September 28, 1998 - October 2, 1998
Working with Shelters
Subject: CLASS: working with shelters
I guess there are a few things I try to keep in mind when people behave in a way contradictory to what you think they would or how someone in their position should.
People can be adversarial for so many reasons:
Subject: CLASS: re: working with reluctant shelters
Mary Beam was asking....
In our county the shelters will not work with the rescues. If they know or suspect you are with rescue they will not let you take a dog out. They also refused the donation of a micro chip reader, using the excuse that it would encourage people to micro chip rather than buy license tags for the dogs.....How does one do rescue work when the shelters won't co-operate?
A workaround for those reluctant shelters is keep track of the dogs available and refer pre-screened potential adopters there so they can adopt directly from the shelter. When we do this, we instruct the adopter to say (once the adoption's been processed and the dog is in their hot little hands), "I'm really glad rescue told me to look here - I never would've known about this dog otherwise!" That's pricked up the ears of many shelters and encouraged them to draw on us more often for good adoption prospects.
The microchip thing....had to smile a little at that, it's amazing the excuses people will come up with when they just don't want to move ahead with the times. I have an idea you could present to them - what if the city (or whomever does your licensing) offered microchip ID's at cost to all purchasers of dog licenses?? i.e. when a pet owner buys his license, he could also get his pet chipped at the same time for a small add'l fee? It doesn't cost the city or shelter anything except the labor to do the chipping and at least some of the area's animals are getting chipped. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Vicki DeGruy, Wisconsin Chow Chow Rescue
Subject: CLASS: Tips on working with shelters
I've been way busy all week and haven't been able to keep with CLASS, sorry these comments are so late in the session.
Some tips on making friends and working well with shelters...
..as the national coordinator for my breed, I talk to shelters all over the country every day. The number one complaint I hear from them about rescue groups is: "They never returned our call!" I recommend that you make shelter calls your priority and return their calls within 24 hours. I know that's sometimes not possible since we're all volunteers and have our own stuff to worry about but you'll make a lot of points by calling back promptly. Some rescues, when they can't help, simply don't return the call at all. This is a bad business practice! Call them anyway, explain why you can't help them and how sorry you are about it. They don't want to hear that but they'll respect your sincerity and honesty. It'll help ensure that they'll call you again in the future when you -can- help.
..the number two complaint from shelters is: "Rescue said they'd get back to us but that was a week ago and we haven't heard anything!" Some rescues keep shelters hanging, sometimes forever. They don't have a foster home or transportation or whatever at the time so they tell the shelter "we'll work on it and call you back" - but they never do. Shelters, especially the high population ones, can't be left hanging waiting for a rescue that never shows up. There's other dogs waiting for that space. If you can't give a shelter an answer that day, give them a definite date by which you -will- call back and then do it even if, when that day comes, you still don't have a positive answer for them. As mentioned above, an answer they don't want to hear is always better than no answer at all. As least you did what you promised - you got back to them and that goes a long way in their respect for rescue.
..think about what you say before you say it. Consider how your statements will be perceived. Some rescues are very abrupt: "we can't take it because it's too old", "it doesn't meet the breed standard", "we don't do mixes". By wording your responses more diplomatically, you can soften the effect somewhat. Explaining why helps, too. For example, "In our breed, we don't have success placing dogs older than age 5 so we can't take the older ones anymore" sounds better and more caring than if you say "sorry, that dog is too old for our program". Giving a little thought to your answers can make the shelter feel glad they called even if you don't have the answer they're looking for.
..after a shelter has released a dog to you, make sure they get feedback on it. Send them a copy of the neuter certificate when the dog's been fixed; send them a copy of the adoption contract after the dog's been placed. Let them know you did what you promised. Got pictures of the dog and his new family? Send them a copy along with any nice "thank you for letting us adopt" letters you might get later from the dog's new owners. Shelters *love* happy endings (just like us!) and it will make them very happy they sent the dog with you. This feedback is especially important when this is a shelter you're just beginning to work with. It helps establish trust.
..probably more misunderstandings between rescue and shelters occur because of miscommunications than anything else. It's very common at a large or busy shelter that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. In other words, you might leave a message saying you'll pick up a dog tomorrow but the message doesn't get passed to the correct person - so when you arrive at the shelter, you unhappily discover that the dog was destroyed minutes before you arrived! When I call a shelter, I try to talk to the same person each time I call and if that person isn't in, I ask to talk to the manager. The fewer people involved in the communication, the better because it lessens the chance that information will get lost or garbled in translation from one person to another.
..when a shelter tells you "if you can't come today, the dog will be destroyed!", don't panic! Many shelters wait till the last second before calling rescue and they don't realize that it can take some time for us to get everything together to pick up and house a dog. Instead of screaming, take a deep breath and negotiate: "The soonest we can get there would be ______. I know that's asking a lot to hold him that long but would that work for you?" In my experience, most shelters will try to accomodate you when they can as long as they know that you -will- show up when you say you will. Some shelters will go so far as to send an employee to open up the building on a day they're closed if that's the only day you can come. You just have to ask nicely and be willing to go a little out of your way if they'll go out of theirs. I've even had some who met me halfway.
..if the shelter wants an adoption fee, pay it graciously and without argument. This subject is a sore one for both rescues and shelters and it's something we can discuss more deeply in CHAT. But for now, it's enough to know that shelters have little use for rescues that complain about having to pay a fee or refuse to pay it altogether. Just write your check and smile. :)
..when establishing a relationship with a shelter that's new to me, I will usually accept just about any dog they offer (provided it's not aggressive). The shelters I've worked with a long time know what I'm looking for in a rescue dog and only call me if they have one that meets criteria. A new shelter doesn't know your imitations and isn't expecting you to say no. In some cases, you might be the first rescue they've ever reached out to and you want the experience to be a positive one so they'll continue. In those cases, I'll take an unadoptable dog if necessary in order to make that first positive connection. Later, after we all know each other better, I explain our criteria and what we can and can't take.
Hope this helps,
Vicki DeGruy, Wisconsin Chow Chow Rescue
Subject: CLASS: working with shelters
This brings the week of "working with shelters" to an end. We hope that you've picked up some good ideas. They are the major source of the dogs that we take in. It is vital that we do everything we can to maintain a good relationship with each shelter you work with.
It not only helps you, but every other Rescue group that comes into that shelter. Remember that you represent the Rescue community with your words and your actions.
I'll announce tomorrow what the subject will be for next week.
Webmaster: Debbie Perry