Price hikes are double whammy for pet owners who are crushed by inflation
March 19, 2023
Shelter Animals Count Staff and Kristen Hassen
With the publication of the Shelter Animals Count 4 Year Trends Report, we know the trend of intakes outpacing outcomes is continuing. In 2022, we saw the worst gap in outcomes in the past 4 years, which translates in practical terms to more animals sitting in shelters longer. The good news is that even though intakes have ticked up each year since the pandemic, 2022 intakes were still 16% less than in 2019 and there has not been a statistical increase in owner surrenders.
So what can we do now so 2023 doesn’t feel like 2022? In short, we need to increase and speed up outcomes, particularly for dogs…and fast! The trends analysis from the last 4 years indicates an urgency to act in Q1 to flatten the curve for the entire year.
We asked Kristen Hassen, Principal of Outcomes Consulting who works with animal welfare organizations on strategies to improve outcomes for sheltered animals to give us her top seven things animal shelters can do right now to remove outcome bottlenecks and set the stage to increase monthly outcomes going forward.
SAC’s recent 6 Data Don’ts in 2023 blog highlights categories of animals that should NOT be considered intakes and outcomes. These include pets found and returned without being impounded, TNR cats, and other intake diversion services. When these services are included as intakes/outcomes, it skews the overall data and makes it harder for you to see the real challenges happening in your shelter. You should still track all of these things, but track them as a service, not in your intake/outcome data. Once you have a ‘clean’ dataset, you can start identifying and implementing effective solutions.
(SAC Note: SAC also separates these data points into a Community Services Database or Intake/Outcome Database based on how you’re entering your data in your shelter software (and then importing into SAC through reports, automated API integration, or manual entry) so how you enter your data has an even bigger impact – it contributes to how national animal sheltering data is reported.)
Ideally, there should be a roughly equivalent split of staff and resources allocated among three functional areas:
Unfortunately, I commonly see the vast majority of staff and funding dedicated to intakes and care, while outcomes are underfunded and understaffed. If you’re struggling to get pets adopted, transferred, returned home, and sent to foster homes, you likely don’t have enough people allocated to these functions. To solve this math problem, some organizations are reallocating staff positions and funding into positions that increase outcomes. These include foster coordinators, adoption counselors, volunteer coordinators, lost pet reunification specialists, and animal flow managers. Other organizations are increasing the size and scope of their volunteer programs to focus more on outcomes-related functions like volunteer adoption counseling and post-adoption support. Either option will have a significant and immediate measurable impact on outcomes.
As Steve MacKinnon, Chief Executive Officer at Maui Humane Society, shared with us “Dividing our operations into three ‘buckets’ almost made too much sense and it certainly turned a light bulb on over our heads. Our operations were a mix, with some units having responsibilities in every phase of operations. But when we clearly reorganized and separated our units by tasks with the first bucket dealing only with incoming challenges, a second bucket for care while the animals are here, followed by the third bucket to obtain an effective outcome for all, it resulted in streamlined effectiveness …and better results for all. It takes some thought but it is definitely worth the effort.”
“When is the best time for shelters to be open?” is a question I receive regularly. The simple answer is to think like a retailer. Weekends and evenings are some of the most crowded times at shopping malls and grocery stores because that’s when most people have the time to go shopping. The same is true for animal shelters. When shelters restrict their hours, create ‘appointment-only’ procedures, or close on weekends and after 5 p.m., they’re cutting their potential adopter base in half or more. Open those doors and invite the public in and if you’re worried about short-staffing, start by holding some ‘volunteer adoption counselor’ recruitment events to bring in volunteers who can help during busy times.
(SAC Note: As we shared in a recent webinar, analyzing your adoption data by day/hour and staffing levels by day/hour can be helpful to determine where to shift existing staff resources and adjust adoption hours to better meet adopter demand. As Animal Rescue League of Iowa experienced, it can even result in cost savings, allowing you to hire more staff for the busiest days/times)
Leadership staff from multiple departments should walk around the shelter and plan pathways for each animal at least once a day. In larger shelters, rounds may address different populations on different days, so each animal is seen and discussed at least every three or four days. Create daily pathway plans for any pet that has been in care for more than 30 days. For this part, it’s crucial that someone is involved who can communicate to the public about the long stay pets. In most cases, we’re finding the longest-stay animals have either never been individually marketed or that they’ve been marketed with primarily negative bio information. Daily rounds are an essential daily habit if you want to keep the focus on speedy outcomes.
Innovative programs and creative strategies are wonderful, but don’t forget the basic tools that work to get pets out of shelters. For example, lost and stray pets comprise up to 60% of total shelter intake, but most shelters have not put a focus on increasing the ‘return-to-owner’ outcome type. By signing up to use Petco Love Lost, the free, national, lost and found pets database and updating your website, you can have an immediate, measurable impact on outcomes and reduce the length of time lost and stray pets spend in your shelter. Your back-to-basics checklist should include:
+ Daily engagement with the public about your needs
+ Robust volunteer and foster programs
+ Off-site adoptions
+ Ensuring each pet has enrichment, exercise, and socialization
Additionally, make sure your shelter has appropriate safety and handling equipment and that you’re following best practices defined by the Association of Shelter Vets (ASV) Standards of Care 2022 Edition.
There has been some incredible research over the years using data-backed insights to increase outcomes for animals – and many have been focused on improving cat outcomes, which as a result, now outpace dogs by 13 percentage points for adoption outcomes! Some of the research has been lost along the way during staffing transitions or reverting back to old habits and perhaps there is some cat-specific research that we can now apply to dogs to elevate their outcomes to cat levels?
Here are some great resources to get started:
+ Fewer Animals Available for Adoption May Mean More Animals Go Home
+ Adoption Ambassador Foster Programs
+ Retention of Pet ID Tags and Outcomes for Lost Pets
Each staff position, program, and operational area should have specific goals. Goal-setting is a way to make sure no one function is falling behind. For example, if you typically send 100 pets to foster homes each month, but you notice over the past month, you’re only sending 40 pets to foster homes, you can identify the problem (whether it’s an individual or the overall program), take corrective action, and work together to identify and implement the steps to bring that function back to peak performance. Instead of looking around and saying, “We’re full,” we need to look at where outcomes are lagging and take steps to address those areas. You can even ‘gamify’ your performance metrics, providing awards and incentives for the staff member who completes the highest number of adoptions in a particular time period.
At first glance, it might seem like these are small changes that may or may not have an impact. However, these basic practices will have an immediate impact on reducing length of stay, increasing outcomes, and increasing live outcomes. When I work with shelters and we focus on these changes, it’s truly incredible to see long stay dogs getting adopted, foster applications flying in, and the outpouring of support from the community. At one recent visit to a shelter in need, we were able to solve the four biggest problems faced by the shelter in just one honest, heartfelt meeting with volunteers. At another, the shelter immediately reduced their length of stay and achieved their best live release rate to date as a result of their commitment to doing daily rounds. These ideas are free, simple, and don’t require any special skills or expertise, just the will to make outcomes a priority.
March 10, 2023
March 10, 2023