A look inside the world’s first model animal shelter

How Humane Society Silicon Valley earned the title of “world’s first model animal shelter”, and why this ranking is so important.

In 2017, Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) became the world’s first model animal shelter. There are 543 guidelines for standards of animal care set by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, and our organization was the first to meet all of them.

That all sounds great, but what does it really mean? And what does it have to do with all the adorable scruffnuggets (ahem – animals) that come in through our shelter’s doors every single day?

Here’s why having these 543 standards is really important (and something that most folks don’t know): currently, there is absolutely no government agency or judicial act that looks out for the welfare of animals in shelters. There are over 3,500 physical shelters and 10,000 sanctuaries and rescues in the United States and no standardized baseline of care for the four-legged visitors that live within them.

“The guidelines are a significant step in the improvement of humane animal care,” says Dr. Kamiya, Chief of Shelter Medicine at HSSV who brought her expertise and led the charge to complete the guidelines. “The guidelines ensure animals receive a high level of care to treat illnesses while protecting other animals in the shelter from becoming sick.”

What does this look like?

Pablo (pictured at left) arrived at HSSV with Parvovirus. While it was important for us to save and treat Pablo’s Parvovirus, it was equally important that we keep all the other dogs in the shelter safe from Parvo, which is very contagious. During Pablo’s treatment he was housed in a quarantined area of the shelter, and staff and volunteers who handled him followed strict bio-security measures to make sure everyone else in the shelter stayed safe. And since Pablo was a puppy and needed lots of socialization to be as happy and well-adjusted as possible, he received a lot of handling.

Pablo got better, and once he came out of treatment, he was a happy, confident puppy who, despite being in isolation, had actually enjoyed a lot of great experiences with people. And that was important, because it meant he was able to find a home really fast. That’s Great Thing #1. Great Thing #2? None of our other animals got sick. Pretty cool, right?

A safe and happy environment

The guidelines aren’t just about physical health. They’re about ensuring the mental and emotional health of animals as well. That means there are standards in place to make sure their environment is right for them, that they receive enrichment and exercise, and that they receive individual socialization plans tailored to their specific needs.

Every animal has a right to not only have a life, but to have a life that has value – to have friends and exercise and safe places and things that give comfort while going through the transition of finding a home. To quote Dr. Kate Hurley, DVM, Program Director at the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program who coauthored the guidelines:

“We cherish life and we cherish welfare. We say no to needless death and we say no to suffering in our care, not for one animal, not for one day.”

To certify that we met the 543 guidelines, we were audited by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Koret Shelter Medicine Program. It was a big deal. And while we realize we’re lucky to have resources and supporters that made it possible, we’re looking forward to helping other shelters join us as model shelters. Because in the end, it’s all about the adorable scruffnuggets.


Alexandra Baggs is the Content Marketing Manager at Humane Society Silicon Valley, managing social media and other content for the shelter. She lives in California with her dog, Kodak.