The Coast News Group
The San Diego Humane Society's Bahde Center for Shelter Medicine provides medical care far beyond that found in traditional shelters. Courtesy photo

What it takes to stay at zero

For San Diego Humane Society, the word “zero” represents a great accomplishment — not just for the organization, but for the entire county. Zero represents the number of healthy or treatable animals who are in danger of being euthanized in San Diego County animal shelters. SDHS partnered with seven other shelters in the San Diego Animal Welfare Coalition to achieve this goal in 2015, making San Diego the largest city in the country to reach this milestone. “We’re committed to Staying at Zero,” said Gary Weitzman, SDHS president and CEO, “and what that takes involves evolution every year. We’ve seen that especially during the pandemic.”

Even before COVID-19 struck last March, the work to ensure zero euthanasia of healthy or treatable shelter animals was immense. As an open-admission shelter, SDHS won’t turn away any animal in need. They are one of the largest animal welfare agencies in the country, taking in in nearly 50,000 animals annually — including those with serious medical and behavioral needs who would have nowhere else to turn. Saving their lives requires innovation, which is why the organization developed many of their signature programs.

At its San Diego Campus, SDHS operates the Pilar & Chuck Bahde Center for Shelter Medicine, providing medical care far beyond that found in traditional shelters. Its veterinary team — led by one of only 28 veterinarians certified in shelter medicine by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners — performs everything from trauma medicine to specialized surgeries. They repair fractured bones, perform advanced dental work and lead the country in developing new treatments for deadly diseases like parvo and distemper.

Across the street, you’ll find a state-of-the-art Behavior Center that provides a safe space and individualized training plans for some of the most challenging dogs and cats to enter San Diego County shelters. It’s one of just a few facilities of its kind in the country, and it enables SDHS to save hundreds of animals each year.

With the onset of the pandemic, operations for animal shelters became more complex. SDHS pivoted to continue saving animals while meeting the increased needs of pet families. “We had to figure out how to adopt pets online, how to care for animals while staying six feet apart, and how to be there for more people who needed us,” says Weitzman. “One of the ways we Stay at Zero is by keeping pets with the families that love them. During COVID, that’s meant doing even more for our community, like distributing 2 million pet meals, offering medical services, and providing behavior support.”

By providing more resources for pet families in need, SDHS ensures the pandemic doesn’t mean people face the heartbreaking decision to relinquish their animals.

To learn more about SDHS or make a donation to support their work, visit