Good animal shelters operate like good preventative health care. They are constantly striving to incorporate programs to reduce their intake of animals. By reducing the number of animals that enter their facility, they are freeing up resources for the animals that truly do need their help.
Good shelters are recognizing that the public can and should be trusted. Reducing intake and thereby reducing shelter deaths requires participation from the entire community.
There are several ways for shelters to reduce the number of animals they take in. Trap Neuter Return programs for community cats, proactive redemptions for lost pets, and programs which keep pets from being surrendered.
Some shelters are realizing the benefits of animal help desks. They have phones manned by volunteers or staff who can pull advice from a training department or a myriad of online resources. They can often talk an owner "off the ledge" by helping them with frustrating behavior issues of their cat or dog (or other small pets). These animal help departments work amazingly well. Owners often just need some friendly support or advice to get them over the hump.
Some shelters, like Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee and Dane County Humane Society in Madison, are taking this one step further. They have introduced "Virtual Re-homing" programs that help owners help themselves. These shelters recognize that there will be some situations where a person really does need to re-home a pet, and the best person to do that is usually the owner.
Isn't the owner the person who knows the animal best? Knows their quirks, habits and endearing behaviors? Isn't the animal going to "show" best in the home that it is comfortable in? Away from the stress of the shelter, where it may get overlooked because he is scared and confused? Worse yet, animals that end up in shelters have a chance of getting sick. Usually easily treatable, but, nonetheless, wouldn't it be nice to avoid that possibility altogether?
Think long and hard. If for some reason, you had to find a new home for your pet, wouldn't YOU want to be the one to choose where he goes. Worse yet, if you died and a family member had to re-home your pet, wouldn't you want them to have the tools to do it themselves? Wouldn't you want them to choose a new home for your pet without having to turn him into a shelter and an uncertain future? I know I would.
Who is the best advocate for your pet? Isn’t it you and your family?
Our rat terrier, Pixie, is the apple of our eye. But she has a very large personal space. She will nip out of fear if somebody unexpectedly tries to pick her up. We make everyone aware of that. She would probably never pass a behavior evaluation. She would be "unadoptable" with a very bleak future at most shelters and rescues.
Virtual re-homing reduces shelter populations and shelter deaths. It protects the animals that have a bite history that would be considered too risky to adopt out. It protects the FELV and FIV cats, the fear aggressive pets, and the pets with health and behavior problems that may get worse in a shelter.
How does it work? Virtual re-homing programs provide a place for pet owners to advertise their pet online. Potential adopters that are scrolling through the shelter’s website might not see anything in the shelter that catches their eye. But, they might spot their new best friend on the virtual re-homing link. Owners are able to set their own re-homing fee and screening policies.
Check out the Virtual Re-homing link on the Wisconsin Humane Society website. It features animals available for adoption by private individuals in the Milwaukee area.
I love this excerpt from their re-homing packet:
"Thank you! You’re reading this because you may not be able to keep your animal and are committed to finding your animal a loving home. If you need to bring your animal to one of our shelters, we will accept your animal. But for some animals, a nonshelter option is the best choice. When you explore nonshelter options for your animal, you can:
· Create shelter space for other animals who don’t have a loving person like you to help them
· Protect your animal from stress and possible illness in the shelter
· Protect animals already in the shelter from any illness your animal may have
· Find a great home for an animal we may not be able to place in our adoption program
· Maybe find a great way that you and your animal can stay together!
With a little work and patience, you can help your animal and many others, and know what it feels like to truly save a life."
Thank you to our Wisconsin shelters who are “thinking outside the box” of traditional sheltering and saving lives. Is your shelter raising the bar?