Working the System

January 2010

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

Animal people tend to get their hackles up when shelters refer to homeless pets in business terms. "We're not talking about widgets," they say. "Dogs and cats aren't ‘inventory', they're living things." But that kind of thinking can be a problem. Not only are dogs and cats inventory that need to move quickly to prevent physical and behavioral deterioration, in most shelters, they have an expiration date.

Jane Hoffman, President of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, largely credits the success of her coalition to the business model it has implemented. As she speaks of "wholesalers" (municipal shelters) and "retailers" (rescues and private shelters), "distribution networks" and "air traffic controllers," it becomes obvious that one of the most important things the Mayor's Alliance has done to increase lifesaving from 37% in 2003 to 74% in 2009 is to build an efficient, effective "supply chain."

A supply chain is a system of organizations, people, technology, activities, information and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer (Wikipedia).

Getting the word out
It all starts with e-mail. Twice a day, First Alert e-mails announcing new canine and feline arrivals at New York's municipal shelters (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island) are automatically generated by shelter software and sent to approximately 200 coalition individuals and organizations. These e-mails provide the groups with basic, standard information (age, gender, etc.).

Over the course of a day, additional emails called Special Pleas are sent out by ten "New Hope" staff whose sole job is to comb through the animal control facilities and promote animals they think certain organizations may be particularly interested in. Special Pleas may include a photo, the results of the animal's SAFER test, special characteristics, or a notation like "staff favorite." These e-mails enable Mayor's Alliance partners to better determine if this is an animal they can take.

Automated New Hope Alerts, daily listings of dogs and cats on the euthanasia list, go to groups that choose to receive them. There are also automated Breed Alerts for groups wanting specific breeds. The combination of all of these Alerts has reduced the average length of stay at the city shelters to only four days.

Each year since 2005 the Mayor's Alliance has given Animal Care & Control a Transfer Initiative Grant to help support the New Hope Department. Says Hoffman, "Once the AC&C management saw how beneficial these people were and how effective the transfer initiative was in saving animal lives, they completely embraced the concept and funded additional New Hope employees."

Getting the animals out
Once groups select an animal, they don't need to actually go to the municipal shelters - dogs and cats can be delivered to them through the Mayor's Alliance Wheels of Hope transport system. The Mayor's Alliance has four transport vans on the road seven days a week. The vans shuttle animals from AC&C to private shelters and rescues - they even transport pets from boarding to foster, boarding to a shelter, or a shelter to a new home. The Mayor's Alliance employs eight drivers. In the same vein as embracing the New Hope Department the AC&C has hired three transport drivers of their own.

A transport coordinator or "air traffic controller" on staff at the Mayor's Alliance working closely with the New Hope staff at AC&C coordinates the movement of animals and transport vans. She not only schedules pick-up and deliveries, she also figures out routes, downloads maps, goes through Transport Request Forms and deals with harried drivers via cell phone. Last year, over 5,000 dogs and cats were transported among coalition partners.

Thanks to this smooth, back-end process, groups have been able to move animals through the system seamlessly to speed and increase adoptions. Contributing to this achievement: support from Maddie's Fund. Individual groups use grant funds to expand and enhance adoption facilities and pay for temporary boarding, holding, veterinary bills, grooming and food. Grant funds are also used for staff trainings and the collection of shelter data.

Getting animals into the community
adoption vans courtesy of North Shore Animal League America, an Alliance member group, have brought mobile adoptions to many rescue partners for the first time. About fifteen vans per month are reserved every weekend by Alliance groups coordinated by an Alliance staff member. The vans set up at prime locations chosen by the rescue partners in communities all over New York City. Approximately 1,000 dogs and cats were adopted in 2009, up from 662 in 2008. Offsite adoptions have become so popular; two groups are looking to purchase their own vans. In addition to increasing adoptions, the offsite locations are great for building individual group awareness and support.

See and Be Seen
Keeping shelter pets in the public eye through community events, advertising, publicity - even the "adopt me" vests the shelter dogs wear out on the street - all are critical links in the adoption chain.

Final thoughts
New York's success wouldn't be possible without a strategic plan. "The plan is our roadmap," says Hoffman. "We don't have to spend a lot of time figuring out what to do each year, we just follow the plan. We evaluate what's working and what isn't and modify as needed. But the fact is, we simply couldn't have achieved this level of success without our Strategic Plan - it's invaluable."

Equally important: a broad-based community partnership that includes New York City government, Animal Care and Control of NYC, the rescue community, veterinarians, boarding partners, Maddie's Fund and the public. "Entire communities have to collaborate if we're going to reach the no-kill nation goal," says Maddie's Fund President, Rich Avanzino. "New York City is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when everyone works together to provide a safety net of care for shelter animals."


Please see our Code of Conduct guidelines.