Your animal shelters are building dog castles out of cat grass. Are you ready to help?


There’s a docuseries on Apple TV called Home. It highlights visionaries around the world “who are challenging conventional concepts of ‘home’ and rethinking how we live.” The structures featured in the show are revolutionary and magical, and defined by the communities in which they exist. The show isn’t so much about the physical structures as it is the ideas and vision behind them.

One episode showcasing a bamboo treehouse in Bali feels like something right out of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Elora Hardy, the designer of the home, dives into a discussion of the sustainability and flexibility of bamboo as a building material. She notes, “If you can build castles out of grass, what else can you do?” What’s important about this show and relevant to our local animal shelters is the simple act of daring to imagine what could be rather than accepting what has always been.

The animal sheltering world is at a tipping point, and the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be the variable that’s pushing it over the edge. The pandemic is forcing our entire field to imagine what could be for homeless dogs and cats when we think beyond the concept of sheltering as four walls and a roof.

When we focus on a physical structure or building rather than an idea, we box in our thinking, literally. Animal shelters around the country are blowing the doors and walls off their organizations and letting the needs of animals and families and the compassion of their communities redefine the work they do. They’re daring to imagine a better world for pets in need and creating opportunities for people to help shape that world. They’re trying things they were once afraid to try. They’re asking for help in ways that they never thought possible before. More important, community members are answering those calls for help and participating in that work now.

Shelters are using new technology platforms to advise people on what to do if they find newborn kittens and why saving them requires community participation and people stepping up to help. Shelters are creating Trello boards for matchmaking between foster pets and adoptive homes — and everyone involved is loving it. Rather than simply accepting surrendered animals, shelters are connecting counselors with pet owners to find out if they just need help with training or pet food. Those pet owners are surprised to be asked and appreciate the support.

Networks of service providers (spay/neuter groups, veterinarians, community cat colony caregivers, dog walkers, local businesses, neighborhood groups, animal control officers) are working together to collectively save and support pets and people, rather than letting that responsibility fall solely on any one shelter.

Animal shelters are not, and never should have been, a physical drop box for dogs and cats. Pets are part of our families, part of our communities. That means caring for them and keeping them safe is our collective responsibility. 

The goal of the no-kill movement is to end the killing of cats and dogs in shelters nationwide. Ending the killing of cats and dogs in shelters requires imagining an alternative way of thinking about pets in our communities. It requires us to challenge the very concept of animal sheltering. 

Right now, visionary animal shelters and communities all over our country are engaging in that kind of revolutionary thinking to save the lives of pets — daring to imagine what could be instead of accepting what has always been. Other shelters desperately want to imagine what could be for pets in their communities, but they are afraid to take that leap of faith, for fear that their community members won’t join them. 

Whether your local shelter’s leadership has already taken that initial leap or they are still wondering if they should, you need to be paying attention and be ready to jump in with them. Stand up for the pets and people in your community by being there to answer the call to help and to redefine the very nature of lifesaving in the corner of the world you call home. 

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society