Monday, September 27, 2010

Tomorrow's Shelters - Are We Strategically Planning?

If I was an investor and I looked at this graph from Maddie's Fund, the last thing I would do would be to invest in an animal shelter that was going to build more capacity (more kennels). I might as well flush my money down the toilet. In less than ten years those kennels will be gathering dust.  This graph shows the downward trend in the number of shelter deaths in this country over the last 30 years. It is falling fast - at the rate we're going we're on track to be a No-Kill Nation by 2015.

So will animal shelters become obsolete? Of course not. There will always be animals that slip through the cracks and need the safety net of our community's shelters.  But things will change. Smart shelter directors and boards of directors are looking at the trends now and planning for the future. Shelters will be more about being community-based resource centers than pet stores or "pounds".

The highly adoptables will fly out the door (they already do in a lot of places). The public will demand that the less adoptable be rehabilitated. The old sheltering model of "adopt the best and kill the rest" will not be tolerated. So shelters will have to design themselves around these less adoptable (but just as lovable) animals and the eleven steps of the No Kill Equation to stay afloat. Shelters will be funded by donations because of the goodwill that is generated in the community - not through adoption fees. Donors will fund shelters because they are grateful that the shelter helped them find their lost pet, taught them to potty train their dog or listened to their endless questions about Fluffy the cat's, odd nocturnal behaviors.

Looking in my crystal ball: here are some things that I think smart shelter directors should be thinking about NOW before they are blindsided by the changes that are to come:

- dogs will need more rehabilitation (because the highly adoptables are gone) so shelters will need to be set up to accommodate this. There will be less dogs, but for longer periods of stay. So shelters will need socialization rooms and exercise yards; both with equipment and furnishings that will simulate what they will need to deal with in their new lives. They will also need an extensive network of foster homes.

- trap banks, training and support for TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs.   Once the community (feral) cats are out of the shelter system, the pet cat population will stabilize and adoptions will match attrition rates in the community.

- lost and found services (Missing Animal Response) This is woefully lacking  now in most shelters in this country, resulting in thousands and thousands of shelter deaths.

- animal help desks to assist new adopters with behavior and training challenges. You aren't expected to learn to do the service work on a new car yourself. Why do animal shelter staff get disgusted when you adopt a new pet and then have training issues?

- low cost spay and neuter services available to the public without making them jump through all kinds of income-verification and/or residency hoops.

- great customer service that helps EVERY person that comes in the door with a smile, referring them to a good rescue or breeder (or shelter down the street)  if the dog or cat of choice is not available at the shelter. Yes - I said breeder. Because good breeders will be an important part of the future of animal welfare. 

- services for seniors citizens.  Perhaps a volunteer run program that helps seniors choose and adopt a pet and then helps with the vet visits, grooming appointments, and other small details that will enable a senior to keep a pet in their home longer.

Does your local shelter do these things now? Are they on the right road to doing these things soon? If not - don't be surprised if they are closing up shop in the next few years. The writing is on the wall.


  1. Fantastic post! And just so important to be reiterating that the idea that shelters acting as a community resource is no longer just a nice-to-have-attitude, but a key measure of success for future animal welfare leaders.

    Those who still see their community 'as the problem' have jumped the shark.

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