A Shelter Success Story

Published January 2007

The Past

In 2004, a series of articles in the Philadelphia Daily News depicted the Philadelphia Animal Care & Control Association (PACCA) as a "mismanaged house of horrors."

At the time, almost 9 out of 10 animals who entered the shelter were killed, arguably one of the worst lifesaving records in the United States. Animal lovers and rescue groups clamored for change, publicly attacking PACCA for its failure to save lives.

The Move To Change

In 2005, the City of Philadelphia asked No Kill Solutions to do a complete assessment of shelter operations and make recommendations to improve program and service delivery with a goal of creating a No Kill Philadelphia.

By implementing the recommendations of No Kill Solutions and by thoroughly integrating principles of accountability into shelter operations, in less than one year, there have been tremendous lifesaving gains.

Believing in the Community

With kitten season in full swing, and the shelter filled to capacity, the shelter called on the community for their help and support—trusting that the people of Philadelphia would respond to the homeless animals of their city with open hearts and open homes.

With the support of newspapers and local television news stations, the headlines rang out throughout the city of brotherly love: PACCA is looking for 1,000 good homes to avoid killing kittens and cats.

The Philadelphia Daily News said it best: "Don't let these kittens die. If you've ever felt like saving a kitty's life, now is the time."

The $1 Kitten

The good people of Philadelphia heeded the call to help save the lives of kittens and cats during a weekend "Adoptathon" that saw adoptions discounted to $1 to defray the costs associated with bringing a new animal home, including veterinary bills, pet deposits to landlords, litter boxes and other supplies.

With volunteers and staff screening applicants and providing needed counseling, in one weekend alone, PACCA officials saw 1,000 people come through their doors, and hundreds of felines going home with them.

More kittens were adopted out in three days than adopted out in the same month the previous year... and this was despite an increase in adoption screening, counseling and higher adoption standards, including the requirement that all kittens be spayed/neutered before going home.

The end result: lots of empty cages and no dead kittens—proving once again that saving lives starts with believing in the community and trusting in the power of compassion.

One woman surrendered an old cat that she had found. A man in the lobby asked to see the cat. His face lit up. He ended up adopting the cat the very next day—after she was spayed, vaccinated, treated for fleas, and microchipped. This is a cat who was older in years and he felt very proud and grateful to have saved her life.

The Quantity vs. Quality Myth

The notion that one needs to reduce quality of homes in order to increase quantity is one of the anachronisms of old-guard, reactionary shelters (and their national allies) who needed a way to justify a paradigm of high impounds, high kill rates and low adoptions.

The bottom line is that there are plenty of homes out there, and it is up to shelters to effectively promote their pets so that they find their way into those homes—from offsite adoptions and other community venues, effective use of the internet, increasing partnerships with the media, enlisting the support of volunteers and foster parents, and making shelters more inviting. And, when necessary, turning to the community with a marketing incentive and a call to arms to help an agency save lives. Adopting an animal means a shelter does not kill that animal. Not only can a shelter adopt its way out of killing, it should.

The best adoption programs are designed to ensure that each animal is placed with a responsible person, one prepared to make a lifelong commitment, and to avoid the kinds of problems that may have caused the animal to be brought to the shelter. An important part of the process is to match the lifestyle and needs of the adopter with the individual dog or cat. After selecting a pet, each potential adopter is thoroughly screened.

Increasing Adoptions

Increasing the number of adoptions has to do with:

  • keeping the shelter open when working people and families with children can visit.
  • It means taking animals offsite to where people work, live and play.
  • It means bringing animals available for adoption to neighborhood events.
  • It includes foster care programs and
  • working with rescue groups.
  • Increasing adoptions means greater visibility in the community,
  • competing with pet stores and puppy/kitten mills,
  • good customer service,
  • thoughtful but not overly bureaucratic screening,
  • making the shelter a fun and exciting place to visit,
  • and proactive marketing.
  • It also means incentive adoptions—such as reducing or waiving fees in appropriate circumstances. All of which PACCA is trying to achieve.

A Preference for Saving Lives

Three cheers for PACCA—its leadership and a staff that saw the sun rise rather than set when the going got tough and the cages got full.

Because of PACCA, their staff, the volunteers, and the scores of people who turned out to do the right thing, hundreds of kittens are alive today.

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