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Blog Posts (333)
- New Book on Animal Shelter History
Prodigal Pets: A History of Animal Sheltering in America and the Origin of the No Kill Movement by Susan K. Houser. An in-depth look at animal sheltering in the US from the 1600s to the 1900s. 224 pages. Published in 2018. Click here to view or download Prodigal Pets in its entirety.
- Doobert: A Versatile Way to Save Lives
I recently interviewed Chris Roy, the creator of Doobert.com, about how Doobert can be used to help shelter workers and rescuers do their jobs more effectively. The Doobert platform can be used to organize any type of cooperative effort, but it has had its greatest impact so far on transport. Animal-rescue transports have been done in the U.S. since the 1970s. From the 1970s through the 1990s the most prominent transport model involved northeast shelters sending their own vans to pick up animals from southeast shelters. In the later 1990s and early 2000s, a different model of transport became common – the “rescue relay.” This method divided transport routes into legs of about 1-2 hours each, then recruited volunteers for each leg who used their own vehicles. The rescue-relay model allowed small receiving shelters and rescues, who could not afford to run their own vans, to get into transport. In recent years, volunteer airline pilots have been added to the mix, as well as commercial services with large trucks. Today transport routes crisscross the entire U.S. Chris Roy got involved in transport through his hobby of flying. Back in 2008 he was asked to fly a rescue transport and was quickly hooked. He loved being able to combine his passion for flying with saving lives. Roy does technology for a living, and it wasn’t long before he realized that technology could do a lot to make transports more efficient and save even more lives. That led to him founding Doobert in 2014. Doobert offers a simple online interface for people to set up transports. Volunteers can sign up as individuals. Organizations that want to run transports using Doobert can apply to join and are vetted by Doobert staff. These organizations include shelters, rescues, and transport groups. Right now, Doobert has over 21,000 volunteers signed up and over 1100 organizations. Photographs can help receiving organizations determine whether they can successfully place an animal, and Doobert has about 1200 volunteer photographers. Volunteers can sign up for other activities too, such as fostering. To create a transport on the Doobert platform, the transport coordinator (who must be an official or authorized volunteer with a sending organization that has been approved by Doobert, or a receiving organization working with an approved sending organization) specifies a starting and ending point for the transport and enters information about the animals to be transported. The Doobert platform then creates a unique webpage for that particular transport. The Doobert platform can automatically plot an efficient route on Google between any two points entered into the system and break the route up into legs. Volunteers can then sign up for legs or for other jobs associated with the transport. Doobert automatically sends information to the people involved in the transport, and the transport page can be consulted at any time by anyone. When everything is ready to go, Doobert can generate a run sheet. One transport coordinator told Roy that by using the Doobert platform she was able to increase her runs per week from eight to sixteen. Doobert handles the communications so that she is not drowning in a sea of e-mail, social media comments, and texts with each transport. Another helpful aspect is that volunteers can use Doobert to track their expenses. Because lots of sending and receiving organizations use Doobert, it is easy to make sure that transports are full. If a transport is scheduled for two animals going from, say, Tallahassee to Connecticut, but the receiving organization has capacity to take four animals, the remaining two spaces can be listed as available. Other member organizations can then take advantage of those slots, signing animals up for them in much the way a person would book an airline flight. About 95% of the transports that have used the Doobert platform so far have been the ground rescue-relay type. Rescue-relay transports, because they involve many drivers, require a lot of coordination, and the Doobert platform is particularly well adapted to making such transports more efficient. Doobert has attracted a lot of attention, and Roy estimates that the number of animals transported with the help of Doobert in 2018 will be 2,000 to 3,000. Best Friends Animal Society has been using Doobert in their shelters and recommending it to their network partners. A helpful feature for organizations that are new to transporting or want to expand their transports into new regions is the Doobert supply-and-demand map, posted on the website. Organizations can list how many animals they have to send, or how many they can take in, and the types they will take in. This map allows organizations and individuals to search for organizations they want to work with. People new to transport can go on the Partners section of Doobert, find organizations that are compatible with their transport goals, and reach out to them. An advantage of this approach is that it allows people to create efficient routes. For example, a shelter in Oklahoma that has been transporting to Massachusetts might find partners in Colorado. It’s rare for serious problems to occur on transports, but when they do occur the Doobert platform can help. If a car breaks down in transport, often the driver on the other end of that leg can come to the rescue. If a driver fails to show up, often the driver of the previous leg can continue, or split the leg with the next driver in line. Doobert can facilitate communication among the drivers, and if a problem comes up that the drivers can’t solve themselves, the transport coordinator can use Doobert to seek help from other volunteers or organizations. Each state has its own rules and regulations for importing animals, and this can be a time-consuming thing for transport coordinators to deal with. A Doobert intern researched all the state regulations and posted them on the site to help with this issue. The health certifications required by state laws typically travel with each animal, and it occasionally happens that the driver of a leg will forget to transfer all the paperwork in the chaos of exercising animals and transferring them to the next driver’s vehicle. Doobert can help with this problem by providing online copies of the documents that can be accessed on a smartphone. Roy has confirmed with many states that the online health paperwork is acceptable if the hard copies are lost. Rescue-relay transport runs are typically interstate, but local transportation is also important in raising shelter live release rates. A few months ago, Doobert rolled out functionality for scheduling local rides such as from a shelter to a foster. Roy jokes that this is like Uber for animals. Another new area for Doobert is assisting the High Five Virginia program, which seeks to make transport more efficient by concentrating it within the state. This new functionality will not be limited to Virginia. Any state or region would be able to use this same functionality in Doobert to organize a statewide transport effort. Roy calls this new region-based approach the “coalition” concept. Doobert currently has two levels, individuals and organizations. Coalitions will be a third level of organization in Doobert, consisting of groups of organizations. In addition to transport, an important aspect of High Five Virginia, or any state effort that wants to coordinate transport within the state, is the “marketplace” for animals who need immediate assistance. Doobert can house that marketplace, automatically keeping it current in real time without the need for cumbersome social media postings. Roy believes that today we have enough homes for all the healthy and treatable animals who wind up in our shelters, but we still have problems with distribution. “Distribution” refers to imbalances in the number of homeless animals relative to the number of available homes in a given area. As a general rule, we have more homeless animals than homes in many places in the southern half of the U.S., and more homes than homeless animals in many places in the northern half of the country. We also have problems with inventory. “Inventory” involves the type of animals who predominate in each region. For example, California may have an excess of chihuahuas, who are in demand in shelters in the northeast. Virginia and other southeastern states may have many hunting dogs, who would readily find homes in the upper Midwest. Cities may have trouble finding homes for large dogs, who are in demand in Colorado and other states where outdoor activities are popular. Transport is a quick and efficient way to solve both distribution and inventory problems. Although distribution and inventory problems occur at the national level, they can occur within states too. The city shelter with too many large dogs may find that there is higher demand for large dogs in nearby rural areas, while the city may be able to take in cats and small dogs from the rural areas. Many times, the hardest animals to place are those who need medical or behavior help. A state coalition can move animals to places where resources are available – or move the resources to the animals. The Doobert platform could help at all these levels of organization. One of the major choke points that Roy sees in transport is the tendency of people to resist change. For example, an organization that habitually runs one large transport per month may resist adding transports, even if more frequent, smaller transports would be more efficient or save more lives. Another choke point is “dead zones” in some areas, including parts of Texas and along the route to the Pacific northwest, that have too few volunteers. That makes running rescue-relay transports through those areas difficult. A third choke point is organizations each wanting to run their own transports, rather than embracing what Roy calls the “Expedia” model of booking spaces on cooperative transports. Money is a very important choke point. A perennial controversy with transport has been the way costs are distributed. It has been traditional for sending organizations to bear the costs of preparing animals for transport and the cost of the transport itself. Sending organizations are therefore often limited in the number they transport simply because they don’t have enough money to transport more. Roy believes this problem stems from how we place value on shelter pets. He thinks it’s time for receiving organizations to realize that we are moving from the “pet overpopulation” model we had 20 years ago to a “supply and demand” model that recognizes that today there is a demand for shelter and rescue pets. He envisions a day when the inventory list of sending organizations in Doobert will have a cost listed for each animal that the receiving organization will pay. This will put more money into the system and save more lives. So far, most of the transports run on Doobert have been small. The Doobert platform seems to have filled a niche that makes it practical to use transport to save lives one, two, or three at a time. But the ease of scheduling through Doobert could make the platform a good choice for larger transports as well. Roy believes that as the capabilities of Doobert become better known, more of the larger transport organizations will sign on and Doobert will have more transports in the range of 10-50 animals. Another area of growth will hopefully be in the percentage of cats transported. Cat transport is gaining ground nationally, but the great majority of transports so far on Doobert have been for dogs. The Doobert platform can be used to transport other types of pets too, including rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, mice, and rats. Roy has a vision for the future of Doobert that goes beyond supporting transport. In fact, the Doobert platform could be used for anything that requires a group effort. He has worked on coordinating community cat programs through Doobert, for example. Another area where the Doobert platform could prove useful is with regional events. One way to get traditional shelters to participate in events is to make their participation easier by doing some of the preliminary work for them – making them “turnkey” events. This has been a big factor in the success of Clear the Shelters, for example. Doobert could help with the preliminary organizing of turnkey events such as regional adoption marathons with many shelters and rescues participating. Roy’s work is not limited to Doobert. He also founded the Animal Rescue Professionals Association (ARPA). The idea of ARPA is to support education and certification for people in animal sheltering and rescue. Doobert is about technology, but Roy sees a link between technology and education/certification. He does a podcast every week called Professionals in Animal Rescue, featuring people from all walks of life. The podcasts illustrate that a person does not have to work in a shelter or other traditional environment to do animal rescue. In January 2019 he is starting two additional podcasts – animal shelter of the week, and animal rescue of the week. Over the course of 2019 these podcasts will feature one shelter and one rescue in each of the 50 states. The interviews will focus on particular issues and solutions in each community. Technology has been underused in animal sheltering and rescue. The future looks bright for sheltering and rescue to make big gains in efficiency and effectiveness using tools like Doobert.
- Virginia’s No Kill Effort: Innovation and Inspiration
Introduction Last year I wrote about a new statewide No Kill campaign in Virginia. The campaign was developed by Makena Yarbrough, president of the Lynchburg Humane Society (LHS), and Debra Griggs, president of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies (VFHS). The goal is an average shelter save rate of 90% for the entire state by 2020, followed by continued improvement. Yarbrough is leaving LHS to become a regional director for Best Friends Animal Society, but the work in Virginia will go on. The 2017 save rate for Virginia, based on mandatory reporting of shelter statistics, was 86%, and Griggs thinks the rate will top 90% by 2020. I recently spoke with Griggs to catch up on progress in the last year, and she told me that transport, of both cats and dogs, has become a linchpin of the Virginia effort. Background Virginia is representative in many ways of the nation as a whole. It is a mixture of North and South, wealth and poverty, urban and rural. The Virginia counties that lie just to the south of the District of Columbia (collectively known as Northern Virginia, or NOVA), are some of the wealthiest in the nation, while the rural counties in the southwest part of the state are in the heart of Appalachia. The eastern edge of Virginia is on the coast, with rolling hills in the middle of the state and a mountain range in the west. VFHS has a yearly conference where shelter officials can network and learn about the No Kill effort. In this photo, Butter helps out at the registration table. The animal-shelter situation in the state is also something of a microcosm of the nation as a whole. Some shelters in the state have all the resources they need, whereas others struggle to provide even the basics for their animals. The I-95 freeway, one of the busiest rescue transport corridors in the nation, runs through the state, and every week hundreds of animals travel from southern states to the northeast. One thing about Virginia that few other states have is mandatory reporting of shelter statistics — the state requires animal shelters and rescues to report statistics each year to the Department of Agriculture. This data has helped advocates of shelter change gauge successes and failures. The Lynchburg shelter, under Yarbrough’s direction, reached out to nearby communities and made them No Kill. Griggs dates the start of No Kill progress in Virginia to the year 2001, when Robin Starr of the Richmond SPCA spearheaded an agreement with the city of Richmond for a public-private partnership to make the city No Kill. In the mid-2000s, Susanne Kogut gained national attention for her work in making the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA a No Kill organization. Yarbrough created a similar success story in Lynchburg, and not only made LHS into a demonstration project but reached out to neighboring areas to make them No Kill too. Griggs believes that No Kill advocates in Virginia are “at the end of the marathon” of the shelter-improvement journey, but as the endgame approaches it becomes harder to gain and sustain momentum. As she sees it, the beginning stage of any movement is difficult, the middle is easier because progress is fast and rewarding, and the final push is difficult because the problems that remain are the hardest ones. The problem that the Virginia No Kill movement has dealt with this past year has been how to bring the struggling shelters up to the level of the successful shelters. The Analysis Many of our most effective No Kill innovators are from the worlds of business management, non-profit development, and marketing, where analyzing problems is a crucial precursor to program development. Yarbrough had a background in marketing before she went into shelter work, and Starr and Kogut were successful lawyers. Griggs is no exception. She was president of the local Junior League in Norfolk, Virginia, and on its national board, where she concentrated on organizational development. She has been a Realtor for many years and manages a real estate office. One thing she learned was that it is much more efficient to expand what works in an existing system rather than try to rebuild the system from scratch. Therefore, she looked for ways to build on the state’s existing strengths to help the shelters that were struggling. The VFHS board realized that transport could be a key to getting Virginia to No Kill. Griggs has been analyzing the state’s shelter statistics for many years, and she felt that Virginia was at a point where there was enough adoption capacity within the state to balance shelter intake. The problem was that some parts of Virginia had too many animals for adoption demand while other areas had too few. The VFHS board realized that transport could be a big factor in solving this problem, and started to think about how VFHS could make transport more effective. That required looking at how the various players – sending shelters, rescues, volunteers, and receiving shelters – worked together. Receiving shelters in Virginia are concentrated in the north and central areas of the state, whereas sending shelters are primarily in the south and southwest areas. In many cases, receiving shelters in northern Virginia were taking in animals from Georgia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and other states, while rural shelters in south and southwest Virginia were sending animals to northeast states like Massachusetts and Connecticut. So one issue to be addressed was the inefficiency of transport routes. Another issue was resource choke points. Transports in Virginia are typically arranged by volunteers who work with sending shelters. Sending shelters are often understaffed and underfunded, which means that the volunteers must do the lion’s share of the work. Volunteers have to communicate with sending shelters to identify the most at-risk animals, find receiving shelters or rescues to take them, pull the animals, get them vetted, and coordinate the transport. Coordinating a transport may require recruiting and scheduling drivers for “legs” that are usually 1-2 hours each. It’s a time-consuming process, and it can be expensive when the volunteer coordinators have to pay for veterinary treatment, short-term boarding, van rental, or gasoline. Time is also a critical problem for volunteers, most of whom have jobs and families. Under the existing system, sending shelters were using e-mail and social media to distribute urgent pleas to volunteers and rescues about animals who had to get out of the shelter very soon or be euthanized. Volunteers got lots of such messages daily, and with only a short time frame to react it was difficult to sort through the messages and then make the connections needed to save lives. High Five Virginia Sue Bell, a VFHS board member, took the lead in devising a transport model adapted to Virginia’s situation. Her plan was designed to (1) make transport routes more efficient by keeping them within the state, (2) supply funding in cases where money was a limiting factor, and (3) develop a system that would allow sending shelters, rescues, and volunteers to communicate more efficiently. The Board approved the model and named the plan High Five Virginia. At the time I first wrote about Virginia’s No Kill effort last year, the High Five Virginia program was not yet a big factor. VFHS started the program in 2016, but few animals were transported during its first year. That changed after volunteer manager Alice O’Connor came on board in May 2017, and by the end of the year the program had transported 148 animals. With this proof of concept, VFHS board members Bell and Yarbrough had a meeting last March with Virginia receiving shelters and asked them to focus on transport from shelters within the state. The board members stressed that they were not asking the receiving shelters to ignore animals from other states, but to help perfect a more efficient model for transport that could then be implemented by other states. Alice O’Connor, volunteer manager for High Five Virginia, has been crucial to the success of the program. She’s pictured with a porcine friend who lives at the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation VFHS also offered direct grants to the volunteers who were pulling animals from Virginia sending shelters. The initial grants, funded by VFHS, were very small by most standards. They were huge to the volunteers, though, because they allowed the volunteers to concentrate on moving animals rather than having to raise funds. In early 2018, Best Friends gave VFHS a grant of $5000 for the High Five program. VFHS committed to transport 600 animals with the grant, but by August 15th when the grant ran out they had moved 1449 animals. This demonstrates what a choke point money can be for transports, and how volunteers can greatly increase the number of animals saved if they have adequate funds. Implementation of the first two aspects of High Five Virginia went smoothly, but VFHS initially ran into some issues with the third part of the plan, which was to make communication more efficient. This part of the plan, which gave the program its name, was implemented by means of a website where each sending shelter could list their 5 most urgent cats and dogs. They could update their list every 5 minutes. The idea was that receiving shelters and rescues could easily view these animals and confirm which ones they could take, thus easing the burden of communication for everyone. One issue with this system was that the demand for posting animals was far greater than 5 per shelter. The solution VFHS came up with was to keep the limit of 5 animals on the website, but add a Facebook page where an unlimited number of animals can be posted. Another issue was that the original High Five website was not very user-friendly. With the support of Best Friends and Doobert.com, VFHS has been working to revamp the platform. The new site will be very user friendly and interface directly with Facebook. When transports first got rolling in the U.S. some 20 years ago, they were almost entirely for dogs, but in just the last few years the number of cats being transported has boomed. The High Five Virginia transports have been 65% dogs and 35% cats so far. Additional Efforts Transport is not the only initiative that VFHS is working on to improve shelter lifesaving in Virginia. Griggs stressed that VFHS supports and promotes community cat programs as well. The state has a law that hinders public shelters from running community cat “return to field” programs. Public shelters can trap cats and sterilize them, but cannot return them to where they were found. Working around this problem requires the help of the private sector, and VFHS is active in promoting this cooperation. Another initiative is taking place in the Hampton Roads area on the east coast of Virginia. Hampton Roads is a high-resource area with many rescues and support organizations. Griggs noted in our interview that Hampton Roads has eight public shelters, twelve private shelters, five low-cost spay-neuter clinics, four low-cost veterinary clinics, private veterinarians who offer discounts to rescue groups, and several home-based rescue groups. Yet the region’s percentage of animals euthanized is substantially higher than its percentage of intake when compared to all reporting shelters in Virginia. One of the cities in the Hampton Roads area is Norfolk. Yarbrough recently made a presentation to the Norfolk city council and the council seemed enthusiastic, so Griggs is hopeful that this may lead to a real shift in shelter save rates that could inspire the whole region. Griggs pointed out that if Hampton Roads had the same adoption rate as the city of Lynchburg, Hampton Roads could be No Kill. Griggs mentioned that the Virginia save-rate maps made available by Petco Foundation (link to map) and Best Friends (link to map) are very helpful when dealing with local governments. These maps have great credibility because they are from two leading national organizations. When the maps are shown to civic leaders in cities and counties where shelter save rates are lagging, the leaders pay attention. Takeaways There are several important takeaways from the Virginia effort this past year that people across the U.S. can use to improve lifesaving: We can’t just pull programs off the shelf and expect them to work. We have to examine the situation in each region and each state and use organizational management techniques to develop programs that are tailored to the particular situation. State-based transport coordination is a winning idea. It has the potential to get rid of choke points and make the transportation process much more efficient. Data is very helpful in getting remaining low-performing shelters to improve. City and county leaders who may not care about prioritizing shelter improvement do care about keeping up with their neighbors. Virginia has a state-run data system that allows advocates to show hard numbers for shelter performance to city and county leaders. Every state needs this. Petco Foundation is pushing for every state to collect shelter statistics, and this is something we need to work toward. Cooperation among public shelters, private shelters, rescues, and volunteers is going to be crucial in getting from our current national save rate of an estimated 70% up to 90% and higher. Coalition-building is a key to success.
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- HOME | Out the Front Door | Animal Sheltering in America
About Out the Front Door is no longer active, though the site is being maintained as an archive. Click to learn more about the history of OTFD and the blog's author, Susan K. Houser. Blog Five years of reporting (2013-18) on animal welfare in the United States, including photographs, guest posts, and interviews with a wide variety of industry professionals active in the field at the time. "Prodigal Pets" Prodigal Pets: A History of Animal Sheltering in America , by Susan Houser. An in-depth look at animal sheltering in the United States from the 1600s to the 1900s. 224 pages. Published in 2018. Susan Houser Dec 7, 2018 1 min NEWS New Book on Animal Shelter History Prodigal Pets: A History of Animal Sheltering in America and the Origin of the No Kill Movement by Susan K. Houser. An in-depth look at... Susan Houser Dec 5, 2018 9 min INTERVIEWS Doobert: A Versatile Way to Save Lives I recently interviewed Chris Roy, the creator of Doobert.com, about how Doobert can be used to help shelter workers and rescuers do their... Susan Houser Oct 11, 2018 8 min INTERVIEWS Virginia’s No Kill Effort: Innovation and Inspiration Introduction Last year I wrote about a new statewide No Kill campaign in Virginia. The campaign was developed by Makena Yarbrough,... Susan Houser Aug 5, 2018 8 min NEWS Are Cats an Invasive Species as Defined by the U.S. Government? When cat advocates try to establish programs to help and manage outdoor cats, they frequently meet resistance from wildlife... Susan Houser Jul 25, 2018 2 min NEWS What’s New at OTFD A lot has been happening at Out the Front Door (OTFD) lately. Today I want to introduce a new website for OTFD, a new book to be... Susan Houser Jul 5, 2018 16 min SHELTERING The Future of Sheltering What will animal shelters look like in the years ahead – in 2030, 2040, 2050? What functions will they serve in their communities? These... 1 2 3 4 5 BLOG POSTS
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