In many shelters around the country, more than half of the intake is comprised of animals who are brought in by a Good Samaritan or picked up by animal control – strays. In fact, in our ASPCA Partnership communities, along with other communities we work with, we have often noted that strays make up almost two-thirds of intake. Some of these dogs and cats are truly lost with owners searching for them, while some are lost with owners not actively searching, while others are abandoned – unfortunately, we can’t ask the animals if someone is looking for them…
The resources and programs needed to increase the likelihood someone who has lost a pet will find them in your shelter are much different from the resources needed to decrease the likelihood that someone abandons his pet.
There are some really great programs being developed to better match lost pets to their parents. For example, Buncombe County, NC, recently significantly increased their return to owner (RTO) rate by having all strays going to one facility instead of having multiple organizations take in strays. All the organizations in the community that took in strays worked together to change process and policy, and they made sure to communicate these changes loudly to the public. By decreasing confusion of where to go, standardizing process throughout the community and communicating that info through all possible channels, the process becomes easy for the public as well as the community sheltering organizations.
Others have increased RTOs by posting photos of all strays the moment they enter as intake. I know there is some anxiety that folks will claim a highly desirable pet as theirs when it is not by posting these photos, but I see this as a potential plus… if that person cannot prove ownership, he can put a hold on that animal for adoption and pick him up the day the stray hold is up! Daily searches of the lost reports in the paper, craigslist and the numerous lost pet sites available have also resulted in nice increases in RTO for some.
But even with the increases in RTO, strays continue to make up a very significant portion of our intake. Early this year Dr. Slater, Dr. Lord and I conducted some research around lost pets. The goal was to start to learn more from the pet owners about losing a pet, a starting point for researching what the population of stray pets in our shelters may come from. The research involved a national random digit dial survey focused on the experiences of pet parents around losing a pet. We investigated how many lost a pet, if they recovered that pet and their experiences around searching for their pet. The data will help us to begin to learn more about the situation of lost pets. Stay tuned to learn about the results of this study. (We have submitted the manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, so unfortunately I cannot tell you much about the results of that research in a published format – yet!).
Decreasing the number of abandoned pets is more elusive. First, we need to better understand why pets are abandoned – and this is likely different in different neighborhoods around the country. I would love to learn about programs and processes focused on decreasing abandonment – do you know of some? Share here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.