UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The social organization of animal sheltering and protection in British Columbia, Canada Koralesky, Katherine Elizabeth


Animal protection organizations commonly provide care for animals in shelters, enforce animal protection laws, and take initiatives to keep people and animals together. Ensuring animal welfare in this work is not straightforward as animals are categorized according to their property, health, and adoptability status and evaluated using legal criteria and other measures based on their welfare and living situations with their owners. This study, rooted in institutional ethnography, involved observing these work processes and reviewing the documents, policies and laws that organize what happens to animals in British Columbia, Canada. Institutional ethnography (chapter 2) is an approach to inquiry that explores everyday work and how it is organized by institutional processes. The research literature about animal sheltering and protection (chapter 3) focuses on certain well-established themes including reasons for relinquishing animals, how long animals stay in shelters, and euthanasia-related stress in staff. In focus groups, however, animal protection staff identified problems that arise in their work that are not captured in the research literature. Animals with behavioural problems (chapter 4) face complicated pathways to adoption in shelters as work is directed toward monitoring populations of animals and prompt adoption of the majority. Prioritization of this work results in less time for staff to focus on animals needing behavioural modification. For animals living in deprived situations (chapter 5), members of the public often report problems, but the actions of call centre operators and officers are constrained by the legal definition of “distress” together with privacy and property laws; hence, beneficial intervention is often delayed or prevented. Following institutional goals, officers provide “alternative measures” to keep people and animals together (chapter 6), for instance with people in supportive housing, but this work does not always resolve problems and sometimes requires complex and poorly understood forms of collaboration with human social services staff. Recommendations arising from the research include: expanding behavioural modification as a recognized part of shelter work, amending the legal definition of “distress” to better fit animals’ needs, observing how animal and human social services staff coordinate their work activities, and expanding the application of ethnographic methods to animal protection services.

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