Best Practices: What’s Your Veterinary Decision-Making Process?

When making veterinary decisions, how do you balance the needs of the individual animal, the shelter population, the community, and your organization’s resources? Dr. Graham Brayshaw, Director of Animal Services at Animal Humane Society, walks you through a process step-by-step. We hope these top takeaways will encourage you to listen to his webinar, “Veterinary Decision Making in Animal Welfare,” the first in our three-part Best Practices series on Veterinary Care in a Shelter Setting

Make Sure You’re Color-Coordinated

When making outcome decisions, Animal Humane Society assigns each animal a color:

  • Red: Animal who the organization is unable to place
  • Green: Animal “we know we can place”
  • Yellow: Unsure, borderline; requires more information to decide outcome

Empower Staff & Increase Engagement (and give the vets a break!)

“The vast majority of decisions about outcome we make are clear and easy,” says Dr. Brayshaw. “Empower your staff experts to spread out the decision-making process for Red & Green.” This allows for buy-in from staff and keeps everyone engaged in the process—and takes the burden off your veterinarians. “If you have a vet making a medical call on absolutely every animal,” says Dr. Brayshaw, “you are probably putting too much on the plate of one vet.”

Keep Asking Questions

Animal Humane Society asks a series of questions when determining the outcome of a Yellow animal:

  • What are the goals of the organization? Are we trying to have the widest reach or are we able to spend all resources on individual animals?
  • What are the needs of the individual animal?
  • What resources do we have available?
  • With our resources, can we give the animal at least one year of a good quality of  life?
    • If yes, can we treat the animal in shelter?
    • If no, does the animal require extensive care?

It’s 10 PM. Do You Know Where Your Documented Decision Process Is?

If you don’t yet have your approach to placing animals documented, now is a great time to do it. Dr. Brayshaw suggests including answers to the following questions:

  • Do you know who your experts are? 
  • Do you know what to do when your experts disagree?
  • Do staff know where to go when they have a question about a decision?
  • Do you have a process for regularly reviewing decisions?

To learn more, you are encouraged to listen to the complete recording.

More on Best Practices

Provision on Veterinary Care in a Shelter Setting Best Practices
Webinar Series: Veterinary Care in a Shelter Setting Best Practices


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The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.


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