Baltimore in playgroup

Join us for a two-part webcast, Lifesaving Protocol for At Risk Dogs, tomorrow October 23 and Thursday, October 24 on this important topic. The practical and informative webcast will be hosted by Kristen Auerbach-Hassen, Director of Animal Services at Pima Animal Control Center in Tucson, AZ. The following post is the second in a three-part series written by Auerbach-Hassen, which we originally ran in December 2018. The first post shared the story of Baltimore, a high risk dog in need of a home.

I started piloting this lifesaving protocol for urgent dogs in 2015 at Austin Animal Center, and since then, it has saved thousands of lives. Nathan Winograd of No Kill Advocacy Center helped me write the original protocol, and it is now being adopted by shelters around the country who are trying to figure out what to do in cases where it feels like there is no hope. Baltimore was just one example.

When we first started to talk with leadership at other shelters about this procedure, they would say, “We just don’t have the time to do this.” At PACC, we serve an area the size of New Hampshire and take in 17,000 pets annually. We achieve about a 91% save rate of pets with just around 100 staff members and we use this process as a key, lifesaving tool. If we can do it, anybody can! We empower our volunteers to help us with the procedure and they are at the heart of our lifesaving success.

Here is how it works:

  1. When a dog becomes urgent, we begin the process of filling out a checklist that includes identifying information about the dog and all of the items below. The dog is assigned a case manager, who can be a staff member or volunteer. Their job is to get as much information as possible about the dog and to ensure the other steps in the process are followed.
  2. The case manager reviews all known home and shelter history about the dog. This sometimes involves contacting the previous owner and others who knew the dog, talking with staff and volunteers who have interacted with the dog, and verifying existing notes. More often than not, we find the notes are incomplete or inaccurate so this is one of the most important parts of the procedure. Dogs can’t tell us their histories, so it’s up to the case manager to do their best to piece together the dog’s past.
  3. If the dog was a stray, FOUND DOG flyers may be posted where the dog was found in an effort to find the previous owner. If the dog was surrendered, the case manager contacts the previous owner to let them know the dog’s situation is urgent and, in most cases, to give the owner the opportunity to reclaim their dog. We often return dogs to their owners and we are always sure to offer them whatever support they need to be successful. This includes training, fencing assistance or medical care. We have a grant fund called “Keeping Families Together” that supports these efforts.
  4. We ask the community for help. We issue public posts on social media and sometimes on sites like and, letting the public know we have a dog that urgently needs help. We treat these pets just like urgent medical cases and we give the public the opportunity to be a lifesaver to an at-risk dog. If the dog we’re trying to save does demonstrate behavioral challenges, we are completely up front and let anyone who is interested know about the dog’s entire known history. We’ve found many local dog trainers who want to help foster by issuing public pleas – they’re a great transitional placement for a dog who is stressed in the shelter!
  5. We make a foster plea. For long stay and declining dogs, foster is truly lifesaving, as it provides a much-needed break from the shelter and helps us further get to know dogs in a real-life setting. We stay in close communication with our fosters and they fill out a form to tell us all about their dog upon return so we can let potential adopters know more about what the dog is like in a home. For urgent dogs, we accept foster support for any length of time. Just one afternoon hike can give us the photos and stories to help find a long stay dog a permanent home.
  6. We share a rescue plea to our rescue partners, alerting them of the dog’s situation and asking them to consider pulling the dog. Because most rescues utilize foster homes, this is another way to get urgent dogs out of the shelter and into foster. With rescue groups there is the bonus that the group will get to know the dog much better than we have time to in our high-volume, municipal environment.
  7. We tell staff and volunteers. We have an opt-in group for staff and volunteers who want to know when a dog becomes urgent. We issue an alert to them, including all of the notes we have on the dog. This helps people snap into action by taking marketing photos, entering additional notes, taking the dogs on outings and communicating with rescue groups.
  8. We have weekly team meetings to talk about urgent and long stay dogs. Once a week, managers, behavior and enrichment team members, a foster coordinator and an adoption counselor meet to talk about plans for urgent dogs. At these meetings, the case manager shares what they have learned and makes recommendations. Shelters are such busy places that it’s important to regularly meet about these dogs to keep them moving towards getting out of the shelter.

At PACC, our goal is to treat every pet as if their life was just as important as our own pets at home. This protocol ensures that the pets who truly need our attention, understanding and advocacy get it when they need it the most and the result is faster, better placements, a staff and volunteer team who feel empowered to save lives, and a community that appreciates that we ask for their help to find solutions for long stay and urgent dogs.

Register now for Lifesaving Protocol for At-Risk Dogs (even if you can’t make it, still register so we can send you the on-demand link after!) And don’t miss the final post in this series that includes tips on how to get dogs adopted more quickly.