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The "101" Department: Conducting a Basic Intake Exam

Expert tips from The HSUS Shelter Services team

  • At intake, look at the animal’s general body condition. Run your hand over his fur to check for flea infestations, bumps, or other skin problems, and do a visual assessment to approximate whether he is underweight, healthy, or—ahem—a bit rotund. RKIRKIMAGRY/

The animal control truck pulls up to your shelter with a new group of strays, and at first all you hear is the engine. When that quiets, you hear the barks and whines of the animals arriving at your facility. Odds are your shelter is already full, and each new drop-off can be overwhelming—especially if it’s your job to find a space for the newcomers.

There’s a temptation to throw up your hands at the thought of adding these new animals to the mix, and to cut corners to save time and stress. But while an intake exam—a basic checkup, which should be done on every animal who comes into your facility—seems like an added burden, it can actually save time down the line. With practice, an intake exam can be done quickly and efficiently. Ten minutes per animal can prevent confusion, disease outbreaks, and even lawsuits.

The intake exam, essentially, is a time to observe the animal’s physical and behavioral issues and record them so they can be handled later (unless, of course, the issue appears to be a medical emergency). It should be performed on all animals entering the shelter—strays and owner surrenders—and should be conducted by two staff members in a less-trafficked, quiet space within the shelter so that observations can be made and recorded without constant interruption.

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