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Beyond politics

Shelters, California lawmakers team up for fee-waived events

From Animal Sheltering magazine September/October 2015

As an animal lover and a California assemblyman, Jeff Gorell felt the urge to do something about overcrowding at his local shelter.

After he saw an article in the Ventura County Star about Ventura County Animal Services (VCAS) discounting fees (from $125 to $25) to spur adoptions, Gorell contacted Jennifer Fearing, a lobbyist who represents The HSUS in the state capital. Together they hatched the idea for #Gorell100—an event that aimed to find homes for 100 shelter animals, with Gorell covering the adoption fees. “He put real skin in the game,” Fearing says.

Held in May 2014, the promotion produced 100 adoptions in four days at a shelter that typically adopts out about 13 animals a day, says VCAS director Tara Diller. Organizers touted the event heavily on social media, posting photos of adopters with their new furballs. Online followers could track the progress toward the 100 adoptions goal through the chalkboards adopters held with each pet’s assigned sequential number.

“Because the event was so fun and lighthearted and interactive, it brought … a sense of life into this organization,” Diller says. The overall effect was nothing short of transformative, she adds—boosting staff morale, showing off the shelter’s fun side and promoting the idea of fee-waived adoptions.

“We built up a sense of urgency, but also an environment of family fun,” adds Gorell, noting that the event featured fire engines, balloons, food and animals available for cuddling.

It proved so successful that they did it again last September, adopting out 120 animals. Gorell, who’s no longer in the state Assembly, planned another event for July 2015.

“The cool thing about it is it’s totally not political,” Fearing says. “And there’s nobody who doesn’t like it.”

Fearing has circulated a flier to every California legislative office, hoping to inspire similar promotions. “Obviously, it’s great PR for the legislators,” notes Leigh O’Bryan, a community outreach manager for The HSUS in Los Angeles.

Assemblyman Marc Steinorth picked up the ball in April, holding a three-day #Steinorth100 event at the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Care and Adoption Center. The energy level at the shelter was sky high, Steinorth says, comparing it to an Apple store upon the arrival of the new iPhone. He hopes to repeat the event and expand it to the three other shelters in his district.

Steinorth’s event spurred 52 adoptions—short of the goal but still about two to three times what the shelter does on a typical weekend, says shelter director Veronica Fincher. “We had pets that were adopted that had been in our center for many months, and you can’t put a quantity value on that.”

Diller advises shelters considering similar events to “remember that saving lives is a bipartisan issue.” Some municipal shelters may fear that promotions involving elected officials will be seen as endorsing particular candidates—a legitimate concern if the events aren’t handled correctly, Diller says. She advises shelters to let the community know that animal welfare isn’t tied to a particular party, and that “reaching across the aisle to do anything to save lives tends to overcome a lot of that political nonsense.”

About the Author

James Hettinger is the assistant editorial director for Animal Sheltering magazine at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He's responsible for editing copy and managing the production of the award-winning quarterly publication aimed at shelter and rescue personnel. Prior to joining The HSUS in 2008, James worked for several local newspapers and trade associations in the Washington, D.C., area. He shares his home with three cats: Edgar, Dana and Vinny.