Written by Kristen Auerbach, Director of Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson AZ
At Pima Animal Care Center (PACC) in Tucson, Arizona, we’ve saved around 91% of the 15,000 pets who’ve entered our shelter in 2018. We take in anywhere between 1,200 and 1,600 cat and dogs each month so moving quickly is the key to saving the maximum number of lives. Through hosting Maddie’s Fund apprenticeships this past year and working with shelters around the country to help them get more pets into foster and adoptive homes faster, we’ve learned that many shelters are holding on to pets longer than they need to or are having trouble finding enough fosters or adopters. We’ve written this article to share with you five strategies you can implement now to move more pets quickly through your system into homes. If you’re struggling with capacity issues, length-of-stay, or are sometimes forced to make the decision to euthanize for space, try these ideas and watch your placements soar!
1. Let the public see pets on stray hold. At PACC, every dog is on public view except those with contagious illnesses, critical medical conditions and those housed in the rabies quarantine area. Visitors can see dogs from the moment they come into the shelter and are put in a kennel, which means we often have 300 or more dogs for the public to see. During stray hold, we go one step further and allow people to ‘pre-adopt’ pets while they’re still on their stray hold. They pay a small deposit, fill out the adoption questionnaire, speak to a counselor and are instructed to return to complete the adoption on the date the pet becomes available and is spayed or neutered. This helps about 25% of our dogs to have a home waiting as soon as they can leave the shelter. If the dog is reclaimed during the stray hold, we simply contact the adopter and offer them a refund or ask them to consider adopting another pet.
2. Make all medium and large dogs available for foster or adoption. Even people with great intentions aren’t always ready to make a lifetime commitment to a big, bouncy dog without first seeing how that dog fits into their home. We offer to let people decide if foster or adoption is the right choice for them and many people choose to foster before adopting. We have the exact same process for adopting and fostering our dogs. Visitors meet the pet they’re interested in, fill out a questionnaire, meet with a placement counselor and in most cases, take the dog home that same day. Once a dog is in foster, our foster volunteers check in weekly to find out if the foster is ready to permanently adopt the dog they’re fostering. If it doesn’t work out, we encourage fosters and adopters to help re-home the pet or bring it back to PACC and let us help them find a better fit for their household.
3. Make taking home a dog easy. Beyond letting people choose whether to foster or adopt, we make it easy for dogs to leave the shelter. We don’t have barriers in place like home visits, background checks or landlord checks and we instead use a conversations-based ‘open adoption’ approach to foster and adoption placements. Our dogs go to play groups where we learn about their personalities in a more real-life setting so we’re able to help adopters and fosters find dogs based on energy level, play style and sociability. We also have a short term foster program so people can dogs for a couple of hours or a couple of days. These foster outings teach us more about the dogs than anything else so we’re able to tell visitors more about how dogs act in a home setting which is much more valuable than knowing how they act in the confinement and stress of the shelter setting.
4. Let people foster sick and injured pets. Pima County covers 9,000 square miles and includes both rural and urban areas that struggle with poverty. Because of this, about 25% of the total number of animals that come to PACC are sick or injured and require veterinary care. Instead of treating these animals in the shelter and housing them while they recover, we begin seeking foster placement as soon as possible. Dogs recovering from distemper, upper respiratory illnesses, parvovirus, broken limbs and other ailments are sent to foster homes as soon as possible where they receive around-the-clock TLC from their foster caregiver. The foster caregivers bring their dogs and puppies back, by appointment, for regular check-ups. This has countless benefits for the dogs and the shelter. It reduces length-of-stay in shelter, helps dogs recover more quickly and lets the fosters learn all about the dogs while they heal so they are quickly adopted as soon as they’re ready. When we have sick dogs in our care, foster is our first solution for housing and care.
5. Treat long-stay dogs as urgent. At PACC, we start every day with two pieces of data: our kennel census which shows the total number of cats and dogs on site broken up by species and sex; and our long-stay census which shows us animal-by-animal data on any pet who has been in our shelter for more than 30 days. Working backwards off the long-stay list, we enact marketing and placement plans for the dogs who have been with us the longest. We ask volunteers to share photos and stories about the dogs that we then use on our main social media platforms. We alert rescue partners and the public that we have ‘hidden gems’ who need special lifesavers to step up. Finally, we review the long-stay dog’s backgrounds to try to understand what barriers are keeping them from being adopted. For instance, a dog in our system may have a note from intake that says, ‘reported to have urinated in the home.’ Later, there may be notes about a urinary tract infection that was treated. Because we share all known information with our adopters, we may need to do a better job explaining that the dog had an untreated infection that could have caused this issue so the initial notes do not act as a barrier to adoption. For long-stay dogs, there are often simple solutions that require an individualized approach. It can be hard to take the time to focus on just, one dog, but we find for long stay dogs, the payoff is almost always a speedy live outcome, which makes it worth the extra effort.
Try these five simple tips to move dogs more quickly through your system into foster and adoptive homes. You’ll find as you do them, the positive effects cumulate as you have fewer dogs in your system so you can focus more time and energy on the more challenging-to-place pets.
Photos via Pima Animal Care Center’s Facebook page