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Online Extra - Towards A More Perfect Union

Two checklists for better relationships

Two checklists for better relationships

Rescues and shelters can develop good working relationships—it just takes a little mutual respect and understanding. "As a community, we’re all in it together," says Robin Scherer, founder and president of Furry Friends Network, a rescue group in Boiling Springs, Penn. "Not one of us is out there trying to win any award for adopting out the most animals. And I think that if you pool your resources and work as a united front, you’re going to be much stronger."

Communication is of the utmost importance when working with a new partner, especially when transferring custody of animals. Be direct about expectations, rules, and limits. Having standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place is tantamount to strong partnerships that get everyone on the same page.

Here are some things rescues and shelters can do to get their relationships going.


Put your best foot forward

  • Draft a letter on your organization’s letterhead introducing yourselves as a rescue. Your letter should include your website and the contact information for the person who will serve as the shelter’s primary liaison, and should explain your mission, policies, and adoption process.
  • Include information about how long you’ve been established; what kinds of animals you take; how many foster homes you work with, and how foster parents are vetted; your total capacity; the typical length of an animal’s stay before placement; your adoption fees; your spay/neuter policy; and details about any veterinary care and training you provide. If you operate an animal care facility, invite the shelter director for a visit.
  • Provide references—from a veterinarian who will vouch for you and from other shelters you work with. You might also consider providing a foster parent or a recent adopter as a reference, too.
  • Provide a copy of your adoption application and adoption contract.
  • If you are a 501(c)3, provide your paperwork. This will demonstrate that you are an organized, legitimate, nonprofit with the funding to provide appropriate care for the animals in your program.

Find your future partners

  • Get online and do a search for your area shelters. Make a list of the organizations with their contact information. If there is more than one sheltering agency in your community, do your homework on their roles—the municipal shelter will likely have different rules and procedures than your local humane society.
  • Get a better sense of what your shelter is dealing with by studying its statistics. This can lead you to a greater understanding of the shelter’s work in the community it serves. Visit the facility to get a sense of what staff cope with on an average day.
  • Check each shelter’s website for staff information; some shelters put staff biographies on their websites, which will make it easier for you to figure out who you’ll need to talk to.
  • Save shelter websites in your Internet browser’s “Favorites” folder so that you can easily go back to look at their animals.
  • Mail or e-mail your information to the shelters on your list.

Get proactive

  • If you don’t hear back from an organization, follow up with a phone call.
  • If the shelter is interested in working with you, discuss how you’ll manage the relationship. They may have SOPs in place for working with rescue groups. If not, draft your own and develop a working contract. Here are some examples of what to consider:
    • Does the organization want you to call when you see an animal you’re interested in fostering, or would they prefer shelter staff call you when they have an animal they’d like help placing?
    • Will the shelter charge rescue groups an adoption fee? Will it provide any vet care before the animal leaves (spay/neuter, vaccinations, dentals, etc)? How quickly should rescuers arrive to pick up animals?

Good relationship skills

  • Respect each other’s missions. Give the shelter due credit for its role in providing these animals with a second chance. Showing the public a solid, productive partnership will improve your reputation, the shelter’s reputation, and help more animals find homes.
  • Once you’re working with an organization, show that you value the partnership. Provide the shelter with updates on animals you’ve taken. If you took in a particular hard luck case (one with behavior or medical issues), let shelter staff know how the animal is doing in foster care—how her medical issues are coming along, whether her behavior is getting better, what you’re doing to help her become more adoptable.
  • Provide photos of the animal in foster care when possible.
  • After you’ve placed an animal, contact the shelter to let them know the good news and give them details about the pet’s new family.

Establish your intent

  • Before you set up a working relationship with a rescue group, have procedures and policies in place. This is crucial for operations as well as for liability coverage. Think about what your needs and limitations are. Here are some issues to consider:
    • How will you select an animal for rescue?
    • What is the process for legal transfer of custody?
    • Will you charge rescue groups a fee? If so, how much?
    • Will you sterilize prior to release? If not, how will you ensure that the animal is sterilized before placement?
  • Create a contract for rescue groups that clearly establishes your policies and procedures.

Check them out

  • Get extensive information from any rescue group that wants to work with you. A responsible rescue organization should be able to provide written information about its practices, foster homes, and general approach to animal care and placement.
  • Get samples of the group’s adoption application and adoption contract.
  • Ask for references from veterinarians and shelters the group already works with, and if possible, ask to do home checks of a few of the group’s foster parents.
  • The rescue’s placement standards for adopters should match, or even exceed, your shelter’s. If you do not support electric fencing or declawing, the rescue group’s policies should match yours. The group should ensure all adoptees are sterilized, and should do home visits when possible.


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