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How to Set Up a Visiting Room

A friendly, welcoming visiting room can help man and critter find out if they’re right for each other before rushing into a lifetime commitment; it’s also a great chance to do some humane educating. Follow these tips, and your visiting room will soon be the next best thing to home.

© Susie Duckworth

1. Select a Tranquil Oasis

Perhaps a tranquil oasis is a bit much to ask for in a shelter environment, but visiting rooms should be away from those ever-present shelter stressors. If you can set up camp away from the bustle of chaotic front offices, all the better—look for small rooms that aren’t being used, or that could be used better. A soundproofed room near the kennels—where adoption staff are accessible but the noise is reduced—is ideal. Even if you don’t have enough people on staff to ensure constant monitoring of the area, for the sake of customer service and safety, potential adopters should always be able to reach a staff member easily. (If possible, your visiting room should have a large window or divided door so staff can keep an eye on the goings-on inside.) Just keep in mind that the visiting room should be a relaxing hangout for animals and potential adopters.

© Susie Duckworth

2. Deal with the Bare Necessities

While some agencies have had benches built into the walls of their visiting rooms during construction, plastic or metal chairs are easy to add and easy to disinfect. Make sure there are enough seats available for a family. If you’ve had couches or other furniture donated, you can use them in your visiting room, but you should consider adding plastic slipcovers that can be easily disinfected; the number of animals who come in and out of a visiting room can make the room a harbor for bacteria and strange, stressful smells, so you have to combine comfort with cleanliness. It’s great to have a disinfection station in the room—one that dispenses waterless antibacterial gels—so folks can wash up after their drool-inducing meet-and-greet. You should keep a mop and paper towels handy, too, in case an excited pup gets a little too excited.

© Susie Duckworth

3. Color Your World

While Martha Stewart may never come to your shelter to adopt an animal, you’d want her to be impressed if she did. Your visiting room should make potential adopters feel happy to be there. Providing attractive and colorful “get to know you” space is one of the things pet stores do well, so take a page from those folks and make your visiting room homey—you can hang some plants and throw down some washable rugs so people who want to sit on the floor can do so without sitting on cold tiles. You can invite students in your area to paint the room in cheerful colors. Once the room is shining, add a tin of treats so that adopters can give their prospective companions some nibbles, and a bin of toys so folks can encourage the animals to play. (Make sure all toys in the visiting room are easily disinfected.)

© Susie Duckworth

4. Begin the Brainwashing

You should never miss an opportunity to educate, and the visiting room provides you with a captive audience. That’s why you should make sure the walls are brimming with information. While there are an almost infinite number of materials you can make available in the visiting room, keep your audience in mind—the folks in the room are considering adopting an animal. What do they really need to know? What you put on display will depend on your community, but here’s a list of possible information:

  • Dos and Don’ts posted for smaller children (i.e., “DON’T put your face too close to the animal’s face,” or “DO pat the animal gently.”)
  • Explanation of why it’s better to adopt a pet
  • Promotion of spaying and neutering and explanation of shelter spay/neuter policies and services
  • List of annual costs of owning a pet, including the costs of veterinary care, grooming, food, supplies, etc.
  • Explanation of why animals should be kept indoors
  • List of vaccinations pets will need
  • Tip sheets on housetraining, introducing new pets to old pets, “pet proofing” your home, etc.
  • Contact information for local trainers and behavior classes
  • List of upcoming events at your shelter

You can even change the information seasonally, adding brochures about the dangers of hot cars in the summer and antifreeze consumption in the winter. If you happen to have a television and VCR in your visiting room, don’t let it go to waste! You can play educational videos about pet ownership, shelter services, and more—and if the videos are particularly helpful for adopters, you can offer them for sale in your shop or at the front desk.

© Susie Duckworth

5. Keep up the Good Work

Once you’ve made your visiting room as welcoming, clean, and educational as it can be, you still aren’t finished. The room must be maintained, so a staffer should routinely check to make sure it’s clean and free of clutter, collecting any toys, rugs, or other items in need of washing and disinfection—and the room should be thoroughly disinfected at the end of each day. While it’s good to allow potential adopters time alone to bond with animals, staff should always keep an eye out to make sure visiting room activities are going well. The best way to handle this may be to accompany potential adopters and the animal from the kennels to the visiting room, and then to stay for a while to ensure things go smoothly, assess compatibility, ask important questions, and provide answers the people may be seeking. If things are going well, the staff member can step outside briefly to give the folks a chance to interact with the animal, and then return to answer questions and provide guidance and assessment. The most important part of a great visiting room is an attentive and helpful staff; regular maintenance and that invaluable “human touch” will keep your visiting room shining—and help you make long-lasting “marriages” between pets and people.


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