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Shelter Diagnostic System

Does the staff at your shelter feel their work is valued? Do they enjoy being at work? Are they proud of their contribution to animal welfare? The answers to these questions have a huge impact on how your shelter operates and on the animals you work to protect.

If you're unsure of the answers to these questions, the Shelter Diagnostic System can help. The SDS survey won't ask about your protocols for cleaning cat cages or controlling disease outbreaks. Instead, it focuses on how employees view the experience of working for your organization. Employees report how they feel about management, internal communication, and more. After the results are tabulated, the SDS team presents findings and assists with a plan for improvement.

What exactly is the Shelter Diagnostic System (SDS)?

SDS is an assessment tool designed to help private and public animal shelters run better by surveying employees and making specific recommendations based on survey results.

Developed in partnership between the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), this system evaluates aspects of the organization central to employee attitudes, perceptions, and opinions that have direct implications for organizational effectiveness and well-being.The SDS team has gathered data from dozens of animal welfare organizations over the years so the results of the survey will show where your individual organization falls within the scale of other organizations, to help provide a sense of where your group's strengths and weaknesses are.

Specific issues the SDS addresses:

  • Communication effectiveness
  • Supervision
  • Teamwork
  • Peer support
  • Euthanasia practices
  • Employee morale
  • Job stress
  • Training

The SDS Process

The process starts with an initial phone call to discuss your organization where you provide input into how you would like your data reported (e.g., by department). The online survey process lasts around two weeks and enables employees to complete the survey from a home or work computer.

"The Sacramento SPCA has worked with the University of North Carolina's shelter diagnostic system for the past six years and find the system to be helpful by providing significant data to make improvements in our operations, making a more humane organizational environment for our staff. Staff appreciate the opportunity to have a qualified third party listen to their ideas, too. The survey is safe, efficient, relevant, and worthwhile. I would recommend all municipal and nonprofit agencies take advantage of this great opportunity. To do so, I believe, is a sound business decision."
—RickJohnson, CEO, Sacramento SPCA

The survey results will be used to generate a summary report, which defines what your organization is doing well and where improvements can be made. In addition, you will receive a feedback guide that will assist you in determining specific actions to improve your organization. A trained professional from UNC Charlotte can help you interpret your organization's results.

SDS Pricing

Pricing is based on the size of the organization (i.e., number of employees). Because the development costs of the SDS were subsidized by The Humane Society of the United States and UNC Charlotte, you only pay the direct expenses associated with implementing the system in your organization. To assist you in estimating your cost, use these guidelines:

  • 25 Employees: Approximately $1025
  • 50 Employees: Approximately $1400
  • 75 Employees: Approximately $1800

More Information

To get started or for questions about the Shelter Diagnostic System, contact UNCC at or 704-687-1351. Visit online at

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