Make This One Change and Watch Your Whole Shelter Transform

December 4th, 2019

By Kristen Hassen-Auerbach

This one procedural change will literally change your shelter overnight. What is it?


This is such a simple notion, but to many shelters, it seems truly unthinkable. The best part of trying this? It’s free, easy-to-implement and doesn’t require much more than some simple modifications to your standard paperwork. If you’re nervous to make the change, try piloting the program for just 30 days and see what happens!

Here's how you do it:

1. Make sure all animals, even those on stray hold, can be seen by the public. Shelters who have made this move (sometimes by literally opening the doors to stray holding and putting up signs that they're open) have seen an immediate impact. Some shelters worry about theft but despite not locking our kennels, this has never been an issue for us.

2. Allow potential adopters to 'pre-adopt' any pet on stray hold, unless you have good reason to know that pet is going home. Eg. Cat had a microchip, staff called owner, owner is coming to get cat at 5 p.m. Otherwise, let the pre-adopter select the pet and complete the adoption process, minus the part where the pet actually goes home. The cat or dog on stray hold will have to wait out the stray period at the shelter even once it's 'claimed' by the pre-adopter.

3. Have the pre-adopter sign an adoption agreement with a clause that lets them know if the pet is reclaimed during the stray period, their adoption will be void. We ask pre-adopters to make a $50 deposit (the price of the regular adoption fee) which can be put towards the adoption of another pet.

4. Communication is key. Be sure to explain the process and reason behind it to the adopter and manage expectations around what happens if the pet is reclaimed.

5. Potential adopters do not have to meet or interact with pets on stray hold. They are simply reserving them once they become available. After the end of the stray hold process, your shelter can conduct their normal processes to get pets ready for adoption (spay and neuter, medical evaluation, play group assessment, licensing, microchipping, etc).

6. Schedule the pick-up time for the pet to go home and tell the adopter when to show up. Give the adopter a window for pick up with a firm deadline and inform them the pet will revert to available status if they do not pick up according to the agreed-upon time.

By following these easy steps, you can move so many animals so much more quickly, creating space to help the pets who need longer term care in shelter or who may not move as fast into new homes!

Note: This system primarily serves to move your easy peasy, fast track pets through the system more quickly, creating more space for pets who will have a longer length of stay.

What we've learned over the years of doing this process:

People love being able to see ALL your animals. Once we stopped holding pets 'in the back of the shelter' we found that the whole system flowed more easily. Because we are trying to save cats and dogs with medical and behavioral challenges, following this process freed up space and time so we could dedicate our energy to the animals who wouldn't move through our system so easily. End result? An average length of stay of about 12 days overall, only a few pets here more than 90 days, and a save rate above 91% noses in, noses out, for the 18,000 pets that came into our shelter this year!

Caveat: Pets with known medical or behavioral challenges who need assessment or treatment in the shelter will not be immediately available because we're trying to determine the best outcome option and may seek placement with an appropriate rescue group if they have needs beyond what we can accommodate.

Kristen Hassen-Auerbach is the director of Pima County Animal Care Center in Arizona.

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