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Interfacing with Animal Shelters

Linda M. Reider

Tools for Healthy Shelter Relations

Part II: Interfacing with Animal Shelters

Most purebred dog rescue groups acquire a large percentage of their rescue dogs from public or private animal shelters. While some shelters regularly release purebreds to rescue groups, others do not. If a shelter is unwilling to work with rescue group then there is usually a reason for that policy.

Sometimes the shelter has had a negative experience releasing a dog to a rescuer. The rescuer may not have ensured that the animal was neutered upon placement, may have placed the animal in an inappropriate home, or the shelter had concerns regarding adequate animal care. Or the rescuer may have offended the shelter staff in some way.

Some animal shelters are simply unfamiliar with purebred rescue groups and the services they offer. You maybe the first one to “knock on their door.” In either case, you’ll have the best chance of establishing a good relationship for your rescue, and other rescue groups in the future if you keep in mind the following tips.

Talk to the Head.

Schedule an appointment with the right person at the shelter, usually the shelter manager or the executive director. A good time to do this is when you don’t have the pressure of trying to get a member of your breed out of that shelter. Be on time and present a professional appearance. Be courteous with regard to the length of the interview.

Get the Scoop

Ask about the shelter’s policy on working with rescue groups. If you can learn the details surrounding a previous negative experience, you can then point out that your rescue effort is not connected to the other one. And you can highlight the safeguards in your own program for preventing a negative experience from happening.

Attitude Counts

Beware of burning bridges before they’re even built. Avoid using phrases such as “kill shelter,” or even “rescue a dog from your shelter.” Remember that animal shelter employees generally care about animals very much. They are providing services for animals of all breeds and health conditions, usually on a very limited budget. If you can show genuine appreciation for the difficult job they do, while at the same time offering to assist them in helping specific dogs, you will have a higher likelihood of success. You may want to consider using the newly-coined term, “placement partners,” when describing how the shelter and your rescue can work together for the benefit of individual animals.

Philosophy Fit?

Find out about the shelter’s philosophies on sterilization and euthanasia. Be prepared to answer questions about your rescue’s standard procedures for temperament evaluation, adoption screening, follow up assistance for adopters, and handling returns. If the shelter rep feels that your group is a good philosophical match for them, and that you can perhaps offer services for specific animals, then you are more likely to set up a working arrangement. Bring sample copies of your foster home contract, adoption questionnaire, and adoption/sterilization contract. A letter of reference from your regular veterinarian and/or another shelter with which you have a good relationship may be helpful. A photo album of before and after pictures of your rescue dogs is an added touch.

Promote your Program

Explain your services, nonprofit status, connection with local or national breed clubs, and structure. Provide a copy of your state or federal non profit status paperwork. If you are a Code of Ethics signer, be sure to say so, and bring along a copy of the Code of Ethics for the shelter to keep. While you will emphasize your group’s positive points, describe your rescue’s limitations, too. If you only have two foster homes, the shelter will better understand if you decline a dog because you’re full. If your waiting list is full of people looking for Pomeranians but not Pomeranian mixes, then it makes more sense that you would only accept purebred Poms. If you have financial limitations and typically do not accept heartworm positive animals, then tell the shelter up front.

Be prepared to describe purebred rescue in general, if necessary. List your own credentials in working with dogs in general and your breed in particular. The shelter representative may want to know the number of years your rescue has been in operation and the number of dogs you handle each year. Bring along a brochure or flyer with your rescue specifics, or at least a copy of your listing in the Michigan Purebred Dog Rescue Sourcebook.

Ask for what you want

Request that the shelter contact you as soon as an available member of your breed arrives at the shelter. If you are typically gone from home during the day, explain that calls on your answering machine will be returned the following day. Indicate that you understand statutory holding period requirements for stray animals (normally a minimum of four to six working days, longer for cruelty cases). Estimate the amount of time required on your end to arrange for foster care and transportation. Explain your concerns about keeping the length of stay of pets in shelter at a minimum to reduce disease transmission.

Offer alternatives

You may not be welcomed with open arms immediately. But don’t give up. If after describing your rescue program, the shelter rep is still unwilling to release dogs to you, offer instead to refer prescreened adopters when an available member of your breed is in their shelter. You could also offer to provide breed information packets to go home with members of your breed, or on site training for the shelter staff in identifying and understanding your breed. Are you willing to take calls from owners of your breed who are having problems with their pets? Shelter staff members will probably appreciate this timesaving service.

End on a Pleasant Note

When you visit an animal shelter, remember that the shelter staff may be judging all rescue groups by your demeanor. Thank the staff person for their time, ask to tour the shelter (if there is time). Bringing along a small donation of food, toys or blankets for the animals in the shelter is a nice gesture. And please encourage the shelter to send a representative to the Michigan Purebred Dog Rescue Conference this fall in Ann Arbor. Working together, we can turn positive first impressions into long lasting relationships with purebred rescue, one shelter at a time.

Courtesy of
Linda M.Reider
Michigan Purebred Dog Rescue Alliance Newsletter
“Canine Lifeline”
Summer 2001 edition
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