Common Elements of No Kill Success

November 2012

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Is there a magic formula for achieving no-kill? Maddie's Fund® conducted an informal telephone survey of seventeen no-kill communities* asking, "What are the five most important things you've done that have brought you no-kill success?" We tallied the collective wisdom, and here are the results (from most mentioned to least mentioned), with a sampling of comments below.

1.Marketing/PR (cited by 19 respondents)

  • Good relations with local media are so important. We're on a first name basis with local media people who promote us a lot and who let the community know when we need things and have events.
  • It's important to have great PR in order to have a community presence. You need to have a clear purpose of saving lives and communicate that to the community so they'll jump on the bandwagon.
  • We have great marketing of all kinds: Website, Facebook, Twitter, e-blasts, community events.

2. Adoption Specials (cited by 13 respondents)

  • Our adoption manager watches the animal population every day and if it gets to a set threshold, we have a promotion ready to go so animals don't languish in the shelter.
  • We have tons of specials on animals. Right now we have a special on chocolate labs - we did one on black labs recently ($30). We usually have a cat special (starting at $5) and cats that have been in the shelter the longest are usually free with a starter kit.
  • When we're overpopulated with a certain type of animal, we'll have sales.
  • We do promotions such as playmate specials - adopt one and the second adoption fee is waived. We had Love-A-Bull on Valentine's Day (dressed up Pit Bulls and took pictures). Purrs and Paws was a giant adoption event with other rescues.
  • We have had great success with innovative programs such as "cats with colds", a promotion we did when we had a high outbreak of URI. The adoption fee was waived and all of the cats were sent home with medications and information from the veterinarian. We didn't have to euthanize cats and had no returns from the community. The community really embraced it. It was a win-win for everyone.

3. Community Engagement (cited by 11 respondents)

  • You have to have trust in the community and trust people and communicate your needs and what you need help with - this runs through everything we do. When a storm knocked out our power, we asked the community for foster homes and put 80 animals into foster care within three hours.
  • Move out of the way and let the people do the work. Trust fosters, have specials, etc. because the alternative is death.

4. Volunteers (cited by nine respondents)

  • Volunteers almost double our workforce.
  • Many volunteers work with more difficult to place animals.
  • We have a wonderful volunteer who puts together engaging videos, giving exposure to harder to adopt animals.
  • We launched a pit crew, a group of volunteers that work specifically with bully breeds. This stimulates community interest in Pit Bulls and reduces the stigma. Volunteers take them to offsite events with "adopt me" jackets on.

5. Veterinary Care/Behavior Rehabilitation (cited by six respondents)

  • We have behavior interns who work with cats and dogs. They socialize the cats and relax them, which cuts down URIs and helps their personalities come through. We have had more than 50 dogs who would have been considered unadoptable go through this program and they were adopted.
  • We have a panel that evaluates difficult animals. They really look at the individual animal to come up with a game plan to try to fix that particular animal's problem.

5. Collaboration (cited by six respondents)

  • We work collaboratively with other rescues in the area. We share resources, ideas, and information and work on promotions together.
  • Our no-kill campaign actively involved city officials in helping to communicate the need to reduce the euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats.

5. Commitment (cited by six respondents)

  • Our mindset of having to find homes is what drives us.

6. Physical shelter (cited by five respondents)

  • We built a state-of-the art animal shelter in 2009. The new building is huge for the animals and for the public - it has become a destination for adopters, animal supporters and the interested public. We have ample space for adopters, volunteers, humane education programs, youth camps and even birthday parties. People want to be here and the animals look happy and cared for.

6. Customer Service (cited by five respondents)

  • We have a great, devoted staff. They try so hard to accept everyone who walks through the door as a potential adopter. They want to help the animals and we should let them.

6. Spay/Neuter (cited by five respondents)

7. Leadership (cited by four respondents)

  • We have visionary shelter leadership with a high functioning Board of Trustees providing strong fiscal oversight.
  • We're fortunate to have a great and lenient Board of Directors that allows us to do promotions and reduce fees when we need to.
  • We have a great director and staff that work really hard and are very involved.
  • It's essential to have a strong leader and a great board.

8. Offsite Adoptions (cited by two respondents)

8. Keeping Pets in Homes (cited by two respondents)

  • Our owner surrender program works with people to try to slow down intake. 33% of the people who call to surrender end up not doing so. We work with people or tell them how they could re-home the animal themselves.
  • All intake is scheduled by appointment to avoid overcrowding.

9. Staff Training (cited by one respondent)

*Communities came primarily from the No-Kill Communities' website. Population ranged from 11,000 to 496,000 people. Communities were rural and urban and located throughout the U.S.

Shelters Interviewed
Animal Allies Humane Society (MN)
Animal Welfare League of Arlington (VA)
Benzie County Animal Control (MI)
Chippewa County Animal Shelter (MI)
Copper Country Humane Society (MI)
Dane County Humane Society (WI)
Elk Country Animal Shelter (MI)
Elmbrook Humane Society (WI)
Fluvanna SPCA (VA)
Healdsburg Animal Shelter (CA)
Humane Society of Midland County (MI)
Lynchburg Humane Society (VA)
Nevada Humane Society (NV)
Oregon Humane Society (OR)
Rockwall Animal Services (TX)
Upper Penninsula Animal Welfare Shelter (MI)
Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter (TX)

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