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6 Ways to Improve Lighting in Shelters and Help Pets

Heather E. Lewis

While the best place for a dog or a cat is a loving home, a shelter can be a lot less stressful if the design considers the social, physical, and physiological needs of each animal. One important topic for creating Fear Free spaces in a shelter is lighting. Below are some practical ideas every shelter can incorporate:

  • Sunlight Is Best. No matter what we do with artificial lighting, we cannot replace the benefits of natural sunlight. Regardless of the age and quality of your shelter, it’s possible to find ways for the pets to experience daylight. For dogs, outside play time or walks will make a positive difference for behavior and well-being. A catio can be a great addition for adoptable cats; they will enjoy sunbathing and exploring a safe outdoor environment. Even if your shelter is extremely limited, look for ways to add a glass door or a tube skylight to let in natural light. Daylight benefits:
    • Reinforces natural circadian rhythms.
    • Improves staff and volunteer productivity and mood.
    • Natural UV disinfection for spaces receiving direct sunlight.
    • Energy savings for spaces that do not need to rely on much artificial lighting.
    • Creates an environment that feels more natural.
  • Replace Fluorescent Fixtures with LED. If you’re building a new shelter, this is required by energy codes, but many people do not know to replace older fluorescent lighting in their current shelters. Fluorescent fixtures buzz and flicker, and these disturbances are more obvious to dogs and cats than to people because of the way pets see and hear. Properly designed LED lighting converts alternating current to direct current at the fixture, which eliminates buzzing and flickering. As a bonus, LED fixtures use far less energy than fluorescent ones, so lighting replacement projects pay for themselves quickly.
  • Go Dimmable. LED lighting fixtures are easy to specify with dimming controls. This is a wonderful feature as it allows shelter staff to brightly light spaces when they are being cleaned or during adoption hours, but to turn down the lights during quieter times so dogs and cats can rest more easily throughout the day.
  • Keep It Dark at Night. If it is necessary to keep a light on at night for staff safety, specify a fixture that emits red light. Because dogs and cats do not see colors on the red end of the human visible spectrum, a red light creates a darker space for pets at night, allowing them to sleep normally in the shelter.
  • Use Cool Color Temperatures. Lighting can be designed to balance beautifully with natural daylight. Fixtures that are color balanced but tuned toward cooler color “temperatures” will feel more like daylight. We specify fixtures that emit light in the 3500 – 4000 Kelvin range. These are cool but not so cold as to feel institutional. The goal is for spaces to feel clean and crisp! Be careful to specify all fixtures in a similar color temperature so they blend well together.
  • Light Adoptable Animals Well. While we like animals to rest well during non-adoption hours, we also want them to leave the shelter quickly and go to their forever homes. Adoption spaces should be lit more brightly than circulation areas where people are viewing, so the animals show well and gain the attention of potential adopters.

A good lighting design can help reduce fear, stress, and anxiety in a shelter setting and can help the pets go home more quickly. It is well worth the investment!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB, is a principal of Animal Arts, an architectural firm that has exclusively designed animal care facilities, including veterinary hospitals and animal shelters, for more than three decades.  She has worked on dozens of projects across the country, both large and small in her 19 years with the firm.  Heather is a member of the Fear Free℠ Advisory Board and assisted in creating the Fear Free facility standards for veterinary hospitals.  Heather is a regular contributor to various veterinary industry magazines.  She has spoken on the design of facilities for the care of animals at dozens of national and regional conferences including Fetch Hospital Design Conferences, the UC Davis Low Stress Animal Handling Conference, and the Humane Society of the United States Animal Care Expo.

Happy Paws Magazine

Spring/Summer 2020 Issue Available Now!