A Different Way of Handling Shelter Adoptions
I always learn something at every shelter we visit, but at Moore County Animal Services, we saw an entirely different way of handling adoptions.
The entire staff has completed the Fear Free shelter program. To minimize the stress on their dogs, they do not allow the public to tour the kennels to pick a dog. Having people walking back and forth through the kennels is extremely stressful for the already stressed dogs.
Instead, they have an interactive kiosk in the lobby, where potential adopters can click through the pictures and information of the dogs in the kennels. The staff talks with them about what they are looking for and what kind of home they can offer, and then counsels the adopter on which dogs might be the best match. After that, they bring the dogs up front to meet the adopter in a meet and greet room.
It’s a smart way to give every dog a chance. Many dogs don’t show well in their kennels. Some develop barrier aggression, protecting the only space that is ‘theirs’. They may lunge or bark. When you bring them out, they are completely different dogs, but few adopters will request to meet the dog snarling and lunging at them.
Other dogs are terrified by the noise created when an entire room full of dogs excited by a person walking through. They may cower in the back of their crate, terrified. That same dog out in the play yard might be friendly and energetic.
The staff knows the animals best and once they understand what an adopter is looking for, they make the best matchmakers. I love this approach and wish more shelters would employ it. If they don’t have the funds for an interactive kiosk as cool as Moore Counties, they could just as easily set something up on a computer, or even print the information out in books.
Moore County Animal Services is a large shelter run by the Sheriff’s Department. They are an open-intake shelter that handles about three thousand animals a year with a staff of just seven full-time employees, 1 part-time kennel tech (newly hired), and 4 ACO’s.
We met with their director, James (who also oversees two other departments), Marissa, the shelter manager and vet tech, Octavius, who is the administrative assistant, rescue coordinator, and handles all the finances, plus Adam, James’ replacement (James is retiring soon). They seem like a team that works well together and takes pride in the work they do.
It was refreshing to hear that the shelter not only adopts out all their animals already spayed or neutered, they finance a Fix ‘Em program to offer low-cost spay/neuter for the public. Octavius networks dogs to their 66 rescue partners, but an equal or larger number are adopted out locally.
The shelter has 29 kennels, including five quarantine kennels and five half-kennels (for smaller dogs). Each kennel has two sections divided by a guillotine door, so if necessary, they can hold more dogs by shutting those doors, but Marissa explained that they don’t like to do that because then the dogs don’t have very much space. They have a large outdoor space with a gravel surface where they take the dogs out to play and get exercise individually.
They have a Mobile Adoption Center, funded by donations and a grant from Pet Smart. It’s an amazing trailer tricked out with kennels and heat/AC that is perfect for getting their animals out into the public eye, but they’ve also used it to assist citizens in times of crisis, providing a safe place for their animals temporarily in the event of floods and other disasters.
The staff told us that they do not euthanize for space. When they are in a bind, they reach out to rescue and/or discount adoption fees. The shelter reports for North Carolina are public record and the numbers for 2022 were recently made available, so I was able to see the exact numbers for the municipal shelters we visited on our January tour. Moore County handled 1165 dogs and euthanized 27% of them.
Moore County ACOs handle a huge number of calls They work to not just assist citizens, but educate them. Prior to the pandemic, they had a program in place called Dog Tags, that utilized soldiers from nearby Fort Bragg to train shelter dogs. The team is hopeful that program will return.
The challenge of having a shelter that falls under the Sheriff’s department is that because Sheriff is an elected position, the shelter staff and practices can change with each election. That makes it hard to create consistency and stability with the staff and the community.
As we travel from shelter to shelter, it is interesting to see all the different models and hear about the different approaches to sheltering. What I wish, though, is that there could be some kind of consistency. I wish a dog’s fate wasn’t determined by county lines. I wish every dog had the same chance. I wish we could all decide that euthanizing a dog should be an absolute last resort. I wish we could agree to take that option off the table, because the one thing I’ve learned from visiting over one hundred shelters is that there are thousands of better options, available to all of us regardless of where we live. We just have to decide to look for them.
Until each one has a home,
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This is an awesome way to destress the dogs.
What a perfect way of dealing with these precious animals. Thank you for sharing this.
The statement that they do not euthanize for space does not match with having a euthanasia rate of 27%.
Also, the animal behaviorists for shelters that I have read reports on suggest that adoption rates go up when all animals can be seen in person by visitors, volunteers, and potential adopters. The possibility of stress to the dogs by having visitors is handled by protocols and procedures, such as having the staff teach the dogs to happily come to the front of the kennel when seeing people visiting. Doing this creates a cycle of positive reinforcement. Another bonus to having people walk through the kennel rows is that it also helps relieve the daily boredom of a shelter dog.
I’m confused about their adoption process. I also took the Fear Free Shelters program. They instruct you on how to recognize an animal’s behavior. They also address the issue of the importance of socialization, playtime and enrichment for both dogs and cats. Not allowing the public in goes against those principles. Also, if you don’t allow the public to see every animal, they may miss out on a true connection with an animal, which could quite possibly be different from what they described to staff they were looking for.