1. Believe you can get to zero euthanasia of all adoptable and treatable dogs and cats
If you believe, you will get there. Research by our Executive Director, Emeritus Professor Rand shows that pound managers who believe, have much lower euthanasia rates than those who do not believe it is possible.
Some shelters and pounds have achieved zero euthanasia of all adoptable and treatable dogs and cats. This is generally accepted as live release rates of 90% or higher.
Engage your community in getting to zero euthanasia of healthy and adoptable animals by being transparent in where you are now with saving lives. Ask your community to help you get to zero. “Responsible pet ownership” marketing often falls on deaf ears, but engaging the community in a vision of what is possible is very powerful.
Reducing intake is the most effective way to reduce euthanasia. There is a close correlation between the numbers of dogs and cats admitted and numbers euthanased.
The estimated the cost of shelter care is $245 per week for a dog or cat. When the additional costs of preventive and veterinary care are included, the average cost to rehome a dog after one week of care is $1,000, and a cat $750.
Strategies aimed at decreasing numbers of admissions are more effective at reducing costs and numbers euthanased than strategies that focus on rehoming animals. Therefore, increasing resourcing to reduce admission numbers is a more effective investment.
Reducing intake can be achieved through:
3. Free and low-cost ID campaigns targeted to areas overrepresented by shelter intake
Research by our Executive Director, Emeritus Professor Rand shows that pounds with high reclaim rates have lower euthanasia rates. Free and low cost microchipping targeted to communities contributing to high stray intake into the pound or shelter is effective. These are usually underserviced communities. Combine these events with “check a chip” so pet owners can update their contact details for their pet on the microchip database. Provide free engraved ID tags and collars, so all pets have visual identification and therefore neighbours can return pets directly to owners without impounding and the subsequent risk that they will not be reclaimed because of prohibitive fines. Remember to have suitable facilities for cats and that some people in these communities will need assistance with transportation to participate. Reducing shelter intake reduces costs and frees up resources to help those animals that do need sheltering.
4. Free and low-cost desexing targeted to areas of high puppy and kitten intake
Transparency of intake and euthanasia rates within pounds can be used to identify low performing areas. These areas may then be targeted for community intervention programs, such as low cost or free desexing and increased education on the importance of desexing your pets. Targeted desexing campaigns have greater success than non-targeted campaigns as precious resources are directed to where they are needed most. Increasing the number of pets desexed in communities with low desexing rates will decrease the number of pets entering into municipal pounds or shelters.
5. Help relinquishing owners keep their pet.
Always schedule an interview before accepting a pet for surrender. Research shows that most people faced with surrendering a pet would really like to keep it, if the obstacles can be overcome.
Help pet owners to keep their pet rather than relinquish it. It is usually far more cost-effective, and helps you get to zero. Some pets who are relinquished are being managed well in the community, but would not pass your behaviour test. Try wherever possible to help people keep their pets. Consider providing behaviour counselling, food-banks, healthcare and even financial counselling. This will reduce overall costs for the shelter by decreasing intake. Municipal pounds can create volunteer groups to provide these areas of expertise to help decrease intake and euthanasia.
Avoid judging owners, and instead do the best for the pet. Research shows that people on low income have a stronger bond with their pet than high income families. Poor families are often providing a good home for their pet. Because they don’t have the funds to pay for unexpected veterinary costs, doesn’t mean the pet doesn’t have a good home. If your shelter’s policy is to get those owners without funds for unexpected veterinary costs, to surrender their treatable pets, change it. It will save pets’ lives and shelter money. Besides, when you rehome the animal, it takes the home of another in the shelter.
Supporting pet owners who are struggling is a more cost-effective way of dealing with the issue of pet surrender. On average, it costs $250 to keep a dog or cat for a week, and when routine health care is added, the cost to adopt a dog after one week is approximately $1000, and $750 for cats, according to Animal Welfare League SA data. Alternatively, shelters may ask the person surrendering their pet (or stray cat) to continue caring for the animal until a home can be found for it. This is usually better for the pet because shelters are stressful places for animals, and it frees up your resources instead of caring for it in the shelter until it can be found a home.
6. Quick Adoptability Test at the Interview:
Providing pet owners with a realistic assessment of the length of stay and likelihood of adoption versus euthanasia, based on behaviour, health and cuteness is a proven way to decrease the number of pets surrendered to a shelter. Most pet owners who are surrendering their pets, care deeply for their animals. If the chances that their pet will be living in a shelter or pound for an extended period before adoption or even euthanased, many owners will attempt to find a better solution and not surrender their pets. The shelter may provide resources or support to the owner who is struggling to keep their animal. For more information on Capacity for Care, go to UC Davis Korat Shelter Medicine Program.
7. Don’t take more than you can care for
Don’t take in more animals than you have the capacity to care for. Even in open admission shelters and pounds, there are options to make appointments for people who are not in a dire situation. You can commit to taking their animal when a place comes up, and work with them to try to find a home for it before it is admitted. Place photos and a description on your website to advertise the pet and on Pet Address while it is still in the owner’s home – it can save the pet’s life and save you money.
Increase adoptions and get them out faster.
8. Continuous behaviour assessment instead of formal behaviour testing
Researchers have found that for predicting dangerous behaviour after adoption, the results of formal behaviour tests in shelters are no better than tossing a coin, and in fact are often much worse,. This is because most dogs who test positive will be false positives, and will never exhibit these behaviours in a normal home environment. What this tells us, is that the shelter environment is an extremely stressful place for dogs (and cats). Many dogs have been euthanased on the basis of their score on a formal behaviour test, which are designed to bring out the worst in a dog. The researchers argue that scarce resources should not be devoted to flawed formal evaluations that do not increase public safety. Instead, it is better for dogs, shelters and communities, to maximize the opportunities for dogs to interact with people and other dogs in normal and enjoyable ways. These should mirror what the dogs are expected to do once they are adopted, for example, walking, playing and socialising with people and other dogs, games and training. The added benefit is that this will enrich the dogs’ lives, and minimize the adverse effects of being in a shelter, which lead to illness and behaviour problems. Continuously assessing how dogs react to the activities they will experience after adoption is a more reliable way of predicting problematic behaviours in future adoptive homes. Click to link to article by Gary Patronek.
9. Fast-Tracking the adoption process:
Fast-Tracking is the process where those animals with the highest likelihood of being adopted are advertised first. Although many believe this process is unfair, and that advertisement should be based on time of admittance (those who entered the shelter first should be advertised first). However, research shows that by Fast-Tracking, more pets will be adopted out at a faster rate, saving more lives.
Fast tracking has benefits for all shelter animals and helps maximize your life-saving capacity. Minimizing the average length of stay reduces the daily in-shelter population, allowing more resources (eg. time, housing space, and attention) to be available for each animal present. In shelters that control or limit intake, more “fast track” animals may be admitted and adopted as “fast track” animals leave more quickly.
10. Make adoptions easy
Make adoption easy. Look for a good home, not the perfect home. Small shelters and rescue groups often look for perfect homes for pets, frequently overlooking very loving good homes. How many of us have provided a loving home for a pet, but would not qualify to adopt a pet from a typical small shelter or rescue group?
Restrictions such as you must not have young children, must not work all day, must have 1.2m fences, must keep the cat inside only, must not have electronic fencing, must have letter from landlord and veterinarians are all barriers to adoption, which keep pets behind bars when there are loving homes.
More restrictive practices include requiring a police check. This takes about 6 weeks and costs the shelter or rescue group 6 weeks more housing costs, and the cost of the police check. Recently I was denied two cats from a rescue group because I didn’t have young children, and they only wanted them to go to a family with young children. At the same time, they complained how many cats that had in foster, and some of them had been there for more than a year!
Research shows that shelters that place minimal restrictions on prospective adopters do not have more pets surrendered, or more cruelty cases, than those shelters and rescues with multiple strict restrictions. If people care enough to come to you to get a pet, and you deny them one, they will get one from somewhere else, as I did.
11. Reduce sickness in animals within shelters
The best way to reduce sickness of animals within shelters is to decrease the length of their stay. Cat flu rates vary from shelter to shelter; some have rates lower than 10% and others rates higher than 90%. Often, shelters will euthanase cats with flu if they are sneezing or do not eat for 2 days. However, housing cats in shelters, often in confined spaces, increases stress and their chance of getting cat flu. The best ways for a shelter to decrease cat flu and sickness is to decrease the time they are in the shelter and provide housing which minimizes stress.
In addition, it is important to vaccinate on entry with core vaccines. For cats, these are, Feline parvovirus, feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus, and for dogs, these are, Canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus and canine parvovirus. Non-core but highly recommended vaccines for dogs also include, parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica.
12. Reduce stress
Shelters are very stressful places. This leads to rapid onset of illness, such as cat flu in cats and respiratory and gastrointestinal signs in dogs.
There are many simple things you can do to reduce the stress for cats and dogs. For example for cats, just spot clean cages – the more a cat is moved from it’s cage, the more likely it is to get sick. If you only have the typical small cages, put a box for the cat to perch on or hide under. Better still, when one cat is adopted, do not take in another cat, but use a cat portal (see picture) to provide access to two cages. This separates the toilet area from their food area, and one side is covered to provide a secure place to hide. Cats that have access to larger cages show relaxed behaviours in 3 days compared to 7 days for cats in the traditional small metal cage, and they are less likely to get sick. They are adopted twice as quickly as cats in small cages, so you can still adopt out the same number of cats, as when all the cages are occupied. It costs less, because fewer cats housed at anyone time, means less cleaning and feeding costs, and less illness, means less medication costs.
Click here for more information on reducing stress for:
13. Pop-up adoption Days
You’ve probably heard of at least one or two pop-up adoption events. These events are a great way to rehome a large number of animals and generate community engagement. Even those people not quite ready to adopt a pet, may visit the event and become motivated to begin the process of adoption, either on the day, or at a later time that better suits them. Contact shelters running successful pop-up adoption events such as the RSPCA, to find out tips to a successful event, or if you can join their event.
14. Engage with rescue and foster groups
Research by our Executive Director, Emeritus Professor Rand shows that pounds that work closely with foster and rescue groups have much lower euthanasia rates than those that do not.
15. Innovative advertisements
Creative advertisements increase public awareness, and change public perception that rescue pets are “damaged goods” with health and behaviour problems. Most animals are surrendered for reasons related to the owner, not the pet. Innovative advertisements save lives. Price promotions such as 12 days to Christmas, get a $12 kitten or buy one, get one free, increase awareness. Australian research shows that people adopting free or low-cost pets from shelters have just as strong attachment as people who pay more. Be innovative in your advertisements. Market your pets and make them personable. It can be done inexpensively. These are the photographs from a one-person operated photography studio created by Marsha Chaney, Grant County Animal Shelter Director, Williamstown, KY,
16. Advertise pets on Pet Rescue
Advertise dogs and cats in your shelter or foster care on PetRescue’s adoption promotion services. It is a no-brainer!
PetRescue.com.au is Australia’s most visited charity website. It gives the dogs and cats in your care the very best chance of finding a forever home. It is also Australia’s largest searchable database of adoptable pets that’s free to access for all pet seekers. It is free for rescues, shelters and pounds to use, takes only a few minutes to list a pet, and the programs help thousands of pets find a new home every month. Designed to help rescue organisations get their adoptable pets online, PetRescue.com.au makes rescue pets more accessible to the pet-seeking public. Every day, PetRescue.com.au site is visited by more than 20,000 pet-seeking web visitors.
Around 50% of the pets posted find a new home within 40 days of being featured! Their advertising reach is far more than your shelter or pound could ever afford. Promoting rescue pets via PetRescue’s social media pages helps to get them adopted faster. Every pet listed on PetRescue.com.au also has social share buttons, encouraging all visitors to share the pets they find online with their family and friends. Use PetRescue – it will save money and lives.
PetRescue also organises and promotes adoption events, to give your rescue pets the perfect opportunity to meet families looking to adopt.
17. Post-adoption follow up
Good post-adoption support for your adopters benefits the adopters, the dogs and cats you adopt, and your shelter. This is especially true for the more challenging pet-adopter matches, and for animals with more challenging behaviors. Ideally, it is best to follow up with every adopter, but when time and resources are in short supply, start by following up with adopters who chose a dog or cat with behavioral challenges or chose one that had energy levels incompatible with their lifestyle.
Providing follow-up support is one of the best ways to help keep the bond between adopters and their new family members strong, and helps resolve behaviour issues early.
Reach out to your adopters the third day after the adoption, the third week after adoption, and the third month after adoption. When you contact them, be sure to have a list of resources available, such as:
- Training classes, behaviour help line or consults, or other behaviour resources your shelter provides
- Names of trainers and certified applied animal behaviorists in your area, in the event an adopter needs assistance with specific issues
- Recommendations for online resources, books, and DVDs to help adopters understand and address their dog’s behavioural challenges
Why is best practice in shelters, pounds and rescues important?
While hard to believe, many shelter and pound managers don’t implement strategies that markedly reduce euthanasia. When applied together, these strategies will get you to zero.
How may I help?
- Donate to the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation. Your contribution will help us save the lives of 100,000 dogs and cats that are euthanased annually in pounds and shelters simply by mismanagement and lack of education
- Our director Emeritus Professor Rand, frequently speaks at conferences and other meetings for pound and shelter managers and your donation will increase the reach of these.
Your support will provide hope to thousands of homeless pets.
While hard to believe, many shelter and pound managers don’t implement strategies that markedly reduce euthanasia. When applied together, these strategies will get you to zero euthanasia of all healthy and adoptable dogs and cats.