Dr. Emily Weiss reflects on some of her previous posts, and many share a common theme...
This week I celebrate being a streaker for 12 years—meaning I have been running every day without a day off for 12 years. I will celebrate by running…of course. It is at this time of year (and frankly most every other time of year) that I reflect upon the importance of not only having goals (like one to keep running), but also testing to make sure the programs and processes we put in place actually help us meet those goals.
I have written several blog posts the past couple of years about just this topic. I have suggested that we do not conduct landlord checks or dog-to-dog introductions, and that we eliminate extra checks for those adopting bully-type dogs. I even suggested that we stop taking dogs on super-long, energy-busting walks. I suggested eliminating adoption fees for cats, dropping applications and removing “no kids under X” policies for almost all your dogs and cats so that they have the opportunity to go home to families with kids.
I suggested these things because if one’s goal is to get more dogs and cats adopted into good homes where they will stick, these programs and policies are not impactful toward that goal. That is a big deal! Take landlord checks, for example—if we are honest with each other, most of us will admit that we have snuck a dog or cat into a home that did not allow pets. When shelters move away from conducting landlord checks and instead have a respectful dialogue, returns do not increase, and those dogs and cats stay with the adopter. Landlord checks take time, stop some adoptions from occurring, change the dynamics between the adopter and the shelter, and… on top of that, they do not accomplish the goal of decreasing returns or relinquishment.
I recently wrote about eliminating required dog-to-dog intros. Conducting those introductions in a shelter environment simply does not meet the goal of assuring the dogs will get along at home. I received lots of comments, both agreeing and disagreeing. Many who disagreed were focused on the opportunity to “educate” the adopter. Adult learners are not receptive to learning when they feel disrespected—they just shut off. Requiring someone to do something they do not feel is necessary to do (i.e. dog-to-dog introductions) is a great way to set them up to feel disrespected. Further, how do we know who are the ones that need “educating” if we require it for all? Those who are open to learning would likely be thrilled to have the opportunity to do a dog-to-dog intro with your staff if it is offered as an option.
With the limited resources we have in sheltering, we should be using those resources to reach our goals. If they do not meet those goals… gosh—don’t do them! There are plenty of other things you could be doing! The time saved by eliminating dog-to-dog intros can be replaced with more one-on-one time with adopters, or free up time and opportunity for you to do follow-up with those who have adopted from you.
Some have suggested that I am campaigning for us to provide less for our animals and our clients—this is not the case. I am instead suggesting we provide differently and provide what will achieve the goals. Take the power walk. The goal of these long walks is often to help settle and calm the dog—ideally so that he will show better for adoption. If we took the time we spend taking dogs on one big long walk a day, and instead did 3 short potty breaks where we teach the dog to urinate and defecate on cue, we now provide 3 enrichment opportunities instead of one and, more importantly, teach the dog one of the most valuable skills for successful adoption—and you’ve got a house-trained pup!
Goals drive our work. Every year most organizations take the time to develop goals for the year ahead, and for the majority of our field, those goals revolve around increasing the number of lives we save and decreasing the number of animals who need our services. Our work may often be emergency, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sort-of work —because lives depend on it. But it is for this reason—because lives depend on it—that it is so important to reflect on what pieces of the kitchen-sink approach were impactful, which were not and which might have actually gotten in the way.
Eliminate what does not work, and take the time to measure what you think does work… you may be surprised.
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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