Monday, July 25, 2011

And the Correct Answer is....

Last time I promised to start talking about the best questions to ask your shelter director and/or shelter board of directors to make sure that you're not being tricked by the Smoke and Mirrors

People email and phone me all the time with shelter complaints. When I ask: "Did you talk to the director?"  Silence. Then, "Well, no... because I don't like confrontation. I just try to get along." Then I say: "But, how can you expect change if you don't speak up?"

Speaking up is not hard (well, maybe a little hard). Swallow your butterflies, hold your head up high and ask the tough questions. Once you've done it once it will get easier, trust me. It doesn't mean you are a bad person, or a trouble maker. It means you are a hero for the animals you love and who deserve it. And I'm giving you permission to write an email if you just can't muster the courage to do it in person.

Emails are great. You know they will arrive instantly and you can even carbon copy the board of directors if you obtain their email addresses from a website or a polite phone call.  Hopefully you will get a response to your questions in writing. Something on paper is very valuable - it gives you written proof that you can file and use if you need it. If you don't get a response to your email, follow up with a polite phone call or personal visit. Remember, the key word here is polite. A please and thank you go a long ways (my mother taught me that). If you donate to the shelter, or you are a taxpayer and the shelter is publicly funded; you have a right to know how the money is being spent and you deserve an honest answer.

And as a sidenote: I am in touch daily with No Kill Advocates from around the state and nation. There isn't one that I know of who wants to see the shelters fail. We want to see them succeed - because they are the best chance that the animals have. So enough with the shelter bashing comments already. Somebody posted on my page the other day why I didn't apply for the Executive Director job at MADACC (Milwaukee Animal Control). I'm not thrilled with the way the Catholic Church is run either, but that doesn't mean I want to be the Pope.

The number one thing a shelter can do to prevent shelter deaths is to use all of the portions of the No Kill Equation. What I see most lacking in Wisconsin shelters are effective programs to reduce intake numbers. This means that shelters should be trying to reduce the number of animals coming in. (If they don't come in, they can't kill them!) So start with questions about intake.

You may think this isn't an issue at your shelter because it a) doesn't hold an animal control contact (to accept "strays") or b) obtains most of it's adoptables from other shelters either in Wisconsin or out of state.  Don't be fooled. All shelters can and should be working to reduce intake - not just for their shelter and  community but for their shelter partners where they are getting their adoptables from.

I don't expect shelters to be perfect. But they should be constantly striving to improve their services to the public - they shouldn't be just big pet stores focused only on adoptions. I would rather they answer the questions stating that they are striving to meet these goals, rather than stating they are a No Kill shelter or an Adoption Guarantee shelter and not implementing all parts of the No Kill Equation. Since incoming animals come mainly from two sources - "strays" and surrenders, focus your first questions there.

Proactive Redemptions (Lost and Found programs)

1. Do you have a staff member or volunteer whose duties include reuniting lost pets with owners and advising owners of correct search techniques? Correct answer - yes or "we're working towards implementing this program".
2. Do you microchip and enroll to the new owner the microchip of all adopted animals? Do you provide microchip services to the general public? This helps ensure that lost pets in the community will get home again. Correct answer - yes. (Some shelters do not enroll the microchips to the new owner. Many shelters do not microchip at all).
3. Do you provide a free, well-fitting collar and ideally even id tags with each adopted animal? (Don't laugh. Some Wisconsin shelters don't provide a collar) Correct answer - yes on the collar. Bonus points for the id tag.
4. Do you post pictures of the lost pets you have impounded on your website or on your Facebook page? Correct answer - yes. Nothing else is satisfactory.  In this day and age, the technology has made this a no-brainer. This is the easiest way I know of to increase reclaims.
5. Do you have reasonable reclaim policies and fees to ensure owners can reclaim their lost pets? Reclaim fees should never exceed the cost to adopt the pet. Correct answer - yes and/or "We will negotiate with owners because we know that most lost pets don't want a new home. They just want to go home".
6. Do you have extended hours making it easy for lost pet owners to check the shelter in person and pick up their lost pet in a timely manner? Correct answer - yes.

Pet Retention (Surrenders and Returns)

1. Do you have a staff member or volunteer that does adoption follow up to make sure that things are going smoothly and problems are caught early before they escalate? Correct answer - yes.
2. Do you have an animal help desk or behaviorist on staff (or a trained volunteer) that helps all members of the community - not just adopters? Do you advertise this? Correct answer - yes or "We are striving to implement this".
3. Do you hold training classes for adopters and the public or have good positive-based trainers that you work closely with and recommend? Correct answer - yes.
4. Do you require appointments for surrenders? (This reduces surrenders whereas "no appointments necessary" or night time drop boxes increase surrenders). Correct answer - yes.
5. Do you provide counselling at the time of surrender? Correct answer - yes.

High Volume / Low Cost Spay and Neuter

1. Does your shelter provide low cost spay and neuter for the whole community (no hoop-jumping, income verification required)? Every shelter should be on this bandwagon. They may not have a full-fledged clinic yet but they should be actively working towards it. If they give you the song and dance about the veterinary community objecting; they get a big fat fail.  High volume, low cost spay/neuter clinics are working in cities all around this country. Don't buy that argument. So, the correct answer is yes but unfortunately very few shelters in Wisconsin can honestly answer yes, so listen carefully to the answer.

Trap Neuter Return is a huge issue in Wisconsin. Most shelters are still in the dark ages on this issue.  So next time I'll focus on TNR questions as well as health, temperament, foster homes and adoptions.

Thank you for stepping up and asking the tough questions. If everybody does their part and holds the shelters accountable we can make a difference.

Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions.
You may have a heart of gold - but so does a hard-boiled egg. ~Author Unknown


  1. HAWS gets a B, I think. They have a van that goes out to the farms of people who donates multiple kitten litters every summer & spay/neuter all the kitties. Because how sad is it when you say, "It's kitten season." and no one even questions what that is, everyone KNOWS!!!

  2. Good for HAWS with the van. But HAWS does not post pictures of the lost pets it impounds online or on their Facebook page, making it very difficult for people to search for their pet. Especially those pets that may have wandered out of their own jurisdiction.

  3. HAWS also does not enroll the microchip to the new owner. Again, another simple life saving step that is falling through the cracks.

  4. But if you contact Bay Area Humane Society, tell them you want an email reply. I sent a politely worded email and got a phone call from Steven Heaven in response that involved him being very insulting for over an hour, and telling me how "everyone" in my profession acted and thought.