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Keeping Animals Out of the Shelter

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By Darlene Duggan

Gone are the days where a shelter is simply a clearinghouse for homeless and stray animals. Today, shelters have become complex, multi-faceted organizations that boast impressive live release rates, quality husbandry and animal care, and services for the community beyond animal relinquishments and adoptions. One of the most important roles shelters play is in preventing animals from entering the sheltering system in the first place. And, in my opinion, this may be one of the most important jobs.

As any passionate shelter staffer will tell you, the goal of our jobs is to put ourselves out of business. That is to say, the day there are no homeless pets will be the pinnacle of our careers. So, what are the ways that shelters are trying to prevent relinquishment? Here are a few:

Behavior and Training Classes: One common reason for surrender to a shelter is behavior problems. To combat this statistic head on, many humane societies have added comprehensive behavior and training classes for the community. Regardless of whether they adopt a shelter animal or not, people can head to their local shelter for Dog Training 101 and beyond. In addition, most shelters and rescues also offer in-house behavior and training plans for shelter animals to begin their education and make them more desirable for adoption. Think of it as a “jump-start” program for pets!

Behavior Hotlines: Some shelters with behaviorists on staff are opening behavior help desks where anyone can call and receive free behavior advice. Check out the program offered by the Capital Area Humane Society for a good example.

Surrender Counseling and Scheduled Intakes: Many shelters (even open-door shelters) are scheduling intakes to ensure adequate time to get information from caregivers. These scheduled sessions also serve as an opportunity to discuss alternative options for the person and their pet.

  • Financial difficulties? Shelters can point the client to low cost veterinary options or even pet food pantries.
  • Behavior issues? Shelters can recommend training classes, behavior hotlines, or other behavior resources.
  • Housing crisis? There may be temporary care facilities able and willing to take the pet.

The HSUS’s Pets for Life program bridges the gap between communities and resources available to care for their pets. These types of programs are popping up locally too. In my Chicago community, Pets are Like Family is stepping in to provide services for pets and families to avoid pet relinquishment. Shelters are stepping in to help make pet guardians aware of their options before deciding to relinquish their pets.

Lost/Found Listings: While there are many online resources dedicated to posting lost and found animals, shelters post lost/found listings as well. Some shelter management software makes this task very simple and listings are linked to stray intakes. When the unfortunate situation of losing a pet does arise, it’s a real service to the community when shelters manage these lost and found reports and also reduce the shelter intake by doing so.

Pet Food Pantries: Many shelters will offer pet food pantries to the public. They will either specifically accept donations for the food pantry or will give away any donations they are not able to use for the shelter animals. Most groups have requirements for participation: recent job loss, household income falls below poverty levels, or fixed-income seniors to ensure the food is going to those who truly need it.

Pet Friendly Housing Lists: Some shelters will maintain a listing of pet-friendly housing (both rentals and purchases) options available in their area. Some realtors have taken the lead and created organizations specifically for this issue (such as the Pet Realty Network and Realtors to the Rescue). These third party realty groups are additional resources shelters can use to advise clients before relinquishment as well.

More often, we are seeing shelters getting ahead of the homeless pet problem in their community by participating in preventing relinquishment. Here’s to the day when we are all out of a job!

Darlene Duggan worked for many years behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, explores the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. 

Related:

10 Things Every Shelter Volunteer Should Know

The Shelter Voice: Length of Stay

A Returned Adoption is not a Failure

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