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Tips for Animal Care Organizations Facing Economic Hardship

Cutting costs without reducing service

In challenging economic times, the first reaction may be to reduce staff or eliminate services across the board. A better approach is to measure and evaluate all programs and procedures and strive to make only those cuts that minimally impact public service and staffing levels.

Administrators should never make budget cuts that compromise critical components of an effective animal care and control program. Such cuts could lead to safety and liability concerns, animal suffering, increased euthanasia rates, angry citizens, and a long-term financial and public image deficit that may far outlast current economic conditions.

An animal care and control program should:

  • Uniformly enforce laws related to public health and safety
  • Promptly investigate complaints of abuse and neglect
  • Humanely shelter stray and homeless animals
  • Work to reunite lost pets with their families
  • Place healthy, behaviorally sound animals in responsible homes
  • Promote responsible pet ownership practices that reduce the burden on animal control
  • Euthanize suffering animals

The following suggestions in the areas of Staffing, Operations, Fundraising and Community Outreach, Combating Budget Cuts, and Prevention may be helpful in reducing operational costs without jeopardizing services.



  • Examine slower traffic days and close or reduce operating hours of the shelter those days.
  • Maintain hours of operations which are convenient for public looking for lost pets or otherwise in need of services.
  • Examine public visitation patterns to your shelter, both for surrenders and adoptions, and ensure that your hours of operations mimic your peak demands for service. Consider reducing your operating hours during times of less demand.
  • Eliminate overtime by staggering shifts, prioritizing routine requests for assistance, and evaluating emergency response protocol.
  • Freeze vacant positions; do not initiate new programs that would require additional staff.
  • Implement minor salary cuts for executive staff or across the board instead of cutting staff.
  • In lieu of salary increases, develop an encouraging but low cost rewards based program.
  • Maximize volunteer involvement to ensure continuity in programs, but be mindful of Federal and State labor laws.
  • Although staff training is crucial, delay training that requires travel or other significant expense and instead look to local resources as training opportunities, such as local veterinarians, universities or community colleges, fire and police departments, online courses, etc.



  • Partner with other local adoption organizations to host adoption events.
  • Postpone non-essential projects that had been planned and don’t begin anything new.
  • Look for volunteers to outsource professional services such as carpentry, plumbing, computer work, landscaping, auto mechanics, etc. and offer recognition for these services.
  • Use low or no cost behavior enrichment options.

Field Services

  • Record or post descriptions of stray animals picked up during the day on the shelter’s answering machine and/or website each night, so people can get a head start on finding a lost animal.
  • Schedule field response and other necessary travel by geographical area to avoid unnecessary mileage and conserve gas.
  • Review emergency response protocols to cut after hours overtime.
  • Return stray animals to owners in field whenever possible.
  • Ideally, carcass removal should never be the responsibility of animal control; this task should be more appropriately assigned to the department of public works, roads and highway, or solid waste.
  • Encourage people to identify their pets with visible tags and microchipping. Give incentives for those that comply such as first return home free.

Supplies and Equipment

  • Ask vendors for deals, discounts, free shipping, and damaged stock.
  • Ask local warehouse stores for donations of damaged items.
  • Look for relationships with non-traditional suppliers such as hotels, for donations of commonly used products such as towels or bedding.
  • Properly store and rotate food stock to avoid expiration and spoilage.
  • Portion food appropriate for age, weight, size, etc. to avoid waste, but never reduce feeding amounts or frequency as a cost-cutting measure.
  • Shut off office equipment and appliances, don’t waste supplies, reuse and recycle.
  • Postpone replacing equipment (non-emergency).
  • Check and calibrate the measuring devices used to mix cleaning solutions and refresh staff on solution ratios to avoid waste.
  • Compare vendor pricing on all products used in the shelter. Keep a detailed pricing sheet on every product and coordinate orders, keeping an eye on shipping costs and minimum order charges.

Fundraising and Community Outreach

  • Maintain constant contact with the media to share positive stories such as lost pet reunions and adoptions, and also to request assistance from the public.
  • Make additional appeals for contributions to board members and high level donors.
  • Consider hiring a direct mail marketing company to increase donations.
  • Public agencies should establish a trust fund for donations that are used specifically for operations and do not go into the general fund.
  • Government agencies should seek volunteers to form a “Friends of” group to conduct outreach and fundraising for the shelter’s needs.
  • Provide additional outlets and increase advertising for the purchase of licenses.
  • Re examine ongoing fundraising events to determine the overall benefit to your organization. Skip events that are less profitable or do not generate community participation and invest in those that do.
  • Publish a "wish list" in your newsletter, on Facebook, and web pages. Prioritize the list with items you regularly purchase. Be specific about brands, and indicate what you cannot accept.
  • Recruit and train new fosters. (retirement communities, etc.)
  • Reach out to other organizations to create a resource exchange program (e.g., wildlife rescue can use expired/buggy food.
  • Give presentations at community centers and homeowner associations about realities/struggles/ways to help.
Combating Budget Cuts
  • Stress the "essential services" aspects of your operation, such as public health and safety.
  • Speak in statistical terms on what the potential budget cut impact would mean in practical terms for service reduction (for example, "A xx% budget cut would result in layoff of xx of staff meaning 1,000 fewer animal nuisance complaints could be handled during the fiscal year xx")
  • Talk about animal intake trends – for example, is intake up due to the poor economy?


To reduce the influx of animals due to the economic downturn, have the following items prepared:

  • List of animal friendly landlords, apartment complexes and hotels.
  • Offer alternatives to relinquishment to shelter, such as behavior help lines and long term boarding facilities.
  • List of low-cost spay & neuter services and veterinarians willing to assist low-income owners. Have this information on hand with animal control officers so that they can continue to message prevention in areas of heightened need to prevent accidental litters.
  • List of insurance companies that do not discriminate based on animal breed. When people have to move, they may need new insurance. If they cannot locate insurance, they may be forced to relinquish pets.
  • List of low cost vaccine clinics.
  • List of food banks that provide stock & distribute pet food and other services to assist people in need of financial assistance who want to keep their animals, or start one yourself.
  • Drop off literature about the shelter to human service centers including unemployment offices, social service centers, churches, and food pantries. Open communication with these organizations so they know what services are offered and what lists you maintain to assist people in need.
  • Seek relationships with shelters inside or outside the area that have open space. Transport networks can assist with moving animals from your facility to shelters and rescues with space available. Screen new placement groups to assure adequate care for your animals.


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