For those of you who have volunteered at, adopted from, or visited an animal shelter, did you feel happy after you left the shelter? Or did you feel sad, depressed, anxious, and worried about the pets left behind? If it is the latter, then I want to tell you that there is a shelter in the U.S. (and not the only one) where you will actually feel good after visiting. It is the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA.

I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Dr. Mark Goldstein (President of San Diego Humane) for my next book entitled “Defending the Defenseless: A Guide to Protecting and Advocating for Pets” (due out later this summer). In talking with Dr. Mark, he shared his vision for transforming how we house and treat homeless pets. I learned just how special San Diego Humane is and the extraordinary steps they are taking to make the campus (they do not like the word shelter) into a welcoming place for both people and pets. When I was in San Diego this week conducting a training at a conference, I visited San Diego Humane for the first time and I actually felt good when I was there and when I left. How is that possible?

First, San Diego Humane is proud to say that they have not euthanized any healthy or treatable pet for the past ten years. This a shelter that receives about 38,000 pets annually!!! They have achieved this in several ways, but primarily by working with the community to educate and keep pets in their homes, rather than having pets surrendered. But they provide respect to those people who do surrender their pet.

Second, they have a state-of-the-art facility that is welcoming to people and enriching for the pets. Check out some of the photos that I took while I was there. The visitor area has empowering messages scrolled on the walls and the facility has received a fung shui makeover. You feel calm and happy when you’re there, which I believe makes it easier for people to take their time to stroll the hallways to look at every animal. The pets also reside in comfortable “habitats” until they are adopted. These habitats were created at no-cost to the shelter after they hosted a contest for interior design students. Each habitat is decorated differently and contributes to the emotional and physical well-being of each pet. While each habitat takes up more space than a traditional shelter caging system, these pets are happier and healthier, which results in quicker adoptions and less medical issues/costs. It was so welcoming that I even asked if I could curl up in one of the habitats and take a nap with a pet. The dog named Army was in favor of my request and offered to share his couch!

Third, they are tackling the issue of the most euthanized pet in shelters … kittens! In 2008, San Diego Humane created the Paws to Success program and established a kitten nursery that, during kitten season, is staffed around the clock and estimates helping over 1,000 kittens this year alone. This was the best part of my visit because I saw first-hand how innovative yet simple the kitten nursery was. The goal is to provide a healthy and nurturing environment for the kittens to grow up healthy and find loving homes. They had recently received their first arrivals of the season, and several of the kittens were only a day or two old. The nursery was decorated like a human baby’s nursery (so cute!!) and each cage had a timer on it that would beep when the kittens needed bottle feeding. During the summer months, the kitten nursery could have hundreds of newborns requiring care.

After the kittens are 8-weeks of age, they can enter the main shelter and hang out in the kitten area that contains a kitten play room. I can only image the serious kitten romping that goes on in this massive play pen!

San Diego Humane engages in numerous methods to help keeps pets in their homes and to maintain their mission of re-homing every healthy and treatable pet that enters their facility. You can read more about their amazing work when my book is released later this summer. It truly is inspiring how San Diego Humane has changed the face of animal sheltering.

In the meantime, I am thinking fondly of the dogs named Bernadette (in the photo) and Army, and the cat named Babette, all of whom captured my heart. I know that all three, along with their other housemates, will find loving homes because San Diego Humane is committed to giving each pet the time to find that perfect home. I can only hope that San Diego Humane’s vision spreads to other shelters to show that it is possible to re-home all healthy and treatable pets. After all, if these homeless pets come to us for care, that is the least that we can do, right? I give San Diego Humane a You Can Do More “Paws High Five” for their vision, innovation and inspiration!