At a time when animal shelter intake is up, this post on long stay pets is as relevant as ever. This was originally posted in March 2022.
Since winning the Get ‘em Home Challenge in 2018, Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS) continues to innovate, whittling days off the average length of shelter stays for both dogs and cats. At a time when length of stay appears to be increasing nationally, JHS’s length of stay for cats has decreased from 29 days in 2018 to 17 days in 2022, while their length of stay for dogs went from 12 to 11 days.
How did they do it? “It isn’t just marketing,” says Lindsay Layendecker, JHS’s Director of Community Partnerships. “JHS is focusing on a whole-shelter approach to shorten our length of stay thanks to our Long Stay Task Force. This means from that from a moment a pet enters into our care, they receive excellent veterinary treatment to keep them healthy, proper enrichment to keep them happy, and purposeful adoption-focused strategies to find their new family.” Here are some of the key components:
Their Long Stay Task Force meets monthly. This multidisciplinary team includes members of the behavior, medical, foster, communications teams and more. Their standard operating procedures outline specific actions to take for each pet who reaches milestones of 30, 60, 90 and 110 days in their care. These actions are tracked on a spreadsheet, ensuring that each pet is treated as an individual and is promoted strategically by removing barriers to their adoption.
They provide excellent customer service. “We train our staff to provide quality, judgment-free customer service aimed at creating relationships with our visitors and ensuring that they have a positive experience with our organization,” says Layendecker. They collect feedback on the services they provide to locate areas that need improvement and gauge their success.
Their adoptions are barrier-free. JHS embraces their community with an barrier-free adoption philosophy and works to keep adoptions as quick and easy as possible. In 2020, the shelter began doing adoptions by appointment. When adoptions slowed, they looked at feedback from adopters, which indicated that many had originally come in to browse when they met their pets. Based on this information, they redesigned their safety protocol to reopen the shelter for browsing.
They keep marketing and adoption counseling separate. “When it comes to marketing, we stay focused on the positive aspects of each pet and keep our eyes on the prize – getting people through our front door,” Layendecker tells us. “If they came in to meet one of our long-stay pets but it isn’t a match, that’s okay because we have so many other pets waiting to meet them. Positivity is such an important factor when marketing shelter pets – we save any difficult conversations for in-person because words can be so easily misconstrued online.”
They run regular playgroups for dogs. Playgroups allow multiple dogs to socialize and exercise at once. “About 99% of our dogs go to playgroups,” says Layendecker. “We find that they do so much better with this enrichment.”
They use short-term foster in innovative ways. JHS has both a Dog Day Out (field trip) and a Shelter Staycation program, which they use to give pets breaks from the shelter, learn more about them and get great marketing material. Pets go on Shelter Staycations for a limited period of two weeks. During this time, fosters are asked to bring the pets back to the shelter on weekends so they’re available to meet with potential adopters during their busiest time.
“Our adoption counselors also know not to let anyone leave empty-handed, says Layendecker. “If a customer doesn’t find a pet that day, they are invited to come back and are given a map with information about other shelters in our area.”
If your shelter or rescue organization is located in Florida, JHS may be able to provide on-site training. Learn more at Lifesaving University.