Tag Archives: shelters

Thank you Guy and the Anti-Cruelty Society for your blog about the importance of ID tags and Microchipping!

Wally

On April 29, 2015, the Anti-cruelty Society posted this blog What’s in a name…if you don’t have proper ID?

While we are thrilled that Anti-Cruelty is promoting microchipping and ID tags as a way to get lost pets home, we would have hoped that this campaign would have been promoted soon after the ordinance was passed. There was a window of four months before the ordinance was implemented that Chicago  animal welfare organizations could have offered free and low cost microchip clinics in low income and under served areas. Also, a public campaign about the change of the stray hold should have been implemented.

It is stated in Anti-Cruelty’s blog that historically the return to owner (RTO) rate is 2% for lost pets without identification or microchips. Although this may be statistically true, in our opinion, reducing the stray hold was a knee jerk reaction that will result in the missed reunions of many family pets. Implementing more proactive procedures to return more lost pets home should have been the first approach. For your review, we have included our recommendations that were presented two years ago to the Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) Management team. These recommendations were never introduced.

Use Facebook to Help Increase Your Shelter’s Return to Owner Rate

dogx-topper-mediumMany animal shelters in America have contracts with local municipalities to hold “stray” dogs for the state-mandated stray hold to give owners an opportunity to reclaim their lost dog. This period of time varies from state to state.

A shelter typically has two windows of opportunity to help people find their lost dog:

  1. When a person who has lost a dog comes in or calls to file a report.
  2. When “stray” dogs are picked up and impounded at the facility.

Today we want to talk about using Facebook to maximum potential to help lost dogs get home. We are thrilled to see so many shelters and animal control facilities (big and small) using Facebook to try to reunite lost dogs with their owners.

We have been in the Facebook game since our inception in early 2010 and we’ve seen a lot of changes along the way. We have gained a large following and have learned many lessons from our successes and failures. We have seen what does and doesn’t work. We have also seen some shelters start to post impounded found dogs on Facebook and then stop, claiming that it isn’t working or that it requires too much time.

We would respectfully like to offer some suggestions that may help make everyone happy:  shelter management, the taxpayer, the shelter donor and volunteer,  the dog’s owner and of course the dog that gets to go back home!

The benefits of posting found dogs on Facebook are numerous:

  1. You will decrease the length of stay for animals in your shelter.
  2. You will free up space for needier animals.
  3. You will increase your shelter’s reputation and goodwill (and possibly generate donations from grateful owners and fans). Nothing tugs at heartstrings better than happy reunion photos when an owner reclaims their dog. Make sure you have a camera handy!
  4. You will become a resource in the community for owners who are missing their dogs. Post articles and tips to help people find their missing dogs. Also post happy reunion stories, microchip clinics in the area, and lost pet flyers for members of your community who are missing their pet.
  5. You will help your community make a “paradigm shift” that not all stray dogs are homeless.

If your “stray” intake is low use your main Facebook page to post them. The beauty of posting lost and found dogs on Facebook is that a neighbor or complete stranger might “happen chance” to see the post of the found dog and know where he/she belongs. Or, they might see the lost dog and then see the post.

Yes, the people that are actively matching (the owner, our volunteers and members of the public who enjoy doing this) will seek out the info where ever it is stored, whether it be on a website or a separate Facebook page but that only takes care of the actual matches (where a lost report matches a found report) which is still a fairly small percentage of the reunions.

The best chance for a “happen chance” reunion is to get the posting in front of the biggest audience possible, which is almost always your main Facebook page that you use for all of your shelter Facebook posts. Pictures of impounded pets are one of the most widely shared posts on Facebook (much more than adoptable pets) so posting them on your main Facebook page has the added benefit of driving traffic to your page so that your adoptables, fundraisers, etc. are also more likely to be seen.

A common mistake we see is shelters that try to run a separate Facebook page for found pets and then not actively working to build the fan base of that page. The average person is not going to stumble across the Found or Stray page by accident and Facebook does not make it easy to search.  So you will only reach those that are actively looking for your page and the likelihood of “happen chance” reunions will be greatly diminished.

If your shelter has such a high intake of “strays” that posting them on your main page is not feasible, then yes, perhaps setting up a separate Facebook page is the best solution.

Here are a few suggestions if you set up a separate page:

  1. Make sure that you include your location name and county in the title of the Facebook page. Make it as easy as possible for people to find it. Include it on your website and in any literature you distribute.
  2. Include links to the Stray page in the “About Us” section of your main Facebook page.
  3. Drive traffic to the Stray page at least once per day (more at the beginning) by sharing a post from it onto your main page and reminding your fans that “All impounded pets at xxxx shelter can be seen by visiting our Stray page”. Use hotlinks and Facebook tags whenever possible so that people can just click and be taken directly to the new page.
  4. Ask one or two volunteers to help you with this page and give them full access to it. They should engage with the fans and commenters. It’s called “social” media for a reason!  Make sure they answer every question and respond to comments. Get your community actively engaged in helping reunite found pets!
  5. Volunteer Facebook administrators can also share the posts on other neighborhood pages – including police departments, newspapers, radio stations, vet clinics, dog parks, town pages, garage sale pages, buy/sell pages and popular neighborhood hangouts like bars and restaurants. This can quickly increase the fan base of your page and makes an excellent and rewarding volunteer opportunity for someone who cannot make it into the shelter to do hands-on work.
  6. Do not get discouraged if the public offers to adopt the dog rather than trying to find the owner. Create some standard responses that your volunteers can copy and paste below these comments. And remember! You are lining up potential adopters if an owner does not come forward.
  7. Link your “Stray” page to a Twitter account with a free Facebook app that will automatically retweet everything you post. Once it is set up it is seamless and maintenance free.  You will reach a much broader audience especially if you use hashtags in front of the location. Many police departments and media outlets monitor twitter via hashtag and will retweet your posts for lost and found dogs.

Thank you for helping more lost dogs get home! You can find more tips to help increase your Return to Owner rate in this blog post: Reuniting Lost Dogs with Their Families – How Shelters Can Help

Harnessing the Energy – Part 4

feeding station

Your team of volunteers has worked hard at flyering and posting signs and now you’re getting some sightings! This article will cover what we have found to be the best method for handling these.

The point person should keep a sighting  journal. It is hard to remember all of the details from a phone call. Something that may seem insignificant at first may become very significant as time goes on.  So most importantly, get the name and phone number of the caller, so that you can call back with any extra questions!

Ask the right questions and make detailed notes.

1. Where did you see the dog? Ask them to please be specific. For example: the dog was going north on Ash street toward the Bay City Mall.  On the other side of the street was Walmart.

2. When did you see the dog? What was the weather like? Again, ask for specifics. Example: The dog was seen at 10 a.m. on Monday, August 5th.  It was raining at the time.

3. Can you describe the dog? Was he wearing a collar? What color was the collar? Did he seem okay?

4. What was he doing? Was he trotting, running, darting in and out of traffic, sleeping, playing with other dogs, walking calmly, etc?

5. How was he carrying his body and tail? Was he low to the ground, almost crawling? Was his tail up or down or waggin?

Record all of these details in your journal and then post the sightings to a  map. You can use an old-fashioned paper map or you can use an interactive google or Mapquest map that you can share with your volunteers.   We recommend that you NEVER share this or any sighting information  with the public.

The number one cause of death of lost dogs is that they panic and run into traffic and are killed by a car. When you post sighting locations – you are encouraging reward seekers, wanna be heroes, and overzealous people from rushing to the location and frightening the dog.

Remember, the whole goal now is to let the scared lost dog settle in the area. Then you can implement a plan to catch him (trapping, luring, etc.). But if you are constantly pressuring the dog, he will keep moving, and you will always be behind him. You will have to keep flyering more and more areas and this will be draining on your volunteers. Remember that most of your volunteers have full time jobs, and their own families and dogs to look after. You will need to respect their time and maximize their efforts.

Make sure that your volunteers understand that the goal is to allow the dog to settle in an area. They must change their mindset from “searching” to “luring”.  You wouldn’t try to chase and catch a feral cat. You start feeding a cat in one location and then you trap them. You will use this same approach for a scared, missing dog.

After you get off the phone with the caller, immediately gather the necessary supplies and head to the location. The person most bonded to the dog (if it isn’t you) should also go. But you do not want a large group. You will need:

  • smelly treats (think hotdogs, liverwurst, canned cat food)
  • water and bowls
  • slip lead, regular leash and collar
  • flyers
  • trail camera (or fireplace ashes or cornstarch)

When you arrive at the sighting location:

  • Don’t slam the car door!
  • Stay calm – the dog will feel your nervous energy and may take off again. He could be in hiding watching you.
  • If you see the dog (possible but not probable):
  • The person who is most bonded with the dog should sit or lie down by themselves and scatter tasty treats around themselves and WAIT. It may take minutes or hours for the dog to creep slowly towards them. The dog may circle around and approach from behind. Put your phone on silent and don’t talk on it. Everybody else should leave the area.

If you do not see the dog:

Don’t waste time driving around.

Immediately go door to door and flyer – speaking with everyone. Call in more volunteers to help with this.

If no one is home – leave a flyer that you have handwritten on: SEEN! 4 p.m. May 31 at the edge of your property or corner of this block or across from the Walgreens.  Be specific so the home owner knows to keep a look out. Make sure your flyers clearly state the nobody should call or chase the dog. Just call with sightings.

Before leaving the sighting area:

Leave food and water! Anything except dry kibble (which doesn’t have an odor). Again, think smelly, scrumptious food. If you have a trail camera set it up facing the food so that you can see if the dog is approaching and eating when you aren’t there. . If you don’t have a trail camera, sprinkle fireplace ashes or cornstarch around the bowls so that you can examine the area for tracks when you return.

Remember, when the lost dog’s needs are being met:

He will start to let down his guard.

He will start to trust people and return to a domesticated state of mind.

Your chances of safely capturing him are greatly increased.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss a sighting.  Most sightings are legitimate. People describe dogs differently so don’t dismiss a sighting because the description does not match exactly.  Remember, that the public may not know dog breeds or sizes like you do. They may call an American Eskimo Dog a Samoyed.  Or a shepherd mix a husky. Assume that every sighting is legitimate, unless absolutely proven otherwise,  and mark it on the map. Dogs can travel great distances very fast, especially if they have been pursued. They may be using shortcuts that you aren’t aware of. Don’t assume that a sighting is too far away to be your dog. You will be able to use your map to give you clues to your dog’s paths and patterns.

Next, we will discuss common pitfalls and mistakes that are often made when a rescue is searching for one of their foster or newly adopted dogs. We will try to give you some advice to avoid these pitfalls.

See part 5  http://www.lostdogsillinois.org/harnessing-the-energy-part-5-common-pitfalls/

Previous article http://www.lostdogsillinois.org/harnessing-the-energy-part-3/

Harnessing The Energy – Part 3

Two Illinois based rescues joined together to facilitate Ellie, shy foster dog, return. 30 days later Ellie was trapped.

Effectively coordinating your volunteers in the search for a lost dog is what we call “harnessing the energy”.  When everybody is on the same team and pulling in the same direction, great things can happen.  When the efforts are scattered and fragmented, volunteers will get frustrated and the search can end badly.

This article will focus on the steps to help your rescue or shelter’s volunteers work effectively as a team to generate sightings of the missing dog.

First and foremost – please make sure that you have done the Five Things to Do If You Have Lost Your Dog. Putting scent items and food at the spot where the dog went missing from will help keep him in the area – even if he is unfamiliar with the location.

1. Assign one “point person”.  Preferably this is the person that is most bonded with the lost dog (the owner or foster parent) and with the biggest emotional committment to the process. The point person must be a responsible individual with the time required to be able to answer EVERY phone call and go to every sighting location.  The point person must be dedicated to the process for the days, weeks or months that it might require to successfully catch the dog.

2. Use a phone number on the flyer that will be answered promptly. Do not use a shelter phone number that won’t be answered during closed hours. Do not use an automated voice system or answering service. Many people who see your dog won’t call again. They will try ONCE. If you miss the opportunity to speak with them, you may never get another chance and you might miss valuable information about your dog’s location. Do not rely on texting. Callers need to hear your voice and your emotional commitment to the dog. This will encourage them to keep helping you.

3. Change the message on your phone to include a message about the missing dog. If the caller reaches an ordinary voice message, he may hang up and not try again. The caller must know they’ve reached the correct number to report a sighting.

4. Do NOT offer a reward for the missing dog.  In our experience, this is almost always a bad idea. Rewards encourage people to chase the dog, possibly into oncoming traffic. A dog that is being pursued for a reward will not settle and will become more and more elusive and possibly move out of the area altogether. Then you will have to start all over in a new location.  You want sightings of the dog so that you can implement a plan to catch him safely. Rewards are counterproductive to this effort because you will not be able to pay a reward for each sighting.

5. In the early hours of the dog going missing; rescue volunteers may panic and want to rush to a sighting location to “search”.  This is almost always a bad idea. Their energy should be used for quickly flyering the area – going door to door and trying to speak to as many people as possible and leaving a flyer in their hands.  Searching for a shy lost dog will chase the dog out of the area and possibly into the path of traffic.  Or the dog may go into hiding, reducing sightings and prolonging the search. Your goal is to let the shy lost dog settle, without the pressure of being pursued. You will have a much greater chance of catching him.

6. The point person should be organized and ready to distribute maps and flyers to the volunteers.  Use a Rubbermaid tub in a central location to store flyers, maps and supplies. Then anyone with some time to spare can do some flyering without duplicating efforts.

7.  Don’t congregate noisily in an area to flyer. Don’t slam car doors. The dog may be hidden somewhere nearby watching you. Too much activity may frighten him into leaving the area.  Flyer in groups of two for safety, but be quiet and calm.

8. Pace your volunteers. Make sure they understand that this could take weeks or months. Volunteers will be needed to flyer after every sighting, to make and move signs, to update Craigslist, radio, and  newspaper ads and to keep notifying vet clinics, shelters, etc.

9. Try to keep everyone “in the loop” so they feel useful and engaged. Consider using a closed Facebook group for the volunteers to keep everyone informed. Stay positive. Negativity won’t help and will probably prolong the search. Don’t waste any time in assigning blame for how or why the dog went missing. This does nothing to help find the dog and will decrease the morale of the team.

Next, we’ll focus on the best way to respond when you get your sighting calls.

Part 4  http://www.lostdogsillinois.org/harnessing-the-energy-part-4/

Previous Article http://www.lostdogsillinois.org/harnessing-the-energy-part-2/