After a record-breaking year in 2019, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control (CMPD) in Charlotte, NC, has made significant strides toward becoming no-kill. Dr. Josh Fisher, Executive Director at CMPD, attributes the progress to a number of different changes, but two of the biggest being transparent with their community, and not being afraid to try new ideas.
While they’re proud of how far they’ve come from their 58.5% save rate in 2015, CMPD is still pushing for a 90%+ save rate, having finished 2019 at 79.2%. And they’re asking for help from the community to get there.
This is a vastly different approach from just a few years ago, when the administration shied away from sharing their imperfect numbers with the community for fear of negative backlash. Dr. Fisher saw it differently.
“I wanted to emphasize that we are a community resource. I think a lot of people forget that we are here in response to a community issue, we aren’t creating the issue(s). This is a community problem and it requires the community to step in and help solve it,” explained Fisher. “Without letting the community know where our challenges are, they can’t help us fix them. It was important to bring awareness to all of that.”
The response, Dr. Fisher says, has been very positive.
In addition to being transparent about their data and where they needed help, Dr. Fisher shares other substantial changes they’ve made. Many include trying new ideas around intake diversion and marketing.
- Putting up barriers: “The way we frame it– we want to put up all the barriers we can to animals coming into our facility unnecessarily, while tearing down any possible barrier to them leaving. We are still here to handle medical emergencies and vicious attacks. But the ones that don’t need to come in? That’s where we want to put those barriers up. We want the focus to be on reducing what’s coming in that doesn’t have to; and increasing anything and everything going out in a responsible way.”
- Targeted microchip and tag outreach: “We do free microchipping and collar and tags in our high intake areas. We identify these areas using heat mapping. The microchips are fantastic but generally speaking, the microchip has to make its way back to a vet clinic or shelter or something else, which is sometimes a big ask. Whereas if it’s a collar, they can call or ask around.”
- A concerted effort on return to owner in the field: “This means knocking on doors, trying to find the owner. We have increased forms, especially for cats (no leash law for cats) so if someone is bringing a stray cat in, they have additional paperwork they have to do. A lot of times when you have someone calling who’s upset, it’s easier to pick up the animal and bring it in versus taking the extra steps to return the animal to where it belongs; or explain and educate the general population about the fact that they don’t have these leash laws.”
- Decreasing owner surrender. This means finding ways with safety net programming, increased education, providing access to their animal trainer when needed, etc. “One thing that has been imperative to the owner surrender piece is changing the mindset that we are here as a ‘dumping ground,’” said Fisher. “Meaning, if an animal becomes inconvenient or frustrating, we are where you bring it to not have to deal with it anymore. We’re in the process to transitioning into a full ‘by appointment’ only system. Phase one of that was reducing our owner surrenders. If it is an emergency situation, we will of course take them outside of those hours. But for your general ‘it ate my shoes, or we don’t have time,’ they’ll need to come during specific hours.”
- TNR and owned animal spay/neuter: “We do a free spay/neuter rabies, microchip clinic for the citizens of our county on the second Saturday of every month, and we average about 60 surgeries a day. That’s not part of our regular spay/neuter program that happens Monday-Friday, it’s in addition to. Just a free resource.”
Fisher says that are very fortunate to have a Public Information Officer (PIO) assigned to them. But, like many government shelters, when it comes to marketing, they have a “shoestring budget.”
“We have been very deliberate that we include marketing dollars in any grant requests that we have. The first year our PIO was here she got $1,000 for the budget; and we’ve got it up to $5,000 a year. We ask for more and will take what we can get. It’s definitely something we see the value in. People aren’t going to know who you are and what you’re doing unless you tell them.”
Of course, CMPD is doing what they can for free. They are very active on social media. Fisher says they have a social media coordinator who does a phenomenal job, “but there’s only so far you can get.”
Branding is also key. “We have made a very concerted effort to make sure we are all on the same page as our brand. We also want to make sure we are changing that public perception to a positive one,” he explained. “We aren’t the pound, we aren’t catch n’ kill, we aren’t that old school what people think of when they are watching a Disney movie and see the dog truck. We are that next generation. So, changing that public perception and educating people is a huge part of that.”
Fisher continued, “We’re correcting people, we’re having those difficult conversations. We’re saying ‘No, actually, did you know this is where we are, what we’re doing, our programs we offer, this is what our priorities are?’ We are still very progressive, we work very closely with the humane society and are repairing some of the old school mentality that is out there.”
Words of advice
Fisher’s advice for other shelters is, “Don’t be afraid to try it. And if it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to admit that we tried it and it doesn’t work. You can always go back to the way things were before and reassess.” He continued, “I’ve admitted plenty of times that an idea fell flat on its face, but sometimes some of the best discoveries that you find worked out but not as exactly as you hoped.”
Moving forward, Fisher says they know that every percentage point is a fight at this point. The low hanging fruit is long gone, but they are determined to keep fighting and striving for improvement, and being able to articulate and be transparent. He emphasized, “We are going to get to that 90% that everyone considers the gold standard.”
Check out the infographic that CMPD put out to their community to share their 2019 data and 2020 goals. Talk about transparency!