When KC Pet Project took on the operations of the Kansas City, Missouri, animal shelter eight years ago, the brand-new organization had a formidable task ahead. For many years the shelter had been euthanizing between 50 and 70% of the nearly 7,000 pets who came in through its doors each year. But that was not an option for the new managers.
“We started from the beginning with the mindset that we would work to save every pet that came into our shelter,” says Tori Fugate, chief communications officer for the organization. The small team of 25 worked out of a nearly 50-year-old shelter, a converted construction shed. “We lived by the model, ‘Solutions – Not Excuses’.”
In a remarkable turnaround, within just a few months, KC Pet Project was saving more than 90% of all animals entering the shelter. And it’s maintained that rate over the years.
KC Pet Project is a shining example of how some animal shelters, powered by new ideas and a drive to end unnecessary pet euthanasia, are coming up with innovative models to increase pet adoption rates. Using social media, user-friendly adoption venues like cat cafes, and cultivating stronger community partnerships, these shelters are raising awareness about pet adoption and significantly reducing pet euthanasia rates for healthy, adoptable pets.
In Chicago, Tree House Humane Society opened a cat café inside the shelter to improve adoption rates of cats with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Shelter director Raissa Allaire told the local ABC news affiliate that FeLV is often misunderstood by potential adopters, so the cat cafe is intended to help give these cats a second chance at their forever home. The shelter has had such a high success rate that it is now taking cats with FeLV from other shelters to keep up with demand—something no one could have predicted when the effort began.
Some shelters are working to stem the source of kittens who enter in droves every spring by improving the welfare of community cats. The Williamson County Animal Shelter in Tennessee earlier this year announced a goal of spaying and neutering 2020 cats for the year 2020. The program began in April 2019, with 1,000 community and feral cats around the county trapped, spayed and/or neutered and returned home.
As for KC Pet Project, its staff reached out to the community to help them in their noble effort, building an ever-growing network of volunteers and foster families. The shelter also opened an adoption centers inside a high-traffic retail area followed by another inside a Petco store, and developed programs like playgroups, kitten showers held at local breweries to raise funding for kittens at the shelter, the Bottle Baby squad, in which a dedicated group of volunteers care for neonatal kittens in the shelter, and the Dog Day Out program, which allows volunteers to take dogs out of the shelter for a day.
The shelter partnered with nine additional Petco stores and with a local cat café to adopt out cats.
Recently, KC Pet Project made national headlines with an adoption promotion involving Derrick Nnadi of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Nnadi advanced the idea of his sponsoring a dog’s adoption fee for every Chiefs’ win. The shelter’s marketing team worked with him to create cute graphics featuring each dog whose fee he paid, and 15 dogs were adopted during the season.
“A few days before the Super Bowl, we got a call saying that if the Chiefs won, Derrick wanted to sponsor the adoption fees of ALL of the dogs at our shelter. The day after the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV, we had 109 dogs in our care looking for new families and more than 90 have been adopted due to his incredible generosity,” Fugate says. The news was shared by celebrities and the media, reaching more than a billion people.
While the HSUS does not operate shelters, cutting down on pet euthanasia and increasing adoptions is an important part of our mission, and we have introduced several programs to assist shelters reach this goal. Our Shelter Ally Project, for instance, pairs struggling shelters with more successful peers to offer mentorship and save more animal lives beyond their own facilities. Our Puppy Friendly Pet Stores program helps pet stores partner with local shelters and rescue groups to increase homeless pet adoption and end the problem of puppy mills. Our award-winning Animal Sheltering magazine has been offering news from the field, hands-on tips and expert advice to shelters, rescues and animal care and control agencies since the 1970s. Each year, we host Animal Care Expo, a world-class educational and networking conference for people working in animal sheltering, care, control and rescue so they can do the best and most effective jobs possible. And through the Shelter Pet Project, a public awareness campaign, we educate would-be adopters to make shelters their first choice when adding a pet to their family. In fact, all this month, in nearly 300 malls nationwide, the Shelter Pet Project is featuring local shelter pets for adoption via Lightbox displays.
Fugate also has some advice of her own for shelters that may be struggling with bringing down euthanasia rates. “I tell animal shelters who are struggling to share their struggles. Share how the community can get involved to help you save lives. If you need more volunteers, tell people how they can start. There are also businesses and individuals out there that will help – never hesitate to ask. Talk to photographers about coming out and taking pictures of your adoptables, partner with your local brewery to host a happy hour to support the shelter, and think of cute out-of-the-box ideas to promote your organization. Show what life is like at your shelter through social media and share cute updates about your pets looking for homes, how the community can donate funds or in-kind gifts, your staff and volunteers hard at work, and even medical pets who need help.
“Also, this industry is full of like-minded professionals who have been through what you’re going through. When I started, I knew nothing about animal welfare, and I reached out to marketing professionals from other shelters outside of our area to find out what they were doing. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, but KC Pet Project is proof that you can start from the bottom and work your way up into a lifesaving shelter.”
Tori Fugate and Dr. Heather Kennedy, director of feline operations at KC Pet Project, will make presentations at the HSUS’s Animal Care Expo 2020, being held in San Antonio, Texas, from May 6-9. Register now with the code BLOG25 for $25 off full conference registration.