For too long Animal Humane Society (AHS) was unable to move animals quickly into new homes without knowing their veterinary history, what type of pets they were in the home or more detail about why and when they were being surrendered. This put many healthy and happy pets through a lengthy process to get to the adoption floor which created undue stress, illness and congestion in our shelters that affected all of the animals.
Opening our Animal Admissions Center and starting our surrender by appointment process in January 2011 changed all of that. Now we’re able to learn more about the animals that come into our care and when they are arriving. This allows us to set each one on a personal course to get them into a new home as quickly as possible.
"So many animals are being helped because we stepped out of the box, took a risk and really thought and acted different to do more for them," says Janelle Dixon, president and CEO of AHS. "Our changes are working and I am more hopeful and optimistic than I have ever been before."
The following are just a few stories that exemplify the goal of our new surrender process — reduce intake of animals, increase adoptions, and reduce euthanasia.
Champ’s story: A new home before reacting to the shelter environment
Rocky’s story: Utilizing freed-up resources to help more animals
Junior’s story: Moving strays quickly into new homes
Re-homing pets before they get to the shelter
A story of 12 rabbits: Controlling animal intake allows for better accommodations
Romeo’s story: Behavior Helpline helps to keep animals at home
Olive’s story: Still going the distance for stray animals
Xena’s story: Easily placing a senior dog into a new home
Mindy's story: Finding new homes for animals within hours
If you have questions about our new animal admissions process, please contact us. AHS has been and continues to be an open-admission, temporary safe haven for all animals in need of help regardless of their situation.
A new home for Champ that is nothing to sneeze at
Champ, a chocolate Labrador retriever, was surrendered because his owners were moving and could no longer care for him. During his intake appointment at our Woodbury shelter we learned that he had severe allergies to cats that would make a long stay in the shelter very difficult for him. Fortunately, because we were able to learn a great deal about Champ during the appointment with his owner, we were able to place him in the adoption center right away.
Later that day he was leaving the shelter and heading home with his new family. Chances of a severe allergic reaction to the cats in our care that would have left his eyes and lips incredibly swollen were left behind.
“Champ was adopted just four hours after coming in by a family with three kids ages 10, 12 and 15 years old,” says Kristin Livdahl, AHS customer service supervisor. “Their father had a dog at his house and their mother was looking to have a dog for the kids at hers too. They were really excited to adopt him.”
A Rocky start to a happy home
At ten weeks of age, Rocky, a tiny Pomeranian/Yorkshire terrier mix showed aggression over his food bowl while being observed by behavioral specialists at AHS. According to AHS Behavior and Training Manager Paula Zukoff, CPDT, resource guarding is not an abnormal behavior in dogs, but can be dangerous. Some dogs will just growl over their food bowl, but others will bite if a person gets too close.
Our trainers were able to help Rocky by using counter conditioning and desensitization to change his emotions regarding his food bowl and people approaching it. By changing his emotions from being defensive to looking forward to a person approaching, Rocky became adoptable.
We implemented the Food Aggression Rehabilitation program shortly after we launched surrender by appointment in January 2011. The program allows our training and behavior staff to work with dogs that show mild food or resource guarding. Dogs that demonstrated food aggression before the implementation of this program would have been deemed unadoptable because we did not have the time nor the resources to work with them, and often other animal rescues could not take them. Now that we’ve been able to better manage the flow of animals coming into our care with our new surrender by appointment process, there are more resources available to help animals.
“More than 50 dogs have participated in the program since we moved to surrender by appointment,” says Kate Edrmann, AHS behavior and training specialist.” Fifty dogs, like Rocky, have new leases on life by having the opportunity to learn new skills.”
As for Rocky, he took those skills with him. He has never shown food bowl guarding behavior in his new home.
“Rocky is a wonderful addition to my house and on his way to becoming my second therapy dog this summer,” says Susanne Woldman, his new owner. “I can’t thank the trainers enough for all the wonderful behavior modification work they did with him to overcome his aggression.”
Moving strays quickly into homes
Because of surrender by appointment, many unclaimed stray animals like Junior are going to new homes the same day their stray hold expires
On February 10, 2011, a five-year-old orange tabby cat was brought to AHS after he was found outside someone’s house. Because the cat was a stray, we are required by Minnesota law to hold him for five days to allow time for his owner to locate and reclaim him.
We posted his picture and information on our online lost and found bulletin board and he was placed in our adoption center for the duration of his stray hold with a note stating that if he was not reclaimed in five days, he would be available for adoption on February 16.
On February 13, Miguel and his wife Mona arrived at AHS to look for a cat. They spotted two cats they wanted to adopt — one that was available for adoption and the orange tabby that was on day three of his five-day hold. Because Junior still had a few days left on his stray hold, Miguel and Mona took home the first cat (now named Baby) and put an advance adoption hold on the orange tabby so they could come back and adopt him if he was not reclaimed.
As soon as the five-day stray hold was up, Junior was neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and adopted by Miguel and Mona. “Baby and Junior are getting along great. They sleep together, they clean each other, they basically run the house!” says Miguel.
In the past, Junior would have spent the duration of his five-day stray hold in one of our private holding areas and considered for adoption only after the hold expired. Because of our new surrender by appointment animal admissions process, we are now able to determine right away if a stray animal is a candidate for adoption and place him/her in one of our adoption centers to wait out the five-day hold. This allows potential adopters to visit with the animal during the hold time and put him/her on an advance adoption hold to expedite the re-homing of the pet should it not be reclaimed by its owners.
Using other resources to re-home your pet
On February 1, 2011, a man arrived at AHS in Golden Valley to surrender his dog, unaware that an appointment is now required to surrender pets. We did not have available appointments that day in Golden Valley, but we were able to schedule an appointment for the man and his dog that same day in Coon Rapids. The appointment was scheduled for later that day at 6 p.m.
Shortly after 6 p.m., the man walked through the door in Coon Rapids without a dog. He explained that as he entered AHS’s parking lot, he received a call from a family that was willing to take the dog. He was crying from happiness and relief. “He’d had his dog for four years and didn’t want to give him up,” says Laurel, customer service representative at AHS. “He was so happy that his dog would continue to have kids to play with.”
By working directly with our staff to schedule an appointment, we were able to provide the man with information on alternatives to re-homing his dog without having to bring him to the shelter. He was able to use that advice to find his dog a new home in just a matter of hours.
Controlling animal intake helps prevent overcrowding
On February 5, 2011, a woman had an appointment to bring in five domestic rabbits from accidental litters. She also had an additional seven younger rabbits at home that could not yet be surrendered because they didn’t weigh enough for spay/neuter surgery. While we couldn’t take them until they were bigger, we offered to let her bring them in and have a veterinary technician determine their sex so the males and females could be kept separate at home while they gained weight, eliminating the chance of additional unwanted litters.
Shortly before her scheduled appointment time, she called and explained that she was feeling very overwhelmed by the whole situation and asked if we could please take all the rabbits from her that day, even the seven that were still too small. Because of our new surrender by appointment process, we were able to accommodate all of the rabbits.
Before our new admissions process, such a large influx of rabbits would have put an incredible strain on our system. Surrender by appointment allows us to control the flow of animals coming in, therefore eliminating the risk of over crowding.
Behavior Helpline helps animals stay in their home
In January 2011, Peggy adopted a 10-month-old Boston terrier/pug named Romeo from AHS in Golden Valley. After about a month, Peggy called our Behavior Helpline asking for advice. Romeo was a wonderful dog but there was one problem — he wouldn’t stop barking.
Peggy did not want to return Romeo, but she was growing increasingly frustrated as he would bark at everything and everyone. She spoke with Brandon, an AHS behavior counselor, and explained the problem. Brandon told Peggy how to teach Romeo "quiet" on cue to help solve nuisance barking. He encouraged her to enroll in a training class and continue working consistently with Romeo to stop his incessant barking. Peggy thanked Brandon for his help and for making her feel better.
Shortly after, Romeo began training classes and Peggy started working with him on learning to be quiet. She taught him that when he starts barking, he gets a timeout in a room with no treats or toys. He can only come out of the room when he has calmed and stopped barking.
“Now if he’s barking, I say ‘do you want a time out?’ and he knows what that means and will be quiet,” says Peggy. “I’m grateful for the Behavior Helpline. Brandon gave me great advice and helped me understand that it will take time and patience, but we can work through this. Romeo is definitely a keeper!”
To accommodate our new animal admission process, AHS’s Behavior Helpline is now available seven days a week to help individuals that are experiencing problems with their pet. Many pet behavior problems are resolvable. By working with our staff, people are often able to keep their pet in their home.
Olive, a stray’s story of hope
January 11, 2011, was a blustery mix of wet snow and bitter cold, much of what we experienced this winter. It was on that bitter day a Twin Cities man discovered a tiny cat frozen to the sidewalk outside of his apartment building. Not knowing what to do or where to turn, he immediately thought of AHS, carefully retrieved the terrified cat, now known as Olive, and drove to our Golden Valley location.
Although we ask the public to make an appointment to surrender an animal, we are able to accommodate special circumstances — and Olive’s situation was urgent. AHS veterinary technicians were quickly able to exam her when she arrived. Despite the pain she was feeling from her ordeal she still purred throughout her entire exam and the team of technicians began the process of warming her frigid body with warm water bottles and towels. Suffering from frostbite damage to her ears, paws, and face Olive’s temperature slowly started to rise.
“For as bad as it started, all she needed from there was time to recover,” recalls Dr. Josh Dwuznik, the AHS veterinarian who treated Olive. Olive rested in her kennel, getting daily food and attention, all the while providing her caretakers with many purrs of affection. Olive’s Good Samaritan saved her from a terrible fate, but her story didn’t end there.
On January 21, Olive was placed in the Golden Valley adoption center. One day later and eleven days after being found near death on a sidewalk, Olive was adopted by another kind stranger and given a new chance at a happy, healthy life.
Xena’s history helps this senior dog find a home
Xena was reluctantly surrendered by her owner, who was in the military and had been deployed. There were no friends or family who could help, so he turned to AHS to find a home for his best friend of 14 years.
When he and Xena arrived for her intake appointment, she immediately received all of her assessments and a detailed profile on Xena was developed with her owner so that potential adopters would know all about this senior dog.
Although we could not spare Xena the confusion and sadness of being separated from the person who had loved her since she was a puppy, we could help her avoid a long stay in our shelter. Xena went quickly to our adoption center and within eleven days was in her new home with a family that loves her.
It can be especially difficult to place a senior dog, but because we were able to sit down and speak with her former owner we were able to quickly move Xena to the adoption center with information that helped her new family make their decision to adopt.
Mindy's tale: From 40 days to seven hours
Shelter environments are often stressful for animals given the new environment they’re in that is unlike what they knew at home and because of the high number of other animals also being cared for in the shelter. At AHS, we take in nearly 20,000 felines each year. Cats in multi-feline situations are prone to upper respiratory infections (URI), which is a highly contagious viral infection that can spread quickly through a feline population. Prior to the implementation of surrender by appointment, the length of stay for a cat at AHS was 40 days creating undue stress often resulting in illness.
Just two months into surrender by appointment, we have found the length of stay for cats drop to 10 days — in turn creating a shelter environment with less stress, less infection, less euthanasia and more resources to help cats. For Mindy, a tiny brown tabby, her time at AHS became mere hours, something that would not have happened prior to surrender by appointment.
Mindy’s owner suffered from allergies and could no longer keep the two-year old cat. He contacted AHS, set up an intake appointment to discuss his options and was asked to bring the cat’s veterinary records. AHS veterinary staff reviewed Mindy’s medical history, scanned her for a microchip, examined her and learned of the tabby’s sweet personality.
That was on a Saturday morning. Hours later, Mindy, who had already been spayed, was in our Golden Valley adoption center and adopted later that day. She only spent seven hours at AHS — a far cry from the 40 days that she may have faced less than a year ago.
Mindy is now living quietly with her new family who say she is doing well… watching the pet fish.