Shelters love to blame others; it seems to be a prerequisite for working at or volunteering at an animal shelter. Blame the public for too many animals, blame the rescue groups for being uncooperative, blame the media for getting the facts wrong, blame the public for not donating and blame the adopters for not adopting, but let’s put blame for all those problems where it belongs – on the shelter itself.
I’ve been both supportive and critical of the Niagara SPCA in the past – and this article is going to be a little of both. I’m going to be supportive of the things they have changed that have brought them closer to being truly no-kill and critical of the things that they have been remiss on. Being a true no kill shelter is about sustainability, not about doing great one month and falling short in subsequent months. It is up to the shelter to reach and sustain the 90% or greater save rate. And in order to do so, more still needs to be done.
In the spirit of support and cooperation, let’s point out the things they have done right:
• Drastically expanding their open adoption hours to evenings and weekends when most people can get to the shelter
• Adding special adoption promotions to move animals out of the shelter and into homes more quickly
• Refusing to take feral /community cats purely to dispose of them for the municipalities
• Working with feral/community cat groups to address several free-roaming cat situations
• Implementing doggie play groups
• Installing Andrew Bell, a strong No Kill proponent, as executive director.
• Increasing the save rate over the last 5 months, 85.2% in June, 85% in July, 80% in August, 79% in September and 91% in October.
• Electing a new board of directors, with a full complement of animal welfare people, business owners, public servants and professional expertise.
But there is still more that must be done if the Niagara SPCA ever hopes to reach the goal of maintaining true No Kill Shelter status.
• Get the good word out!
It was thrilling to see the shelter finally reach a 91% overall save rate in October. That far surpasses every shelter in the area, even those with 100 times more money, staff, volunteers and donors. They should be celebrating, they should be shouting it from the rooftops, they should be sending out press releases, they should be lining up news interviews and they should be posting it in huge letters on their webpage.
So how did they advertise this great success? They posted a small piece with a link to a statistical sheet on a Facebook page that has a little over 1,100 followers. This means the other 214,900 residents of Niagara County will have no idea of the progress they have made.
• Stop asking for money for crematoriums and operating expenses
In a recent local news report, the shelter’s continuing fiscal woes were highlighted. In fact, the shelter has a projected $170,000 operating deficit for this year. Unfortunately, the story mentioned, among other things, the need for a new, updated crematorium and operating expenses.
Not the image that inspires potential donors to open their pocketbooks. Marketing is about drawing people in, not making them feel uncomfortable with the image of burning bodies, especially given the previous year’s death rates. Putting donation pleas out to help cover operational shortfalls such as payroll, utilities and cleaning supplies will not work either. Animal lovers won’t open their pocketbooks for these types of donation pleas. The stories that bring in donors are ones of hope and positive outcomes for the animals in the shelter’s care, not for daily operations. It is the shelter‘s responsibility to come up with the right message to bring donors and supporters in. If they can’t, they only have themselves to blame.
• Always be open for adoptions
In May, when the Niagara SPCA changed their adoption hours to encompass more evenings and weekends, we applauded them. We felt they finally realized that to increase adoptions, you need to be open during hours of the day that most people are off work. As a result adoptions have increased for both dogs & cats. We were thrilled to see adoption promotions on a regular basis, such as the “Pre-owed Certified Pets” promotion they had in September. But on the two large events that the Niagara SPCA had on their grounds this year, ”Dog Days of Summer” and “Zombiefest”, why on earth were they closed to adoptions? These were the days when the maximum numbers of animal loving people were going to be on the grounds, yet the Niagara SPCA did zero adoptions.
At the Town of Niagara’s Electric Lights Parade in early November, volunteers & staff of the Niagara SPCA walked in the parade with dogs. Volunteers walked shelter dogs, but some of the staff chose to walk their personal dogs rather than shelter dogs. At the Autumn Festival at the Lewiston #2 Fire Hall and volunteers stopped at the shelter to pick up some adoptable dogs to take out to the event, only to be told by staff members that they were not allowed to take shelter dogs with them. Lewiston is known as a very animal-friendly community, yet no adoptable animals were at the event.
These are missed opportunities to get animals showcased and adopted while the shelter is at max capacity. Who is to blame? The public for not adopting or the shelter for not doing everything it can to get adoptable animals out to places where people can meet them?
• Own it and do it
So I say this to the board and staff at the Niagara SPCA: Do not blame the public for not coming out to adopt, donate or support – look into your own practices and figure out what you need to do to get them back. Do not blame the volunteers for not coming out to help when needed – look into your own practices and figure out what you need to do to get more volunteers on board. Do not blame the media for getting the message wrong – look into your own practices and figure out what message you want to send. Do not blame the membership for being non-supportive – look into your own practices and figure out how to engage them more. In other words, stop the blame game and get on with it already…
Clara Miller is the Co-founder of No Kill Buffalo-Niagara