Saving Lives

Rehoming Services

Project Safety Net Cuts Down on Relinquished Animals

How do we teach pet owners that abandoning their animals at the shelter should be a last resort? The Richmond SPCA has had tremendous success with Project Safety Net, a sweeping new program designed to address the causes of relinquishment.

Why we love this

The Richmond SPCA put the responsibility for rehoming pets where it belongs — with the owners. The shelter knew it could play a vital support role by providing programs and services that focused on both on rehoming and pet retention. Richmond offers a wide array of services, including a full-service vet hospital for low-income families, a pet-friendly housing guide, a free pet pantry and more. It also offers an online rehoming page on its website.

The road to change

The community seemed to view the Richmond SPCA as "the answer to all things animal related," says CEO Robin Starr. Unfortunately, that perception meant people were also using it as the easy option when faced with the question of what to do with an animal they could no longer keep. Staff wanted to make it clear that the shelter should be viewed only as a last resort. But to do that, they needed to give people the tools to guide them through the placement process and get it done right.

"By providing people with ideas and resources, we educate the public that the shelter is no place for their pet and they can and should rehome the animals themselves," says Starr.

How to get there

  1. Create a rehoming packet Richmond's packet is chock full of good information. It starts by suggesting that people do whatever they can to keep their pets, using the shelter as a resource for advice on:
    • Behavior challenges. Richmond SPCA runs obedience classes. People can also speak with trained staff by phone, email and in person for behavior help and referrals.
    • Relocation issues. The shelter publishes a pet-friendly housing guide. It also suggests ways for people to discuss their pets with landlords, lists documents they may need and offers information on helping pets cope with the change. When rehoming is the only option, the packet provides a step-by-step plan. It includes suggested interview questions and criteria for finding the perfect match. In addition, the shelter created a page on its website for people to post animals available for adoption.
  2. Train staff At the Richmond SPCA, rehoming services are administered by the admissions staff. A member of the communication staff manages the website. Since animals are accepted at the shelter by appointment, staff can discuss rehoming during the initial phone conversation. Now, when someone calls to schedule a surrender, a staff member will do the following:
    • Inform the owner about programs and services that address their specific reason for relinquishment.
    • Send out a rehoming packet.
    • Discuss alternatives to rehoming in non-judgmental conversations.
    • Track animals on the appointment list. If an appointment is canceled or an owner fails to show up, staff finds out why. This enables the shelter to track the success of its counseling and rehoming services.

Other key ingredients

Admissions counselors have to be comfortable giving control back to the owners and they have to have the skills necessary to communicate effectively in a pleasant and non-judgmental manner.

The Richmond SPCA requires that animals be sterilized and up-to-date on rabies vaccinations before they can be posted on the rehoming website. This reinforces two key messages: the need for spay/neuter and the need to provide pets with basic veterinary care.

The results

In the years since the Richmond SPCA initiated its rehoming services, the program has kept thousands of Richmond area animals out of the shelter. It also serves as a key part of the shelter's Project Safety Net , the umbrella effort to reduce animal homelessness through an emphasis on pet retention. Richmond SPCA's motto is "Every life is precious."

The shelter is living up to these words. Since Jan. 1, 2002, no homeless, healthy animal has been euthanized by the Richmond SPCA.

Be prepared for push-back. Some people cannot or will not take on the responsibility of rehoming their pets. Illness, financial constraints and other hardships may make it impossible for an owner to seek a new home for their pet. Others are simply unwilling. In these cases, surrender may be the only option.

Stay alert to new tools that can help animals get placed in good homes. For instance, the Richmond SPCA has added video streaming to its web adoption pages.

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