- Never accept a pet being surrendered before talking with the owner to work through the problem, and try to offer solutions such as training classes for dogs with behavioural issues.
- You’ve got a tight operating budget so make it count – open longer hours on weekends (the busiest times for adoption), and consider a skeleton staff during weekdays, especially during the middle of the day when people are at work.
- Offer a ‘home for life’ by accepting animals that are bought from the shelter but later returned. This acts as a disincentive from pets being dumped/ abandoned.
- Quarantine sick or injured animals from those ready to be re-homed – visitors should only see healthy animals that are ready for a new home.
- Support responsible pet ownership with appropriate fees, for example:
- low microchipping fees and occasional free microchipping days
- a fine for (repeat offending) owners of seized animals
- subsidised desexing of female animals
- higher fees to surrender animals, but lower fees to reclaim seized animals.
- Staff at the shelter play an important role in the way it is perceived. Encourage staff, promote their professional development and give regular feedback on performance.
- Develop a communication strategy that focuses on responsible pet ownership, the benefits of buying from a shelter and the risks of backyard breeding.
- Promote your ‘no-kill policy’ to improve community perception of your facility.
- Build a rapport with journalists from the local newspaper, so they’re happy to publish stories about your shelter.
- You’re competing with the business of pet shops and breeders. Crass as it may sound, you have to market your pets like a regular business would market its products.
- Use social media to post profiles of dogs and cats – personalise each animal’s story and include a photo or video. This works best if animals have an appealing name – ‘Billy’ is more likely to be adopted than ‘Bruiser’.
- Update your website and social media accounts at least weekly. People expect online content to be updated often.
- To sell your animals, don’t use phrases like ‘rescue kitten’ or ‘pound puppy’. Your animals are pets (or ‘orphans’) with names. Use bright, happy marketing to help people imagine Billy playing in their backyard – not staring out sadly from his pen at the shelter.
- For media appearances, bring out the cutest animals. It’s gimmicky but it works.
- Take the animals to the public – some people may find a shelter a depressing place to visit. Go to shopping centres, and libraries if you’re allowed.
- Tie your communications to wider initiatives such as September’s National Desexing Week, and focus on the ‘a pet is for life’ message before Christmas – if people buy a pet as a gift, they should at least buy from a shelter.
- Ask for feedback from visitors while they’re at the shelter. This works much better than handing out a form to send back later, or providing a link to an online form – people rarely follow up on such things.
- Employ volunteers and work experience students. Besides feeding and grooming animals… and cleaning up after them…, volunteers can:
- greet visitors and help them find their perfect pet for their lifestyle
- walk dogs in groups to make them more socialised, well-balanced animals.
- Recognise the work of your volunteers. A letter from the council mayor or general manager to the local newspaper to publicly thank your volunteers is a free and simple gesture that, if genuinely made, makes people feel valued.
- Lack of exercise can make dogs anxious and frustrated. Ask local high schools or personal training groups to take small groups of (carefully selected) dogs for regular runs. For council-operated shelters, runners should be covered by the council’s public liability insurance.
- Set up a foster care program for short or long-term care for animals ready for re-homing. Some people may be happy to care for an animal for a set period but don’t want the responsibility of having a dog or cat for its whole life.
- Seek sponsorship from local businesses. Support doesn’t have to be financial – you could ask a graphic design, marketing or printing company for pro bono services, or organise a working bee with tradespeople to update shelter facilities.
- Hold regular fundraisers – anything from a Bunnings barbeque or a community fun run/ dog walk, to something unique like a ‘princess makeover’ session for children’s cats during school holidays.
- Promote and receive cross-promotion from local pet shops that don’t sell backyard-bred puppies or kittens (i.e. shops that just sell food and accessories and, perhaps, animals from shelters).
- Sell food and drink (animal and human!) for visitors to make them feel welcome and comfortable, and to increase revenue.
- Develop partnerships with organisations that re-home animals – they may take some of yours.
- Ask local vets or pet shops to sell animals from the shelter. A vet may even desex, vaccinate and worm a dog or cat for free, if the vet can keep the re-homing fee.
- Provide information on pet insurance – some pets are surrendered because the owner can’t afford vet care.
- Provide information on local dog and cat holiday boarding facilities, and pet-friendly holiday accommodation. This information should also be available from the local tourist information centre.
- Ask local real estate agents to provide a reminder notice as part of the paperwork for new owners/ tenants, so people remember to update their contact details in the relevant microchip database when they move house.
- Encourage strata managers within your area to permit pet ownership without approval from the body corporate – for instance, NSW strata legislation was recently changed to allow pet ownership by default, rather than by exception in strata by-laws (as was the case previously). – Perhaps advertise in (or write to) the local newspaper a few times between March and June each year to remind strata committees to consider pet ownership at their annual general meeting.