Other Useful Shelter/Rescue Information

Animal-Friendly License Plates

Many states support the spaying and neutering and/or immunization of pets through the sale of specialty license plates. For example, in Tennessee, the sale of animal-friendly plates helps to fund grants to government-run shelters or 501c3 rescues that provide low-cost spay and neuter services. Grant awards are based on the number of animals the organization serves and how many counties are reached. Shelters and organizations that serve distressed counties are prioritized.

In Kentucky, the “Spay or Neuter Your Pets” license plates were adopted to raise awareness of the need to reduce the population of homeless animals in the state. The Kentucky Animal Control Advisory Board oversees the distribution of funds earned through the sale of these plates. According to the board’s website, “One hundred percent of the funds are awarded annually as grants to Kentucky animal shelters and non-profit groups for spay-neuter programs.

Animal Control Officers Should be Seen as a Friend in the Community

According to animal welfare experts speaking at a recent Maddie’s Fund Webinar, an animal control officer (ACO) should be seen as a friendly, approachable visitor in a community. Residents should think of their ACO as a public servant instead of a law enforcement agent. When ACOs build strong community connections, people will be more likely to help with rehoming missing pets. Some ways to do this include:

• Make ACO trucks fun and engaging. Replace police stripes on the truck with cute pictures of dogs and helpful information about ACO and animal shelter services. The ACO truck should look more like an ice cream truck than a police cruiser.

• Animal control officers should be proactive about driving around the community and stopping to talk to dog owners. They could take pet food in the truck and hand it out to people who need help feeding their pets. Also, ACOs can carry around soft toys and dog treats to hand out to dog owners.

• Instead of taking a lost dog directly to the shelter, an ACO can walk around the community where the dog was found to see if anyone recognizes the dog. This is also a good opportunity to hand out business cards so people know who to call if they need help with a lost or found dog.

• It’s important for ACOs to avoid judging. Most people want to do the right thing they just need education or a little help. When it comes to losing dogs, there may be a quick solution such as fixing a hole in the fence or putting a padlock on a gate. An ACO can offer guidance in coming up with solutions and help keep the dog in his/her home and out of the shelter.

• Shelters need to get to know and understand local multicultural neighborhoods. It’s not just important what ACO or other shelter representatives say but how they show up in the community. How you dress and present yourself in the community can help to create trust within the community.

• Once stray or lost animals enter the shelter, the goal should be to get them home as quickly as possible. To help get dogs home sooner shelters should consider a return-to-home delivery option where the ACO will drive the dog home when people can’t travel to the shelter.

ASPCA’s Meet Your Match Program Leads to Successful Placements

The ASPCA’s Meet Your Match program is a research-based adoption program designed to increase the likelihood that shelter dogs and cats will bond with their adopters. It is currently being implemented at animal shelters across the U.S. Shelters use the Meet Your Match assessment, adopter survey, color-coded cage cards, and guest passes to provide a fun, informative framework by which adoption counselors and adopters work together to find the right matches. This program has been shown to increase adoptions and decrease returns. All of the materials needed to run a Meet Your Match program are available online and can be downloaded for free.

Caution Pet Owners to Avoid Purchasing Microchips That Start with 9-0-0

According to AKC Reunite, PetWatch24, and animal welfare advocates, pet owners should steer clear of purchasing microchips with the prefix 9-0-0. The market is flooded with microchips that begin with the numbers 9-0-0 being produced by various Chinese manufacturers. This means that multiple manufacturers are producing and selling some microchips with the same ID number. If two pets have the same microchip ID number it makes pet reunions complicated or even impossible. AKC Reunite provides tips and background information on what to consider when choosing a microchip provider.

Community Cat Sterilization

A large percentage of kittens are born outside.  Creating a trap-neuter-release-and manage program will not only lower the volume of feral cats entering the system, but will prevent far too many kittens dying while living outside or being brought in too sick to help.

Comprehensive Adoption Program

Saving lives requires a multi-prong approach.  And yes, a robust rescue program is part of the solution, but reaching out to your community for adoptions is now sometimes overlooked.  Check your adoption applications to see where you may be being unnecessarily restrictive.  This also includes having the shelter be open on Saturdays so that people who work can also come and visit and possibly adopt.

Create a Pet Adoption Awareness Campaign

There are so many myths out there about how adopting shelter pets means taking on someone else’s problems. The best way to kill this untruth is to highlight happy-ever-after adoption stories. For example, the Animal Harbor shelter invites adopters to share stories about how rescued pets changed their lives. The best stories will be part of the shelter’s end-of-the-year “Love Saves” Pet Adoption Awareness Campaign.

Developing Rescue Partnerships

A robust rescue program for both cats and dogs is an important key to keep animals moving out of the shelter.  Build good relationships with trusted partners to have assortment of rescue types so that you know who to reach out when in need. Best Friends Animal Society offers a wonderful resource guide on how shelters can work with rescues to save lives. The guide includes tips on locating and assessing rescue groups, contacting rescues, and managing transports.

Donations of Cars, Boats, Trucks and More Can Benefit Homeless Animals

Animal welfare advocates can donate unwanted cars, boats, trucks, trailers, or other vehicles, whether still operational or not, to benefit the Animal Rescue Corps. Free pickup is available across most of the US, and donations may be tax deductible. The Animal Rescue Corps is a national nonprofit animal protection organization that serves several roles. Firstly, it conducts large-scale emergency rescues of animals who fall victim to abuse and disaster. Secondly, the organization offers interventions to move high-risk and at-need animals from low-adoption shelters into high-adoption regions and offers other critical assistance to in-need shelters and communities. And finally, the nonprofit raises public awareness of animal suffering and offers training for animal shelters, professionals, civilians, and volunteers.

Educate the Public About What to Expect During the Adoption Process

Use social media to let the public know what to expect during the adoption process. Just before the holiday season in December the Animal Harbor shelter, TN used a FB post to remind the community what pet adoption looks like at the shelter. This included explaining the protocols that are in place to ensure the best match possible for shelter pets and their new families. The post also reminded potential adopters that shelter pets are current on vaccinations, spayed or neutered, microchipped, and guaranteed healthy when they leave the shelter. Knowing what to expect beforehand can help make for a smoother adoption process.

Educational Opportunities for Staff

Provide opportunities for shelter staff to attend animal welfare conferences. This is a great way to network, learn about best practices at other shelters, and brainstorm with other animal rescue workers. Some shelters run fundraisers to help raise money to cover the cost of attending these conferences.

Encourage Microchipping for Found Pets

According to a study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs that are microchipped are 2.5 times more likely to find their way home and cats who are microchipped are 20 times more likely to find their way home. When reuniting pets with owners the Michelson Found Animals Foundation offers the following tips for shelters seeking to encourage microchipping of pets.

  • Include the microchip cost on the first-day impound fee. This way an additional fee isn’t an option or barrier for owners.
  • Consider offering free chipping for all reclaims. Since these animals are generally your most at-risk population (once an animal wanders away, they are at a higher risk of doing it again), offering free microchipping ensures that they can be returned to their owner quickly.
  • Encourage your local government to pass a mandatory microchipping law for pets. This is an effective tool to return pets to their homes and reduce euthanasia.
  • Return in the field – As a component of microchipping on reclaim, many progressive groups will return an animal while in the field if the pet is chipped, saving the pet from ever entering the shelter. Imagine how much a shelter can save when animals are returned directly to their homes by their ACOs. When they don’t enter the shelter, you can reduce the cost of care because you are not providing medical care, vaccines, food, and housing
  • Implant in the field – One creative city organization, San Antonio Animal Care, has trained its officers to implant chips in the field.
  • Placing microchip scanners around the community can help residents who find pets reunite them with their owners without ever having to involve the shelter. For example, the Baltimore County Department of Health and Services, MD set up five pet scanning stations around the county. Each station includes scanning instructions and how to retrieve pet owner information. The El Paso Animal Services Department, TX in partnership with 24 Pet and Best Friends Animal Society set up a solar-powered microchip scanner in a park where many stray pets were found. At the station, a mobile website accessed using a QR code walks people through the microchip scanning and report filing process.

Explain the 3-3-3 Rule to adopters

To prevent failed adoptions educate adopters about the 3-3-3 Rule so they know what to expect when they welcome a new dog into their home. Every dog is unique and will adjust differently to new life situations but in general, adopters can expect:

  • For the first three days a rescue dog will need time to decompress
  • In the first three weeks the new arrival will begin to learn his or her new routine
  • After three months in a new home an adopted pet will start to feel comfortable

It’s important that adopters understand this is a general rule. Every dog needs to be allowed to get comfortable at his or her own pace.

Foster Care

Foster care is especially helpful with little ones who may need to be bottle fed or for animals with health issues. Fostering is also very helpful in preventing a litter of babies from ever entering the actual building. They still get vaccinated, dewormed, and are promoted for adoption while in their foster homes.

Get Creative When Promoting Spaying and Neutering

Posting clever attention-grabbing graphics with a link to local low-cost spay/neuter clinics can be an effective way to help fight pet overpopulation.  For example many shelters and rescues take advantage of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by posting “Don’t Be a Mother” and “Don’t Be a Father” graphics on social media.

Hard Working, Compassionate Shelter Director

Number one most important point is to have a Shelter Director agree that there is to be no more killing of healthy/treatable adoptable dogs and cats.

Medical and Behavior Prevention and Rehab

Age-appropriate vaccinations on intake and up-to-date cleaning processes.  Many behavior issues can be prevented with strong enrichment programs that use all of their senses.  For example:

  • Group walks
  • Play groups
  • Food enrichment, even something as easy as work for food puzzles
  • Pick an appropriate scent to use in their kennels and then switch it up
  • Soothing music


High Volume/Low-Cost Sterilization

This win-win is so obvious, not sure what else needs to be said.

Petfinder is a Great Resource for Finding Rescue Partners

Petfinder lists hundreds of shelters and rescues and is a great resource for shelters searching for potential rescue partners. To establish a list of rescues plan on searching Petfinder every few weeks. Begin the search in your state and gradually expand out to other states. You can also use this database to search for breed rescues by entering a specific breed and location in the search form and then make note of dogs available for adoption through breed rescues.

Petco Love Helping Reunite Missing Pets With Their Families

According to the American Humane Society, an estimated 10 million pets go missing each year in the US. With a central location to report them lost and found, many of these pets may never be reunited with their families. Petco Love Lost maintains a national database of more than 170,000 dogs and cats, then creates and shares digital lost pet alerts on Nextdoor, Facebook, and via email to help reunite pets with their families. Petco Love Lost uses facial recognition technology to reunite lost dogs and cats with their rightful owners. It only takes a few minutes to register a pet and upload a recent photo onto the site. Whether it’s a new adopter proactively creating a pet profile, an individual who has recently lost a pet, or a shelter or good Samaritan looking to reunite a found pet with his/her owner, Petco Love Lost is a wonderful resource.


Pet Retention

When an owner surrender calls the shelter, the first question should be, “What can we do to help you keep your pet at home?”  Helping the community member who has a life problem keep their pet is a successful way to keep pets in their homes.  Have a list of resources available when talking with the family and discuss the best options to help them keep their pet at home. The Tazewell County Animal Shelter, VA accepts owner surrenders on a managed intake basis. The director speaks with would-be surrenders and tries to come up with solutions so that the pet can stay in his/her home. Managed intake is also practiced at the Marion County Animal Shelter, SC. Part of that practice includes asking good Samaritans who turn in pets if they can foster the animals until spaces opens up at the shelter. The shelter provides food and vet care for these strays.

Practical Suggestions to Help Implement the No-Kill Philosophy

We have a WALDO volunteer who is an experienced shelter worker who took a high kill shelter in a poor area to a no-kill shelter in a relatively short period. She is available to consult with any shelter/rescue who would like her help. Contact info@whowillletthedogsout.org for more information.

Proactive Redemption

Proactive redemption starts with animal control out in the community before a lost pet is brought to the shelter. Rather than waiting for a family to come to the shelter to find their pets the proactive redemption approach means that animal control will try to figure out where a pet belongs and return him/her back home. Animal control officers can use the return to owner time as a way to discuss any help the family may need.  And it is a perfect time to offer low or no cost spay/neuter and microchipping.

Promote the Many Ways To Help Animals

There are many people who cannot adopt a pet but would love to help shelters and rescues in other ways. Shelters and rescues can provide a list of the many ways people can help animals and post it on social media. This is also a great way to recruit new volunteers.

Provide Resources to Help Shelter Staff Deal with Compassion Fatigue

Animal welfare experts say that compassion fatigue among staff working in animal shelters across the U.S. is common and in the current animal welfare crisis it’s getting worse. Staff shortages, an increase in owner surrenders, and a decrease in the number of people adopting pets all contribute to the high levels of stress among staff. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include depression, sadness, anger, and a sense of hopelessness. This stress can negatively impact job performance and morale and lead to high staff turnover. Shelters can use the following resources to help support staff experiencing compassion fatigue:

• The Bissell Pet Foundation offers quarterly Compassion Fatigue and Burnout training sessions for public and private animal shelters.

• The Humane Pro division of the Humane Society of the United States offers a wide variety of tools and resources to help support shelter staff who are experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue.

• Maddie’s Fund Maddie’s University offers a wide selection of free online courses around the theme of compassion fatigue. For example, a course titled “Compassionate Lifesaving: Taking Care of You and Your Team to Save More Animals.” The course offers proactive tools to help shelter staff face the challenges and restore the joy in their lifesaving work.

Public Relations/Community Involvement

It really is all about the PR and more PR.  Your community needs to not only know your needs (such as supplies, etc.) but share with them your successes as well.   Use social media, websites, pet store promotions to their fullest.  Rabies clinics and microchip clinics are two easy ways to let your community know you are working with them, not against them.  Absolutely no people/community/owner bashing!

Take a Holistic Approach to Getting Lost Dogs Home

Many people have no idea what to do if they lose their pets. Following are some ways shelters can help to reunite pets with their families:

• Post information on the shelter’s website about what to do if you lose or find a pet.

• Make sure it’s easy for people to navigate the reclaim process at the shelter.

• Instead of judging people whose dogs keep getting loose, help them to look for solutions. This may include offering guidance on getting pets fixed and/or microchipped.

• Lower-income people are less likely to be reunited with their pets because they cannot afford the reclaim fee. In these situations, shelters can consider returning pets to their homes while waiving the fee or billing the owner and accepting payment at a later date. For example, The Kansas City Pet Project, MO launched a Reclaim Fee Forgiveness Program to help get lost pets back home. Pet owners who reclaim their pets at the shelter within the first three days don’t have to pay a reclaim fee and will not be issued with violation tickets. This shelter also offers detailed information on its website on what to do if you lose or find a pet.

• Maddie’s Fund Return to Home Challenge offers a long list of practices shelters can implement to help reunite pets with their families. The nonprofit HeARTs Speak is another great resource for tips on how to get lost pets reunited with their families. The organization’s “Communications Kit: Lost Pet Reunification” web page includes free customizable templates, best practices, sample web pages, and technology solutions that can be accessed by animal shelters.

Teach Shelter Staff How to Monitor Playgroups

The mission of the Shelter Playgroup Alliance (SPA) is to provide animal welfare organizations with education, tailorable guidelines, and support materials for developing and implementing comprehensive enrichment programs such as playgroups at animal shelters. The WWLDO team that visits struggling shelters throughout the year reports that playgroups make a life-saving difference at the shelters they visit. Shelters can visit the SPA website for more information and details on upcoming training sessions.

Team Hikes

Animal rescue work is stressful. Shelter staff members need to support and encourage one another as they work to save lives. Taking time out for staff hikes with shelter dogs is a great team-building exercise. Group hikes are also a great way to celebrate staff anniversaries and birthdays while giving the dogs a break from the shelter.

Use Adobe’s Free Design Tool to Create Colorful Posters

Colorful and creative posters are a great way to promote shelter events, but coming up with designs can be challenging. Adobe Express offers more than one hundred free shelter-related templates to help staff or creative volunteers customize designs that are sure to grab the attention of the local community. Shelters can reach a wider audience by sharing their colorful posters via social media or through an email sent straight from Adobe Express. Go to the Adobe Express Editable free animal shelter templates page for more information and to get started on promoting your next big event.

Utilize Translation Services to Connect with Multicultural Communities

Shelters with multicultural communities have the additional challenge of providing information and services for people who may not speak English as a first language. Additionally, many immigrant communities don’t have animal shelters in their home countries and depending on where they live, they may not understand the services offered by local shelters in their new communities. The shelter needs to find ambassadors in these communities to work with the shelter to help animals in need and offer assistance to pet owners.

The Maddie’s Fund Open Arms Challenge identified several ways animal shelters serve their non-English speaking residents. Here are just a few examples:

• To extend its reach to the Spanish-speaking population in its community the Austin Humane Society, TX identified adoption team members who spoke Spanish. The shelter works to ensure there’s at least one Spanish-speaking counselor during every shift.

• The Broward County Animal Shelter, FL has a large Haitian population. To serve this population the shelter created an in-house team to plan outreach activities and create versions of shelter brochures in Creole.

• The Animal Rescue League of Berks County, PA works with students at Penn State University to translate shelter materials into Spanish through the college’s Spanish classes. The students help the shelter incorporate bilingual signage around the shelter and assist create bilingual content for the shelter’s website.

• In addition to using Spanish students to help translate shelter copy, Greenhill Humane Society, OR seeks multilingual candidates in job postings.

• The Humane Society of Sonoma, CA uses Google Translator to translate shelter copy and then asks a professional translator to review the copy at a reduced fee. Implementing Google Translate on your shelter’s website means that community members can select their language preference to get the information they are seeking. While translations aren’t always perfect, this is a quick, easy, and free way to support a variety of community members speaking different languages.

• The Laredo Animal Protective Society, TX implemented a phone service with an option to retrieve information in English or Spanish. The society also shares social media posts in English and Spanish and has a big following on both. For example, a Pet Pantry post in English received 2.2K views, while the same post in Spanish received 1.7k views.

Working Rescue Dogs

Some shelter dogs have the perfect temperament to make working dogs. For example, the Good Luck Cellars, VA grape vine patrol squad is made up of 12 rescue hound dogs. The dogs have nice dog houses, unlimited food/water, and the freedom to run and play. In exchange, they keep the deer, possums, turkeys, and raccoons from eating the vines and grapes. It’s a great life, really, and during a recent visit, WWLDO team members noted that the hounds were happily lounging in the sun or patrolling the vines. All the dogs are spayed/neutered, vaccinated regularly, and kept on heartworm and flea/tick preventatives.