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Community building with other animal welfare advocates

A significant reduction of the euthanasia rate in a community is not possible without strong collaboration among many community actors.

Potential Partners to Increase Lifesaving Efforts

Joining forces with other animal welfare advocates will greatly enhance your ability to save lives and find more homes for animals. A collaborative effort between your organization and the following programs and partners is required to create a safe community for pets. Many of these programs and partners likely already exist in your community; determine which organizations are advocating for animals and reach out to them to figure out a way to work together. And if any of these programs are missing, it may be the perfect time to start one.


Most communities have several different types of shelters that take in animals. An open admission shelter takes in every animal that comes through its doors, as well as strays and other animals in need. Limited admission shelters have more input as to which and how many animals they take in. As a community, we need to try to keep animals out of the shelter, but once they arrive at the door, shelters can provide them with the safe and enriching environment they need until they can be adopted.


These organizations often act as transfer partners to help keep shelter populations at a manageable level, allowing all animals to receive humane care and more pets to find loving homes. In addition to foster-based groups, this category also includes prevention-based organizations and trap-neuter- return (TNR) groups that manage community colonies and keep those cats out of the shelter.


These organizations make sterilization and vaccines accessible to everyone in the community. This, in turn, helps to reduce the number of homeless animals.


It is crucial to have a partner within the veterinary community that provides services to shelters and rescues at a reduced cost. Veterinarians can also potentially provide cost assistance programs that cover sterilization, medical care, vaccinations, pet food and other pet-related products for low income households, enabling families in need to give their pets the best care.


Communities may want to consider charging higher rates for intact animals to help encourage people to sterilize their pets. This is also the entity that is responsible for enforcing anti-cruelty laws and investigating claims of abuse and neglect.


Rescue groups and shelters need to be a resource to the public for informed pet ownership. Offer a bevy of free information sessions to encourage people to utilize certain programs such as: vaccinations, licenses, spay and neuter opportunities, training and so on. It is also essential to implement a surrender prevention program to help keep pets in their homes and out of the shelter. Developing a lost pet program will help reunite pets with their families.


Develop relationships with local vendors to get them involved. Pet stores can donate products or space for events, while other local businesses can help raise funds or donate supplies. This also provides additional channels to spread the word about adoptions or other services that your organization may offer. Get local trainers and behaviorists involved with your organization. Ask the media to cover a special event or donate remainder advertising space.

Building a Transfer Program with Local Shelters

Part of having a good relationship with your local open admission shelter or animal control agency involves becoming eligible to accept animals from them. This helps the shelter keep its population at a manageable level and allows you the chance to provide assistance to animals in need of specialized care that the shelter does not have the resources to cover. Many shelters already have a process in place through which they approve new partners, but do not be afraid to have an honest conversation with them if there is something in the application or overall program that concerns you. For example, some shelters insist on an inspection before approving an organization as a placement partner, but that requirement may not make sense if you are a foster- based organization. Instead, offer to send the shelter data that will give them the information they want, such as the number of animals you took in the prior year, number of animals you adopted out, number of foster homes, average number of animals per foster home and average length of time an animal stays in your foster program. If necessary, you can agree to permit an inspection at a mutually agreeable time if a problem should arise. You should also offer to send the shelter monthly statistics on the animals (e.g., whether they have been adopted, any health issues) as transparency helps build trust.

Make sure that any agreement has clear policies on who is eligible to pull animals, how the shelter determines which animals are available for transfer to rescues, how they notify rescue groups of the available animals, how much time you have to accept an animal and pick it up from the shelter, how the animal is transferred from the shelter to the rescue, what is included in the transfer (e.g., sterilization, vaccines, microchip, medication, FIV/FeLV testing) and what fees the shelter will charge.

Also, do not be afraid to negotiate. If a shelter typically insists that rescues accept whatever animals it selects, but your organization specializes in Pomeranians or senior cats, let them know. (By the same token, do not insist on taking every Pomeranian, for example, that comes into the shelter, as the shelter may want to adopt out certain animals themselves.) While you cannot take all the highly adoptable animals, try to take easy cases from time to time to give your organization a break. Let the shelter know what medical and behavioral cases your organization can and cannot handle. If the shelter charges fees for pulling animals or medical treatment they have provided, talk to them if those fees are prohibitively high for your organization and work on a compromise. If you approach them in a respectful manner, talk about your concerns, listen to theirs and can think a little creatively, you should be able to reach a mutually acceptable agreement that will allow you to save more lives together.

Building a Transfer Program with Out-of-State Resources

Many organizations transfer animals to rescue groups in different parts of the country where the supply of animals is low. Always adhere to state and local laws when transferring animals across state lines. At minimum you will need to get a health certificate from your veterinarian. If your organization does transfer animals to other rescue groups or sanctuaries, ensure that the receiving organization provides the same level of care that you would provide. Find your “rescue soul mate”—a partner organization that shares your group’s philosophies on core issues such as adoption policies, temperament testing, fostering, training, medical protocols and when it is appropriate to euthanize.

Visiting a facility, or meeting with people from the receiving rescue in person, is a crucial step in confirming that the animal is being transferred to an organization that follows best practices.

Some transfer programs take animals from the shelter and transport them directly to adopters. But fostering makes a huge difference, not only helping to ensure that the animals are physically healthy when they are sent on their way, but providing the animals with some time in a home to grow more emotionally and behaviorally healthy. Allowing animals to settle down and relax in a home environment can be an important step in preparing them for a long trip and the new environment that awaits.

Placing animals in foster care before their trip also gives the organizations insight into the animals’ true personalities, allowing your partner to advertise the animals with accurate descriptions before they even arrive at their destination. It is also important to provide the destination partner with all medical records and behavioral notes.

Building Coalitions

Building a coalition of many animal welfare and protection organizations in your area is another method of getting the message out concerning homeless animals on a community level. It is also a great way to keep tabs on the progress your community is making and to identify and troubleshoot any problems as a team. While coalitions are not always easy to build, the payoff can be well worth your efforts.

Reach out to other shelters and rescue groups and insist on humane discourse among all parties. You want to create a safe space to work together. Early meetings should focus on establishing a culture of respect, trust and accountability. Start small, with a limited and specific focus—determine why you are meeting, what you hope to accomplish and identify your short-term and long-term goals and projects. Early projects could be as basic as having joint events to establish a culture of respect and trust.

It is vital to always keep your common goals in mind and remember that this is about the animals, not individual egos. Some common goals could be:

  • Keep animals from entering the shelter
  • Create a safe environment for those who do end up in the shelter
  • Improve rates for adoptions, returns to owner and transfers to rescue groups
  • Eliminate euthanasia of adoptable animals

It is important to acknowledge that there will be differences in opinions among the players and know that it is perfectly acceptable to disagree!

Choose someone to lead the group who has a calm demeanor and strong interpersonal skills, and is neutral, fair, patient, a good listener, open-minded, determined and experienced with conflict resolution. Instead of someone who may criticize the participants’ current efforts, choose someone who will focus on everyone’s strengths to determine how to solve areas of weakness. It may even be preferable to get an outside facilitator to lead the early meetings.

Remember to identify other benefits of working in a coalition and resources you can share such as trainings, adoption space and workshops.

When set up carefully, a coalition can be a great resource to all animal advocates in a community and help organizations save more lives.

Available for purchase: Coalition Building for Animal Care Organizations, by Katherine A. McGowan