Use your data set results to decide which of the following categories can help you achieve your goal. Then create and implement a plan using the programs that are most relevant for your organization’s needs.
Managed intake programs
Community cat programs
Targeted spay/neuter programs
Owner support for medical
Owner support for non-medical
Community wellness programs
Behavioral and big dog programs
Medical protocols and access
Increase returns to owner
RTO in the field
Lost and found
Family support for medical and non-medical issues
Increase transfers to other agencies
Increase other live outcomes
Community cat programs
The following programs are listed in order of greatest potential impact for most communities. If your government-contracted shelter does not have a managed intake program, we suggest you start there. Community cat programs are also critically important for lowering cat admissions and increasing live outcomes for cats. Scroll down for information on six programs that can significantly reduce the number of animals entering your shelter.
“Virtual sheltering” approach
In the virtual sheltering model, community members bring in stray pets and admit them into the shelter’s database. Animal profiles are posted online, and shelter staff go through the normal process of finding placement. Pets are kept at the homes of the people who brought them in for some combination of the following:
Scheduled intake approach
Public intake hours are scheduled to coincide with the days when most pets typically leave the shelter, which maximizes space. Over-the-counter public intake is closed on days when field intake is typically high (such as July 5, New Year’s Day). If scheduled intake isn’t an option, urge people with pets to wait for another day to ensure the best possible outcome for their pet.
Field liaison services approach
Providing affordable and accessible spay/neuter services for people with pets helps reduce the number of stray pets and surrendered pets entering the shelter, including the number of cats who might become community cats.
By targeting service delivery to areas of the community where you see the highest intake, providing free spay/neuter services (when possible) and prioritizing them for families that can’t afford unsubsidized fees, you can dramatically reduce the number of unwanted litters born each year. You’ll also help reduce the chance of an animal being surrendered “because she keeps getting pregnant.”
Providing access to basic medical support services also helps keep pets with their families. Such services would include:
Providing information and resources related to common behavioral and housing challenges can also help prevent problems that lead to healthy animals being surrendered. This might include information and direct support to help with any of the following:
If someone does need to rehome a pet, provide helpful alternatives to surrendering the pet to the shelter, such as:
Taking resources directly to areas of the community most in need of support can also help reduce the number of sick or injured animals entering the shelter. Providing field-based pet wellness programs (and related service calls) in neighborhoods with higher numbers of sick and injured pets should not only provide a higher quality of life for pets in the community but should directly impact the number of animals entering the shelter with injuries and illnesses. These programs include:
The following programs are listed in order of greatest potential impact for most communities. Open adoptions are listed first because removing burdensome adoption protocols and providing a more personalized, welcoming level of service to potential adopters will dramatically increase the number of pets walking out the door, especially when supplemented with the other programs listed below.
Prioritizing your adoption program helps you do far more than just increase adoptions. It also helps to:
Key components of a successful shelter include actively marketing your adoption program and removing barriers to adoption. They can include all or part of the following:
An increasing number of shelters and rescue groups are moving away from adoption fees as a primary revenue stream. By diversifying your fundraising to include grant programs, corporate and foundation sponsors, and other special fundraising campaigns, you can increase adoptions and revenue simultaneously.
Foster programs and nurseries are programs that operate outside of the primary shelter space and provide “flex capacity” so that the most vulnerable animals are not kept in the shelter.
By maintaining a separate or off-site nursery, immediate temporary care can be provided for newborn puppies and kittens (and nursing mothers when needed) without exposing them to the shelter environment.
By offering foster programs, you can reduce the number of animals in the shelter and increase successful outcomes for more animals in your case. The benefits of foster programs include:
Shelters can be very stressful places for pets, and that stress can weaken immune systems and increase vulnerability to illness. But providing a less stressful housing option can often speed recovery, minimize behavioral deterioration and increase chances of adoption.
Creating and developing a team of foster-ready homes is an easy way to minimize risks and increase adoptions.
Implementing programs and promotions focused on larger dogs can also help increase adoptions for that population. Play groups, sleepovers, special outings, reduced-fee adoptions and breed label removal are all key pieces of successful big dog programs.
Play groups offer a variety of benefits for both the dogs and the shelter, including:
Best practices should be followed for implementing play groups. These include following a vaccination-on-intake protocol, appropriately matching playmates (e.g. intact dogs should not be paired with dogs of the opposite sex), and maintaining the right physical environment such as safe, secure play yards. More information and best practices for play groups can be found here.
Other programs that support larger dogs and increase adoptions include:
When a nursery is not an option for a shelter, having access to overnight medical care for newborn puppies and kittens (waiting for fosters or transfers) can be lifesaving. For example, newborn pets coming in at the end of the day with no immediate chance of being transferred or sent to foster care are sent to an emergency clinic where overnight bottle-feeding is available. Then they are brought back to the shelter the next morning (along with any pets arriving at the emergency clinic overnight via ACOs) and go straight into foster or transfer placement.
Having predetermined protocols in place helps ensure that dogs and cats are given the best possible chance at survival. It also limits possible risk to the rest of the shelter population. Protocols should be in place for the following:
Even the best medical care practices fail if proper cleaning and care protocols aren’t in place. In addition to the foster and transfer options listed above, having space, medical supplies and trained staff to treat common illness and injury is essential.
Developing relationships with emergency clinics ensures that animals admitted overnight receive immediate treatment when there’s no medical staff at the shelter. And having protocols in place for staff to triage and respond to emergencies at the time of admission creates a better chance for animals to survive, as well as a culture focused on lifesaving.
In addition to the above programs, it may in some cases be necessary to pursue city ordinance changes to overturn breed discriminatory legislation (BDL) that prohibits or restricts live outcomes for dogs based on appearance.
Keeping an animal out of the shelter and at home should be a priority. Empower animal control officers to return pets directly to their homes and to waive fines if warranted. Field officers should be trained in best practices, including neighborhood canvassing and in-the-field microchip scanning.
Implement an affordable reclaim fee structure (consider no-fee as an option) and a user-friendly reclaim process. Waiving RTO fees can more quickly move pets out of the shelter and can be more affordable than longer boarding or other options. Offering reclaim fee alternatives such as allowing a person to “pay down” the reclaim fee by volunteering time at the shelter is another option that can also help create a stronger sense of responsibility and community engagement.
Microchipping pets enables faster identification of pets and quicker reunions with families. To increase the number of microchipped pets in your community, offer free or low-cost microchip clinics in areas with the highest number of stray and lost animals. Some communities are now using microchips instead of pet licensing.
Microchipping also increases an animal control officer’s ability to reunite a lost pet with a family and avoid the shelter altogether. Officers should be equipped with microchip scanners in the field.
Pets should be scanned by multiple people at different times during a shelter stay to ensure a microchip isn’t missed due to human error, faulty scanner, etc. For example, have staff scan on intake, during vaccinations, during stray hold and at disposition.
Increase the visibility of lost and found pets in your community by:
If medical issues prevent a family from reclaiming a pet, provide basic services such as spay/neuter or preventives against diseases like heartworm, skin conditions and intestinal parasites. Also provide trauma support for pets hit by cars, attacked by other dogs, wounded by gunshots, etc.
If solvable nonmedical issues prevent a family from reclaiming a pet, provide them with the following resources:
Transfer programs engage community rescue groups and shelters to become strategic partners in lifesaving for all types of pets. For instance, you can provide great solutions for animals in your care by removing them from the shelter and placing them in a private group’s foster program or nursery program. Laws often allow this (even while a dog is on stray hold) if such care is in the animal’s best interest.
Transfer programs also create immediate live outcomes for dogs and cats not used to living in a shelter setting. They also free up resources and space for other pets already at the shelter. Ideally, a surrender-transfer program will be in place so that upon admission pets can be transferred directly into the care of private organizations, circumventing entry into the shelter.
Some of the many ways to incentivize transfers between agencies:
Alternatives to traditional placements that can help you find positive outcomes for pets in your care:
A well-designed community cat program consists of three components: 1) organization-run, return-to-field placement, 2) community education on the “in-community” management approach and 3) targeted trap-neuter-return (TNR) of additional cats living in the same location where the first cat brought to the shelter was trapped.
These programs reduce cat admissions (or increase positive outcomes, depending on how data is reported). They also ultimately create more space by freeing up valuable shelter resources and increasing adoptions for cats already in the shelter.