The Dakin Humane Society opened in 1995 with a mission to offer an open adoption program that emphasizes "understanding and respect" for its human customers.
The shelter in Leverett, MA — which was then called Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society —eliminated the standard application and interview process used by traditional shelters. Instead, it uses a Pets and People Profile that serves as a basis for conversation with an adoption counselor.In 2009, Dakin faced a new challenge: It took over the MSPCA shelter in a nearby city with a high crime rate and a large population of urban poor. The goal was to offer open adoptions at the new site, based on the same values of customer service, a culture of understanding, and good communication.
Why we love this
Dakin Humane Society Executive Director Leslie Harris says the key to success has been remembering "to serve the community" and "be there as a resource." So far, so good. In the last three years, Dakin's Springfield site has significantly increased adoption numbers and has built a strong relationship with the community. Meanwhile, its rural shelter continues with a record of very strong adoption rates.
The road to change
Dakin reopened the urban shelter in Springfield, MA just a few months after it was shut down. The Springfield facility is the polar opposite of its rural counterpart in Leverett, an affluent, highly-educated community. Springfield serves a large low-income population and has always been an open-admission shelter. Dakin was committed to keeping it that way and incorporating open adoptions as well.
Harris says Dakin's policies are based on one simple truth: "If we aren't able to help humans, we won't be able to help animals." The shelter staff has used this philosophy to create successful programs at both the rural and urban shelters.
How to get there
Step 1: Open, frank discussions
These discussions became the catalyst for getting buy-in from staff and helping them see that people can learn and change.
Step 2: Identify practices that may hinder adoptions
The Springfield facility had similar policies in place when Dakin took over, including not allowing dogs to be placed in homes with fenced yards, for fear they'd be abandoned in them. "Such measures mean you insult far more terrific people while you are trying to catch the rare person doing the wrong thing," Harris says.
Step 3: Seek out and adapt models to fit your needs
Step 4: Bring personnel policies in line with the culture you desire
Step 5: Be available as a long-term resource
In Springfield, where money is tight, the shelter also provides adoption specials, dog training on a sliding scale, a free behavior helpline, a pet food bank (which provided 44,000 pounds of food in 2011,) and a Humane Alliance Spay/Neuter clinic that provides services to about 12,000 animals per year.
Both Dakin's Springfield and Leverett facilities continue to receive extremely positive feedback from clients. Adoption numbers have soared to record highs, Harris says, and return rates have not increased.
The biggest challenge Dakin faced in changing the culture of the shelters is staff members who were skeptical about the program. Some were eventually able to make the leap but others were not, and Dakin opted not to retain some workers with great animal skills but very poor people skills.