A strong return-to-owner program can bring immediate joy to lost animals and their worried families, and can work in tandem with your adoption efforts to help your shelter save more lives.
At Marin Humane Society (MHS) in Novato CA, a focused program resulted in a 30% RTO boost for dogs (from 62 percent in 1980 to 92 percent in 2012) and a 32% increase for cats (from 7 percent in 1980 to 39 percent in 2012).
Make sure your photos capture distinct markings and include detailed descriptions, including where the animal was found.
Share the Happy Endings
Promote reunion numbers all over the shelter, and have fun sharing the news.
Get your public excited and involved by encouraging people to promote and share happy endings.
Keep Reaching Out
Always send a letter to whatever address you have for a pet owner, even if it's old – it could get forwarded by the Post Office or the current resident and lead to a reunion.
At MHS, when an animal comes in wearing identification, a volunteer sends a standardized letter to owners in English and/or Spanish.
Sign up for lost-pet alerts from microchip companies and use staff/volunteers to cross-reference them with found animals.
Creating a Flexible, Compassionate Culture
MHS barters with the owners of found pets: If an owner is willing to get the pet neutered, animal-services fees and license penalties may be waived or reduced. Since RTOs don't happen if an animal doesn't go home, consider bending your rules to make those reunions happen.
A heavy emphasis on customer care, non-judgment and persistence permeates MHS's approach. Staff has the authority to work within guidelines rather than be stuck with immovable policies – that way animals aren't held hostage.