Each shelter and rescue has a story, just like the animals it gives a temporary home to. The common denominator, the connection, and the driving force is to help as many animals as possible to find forever homes.
Michael Good, DVM, founder of the Homeless Pet Clubs, knew at 15 years old that he wanted to be a veterinarian. Early in his career, he was helping 50 local rescue groups as their supervising veterinarian, where he saw many shelters and rescues give up because of lack of money to survive—and where euthanasia was the only option to control a population of homeless animals.
“I couldn’t look these beautiful creatures in the eye and then take their life away. I’d sit with the animals for a little while, so they could at least feel love before they had to die,” said Dr. Good.
In addition to his veterinary practices, in the mid-1990’s, Dr. Good became the medical director for a shelter in his native Fulton County, Georgia. When he started, he inherited an unfathomable euthanasia rate -- every three days there were animals put down and the euthanasia rate compared to the shelter population was way too high.
Dr. Good was determined to find a solution for homeless animals and made it his life’s mission.
In 2010, the Homeless Pet Clubs was founded as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to help animal rescues and shelters adopt-out more pets, and for the past 5 of 7 years, continues to be financially supported only by Dr. Good and donations to help keep the program running.
Homeless Pet Clubs
Homeless Pet Clubs gives students, civic leaders, and business owners the opportunity to share their love of animals by promoting animal rescue, responsible pet ownership, adoption of shelter animals, and animal welfare. It also gives animal lovers from diverse backgrounds that don’t necessarily work in a shelter or rescue, a way to leverage different strengths to save the greatest number of at-risk animals by participating in:
- Sponsoring a homeless animal to increase visibility for adoption
- Telling the story of their sponsored pets via Facebook, emails, and posters
- Volunteering at adoption events
- Raising funds to support their local shelter and club
It is also free for clubs and shelters or rescue organizations to join. To date, there are 2,000 Homeless Pet Clubs across the United States.
Shelter and Rescue Participation
The mission of a Homeless Pet Club is to use flyers, posters, email, Facebook and other social media, and various projects, to help find homes for dogs and cats in county animal shelters, humane societies, and rescue groups. It is a grass-roots effort and every type of club relies on word-of-mouth to spread the word about the animals they are sponsoring. It also drives awareness and traffic to Homeless Pet Clubs rescue and shelter partners.
Pet sponsorship is a way to promote pets through advocates who tell each animal’s unique story--and give the pet as much exposure as possible to potential adopters. A shelter or rescue can upload as many (or as few) pets as they want sponsored with the pet's information.
The Warwick Valley Humane Society, one of the 105 shelter and rescues enrolled in this program, has experienced an uptick in adoption rates that can be attributed to their participation in the program. Pam Schutz, DVM, has had success with the program.
“Our shelter became more engaged with the community – and it’s been a great way for people to hear about our animals, and want to come in a meet them—and their chances are greater for adoption!” said Dr. Shutz.
“I’d tell other organizations to get involved – it costs nothing and if we’re too busy to upload our animals’ information; the Homeless Pet Clubs can do it for us. It’s really a win-win opportunity to help our animals in this way,” she stated.
Homeless Pet Clubs can be started anywhere in the country where a sanctioned shelter or rescue group exists, such as a state or county facility, humane organization or rescue group. The organizations must meet or exceed expectations:
- Meet standards of humane care and cleanliness
- Make a commitment to reducing euthanasia and saving the lives of pets in their facility
- Agree not to euthanize any pet that a club has chosen to sponsor
- Provide care for the sponsored pet until it gets adopted
Response from the school, business, and civic clubs hosting Homeless Pet Clubs has been very positive, with each club choosing pets to 'sponsor' and promote for adoption. In one Georgia county alone, more than 50 school clubs were established in three months' time, and their support helped find loving, forever homes for more than 200 animals. Teachers lead the charge for the school clubs, and report benefits to students including:
- increased involvement
- decreased absenteeism
- increased enthusiasm for learning
- improved social skills
- increased compassion
- heightened sense of achievement
- improved self-worth
- decreased bullying
- expanded awareness of networking for good
- increased responsibility
- increased creativity and cooperation
“Communities can build on their love of animals and ultimately come together to transcend social status,” Dr. Good stated. “Animals level the “playing field” for all socioeconomic groups and animals don’t judge you. We want children to learn to be kind to all living things; be kind to animals and be kind to each other.”
Share Your Thoughts on Homeless Pet Clubs with Us
What do you think of this concept? Is this something you could see your shelter or rescue participating in? Take our quick Survey.
PREPARE FOR KITTEN SEASON WITH BEST PRACTICES TO AID ADOPTION
It’s the time of year that takes patience, preparation, and a lot of love: kitten season is here.
For your shelter or rescue, this time of year means an increased need for vaccines, parasiticides, and medications to treat your newest arrivals, get them healthy, and ultimately get them ready for adoption. Kittens are prone to upper respiratory infections, viral infections, internal parasites, diarrhea, and external parasites – to common ailments that can be passed from one kitten to another. FeLV and FIV infections are also common; yet serious infections that can go undetected.1
Kitten season is much different than puppy season, simply due to differences in canine and feline reproductive physiology. Cats are prolific breeders and cycle from January to Mid-October. Cats are also induced ovulators which compounds their ability to produce several litters per year.2
Kitten season is very long, typically starting in April or March, and running through November or December. As the days usually get shorter in late October through mid-December, cats will enter di-estrus. So essentially “kitten season” lasts longer than six months.2
PREPARATION FOR YOUR SHELTER OR RESCUE3
Preparation for kitten season should begin by calling on volunteers and asking the public for additional resources, such as kitten food, toys, and bedding. It should also include education around the importance of spay and neuter. Prior to the start of kitten season, volunteers should be contacted and educated on kitten care. One planning example is to create weekly news segments and special reports on the importance of spay and neuter programs to get the word out. This could mean reaching out to news outlets (or through a public relations team), or promoting on your shelter or rescue’s social media channels.
Additionally, because adoptions of adult cats plummet when kitten season begins, there should be an increased effort to adopt out adult cats. Some shelters run specials and provide lucrative discounts on mature cats to aid this effort.
SHELTER PROTOCOLS AND PROCEDURES3
Shelter protocols and procedures for kitten intakes depend upon the age and surrender status of the kitten.
Below are standard recommendations:2
- Physical examination
- Viral testing (feline leukemia and FIV)
- Treat for internal and external parasites
- If stray, quarantine until available for adoption
- If surrendered and healthy, place for immediate adoption
- If too young for adoption, utilize foster care/foster family
We asked Zoetis Veterinarian, Kristy L. Earley-Murray, DVM, if kitten season has increasingly gotten worse over the years—or has she seen the numbers of kittens decrease (due to spay/neuter or other reasons):4
“I would love to say it has gotten better, but because cats are such prolific breeders it really is an on-going area of opportunity with regards to population control efforts and provision of education. Rescue groups have done an outstanding job with trying to stabilize the feral cat population, but there are many “pet cats” and “barn cat” populations that continue to add to overpopulation problem.”
Tools and Tips to Help During Kitten Season3,5
Here are some recommendations from the ASPCA to ensure a successful kitten season for your shelter or rescue:
- Track Length of Stay for Kittens
By keeping track of the number of days each kitten waits to be moved into foster care, you’ll be able to identify and investigate any increase in wait time which could be a red flag that an uptick in disease is not far behind. By observing any increase in length of stay, you may be able to pinpoint (and address) the cause of the bottleneck. The goal is to move kittens out of the shelter and into foster care.
- Start a Program: Offsite Neonatal Care for Kittens
In order to reduce the number of neonate kittens entering the shelter and to increase community involvement, Miami-Dade Animal Services launched the Milkman Program, where animal care organizations provide training and neonate care kits to people who have called to report kittens with no mama. Here’s how you can do it, too.5
- Test all Kittens in a litter for FeLV/FIV
Kittens in the same litter may have different test results for a number of reasons, so don’t assume that the results of one kitten are representative of those for the entire litter.6
- Start a Volunteer Project: Sock Hats for Preemies
Simply cut out ear holes in the toe of an infant sock. Here’s what it looks like.
- Create Catchy Messages to Attract Attention
Kitten season is your busiest time of year, but do your supporters understand that you need their help—and why? With some fun and catchy messaging, like the 4 examples here, you have a better shot of bringing more donors, volunteers and foster families on board.
COMMON BEHAVIORAL ISSUES FOR SHELTER ANIMALS AND SOLUTIONS TO ADDRESS THEM
Strange faces. Annoying neighbors. Weird sounds.
For some dogs and cats, the new experience of a shelter is a respite from the situation they came from. But many animals are thrust into a world they knew nothing about before: shelter life. Imagine sensory overload: sight, smell, touch, and hearing are heightened, as an animal’s senses are so much more sensitive than a human’s.
Dogs with behavior problems tend to languish longer in shelters due to the understandable reluctance on the part of most adopters to take on a dog with possible ongoing behavior challenges.1 In addition, shelter staff often hold onto the dogs before making them available for adoption to work on the behavior problem.
The resulting longer stay puts dogs at increased risk of developing kennel-induced behavior problems, and additionally has an exacerbating effect on their existing problems. The behavior problems seen in shelter dogs can be divided into four types, according to The Association of Shelter Vets Guidelines for Shelter Standards1 and Maddie’s Fund: Behavior Problems and Long Term Housing2.
Here are common shelter behavior types that dogs may exhibit.
FOUR TYPES OF SHELTER DOG BEHAVIOR1
1. Behavior problems correlated with relinquishment to animal shelters:
2. 'Adoption Buster' behavior problems
These are problems associated with dogs being passed over by potential adopters, once in a shelter:
- Aggression towards people and/or dogs
- Aggression towards dogs
- Kennel or barrier displaying
- Jumpiness and mouthiness in initial meeting
3. Separation anxiety
This is not necessarily caused by shelter relinquishment - any time a dog changes owners, the risk of him developing separation anxiety goes up.
4. Kennel environment problems
- Barrier-related barking
- Barrier-related aggression
- Housetraining regression
- Social hyper-arousal
SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS TO ADDRESS BEHAVIORS1
The rehoming experience, especially through an animal shelter, can cause or exacerbate existing behavior problems, and the shelter experience itself then negatively impacts the dogs’ adoptability and increases the likelihood of future relinquishment.
The goal is to help an animal become more adoptable and work on ways to alleviate the behavior, or minimize it. Here are ways that can help:
- Environmental enrichment to alleviate general distress during the dog's shelter stay. These efforts can include: walks, clicker and/or obedience training, group or pairs housing and/or regular dog-dog free play,
- Effective intervention when separation anxiety develops. This requires good knowledge of systematic desensitization and pharmacological intervention on the part of shelter staff and veterinarians and management/support options for owners during the course of treatment.
- Adoption counseling. Thoroughly briefing adopters on do's and don't's about the early weeks and months with their newly adopted dog, as well as supplying ongoing support to adopters in order to diagnose and address separation anxiety early on. For instance, it is imperative to avoid smothering new dogs with attention their first few days home
- Dog behavior education. Aggressive community outreach to dog owners and the general public who may one day be dog owners, with good, catchy information on management, behavior and training (including home-alone training).
Barrier-Related Barking and Aggression
- Preventing visual access to corridor to dogs prone to in-kennel display or, possibly, to all dogs in kennel (this needs research), or
- Counterconditioning a competing emotional response as people walk past the dog's kennel. The easiest practice is to use part of the dog's daily meal ration. The dog's food is stored conveniently near his kennel - any person grabs a few pieces before passing by and delivers them to the dog on his/her way by. The food elicits eating behavior, which prevents lunging, barking and aggression.
Dogs adopted out from animal shelters will often lapse in their housetraining following their stay in the shelter. A few different measures might address this concern:
- In-shelter crate training. David Tuber (who audio-taped hundreds of dogs home alone) found that if shelter dogs were gradually acclimated, over several days at the shelter, to staying in a large, airline crate and then sent home with that crate and instructions on its proper use, the likelihood of the person keeping the dog was greatly increased. Crates can become associated with comfort and safety during a dog's stay in a noisy, drafty kennel.
- Prioritizing housetraining at animal shelters. Dogs would need to be walked at least three to four times per day and possibly crated if they were not holding their bladders in their kennels. An alternative would be foster-care for dogs suspected of not being. housetrained. Certain foster homes might specialize in adult house-training.
- Post-adoption support. Not only should adopters leave with solid information on what to expect and how to train their new dog, they must know there is a safety net should they feel overwhelmed.
This includes compulsive behaviors in the form of pacing, circling, bouncing off walls and self-directed behavior and, at best, over-excitement on occasions when the dog gets social contact. This behavior is off-putting to potential adopters who are likely to label a dog 'hyperactive' or unmanageable rather than see the dog's behavior as driven partly by the abnormal context.
- Group housing, pairs housing and regular dog play groups. It is hard to overestimate the value of free dog interaction, both from the standpoint of development of social skills (with resulting lowered risk of dog-dog fear or aggression problems) and environmental complexity.
- Time spent with shelter dogs that is just an in-kennel visit (i.e. simple, low-key hanging out with dog) rather than 'action' oriented. Kennel runs could be provided with seating to make them more human-friendly. Books or magazines could be on-hand to promote inactive human presence.
- Regular training. This teaches the dog specifically how to behave in a visit-to-kennel situation as well as providing much-needed problem solving (training, if reward-oriented is extremely enjoyable to most dogs). Even when dogs master basic obedience, there is no limit to what they can be taught with techniques like clicker training– and it gives the dog a sense of partial control over his stress-filled environment.
Managing behavioral problems in the shelter environment can be a stepping stone—or a lifeline for these animals. By helping them work through issues, they have a greater chance of being adopted, and staying in their new forever home.
WHEN CARING TOO MUCH TURNS INTO COMPASSION FATIGUE
“You can’t save them all.”
That is one of the mantras that categorizes the despair when things get overwhelming in the animal care community. This is where compassion fatigue can seep in and take hold, with symptoms that can cover a wide spectrum, and can often be categorized as either physical, emotional, or behavioral in nature.
Compassion fatigue has been defined as “the emotional burden that health care providers may experience as a result of overexposure to traumatic events that patients are experiencing”. An earlier term used to describe this phenomenon was “secondary victimization”.1
People who work in the animal care giver world have an over-abundancy of compassion and end up getting frustrated and disheartened that they can't fix everything. An example would be that client that has to euthanize or surrender their pet because they don't have the funds to pay for the surgery or medical treatment.
Veterinarians and veterinary technicians, along with other animal health care professionals, may experience compassion fatigue because of continued exposure to the traumatic events their patients and families experience. Also called secondary traumatic stress (STS) or vicarious traumatization, the result can be a falling off in professional capabilities, emotional exhaustion, distress and burnout.1 This phenomenon is also experienced by non-professional care-givers and volunteers.
As caregivers in shelters and rescues, you may experience the following symptoms occasionally, but if they’re chronic, intense, and interfere with normal daily functioning, they may indicate you have compassion fatigue.
Psychological and Physical Problems
Feelings of apathy top the list of symptoms of compassion fatigue. But they are not the only symptoms, as this insidious disorder can cause problems both psychological and physical.
Top 5 common symptoms can include:
- Sadness and apathy
- Bottled-up emotions
- Inability to get pleasure from activities that previously were enjoyable
- Difficulty concentrating
Shelter veterinarians are at high risk for developing depression, and many spay-neuter veterinarians possess demographic risk factors that may place them at greater risk than other veterinarians for experiencing depression, burnout, compassion fatigue, or suicidal ideation.1 Per the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ 2016 Veterinary Medical Care Guidelines for Spay-Neuter Programs, workplaces should strive to create a safe, supportive environment in which mental health issues are not stigmatized.
“I truly believe many are not suffering from a lack of compassion, but rather the opposite: over-the-top compassion which can take the energy out of someone. What we really need is balance and a way to re-energize after a day/week/month filled with concentrating on the needs of others (patients and their owners),” stated Dr. Kristy Earley-Murray, DVM, who works with Zoetis to bring educational support in the field of veterinary medicine with a special focus on shelter medicine, immunology, dermatology, and senior wellness care.
What Can You Do?
It can be important to connect with colleagues who experience the same types of traumas and moral stresses as you do. There also are personal approaches that can help alleviate compassion fatigue.
- Focus on building your resilience. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cites four areas that are key:
- Adequate sleep
- Good nutrition
- Regular physical activity
- Active relaxation such as yoga or meditation
- Engage in meditation and/or mindfulness-based stress reduction. For example, try this simple breathing exercise to increase physical and mental well-being, demonstrated at the 2016 AVMA Convention by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.2
- Engage with co-workers to celebrate successes as a group.
- Connect with other colleagues, either in person or through online discussions, for shared support that can remind you that you aren’t alone. The AVMA Member Discussion Forum, for example, includes a forum on Work-Life Balance & Wellness.3
- Wash up before you leave work – even just your hands and face. 'Think of it as a symbolic ‘washing away’ of the hardness of the day,' SAMHSA advises.
The American Veterinary Medical Association4 also maintains a useful database of all kinds of wellness resources that is a good place for concerned individuals to start.
Healing takes time, patience, and most importantly, commitment within your rescue or shelter. An awareness of compassion fatigue and its far-reaching effects must be present at the highest level of management and work its way down to encompass all staff, as well as volunteers.