Although shelters provide life-saving services to the community, many people continue to think of them as the dog pounds of yore. Conducting a tour of your facility is a great way to show the public just how much you do. These guidelines are geared toward a children’s school-group tour, but they can be modified for adolescents, special-needs groups, or adults.
1. Deputize Them
People usually want to contribute something concrete to help out, and you can make it easy for them to do so. A few weeks before the tour, suggest that the group start collecting supplies to donate to the shelter. The items can be as simple and inexpensive as used towels and newspapers, or can include purchases such as food and pet toys. You can suggest that kids collect some change, toothose nickels and dimes really add up.
2. Tell Them What They’ll See
After the children have arrived, sit them down somewhere relatively quiet. A large room inside the shelter is ideal if you have one, but if the weather is nice, you can take them outside on the lawn. Give them a summary of what they’ll see on the tour. Let your visitors know in advance that they shouldn’t try to touch the animals they see; explain that this rule is to keep both people and animals safe. Remind the kids to raise their hands if they have questions, and to avoid making noise that could frighten the animals. Quiz them about what kinds of animals come into the shelter, and see if they know the difference between strays and owner-surrenders. Discuss what animals need in order to be happy. Finally, tell the group that if they behave, they’ll get to meet a shelter animal at the end of the tour.
3. Explain What They Won’t See
Rather than pretend that certain areas don’t exist, tell the group in advance which rooms they’ll pass by during the tour. You’ll need to tailor your explanations to the age of your visitors. Describe the receiving room as the place where animals go when they first enter the shelter and get a checkup. Similarly, describe the isolation room as the quiet and safe place where sick or wild animals are kept. If you decide to discuss the euthanasia room with adults and older children, describe it as the place where animals are given an injection of anesthesia so they don’t feel anything, and then given shots that peacefully stop their hearts and lungs. The extent to which you discuss your organization’s euthanasia policies is up to you, but this is a great time to mention the problem of pet overpopulation and encourage your listeners to spay and neuter their pets.
4. Show Your Stuff
While showing your guests around, remain positive and don’t focus on the sad aspects of sheltering; instead, explain what could happen to the animals if there were no shelter to care for them. Give children enough time in each area to get a good look, but don’t let them hang around long enough to get attached to the animals. After you’ve shown the group around, take them back to the place you started and ask if anyone has any questions. Be prepared to think on your feet because kids have a way of asking questions that will catch you off guard.
5. Introduce Them to a Friendly Resident
At some point during or at the end of the tour, you can introduce your visitors to an animal. You may want to let your liability carrier know that tours may involve shelter animals; obviously, the best animals for a meet-and-greet are those most used to people. A well-socialized dog, cat, or puppy is ideal. If the shelter has an animal mascot, this is the mascot’s moment to shine. Supervise interactions very carefully. Small children should be led up to the animal, one by one, and shown how to gently pat the animal. Make sure the kids keep their hands away from the animal’s face, stomach, tail, and feet. Be prepared for children to fall in love and want to adopt the animal on the spot. If this happens, remind them that adopting an animal is a lifetime commitment that should not be undertaken lightly. Describe how much time, energy, and money it takes to care for a pet. If they aren’t dissuadedand many won’t betell them that this is something they’ll have to discuss with their parents.
6. Send Them HomeWith Something to Think About
After the tour is over, thank them for their time and any donations, and take a photograph of everyone with the shelter animal. It’s a good idea to give children something to take with them, and copies of KIND News are perfect. For school groups, give the teacher a copy of KIND Teacher and Is a Classroom Pet For You? These publications are available from the National Association for Humane and Environmental Education (www.nahee.org). Then thank the group again and send them on their way, and rest secure in the knowledge that you have planted the seeds for a new generation of responsible pet owners and potential volunteers.