Did What: Developed contracts that permit adopters to schedule and complete necessary medical procedures, including spay/neuter surgeries, after adopting their pets. These contracts help decrease length of stay for adoptable cats and dogs so they can go home with adopters on the same day.
In this interview, Dr. Uri Donnett, lead veterinarian at Dane County Humane Society (DCHS), and Kelsie Matt, animal medical services operations assistant, tell us how their organization implemented post-adoption spay/neuter contracts. Using these contracts allowed animals to go home with their adopters much quicker and opened valuable space for the shelter to take in other animals.
ASPCApro: Why does your shelter use post-adoption spay/neuter contracts?
Donnett & Matt: DCHS uses post-adoption spay/neuter contracts to decrease length of stay. Contracts are often used for animals who are too young or need more time to recover from illness before surgery. Our use of contracts increased greatly during the pandemic when we discontinued routine spay/neuter prior to adoption to conserve PPE supplies. More recently, during Clear the Shelters, all available kittens could go home that day with post-adoption contracts for spay/neuter.
ASPCApro: What value have you seen these contracts bring since you’ve started implementing them?
Donnett & Matt: There are so many benefits shelter-wide. Having animals leave the shelter decreases the burden on our care staff to clean kennels and provide care. It gives mildly ill animals time to recover in a low-stress environment and reduces the number of medications we give in the shelter. It means we have more space to take in animals who need our care.
We found that many of the kittens were taken to the vet by their adopters and came back to us in excellent health and up to date on all their vaccines. We would have supplied these services at the time of spay/neuter, so we saved money by adopting them out on contract. The kittens also benefitted from socialization and a low-stress environment in their new homes.
We’ve also been able to form crucial relationships with adopters through general stewardship when scheduling surgery. This includes communicating with them about their pet, learning their animal’s new name, sharing pictures and videos, sharing any new behaviors they have learned, and hearing any concerns they may have.
ASPCApro: What does DCHS do in non-compliance situations or in situations when you have to contact adopters repeatedly to get compliance?
Donnett & Matt: We typically note a timeline (within the adoption paperwork) in which surgery needs to be scheduled. For example: “Surgery must be scheduled within 6 months of adoption by contacting AMS Operations Assistant.” If the adopter does not reach out, we will attempt contact a minimum of 2 times, usually 3. We will do this through voicemail but also use email if we have one on record. We give them a deadline to reply if they are interested in scheduling a post-adoption spay/neuter appointment. We consider the contract completed/non-compliant if we do not hear back from the adopter after all attempts have been made and once the time frame for scheduling has elapsed. We try to space out our calls/emails, which seems to help with success in scheduling. With all these systems in place, it is rare we end up with non-compliance situations, and we see it more frequently in our service vouchers (microchip/rabies) vs. spay/neuter vouchers. Since starting the vouchers during the pandemic, we’ve had fewer than 10 non-compliant adopters.
ASPCApro: Are there any tools or templates you could share for other shelters to use if they are interested in trying this out?
Donnett & Matt: We utilize the “voucher” option in PetPoint. We then enter template notes in their medical record stating why the animal is leaving on contract and how long they should wait before scheduling surgery. We track the scheduling and completion of contracts on Google Sheets and Google Calendar. Google Calendar is extremely handy since it’s how we document available and scheduled appointments, and all staff members have access to it.
ASPCApro: Did you come across any challenges, and if so, what did you learn from them?
Donnett & Matt: One challenge was at the start of the pandemic when we couldn’t schedule nearly as many surgeries as before. Some clients were frustrated when they couldn’t get on the schedule immediately but soon realized almost all clinics and shelters were operating at a decreased capacity. We also faced many challenges ordering drugs and supplies due to backorders and long shipping times. We told clients about these supply chain challenges and about our own staffing shortages, which helped them understand why we may need to schedule them out further in advance. We've found it’s always good to be transparent with the client.
ASPCApro: Do you have any tips for animal shelters or rescues that are looking to implement post-adoption spay/neuter contracts?
Donnett & Matt: One of the things that really makes our system work is having someone dedicated to following up on the contracts. For DCHS, that is a paid position, but a dedicated volunteer could also fill this role.
It’s also very important to note the surgery timeline in PetPoint and share it with the adopters since it’s their responsibility to schedule the surgery.
We also use deposits for some of our vouchers, which helps ensure the animal comes back for surgery –see the example at right.