As one of the first communities to join the ASPCA Partnership in May 2007, the Hillsborough County/Tampa partners—Hillsborough County Animal Services and The Humane Society of Tampa Bay—received access to mentoring opportunities and resources to develop community programs. From the start, they understood they had to improve communications with each other, change some attitudes in their shelters and community, and work on shared goals.
The numbers speak to their success: Prior to 2006, fewer than 10 percent of the more than 34,000 dogs and cats entering the community's shelters were adopted, fostered or transferred into good homes. As a result of the collaboration and data-driven programs conducted throughout the 4-year ASPCA Partnership, the Hillsborough County/Tampa partners reported a 50% Live Release Rate through the first half of 2012.
- Shelter visits surged 50 percent in the first year alone—nearly 71,000 people visited the partner agencies in 2008, up from 47,000 the year prior. Adoptions also rose by 48%, from 4,636 in 2007 to 6,881 in 2008.
- More than 1,429 cats and 347 dogs have been sterilized at grant-funded targeted spay-neuter clinics since 2007.
-Free vaccination clinics have provided vaccinations to 4,969 dogs and cats since 2007.
- Overall feline intake has dropped from 19,591 in 2007 to 12,486 in 2011. In 2007, only 2,374 community felines were sterilized via Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). In 2011, 6,832 TNR surgeries were performed.
- Live Release Rate (LRR) for felines has risen from 13% in 2006 to 30.4% in the first half of 2012.
- Adoptions increased by 83% over the four-year partnership.
Challenges They Faced
Every shelter faces more kittens in the springtime due to warmer weather, but Tampa's year-round warmer climate didn't give the community much of a break. "It's kitten season all year long here," says Sherry Silk, HSTB Executive Director.
In a community where dog fighting is an issue—and where approximately 40% of dogs turned in to HCAS are pit bulls or pit bull mixes—the partners also needed to rebuild the reputation of the pit bull, from a fighting and backyard dog to a companion worthy of adoption.
Getting Set for Success
Key goals for the first year included:
- Capitalizing on good relationships with local rescue groups. By relaxing some of the protocols with these groups and adding more groups to their list, more dogs and cats could find homes.
- Initiating the very first volunteer program at HCAS.
- Launching the first joint pet adoption expo, where more than 180 pets were adopted. Says Silk, "It was during that expo that the walls started coming down. We realized we all had the same goal – adopting pets."
"We each produced maps and hours for Animal Services so that if someone came to visit, but didn't find their next pet at our shelter, we could direct them to our partner agency. They did the same thing. This really demonstrated our cooperation with each other and increased awareness in the community."
– Sherry Silk, Executive Director, The Humane Society of Tampa Bay
The Tampa partners achieved amazing results in increasing their LRR through an aggressive TNR and feline spay/neuter programs:
- HSTB hired a TNR coordinator to help develop a volunteer program that included strengthening relationships with trappers and caretakers.
- 200 humane traps were purchased to rent to the community.
- Funding was provided for TNR sterilizations and an expanded spay/neuter program for owned cats.
- Brochures and door hangers were distributed to neighborhoods, letting people know why TNR was important.
- In 2008, HCAS launched a volunteer-run Pit Bull Ambassador Program to engage up to eight pit bull terriers at a time in seven weeks of dog training. At the end of the training, the dogs pass the Canine Good Citizen test and then are adopted into new homes as ambassadors for the breed.
Other successful programs:
HCAS began a Foster Care Transition Program [foster-transition-program.php]. Through this program, a foster parent provides a temporary home for a harder-to-place dog or cat and then serves as an adoption counselor. More than 650 at-risk pets have found new homes through this program.
"VACS for Life" was a feline adoption event that promised free vaccinations for life. This proved an important incentive to adopt—more than 277 felines found homes during the event.
The partners began working on joint adoption programs that included reduced fee and fee-waived events like "Adopt One, Get One Free" and $25 adoptions for pit-type dogs.
Why It Worked
The partners made some important shifts in protocols and philosophies that resulted in lives saved.
"One of the most immediate changes that had the biggest impact on the live release rate," says Silk, "was the ASPCA's recommendation to make HCAS an open-access shelter with an adoption program."
Previously, animals on stray hold at HCAS could not be seen by the public. Now potential adopters can view animals on stray hold and be ready to adopt these pets the moment their hold is up.
"The best thing about the partnership is that the community has become more aware of our agencies and views us as valuable resources for finding adoptable pets and addressing animal problems."
– Sherry Silk, Executive Director, The Humane Society of Tampa Bay
HSTB also made recommended changes. They took their five-page adoption application and relaxed it into a one-page questionnaire, making their overall adoption process a friendlier procedure for all.
There was also a shift in thinking around TNR. HCAS agreed to share a "tipped ear report" with HSTB. Now any cats turned in to the shelter with a tipped ear receives extra days for holding. HSTB then shares the information with all of the TNR caretakers. Because of this program, hundreds of cats have been redeemed by their colony caretakers.
Upon graduation in 2011, the Tampa partners laid out their strategies for going forward:
Recruit more foster homes
Open HCAS on Sundays with an all-volunteer staff to increase adoptions and RTO rates.
Decrease pit bull terrier intake by 10% through targeted sterilization clinics and the distribution of vouchers
Implement more heartworm treatment for all dogs
Expand transfer programs to include more than 60 additional rescue groups
Implement a Canine Test Drive Program, where potential adopters can take home a dog or cat over the weekend to see if the pet will work out in the home
Implement the use of microchip scanners in the field to increase RTO rates.
The partners continue to meet on their own to review the data they collect and plan joint events.
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