New humane society policies boost pet placement

By Jessica Fleming
jfleming@pioneerpress.com
Updated: 08/09/2011 11:52:48 PM CDT

Success at the Animal Humane Society can be measured in empty cages.

Since the organization began requiring an appointment to surrender a pet at the beginning of the year, placement rates for animals have improved from 67 percent to 81 percent.

Additionally, the society has reduced the rate of euthanasia by 41 percent.

Animal Humane Society CEO Janelle Dixon said interviewing people who are seeking to surrender a pet provides information about the animal that helps it get adopted more quickly.

“We now know who is coming and why they’re coming, and that helps us prepare,” Dixon said. “Sometimes animals get placed the very same day, which is great.”

Knowing such simple things as a pet’s age, any health or behavior problems and why the owner is surrendering the pet was not a given eight months ago. Owners could simply drop off the animals – even after hours – and they were placed in cages to await a visit with the vet.

When pet owners call to surrender an animal, they speak with a counselor who can help them find resources or make an appointment for the surrender. Animal trainers are available to speak with callers, and many behaviors are relatively easy to fix, Dixon said.

So when the owners enter the exam room with their pets, a vet examines the animal and interviews the owner. Staff members can provide resources to keep the animals from being surrendered in the first place.

The surrender-by-appointment policy is part of a $3.1 million


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initiative called Bound for Home, the aim of which is to increase the number of animals placed with a new family and reduce the length of stay for surrendered or stray pets.The independent, local nonprofit has raised about two-thirds of the cost of the initiative, major gifts officer Deanna Kramer said. All the money has come from individual donors and foundations as gifts, she said.

A behavior helpline is staffed seven days a week as part of the initiative. It includes a decrease in the adoption fee for cats older than a year to $50 and a low-cost spay/neuter clinic for the pets of low-income people.

Dixon said the organization, which has locations in five cities in the metro area, hired 28 new employees to help meet their goals.

On Tuesday, as volunteers walked dogs and prepared for the adoption floor to open, many cages were empty, awaiting arrivals from a downstairs holding area. Strays that used to wait in the holding area for a required five-day period to expire are often placed on the adoption floor, where customers can claim an animal before it’s even available to take home.

“It’s really encouraging for everyone here to see the animals going home faster,” Kramer said.

Last year, the shelter’s Golden Valley location still had pet “drop boxes” where pet owners could shut an animal in a cage in the shelter’s entryway 24 hours a day. Once the door was shut, it locked. Cages contained food, water and litter for cats.

The practice was discontinued as part of the new policies, Kramer said, and has contributed to a decrease in the number of “stray” animals the shelter takes in. State law dictates that strays have to be held for five days – in case an owner comes to reclaim them – before being spayed, neutered or adopted.

“The community has responded to and understands what we are doing,” Kramer said. “We all want what’s best for the animals in the end.”

The biggest improvements in statistics have been with cats. A year ago, cats stayed at the humane society an average of 32 days. Now, the average stay is down to eight days.

Dixon and Kramer both said they were surprised by how quickly the new policies paid off.

“I think none of us expected it to happen in six months,” Dixon said. “I think we expected it in a year, year and a half. Needless to say, we’re thrilled.”

Jessica Fleming can be reached at 651-228-5435.

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