Proven Strategies

Man and woman holding tan and white hound dog in front of save them all background

Ten Ways to Get the Public Re-Engaged with Your Shelter Post-COVID

Remember the exhilaration that came from having a huge number of adoptions at a major adoption event? Yeah, me neither. As the number of animals entering shelters begins to climb, we need to rethink social distancing in favor of crowds and big events. They were a lot of work but seeing all those dogs and cats going to homes sure was fun.  

As many communities begin to reopen, many shelters are seeing intakes rise back to pre-pandemic levels, but for many, adoptions and other live-outcome opportunities haven't yet caught up. But as we found in the early days of the pandemic, if we ask our communities to support us, and tell them how best to do that, they have proven their willingness to step up and support our work. We just need to get back in the swing of asking them again. 

You don’t just have to ask them to adopt from you, either (though we all want that). Shelters and rescues always need that help from the community with fundraising, volunteer and foster recruitment and raising their visibility. We gathered ideas from some of our partners that you might like to try to bring those crowds back to your doorstep:   

  1. If you are ready to host an adoption event, take advantage of as many outside spaces as possible. Having the event on your shelter property is the easiest, of course, but parks, parking lots at local businesses and even the beach (if you are lucky enough to be near one, like Jacksonville Humane Society is) are other options. 
Couple with young son with gray pit bull on brick walkway
  1. Since the community helped Stanislaus Animal Services Agency (SASA) by clearing the shelter in three days in March 2020, the organization felt it was time to give back. Since California reopens in June, SASA will be hosting a free microchip drive-thru clinic that month. The shelter estimates it will microchip 1,000 pets at SASA and three community locations: the Salida Fire Department, Waterford Community Center, Patterson Hammon Senior Center and Modesto Centre Plaza Parking Lot. Petco and Hill’s Science Diet are helping as well by providing swag bags for all the pets. SASA will also be distributing English and Spanish pamphlets about the shelter’s services at each location. 
Woman in gray sweatshirt standing next to car with white dog in back seat
  1. Make sure to celebrate members of your community who adopt from you! Some groups, like Lynchburg Humane Society, are posting pictures on social media in front of bright backgrounds or posters with their logo. 
Couple wearing black masks kneeling with dog between them in front of shelter banner
  1. Franklin County Dog Shelter & Adoption Center is using Facebook to advertise their adoptable pets with calls to action like “available tomorrow!” These posts are getting loads of interaction. Franklin County’s post about bonded pair of three-year-old, mixed breeds Ally and Melany was shared out a whopping 1,000-plus times. 
Scruffy dark brown dog standing next to white dog with left ear up
  1. Consider connecting with employers in your area that are starting to bring people back into the office and ask if you can come hang out in their lobby with adoptable pets or to just raise awareness you are open again. Local businesses can also be instrumental in raising funds to support your organization, as well as raising your visibility in the community. Better Together Animal Alliance in Idaho was the beneficiary of an event earlier this year sponsored by local brewpub MickDuff’s Brewing Company. The brewpub donated one dollar for every beer sold (up to $500) while Happy Tails ‘N’ Trails Pet Adventures also put up $500 in matching funds.  
Four people with glasses of beer at brewery
  1. If you are one of the many groups that started doing Facebook Live events to virtually showcase their adoptable animals, we hope you’re continuing to offer the public this great way to see your pet. If you haven’t tapped into this adoption avenue, do it! Long Beach and Colorado-based Live Love Animal Rescue does monthly live updates on Facebook about dogs and cats waiting for new homes as well as details about recent intakes, progress for medical cases, and other highlights of the group’s work.    
Person in gray shirt sitting in front of lap top with brown dog virtually meeting adopters
  1. Challenge your volunteers or Facebook followers to write unique adoption bios for your more challenging-to-place animals. You might even snag national media coverage like Second Chance Pet Adoption League in New Jersey did with Prancer the chihuahua, who they described as “a Chucky doll in a dog’s body.” They have even been able to capitalize on Prancer’s fame by selling t-shirts with his image on them. 
Tan chihuahua standing in grass looking at camera with squinted eyes
  1. Reboot summer programs for the kids now that they are not going to school (or tied to the computer for Zoom calls all day). Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in Palm Beach is launching a new summer program called Rescue Readers. Kids aged five through 15 can “work toward their summer reading goals while providing valuable socialization to the shelter animals.” City Dogs Cleveland/Cleveland Animal Care and Control has a similar program that is still on pause, but in May they held a “Literacy on the Lawn” donation drive at a local elementary school. City Dog alumni Bijou was the special guest, and nothing gets kids more excited about getting involved with shelters than a cute dog! 
Two young kids in grass with one hugging tan dog
  1. Got volunteers? Need more? Try getting creative with your job descriptions to attract more people to your shelter or rescue group. What kind of new volunteer jobs can you offer? Well, Human Animal Support Services suggests “The Matchmaker,” “The Food Bagger,” “The Door-to-Door Greeter,” “The Post-Adoption Support Crew,” “The Getaway Driver,” “The Recovery Assistant,” “The Pet Detective,” “The Toymaker” and “The Ever-Faithful Dishwasher.”  
Man holding black and white cat in front of cage
  1. Since it feels like the dawning of a new day now that we are seeing COVID case rates decline, take the time to freshen up your adoption process and application. Senior director of lifesaving centers Sue Cosby had an excellent editorial this week on why we need to look hard at what we’re asking people and why. What is it we are trying to prevent, and does ruling people out based on the answer they jot down on paper really make sense? Check out these other resources on the topic of removing roadblocks as well: 
    1. Rescue Roadblock Pledge Participants Share Their Success 
    2. Reflecting on Rescue Roadblocks 
    3. Removing Rescue Roadblocks 
    4. If “Nobody’s Perfect” Then Why Do We Expect All Adopters to Be? 
Couple with young daughter holding two kittens

We know everyone is challenged right now with higher intakes—especially neonatal kittens—and staff shortages in addition to fewer people coming through the doors. Bottom line, though, when shelters start providing the opportunities to get involved, the people will come. So just do it (whatever IT is in your community) and you’ll see success! 

Liz Finch
Senior writer
Best Friends Network   

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