The staff, volunteers and animals at the Animal Protective Foundation have something to celebrate.
For the first time in APF’s 88-year history, the humane society reached a 90% placement rate in 2018. In other words, they were able to find homes for 90% of the dogs, cats and small animals they took in. On average, animals were adopted out to new homes, reunited with their owners, or transferred to other shelters within 27 days of their arrival.
That 90% placement rate is what shelter director Amy Duskiewicz calls “the gold standard,” which shelters strive for.
The achievement arose out of a philosophical change.
“We’ve been focusing on capacity for care,” Duskiewicz said.
Since APF is an open admission shelter, the organization won’t turn away animals based on breed, age, or level of care. However, when taking in animals, staff members are considering not only whether they have the physical space for the animals but the staffing and the medical equipment to meet the animals’ needs. In order to do this, Duskiewicz said they’ve been scheduling appointments for animals coming in.
“That’s what allows us to maintain that proper population number in the building,” Duskiewicz said, “A lot of open admissions shelters feel that they have to take every single animal that comes to them every single day and that they can’t do appointments and they become overwhelmed and the animals suffer.”
About a decade ago, APF was one of those overwhelmed shelters. In 2008, they took in just under 3,000 animals. In 2018, they took in around 1,200. Part of the decline is due to an increase in the number of cats that are spayed and neutered, leading to a decline in the stray cat population. But it’s also intentional.
“If you have too many animals up for adoption, people [get] overwhelmed and don’t make a decision and don’t adopt,” Duskiewicz said.
Scheduling intake appointments allows the shelter to better manage their resources and not stretch themselves too thin. It also keeps the animals healthier, as overcrowded shelters can increase stress and the likelihood of upper respiratory problems.
“Capacity for care really was the first step in setting us up to adding all these other programs,” Duskiewicz said.
They’ve upped their veterinary care options, addressing and finding funds to treat everything from cancer to dental issues to heart surgery. APF has also focused on enrichment programs for the staff as well as the animals.
It’s allowed cats like Quinn to learn new tricks. The seven-year-old midnight black cat, who was adopted shortly after the Gazette met her late last year, can jump through hoops, sit on command, and on her good days, weave through cones. She’s not the only one either.
Lisa, a long-haired cat who was rescued from a hoarding situation, knows a few tricks too thanks to the Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Pawsitive training program. Last year, volunteers and staff members learned how to clicker train cats to do everything from sitting to high-fiving. It helps to socialize the cats, it keeps them active, and ultimately makes them more adoptable.
“We wouldn’t have had time for that program if we had tried that two years ago,” Duskiewicz said, “We’ve found that those cats [get adopted] so much faster, which opens up that space for the next cat to come in.”
APF has also expanded its cat and dog fostering program, which has helped especially when a cat or dog comes in needing extensive surgery or a greater level of care than others.
On a behavioral level, placing dogs in foster homes can have a major impact on the dog’s adoptability. Foster volunteers can give dogs the attention, training and exercise they need, especially with the more anxious dogs who would otherwise struggle in a kennel.
“We have a lot of dogs that we’ve been able to do more enrichment training with and that’s been really important,” Duskiewicz said. Now, even after a dog has been adopted, a trainer that APF works with can come to the home and help advise on any behavioral or adjustment issues the dog might be having. It’s given adopters, especially first time adopters, another resource and helped to keep the dogs in what APF calls their “forever homes."
Beyond fostering, APF was also granted $7,500 by the Grey Muzzle Organization, which funds medical treatments for older dogs.
The funding saved Rocky’s life. The 16-year-old mixed breed dog had a cancerous tumor. At first, due to his age and condition, they thought he might be a euthanasia candidate. However, when they received the grant, they were able to pay for the surgery and the treatment he needed. Rocky is now in a Hospice adoption program.
“It’s drastically changed what we can do for the senior dogs that come it,” Duskiewicz said.
Both Duskiewicz and APF Executive Director Deb Balliet agree that reaching 90% placement rate wouldn’t have been possible without donors and volunteers, who help with everything from laundry to feeding to training and even taking dogs out on field trips.
“A 90% placement rate doesn’t just happen,” Balliet said, “It’s the result of good people implementing strong programs with the best interest of the pet in mind. That’s what our team and volunteers do every day of the year, thanks to the generous support of our donors who help fund our medical program, our behavioral support fund and all the other initiatives that help a pet find its forever home.”
Although it’s only March, APF is on track to reach that gold standard again this year.
“It’s really a community effort. We’re not doing this alone. We couldn’t have achieved it alone,” Duskiewicz said.