.When the pandemic hit the U.S. earlier this year, Spay Neuter Network (SNN) in Dallas, Texas, was still months away from launching their Pet Resource and Support Center – a new collaborative initiative between SNN, the City of Dallas, and Dallas Animal Services (DAS). Through this initiative, SNN wanted to flip the traditional model of people showing up at DAS to surrender their pets and offer “rescue” to pet owners before the animal entered the shelter rather than afterward.

“We thought if we provided the right mix of services and resources, we could keep more pets in their homes,” says Bonnie Hill, executive director for SNN. “And, if the pet owner still wanted to surrender their pet, the next step was to divert the dog or cat to foster care or a rescue group, so the pet didn’t have to enter the city shelter at all.”

To that end, SNN agreed to take over the City of Dallas’ 311 surrender calls with the goal of launching the project in the late summer of 2020 – when they hoped to have some grant funding to support the project.

But then the pandemic arrived. DAS switched to an appointment-only intake system, which slowed the number of animals entering the city shelter and created an immediate need for the Pet Resource and Support Center to help pet owners find other solutions for caring for or relinquishing their pets. SNN closed their physical operations during the month of April but moved up the launch date for the Pet Resource and Support Center. With only a week to prepare, and one day of training for the staff, SNN began taking the 311 calls on April 6 from people wanting to surrender their pets.

“The calls were immediate and continuous,” says Hill. “So many people were being impacted by the pandemic and didn’t have the resources to feed their pets or treat their pets for minor skin conditions or illnesses. We could see the immediate need this service was going to provide during this crisis.”

Creating more life-saving options

While there are programs in place at DAS to prevent euthanasia, from transporting animals out of state to transferring animals to rescue groups or foster volunteers in the state, rescue has traditionally been done in Dallas and throughout the United States after the animal has been surrendered to a shelter. SNN was proposing a huge paradigm shift to change the outcome for animals in Dallas.

“We just felt if people had more options to keep their pets in their homes or out of the city shelter altogether through rescue first, they would opt for those choices instead,” says Hill.

And they did.

Since taking over the 311 surrender calls in April, SNN has handled more than 2,000 calls. Only one-third of those calls resulted in the pets going directly into DAS. The remaining two-thirds of pet owners who originally wanted to surrender their pets have either kept their pets in their homes because of the services or resources provided by the Center; rehomed their pets with guidance from the Center; or found temporary placement for their pets through the Center with a foster volunteer or rescue group. SNN ensures every animal is spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped before being placed anywhere in the community.

“Engaging the community and getting them to become part of the solution is the next step in saving lives and we hope these achievements will be replicated across the country,” says Hill. “We can see its value long past the pandemic and feel this is the next evolutionary step in saving pets’ lives.”