The deck appeared to be stacked against 15-year-old Freckles, who had been awaiting adoption for several months. “Freckles had some hair loss and a fairly appropriate ‘cattitude’ for a lady of her age,” says Lindsay Layendecker, Jacksonville Humane Society’s (JHS) Senior Manager of Education and Outreach. “Her age, look and behavior made finding her a new home challenging.”
Luckily, JHS was pulling out all the stops for pets with shelter stays over 30 days during the Get ‘em Home Challenge. In looking at these pets more closely, they quickly discovered that many of them had barriers to adoption such as medical issues, old or outdated biographies and photos, adoption fees and behavioral issues. Many of these barriers could be easily overcome individually but breaking down barriers for all overlooked pets would take a systematic approach. Using a combination of creative adoption promotions, innovative foster care, marketing and partnerships, and the creation of the Long Stay Task Force (LSTF), an interdepartmental team dedicated to the pets who have been awaiting adoption the longest. JHS created a comprehensive plan that ensures pets like Freckles aren’t forgotten about.
“One thing we noticed prior to this is that we didn’t always have an accurate picture of who was a long-stay (we also say ‘overlooked’) pet,” says Layendecker. “Sometimes a pet would slip through the cracks or another would garner a lot of attention. The LSTF ensures that all pets are getting equal promotion and helps decrease length of stay.”
In three months, JHS was able to find permanent homes for 83 dogs and 831 cats that had been in their shelter for over 30 days!
Here’s how they did it:
- They created the Long Stay Task Force. The LSTF meets once each month and includes members of the behavior, medical, foster, communications team and more. Standard Operating Procedures were created, containing specific actions to take for each pet who reaches milestones of 30, 60, 90 and 110 days. These actions ensure that each pet is treated as an individual and is promoted strategically by removing barriers to their adoption. The team uses a Google spreadsheet to track the pets and actions taken.
- They held monthly adoption events to feature their longest resident pets. For example, the JHS Bachelor event designated their 10 “most eligible” cats and dogs as bachelors and bachelorettes. Visitors were given the chance to participate in “speed dating,” which they highlighted on Facebook Live.
- They used innovative foster care. Their “Dog Day Out” program invites members of the community to take a shelter dog who has a stay of 30 days or more out for the day. This provides them with information on the dog’s behavior outside the shelter, great material to market them with on social media and gives the dog a break from the shelter. JHS also created the “Promote a Pet” program, where a foster takes a pet home for 30 days to get to know them and promote them for adoption.
- They engaged their volunteers. JHS makes sure volunteers know which pets were being overlooked by adopters so they can give them extra attention and steer potential adopters their way. They also created the “Project Pet” program, which matches volunteers with pets who have been at the shelter for over 30 days in order to give the pets targeted enrichment and advocacy.
- They created a web page to highlight overlooked pets. This page, “Top Dog/Top Cat,” featured their longest-stay pets and was used in all of their event marketing. It was linked to their two most visited pages and was easily accessible through the website’s menu. During the challenge, it was their website’s fifth most visited page.
As for Freckles? After rising to fame during JHS’s Homecoming adoption promotion and being elected Homecoming Queen after a hilarious campaign in which her tag line was, “VOTE FOR ME OR ELSE,” Freckles was adopted by a volunteer. Her mom told JHS that she’d never previously interacted with Freckles but her seeing “coronation” sealed the deal. Freckles is now the reigning queen of her new castle.
The Long Stay Task Force has become a permanent part of the way JHS operates, and they’re continuously making improvements. “We discuss what methods are working or need improvement and share any new ideas,” says Layendecker. “One program that we recently designed with the support from Dolly’s Dream Dogs is “Dolly’s Dream School” where our long-stay dogs go to a class lead by our trainer. It’s a four-week class and if they are adopted, the family can continue the class. We just had our first class last week and we’re very excited… two of the dogs were adopted after the first class!”
Jacksonville Humane Society has generously offered to share their Long Stay Task Force protocols to help your organization find homes for its long stay pets! Check them out below, and let us know if you implement any of them.
Stay tuned… we’ll be sharing more stories from Challenge winners over on Maddie’s® Pet Forum!