Slower Adoption Rates Mean Longer Stays
For the first time in a while, Dane County Humane Society opened the pre-adoptable cat condos to the public.
Usually, this space is reserved for cats who aren’t yet available for adoption, and isn’t accessible to customers. But the sheer number of adoptable cats at DCHS meant they were overflowing into this space, too. The dog kennels and the critter clubhouse were similarly full of adoptable animals, and animals were in almost every office and other rooms throughout the shelter.
The favorite, though now debunked, rumor for the large number of animals in shelters is that people are returning the pets they adopted during the pandemic. However, the ASPCA conducted a survey of over 1,000 people who had adopted animals during the pandemic; 9 out of 10 of them said they would not consider rehoming their pet in the near future.
And intake of new animals, while higher than during the pandemic, is still lower than pre-pandemic years. So why are there so many animals in the shelter?
“Adoption demand is there, and adoptions have been happening,” says Laurie Ringquist, Director of Customer Service at DCHS. “But adoptions are happening at a slower rate.” Slower adoption rates could be due to a few reasons, but certainly two major factors are changes to the adoption process necessitated by COVID-19 and staffing shortages.
“The past year and a half, as other shelters and organizations have seen, has been very stressful. We no longer have the levels of staff and volunteers that we did pre-COVID,” says Aisha Jansen, Shelter Resource Supervisor at DCHS. “However, the numbers of animals that need shelter has not changed, which has resulted in animals staying here longer. This causes increased stress for the animals and also puts more strain on every department, all of which are currently short staffed.”
As the number of animals in DCHS’s care increased, those staffing shortages were felt acutely. But rather than cancel an upcoming dog transfer, which would put extra pressure on DCHS’s already overwhelmed southern shelter partners, DCHS chose a different option: an adoption event to help Clear The Shelter.
Let’s Clear The Shelter
On August 27th and 28th, Dane County Humane Society teamed up with NBC15 to host the fifth annual Clear The Shelters pet adoption event. Hours were extended and adoption fees were reduced. The ultimate goal of the weekend event was to find a home for as many adoptable animals in DCHS’s care as possible.
“Clear The Shelters came at the perfect time as shelters and rescues throughout the country are struggling with short staffing and adoption rates far lower than pre-pandemic levels,” says Laurie.
DCHS’s Clear The Shelters event was part of a nation-wide, month-long pet adoption campaign spearheaded by NBCUniversal Local Owned Television Stations, like NBC15 here in Madison. The first annual Clear The Shelters campaign was held in 2015, and more than 550,000 pets across the country have found their new homes through the campaign since.
In some ways, the two-day adoption event felt counterintuitive. Staff at DCHS were already working so hard to care for the animals in the shelter and to get as many into their new homes as possible. But DCHS hoped that with a concentrated effort, we could send most of the animals in the shelter home over the weekend, reducing strain and giving staff some breathing room.
“We wanted to make a difference for everyone so that we could get back to a more comfortable place for the animals, both those in happy new homes and those still in our care, as well as the people here working hard every day to provide the care for them,” says Aisha.
Adds Laurie, “DCHS staff and volunteers were excited to help every available animal in our shelter find a new family. We had so many great animals in our care, and some who had been with us longer than we would like. We decided to participate in the Clear The Shelters event to draw attention to them and to help them find their forever homes.”
How Did DCHS Do?
After two long days, the numbers were in. DCHS sent 90 animals home with their new families. During the first three weeks of August, DCHS sent home an average of 70 animals per week. The concentrated effort of the adoption event paid off, allowing DCHS to send home more animals in two days than during the entirety of the previous week. Put another way, 2 in 3 animals who were available at the start of the weekend are now home with their new families!
“I was really impressed by how successful the event was, especially with how quickly we put it together,” says Aisha. “Placing 90 animals into new homes was a spectacular accomplishment. Having fewer animals in the shelter has already resulted in quieter kennels and less hectic work days.”
The two-day event not only had extended hours to allow more time for potential adopters to visit the shelter, but some strategic changes were made to the typical adoption process to allow more adoptions to happen.
“Our adoption process is very focused on building a relationship with adopters through conversation, as we follow an Adopters Welcome philosophy,” Aisha explains. “We don’t have any application or approval processes. Instead, we find that you learn a lot more about someone and what animals would be a good match by just talking to them.”
Fortunately, this approach translated well to a high-volume adoption event. DCHS has adoption counselors who specialize in the most important part of the process: talking to potential adopters about the animals they’re considering adopting. Usually, these adoption counselors work with the potential adopters from beginning to end, but things were a little different for the Clear The Shelters adoption event.
“Adoption counselors typically work with the potential adopters and animals from start to finish,” says Leah Hartman, a Senior Adoption Counselor at DCHS. “During the event, staff and volunteers from all departments assisted adoption counselors with other portions of the adoption process, like reviewing and signing paperwork.”
Adds Aisha, “By breaking up the different steps of the full adoption process, we were able to have adoption counselors focus on counseling while the rest of us processed things on the back end.” Overall, adopters still received the same counseling and time to meet the animals. DCHS staff and volunteers simply put in extra time prepping supplies and handling the behind-the-scenes work to get animals into their new homes more quickly.
“It felt very strange to leave in the middle of it all!” says Kaitlyn Zimmerman, another Senior Adoption Counselor at DCHS. “I was helping counsel the adopters and show them the animals, and once they decided who they wanted to take home, they were off to someone else. However, the overall process was still very much the same in that they came in, gave us their info, we counseled them and had them meet the animals, then they were given the prepped folder with that animal’s food and meds, and then they were off. We didn’t cut corners on the overall process, just tried to streamline it.”
“The event also reminded me of how incredibly proud I am of my team of counselors, and proud of the whole DCHS team,” says Aisha. “Staff and volunteers from every department came to help out in whatever way they could.” She recalls that a personal goal of hers was achieved as well.
“I wanted the event to be as low stress and efficient as possible for everyone, and, additionally, for it to be fun and exciting! We haven’t done anything like this in years, so it had a lot of potential to bring DCHS together as a whole, and bring us closer with our community in a combined effort to make a positive impact for the animals we all love.”
Meeting The One
By bringing in additional staff to help with the adoptions process, adoption counselors got to focus on what they do best – making great matches between adopters and animals.
“My job as an adoption counselor is to advocate for the best match possible between animals in our care and their potential new families,” says Toby Louther, an Adoption Counselor at DCHS. “Sometimes though, animals make these decisions easy for us.”
Says Kaitlyn, “Sometimes during the counseling (before even bringing the animal into the room), you can already tell it’s going to be a great fit for an adopter’s lifestyle and exactly what they’re looking for. Sometimes you can tell as soon as you walk in with the animal that they’ve met their match.”
“During the adoption event I was showing a kitty who had recently come in as a stray,” Toby recalls. “He hid behind me at first, because I was the most familiar thing to him, but as soon as he realized that the potential adopter provided another open and friendly lap, he made a beeline for it and curled up in his new safe space, purring and making biscuits. The person may have chosen this cat to meet with, but the cat had chosen his person just as much, and I was lucky enough to chaperone and bear witness."
“An older gentleman came in after losing his dog to old age just a couple days prior,” remembers Kaitlyn. “He wasn’t quite sure he was ready, but after meeting sweet Leigh-Ann, he decided to go for it.”
An Amazing Team Effort
“Adoption counseling is the most enjoyable and rewarding job on my resume,” says Leah. “That's probably why I'm still doing it after 10 years! It's not just the animals that make it so worth it; the staff and volunteers at DCHS are compassionate, unique, and really REALLY fun!”
Says Aisha, “I was amazed by the number of staff and volunteers (even from completely unrelated areas) who came in to help make the day so spectacular. It really was a team effort and wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of each and every person.”
DCHS’s Adoption Center took a much-deserved day of rest on Sunday, but they were back open as usual on Monday, ready to send home even more animals. There are still plenty of dogs, cats, and critters waiting to find their new home, so come by the shelter and find your new friend today!
Looking for your own new furry companion? Check our website for the most up-to-date list of available animals.