For more information on ASPCA’s Meet Your Match, visit www.ASPCApro.org or email:
Books, Magazines, Newsletters & Reports
Adoption Forum II Report from the leadership forum convened in 2003 by PetSmart Charities to
examine best practices and guidelines for adoptions.
Animal Sheltering Magazine Detailed articles on issues related to adoption programs, examples
from the field, shelter professional opinions exchange, and helpful ―how to’s‖. Published bimonthly by
Asilomar Accords Sheltering definitions and statistics format www.asilomaraccords.org
Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Online Forum Free on-line forum to help shelters, rescues,
animal control, and advocates featuring new topics weekly and experts from around the nation.
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS) Good source for published research on
animal homelessness and adoptions. Published quarterly by ASPCA and Institute for Society and
MIS Report: Local Animal Control Management Written by HSUS and published by the
International City/County Management Association; details animal control issues and gives guidance in
establishing or updating successful, publicly supported animal care and control. Available from HSUS.
NACA News News and views from the field. Published bimonthly by National Animal Control
Pets for Life Free, downloadable information sheets from HSUS to help people care for – and keep –
their pets www.petsforlife.org
The State of the American Pet 2001 Research report profiling over 2,000 pet owners.
U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook Published by the American Veterinary Medical
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American Humane Association (AHA) Provides information, support, training and an annual
national conference for animal shelters. www.americanhumane.org
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) Broad selection of
humane education materials and a National Outreach team that provides training and resources for
animal protection professionals. www.aspcapro.org
Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) Sponsors training on humane dog training techniques and
certifies trainers. www.apdt.com
Association of Professional Humane Educators (APHE) Sponsors training and networking for
humane educators. www.aphe.org
Best Friends Animal Society (BF) News and initiatives that benefit animals. www.bestfriends.org
Humane Research Council (HRC) Empowers animal advocates with access to the research,
analysis, and strategies that maximize their effectiveness to reduce animal suffering.
Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Champions legislative efforts to advance animal
protection and sponsors annual expo for animal shelter professionals. www.hsus.org
Humane Society University (HSU) HSU offers professional development programs including online
courses and a graduate certificate in nonprofit management. www.HumaneSocietyU.org
Institute for Humane Education (IHE) Provides training in comprehensive humane education
through a Master’s degree program, advanced certification and intensive workshops.
National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy (NCPPSP) Coalition of national animal
protection organizations collects and publishes animal sheltering statistics. www.petpopulation.org
Petfinder.com The nation’s largest searchable database of animals for adoption, lost and found, and
shelters. ―Back page‖ for members offers advice from shelter experts, an online library and a
networking resource for shelters and rescues. Membership is free.
PetSmart Charities® Foundation serving animal protection organizations with information,
conference sponsorships, and grants. Special interest in funding spay/neuter and adoption programs,
and advancing best practices – see Curious Cat grant guidelines. www.petsmartcharities.org
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Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, ME
Implementing the ASPCA®’s Meet Your Match™ adoption program
The ASPCA’s innovative adoption program, Meet Your Match ™ offers
shelters a creative and interactive method to facilitate more
appropriate animal/guardian matches based on dog, puppy, and cat
assessments and surveys of adopters’ expectations and preferences.
The ARL in Maine started out cautiously curious about the program,
but soon became an enthusiastic Meet Your Match™ facility. The
staff’s complete commitment to the program shines through, making
it a great success for pets and their new guardians and further
promoting the image of the ARL in its community
By month 7 of the program, adoption returns dropped to 5%, down from 8% prior to
implementation of Meet Your Match™.
The rate of dog adoptions for the first 11 months of the program is up 3% over the previous
11 month period.
Less tangible, but equally significant are reports of reduced staff stress and a strong sense of
staff pride for having successfully implemented what has become a popular new program.
How Cool is That?
The ARL took the ASPCA®’s Meet Your Match™ program a few steps further than implementation,
developing a web based promotion that has attracted significant positive attention in their community.
This in turn has led to more adoption traffic and general goodwill. Check out ARL’s Meet Your
Adopt or Adapt
If you are interested in the ASPCA®’s Meet Your Match™ program, but wonder if your shelter can
make it work, read closely. Despite reservations about a new approach to adoptions as well as time
and staff constraints that are familiar to any shelter, the ARL team decided to go for it. They believed
the program would help them meet their goal to place more dogs into homes where the energy level,
manners, and lifestyle are a great fit for both pets and people. They were right.
Consider these wonderful stats from other groups who have implemented the program:
Monmouth County SPCA saw a significant decrease in the amount of time a dog awaits
Wayside Waifs enjoyed a record number of adoptions for at least the first six months of
implementation, as well as significant decreases in returns.
Willamette Valley HS increased their adoptions 27% in the months following implementation.
HS for Tacoma\Pierce County decreased their returns from 17% to a mere 3.5 % after they
implemented the program at the end of February 2006.
Hamilton-Burlington SPCA decreased returns by 33% and increased the number of adoptions
by over 27%.
But even if you don’t pursue this specific program, your adoption process can benefit from the
philosophy behind the ASPCA®’s Meet Your Match™ and the inspiring approach to change
demonstrated by ARL staff.
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Animal Refuge League: The Whole Story
Implementing the ASPCA®’s Meet Your Match™ adoption program
The Animal Refuge League (ARL) of Greater Portland, Maine, was
already proud of its strong placement program:
adopting 34% of incoming dogs into new homes and
reuniting 43% with their owners.
But ARL staffers had grown frustrated with saying no to adopters
whom they believed were making inappropriate choices.
The ASPCA®’s Meet Your Match™ Adoption Program offered a way to
help adopters make sensible choices on their own. After implementing
the program, staffers feel the new approach to pairing dogs with new
owners is helping them to make lifelong matches by design, not just
Who They Are and What They Do
Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland
Dee Pecoraro, Executive Director
The ARL provides shelter for over 4,000 stray, abandoned, and owner relinquished animals from
thirteen communities in southern Maine each year. The organization considers itself first and foremost
an adoption agency.
Ingredients and Prep Work
Staff buy-in and participation. Animal care staff and front desk/adoption staff should attend a
Meet Your Match™ workshop. The ARL sent several key staff members to the seminar,
enabling them to share the experience:
Adoption counselors and kennel staff heard the same information from one source.
All got to participate in activities designed to help them understand the nuts and bolts, as
well as the philosophy of the program.
The organization and employees should be prepared for the extra time commitment. When
first implementing the program, the Meet your Match™ assessments add another layer of
responsibility to an already busy day for shelter workers. The ARL reports that it is all worth it
in the end.
Before beginning the Meet Your Match™ program, your shelter must already be implementing
a behavior/aggression assessment program, such as the SAFER™ Assessment.
Specific equipment and facility requirements for the Meet Your Match™ program (these are
mostly everyday items and are listed in the Meet Your Match™ training guides available from
the ASPCA online store)
The ARL admits that an additional part or full time staff member would be ideal to help keep
up with canine-ality assessments. While the organization did not create a new position for the
purpose of implementing this program, it did require additional time commitment from
existing adoptions and kennel staff.
The ARL was already conducting SAFER™ assessments when they started the Meet Your
Match™ program. If your organization does not currently conduct behavior/aggression
assessments, you will need to devote staff and/or volunteer time in order to implement a
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Staff members responsible for working with adopters to find the right pet should conduct the
Canine-ality and Puppy-ality Assessments. These should be staff members the dog does not
Up-front Costs and Startup Funding
There are potential costs associated with designating and outfitting a quiet room and/or an
outside play area where assessments will be performed.
The ARL was initially concerned about this requirement. However, they looked at their
facility with a ―new pair of eyes‖ and to their surprise managed to find the space they
needed for an assessment room AND a get-acquainted room where adopters could visit
with dogs. The assessment room, which had previously been unused, was refurbished with
the help of a donor. Management rearranged their office space to make way for the get-
Many of the props and equipment may already be on hand or easily obtained from garage
sales or through donations.
A Safety First Child View Monitor/TV model # 48016 is available at most baby supply
stores and toy stores and retails for approximately $150. The ARL placed the monitor on
their wish list and it was granted.
In retrospect, the ARL would have budgeted for an extra full or part time kennel staff member
to help with Meet Your Match™ assessments. Instead, they paid existing staff overtime for
extra hours they spent when the program was first started.
The ARL also recommends allocating funds for advertising the Meet Your Match™ program in
various media outlets. They also promote the program through their newsletter and website.
A Flash media presentation (available from ASPCA®) promotes and explains the Meet Your
Match™ program to visitors of the ARL website http://www.arlgp.org/. While not a
requirement, it generated significant interest in the community, leading to more adoption
The ARL purchased a laminating machine on hand for cage cards and guest passes.
ARL staff attended the first Meet Your Match™ Training in November of 2004. On April 20, 2005, Dr.
Emily Weiss conducted on-site training at the shelter and the program kicked off the next day.
Staff and community members needed time to adjust to the new program, but ARL found that it was
worth the wait. Two years into being a Meet Your Match™ shelter, the ARL has witnessed a tangible
return on their commitment to this new approach, especially in terms of fewer adoption returns.
Step by Step
1. Decide how your shelter will introduce key staff to the Meet Your Match™
The ARL decided to participate in regional training. Several key ARL staff members representing
adoptions and animal care, along with their Director of Operations, attended a seminar. You can also
introduce the Meet Your Match™ Adoption Program using the training guides and materials available
from the ASPCA online store.
2. Take your plan to the entire staff.
Seminar attendees used a survey issued by the ASPCA to discuss what they liked about the program
as well as what they feared or questioned about it. After receiving feedback from the ASPCA, the
group decided that they wanted the program at their shelter. However, having the commitment of
seminar attendees was not enough because all staff members would be involved in the transition.
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Staff who participated in the seminar became ambassadors for the program, sharing their insights and
excitement with the rest of the staff. Every employee was given a Meet Your Match™ manual to
review. Finally, the entire staff came together for a lengthy discussion on the opportunities inherent in
the program before the final decision to implement the program was made.
3. Follow the recipe, and “Go, dogs, go!”
The Meet Your Match™ guides provide the background information and tools needed to create a
structure for performing and reporting assessments and for utilizing the adopter surveys. During a
customized training for ARL, ASPCA facilitators worked directly with 12 shelter staff members,
performing a dress rehearsal for the program launch. The ARL officially kicked off Meet Your Match™
the day after their onsite training.
4. Remember: It pays to advertise.
The ARL advertised their new program in multiple ways. The Flash media presentation promotes and
explains the Meet Your Match™ program to visitors of the ARL website. The program was also
highlighted in the ARL’s newsletter, "The Inside Scoop." ARL found that, in addition to preparing the
public for a new adoption experience, the launch of a positive and fun program like Meet Your Match™
makes for great press.
5. Check in with yourselves.
The ARL team found it was necessary and helpful to regularly take stock of how the program was
going and whether or not they were staying on track. As part of the customized training, facilitators
from the ASPCA returned 6-8 weeks after the program’s launch to help staff work out kinks they’d
come across during implementation.
ARL offered the following example of the importance of evaluation: The follow-up team found that ARL
staff members were not consistently asking potential adopters to bring resident dogs to meet new
dogs, which is part of the Meet Your Match™ program. Once they put this into action, the shelter saw
a decrease in new dog/resident dog conflicts.
Three months prior to starting Meet Your Match™, the ARL had an 8% return rate for adoptions.
Interestingly, 6 months into the program, the return rate increased to 12%. However by months 7, 8,
and 9, returns dropped to 5%.
ARL leaders speculate that the initial increase in returns may reflect the different dynamic between
adopter and adoption counselor inherent in Meet Your Match™. At the same time, ARL was re-
instituting a follow-up program, which extended communication with adopters. It is possible that
adopters felt more comfortable bringing an animal back to the shelter, feeling less likely to be judged
While formal public surveys have not been done, the shelter reports more positive public interactions
and few ―I need to speak to the manager‖ moments. Also, staff members are denying fewer
adoptions—not because they have become less cautious, but because the Meet Your Match™ program
guides adopters to make smarter choices.
The rate of dog adoptions for the first 11 months of the program increased by 3% over the previous
11 month period.
Addressing staff concerns about the organization’s new approach to adoptions
Widespread attendance at the Meet Your Match™ seminar and two way communications
amongst ARL staff members and leadership
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Flexible and dedicated staff members who were willing to take a plunge and work extra hard
at the outset because they believed in the benefits offered by the program
How They Feel About What They Did
They cannot imagine going back to their former adoption procedures. This is especially significant
given that members of ARL staff at first had concerns about being able to let go of what they now see
as their perceived control over adoptions.
Meet Your Match™ is not just another way of controlling adoptions. By design, this program relies on
and thereby fosters a better relationship between the shelter and its community. The public
appreciates and understands the shelter’s user friendly efforts to find them the best companion
Their Next Steps
The ARL became a test site for the Meet Your Match™ Feline-ality Adoption Program, and now uses
Feline-ality for all its cat adoptions.
Some Words of Wisdom
ARL leaders name staff enthusiasm as the greatest factor for the success of their Meet Your Match™
program. Staff members not only took a chance on a new approach, they devoted themselves to its
success. They were rewarded with a decrease in adoption returns, many more positive interactions
with the public, and ultimately --less stress for themselves.
Be Prepared For
In addition to the behavior and temperament evaluation prior to adoption, Meet Your Match™ requires
two additional components—the Canine-ality or Puppy-ality assessment and the adopter survey. These
are on top of an already busy shelter schedule. What was once a jammed pack day became a jammed
pack day run with military precision. Ongoing communication between kennel and adoption staff
becomes more important than ever. This was challenging but surmountable due to the energy and
motivation of the ARL team.
Even welcome changes are challenging. The ARL was moving from a traditional adoption program
based on rigid screening of adoptive parents by shelter counselors, to a program that relies on
assessment tools and emphasizes customer service and two-way communications. Even after training,
staff members were having a tough time letting go of long-held adoption requirements. These
requirements included landlord checks, vet checks, and requiring all pets in the home to be spayed or
Staff members and supervisors teamed up to take an honest look at what they were holding on to,
why, and whether or not they should continue. Together they worked out new policies aimed at
maximizing shelter animals’ potential to be re-homed. For example:
They let go of requiring all animals in a home to be altered prior to adoption approval. Now,
the ARL focuses on the fact that the animal they are placing is sterilized, and they take the
opportunity to discuss their spay/neuter assistance program with those folks who have intact
animals at home.
In the past, the ARL required pet owners who had gone through their low-income spay/neuter
program to wait one year before adopting a new pet from the shelter. Through discussion,
team members conceded that this policy was punishing people for doing the right thing. As a
result they suspended the year requirement if it seems the client is now in a position to
provide for a pet. At the same time, staff members maintain the ability to make extra inquiries
(i.e. with veterinarians or landlords) if warranted. These changes have been embraced as
improvements by staff and by the adopting public.
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The ARL offers a few additional suggestions to help things move more smoothly.
Keep all of the materials related to color coding of dogs (kennel cards) and people (guest
passes) organized and in a central location. Adoption staff code adopter surveys and provide
guess passes, so the adoption desk works best. This is also a good location for the laminator.
Kennel staff struggled with logistics of proper signage on dogs in their adoption ward. Too
many papers and forms can be overwhelming and confusing because they are written in terms
or codes the public doesn’t always understand. Only two pieces of information are kept on the
kennels, the color coded cage card and the individual animal’s ―web story.‖ This creates a
uniform appearance and provides adopters with useful information in a digestible format. All
supplemental paperwork including medical forms, behavior evaluations, and Meet Your
Match™ assessments are kept in each animal’s personal folder (just like you have a folder at
your doctor’s office).
A staff member with a knack for writing prepares short stories on each animal. Each story is
posted on the ARL website with the animal’s photo. In the shelter, the stories are posted with
the Meet Your Match™ cage card on the animal’s kennel/cage. These stories act as a unique
way to tell adopters what is known about each animal based on input from owners and shelter
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Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland:
Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland
449 Stroudwater Street
Westbrook, ME 04092
The mission of the Animal Refuge League (ARL) is to provide
temporary care and shelter for stray, abandoned, and
relinquished animals, and to place as many as possible into responsible and caring homes. The ARL
also works to create awareness and support for the humane treatment of all animals and to end
animal overpopulation through education and the promotion of spaying and neutering.
19 full time and 1 part time staff members:
Management level positions: 4
Department coordinators: 4
Visitor Services department: 3
Animal Care Technicians: 6
Adoption counselors*: 6-7
*Adoption counselors include Animal Care Technicians and Visitor Services staff who work with
animals and the public.
501(c) 3 private, non-profit corporation
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Humane Society of Boulder Valley
Progressive adoption program
The Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) in Boulder, Colorado, has a
comprehensive approach to adoptions that focuses on meeting the needs of
animals and their new guardians. They have shifted their adoption process
from screening clients according to rigid guidelines to matching clients and
pets through an open conversation made possible by a climate of trust,
communication and understanding. The new approach has come to be known as open adoptions.
HSBV implemented its open adoption process in 1997.
By 1998, adoptions had increased by over 30%
By 2004, adoptions were 67% higher than in 1997.
How Cool is That?
It’s not just quantity, but the quality of the adoptions that's possible with the open adoption process.
Increasing adoptions is only part of the benefit. By paying attention to the needs of both sides of the
pet/guardian relationship in the adoption process, HSBV facilitates stronger connections. Due to its
emphasis on customer service, HSBV's approach also improves community support.
Adopt or Adapt
Your organization doesn't have to be just like the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, nor must your
community be like the city of Boulder. Open adoption programs are very successfully in communities
across the country in big cities such as Boston and Dallas, and in small, rural communities such as
Leverett, MA, and Keene, NH. With organization-wide dedication and a willingness to embrace change,
you can find your own way to better adoptions by following this effective planning process.
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Humane Society of Boulder Valley: The Whole Story
Progressive adoption program
The Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) in Boulder, Colorado, has
a comprehensive approach to adoptions that focuses on meeting the
needs of animals and their new guardians.
They shifted their adoption process from screening clients according to
rigid guidelines to matching clients and pets through an open
conversation made possible by a climate of trust, communication and
understanding. The new approach has come to be known as open
Who They Are and What They Do
Humane Society of Boulder Valley
Connie Howard, Director of Operations
HSBV operates a full-service open-admission shelter, a full-service veterinary clinic, and a Training &
Behavior Center in the Boulder area. More than 7,600 lost, homeless, neglected, and abused pets
were sheltered in 2004. The Veterinary Clinic provided 342 discounted treatments and over 180
surgeries; 3,163 clients were served by the Training & Behavior Center.
In 1997, HSBV pioneered a new approach to adoptions. What has become known as ―open adoptions‖
refers to a friendly and collaborative discussion between shelter professionals and potential adopters.
The stunning success of their program gained national attention, spurring the first Adoption Forum in
1999, sponsored by PetSmart Charities and organized by American Humane Association. Animal
welfare leaders from around the nation met to re-evaluate traditional adoption procedures. This profile
describes the research, planning, and implementation of HSBV's pioneering open adoptions program.
Note: ASPCA® National Outreach profiled HSBV in 2006. Jan McHugh-Smith, then CEO, provided a
wealth of information and insight about becoming an open-adoptions shelter. Jan is now CEO of San
Ingredients and Prep Work
Consensus and commitment to change from all levels of the organization or agency: the board
or governing council, executive, administrative, and line staff, and volunteers
Standard operating procedures that promote the physical, emotional, and behavioral health of
Access to resources that support the pet/guardian relationship, such as pet training tools and
classes (These can come from within the organization or from services available in the
HSBV found it effective to involve members of the board, staff, and volunteers in the planning
Volunteers or staff members who are willing and able (through training and/or experience) to
let go of their reliance on using adoption criteria to approve or deny potential adopters and
instead engage in constructive discussions with potential adopters in order to facilitate good
Volunteers or staff who are knowledgeable about internal and external resources that will help
new pet guardians get through typical and sometimes inevitable ―bumps,‖ such as behavior
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issues, pets and allergies, or pets and new babies (This knowledge can also be gained through
Up-front Costs and Startup Funding
According to HSBV, a transition to an open adoption process doesn't have to involve extra costs:
Depending on your organization’s resources and expertise, you may need to invest in training
for staff and volunteers to enhance their knowledge in order to provide the best guidance
possible to adopters during the initial consultation, and following adoption. Training topics
could include providing effective customer service, knowledge of breeds, training, and animal
Some organizations may want to provide supplemental resources to new adopters, such as
While there may be fees associated with such staff and customer training, it may also be possible to
arrange for in-kind donations from local professional trainers or to utilize free handouts and resources
available from various national organizations.
The time is in the planning. HSBV formed a committee to look at its adoption program in 1996. Work
was completed by 1997. After the planning was completed and introduced to the staff, they switched
to open adoptions immediately.
Step by Step
1. Assemble a planning team.
In 1996 HSBV knew they had to increase adoptions in both quantity and quality in order to maintain
zero euthanasia of adoptable animals in an open admission facility. A planning committee made up of
board members, staff, and volunteers formed to evaluate adoption related programs, suggest
changes, and create a ―map‖ to execute these changes.
HSBV found it was crucial to have everyone represented—those who set and oversee policies and
procedures and those who carry them out. Equally important was each committee member’s
commitment to creating a safe atmosphere where everyone could honestly and respectfully share
ideas and concerns in order to develop a new vision for the adoption program.
2. Identify strengths and weaknesses.
The planning team took a hard and honest look at the current adoption program. They looked at the
adoption process itself and found that it was unreasonably lengthy (lasting up to two days), causing
bottlenecks with cages and kennels. The team recognized that their adoption protocol was driven
entirely from the perspective of shelter policy, with no consideration given to what the adopter
brought to the table; adoptions procedures seemed designed to screen people out, instead of guiding
Community feedback was essential to gain objective insight. HSBV realized that if they wanted to
know about their adoption program, they had to be willing to hear the perspective of their adoption
pool. Their opinion matters most when considering why people adopt and why they don’t.
The HSBV team found that all they really had to do was listen—really listen-- to what the public was
already telling them:
Members of the public were turned off by a complex adoption procedure that didn’t seem to
take them into consideration.
They complained that the process felt more like an interrogation, which put them on the
defensive, discouraging the type of communication that is important in an adoption exchange.
Despite having to jump through hoops to adopt a shelter animal, the public felt inadequately
served, sometimes finding it hard to find out information on available animals.
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Ultimately, many adopters were leaving the shelter with a negative impression and going
somewhere else to get a pet.
The HSBV team also took the important step of examining their strong points. They understood that
their strengths would serve them through the change process:
People who successfully adopted from the shelter generally turned out to be long term
supporters and referred friends and relatives to the shelter.
HSBV had a strong foundation that resulted in happy matches—as long as adopters met all the
Staff members were dedicated, friendly, and committed to offering good customer service.
HSBV had implemented temperament testing in the early 90s, so they could feel more
confident about the safety of their adoptable animals.
Effective shelter operating procedures, including cleaning protocols and disease prevention
also ensured healthier adoptable animals.
Because of the organization’s commitment to end the euthanasia of adoptable animals, dogs
and cats were staying in the shelter longer. In response to this, HSBV developed a strong
focus on behavioral enrichment and in-shelter training. In addition to promoting better health,
this also made adoptable animals even more desirable to the public and reduced post adoption
behavior problems, which are a common cause of relinquishment.
The team realized that they had something special to offer—great animals at a highly competitive
Finally, a look at statistics showed that adoptions had been increasing each year, not as much as they
could, they knew, but still an increase. The team identified marketing efforts for adoptable animals
and mobile pet adoptions as effective strategies for increasing adoptions. By knowing where they
stood, the committee was better able to identify where they wanted to go as well as what they had
and what they would need to get there.
3. Look at the research.
Rather than following their ―gut‖ or operating on assumptions, HSBV planners looked into a number of
studies that provided insight into areas such as pet relinquishment and adoptions, especially those
commissioned by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP).
As a result, they realized that some of their long held adoption policies were unfounded:
Despite the common suspicion that pets should never be given as gifts, one team of
researchers found that guardians who had received a pet as a gift from friends or loved ones
were less likely to surrender that animal to a shelter.
Several studies revealed behavior problems as a primary threat to the human animal bond.
This told HSBV that they needed to pay more attention to behavior issues at the shelter,
including being prepared to offer assistance to new guardians after they’d taken their pet
4. Look in the mirror.
Strict and complex adoption guidelines come out of a desire to protect the animals. Adoption staff
have such a short time to decide if a person or family could offer the perfect home for an animal that
the temptation was to ask as many questions as possible to uncover any problems.
But does this work? HSBV staff took a closer look at their own lives and own pets and asked the
difficult question—Would my shelter adopt to me? Following the letter of the law, the answer was
often No. Shelter staff work long hours, don’t get paid high salaries, often have multiple (special
needs) pets, and don’t always have a fenced-in-yard or even their landlord’s approval for their
companions. None of this diminishes their love or commitment to their pets. Was it the case that staff
members were the only ones capable of responsibly caring for pets outside the bounds of their
adoption criteria? HSBV realized that most ―imperfect‖ members of the public were at least as
qualified as they were to give a good home to an animal.
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5. Tear down the walls.
HSBV wanted to provide for animals’ needs as well as the needs and expectations of the guardians
who would care for them. They considered all of the good homes they’d turned away in the past
because someone, who was probably feeling on the defensive, didn’t correctly respond to questions
during a brief and rigid interview. Not only had they lost a home for a shelter animal, but they had
also lost their ability to influence that pet guardian.
The intricate rules designed to protect animals didn’t seem to be serving the animals’ best interests.
Instead of building a relationship with their community, which would lead to support and greater
impact on their mission, they were building barriers and bad feelings. So HSBV decided change was
Instead of an adoption interrogation, they would institute adoption consultations.
Instead of question and answer, in which the shelter staff asked all the questions, there would
be a conversation.
And instead of avoiding risks to ―protect‖ the animals, they would take risks for the sake of
6. Prepare for change.
HSBV prepared for the difficulties inherent in any cultural shift by involving staff representatives in the
initial evaluation and planning process. Once they had developed their new vision for a streamlined
adoption process that would serve both pets and potential guardians--they were careful about how
they introduced the vision to the full staff. First, based on individual meetings with management,
HSBV leaders determined what staff members would need in order to feel comfortable about the
Then, they presented the concept at an all staff meeting. Staff members who championed the open
adoption concept actually introduced the idea. The meeting covered:
the society’s goal of changing their approach to adoptions
how the change would affect staff personally
management’s responsibility in making the change
how the change might affect animals
how it would change the staff’s jobs
how staff could implement the change
asking for additional changes could be made to refine the adoption process that weren’t
addressed by the planning committee
Staff concerns were also heard at this meeting and addressed in the new adoption paradigm. It was a
new policy, but one which reflected input from all levels of the organization.
7. Define the new vision.
HSBV identified a few main points and ground rules for adoption counseling:
People who come to an animal shelter to relinquish, drop off a stray, or adopt an animal are
trying to do the right thing, and we acknowledge that by respecting them.
In adopters we trust. Through open communication about the animal’s needs and adopter’s
ability to meet those needs, we will facilitate pet/guardian matches.
If adopters return an animal because their adoption did not work out, they are trying to do the
best thing for that animal, they can provide additional information to assist placing that animal
again, and they are complying with our request to bring the animal back to us. We respect
them for their honesty. We do not make them feel guilty. We offer them another chance.
Adoption returns do not mean failure.
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If adopters are interested in an animal inappropriate for their lifestyle, we empower staff to
counsel and guide adopters to an appropriate animal or refuse an adoption.
There will be times when we are not sure an adoption will work. Adopters will be given the
opportunity to introduce the animal into their home before an adoption. No hard feelings if it is
not the right match. The animal gets a few days out of the shelter, and the adopter will be
encouraged to try again.
We are committed to providing post-adoption support to the adopter to assist with the
transition into the new household, and beyond.
8. Implement the vision.
After completing the planning and introducing it to staff, HSBV felt it was important to make an
immediate and complete switchover to the new adoption paradigm. The adoption supervisor
constantly checked in with staff in order to assess how well the change was working and to address
concerns as they happened.
They replaced the old 4-page application with a ―Pets and People Profile‖ customized for each species
available for adoption. This profile captures basic information about the adopter and about those
qualities each adopter is looking for in a pet. Adopters are asked to identify the topics they want to
discuss, such as housetraining or new pet introductions. They are also given options that would once
have been mandatory, such as whether or not they would like the shelter to contact their landlord as a
courtesy. These open-ended questions don’t have right or wrong answers; they facilitate the adoption
process by stimulating discussion that leads to better matches.
HSBV leaders also created an additional list of open-ended questions to guide counselors. In line with
the profiles, questions are aimed at capturing potential adopters’ expectations as well as what they
wanted and needed to know in order to become a guardian to an HSBV animal. Examples of questions
―What would you do if this dog didn’t get along with other pets?‖
―I noticed you are looking for a declawed cat. What are your concerns about taking home a cat
Even the adoption contract reflects HSBV’s new approach. It opens with the shelter’s contribution to
the adoption agreement, including statements such as, ―We recognize some pet matches may not be
successful through no fault of the person or pet. We will welcome you and your returned pet back. If
you are able to rehome the animal, we ask that you provide us with the new family’s contact
information so that we may continue to provide support to that animal.‖
9. Test your concerns.
HSBV tracked adoption return rates in order to feel more confident about their new approach to
adoptions. After the first year, despite a 30% increase in adoptions, the average return rate increased
only from 8.4% to 9.6%.
HSBV also made another crucial change: they started to look at an adoption return in a more positive
light rather than as a failure on the part of the shelter or the adopter. Because many of the animals
adopted out were strays with little or no history, an adoption return facilitated getting information
about the animal to better match the animal’s needs with the next guardian.
Within the first year of the new program, adoptions increased by over 30%, despite an increase in
total incoming animals. In 2004, adoptions were 67% higher than in 1997, the last year of the old
Cooperation and involvement from all levels of the organization
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A willingness to challenge long held beliefs and preconceived notions about adoption
A commitment to trusting the public
Acknowledging that effective customer service is as important to animal shelters as proper
cleaning procedures and disease control
Thinking Outside the Box
Often in the animal protection field, staff and volunteers focus all of their energy and attention on the
animals. While the animals are obviously important, they are not the entire story. No shelter can care
for every animal in a community. It must rely on the help of citizens for support—as volunteers,
donors, word-of-mouth advertisers, adopters and impressionable pet guardians who have the option
of listening to an organization’s messages about responsible pet care or not. This reliance requires
putting trust in others and acting in a way that invites their trust in return.
HSBV acknowledged that members of the public are essential partners in carrying out their mission on
behalf of animals. This has paid off in increased adoptions, which equals more lives saved. The impact
of more constructive interactions with the community is harder to measure but equally significant.
How They Feel About What They Did
HSBV staff grew to appreciate the flexibility of the new adoption process. They found that having
discussions with adopters in a non-judgmental atmosphere facilitated a better decision on the part of
the adopter. They also found the process of follow-up easier because of the trusting relationship that
had been forged with the new pet guardian. Today, almost seven years after the new program was
implemented, their innovative idea just makes good common sense.
Their Next Steps
HSBV will always look for new ways to better serve their community of pets and guardians. The
shelter is currently working with The ASPCA to implement the Meet Your Match program in order to
provide even stronger pet/people matches.
Some Words of Wisdom
The public didn’t let them down. The risk of giving folks who didn’t quite match the old adoption
criteria a chance to provide a loving home to a pet proved not so risky after all. Given an encouraging
and non-judgmental atmosphere, potential adopters really did engage more in the adoption
consultation and kept in touch after they had taken their new family member home.
In addition, clients were more open to taking advantage of other HSBV resources such as training,
behavior consultation, and veterinary services. And, they must have been telling their friends because
more animals found homes.
Be Prepared For
Despite careful efforts to help shelter staff cope with the change, not everyone was able to make the
transition, and some staff left. This created an opportunity for HSBV to shift their focus when hiring
new staff. Management sought out people who were client friendly, recruiting from areas that required
positive interaction with people, such as restaurants. They also recruited recent college graduates who
were eager to find employment where they could make a difference. Fortunately, the shelter was able
to find new employees who worked well in the new adoption program.
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Humane Society of Boulder Valley: Thumbnail
Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV)
Animal Shelter & Veterinary Clinic
2323 55th Street
Boulder, CO 80301
Training & Behavior Center
5320 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
The Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Boulder, Colorado, is a private non-profit corporation with
the mission of protecting and enhancing the lives of companion animals by promoting healthy
relationships between pets and people. HSBV defines itself as ―a complete pet resource dedicated to
protecting, healing, matchmaking, teaching, and reuniting.‖ The organization promises supporters,
―From the first moment you fall in love with your pet to sharing your lives together, the humane
society will be there to help you every step of the way.‖
HSBV operates an open-admission shelter, a veterinary clinic, and a Training & Behavior Center in the
Boulder area. HSBV sheltered more than 7,600 lost, homeless, neglected, and abused pets in 2004. Of
these 6,600 were placed through adoptions or were reunited with owners (1,000 animals were
euthanized because of significant health or temperament issues). In 2004, the veterinary clinic
provided 342 discounted treatments and over 180 surgeries; 3,163 clients were served by the
Training & Behavior Center.
HSBV has an exceptional reputation locally. Nationally, it is known for its progressive and effective
Cruelty and neglect investigations and animal care and control services
24/7 emergency rescue
Medical care for unwanted or stray domestic animals
Animal assisted therapy and animal visitations for facilities serving people in need
Subsidized sterilization surgery and veterinary care for pets of low-income families
Lost and found animals service
Foster care for injured, orphaned, and abused animals
Behavior and training classes for pets
Summer camp partnership with the YMCA to teach children empathy and compassion
Training to teach respect and care for animals, the importance of reducing pet overpopulation,
and preventing neglect and abuse
A Safe Haven program for pets whose guardians are in crisis situations
80 full and part-time staff members supplemented with over 590 volunteers
Full time equivalent staff include:
4 Animal Care and Control
14 Administration/Development/IT/Facilities Management
5 Behavior and Health
2.5 Behavior and Training Center
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20 Shelter (2 supervisors, 2 managers, and 16 Animal Welfare Associates who clean, care for
animals, and handle adoptions)
3.5 Thrift and Gift Shop
16 Veterinary Clinic
2 Volunteer department
$3,800,000 for 2005
501(c) 3 private, non-profit corporation
HSBV also contracts with the city of Boulder to provide animal care and control, including cruelty
investigations and after hour emergency service. HSBV provides housing services for stray animals
from unincorporated Boulder county and Broomfield County, and from the towns of Louisville,
Lafayette, and Erie.
Meet the Adopters Resource Pages — For more resources, visit www.ASPCApro.org R-18
HSBV: Open Ended Questions
What kind of pet are you looking for today?
What qualities are you looking for in a companion animal?
How would you describe your lifestyle?
What age range are you interested in?
What are your plans for the pet when you are gone during the day?
Tell me about your past experience with pets?
How much do you know about our training and behavior programs?
How long has it been since you’ve had a puppy or kitten?
I noticed you are looking for a declawed cat. What are your concerns with taking home a cat with
Would you be interested in looking at adult animals that have been training?
What type of sleeping arrangement are you able to provide for your pet?
Where will the animal be when kept when you are not home?
How do you plan on exercising your dog?
What are you most concerned about in adopting a pet?
What would you do if this dog didn’t get along with your current pets?
What would you do if your cat didn’t use the litter box?
What behaviors do you think you can’t be tolerated or would be difficult for you to manage?
Tell me about the types of activities you’d like to do with the dog.
What questions do you have for me?
Meet the Adopters Resource Pages — For more resources, visit www.ASPCApro.org R-19
HSBV: Pet Adoption Agreement
______________________ ________________________ ______________
Client Name Mailing Address Street (if different)
________ _________ ___________ ________________
City State Zip Phone (home, work ) Email A
The Humane Society Boulder Valley understands and agrees to the following:
We are here to promote a healthy relationship between you and your pet.
We encourage you to call us with any questions and concerns and ask that you respond to our
follow up requests by phone or email.
Included with your dog adoption is an invitation to attend our How to Live with Your Dog
Workshop at no cost to you. Register with the HSBV Training and Behavior Center at 303-
We recognize some pet matches may not be successful through no fault of the person or the
pet. We will welcome you and your returned pet back If you are able to rehome the animal,
we ask that you provide us with the new families contact information so we may continue to
provide support to that animal.
The Humane Society strives to provide you with a healthy pet. However, the stress of
changing environments can lower an animal’s immunity to fight disease and the pet could
harbor an infection without displaying symptoms. We cannot guarantee the health of any
1. I am 18 years of age or older.
2. I understand that I am adopting this animal with the following diagnosed condition or fault,
and I realize that this animal may need further training or treatment.
3. I will take the animal to a veterinarian within 14 days of adoption for a general physical
examination and any necessary vaccinations, deworming, medications or medical treatment,
at my own expense.
4. I may return the animal for an exchange or adoption refund within 14 days for a previously
undiagnosed health reason verified by a licensed veterinarian. The Humane Society does not
reimburse for medical bills.
5. I will provide a humane environment, regular exercise and companionship for my pet. I will
have the animal inoculated against rabies and abide by animal control laws.
6. I understand and agree that the Humane Society Boulder Valley makes no express or implied
warranty, representation or promise to the age, health, breed, habits, disposition or safety of
the animal. I hereby accept the animal as is, assume all risks and responsibilities associated
with the ownership of the Animal, including bites, and I hereby fully and completely release,
indemnify and hold harmless the Humane Society Boulder Valley, its directors, officers,
volunteers, servants, and employees from any claim, cause of action or liability of any sort or
nature, whether known or unknown, directly or indirectly arising out of or in connection with
the adoption, care or ownership, maintenance, temperament or condition of the Animal.
I acknowledge that I have read and fully understand the terms and conditions of the foregoing
adoption contract and that I will comply with the same.
___________________________ ___________ _____________
Adopters signature Date Staff signature
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Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society
Progressive adoptions that serve pets and people
Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, a small shelter in rural Leverett, MA,
recognizes that serving people well is critical to serving the animals in their care.
The shelter made a decision to create "a culture of understanding and respect" for
the human customers, coworkers, and volunteers who come to the shelter.
A key element of this cultural shift is their open adoption program, in which
communication with potential adopters is congenial and collaborative rather than
bureaucratic and rule-bound.
Their emphasis on customer care has made them the busiest animal shelter in their region in less than
They continue to receive terrific feedback about clients’ experience with Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane
Their adoption numbers have soared to record heights in the past 3 years (without any increase in the
return rate). Part of this is due to more outreach efforts and staff specifically devoted to outreach, but
part of it is due to a change in shelter culture that began about 4 years ago.
How Cool is That?
At ASPCA® National Outreach, we're impressed by Dakin's grasp of the "big picture": they understand
that animal welfare goes beyond treating animals well. Dakin Executive Director Leslie Harris says it
very well: "If we aren’t able to help humans, we won’t be able to help animals. It’s that simple."
Adopt or Adapt
You don't have to be a big shelter to think big, as this modest shelter's experience clearly shows.
Dakin has taken advantage of the access to information and ideas offered by the internet to find new
ways of doing things. One helpful model for them was the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, CO,
which has numerous progressive programs, including an open adoption program profiled by ASPCA®
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Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society: The Whole
The Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society
believes that in order to help animals, they
need to help their people.
Their adoption process isn't governed by the
standard ―application/interview‖ process used
by traditional shelters. Instead, they use a
―pets and people profile‖ designed to gather
basic information from the humans, but most
of the process is conversational.
Who They Are and What They Do
Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, Leverett, MA
Leslie Harris, Executive Director
Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society cares for approximately 1200 animals per year at its shelter and
provides low-cost spay/neuter services to approximately 1000 more animals in the Pioneer Valley of
western Massachusetts. Their objective in moving to a more open adoption process is to put the right
people together with the right animals while providing exceptional customer service. They have also
committed to making adoption follow-up—counseling, support, and accepting their own returns part of
the adoption process.
The changes in the adoption process were part of a larger organization shift to create a culture within
the shelter "that celebrates relationships with humans (clients, volunteers, each other) as much as it
does relationships with cats and dogs."
Ingredients and Prep Work
The great news about the prerequisites for implementing an open adoption process in your shelter is
that lots of money, people, and material resources aren't necessary to make it happen. For Dakin, two
critical prerequisites were:
A willingness to use their own creativity and energy to change the way they did things.
The creation of a "culture of understanding and respect" within the organization that can then
extend to the people the shelter serves
The adoption process that is in place today took about two years to plan and implement. They can
already see that the process will continue to evolve as they meet new needs or incorporate new ideas .
Step by Step
1. Have a series of discussions about where staff members were in their own
thinking and behaviors 10-15 years ago.
According to Leslie Harris, candid answers to questions like the following helped staff see potential
adopters in a more sympathetic light:
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Did we allow our animals to breed?
Did we let our dogs run off leash?
Did we put ID tags on our cats?
Was there a time when we weren't perfect animal lovers, and if so, what changed us? Was it
being called ignorant or cruel? Or was it being directed to a great book or being told of
another's enlightenment regarding the treatment of animals in their care?
These discussions became the starting point for getting the buy-in of adoption staff for making
changes to both the adoption process and the culture of the organization itself.
2. Understand the role people play in the organization's existence and therefore in
the lives of the animals in its care.
As a result of their discussions, the Dakin staff "have a better understanding of the role people play in
the very existence of our shelter. As a private, nonprofit shelter, we rely on the good graces and
generous donations of the people who use or appreciate our services. Mistreating them will get us
nowhere," says Leslie Harris.
"And if we aren't able to help humans, we won't be able to help other animals. It's that simple."
3. Identify current practices that may work against creating a culture of respect.
Dakin previously had policies such as insisting on proof of home ownership and making adopters wait
2 days before allowing them to take a dog home. Harris says, "In reality, such measures mean you
insult far more terrific people while you are trying to 'catch' the rare person doing the wrong thing."
4. Seek out models for better practices.
The internet is a wonderful resource for models, ideas, and materials. Harris recommends joining
some of the e-mail listservs (online "bulletin boards" where members can post questions to the group
and read all the responses via e-mail) that are available for those in the animal welfare field. Members
of those lists are willing to answer questions and share materials and experiences. In addition, many
shelters and animal welfare organizations have websites that provide good information about the
organizations' successful practices.
5. Adapt models and materials to fit your needs, and try them out.
Expect this to be an ongoing process. Harris recommends talking to people who use the forms about
how they work and continuing to experiment. She says, "Anytime we see something we like, we find
out more about it and adapt it to our use." For example, Dakin's Pets and People Profile is based on a
similar document from the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. (HSBV's open adoption program is also
profiled by ASPCA® National Outreach.)
6. Bring personnel policies in line with your customer service goals and the culture
you want to create.
Dakin's original personnel policy was about 4 pages long and covered only the nuts and bolts of
employment, such as days off and comp time. They recently completed a new personnel policy that is
30 pages long. Harris says that in addition to covering the nuts and bolts, the new policy "also talks
about how we expect staff to treat clients, animals, and one another. This gives managers more of a
tool to address staff who are struggling to treat people well."
Leslie Harris identified several key indicators of success due to the changes in their shelter culture and
their more collaborative relationship with their customers:
Meet the Adopters Resource Pages — For more resources, visit www.ASPCApro.org R-23
Their emphasis on customer care has made them the busiest animal shelter in their region in
less than 10 years.
They continue to receive terrific feedback about clients’ experience with Dakin Pioneer Valley
Humane Society compared to other shelters they have visited.
Their adoption numbers have soared to record heights in the past 3 years (without any
increase in the return rate). Part of this is due to more outreach efforts and staff specifically
devoted to outreach, but part of it is due to a change in shelter culture that began about 4
While Dakin is a limited-admission animal shelter, they do keep track of the number of animals from
their service area who are admitted to the open-admission shelter located in a city outside the service
area. Those numbers continue to fall, due in part to Dakin's ability to help more animals through their
adoption program or their prevention programs.
Harris identifies her colleagues at Dakin as the critical factor in their success: "A great staff that has
been willing to change or gracefully step aside so that change could happen. I’ve never met a harder
working, more dedicated bunch of humans than those I’ve worked alongside in animal shelters over
the years. They should all be dressed up in tights and capes and be featured in comic books!"
Thinking Outside the Box
By abandoning rigid one-size-fits-all adoption criteria and replacing them with a more flexible,
open-minded approach, Dakin has been able to set up programs that match people and
animals with special circumstances:
Their Seniors for Seniors program waives the adoption fees for dogs and cats over age 5 that
are adopted by people over age 60. Mature animals who might otherwise languish in the
shelter can more easily find loving homes with mature folks who still want an animal in their
Their Barn Cat program matches felines who aren't house-cat material (due to extreme
independence, fear of people, or intractable litter-box issues) with people who have working
barns or heated outbuildings where one or more of these cats can live.
Their Next Steps
Leslie Harris says that at Dakin, they see their programs as works in progress and are always open to
new ways of doing things. They intend to revise their adoption contract and the release statement
people sign when they bring in an animal. Dakin would like to make both forms more user-friendly.
Some Words of Wisdom
Getting the buy-in of staff to make changes
Investing in the time and effort through meetings, discussions, and planning to enable staff to
understand that better serving people ultimately serves the animals
Using the internet to find models to try out
Contacting colleagues at shelters whose materials they admire. Harris says, "I’ve NEVER met
resistance from anyone in all the times we’ve asked for help. People are proud to share what
they do. We are, after all, in this together!"
Developing a personnel policy that makes conscientious treatment of other people an essential
responsibility for all employees
Establishing hiring criteria that emphasize great people skills
Meet the Adopters Resource Pages — For more resources, visit www.ASPCApro.org R-24
Dakin learned that retaining workers with great animal skills but very poor people skills interfered with
the positive human culture they wanted to create.
Be Prepared For
Leslie Harris says that staff who were unwilling or unable to change the way they related to other
people was their most serious challenge:
"Be patient. Be understanding. Change is hard for some people. Give your staff time and allow them
to find their own way. At the same time, don’t tolerate abusive behavior toward people any more than
you would tolerate it toward animals.
"The biggest challenges we faced were staff who were jaded by their experiences. Part of this stems
from the fact that these were staff members who came to the work because of their love of animals—
and that continued to be their primary motivation. While that is laudable, those aren’t necessarily the
people with the best interpersonal skills. And we could watch that spill over into other human
relationships—they would be short-tempered with volunteers or unfairly critical of their co-workers.
But with non-humans, they were amazingly tender and patient.
"We needed to help these folks see a couple of things: that mistreating humans (whether clients or
co-workers) was unacceptable; that they did not have a monopoly on a love of animals; that our work
could not be done—in fact it would suffer if we did not treat people well. After a while, many of these
employees came to see that this was not a culture they fit into. The standards for extraordinary
customer service or mature relationships with co-workers were simply not something they were able
to meet. They parted as amicably as possible, and we were able to replace them with people who met
our hiring criteria of prioritizing great people skills on the principle that animal-handling experience
could be learned."
Meet the Adopters Resource Pages — For more resources, visit www.ASPCApro.org R-25
DPVHS: Thumbnail Sketch
Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society
163 Montague Road
Leverett, MA 01054
The Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society works with their community to strengthen the bond
between animals and people, enhancing the quality of their lives through compassionate sheltering,
responsible adoptions, education, and community outreach.
Originally founded in 1982 as Friends of Amherst’s Stray Animals by the late Janet Wilder Dakin and
friends, the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society opened its doors to the public in 1995. Today, the
Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society serves more than 1,200 cats, dogs, puppies, and kittens at its
small shelter in rural Leverett, Massachusetts. The shelter serves nearly 1,000 more animals and their
people through its various free and low-cost spay/neuter assistance programs.
Their programs include:
Adoptions (including Dixie Dogs, Retired Greyhounds, Barn Cat Relocation, Seniors for
Seniors, Lonely Hearts Club)
Spay/Neuter (including Feral Spay Sunday, King Fund, SNAP, and all shelter animals)
Education (including humane education for schools, colleges, & adults)
Outreach (including Safety Plan for Animals, Red Cross Service Partnership, Pet Visitation to
Nursing Homes, Pet Food Bank, Companion Dog Training)
Full-Time: Executive Director, Development Director, Humane Educator, Shelter Manager,
Assistant Shelter Manager, 2 Adoption Counselors
Part-Time: Bookkeeper, Administrative Assistant, 2 Adoption Counselors, 2 Animal Caregivers
Lots and lots of volunteers!
For FY 2005, $492,000
501(c) (3) nonprofit
Meet the Adopters Resource Pages — For more resources, visit www.ASPCApro.org R-26
DPVHS: Barn Cat Program
Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society sometimes has cats who cannot live as house pets. Cats in their
barn cat program fall into three categories:
Cats whose litterbox habits make them unsuitable for house pets
Cats who are just too independent to appreciate being cooped up in cages in the shelter
Cats who are shy/fearful of people, and prefer the company of other cats and animals
They do not adopt cats who are suitable to be house pets to barns, only cats without other options.
This is the last chance for these cats; they have nowhere else to go - and for some, time is limited.
The barn cat program reaches out to those with a working barn or safe, heated outbuilding. Having a
barn cat or cats will help keep down the rodent population. The cats will be helping the property
owner, while the property owner provides the cats with a safe place to live. And, because these cats
are already spayed/neutered, the property owner won't have to worry about endless litters of kittens
What Dakin Provides
All cats available for adoption to barns are spayed/neutered and vaccinated. When a barn cat(s) is
adopted, Dakin staff will go over how to acclimate the new cat(s) to the barn and make them feel at
The $30 adoption fee for barn cats helps Dakin cover some of their medical costs. Since many of these
cats thrive on the company of other cats, Dakin offers a $10 discount off the total when adopting
more than one barn cat at one time.
What You’ll Need
A farm or barn owner who will adopt the cats and agree to give them:
Shelter in barns, buildings, or stables
Daily food and water - cats cannot live on mousing alone
Long-term veterinary care, as needed (they're neutered and vaccinated at adoption)
A secure place to keep them for the first 2-3 weeks, while they acclimate to the barn. This can
be a tack room, or any secure indoor enclosure that they cannot escape from. (The shelter will
lend an introduction cage if no secure area is available.)
Meet the Adopters Resource Pages — For more resources, visit www.ASPCApro.org R-27
Oregon Humane Society: Adoption Policies and
Oregon Humane Society
PO Box 11364
Portland, OR 97211-0364
Adoption Mission: To place 100% of the adoptable animals coming to the shelter into responsible
homes utilizing excellent customer service skills.
The adoption of shelter animals is an opportunity to cement a relationship with a member of the public
for life. It is our hope that they continue to return for additional animals and spread a positive
message about our services. Everything that the public encounters during a visit will affect their
perception of OHS. If we are professional, friendly, helpful, and eager to facilitate the process, they
will appreciate our efforts no matter how busy we are.
Historically, animal shelters have made it difficult to adopt an animal. Many developed rules and
requirements that were difficult to meet. The reasoning was that rigid screening was the way to
ensure a good home. The result was that many people were unhappy with the way they were treated
when they tried to adopt an animal.
With so many animals needing good homes, and the only alternative euthanasia, OHS examined this
philosophy. Rather than placing requirements that restrict families from having animals, we provide
education that enables them to care for animals successfully. Dogs and cats are easy to obtain in the
community. A shelter animal will be altered and we can provide safeguards to ascertain that their care
is suitable. Should the family obtain an animal elsewhere, we cannot provide the education and
oversight that may improve the lives of their companion animals.
This approach has increased our adoption percentages and improved the way that OHS is perceived by
the public. We adhere to adoption guidelines but also listen to the individual story of each adopter.
They may not have a fence but walk the dog several times a day. The dog may live outside but on a
working farm where the humans spend much of their time outdoors as well.
Adoption guidelines are a framework for making decisions. OHS believes that animals that spend time
with their owners indoors develop strong bonds. Inside cats are far safer than cats allowed to
experience the dangers of the street and urban wildlife. Dogs that receive training are better
companions. We know these are truths but also acknowledge that there are many approaches to
quality pet ownership. When in doubt, we will weigh on the side of the adopter unless we have reason
to believe the animal will be in danger. There are safeguards we can put into place in these situations.
The public should always be treated in a courteous and professional manner. Without community
support, we could not provide the care that OHS animals deserve.
Adoption guideline ―non-negotiables‖ include:
No animals will knowingly be released to an individual with a history of violence or neglect to
animals or humans
No animals will knowingly be released for animal fighting or human attack purposes
Animals will be surgically altered previous to leaving the building except in situations that may
endanger their health
Animals kept outside will be provided with substantial (more than one hour) daily exercise and
Animals placed into homes will have a history of non-aggression and non-violent behavior
towards humans and, in most cases, animals
Animals placed into homes without confinement will be contained in a manner that is both safe
and humane, not including chaining for long periods of time
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It is our desire that animals adopted from OHS provide a lifetime of safe and pleasurable company.
Animals new to the shelter are observed and undergo a behavior and temperament test to ascertain
how the animal will react in different encounters.
The animal’s previous history will play a part in the decision to place them for adoption:
Animals with histories of unprovoked aggression to humans or other animals are excluded
from being placed.
Animals with severe or chronic illness or injuries may be excluded depending on the likelihood
of successful treatment.
Animals with histories of severe destruction due to anxiety separation or behaviors causing
considerable difficulties to owners despite reasonable attempts to alleviate them may be
excluded from adoption. These may include chronic escaping from a fenced yard, house soiling
that cannot be reasonably alleviated, etc.
Placing such animals can cause a negative adoption experience that may prevent a client from ever
considering another shelter animal. Area supervisors make these difficult decisions based on the
history and staff observations. Staff, rescue groups, or volunteers who wish to intervene are expected
to take the animal as their own and place them without reference to OHS. No costs will be assigned,
other than necessary medical treatments and surgical sterilization. Until OHS is able to adopt all
animals in an expeditious manner, supervisors, the Animal Care Manager and the Operations Director,
without consultation of staff, will make difficult decisions. All notations regarding staff/volunteer
intentions to take the animal and personally place them must be on the Petwhere record, with a phone
number of a person willing to take the animal within a days notice.
The adoption procedure includes:
Welcoming the public with a smile and eye contact.
Encourage them to spend time with animals. Staff/volunteers should check the status of the
animals to be certain they are available for adoption. Looking in the corresponding files in the
adoption office does this. Inform the client of the animal’s availability and explain the back up
process if there is already an interested party.
Once the client has selected an animal, they complete an adoption application. Previous
applications are on file alphabetically. The application is attached to the original paperwork of
the animal. The person is called when there is an available adoption assistant. In the
meantime, they should be given an adoption booklet to review.
When an assistant is ready, the client/adopter will sit down with an Adoption Assistant to
complete the paperwork. Questions and logistics will be discussed at that time.
Most animals are taken directly to a veterinarian to be surgically sterilized Sterilization fees
are added to the adoption fees.
Some animals are put on temporary ―holds‖ that require a non refundable fee. These are
generally 24 hours so that the adopter can make the decision to adopt based on visits, family
discussions, and thought. This fee is not part of the adoption fee. Four hour holds on an
animal are at no charge, however, additional 24 hour holds are also charged the $15.00 hold.
If there is concrete reason to believe that an adopter may not provide minimum needs, we
may conduct home visits, require pet-owning histories, or obtain references from veterinarians
and animal control. It is up to the adoption assistant to decide when to implement these
additional safeguards to fulfill the same obligations and responsibilities as the public.
Once the adoption procedure is completed, the adopter pays for the adoption in the store and
then the animal is brought to the adoption office or lobby.
Adoption fees range from $10 to $400 depending on the animal. The ―standard‖ fee for a dog or cat is
$55 but can vary depending on the animal and length of stay. Very adoptable animals will cost more,
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older or special needs animals may cost less. Fees may be waived for special situations. Consult with a
supervisor if you feel a situation warrants a different fee.
Variable fees can result in criticism from the public. The way that we explain charging more for some
animals is that the public sets the value on the animal. Because the public seems to prefer small,
young and attractive animals, they are willing to pay more for the adoption fee. This enables our
shelter to hold older, less desirable animals for indeterminate periods and provide treatments for
animals that we never could before. This may not seem ―fair‖ when applied to animals. However, it
helps with the bottom line: helping every animal find a good home where it is valued.
With every dog and cat adoption, OHS provides a first vaccination and worming, a collar and Oregon
Humane Society registration tag, a microchip, a cardboard cat carrier for cats and a leash for dogs.
Dogs will also receive a temporary license for Multnomah County. There is also an initial health check
at a participating veterinarian (only covers the office visit, not medications or tests), and a dog or cat
information booklet. Dogs and cats are provided with 30 days of pet insurance which covers basic
illnesses usually found in shelters.
Rabbit adoptions are $35 and include a spayed or neutered rabbit, a microchip, a cardboard cat
carrier, and a rabbit information booklet.
Once an adoption is completed, the animal is logged off as adopted on the Shelterbuddy software. It is
extremely important that information is accurately entered. Searches are conducted by phone
numbers and last names. Incorrect information prevents effective access to information. An honest
effort to get an e-mail address enables the shelter to communicate with the adopters on many levels.
Any further contacts with owners should be documented on Shelterbuddy to provide others with a
history of the animal’s progress or issues.
Returns are animals that are brought in after failing to ―fit in‖ to a household. If the animal was
adopted and brought back after six months for a reason not involving the animal’s behavior, it would
be considered a surrendered animal.
Historically, returns were regarded as a ―failure‖ of the organization. Often the new owner was faulted
for not dealing with the issues. However, we place challenging animals and should not regard a return
as a failure. Adopting an animal is a leap of faith and returns are a reasonable expectation.
If the individual is returning the animal for a condition that they had been warned of during the
adoption, there may be ShelterBuddy notes regarding whether an exchange will be granted. If so,
consider it an opportunity to select an appropriate animal for the individuals and learn more about the
animal in the process. Make pertinent remarks in ShelterBuddy both about the animal and the owners
Animals brought back to the shelter by adopters have a new ShelterBuddy record completed.
Depending on how long an animal has been in the home, the owners may be asked to complete the
animal’s information sheet. Depending on the situation for return, you may grant an exchange for
another animal. In extreme cases, where the animal is very sick or aggressive and caused trauma in
the household, consult a supervisor regarding a refund. Checks are prepared and sent at a later time
but can be expedited in situations when warranted.
Oregon Humane Society adapted their policies and procedures manual from a manual provided by the
Humane Society of the United States (www.hsus.org).
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Wisconsin Humane Society: The Smart Way to
Choose a Cat
Considering adding a cat to the family? The Wisconsin Humane
Society offers the following information to help make the transition a
Examine your lifestyle. A busy family that is always on the go may
be wise to avoid an energetic kitten that will require a lot of time for
training and socialization. Try to match your lifestyle with the
temperament of a new cat. Remember, sometimes opposites attract.
Busy people may do well with an animal that is more sedate and
used to the comings and goings of a hectic household.
Get the whole family involved. Choosing a new animal companion
can be very exciting. Start your selection process at home by polling
family members and talking about the physical characteristics that
appeal to you, and most importantly, what personality will best suit
your environment and lifestyle.
The Adoption Counselors at the Wisconsin Humane Society can help
you to translate all of that information into a great match. If you
have one or more cats at home, describe them to our Adoption
Counselors and they can help you select the age and sex of a cat that will be able to adapt to your
household and resident cats.
Learn all you can. Visit the library, read books on the type of animal you are interested in and
attend seminars to learn how to correct or prevent any potential behavior problems. The Wisconsin
Humane Society offers free animal behavior seminars on dogs, cats rabbits and birds throughout the
year. Call Nora Hart at 414-431-6156 for more information.
Be prepared for your new animal's arrival. Animal Antics, the Wisconsin Humane Society's store
for creature comforts, is continually stocking new items and old favorites; all recommended by our
educators and veterinarians to help your cat make a smooth transition to his or her new home.
Adoption counselors will help you make the perfect selections for your new family member.
After your adoption, you can purchase the items you want online today or stop in to see us at the
WHS for all of your animal supply needs! All proceeds from the sale of the items on this site benefit
the animals at the Wisconsin Humane Society. Doesn't it feel great to support a store that makes life
better for animals?
Ask questions. When interacting with your potential new companion animal, ask about his or her
behavior. An animal's temperament is the most important factor in a successful adoption. The
Wisconsin Humane Society evaluates all animals available for adoption.
Adoption counselors are more than happy to answer any of your questions.
Adopt from an animal shelter. Most shelters have a large selection of mixed breed and some
purebred cats of all ages. The Wisconsin Humane Society offers a wealth of resources to people
adopting animals. Services include information on how to choose an animal, adoption counseling,
behavior seminars, low cost training classes and adoption follow-up support.
In addition, all adoptable animals are spayed or neutered, microchipped, vaccinated and tested for
heartworm or feline leukemia. You will also receive one month of free pet health insurance at the time
of your adoption!
If you would like more information or a free pamphlet on choosing a companion animal, please call
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Animal Rescue League of NH: Using High-Gain
Questions to Build Relationships
By Caroline Boyd, Animal Rescue League of NH
Open vs. Closed Questions
There are two basic kinds of questions: high-gain or open-ended questions and closed-ended
questions. Generally, an open-ended question is one that cannot be answered in a yes, or no fashion,
or in a one word way. For example, "Why did you go to the mall?" is open-ended. On the other hand,
"Did you go to the mall" is close-ended, because its obvious answer is either yes or no.
Open-ended questioning encourages dialogue and discussion, and is used to promote learning or
enhance understanding. The use of questions that are open-ended send a message to the
other person that you are a) interested in them; and b) want to share information and
control of the conversation with them, rather than only send information and control things.
After a conversation or a meeting, the more someone has had the opportunity to talk, the higher they
will rate the quality or their enjoyment of the meeting. Thus, asking questions that encourage your
client to talk – and making sure you really listen to the answer – will help build relationships and
create a positive service experience.
Open-ended questions are also called high gain because the person asking the question has the
opportunity to gain a lot from the question – both in terms of information and in terms of relationship
Also, in a high gain question, one often gets more than ―just the facts‖ – one gets information about
how a client feels about a situation, especially if you encourage hypotheticals or ask questions that
lean in that direction.
First, Get Permission
It is inadvisable to just hit someone with a high gain question right out of the gate. High gain
questions often feel more personal, and you need to essentially earn the right to ask them.
Fortunately, that’s usually not hard.
Start off with a couple easy close-end questions to establish a rapport: ―Have you ever been
to the shelter before?‖ ―Do you have any pets at home?‖ And follow up with some bridge
questions (not quite closed, but not open either), ―What are your pets’ names and ages?‖
Once you’ve had a couple ―permission‖ questions pave the way, you can start asking high gain
questions. ―In your mind, what would the perfect pet be like?‖ ―What are the attributes
you’ve enjoyed most about past pets?‖ ―How would you describe your home environment?‖
Listen carefully to the answers – not only what they say, but the way they say it – can tell you
a lot about the person, the family and the preferences. Then you can use the tools at hand
(such as a the MYM Adopter Survey) to encourage these conversations.
Also, be aware that some people just aren’t comfortable ―projecting‖, which is what high gain
questions usually require. If you see someone struggling to answer, make it easy for them by
reverting to more closed-ended questions and see whether they appear more comfortable.
When to Use Open vs. Closed
Open-ended questions are good in situations where both parties want to understand each other, share
control of the conversation, listen to each other, and when there is sufficient time for the conversation
to allow proper sharing and listening. In situations where time for the conversation is limited, or the
conversation is less about understanding each other and more about making a fast decision, close-
ended questions can be more appropriate.
Remember, be sincere and pay attention – any kinds of questions, if used poorly can result in the
other person feeling like he or she is being cross-examined, interrogated, judged, or even attacked.
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Practice Makes Perfect
It’s a good idea to practice turning some of you usual questions from closed to open so that it
becomes a habit. And always seek to invite dialogue. For example, instead of asking, ―Do you have
any other questions?‖ try ―What other questions do you have?‖
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