Our appointment system is the biggest change the organization has made since my arrival. Not only because it has really helped us save lives but because it was a philosophical change that affected the citizens of the community. When owners need to surrender their pets we ask them to wait until we have an open kennel or cage available. This ensures that the animals are given the time and attention they need; we are able to bring pets in when we have open spaces ensuring no dogs and cats are euthanized due to lack of room.
This appointment program enables us to really connect with the owners at a time when they may be feeling overwhelmed or emotional. We talk with them and, in a lot of cases, help them resolve their problems or assist them in finding new homes for their pets. Often, an owner’s first reaction to a pet-related problem is to bring the animal to us. But when we provide other options or ask owners for their help, many do the right thing and begin to help their pets by not leaving them at a shelter.
As with any new program, we heard criticism and I recognized it would be hard for the public, other animal groups and volunteers to reprogram their way of thinking. Change is scary and so we had to help them see that it is not ok for us to enable owners as a whole to dump their animals and that responsibility on us whenever they want and at no cost to them. When you make it easy on people to give up their animals, they don’t really think about what is involved. But when you communicate honestly with them, they realize it is in the best interest of their pets and the other animals at a shelter if they exhaust every other option before coming to us. You have to trust that the life of their pet is as important to them as it is to us. We also felt it was irresponsible for us as an organization to take in more than we can care for resulting in needless euthanasia. Why is that ok for pounds to operate that way? So why do people argue in favor of killing to make space? How does that help anything other than to allow people to continue to dump their responsibilities on the Humane Society and perpetuate the idea that killing is ok and necessary? It tells people that they don’t have to be accountable and that we will take that burden for them but that is at the expense of the pets we serve. I have heard this type of naysayers for the past 8 years. Richmond and Charlottesville both had appointment programs in place and they worked. Here are the cons and facts we heard and saw.
Misconception “People won’t wait; they will just let their animals loose.”
Fact: In Lynchburg, stray animal intake actually went down. We also saw very few “tie ups” or pets abandoned at our front door. In 5 communities that I am familiar with who also implemented an appointment program, did not see an increase in strays.
No, not everyone waited and honestly not everyone could wait. There were situations where, for the sake of the pet or due to a lack of options, we couldn’t ask the pet owners to wait. Then there were the few that were not worth fighting over.
Misconception: “You are an open admissions facility, how can you make people wait?” “They won’t be responsible”
Fact: I knew that most people would do the right thing if they understood the problem and learned how to be a part of the solution because people want what is best for their pet. The good news is that owners did step up, 33% of the owners who contacted us re-homed or kept their pets. That is 298 animals in total. We helped owners in this process. We posted stories and photos of their pets on our website and offered suggestions on how to find new homes. Misconception: “You are making it too difficult for people to surrender their pets; they will just take them to other shelters or dump them.”
Fact: In surrounding counties reporting their 2010 stats there was no increase in the overall number of stray animals they took in, in fact they saw a decline in numbers. The counties also saw a decrease in the number of owner surrenders. One local county saw a decrease by 500 animals in total. I have no idea if it has anything to do with this program but I think it is safe to say we didn’t cause harm. Do I think there were people who dumped animals? Yes, but this has always been the case even when we didn’t ask owners to wait.
We had a number of people from other counties contact us because they didn’t want to take their pets to their pounds. 32% of the animals on the waiting list were from other counties. In 2010, 15% of our intake came from other counties, some from many counties over because they wanted a good outcome for their pet.
In the end we want what is best for the pets of Lynchburg and most owners feel the same way. They feel relieved when they know no healthy pet will be euthanized to make space for another. Wouldn’t you wait?
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