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Learning From Others in the Sheltering Field

Notes from the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter supervisor on how to make the shelter better,

Sara (our shelter’s vet tech) and I just returned from a 3-day conference in Las Vegas. Just returned as in I haven’t even been into the shelter yet, and I’m still on a high. Not just from the energy of Vegas — non-stop noise, flashing lights, people moving — it can be a bit disorienting. 

Imagine that same amount of energy going on inside the exhibit halls and workshop rooms. It takes a bit of time to come down. I want to thank the Animal Shelter League for sponsoring us for this conference. I think they will get their money’s worth in new ideas!

This was the Humane Society of the United States largest Expo ever with more than 800 attendees from 41 countries. We were rubbing elbows and sharing experiences with people trying to work for animals from countries such as Egypt, West Indies, Canada and places I’ve never even heard of. 

Some of those countries have no government program for strays or spay/neuter or animal control or anything! In some places there is only one veterinarian, mostly for livestock, in an entire region. When they learn that Rohnert Park and Cotati, which is only a little more than six square miles, has six vet hospitals, several with multiple veterinarians, they are amazed at our resources. It certainly has made me appreciate them more!

It’s interesting — half the time I felt proud of all our programs and services, and was validated that we were doing things right. 

In talking with people from shelters where they didn’t spay and neuter before adoption, not all their animals went out microchipped, the return to owner rate for dogs was under 50 percent (and some much lower), cats with treatable problems like a simple upper respiratory illness were still automatically euthanized, there was no affordable spay/neuter program for their community so the flood of kittens continued year after year — I knew we were doing a great job. 

The other half of the time, though, I found myself being challenged by new ideas and programs that were being presented by other progressive shelters.  It’s hard, and a bit uncomfortable, to have the way you’ve always done something face questioning and scrutiny.

The movement is going towards open adoptions to help move more animals into homes. That sounds great but there’s always the concern about it being a “good” home with “responsible” people. So we’re caught in a juggling act of trying to do what is right for the animal, having some flexibility so that you can work with people who have unique circumstances yet are not being arbitrary and prejudicial in applying rules. 

How far do we go to prevent people from making what we may think is a “mistake” by choosing an animal that we may feel is not a good match for them? My head actually hurts from trying to weigh all the reasons that both sides give and all the pros and cons for doing things one way vs. the other. I’m sure it’s a dialogue that will continue with my staff and volunteers, as we try out new approaches to see how well they work here.

The Expo hall itself was fascinating. Dozens of vendors vying for business and showing off the newest and best products available. I found a microchip vendor that will save us money, a new software product that’s FREE to help with our dog temperament tests and lots of other exciting stuff. 

I spent hours in that hall and still did not get to every booth! After years in the business it’s nice to meet others in the field that are fresh and energetic and I feel I’ve come back with some of that energy. Look for some exciting changes coming soon to your animal shelter!

Upcoming Events: 

Meet the Bunny, 2nd Saturday of each month: Next one is June 9 from 1-5:30 p.m. at the shelter. Meet our adorable adoptable rabbits, have your care questions answered by our knowledgeable volunteers, bring your bunny for a free nail trim and shop our Bunny Boutique for fresh hay, fun toys and fabulous deals on supplies.

Kidz ‘n Critters Summer Camp: First session starts soon so enroll your little animal lover today! One week sessions of fun and learning all about pets.  Details available at rpanimalshelter.org or by stopping by the shelter.

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