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Off-Site and On Target (Michigan Humane Society)

Julie Morris, VP National Shelter Outreach, ASPCA


Off-Site and On Target

One of the most important jobs of any animal shelter is animal placementto act as the temporary guardian of previously unwanted dogs and cats and find them new homes with responsible, loving families.

The job is complicated by several factors. Most shelters can ill afford advertisements to promote adoptions. Interested parties must learn where their local shelter is and then travel to it in order to adopt. And many shelters are located in less-than-ideal locations, such as hard-to-reach industrial or economically disadvantaged areas.

Progressive shelters are taking an active approach, going out into the community and finding adopters. They are developing partnerships with grassroots rescue groups, purebred rescue groups, pet supply retailers and other animal organizations. And some shelters, such as the Detroit-based Michigan Humane Society (MHS), are developing creative events to increase their accessibility and visibility in the community.

To kick off this years Be Kind to Animals Week (May 513), MHS hosted its Third Annual Meet Your Best Friend at The Zoo. Hundreds of adoptable dogs, cats, puppies and kittens from MHS and various area humane organizations spent the weekend at the Detroit Zoo, hoping to find a new home.

The event got off to a great start when the animals began to arrive early Saturday. Cars were already lined up on the street. Adopters met with counselors to undergo MHS standard screening procedures. According to Sherry Silk, MHS Director of Operations, it was a very emotional experience to watch once-homeless animals arrive from all over the area to get another shot at a good home.

By 5 P.M. on Sunday, it was obvious that the event had succeeded beyond anyones wildest dreams. Close to 600 animals had found new families. By comparison, MHS adopts 60 to 70 animals on an average weekend. Says Silk, Big, homely brown shepherd mixes, fluffy kittens and puppies, cruelty cases, abandoned cats and a three-legged dog found a new lease on life.

It all started several years ago when a man named Joe Sowerby read an article about the euthanasia of shelter animals. He was angered to learn that dogs and cats were dying for want of good homes. After finding a dog on the freeway and helping MHS place her in a new home, Sowerby turned his anger into passion and commitment to homeless animals. But it was another article, this one featuring Ron Kagan, the then-new director of The Detroit Zoo, that prompted Sowerby to action. Kagan had made clear his abhorrence of the euthanasia of unwanted companion animals, so Sowerby thought, Why not have the humane society and zoo work together? As MHS receives more than 50,000 animals annually, it is constantly looking for potential adopters. The Detroit Zoo is centrally located, has ample parking and a large outdoor site and is visited daily by thousands of families.Sowerby promptly began to organize, and his hard work paid off with the first Meet Your Best Friend at The Zoo in 1993.

That year MHS was the only group involved; 92 animals were placed. Follow-up calls to adopters at 1994s event revealed a significantly smaller-than-usual percentage of return adoptions. By 1995 the event included 12 other humane organizations and 10 purebred rescue groups, and a grand total of 572 animals found homes.

Sowerbys next wish is that the event be taken to a national level. He hopes that many animal shelters and zoos will work together to raise consciousness about pet overpopulation and the euthanasia of surplus domestic animals.

Anyone interested in more information about the MHS event, or to find out how to start a similar one in their own community, can contact Michele Mitchell, MHS Director of Community Relations, at (313) 721-2109, or Joe Sowerby at (810) 949-1569. For information about other adoption outreach programs, please contact me at (212) 876-7700, ext. 4408, or at the address in the box to the left.

Julie Morris is vice president of ASPCA National Shelter Outreach.

Beginning with this issue of Animal Watch, Shelter Spotlight will look at the work of shelters around the country. It is meant to encourage networking for the common good of homeless animals. Shelter staffers wishing to share news of special programs or resources with readers should contact ASPCA, National Shelter Outreach, 424 East 92nd Street, New York, NY 101286804.

© 1995 ASPCA

ASPCA Animal Watch, Fall 1995

Courtesy of

424 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128-6804

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