Basic Vocabulary for Animal Welfare Volunteers

People often send me questions about what certain common animal welfare terminology means. Since those of us who have been in animal welfare for a while speak our own odd dialect, I thought it might be useful to provide a glossary. I’m going to address those terms about which I have been asked recently – I know there are many I won’t think of, but there’s always another column! 

Owner Surrender or Owner Turn-In

Commonly referred to as an OTI, the owner turn-in is a dog (or other pet) surrendered to the shelter by the actual owner. On the plus side, we can often get more information about the animal’s history. On the negative side, many shelters only give OTI animals 24 hours prior to euthanasia, because they know that there is no one looking for this dog. Good shelters work hard to get OTI animals to rescue FAST.

Backyard Breeder (BYB)

These are the jerks who have a couple of dogs that they breed ad infinitum as a money making enterprise. BYB’s are notorious for not taking proper care of the dogs, and the puppies are often sickly, inbred, and poorly socialized. They often sell the puppies on Craig’s List or on the side of road, which tells you that they do not give a damn where the puppies wind up. 

Roadside Puppy Sellers

Those of us in animal welfare HATE these people. These are the vermin you see sitting on the side of the road, rain or shine, Saharan heat or Arctic cold, selling puppies. They do not care if the puppies go to good homes, as long as the purchaser has cash in hand. It is entirely possible that the puppies are sick, sometimes fatally so. It is almost probable that the puppies do not have the bloodlines the seller claims for them; you may buy a “purebred Maltese” for hundreds of dollars and end up with a mixed breed pet engendered by poor supervision of the parent dogs. (Note the probability of overlap between BYB and Roadside Puppy Seller.)

Puppy Mill 

This is worse than a BYB scenario. Puppy mills are large scale breeding operations, in which the animals spend their lives in deplorable conditions, often neglected and deprived of clean surroundings, fresh air, good food, and veterinary care. Inbreeding is common. Mortality is high among both puppies and mother dogs, due to overbreeding and neglect. I cannot express in a single paragraph exactly how utterly disgusting a puppy mill is. I’ve been in one, and I will never, ever get those images out of my head. It is an understatement to say that they should be outlawed nationwide, with severe penalties for those caught running one.

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)

BSL is legislation that prohibits or at least places restrictions on the ownership of certain breeds. It is mostly commonly proposed or enacted in relation to pit bulls, but other breeds are definitively at risk. The Rottweiler, Cane Corso, Doberman, Dogo Argentino, and Chow are other breeds often targeted by BSL advocates. BSL proponents claim that these breeds are dangerous to the public, and want them eradicated. Eradicated is a nice way of saying that these laws can force people to euthanize well behaved family pets. Why? Because they LOOK like they might have one of these breeds in their lineage. I know it sounds impossible, but it has happened, many times, all over the United States and Canada, among other places. 


This condition is extremely common among some breeds, but can happen to any breed.  It basically means one of the animal’s testicles is not where it belongs. In and of itself, this is not a big deal, but it’s even more important to neuter these animals, as cryptorchid animals can develop testicular cancers, possibly from the unnatural compression of the misplaced organ.


Mange is one of the most common conditions seen among dogs coming into shelters and rescues. There are two primary types: sarcoptic (contagious) and demodectic (hereditary and not contagious).  Both are readily treatable and definitively NOT a reason to refuse to take in a particular dog. Just be aware that dogs with sarcoptic mange can transmit the condition to other pets in your household and thus should be isolated until they are no longer contagious.


A microchip (or chip) is inserted via hypodermic injection between the animal’s shoulder blades, just under the skin. This chip is then registered with a monitoring agency that records the animal’s name, age, description, and contact information for the owner. It is a vital tool in returning lost animals to their owners, which is why most shelters and rescue groups microchip their animals prior to adoption.

I’ll start paying closer attention to the vocabulary we use that makes other people look at us funny, so I can add to this list in future columns. Suggestions? Words that stumped you as newcomers to AW?


  1. lynette says

    I get asked all the time what is “EU”. :-( I also interviewed a new pet sitter this weekend; showed her my new (adorable!) foster puppy from MCAS. I explained that he is being treated for a non-contagious form of mange; she looked at him in horror and said, “aren’t you afraid your other dogs are going to catch it?” I said, “It is NON-contagious demodectic mange.”. UGH. :-(

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