No kill shelters face some challenges that kill shelters don’t. Among them, caring for dogs and cats who, for whatever reason, end up spending a longer than average time living at the shelter, waiting for the right adopter to find them. Regarding the standard of care and special handling unique to these shelter pets, I contacted Dayna Kennedy, the Shelter Manager for Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter (UPAWS) in MI. She had some great information to share:
While we don’t call ourselves a no kill shelter, we do operate like one.
We are an open admission shelter, so we frequently see “less desirable” candidates for adoption. We give an animal as long as they need and never impose time limits. This can sometimes mean an animal stays with us for a longer period of time. While very few dogs stay more than a couple weeks and few cats stay more than a couple months, I believe it is of the utmost importance that an animal’s health and behavior are assessed daily no matter how long the stay, because some animals handle shelter life better than others.
For dogs, structured training sessions, foster homes, other dogs to play with, extra walks, swimming, Kongs, car rides, and other enrichment programs can help these animals until they can be adopted. While cats tend to stay longer in shelters, their needs are much the same. Cage-less cat rooms, training, time outside in a secure enclosure, or maybe a fish to watch (at a safe distance) can keep cats emotionally stable until they are adopted.
If an animal has some health or behavioral concerns that need to be
addressed, it may not be beneficial to try to get that animal out of the
shelter until those concerns are handled. We see dogs with food
aggression, cats that are almost feral, dogs with severe dog aggression, cats that hate being touched, animals recovering from serious medical issues, and the like. We work with whatever issue an animal may have until we believe the animal is adoption ready, but it is up to the shelter staff to make them adoption ready by addressing their specific needs every day and in the meantime, make sure they remain emotionally stable.
Sometimes though, enrichment isn’t enough. If an animal is staying longer than usual and has no serious health or behavior issues, then we need to try to figure out why the animal hasn’t been adopted yet. There is usually an underlying reason that an animal isn’t being adopted as quickly as we would like. Maybe the animal has a black coat and is located in the darkest corner of the kennel. Maybe potential adopters don’t like the way the animal barks when they walk past its kennel. If the dog that has a bad habit of barking, the dog could benefit from training, a foster home, or a stay in a room or behind the desk while the public is touring the shelter. The dog may need some exposure at an off-site adoptathon or an extra article about him in the newspaper.
Sometimes, it is not even about the animal at all. Shelters may also need to evaluate how the staff may be making a person feel about a particular animal, how the written description on the website sounds, what types of advertising is most effective, and even how the animal looks in its cage. Cage placement, behavior, cleanliness, staff perception of the animal, adoption price, poor manners, etc., are all important areas to evaluate while enrichment programs are being used.
With that being said, I think if long stays are the norm for any shelter, managers should consider gathering some outside feedback from the public, adopters, and other shelters. Something might need to be done.
And, for a specific idea on promoting these special shelter pets, Dayna offers:
We just implemented a new special adoption promotion called the
“Lonely Hearts Club”. We reduce a cat’s adoption fee to $20 and a dog to $30 and put special heart signs on their kennels if they have been at our shelter for more than two months. It is just a way to promote them a bit more. The key thing is to steal ideas from what is working for other shelters:)
Thank you so much Dayna for sharing your insights on this subject. I’d like to collect some experiences and practices from other shelters in order to provide a resource for people looking for ideas to help these special pets.
So, open question: Do you know of a marketing technique that works for your local shelter in helping to get long term resident pets adopted? How does your shelter care for these pets differently than those who are at the shelter only a couple of days or weeks?