If you haven’t read the Adopter’s Welcome Manual from the Humane Society of the United States, you need to. It lays out the prescription for open, conversation-based adoption and foster placements and it’s available as a free download from their website. One of the primary reasons we’ve reduced cat and dog euthanasia from tens of millions annually to just 1.5 million pets annually is that we’ve reduced barriers that have traditionally inhibited people from helping shelter pets.
Here are the best practices being followed by the most successful lifesaving shelters. If you want to save more lives in your shelter or rescue, you don’t have to ‘re-invent the wheel.’ Simply follow this well-worn path to reducing needless euthanasia, decreasing length of stay, and giving nearly every pet a fair chance at a live outcome.
Be open non-business hours. When can most people find the time to come and adopt? When they’re not at work! Make sure your shelter is open evenings, weekends, and some holidays. If you’re closed on a weekend day or you aren’t taking advantage of the massive crowds who come for Black Fur Day and other holiday adoption days, you’re missing out on a world of potential adopters.
Same day foster and adoption placement. If someone comes to your shelter to adopt or foster a pet, don’t make them wait. Allow people to take home a pet the same day they come in, and try to keep the total time they spend in the shelter to under two hours. In this fast-paced world, we’ve got to be ready to let people help!
Inform, educate and support adopters and fosters. A counseling-based adoption approach means you, as the counselor, gets to know a bit about the pet and the prospective adopter so you can help make a great match! If you have an adopter who is interested in a pet who may not be the best fit (think person who wants a couch potato and is eyeing the one-year-old excitable hound who loves 15 mile hikes with her foster mom), you can point that person to pets who have some of the same qualities, but may be a more appropriate fit for that adopter. Our job as counselors is to say ‘Yes!’ to adopters and to help them in their quest to find their new family member.
Remove barriers to placement. Ditch the landlord checks, the vet record checks, the home visits, and the 24-hour wait times to adoption. Put your organizational energy into building a robust post-adoption follow-up program.
Make most pets available and visible to the public right away. Get pets up on your website and make them available from the moment they enter the building. If they’re on stray hold, allow them to be ‘pre-adopted’ so they can go home as soon as their stray hold is over.
Get rid of restrictions. In very specific cases, you may decide to put an adoption restriction on a particular pet, ie. a dog with a history of severely injuring a cat may lead to a ‘no cats’ restriction. However, avoid the temptation to put restrictions like ‘no cats,’ ‘no kids,’ ‘no dogs,’ etc. on adoptable pets for arbitrary or subjective reasons. Get to know pets through group housing, play groups, and real life foster experiences to focus on finding them a great match based on their unique personalities and preferences.
Tell adopters and fosters everything you know in an objective manner. When people take home a pet from your shelter, they should know everything you know about the pet and should receive all notes, including medical and behavioral notes, in writing. You will have already provided verbal counseling to explain and contextualize any notes on the pet. Keep your explanations honest, objective, and to-the-point. Provide information and resources to address particular behavioral and medical issues.
Train staff and volunteers in customer service, open adoptions, and cultural competency. Expect your entire staff to throw their personal biases out the door, greet every potential adopter with a warm welcome, and make every customer feel like they’re a hero to homeless pets. They are! Provide ongoing training to anyone helping with adoptions so they know they’re expected to treat every person they meet with respect, kindness, and gratitude. Adopters and fosters need to be celebrated!
Get pets home fast. If there is more than a two-day wait between the time a pet gets adopted and the time it goes home, you have a problem in your organization. If the wait for spay or neuter or medical services means a pet has to stay in the shelter, even after it’s been adopted, consider sending pets home as fosters until they can be adopted, or issue spay and neuter or medical vouchers you can send pets home with.
Create an adopter-friendly environment. Hold frequent and fun adoption specials; serve popcorn or hot cocoa; hand out candy or free adoption vouchers when the line gets long; say thank you every chance you get; have coloring pages and fun activities for kids and families. Make adopting a fun experience they’ll never forget!
Follow these free, easy guidelines the top shelters have been practicing for years and watch your adoptions and foster placements soar!