to adoption. In contrast, a cat or dog that is ‘unhealthy and untreatable’, with a condition that is defined as ‘not adoptable’, may be triaged for euthanasia or placement with a partner organization that has resources to meet the animals needs
The ‘potentially adoptable’ category encompasses those cases that can likely become adoptable, but have immediate medical or behavioural needs to be addressed. Decision making for animals in this category is based on current resources, severity of the condition, and the ability to maintain an animal’s welfare during the animal’s stay. Care needs for these animals need to be evaluated against capacity for care, to determine the pathway.
Let’s review an example of how a PEM may vary between shelters.
Shelter ‘A’ has no veterinarian. They are a small shelter with limited capacity for care. Their location is rural, and even healthy young animals experience a long length of stay waiting for an adoptive home. The standard of care provided by a typical and caring pet owner in this community does not often allow for extensive veterinary interventions, and animal’s with chronic health conditions have very poor adoption potential. The PEM for feline diabetes mellitus for this shelter might look like this:
|Feline Diabetes Mellitus
|Unhealthy and Untreatable
In contrast, shelter ‘B’ has multiple staff veterinarians. They are resourced well to provide medical treatments within their capacity for care. Their community is affluent, and many can provide for animals with more extensive medical and or behavioural needs. The PEM for feline diabetes mellitus for this shelter might look like this:
|Feline Diabetes Mellitus
In addition to the internal operational benefits of having a PEM, it provides confidence to staff, shelter boards, and the community. Staff compassion fatigue can be reduced when decision making is consistent, and to some extent pre-established, and is benchmarked against community lifesaving capabilities. It can also be helpful in managed admissions programs where pathway planning begins pre-admission to the shelter.
Using a PEM does require ongoing staff training to ensure the tool is used properly, and that all staff understand what the definitions mean. Another challenge is ensuring the PEM ‘status’ of an animal is kept up to date as new conditions develop/are revealed, or conditions resolve. As well, the document needs to be kept up to date, as a shelters lifesaving capabilities can change over time, and conditions may move adoptability categories.
(1) The Asilomar Accords http://www.asilomaraccords.org/
(2) A Guide to the Asilomar Accords Definitions: “Healthy”, “Treatable” and “Unhealthy and Untreatable”, Maddie’s Fund; https://www.maddiesfund.org/assets/documents/No%20Kill%20Progress/A%20Guide%20to%20the%20Asilomar%20Accords%20Definitions.pdf
(3) BCSPCA Asilomar-Accords-Adoptability-Guidelines https://spca.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Asilomar-Accords-Adoptability-Guidelines-Full.pdf
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