Working with animals is inherently challenging because we do not speak the same languages and their behavior is often unpredictable. At open admission animal shelters such as ours, many of the unwanted animals come in with medical or behavioral issues. We also face ongoing challenges related to funding, staffing levels, and facilities. Sometimes it feels like the cards are stacked against us. However, with the essential support of our volunteers, our friends at Verona Street Animal Society (VSAS), and our growing network of supporters, we seem to always find a way to trek onward and upward. As 2017 comes to a close, it is a good time to reflect on our accomplishments and establish our goals for the future.
This year, we maintained a Save Rate of over 88% for cats and dogs with several months over 90%. Save Rate is the industry term for the combined numbers for returns to owners, adoptions, and transfers to other organizations divided by the total number of outcomes. The ultimate goal for animal care organizations is to achieve 100% for all heathy and treatable pets. There is some variability among shelters given that what might be considered savable in one community may be beyond the resources in another. At RAS, euthanasia is now limited to animals that are irremediably suffering and those with medical or behavioral conditions requiring treatment or modification beyond our resources. There are certainly improvements that could be made in terms of extending treatments to more animals and diverting some intakes to other organizations better equipped to address their particular conditions.
We have ramped up our community outreach efforts and have expanded and honed those activities in 2017. That initiative is focused on connecting with people in a non-enforcement and friendly manner, building relationships, and sharing information and resources in some of our most underserved neighborhoods. With support from Best Friends Animal Society, Maddie’s Fund, and VSAS, we have been able to provide assistance to hundreds of citizens and their pets. It is through such proactive efforts that we are able to support healthy choices for pets and prevent them from becoming casualties in the shelter system.
As part of our focus on supporting returns to owners and pet retention, we had been exploring ways to support pet identification. In October, we obtained an identification tag engraving system and began including ID tags with every pet adopted from the shelter. We also started handing out vouchers for free ID tags to pet owners with whom we visited in the neighborhoods. These vouchers are being paid for by the same Maddie’s Fund grant that enabled us to provide pet care supplies to pet owners in underserved neighborhoods. The ID tags are also available for walk-in clients to purchase.
Our facility programming and needs assessment study commenced this fall and we are anxiously awaiting the results. Local architectural firm Stantec was awarded the project and they brought in the Bacon Group for its expertise in shelter programming and design. This study is the prerequisite before major improvements are implemented and will help us evaluate the options for best addressing our facility’s operational needs.
Another major accomplishment this year has been our implementation of daily playgroups for shelter dogs. This was one of our intentions when we began playgroups in 2013, but persistent staffing challenges presented an obstacle. So, for the first four years, playgroups were entirely run by volunteers. However this past summer when the Dogs Playing For Life™ CEO Aimee Sadler returned to Rochester for a five-day training workshop, we made daily playgroups a priority. With some minor adjustments to our work schedules, we were able to assign employees to run the playgroups with volunteers on a daily basis. The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Not only are dogs getting out-of-shelter enrichment each day, but morning cleaning is more efficient. There is also more cohesion between employees and volunteers because they are now working together on this essential activity.
We are certainly proud of our accomplishments but we are not content. We are committed to maintaining or increasing our Save Rate beyond 90%. One component in achieving this goal involves community outreach. We plan to increase our proactive efforts to ensure that we are supporting healthy choices for as many pets as possible. If we can intervene before pets enter our system, we can support pet retention, reduce intakes and ultimately help more people and more animals. In 2018, we will aim to make our outreach efforts a routine component of our field services operation.
As is often the case, much of our impact and effectiveness is contingent upon our funding. Our annual budget of around $2 million is comprised of about $250,000 – $300,000 in revenue from shelter fees, fine payments and dog licenses. The balance comes from taxpayer support. Whether we are trying to add staff, improve animal care, or support pet retention, increasing financial support for RAS will remain one of my primary focuses for the coming year. We recognize that adoption of shelter animals is not a money-making enterprise so support must come from other areas.
As a State-mandated source of revenue for animal care and control agencies and an estimated license rate of under 10% in Rochester, certainly our dog license compliance can be improved. Doing so is mission-focused in supporting pet retention while also helping fund our critical programs and services. Additionally, I will continue to pursue corporate sponsorships that may provide alternative support. It is through such partnerships with local businesses that I believe we can make significant and sustainable enhancements in animal care and customer service.
As for the shelter itself, once our needs assessment is completed, we will likely pursue a fundraising feasibility study to help us with the planning and implementation of a capital campaign to raise funds to support the improvements, whether renovation, expansion, or new construction.
How can you help? Consider making a donation to Rochester Animal Services or Verona Street Animal Society. Adopt a pet from a local shelter or rescue organization. License your dog. Spay and neuter your pets. Or give the gift of time and volunteer at the shelter or with VSAS fundraising or promotions committees.
Happy holidays and many thanks for your ongoing support,