Furburbia

2002

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

(Excerpted from No More Homeless Pets in Utah Report, What Worked, What Didn't, What's Next).

Overview: Furburbia, a.k.a. "the hip place to find true love," is a fun, cheerfully decorated, inviting adoption center located in a busy shopping mall in Salt Lake City.

Furburbia is managed by No More Homeless Pets in Utah, a coalition of no-kill organizations, animal control agencies, traditional shelters and veterinarians throughout the state of Utah.

The adoption center was designed to increase the adoptions of all the groups participating in the coalition. The atmosphere is nothing like the stereotype of a traditional shelter, and it therefore attracts people who are drawn to the idea of adopting, but who aren't comfortable visiting a shelter.

Since Furburbia opened, it has found loving homes for 1,265 animals. Participating rescue groups and shelters fill the nearly 4,000 square feet of space seven days a week. The hours of operation are: Monday through Friday -12 pm to 7 pm; Saturday, 11am to 7pm; and Sunday, 12pm to 5pm.

The company that owns the mall, J.P. Realty, generously donated the space for Furburbia. No More Homeless Pets in Utah was responsible for all remodeling costs. This remodeling included building two off-leash areas and one cat room as well as ripping up the existing carpet and installing vinyl composition tile throughout.

The center is managed by one full-time employee, and has attracted many dedicated volunteers.

To offset operating costs, Furburbia carries merchandise, ranging from leashes to pet food to greeting cards, and accepts donations from the public. Furburbia has received much media coverage, and is a terrific place for photographers and videographers to capture touching photos of adopters with their new pets.

An assessment of what worked after year one:

  • Attaching thick plastic sheets between the chain-link kennels to prevent nose-to-nose contact and to facilitate cleaning.
  • Scheduling two groups each day - Because 20+ groups have access to Furburbia, scheduling is very important. The two group policy was implemented after determining that having more than two groups sharing the space can lead to disagreements. Each group in Furburbia is allotted one half of the cage space. Again, this helps to prevent conflict.
  • Rotating weekends - Because weekends are the busiest time at Furburbia, groups are rotated so that they usually have either one Saturday or one Sunday a month.
  • Creating off-leash areas - The two off-leash rooms are very popular and provide a great place for adopters to really get to know a dog they are considering adopting. The rooms also make Furburbia more fun. Who wouldn't smile at the sight of a kid playing with a dog and a tennis ball?
  • Creating a cat room - Although the cat room has only 4 ft. walls, it still provides a bit of privacy for the cats. For cats who are timid, this room is a safe haven. As a result, these cats are calmer and present themselves as more adoptable.
  • Involving the mall management in decisions - Consulting with the mall management during both the construction process and the ongoing running of the center has been very helpful in solidifying the relationship between the mall and No More Homeless Pets in Utah. Because of the good relationship that has resulted from this communication, the mall management has been very supportive and tends to be fairly understanding when issues (dog barking, smells, etc.) arise.
  • Volunteers - Furburbia has a dedicated crew of volunteers, many of whom are at the center several times a week. All volunteers must attend a training session, and each is granted more responsibility as their skills and knowledge increase.
  • The cleaning protocol - Because Furburbia is such a big place and has hundreds of people trekking through it every day, we worried about our ability to create an effective cleaning protocol. After consulting with several shelter managers and veterinary practices, we established a workable cleaning protocol. It has been quite effective - no incidences of disease outbreak have been reported.
  • Cultivating good relationships with other mall merchants - This was a challenging task, especially in the beginning, because the only things the other merchants heard were construction noise and barking dogs. To combat any negativity, a point was made to let the other merchants know what we were doing and why, and to invite them to see the center when they had the chance. We were also quick to apologize when a dog barked too loudly for too long. The relationship was further helped by the perception that Furburbia has increased foot traffic to the mall, and has thereby increased foot traffic to the other merchants.
  • Setting standardized adoption fees - These fees are $65 for cats and $75 for dogs. Having standardized fees prevents confusion in the minds of the public, who often don't understand that more than one group utilizes Furburbia.
  • Charging rescue groups 5% of their adoption fees - The 5% of every Furburbia adoption fee that goes to No More Homeless Pets in Utah helps to offset the operating costs of the center.
  • Utilizing volunteer construction labor - Volunteers were relied upon to help with construction. This saved a lot of money and also resulted in a greater sense of ownership and pride for the employees and volunteers who helped out during construction.
  •  Purchasing furnishings at thrift stores - The time it took to find good deals on cool furniture at secondhand stores was well worth it. Much money was saved and a good deal of "hipness" was achieved. All in all, the remodeling, decorating, and equipment costs for Furburbia amounted to less than $10,000.

What didn't work:

  • Tiles instead of linoleum - In retrospect, the installation of multiple colors of vinyl composition tile, a choice made because the tiles are both durable and attractive, was not the best choice in light of the need for extremely thorough cleaning of Furburbia every day. Although the floor was sealed to prevent seepage into the spaces between the tiles, sterility would have been easier to maintain had the floor been constructed out of one continuous sheet of linoleum.
  • Letting young kids volunteer - From the beginning, the manager of Furburbia has been inundated with kids wanting to volunteer. This has been a delicate situation - on one hand, you don't want to extinguish a kid's willingness to help and his or her devotion to animals - on the other hand, there are only so many tasks at Furburbia that a young child can perform safely. Also, it is too easy to become an unofficial daycare center, which is burdensome for both staff and participating groups. Because of all this, the decision was made that only kids 14 years and older are allowed to volunteer. Having this as an official policy has made it much easier to turn the younger kids away without hurting their feelings.
  • Expecting the adoption groups to be on time with their animals - All too often, the center is open for a half hour to an hour before the groups and animals arrive. This is, to say the least, undesirable. The public is disappointed to find an empty center and the volunteers and staff are embarrassed to have to admit that the animals are late. This is a constant battle, and one that we do not yet know how to win.
  • Convincing the adoption groups that it is unacceptable to leave before the center closes - Not every group leaves early, but the ones who do are sometimes unapologetic about it. So far we haven't been able to get them to understand the necessity of us having animals up for adoption every moment that the center is open. If we are empty, adoptions are lost and people may be tempted to buy from a breeder or pet store. Again, the fight goes on.
  • Relying solely on the adoption groups to clean the center - Because so many animals from so many different groups and shelters are brought into Furburbia, thorough cleaning is absolutely essential to prevent the spread of disease. The rescue groups and shelters are, in theory, responsible for helping to clean Furburbia every night. Try as we might, there are some groups who do not help with cleaning. All too often, the manager of the center is stuck with a very lengthy, grueling job. To help, a cleaning company has been hired to come in once a week.
  • The "no puppies on the floor" rule - Instituted to help prevent the spread of disease, this is a good rule, but one which is difficult to enforce. So many people pass through Furburbia, and they are so often excited, that asking them not to play with the puppies is futile. We continue to do our best on this one, but the reality is that there will always be some transgressors.
  • Trying to enforce the rule that people sanitize their hands before and after touching each animal - Again, this is a good rule, but one we have trouble enforcing. We do not have enough staff or volunteers to watch every person in the center at all times. We have signs up and dispensers of alcohol hand gel placed prominently near all cages, but often people do not sanitize their hands.
  • Not having a break area - Although Furburbia is designed to be a casual, laid-back, fun place for people to adopt animals, it is possible for the casualness to go too far. For example, in the early days, rescue group members working at Furburbia got into the habit of purchasing food in the mall, settling into the chairs in the front of the center and chowing down. This created an unattractive view and a negative impression of Furburbia for the "customers." To combat this problem, a break area was created in the back of the center, and all volunteers and rescue group members are instructed to eat and take breaks in that area exclusively.

What's next:

  • A stronger focus on merchandising - Our merchandise is not selling as well as we would like. A thorough examination of both our inventory and our merchandising techniques should help immensely.
  • Possibly, Furburbias II and III - If we can, we'd like to expand on this very successful venture into other Utah malls.

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