Sculptor Beniamino Bufano’s bear sculpture in front of Marin Humane in Novato.

A common question I’m asked is: “What are the differences between all the animal organizations?”

There are numerous animal organizations — both locally and nationally — and it can be confusing to know how, or even if, they’re connected. From names like SPCA, ASPCA, humane societies and various “rescue” organizations, shifting through the alphabet soup is challenging for the average animal lover.

The animal welfare movement in the United States began in the late 1860s. Originally concerned about how animals were used, overworked or abused for transportation, the first humane societies often focused on horses or livestock. Many even took on child abuse issues because no one else would (child protective services were not yet in existence). Humane societies believed their mission of preventing cruelty was applicable to all living beings.

The American Humane Association was founded in 1877 and continues to have two divisions, one for animal protection and the other for child protection services. Henry Bergh, president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was involved in investigating and advocating for the removal of an abused and neglected child named Mary Ellen from her home — the first successfully prosecuted case of child abuse in New York City.

As the population grew and moved from east to west, communities formed their own SPCAs (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) to operate animal shelters, provide humane education programs and/or enforce animal-related laws. Since there is no one national group, each organization is independent of the other. Thus, each animal shelter may offer its community something a little different from the next.

Marin Humane often partners with national groups like the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, however these organizations do not operate any animal shelters in the Bay Area and contributions to them do not come to the local organizations.

Instead, these local groups, like Marin Humane, rely on the community for support.

An animal shelter or rescue organization that claims not to euthanize any animals may call itself a “no-kill” organization. However, this can be misleading as these groups can limit what animals they will take. Many only accept animals they believe are adoptable. This selective intake inevitably results in people, and the animals they can no longer keep, being turned away. The term “no-kill” really means one agency’s choice in how it sees its role in solving the community’s problem of unwanted animals. Supporting “no-kill” (or selective intake) shelters avoids the hard, emotional questions about what to do with so many animals in local shelters. The “no-kill” label can be a great marketing tagline, but it’s divisive and misleading.

Marin Humane is an “open door” shelter; we take any animals from anywhere in our county at any time. Animals are not euthanized for lack of space or length of stay, only for severe medical or behavioral issues. It’s a last resort when there are no other appropriate options, and it’s done with the utmost consideration and care.

The animal welfare world is complex, but understanding the landscape can help the average animal lover be more informed as to which organization he or she would like to support. Whichever animal welfare organization you support, the animals thank you.