On April 6th, Spay Neuter Network (SNN) launched the Pet Resource and Support Center – a collaboration between them, the City of Dallas, and Dallas Animal Services (DAS) – four months earlier than expected. Their goal was to provide services and resources to help keep pets in their homes or place pets directly into foster care or with rescue groups to keep them out of the city shelter entirely. The COVID-19 crisis, however, created the perfect storm where DAS was closed, but pet owners needed help right away, so SNN rolled out the program to meet those needs.
Since then, here are the five ways SNN’s Pet Resource and Support Center is helping pet owners and their pets through the pandemic.
- Provide services and resources to keep pets in their homes. Many times, pet owners just need help getting food or basic medical care for their pets to keep them in their homes. Through the Center, help is available. If someone has a dog or cat that keeps getting pregnant, SNN provides free or low-cost spay-neuter surgery for the pet. If the pet owner needs help with heartworm or flea and tick preventative for their pet, SNN can provide low-cost preventatives to keep their pets healthy. If the pet already has heartworm or skin, ear, or an eye condition that the pet owner can’t afford to treat, SNN can provide or find low-cost services to treat that pet.
- Look for alternative placements. If someone absolutely has to rehome their pet, SNN works on finding alternative placements, like with foster care volunteers or a rescue group, as an alternative to the city shelter. With this new model, foster volunteers and rescue groups can view pets being surrendered on a private Pet Resource and Support Center rescue Trello board. The board is color-coded so groups know if the dog or cat has been fixed and is up-to-date on their vaccinations. SNN provides all sterilizations and vaccinations prior to any placements. Even pets that have a scheduled appointment with DAS are listed on the Trello board so if a rescue group can take the pet in beforehand, the pet never has to enter the city shelter. SNN is currently working with a technology company to develop a program to track this huge database of rescue groups and foster volunteers to give them real-time vacancies for pet placement around the city based on a pet’s species, gender, age, and health.
- Get the pet owner involved in rehoming the pet. “Even though a pet owner is giving up their pet, most still want the best for their pet, and are often pickier than any animal shelter would be in where the animal ends up,” says Bonnie Hill, executive director for SNN. “We are trying to get the community involved in addressing animal welfare and the only way that can happen is if we get pet owners to become part of the solution.”To that end, SNN provides tips, strategies, and support on how to do this. So far, 10% of the calls they have received during the pandemic have successfully rehomed their pets. SNN is working to finalize partnerships with several rehoming sites to make it even easier for owners to rehome their pets.
- Schedule appointments for DAS. If SNN runs out of placement options and the owner can’t keep the pet, SNN is connected with DAS’s internal appointment system and can make appointments for them to surrender their pets, so the animals are entering the shelter on a space-available basis.“Most pet owners don’t want their pets at risk of euthanasia and seem happy to wait for an appointment,” says Hill. “This managed approach streamlines intake and helps DAS know what’s coming into the shelter. They may not have room for a five-year-old, 30-lb. heartworm positive dog today, but they may know they will have space five days later. These few days’ delays in bringing an animal into the shelter could save many other lives.”
- Expand the partnership. Even though SNN started with the City of Dallas and DAS, they are hoping other animal groups in Dallas will want to partner in the program. By partnering with other groups in the community, SNN is ensuring that resources and services, like food, crates, spay-neuter, vaccinations, and other health care or behavior-related support, are readily available to keep pets in their homes, whenever possible.Recently, they added Dallas Pets Alive (DPA) to the partnership. DPA has operated a diversion program for many years to keep animals out of DAS. They are now working directly with SNN to further enhance the services and resources available through the Pet Resource and Support Center, and financially supporting the technology development for the program.
(Editor’s note: SNN plans to share the database technology being created for the program with any group who wants to start a similar program in their community. To get on the waiting list for the technology roll-out, contact Bonniehill@spayneuternet.org.)