Sunday, February 13, 2011

If It's Broke - Fix It!

 I'm going to divert for just a bit from my original plan because I thought this was an interesting "teaching moment". Last week a lady named Mary made a comment on my Mythbusters blog in regards to reducing surrenders or pet retention as it is called in the No Kill Equation. I am sure Mary is a wonderful, animal-loving person, and this is not meant to disparage her in any way.  Nor do I place the blame on her shoulders.

I'm paraphrasing (you can read the whole comment here) but in essence; she said she had been answering the phone at a rescue (I'm a bit confused because later she said shelter) for fifteen years and had found that 99 percent of the time people wanting to surrender pets would not change their mind.

 I replied that a study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that targeted helpful advice that actually solves the problem results in a better than 90% decline in chances of relinquishment.

At the Nevada Humane Society, their animal help desk, a central part of their pet retention program, fields over 20,000 calls a year. Of those who agreed to try and resolve their issues after calling to surrender their pet, 59% ended up not doing so.  The link to read regarding both these statistics is here.

You may wonder why these two numbers are different. My explanation would be that in 30 percent of the cases people will be too busy or lack the  resources or commitment to stick with the program and work the problem out. Still, reducing surrenders by 59 percent is outstanding.

Now to my point: One of the key problems I see in animal welfare is bad management. This isn't Mary's fault that she couldn't help these people.  This is a serious lack of management by whoever is in charge of this shelter or rescue. Mary needs more training. Or some training. Or maybe a different position in the organization. She sounds like a very loyal employee (or volunteer - I'm not sure which).

But if I owned a widget factory and there was also a widget factory next door and the next door's widget factory salesman sold 100 widgets while my salesman only sold one; and my widgets were just as good as theirs; well -  I wouldn't do the same thing for FIFTEEN YEARS!

I'd get my salesman some training. Or I'd increase his commission. Or I'd find another salesman. BUT I'd do something different. If it ain't broke don't fix it - but if it's broke, FIX IT! Good grief.  Honestly - it's almost funny. Except that I find it sad when I think that animals suffer because of bad management. Fifteen years. It makes my head hurt.

And with the internet, free or low cost webinars, countless great articles, conferences, etc.,etc., - there is absolutely no excuse to have untrained staff or volunteers manning the phone. Allowing under performing staff or volunteers to continue to under perform hurts everyone.  It reduces morale; it affects financials and performance; and in this case it probably caused the death of animals:  not just those that were surrendered needlessly, but the ones that were waiting in line for a place at the shelter.

Bonney Brown of the Nevada Humane Society has excellent online advice on how to start, maintain and advertise an animal help desk.  It is best if you just google it because there are several very large pdf files available to download and print.  Between Bonney Brown and Mitch Schneider they are saving over 90 percent of the animals in Washoe County, Nevada. They are true leaders who we should be modeling our communities after.

One housekeeping note - I realized  that some people think I underline words in my blog for emphasis. Not so.  I underline words that are direct links to supporting articles and information - just click and read.

"A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better." - Jim Rohn


  1. Good luck from the UK with your important work. :)

  2. First, this was an excellent and very positive, upbeat post... thank you!

    I think one other piece of the puzzle is that the point AFTER people have decided to surrender the pet is not the best time to try to change their mind. Sometimes the pressure and stress have mounted and mounted, and the decision to let go feels like relief, and anything that's intended to change your mind (especially guilt, the first "weapon" of most shelters at this moment) just turns the stress back on. It's psychologically a really bad moment.

    In fact, I suspect that Bonney's help desk does so much good in part because it's intervening EARLIER than a surrender phone call -- a help desk is self-selecting for people looking for HELP. Of course, the rest of the story is that they just do a damn good job!

    We have to start intervening in pet problems, whether they are behavior problems or housing problems or just a genuine need to rehome a pet, EARLIER. We get there early, we might be able to fix it, and even if we can't, a scheduled rehome with some planning time is always easier, and the pet should be able to go from one home to the other without a stop at the shelter in between.

  3. I agree that there needs to be more of a mind-shift in terms of assisting the public before they decide to surrender their pet. I've asked a couple of agencies in town why they can't have "advice hotlines" where people can call in for advice/assistance with basic training and behavior questions. Even if the phones were only open for three hours a day, twice a week I believe that it would make a huge impact towards helping people find solutions to their issues, as well as provide a place for referrals to things like lower cost spay/neuter resources, etc.

    Every little bit helps.