Something about the holidays brings out the best in people – and Charleston Animal Society (CAS) leveraged the season’s magic with its Holiday Heroes foster program.
Thanks to the short-term program, the agency found homes for an additional 20 animals and recruited 16 new foster families in a three-week period.
CAS invited community members to come to the shelter the first week of December to pick out a dog or cat to foster, with the goal of getting that animal adopted by Christmas. CAS provided Holiday Heroes with all the supplies they would need for their foster animal, including food, crate, leash, etc.
Foster families were taught the nuts and bolts of the program, and since CAS allowed foster families to find their foster animal’s new home and complete the adoption offsite, the training included information on how to fill out adoption paperwork and take payment.
The program is very much like the agency’s Adoption Ambassadors program, except that Holiday Heroes has a set end time (Christmas). Also, with the Adoption Ambassadors program, CAS co-markets the foster animal with the Ambassador; with Holiday Heroes the goal is for fosters to find a friend or family member to adopt their animal.
If a home couldn’t be found by Christmas, Holiday Heroes had the option of returning the animals to the shelter or continuing to look for a home. In the program’s very first year no Holiday Heroes returned their foster animal and only three animals were still in foster care after Christmas – and those three were eventually adopted as well.
A week before the program started, the agency promoted Holiday Heroes by passing out post cards at a large fundraising event with approximately 4,000 attendees. After the initial kickoff, CAS used Facebook and emails to promote the program.
In all, 18 Holiday Heroes signed up, and only two of them were already CAS fosters. The program found homes for 20 animals – 12 dogs, one puppy, one cat and six kittens.
One of the program’s major successes was Bella, a heartworm-positive senior Pomeranian with a severe heart murmur. Her Holiday Hero nurtured her while she completed her heartworm treatments, spruced her up, wrote a bio about her and even had a friend do a photo shoot for her. Bella’s Holiday Hero posted updates about her on social media family members who had been following Bella’s progress online decided they wanted to adopt her.
“We promoted Holiday Heroes as a way for people to do something good during the holidays,” said Courtney Gumienny, director of adoptions. “The majority of the Holiday Heroes did not become repeat fosters, and that’s OK. They accomplished what they wanted and we got animals out of the shelter and into homes with minimal effort.”
Aside from the feel-good holiday component of the program, another thing that makes it successful is its short-term nature. “Having a predetermined end to the foster period empowered new people to give it a try,” Gumienny said.