The power of partnership

AHS and local rescue organizations team up to help animals in need

By Kelly Erickson

Azure Davis, founder of Ruff Start Rescue

Azure Davis, founder of Ruff Start Rescue

When Charles first arrived at Animal Humane Society, everything was a blur. The 9-month-old terrier mix spent hours on transport from Austin, Texas. He waited his turn as the truck was unloaded. He was weighed, vaccinated, combed for fleas, and given a blue paper collar with his name and ID number.

Charles was led to his new kennel where he’d wait for more veterinary and behavior assessments. Most animals move through this process quickly and make their way to adoption, where they typically wait only a few days to meet their new families. Others are shut down, fearful, or shy and have a difficult time acclimating to shelter life or have behavior or medical issues that require more long-term attention.

Charles needed that extra time and attention. He was stressed and overstimulated — and it soon became apparent that being in the shelter environment was making his behavior worse. Our behavior modification and rehabilitation team went to work developing a plan to address his challenges.

Sam (formerly Charles)

Sam, formerly Charles

Despite all our efforts, Charles’ condition was deteriorating.

Staff believed that Charles would be a great dog in a different environment. He needed to get out of the shelter and into the care of a foster-based rescue organization.

Charles was enrolled in our Partner Placement program, and within days he was placed with 4 Pits Sake Rescue. Once out of the shelter he immediately started improving. His foster family patiently worked with him, redirecting his inappropriate behavior and teaching him good manners. After two months in foster care, a family spotted Charles and made him one of their own. Now named Sam, this pup found his happy new beginning.

Helping more animals

Over the past several years, AHS has invested in programs to help animals overcome even the most daunting medical and behavioral challenges. We can now treat a wide array of conditions — from ringworm and parvovirus to broken bones and shy and fearful behavior.

Most animals recover and thrive in our care, but some— like Charles — have behavior issues that are triggered or intensified by being in a shelter. Some find the environment so stressful they shut down or display extreme fear and aggression. Others have medical conditions that are difficult to treat effectively in a shelter environment. In these circumstances, AHS recognizes the most compassionate way to help these animals is to get them out of the shelter and into a foster home. That’s why AHS partners with nearly 100 rescue organizations around Minnesota to collectively do the best we can to help each individual animal.

Foster-based rescues are often able to provide a long-term environment that is better suited to animals who struggle in shelter — a quieter, individualized space to help them feel more settled, more comfortable, and more confident.

Although AHS has its own foster program, we don't yet have the capacity to support a foster-to-adopt placement process. Our foster volunteers focus primarily on caring for and rehabilitating animals that will eventually return to the shelter for adoption. Demand for foster care is high, and last year more than 400 AHS foster families cared for nearly 2,500 dogs, cats, and critters.

“Partnering with local rescues provides us with more options to help these animals succeed,” says Brie Nodgaard, who manages the Partner Placement program at AHS. “Working together means we can tap into their strengths, and they can tap into ours.”

Cat from Ruff Start Rescue

A welcome change

Rescue organizations across the Twin Cities have welcomed the opportunity to collaborate.

Ruff Start Rescue takes in more dogs from AHS than any other rescue partner. “It’s such a big deal for us that AHS works with rescue groups like ours,” says Ruff Start founder Azure Davis. “We’re excited to be able to help the animals who need the [home-based foster] environment we can provide.”

Dana Andresen, executive director of Feline Rescue, is equally enthusiastic. Her organization focuses primarily on rehabilitating cats with special challenges, including those who do poorly in a shelter environment. “More than half of our cats come from animal control and open admission shelters like AHS,” says Andresen.

While AHS guarantees admission to every animal, most rescue organizations — including Feline Rescue — limit admission to select animals. “Because of that, we have the unique ability to take the cats with very special needs,” says Andresen. “That’s our niche.”

How partner placement works

Every day, Nodgaard reaches out to dozens of AHS partners with photos and detailed profiles of animals who  are candidates for partner placement. Those rescues have seven days to come in and visit with the animals  in order to match them with the right foster homes.  This placement process was designed in collaboration with rescue partners.

Animals who may be struggling in shelter become  candidates for partner placement only after they’ve  been assessed and treated by AHS veterinarians and behavior experts.

Andreia, placed with Ruff Start Rescue

Andreia, placed with Ruff Start Rescue

“Each animal is treated as an individual,” says Anne Johnson, director of shelter support at AHS. “We look at all the options we have to help them succeed in shelter. Ultimately we’re trying to do what’s best for the animal.”

Animals transferred to a rescue partner get the same care from AHS as those who go to adoption, says Johnson. They are sterilized, vaccinated, treated for parasites, and tested for common conditions like heartworm and feline leukemia. AHS also provides a free 30-day supply of any medications the animal needs — even for conditions diagnosed up to 14 days after they leave our care.

If a candidate for partner placement doesn’t receive a commitment within seven days, AHS reevaluates the animal to determine next steps. Last year, more than 93 percent of the animals who were candidates for partner placement were claimed by rescues or placed through an AHS adoption program.

“Sometimes their condition has improved enough that we can work with them in shelter and try to find them a home through adoption,” says Johnson. “Placement as a barn or business cat may also be a good option.” Humane euthanasia is only considered for those who continue to degrade quickly in shelter.

Last year, AHS placed 1,125 animals with rescue partners — roughly five percent of its 22,296 total placements. But for all its success, the Partner Placement program is often maligned and misunderstood.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” says Johnson. “Some people criticize AHS because they think we’ve given up on these animals. They think it’s a death sentence, but nothing could be further from the truth. These animals are candidates because we believe in them and want to help them succeed.”

Dana and a cat

Dana Andresen, executive director of Feline Rescue

Sharing resources

There’s more to these partnerships than simply finding placement for animals.

Rescue partners can also bring animals in their care to AHS Veterinary Centers for low-cost spay/neuter surgeries, specialty surgeries, and wellness services. AHS sterilizes about 5,000 rescue partner animals each year. “We’re able to provide veterinary services to them —from vaccinations to amputations — at a greatly reduced cost. That can add up to thousands of dollars in savings a year for each rescue,” says Johnson.

That makes a huge difference for rescues like Ruff Start, says Davis. “Spending less on veterinary care means we can put more into everything else it takes to save animals.”

AHS also shares resources — including donated beds, blankets, and food — with partner organizations.

We partner with nearly 100 rescue organizations around Minnesota.

View a list of our partners and learn more about how we work together.

For Andresen and Feline Rescue, those shared resources include AHS protocols and expertise on topics from shelter medicine to facilities. “That information is invaluable. I believe in not reinventing the wheel — let’s start with something that works already and figure out how to tailor it to our environment.”

In addition, two AHS veterinarians recently began moonlighting as temporary relief vets for Feline Rescue. “They are giving our own veterinarian the chance to establish protocols,” says Andresen. “That, in turn, will help us be more efficient so we can take more cats in need from AHS.”

Creating a better world for animals

The Partner Placement program is part of a larger AHS effort to increase collaboration among Minnesota’s animal organizations.

Pet Haven, the state’s oldest foster-based rescue, was among the first to partner with AHS. “If we’re not engaged and communicating with one another, then we’re doing a disservice to the animals,” says Sarah Cheesman, Pet Haven’s executive director. “It helps to understand where our work overlaps and where we can best support each other.”

Ruff Start supplies

By sharing resources, we can collectively help more animals.

Feline Rescue staff

Feline Rescue staff

Andresen appreciates Animal Humane Society’s efforts to foster trust and transparency through open communication and behind-the-scenes tours. “There’s nothing better than understanding how AHS is being managed and developing relationships with the people who are responsible for making decisions about an animal’s future.”

These partnerships prove the relationship between AHS and local rescues doesn’t have to be contentious.

“Putting judgments and opinions aside, we’re all focused on one greater mission — to save as many animals as we possibly can,” says Camille Bates of Midwest Animal Rescue and Services. “Ultimately, we’ll make a greater impact on the world by working together.”

That spirit of collaboration and partnership is worth celebrating, says Johnson. “We’re really proud of this program and grateful to our rescue partners for everything we’ve achieved together so far."

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