Sunday, May 3, 2009

Conference Workshop: No Kill Sheltering

The first workshop I attended at the conference was called "No Kill Sheltering". Presenters were Susan Cosby, the executive director of the Animal Welfare Association in New Jersey; Bonney Brown, the executive director at the Nevada Humane Society; and Mike Fry, the executive director of Animal Ark in Minnesota.

The Clock is Ticking

Susan Cosby opened the session with the important message about the kind of urgency needed in getting animals through the system quickly in order to save the most lives possible. As an example, she and her staff carry pagers with them, and as soon as any animal's time is up in the stray hold period, they immediately have a plan in place for the next spot that animal will take in the routing process.

When it comes to intake, the key is to look at the data to see which animals the shelter is taking in and why. Are they of specific breeds more than others? Are they feral cats? Are they from a certain part of the jurisdiction? When you identify those trends in the data, you can proactively work to prevent some animals from coming to the shelter in the first place by addressing these specific issues or areas with outreach and programs/services.

Another concept she introduced was whether you have to take animals in now or push it off to later ... saying the director and staff need to try to manipulate intake as much as possible. One example was a person coming in with a cat they found and her few-week old kittens. It can't hurt to ask that person to consider holding onto the cats for a few days or more until space opens up, and you can also arrange to have animals who are being relinquished come in by appointment instead of in an uncontrolled fashion. The latter also helps shelters to NOT reinforce to the public that animals are throw-aways if a person has to make an appointment and talk to someone about the animal they are giving up to gather data about each animal you can at intake as well ... while also evening out the flow of animals in your shelter.

Once taken in, the most important thing to do at that point to prevent disease spread and severity is vaccination at intake, which is also recommended by shelter medicine experts. This prevents the animals from becoming ill and needing special care and treatment. Vaccinate early and often; follow strict protocols for handling animals; and clean the shelter well and with the proper disinfectants at the proper diluted rate. This will do wonders for your animals so that by the time they hit the adoption area of the shelter, volunteers and the public and others can interact with them and provide the needed socialization that is also key to fighting disease because nothing causes disease spread more than stressed animals with depressed immune systems.

For cats, this is especially true. Give them what they need to give them a paw up on a second chance at life. Give them blankets, towels, hiding spaces, and time to adapt. Recognize the signs of stress and disease early-on and respond accordingly.

Important in the routing process is determining who is "savable" or not via appropriate, fair, and equitable medical and behavior assessments. Isolate those who are showing signs of illness, and then divide and conquer the rest. Send all those who can be sent out to rescues and other partner organizations, send some who need special care to get them ready to adoption to foster care, and then adopt out more animals with creative and comprehensive adoption programs and promotions. The goal is to move animals through the system quickly so they don't languish in stress and disease and to make room for the new ones coming in.

Keeping Pets in Homes/Increasing Pet Adoptions

Bonney Brown spoke next about shelters needing to take their own lifesaving impact test when it comes to evaluating their progress. She talked about how a shelter should be the last resort for homeless animals, and it is imperative to communicate this honestly and understandably to the public. It is up to shelters to be proactive and helpful in educating the public on alternatives to relinquishing animals they don't want to or can no longer care for--whatever the reason.

One tool/program helping in Reno is their Animal Help Desk, where volunteers are structured and trained to answer calls and e-mails from people needing help resolving issues with their pets. Brown is more than willing to share their program details and caseworker handbook with anyone who asks for copies.

Another advantage in the battle to reduce intakes is to educate people that instead of leaving an animal they may care about at a shelter in which the animal may lose its life, another alternative is to support and offer advice to people on how to re-home animals themselves. Give people the information and tools to do this, and don't give up hope that this or other efforts you make to reduce intakes will pay off.

In the case of adoptions and promotions, Brown showed her application of retail-business savvy to adoption promotions, with the focus on getting the word out and getting people in. She stressed the need to make the shelter experience fun for everyone -- the animals in the shelter and each and every visitor. Using simple posters, donated ad spaces, public service announcements, and other media/public outreach, this shelter has frequent adoption promotions specials and promotions. They shamelessly tack themselves onto every holiday known to man, from national ones to local ones. Some other promotions they have tried are Furry Speed Dating, Staff Picks, and creative answers to hoarding cases, such as the Great Orange Cat Adoption. They also take advantage of national adoption promotion events, such as Home 4 the Holidays.

The main message Brown had was that lifesaving and creativity should take precedence over rigidity and getting stuck in the way things have always been done. Don't be afraid to try new things, and doing so does not mean that you have to make unwise adoption decisions or compromise the quality of homes pets go into. It all falls into place and adoptions increase when you learn how to make the shelter experience a pleasant and positive one for all.

Life Enrichment for Sheltered Animals: Thinking Outside the Cage

Mike Fry rounded out the workshop on No Kill Sheltering by talking about the importance of alleviating stress for each animal in the facility. He also stressed the importance of doing this from the moment the animals arrive -- to help mitigate disease. And, he thinks this should apply to all species who coexist in shelters, including the human visitors.

One of the greatest challenges for shelters is how to deal with cats, who become easily stressed and then become ill. In his shelter, they found the two extremes of stark cages with one cat per cage and large colony rooms both created stressful conditions for sheltered cats. What they decided to build was colony condos in the rooms that used to house steel cages. He finds that having cats inside these condos at about 4 per condo has worked the best, especially since these condos are equipped with cat furniture, piped-in music, separate air sources, and other amenities important for cat health and enrichment.

When they decided to replace the cages with the condos, which turned out to be more cost-effective, they didn't have all of the funds for the project. However, in true No Kill fashion--which preaches the mantra of "start to build it and they will come"--they found that once word got out to the community about what they were doing, people stepped forward to sponsor one condo until all the ones that they needed were built. In exchange for this sponsorship, the name of the person or organization/business that donated the condo was placed on a metal plaque on the condo itself--giving credit where it was due and offering a permanent way of thanks.

Since going to this condo concept, Animal Ark has seen a drastic increase in cat adoptions, zero cases of ringworm outbreaks, and a 95% reduction in upper respiratory infections. There are even accommodations for challenging felines!

The formula for success at Fry's shelter seems simple but does require hard work: provide adequate, low-stress housing, proper vet care, cleaning/disinfecting, nutrition, socialization, play time, exercise, and in the case of dogs, training to prepare them for their coming forever home. Also in the case of dogs, the canines are not short-pawed because of the new cat digs. Large kennels provide a nice space where dogs can move and also a better space for multiple dogs to be housed. Dogs are given beds, blankets, toys, treats, and music-listening enjoyment. They are also on scheduled playtime and potty breaks -- about three a day.

The shelter has also found that integrating dogs in the environment and as much as possible is key for their health and to help shy dogs come out of their shells. Dogs share office spaces, break rooms, etc. Dogs also enjoy some other enrichments, such as large parks they can run and play in outside. They enjoy daily walks, obedience training, agility training, rooms with sofas, TVs, and private yards where volunteers and others can take a dog to meet a new potential owner or just hang out.

Overall Workshop Message

Try to think outside of the normal sheltering model to route animals through quickly and to create success for your shelter, which is measured by your increasing save rate. There is nothing more powerful or rewarding, and the only way to get from standard sheltering to No Kill Sheltering is to believe you can do it, work toward it, and let people get on board and help. Make it fun for you, them, and the animals.

1 comment:

Tangi Adopt A Rescue said...

Wow, thanks for posting all this great info you received at the No-Kill conference. It has helped raise my hopes.