Glossary of Terms

NAIA Glossary


Animal Care and Control Agencies: Government-run animal shelters go by several names, animal services, pounds, animal care and control and simply animal control. Depending on how much funding they receive from their municipality, their operations can vary tremendously, ranging from ones that offer full-service sheltering to ones that are little more than holding facilities. Well-funded animal control agencies serving major cities typically perform a full range of animal services, which equal or exceed the services provided by private shelters. At minimum, these agencies accept strays and owner-released pets and shelter them for an established length of time so that they can be reclaimed by their owners or adopted out. Depending on the space and funds available they may continue to hold them for longer periods of time, or euthanize them for space. Typically, animal control agencies vaccinate their pets before releasing them to the public. Many government-run shelters neuter pets before releasing them to the public or at minimum impose requirements on adopters to neuter pets within a short period of time following adoption. Some shelters send adopters to a network of local veterinarians who perform spay-neuter surgeries at a reduced cost, which the shelter subsidizes.  If funding allows, many government-run shelters go much further, providing veterinary care for a variety of conditions, assessing temperaments and training and rehabilitating dogs with behavioral problems.

Adoptable Pet: Shelter pets that are healthy and lacking injuries or significant hereditary problems; and show no serious behavioral or temperament problems are considered adoptable (placeable) by most shelter standards. A pet that is old, deaf, blind or disabled is considered adoptable to someone who is willing to make the commitment.

Adoption Policy: Nearly all shelters set adoption policies outlining the requirements people are expected to meet in order to adopt one of their pets. The term adoption policy is synonymous with the term placement policy. Shelters may insist adopters to satisfy several requirements. If the shelter hasn’t already neutered the pet, they may require the adopter to sign an agreement pledging to do so within a short period of time. They may require dog adopters to have a fenced yard, or cat adopters to keep the cat indoors. If the adopter has owned a previous pet, the shelter may require references from their veterinarian.  They may require that the adopters have no small children; that the pet will not be left alone all day; that they have no steep stairwells, or that they consent to the shelter performing home inspections prior to or even after adoption.

Bully Breed: a catch-all, occasionally pejorative term for dogs with American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Boxer, Boston terrier, Bulldog, or other “tough” looking breeds in their pedigree. -- essentially, what people think of when they hear the word “pit bull”

Clinical Trial: a research study where human participants receive health-related interventions and are then evaluated based upon health outcomes.

Confirmation Bias: a tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

Direct Action: Action where individuals or groups employ their economic and/or physical power directly in order to reach a social or political goal. The aim of direct action is generally to obstruct others from practices or political goals that activists object to, or to solve perceived problems that societal institutions cannot or will not address to the activists' satisfaction. Direct action can be peaceful (Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr.), involve property destruction and/or sabotage (Animal Liberation Front, Earth First!, Anti-nuclear groups), or physical violence (armed insurrection, political assassination, riots, terrorism).

Dog Trafficking: the term “Dog Trafficking” is a slur used to describe the most irresponsible and unsafe aspects of humane relocation.

Efficacy: the ability to produce a desired or intended result – in this case, drugs used to treat ailments.

Euthanasia: Euthanasia is the act of humanely ending the life of a shelter animal.

Euthanasia request: Some people request local shelters to euthanize their pets. The pet may be suffering from a terminal disease, a serious injury, a temperament problem or simply failing due to old age. People of limited means sometimes turn to their local shelter for this service instead of taking their pet to a veterinarian.

Extreme Rescue: Saving dogs and cats in need can become all consuming. It can take over the lives of some rescuers. They often wind up keeping more animals than they can properly care for. They market their animals using stories that play to raw emotions rather than reason. They disparage other sources of pets as morally inferior choices, alleging that they were bred under inhumane conditions or that others are motivated by greed. They save and place animals that are too ill to be rehabilitated, creating anguish for the adopting family. They accept and place dogs with known bite histories, putting families at risk. They sometimes place stolen animals they've taken from pet owners they judge as unacceptable. And when the local supply of rescue animals is depleted, or the rescuer's unethical and/or illegal practices have disqualified them from receiving animals from the local shelterthey seek and import animals from distant regions of the US and even foreign countries for placement in the United States. Extreme rescuers believe that rescuing animals is so important, it trumps all other moral values, that the ends justify the means.

Feral: Feral dogs and cats are domestic animals living in a wild state. In some communities, feral cats make up a large percentage of the cats in shelters. In some parts of the country rescues and shelters import feral dogs from Puerto Rico and foreign countries for adoption.

Flipping: Flipping is a practice used by some rescue groups to turn rescue into a profitable activity. Basically such rescue groups use their status as rescuers to obtain desireable animals from shelters at little or no cost; following which they offer them for sale for a higher amount on Craig's list or some other outlet, allowing the rescue group to make a profit.

Foster: Fosters, also called foster homes, provide temporary off-site care and housing for shelter and rescue pets. A foster home does not take ownership of the animals it accepts, but simply agrees to house and care for the animal for a period of time. Socializing the pets in their care is an important role of foster homes. Fostering is an essential method of helping shelter and rescue pets and reducing euthanasias because it frees up limited shelter and rescue space.

Government-run animal shelters: See listing above for Animal care and control agencies.

Herceptin: a drug currently used to treat breast cancer; it was developed using mouse antibodies.

Hoarder: an animal hoarder is a person who keeps many more animals than they are able to care for, a situation that often results in filth, overcrowding, disease, malnourishment, and even death for their animals. While animals suffer in these conditions, the situation can be distinguished from cruelty or neglect due to the perception of the hoarder: simply put, hoarders at least express feelings of love toward the animals in their care, and seem genuinely unable or unwilling to understand the harm they are causing. In some cases, they even believe they are “saving” the animals they are killing.(link) This is eloquently described by Gary Patronek and Jane Nathanson in their paper A Theoretical Perspective to Inform Assessment and Treatment Strategies for Animal Hoarders:

“One of the most perplexing facets of animal hoarding is that in the face of professed love and desire to care for animals, there can be tremendous animal neglect and suffering. Invariably, an animal hoarder will ignore, minimize, or deny adverse events as obvious as starvation, severe illness, and death along with environmental effects of the hoarding, such as household destruction. (link)

Hormone: a medicine that kills or limits the growth of bacteria.

Humane relocation: Humane relocation refers to the practice of transporting un-owned pets in need of adoption (primarily dogs and cats) from areas with a surplus of homeless pets to areas with a higher demand for pets and more shelter and rescue space. (link) When done responsibly, it is a cooperative, common-sense method of finding homes for pets that might otherwise be euthanized. When done without care, it does nothing to solve the problem of pet overpopulation at its source,  and in some cases even encourages it. Worse, it can turn participating rescues and shelters into unregulated pet stores that deal in animals of unknown backgrounds – animals that may have serious behavioral problems or may be infected with parasites and diseases not endemic to a particular region (e.g. whip worm, heart worm, or rabies). (link)

IACUC: an “Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.” This committee reviews an institution’s research protocols and level of animal care.

Limited Admission Animal Shelter: The term limited-admission shelter applies to a shelter that limits the type of pets it accepts. Traditionally, humane societies and SPCA’s have viewed their role as sheltering animals in need, rehabilitating them to the extent allowed by their funding, and then finding homes for them. Importantly, the public has perceived this to be their role as well. But as the number of surplus dogs declined some shelters have changed their priorities from sheltering dogs in need to being a source of pets in their community. Shelters have always had space and funding limitations which forced them to turn some animals away, but many limited-admission shelters today accept only those animals that are easily adopted out and send all others to government shelters. Limited-admission shelters often market themselves as no-kill shelters, but in many cases that term only signifies that the shelter no longer fulfills its historic role. The alternative to a limited-admission shelter is an open door animal shelter.

Live Release Rate: The live release rate is the percentage of dogs or cats taken into a shelter that are returned to their owners or adopted out as opposed to euthanized. No kill proponents often seek a live release rate of 90% or higher. Due to the differences in the mix of dogs and cats accepted by open-door shelters versus limited-admission shelters, some shelters push instead for a live release concept simply called save more, constantly working to improve outcomes for adoptable pets. Some shelters believe that using a preset live release rate encourages placement of dogs with marginal temperaments.  

No Kill is a term that is used within the animal shelter and rescue community to describe a set of goals aimed at ending the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable pets. The threshold for meeting the goal of “No Kill” is an adoption rate of 90% or higher; the definition of “healthy, adoptable pets” can vary, but is generally viewed as an animal over eight weeks of age without behavioral, health, or injury problems that would make it unsafe or unsuitable for adoption

The No Kill movement isn’t popular with everyone, though.  Some activists and animal rights groups are critical of the No-Kill  movement because they don’t believe it accomplishes its stated goals and that it leads to additional problems (such as animal hoarding or putting an unfair strain on open-admission shelters) (link), or that it is “pro-breeder.” (link) Its appealing terminology can also be (and has been) employed as “slick marketing” without substance(link).

For information about No Kill from the perspective of a supporter, click here.

For information about No Kill from the perspective of a detractor, click here.

Neutering: the removal of an animal’s (dog’s) reproductive organs. Testes in males, ovaries and often the uterus in females. This makes an animal incapable of producing unwanted litters, and is associated with other behavioral and health changes

Open Admission Animal Shelter: An open-admission animal shelter, which is sometimes referred to as an open-door shelter, is an animal shelter that will accept any animal, even if only temporarily, regardless of the animal’s behavior or health status. Most municipal shelters are open-door shelters. Because of their willingness to accept dogs that may not be adoptable, this type of shelter rarely labels itself a no-kill shelter.

Phocomelia: Limb defects, including missing, shortened, or extra limbs

Pipeline: The term pipeline is used in reference to the source of pets, dogs in particular, that some shelters utilize to have animals available for adoption. Due to the decline in the number of local dogs that need sheltering in some regions, a growing number of shelters no longer serve in their traditional role as a place of refuge for sick or abandoned animals in their community. Instead they have turned to importing animals as a way of supplying pets to their community. The arrangements and transport which facilitate this constant supply of dogs is referred to as the pipeline.

Pound: A pound is a government shelter used for confining stray animals.

Puppy Mill: a pejorative term to describe an establishment that breeds puppies for sale, typically at a high volume, and without regard to the welfare or health of the animals involved.

Purebred dog: a dog of a specific breed with a documented pedigree in a stud book. The dog may be registered with a local or national breed club.

Rehome: To rehome pets is to take pets takes in, house and find permanent homes for pets needing homes. Rehomers generally operate out of private homes or networks of private homes rather than brick and mortar buildings. They can be run by a single person, by organizations and/or by networks of rescuers working together. Some are part of national breed club networks, such as the Doberman Pincher Club of America, while others may focus on local shelter dogs. They can be well organized groups with non profit tax status and established codes of conduct. They can also be fly-by-night operations that hurt the pets they keep and mislead adopters about the background, health and temperament of the pets they offer. People who rehome dogs sometimes are referred to as rescuers.

NAIA prefers the term rehome to rescue because rescue suggests that their animals were saved from horrific circumstances, a situation that encourages adopters to make emotional rather than well-reasoned decisions.  

Rescue: See rehome above:  Rescues take in, house and find permanent homes for pets in need. Unlike shelters they are not brick and mortar buildings, but generally operate out of private homes or networks of private homes. They can be run by a single person, by organizations and/or by networks of rescuers working together. Some are part of national breed club rescue networks, such as the Doberman Pincher Club of America Rescue, while others may focus on local shelter dogs. They can be well organized groups with non profit tax status and established codes of conduct. They can also be fly-by-night operations that hurt the pets they keep and mislead adopters about the background, health and temperament of the pets they offer.

Retail Rescue: Historically, rescue organizations operated without thought of profit. Many AKC parent breed-club rescues, for example, operated under well-developed codes of ethics and widely accepted operating guidelines. The goal was to break even: to raise enough money to be able to rehabilitate animals with a reasonable chance of success in a new home; to be able to fix a broken bone, to eradicate parasites, cure ear infections, to housebreak or socialize a dog, and so on. As the number of dogs needing rescue in certain locales decreased, a new kind of rescue model emerged. These rescues found that by abandoning some or all of their predecessors' sourcing guidelines and buying from dog auctions or marginal kennels, accepting dogs with temperament problems or from distant and/or unknown sources; by doing less in the way of rehabilitation and by moving a vast number of dogs, they could make a profit. Because these rescues operate publicly as not-for-profit organizations with IRS tax status, the fact that retail rescues are businesses seeking to make a profit is blurred in the public's mind. It may also be unclear to the public that their tax status has nothing to do with animal welfare standards. The result is that the standards of care and business practices of retail rescues are judged by a different standard than are businesses known to be operating for profit. Retail rescues are unregulated in many states.

Retail Shelter: A retail shelter is an animal business that maintains its public image as a traditional humane society, SPCA or rescue, but operates more like a pet store than a traditional shelter. Such shelters often travel long distances out of their service areas to acquire animals to sell rather than serving the needs of local animals. Some retail shelters and rescues import dogs from foreign countries to keep their shelters well stocked. Along with a large number of dogs and cats, retail shelters often sell a full range of pet supplies to their customers: leashes, toys, pet food and health care products. Retail shelters call their sales adoptions, and market themselves as animal protection organizations, marketing claims that give them a market place advantage over other pet sellers.

Returned to Owners – RTO: There are four basic outcomes possible for shelter animals. They can be returned to their owners, adopted out, euthanized or transferred to another shelter, rescue or foster home. For beloved pets that have wandered off their property or otherwise become separated from their owners, the local animal shelter, especially the municipal shelter, is a place of refuge and the first place to look for a lost pet.

Shelter: An animal shelter is an enterprise that takes in animals relinquished by members of the public as well as strays, with the objective of adopting them into permanent homes. Unlike rescues, shelters maintain permanent facilities for housing the animals they keep.

Somatic Cell Count: this refers to the number of cells per milliliter in milk, primarily white blood cells.

Stray: A stray animal is a shelter animal that was admitted as a lost dog or cat, not one that was relinquished by its owner to the shelter.

Superbug: a strain of bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotic drugs.

Teratogenicity: Manifestation of developmental toxicity by the induction/increase of the frequency of structural disorders in the progeny

Thalidomide: a drug marketed as a miracle cure for morning sickness and insomnia during the late 1950s. Its use led to fetal deaths and more than 15,000 birth defects.

Traditional Humane Society or SPCA: A traditional humane society or SPCA is an organization that operates one or more brick-and-mortar animal shelters, whose primary role is to shelter and place homeless animals in their community and raise awareness about animal welfare and abuse issues.

Vivisection: surgery performed on living organisms for the purposes of research. In current usage, it is generally a pejorative term, used to refer to experimentation on live animals in general.