Proven Strategies

Program Endorsements

We recognize that it’s not always easy to get buy-in from everyone when creating change and implementing new or innovative programming. We created our program endorsements for organizations to use as a resource to give credit to these programs when additional support is needed. These fundamental guides contain information about five important programs that Best Friends supports. They can be used as a quick reference for easily shareable messaging about each program. 

Click the links below to be directed to the text for each of these resources. Each section contains an overview, program components, and links to helpful resources. You’ll also find a button to download a PDF version of each.

Community-Based Field Services

Community Cat Programs

Conversation-Based Adoption Services

Return-to-Home Programs

Strategic Intake Services

Best Friends supports community-based field services

Today’s animal control field service departments have seen a significant change in how they can successfully serve their communities. After decades of trying to solve animal-related issues through strict enforcement of the laws, agencies have had greater success by using a  community-based approach to these problems. This approach is proving to build better relationships with community residents and encourage higher cooperation and compliance rates, and is resulting in lower animal intake into shelters.

Community Based Field Services GraphicBest Friends Animal Society endorses a community-based model of field services, which can include:

  • The discontinuation of impounding healthy community (aka stray and outdoor) cats
  • The discretion to not issue citations when appropriate
  • Tools and resources such as food and over-the-counter flea and tick treatment to provide free of charge to residents in need

A comprehensive field return-to-owner (F-RTO) program goes beyond simply scanning found dogs for microchips. It can include:

  • Officers interacting with community members to identify who owns the pet
  • Posting information about the pet  on social media platforms before impounding the animal into the shelter
  • Actively attempting to locate a dog’s owner before leaving the scene


Lifesaving Field Services: This online learning module helps animal services officers understand and implement a community-based approach to field operations.

Community Engagement: This free webinar introduces officers to the concept of community-based operations and gives steps for how to get started.

Field Return-to-Owner Playbook: This playbook gives an overview of how to improve or implement a comprehensive field return-to-owner program.

Lifesaving Field Services Playbook: This playbook introduces animal services officers to the concept of community-based operations and gives steps for how to get started.

Community Engagement Strategies: This appendix from the Best Friends Humane Animal Control manual describes how one community made the transition from enforcement-based to community-based field services and how an agency can make that switch.

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Best Friends supports community cat programs

Community cat programs (CCPs) are an integral part of operations for animal shelters across the country. This humane approach is fiscally responsible and effective, providing an  immediate, lasting response for cats in and out of shelters. CCPs also free up valuable resources and increase adoption of cats not eligible for return to their neighborhoods. CCPs are as unique as the communities they serve, but all share one central belief: Trap-and-remove does not work. 

Best Friends Animal Society endorses CCPs. To Best Friends, these programs can include:

Community cat program endorsement

  • Implementing trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) and return-to-field (RTF) for community cats
  • Passing local ordinances that support or, at the very least, do not work against CCPs
  • Not accepting healthy community cats into a shelter program when access to  spay/neuter is not available
  • Using strategic intake to leave kittens outside with their nursing mom until they are  of age for surgery
  • Addressing complaints with meaningful nuisance mitigation
  • Using TNVR in areas of limited resources only to support RTF programs or provide direct intake prevention

Through TNVR and RTF, cats:

  • Are either feral or friendly
  • Are at the age and weight that the spay/neuter provider deems appropriate for surgery
  • Are returned after an overnight recovery period for females
  • Receive one dose of FVCRP and one dose of rabies (if the cat is old enough, per local legislation)
  • Are, in most cases, un-microchipped
  • Are with or without known caregivers 


Community Cat Programs Handbook: The revised version of this handbook is fully updated with the latest research and effective  practices to start or enhance a community cat program. The handbook acknowledges the unique relationships between free-roaming cats and community residents, and demonstrates how CCPs benefit everyone.

Community Cat Programs Playbook: This playbook provides a brief overview of CCPs, some details on program composition and a list of resources to aid in creating and implementing a CCP.

Community cat programs online courses: This series of free online learning courses offers information about the various components of a strong community cat program.

People, Pets and Policies: This comprehensive guide, produced with the International Municipal Lawyers Association, provides municipalities with programs and policies that encourage the humane treatment of animals.

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Best Friends supports conversation-based adoption services

Local placement options account for most animal outcomes in shelters with a save rate of 90% or more. However, adoption takes the top spot, representing 63.4% of all outcomes in 2,118 no-kill shelters in 2019. Adoption plays the largest role in both closing the lifesaving gap and leveraging the community to support cats and dogs in shelters. 

Best Friends Animal Society endorses the practice of conversation-based adoptions. To Best Friends, that can mean:

Conversation-based adoption graphic

  • Having nonjudgmental conversations with prospective adopters instead of having them fill out lengthy applications
  • Striving to be inclusive and counteracting any biases around who is a suitable adopter
  • Removing home, veterinarian and landlord checks, while providing adopters with information about the importance and availability of veterinary care
  • Removing the requirement that adopters have a fenced-in yard
  • Removing adopter and family age restrictions with a focus on supporting adopters to find the pets best matched to their home environment
  • Offering reduced-fee or fee-waived adoptions
  • Having open hours outside of standard business hours
  • Making pets available for adoption as soon as they are taken into the shelter
  • Having same-day adoptions
  • Marketing pets to all constituents
  • Releasing pets prior to spay/neuter with contracts to sterilize or as foster-to-adopt when access to surgery is limited


Open Adoptions Playbook: This playbook describes basic considerations and steps that every agency can take to create a well-rounded open-adoption program.

Client Service and Adoptions: This online course helps learners understand the differences between client and customer, identify the crucial components of client communication, analyze client service strategies that build long-term relationships and examine proven lifesaving adoption policies and processes.  

Best Friends Adoption Barrier Study: This qualitative study was done to understand the pet acquisition process, existing barriers (real or perceived) to adoption and potential solutions to overcome those barriers.

You Asked the Potential Adopter What?: In this editorial, Sue Cosby, Best Friends senior director of lifesaving centers, provides a reality check regarding screening of potential adopters.

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Best Friends supports return-to-home programs

Reuniting lost pets with their people is one of the most critical roles for shelters across the country. A solid return-to-owner (aka return-to-home) program encompasses everyone on the shelter’s team, including animal control officers returning pets in the field (instead of bringing them to a shelter), intake staff scanning stray pets for microchips, volunteers managing lost-and-found social media pages and support given by platforms like Petco’s Love Lost

Return to home graphicBest Friends Animal Society endorses collaborative and robust return-to-home programs. To Best Friends, a successful return-to-home program includes components like these:

  • Allows the public to view and place an adoption hold on an animal before the animal’s stray hold period expires
  • Includes a foster-finder program to help keep pets in the neighborhoods where they were found
  • Equips officers to support return-to-home in the field
  • Leverages utility companies to help with dead-end microchips
  • Promotes communication first when a free-of-restraint pet is found (when a loose pet is found, seeing if the surroundings give any clues as to where the owner is located, then talking to neighbors and leaving ample signage if no owner is found)
  • Waives return-to-home fees and citations when those are barriers to reunification
  • Hosts low-cost or free microchip clinics in the community, while offering microchips to the public at the shelter
  • Includes microchips as a central component of the licensure program 
  • Allows owners to look for lost pets at the shelter anytime staff are on-site, even outside of normal business hours


Return-to-Owner Playbook: This playbook provides an overview of return-to-owner (RTO) programs and help you implement an aggressive RTO program at your agency. By making every effort to identify and notify pet owners and make  the  process  of  reunification  easy,  agencies  can  ensure  that  their  limited  resources  are  spent  where  they  are  needed most.

Field Return-to-Owner Playbook: Recently, there has been a shift toward field officers playing a role in the overall lifesaving team by working to reduce intake through various programs. This playbook provides an overview of field return-to-owner (F-RTO) programs and help you implement an aggressive F-RTO program at your animal control agency.

A Call-Takers Guide to Fielding Loose Animal Calls During COVID-19: During the pandemic, shelters and field service departments have cut back, even eliminated, their responses to loose animal calls. This is a necessary step and will support lifesaving efforts; however, it can mean challenging conversations with members of the public when they call to make a report. Call-takers should see this as an opportunity to provide helpful information to the public and work to resolve issues by using the resources that already exist within the community.

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Best Friends supports  strategic intake services

Strategic intake graphicLimited- and open-admission shelters across the country are successfully transitioning to strategic or managed intake. An appointment-based style of intake allows organizations to provide tailored resources to their constituents and break free of the ineffective, one-size-fits-all practice of open intake. 

Strategic intake is beneficial to shelter staff because it helps them to better manage their daily tasks, allowing them to focus on the needs of pet owners and their pets. It benefits pet owners by providing them with individualized attention and resources. Strategic intake should be seen as an expansion of services, not a reduction, because the resources freed up through this approach are redirected to other lifesaving efforts.

Best Friends Animal Society endorses strategic intake. To Best Friends, strategic intake can include:

  • Expanding the services being offered to constituents
  • Scheduling appointments with pet owners and then having conversations with them to find the best outcome for their pets, which often includes alternatives to their pets entering the shelter
  • Partnering with private organizations to help support pet owners needing assistance
  • Offering temporary foster care and boarding services for pet owners who are unable to care for their pets for a short period of time
  • Implementing finder-foster programs that help keep stray pets in the same neighborhoods where they were found
  • Still accepting pets in need of urgent care without an appointment
  • Practicing return-to-owner in the field and offering a community cat program


Managed Intake or Admissions Playbook: This playbook provides an overview of managed intake and helps you implement a managed intake program at your agency. 

Managed Intake and Admissions: This online learning course provides information about the benefits, composition and fundamentals of managed intake.

These Best Friends town hall meetings provide insight about managed intake:

Intake Diversion in the Field: This playbook provides a general understanding of how to implement a robust intake diversion program or enhance an existing program as it pertains to field service operations. 

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