There are currently hundreds of communities across the USA whose shelters have stopped killing healthy or treatable pets. The shelters in your community can do that, too. If your community is not already No Kill, your shelters need to hear from you and your friends.... please get involved to save lives.

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  • Aubrie Kavanaugh

"Get Them Out” Programs of the No Kill Equation

This is the third in a series of blogs about the No Kill Equation which was first presented by Nathan Winograd in his groundbreaking book in 2007: “Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America.” My first blog talked about the Equation generally and why it is that the members of No Kill Movement promote the Equation. The second blog talked about programs which work to reduce shelter intake, also referred to as the “keep them out” programs. This blog focused on the “get them out” programs that move animals out of the shelter either temporarily or permanently.


Comprehensive Adoption Programs


When we compare the number of shelter animals needing a new home each year to the number of people in the community looking for a new pet, there are more than enough homes for these animals. Adoption is primarily an issue of marketing. People mistakenly believe that shelter animals are damaged or broken (an idea reinforced by the fact that so many are destroyed) and so they get animals from other sources. Many people don’t realize that not all shelter animals get put up for adoption. That may sound implausible, but it’s true. Some people won’t go to the shelter to adopt because they know what happens there, and they just find the whole process too depressing.


Comprehensive Adoption Programs are a huge part of getting animals out of the shelter. Huge. When a shelter has a “come to us” approach, is only open during hours when people are at work (and children are in school), and does not market animals in creative ways, adoptions will always fall short of what they could be primarily for one simple reason: the animals who need homes are not on the public radar. People don’t give them any thought because they are unaware of those animals who need homes.


Comprehensive programs include creative adoption promotions (Pets for Patriots, Seniors for Seniors, Two-Fer adoptions, Five-dollar Fridays, Back-in-Black days, Half Off for Halftime, Home for the Holidays, etc.), taking animals to the public by hosting off-site adoption events, using mobile adoption vehicles, and making adoption at the shelter easier through family-friendly hours. Shelter animals are cared for seven days a week. When a shelter is open at least six days a week, on at least some holidays, and during hours when people can get to the shelter, it makes the adoption process immeasurably easier.

This is also a customer service issue. Shelters should be seen as inviting places focused on saving lives which are staffed by energetic and friendly people who provide excellent customer service. People will always be more willing to adopt an animal from a location where the culture and the vibe are helpful and upbeat.


It has been said that we could be a No Kill nation today if only the animals and the potential adopters were better introduced. That happens through Comprehensive Adoption Programs.


Foster Programs


Even the best shelters can be a stressful environment. Many animals are empathic. Most can see, smell, and hear things we do not. For them, a shelter is a strange and scary place, and is nothing like home. Even the most balanced of animals will not behave in a shelter the way he or she behaves outside of a shelter. This disconnect makes it difficult to identify behavioral issues and to determine which animals are social and well-adjusted even if they act fearful or shut down in the shelter environment. The National Canine Research Council wrote, "shelter evaluations may tell us as much or more about the effect of the shelter as they do about the individual dogs. Shelters are noisy, alien environments, filled with strange smells, unfamiliar people, and dogs they may hear, but not see. We should not be surprised that some dogs may. . . behave differently when confined in a shelter, with its barrage of stressors that the dog cannot control, than they will in the safe, secure, predictable environment of a home, cared for by people with whom they are able to form positive attachments."


Shelter animals in foster care are animals who are being prepared for a new life. Some are perfectly healthy. Some may have special needs. When we put animals in homes, even for short periods of time, we learn about how they behave and help them get ready to be someone’s pet. Their past will never be known, but their present becomes very much known. Can he walk on a leash? Is she house-trained? Does riding in a car upset her? Does he love to play with toys? How about getting along with children or other pets? All of these questions can be answered more accurately once animals are outside of a shelter environment.


The great news is that most communities have an incredible number of resources that could become foster homes. Retirees. Soldiers. Students. There are people who may not want the long-term commitment of a pet, but who are great with pets. All of these people are excellent candidates to provide foster care.


Do you not have a pet because you think you are too old? Foster. Do you not have a pet because you want the freedom to travel a lot? You can foster. Do you want to help a deployed member of the armed forces so he does not have to surrender his beloved dog to the shelter? Fostering that dog means he can stay local and be returned to his owner when the deployment ends. Do you want to help neonatal puppies or kittens who need regular bottle feeding for a few weeks until they can eat solid food? You can foster.



As time has passed since the Equation was first developed, the focus on foster programs has proven to be a direct path to lifesaving. Many progressive shelters promote sleepover programs and field trip programs which get animals out of the shelter for short periods of time to free up shelter space, reduce animals’ stress and learn about the personalities of those animals so they can marketed more effectively. Many progressive shelters also have foster-to-adopt programs so potential adopters can have a trial period with a new animal to see if the placement is a good fit for a person or family. Even if the potential adoption doesn’t work out for some reason, that foster period helps animals in the same way as sleepover programs: we have freed up shelter space, reduced stress for the animal and learned more about the animal so we can market him or her with more specific information.


Medical and Behavior Programs


Shelters need to keep animals happy and healthy, and keep animals moving efficiently through the system. To do this, shelters must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies and procedures before animals get sick, and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, un-weaned, or traumatized.


This element of the Equation starts with vaccination of all animals entering the facility to prevent the spread of illness from one pet to another. Research shows that vaccination at intake will prevent a majority of canine and feline illnesses that plague shelters.


Vaccinations can be purchased in bulk and are inexpensive. Any cost for a vaccine is far less than the cost to treat sick animals or destroy and dispose of them. Maddie’s Fund states, “Shelters that only vaccinate some animals, or none, or that fail to vaccinate prior to or at the instant of intake are not just increasing the risk of infectious disease outbreaks; they’re guaranteeing them.”


This element also includes helping animals with medical conditions or neonatal animals who require special care until they can consume solid food. A fund can be set up to offset costs for animals who need specialized care (such as treatment for heartworm or surgical procedures). Such funds are often named after a beloved pet who has died and are a way for people to help the shelter through philanthropy, perhaps to honor the memory of their own pet.


Neonatal animals can be spared by having them temporarily housed in foster homes where they are fed on an ongoing schedule and until they are old enough to consume solid food. Shelters can also help animals who are traumatized or have behavioral issues by partnering with local behaviorists, trainers, and veterinarians to evaluate these animals and make plans to find them new homes. Use of dog enrichment programs and dog play groups can go a long way toward reducing shelter stress and keeping dogs from degrading while they are in a shelter.



The medical/behavior programs element also includes analysis of the types of animals who most often end up in the shelter. By determining the source or cause of problems, those problems can be addressed.


For example, if there are ongoing issues with large numbers of puppies and kittens, those issues can be addressed (at least to a degree) with education about and promotion of spay/neuter. If there are a large number of dogs entering the shelter that were found running at large, that issue can be addressed with education and by identifying locations where dogs are commonly allowed to run at large.


Rescue Group Relationships


Many shelters have ongoing relationships with trusted rescue groups, allowing those groups to put a “rescue hold” on animals to keep them from being destroyed and then later allowing them to “pull” animals for free. Shelters that do not see local rescue groups as a life-saving resource to be respected and valued are setting themselves up for failure.


The relationship between the shelter and rescues can be refined and honed through ongoing communication about animals at risk. Rescues can be notified electronically of animals needing rescue by age, gender, suspected breed, special needs, etc. This helps rescues understand the need and do a better job of pulling animals out as quickly as possible.


While rescue groups should be given every opportunity to save animals at risk, they should not be relied upon to be “the” solution to life-saving; the shelter must do its part to place animals through comprehensive adoption programs such as pets for patriots and seniors for seniors while offering periodic adoption promotions to place older animals and special needs animals.


Shelters which do not seek out rescue groups to place animals severely limit their ability to move animals through the shelter system quickly and free up valuable space. Detailed information about developing solid relationships with rescue groups and nurturing those relationships is contained in this very thorough article from the Best Friends Animal Society.


There are some places in the country where shelters are legally required to contact rescue groups prior to animals being destroyed in order to ensure those animals have every opportunity to leave the shelter alive. Some of these laws are in the form of Companion Animal Protection Acts, like the law in Muncie, Indiana. In California, the right of rescues to pull animals from shelters is codified in the Hayden’s Act.


(program and Facebook images courtesy of Huntsville Animal Services, image of dog courtesy of my dear friend Dana Kay Mattox Deutsch)