Wednesday, April 26 2017
The ASPCA’s B.J. Rogers shares a quick snapshot of last year’s campaign results. The clear winner? Cats!
We’re pretty fortunate. Every year, we have the honor of partnering with lifesaving organizations from around the country. Over time, those partnerships have yielded tremendous returns for the field as a whole. Think fee-waived adoptions. Pets as gifts. Meet Your Match. Each of these research partnerships led to actionable intel that helped shelters and rescues across the country save more lives.
A few years back, we partnered with LA/SPCA and Charleston Animal Society to learn more about the impacts of using volunteers as adoption agents, placing animals from home-to-home outside of the shelter walls. We first learned about the concept of LA/SPCA’s “Fast Track” during the 2010 $100K Challenge; today, we call the program Adoption Ambassadors, and in 2015 and 2016, more than 1,000 organizations signed up to give it a whirl.
Could you successfully apply the concept to cats?
At the start of the 2016 campaign, we issued a challenge: Figure out how to successfully apply the concept to cats. Geez did you deliver! Though the Adoption Ambassadors program was created to serve dogs at-risk in shelters—and despite the challenges associated with including cats (after all, most felines don’t love being leashed and walked in hopes of meeting a potential adopter!)—cats were last year’s clear winners.
In 2016 alone, more than 625 shelters and rescues took the pledge to implement or expand an Adoption Ambassadors program—and a little over 100 of those received funding support from the ASPCA. We’ve tallied a few numbers as a snapshot of the impact the 6-month campaign had. Those that received small grants from us provided data to help us understand impact:
- Out of 100 shelters, 4,824 cats were adopted by Ambassadors between June and December!
- In total, these cats made up 9% of all the adoptions done by grantees (not just by Ambassadors themselves, but 9% of TOTAL adoptions).
Never mind that of the 7,400 or so adoptions done by Ambassadors (including dogs and cats), more than 65% of those were cats. That’s no surprise when you look at programs like the “Traveling Fosters” at the HSWC in Maryland, where ambassadors are sending cats home by the hundreds!
If you’ve got a preference for the pups, don’t fret; overall, Adoption Ambassadors dog adoptions represented 6% of total adoptions, and both dog adoptions and adoption rate increased as well.
Did you catch that number? More than 7,400 adoptions in 6 months... done by VOLUNTEERS! What an incredible way to expand reach, increase capacity and bring even more people and pets together.
If you’re from an organization that tried out the Adoption Ambassadors concept, we salute you. With more than 625 organizations in the mix, and with those 7,400 adoptions representing less than 1/6 of that group, we’ve little doubt that thousands more lives—of both people and pets—were impacted by your willingness to try something new.
If this is all new to you—or you’ve heard of the concept but been unsure whether it’s the right fit—let the numbers inspire you! There’s no time like today. Start small. See how it goes. Find resources and support here, and use the comments section to share your learnings and ask questions of your colleagues.
B.J. Rogers, CAWA, ASPCA Vice President, ProLearning, is a former shelter chief executive whose experiences working in politics, higher education, LGBTQ youth advocacy and animal welfare have convinced him that people are the solution, not the problem.
The Research Behind Adoption Ambassadors
Blog: “When the Checks Create Imbalances”
Monday, April 24 2017
Bert Troughton has discovered the secret to excellent customer service—and is happy to share.
In an interesting study briefly described here by Jennifer Aaker, author of The Dragonfly Effect, researchers at Stanford University concluded that the distinguishing characteristic for happiness is a sense of connectedness and how connected you feel to those around you—such as your coworkers and even strangers.
Their light was infectious...
This got me thinking about two women—Michele and Colleen—who used to work for me at Monadnock Humane Society. Michele and Colleen’s faces would light up when someone walked through our front door. It was as if they could not wait to meet each new person and help them with whatever they’d arrived wanting or needing.
Both women had huge smiles that they shared readily; they looked directly at people with the human equivalent of “soft eyes” (you dog people know what I mean by that), and they filled the air with easy laughter. Their “light” was infectious, too. Not only did our customers respond really well to Michele and Colleen, but the rest of us were buoyed by their presence, too. The whole place felt brighter and more energized when one or both of them were working.
The best definition for great customer service
If the secret to happiness is connectedness, maybe the secret to customer service is hiring happy people. Happy people appear to derive their state from making meaningful connections with people around them—even strangers. I think that might be the best definition I’ve heard yet for great customer service!
Bert Troughton, MSW, is Interim Senior Vice President of Animal Health Services at the ASPCA, where she works with several talented teams: ASPCA Animal Hospital, ASPCA Poison Control, Community Medicine and Humane Alliance. Bert joined the ASPCA in 2003 after 9 years as CEO of Monadnock Humane Society in New Hampshire and 10 years as a clinical social worker in community mental health. Past president of both the New Hampshire and New England Federations of Humane Societies, Bert is a guest blogger on human dynamics in animal welfare and the author of the chapter on working with adopters in Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff.
Blog: "Let’s See Those Pearly Whites!"
Blog: “Look ‘Em in the Eye and Smile”
Friday, April 21 2017
Looking for a great way to get cats noticed? See if this idea from Dr. Emily Weiss rings a bell.
Another YouTube video has made the rounds. This one fascinated many—you may even have had the opportunity to see it yourself. It featured two lovely cats sitting politely in front of two shiny bells. The cats ring the bells and receive a delivery of a tasty treat. Take a look here.
What animal is the smartest?
There is so much in this video to chew! Most notable is the opportunity to highlight cats. Some believe cats cannot be trained. This cute video is a great, subtle way to highlight cats doing stuff they have learned. As a behaviorist I am often asked (usually by the person sitting next to me on the plane for whom I mistakenly replied to the question about what I do for a living), “What animal is the smartest?” and “What animal is easiest to train?” I always answer the first by saying that each species is as smart as they need to be to be that species. In other words, smart is relative.
The fact is, when it comes to training, all animals learn. Motivation is all that is needed. Now when using just positive reinforcement, we need to have motivators that the animal wants (remember, positive means 'to give'), most often food, toys or social interaction. Years ago, when I was training pythons in a zoo setting to move on and off exhibit on cue, positive reinforcement using food allowed for a training session every couple of weeks… a slow process. We ended up moving to the use of temperature, slowly warming or cooling the area where the snake was to motivate a move to a more desirable temperature—a form of negative reinforcement (negative: to take away), as the temperature was removed when the snake moved. Most cats are super-motivated by food and social interaction, and can learn incredibly complex behaviors.
Ringing the adoption bell
Clearly the cats in the video are food-motivated. While the video makes it appear that the cats are training the person—obviously the cats learned “ring bell, get food”—what makes me chuckle the most is when the tiger cat switches bells mid-session. You can almost see the wheels turn as he watches his compadre ding that bell! His body shifts to allow his bell-ringing paw (he rings just with his right) to ring his pal’s bell. This behavior is an easy one to train, and one that you can do in your shelter. I can just picture a scene where bells are placed in front of cats when facilitating an adoption!
How to train a cat to ring a bell
- Follow the protocol for paw touch here. (Note, you can use a super yummy canned food and a tongue depressor for food delivery.)
- When the cat is reliably touching your hand, put an easily ringable soft-toned bell in your touch hand and cue the cat to touch. Reward any touch to the surface of the bell. Repeat until the behavior is stable (1-2 sessions of 4-8 touches each).
- Place the ringer of the bell so the paw is likely to touch the ringer. Reward for the slightest ring. Repeat, shaping stronger rings by waiting for a stronger touch before reward.
- Cat gets noticed—and adopted!
So, how about giving it a try at your shelter? Just think, picking the cats who have been at the shelter the longest may market them in a whole new way!
Blog: “I’m Not Lookin’”
When it comes to cats, ringing a bell is kitten play! A simple search for cat agility pulled these two great young amateur trainers training their cats in agility. Well worth a peek:
Suki the Agility Cat
The Best of Cat Agility, starring Puffy & Cashmere
Wednesday, April 19 2017
Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President & CEO, shares recent trends in nationwide shelter data that show how far we’ve come as a field—and what we need to do next.
While each life saved is a victory unto itself, it’s crucial that our work in the animal sheltering field is measured quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Our cause is too important to not be constantly analyzing data in search of ways to increase our impact, which is why the ASPCA has always relied on research as a foundation for our work.
In keeping with that philosophy, we recently analyzed nationwide shelter data with the goal of identifying trends related to the number of dogs and cats entering U.S. shelters as well as their range of outcomes. The statistics provide a sharper look at where we are as a field, how far we’ve come and what we need to do next.
By the Numbers
Our report reveals:
- Approximately 6.5 million companion animals entered U.S. animal shelters in 2016, a decrease from 7.2 million in 2011.
- An estimated 1.5 million companion animals were euthanized in U.S. animal shelters in 2016, a decrease from about 2.6 million in 2011.
- An estimated 3.2 million shelter animals were adopted in 2016 (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats), up from 2.7 million adoptions in 2011. That reflects an 18.5 percent increase in national adoptions.
Dr. Emily Weiss, our Vice President of Research & Development who oversaw the research, attributes the positive trend to factors including:
- Fewer financial restrictions and other barriers for adopters
- Easier community access to affordable spay/neuter services
- Increased numbers of lost animals reunited with their owners
- More widespread awareness that shelter animals make loving, loyal pets
Getting to Zero Is Unrealistic
Though there’s plenty of rhetoric around the idea of reducing euthanasia and intake rates to an absolute zero, there will unfortunately always be dogs and cats too sick or injured to have an acceptable quality of life, or who exhibit such extreme aggression that they are too dangerous to place in a home.
Pushing unrealistic goals is counterproductive, setting up struggling shelters and rescue organizations for destructive criticism when what they and their animals need most are constructive support and resources.
To bring down the number of hard-to-adopt animals at risk of euthanasia, at the ASPCA we’re exploring innovative programs that rehabilitate abused and neglected animals and continuing our opposition to breed-specific legislation that unfairly limits animals’ chances at adoption.
More Obstacles and Opportunities
Our research also shows clear regional disparities, specifically in parts of the South and West. The field has been addressing this challenge by relocating animals from areas of overcrowding to locales where certain types of dogs and cats are in short supply. The ASPCA now has three targeted routes—on the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast—through which we have transported over 25,000 dogs and cats since 2014; we’ll move an additional 19,000 in 2017.
We also see more cats than dogs euthanized in shelters. This reinforces the need for cat owners to provide their pets with ID collars and microchips. We also join the field in encouraging local trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs to reduce the size of community cat colonies. To further address issues specific to at-risk cats, we recently joined forces with Maddie’s Fund® and the Million Cat Challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with the Challenge, learn more and become an official “Challenger” here.
One of the greatest areas of opportunity isn’t about what happens inside a shelter, but outside it. Past research conducted by the ASPCA shows that offering low- or no-cost services to pet owners in need effectively keeps at-risk dogs and cats in their homes. The ASPCA is conducting programs like these in parts of Los Angeles and New York City, and plans are in place to expand to high-need communities in Miami.
Finally, we need to end the individual and organized cruelty that puts many animals in peril even after their rescue. This includes active support for laws and regulations that combat puppy mills and dog fighting, as well as criminal sentences that match the nature of animal cruelty crimes committed.
Maintaining Our Commitment
We are thrilled to see the downward trend in euthanasia, but that doesn’t mean we should cut back efforts or weaken our resolve to help vulnerable animals in our communities. The fact is, too many animals are still in crisis. It’s important to see these trends not as fixed accomplishments, but as a sign that we’re moving in the right direction. Let them also serve as motivation to redouble—not relax—our efforts.
What does this research mean for your work, and for our field in general? We welcome your comments.
Matthew Bershadker has been president and CEO of the ASPCA since May 2013. A nearly 15-year veteran of the nation’s first animal welfare organization, Matt previously served as senior vice president of the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Group, the division responsible for programs and initiatives that confront animal cruelty and suffering on all levels across the country.
“Message from the President: ASPCA Position Statement on Responsibilities of Animal Shelters”
“Research Update: New National Estimates Are In!”
Monday, April 17 2017
In the first installment of her series, Dr. Janeczko shared 4 simple steps for getting started. Today she’ll show you how to estimate the number of cats you’re likely to see this season.
Ah, the magic of math…
Wait! Please keep reading!
Seriously, math can help you do amazing things in the shelter. And the good news is that it’s fairly simple—no need for calculus or trigonometry here! With a little data and some quick calculations easily done on paper (okay, your phone, but still), you can arm yourselves with powerful knowledge to help you plan for the year to come.
In the first installment, How to Survive Kitten Season This Year, Part 1, I talked about what we can start doing now to prepare for the busy spring and summer months. First on that list was to estimate how many cats and kittens you are likely to see this year. These critical details form the foundation of your planning, and let you accurately estimate what resources—housing, staff members, volunteers, foster homes, vaccinations, medications—you’ll need. From there, it’s important to evaluate the shelter’s capacity for care and compare available resources to the population of cats in your shelter in order to eliminate any gaps.
Estimating how many cats and kittens I’m likely to see… How exactly do I do that?
To get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want to look at intake numbers a few different ways:
- Separate strays from owner surrenders, because in most cases you’ll have different holding periods. If that doesn’t apply in your jurisdiction (e.g. there is no holding period for cats) or if you don’t accept strays, don’t worry about this step.
- Separate kittens from adults. I usually use a cut-off of 5 months unless I’m working with a shelter that handles different populations of kittens differently.
- Look at the real number for each month, rather than using annual intake and assuming it’s equal across every day of the year. It’s always a good idea to look back at several years—particularly if your shelter is seeing a trend of increasing or decreasing intake.
I like to put this information into Excel—it’s easy to organize, and you can use calculations in the spreadsheet to make the math easier. (Bonus, it makes nice graphs!)
Here’s an example of one shelter’s cat intake* over the course of a year, for cats and kittens. This is a pretty big shelter that takes in approximately 10,000 cats annually:
*I’ve rounded these numbers slightly to make the math we’ll tackle below easier—but this is a very accurate representation of this shelter’s intake.
Great, now what do I do with that?
For starters, it’s always interesting to take a step back and look at the numbers—maybe even make a graph to help you visualize the highs and lows and what the year actually looks like. Now we’re focusing on the numbers, but looking at all the info is crucial. For example, what programs might you add or change to better support people and animals in your community when you consider how many come in as strays and how many are brought in by their people?
We can use these numbers to drill down and come up with some other numbers that will be even more helpful for you in planning. Our next step is understanding what the numbers mean on a daily basis, so take each month’s intake and divide by 30. I know some months have 31, 28, or even 29 days, but for the sake of the math and the nominal difference it makes, I just use 30 for each month.
Here’s what this looks like, using just the stray cats and kittens as an example:
Now we’re getting somewhere! At a glance we can see that this shelter generally takes in 7-10 adult cats every day, with some variation depending on the time of year. But check out the difference for the kittens! They typically handle only 4 kittens a day in the winter months, but a whopping 21 kittens a day at the peak of Mount Kitten.
Determining this ahead of time followed by some key action steps—proactively adding or modifying programs and appropriately allocating resources—puts the organization in a much better position to be able to meet the needs of the animals in their care and to find positive live outcomes for as many as possible.
Perhaps best of all, it helps provide a context for the organization to brainstorm and consider some “What If?” scenarios to dream, believe and achieve those shifts that can make all the difference to the impact of our work.
We’ll cover more about what to do with the numbers in the next post. Will you set aside some time in the next month to dig in to your intake numbers? What can this information help you do in your shelter? If you’ve already done this, we’d love to hear from you!
Dr. Stephanie Janeczko, MS, DABVP, CAWA, is Senior Director of Shelter Medical Programs at the ASPCA. She is board certified in both Shelter Medicine and Canine and Feline Practice through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, and is a former board member and past president of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. Dr. Janeczko has a particular interest in infectious disease as well as in the welfare of cats.
Blog: “How to Survive Kitten Season This Year, Part 1”
How To Throw a Shelter Kitten Shower