Shelters Use Technology to Overcome COVID Challenges
Over the past weeks, we’ve shared a lot of the creative ways that shelters and rescues have been overcoming the challenges thrown our way by the pandemic. Virtual meet-and-greets, online application processing and streamline systems to manage a greatly increased numbers of fosters have helped many organizations continue their lifesaving work unabated.
While creativity has been key, the common thread between these innovations? Technology.
Here are a few of the leading-edge tech solutions that are helping the animal sheltering industry ride out the current storm and find happy endings for countless animals in need.
With its robust pet search tools and user-friendly interface; automation of core activities like email responses, adoption status updates and application storage; and integration with existing shelter software, Adopets has been simplifying work for shelters since 2016.
Now that COVID-19 has confined many people to their homes, however, the Adopets model is particularly relevant. Shelters that are partially or fully closed to the public can send people to the adoption platform to view, apply for and adopt pets within their organizations—all while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
The fact that the platform readily lets people “meet” pets online makes it well-suited to hosting virtual adoption events as well. And Adopets is working with the Best Friends Network and our Lifesaving Centers to host Find Love Online, a nationwide virtual adoption event from May 27 through May 31.
Adoptable animals from around the country will be gathered into a central venue online for the public to browse, meet animals and complete the adoption process in one sitting. Network partners then only need to physically deliver the pet or arrange a curbside pick-up.
What shelter doesn’t struggle to get good photos of their pets to post online? With Adoptimize, the days of struggling to get a decent picture of a frightened dog on a leash are (almost) over.
“Staff take a 30-second video of a dog in need of foster or adoption, submit it to the site and within minutes, they receive an email with the four best photos of the pet,” says founder and CEO Jessica Schleder. “It makes it super simple.”
Everyone loves a cute pet pic, but the real value of the tool is evident in the data. Before the pandemic, Palm Valley Animal Society experienced a 150% increase in dogs returned to owners during a two-month period using Adoptimize, while City of El Paso Animal Services saw an 88% increase in dogs returned to their owners in one month when their online photos were processed through the app.
And during COVID?
“During the month of March, the City of Stockton Animal Services Center saw 57% higher adoption rates and 98% higher foster rates for dogs featured on Adoptimize as compared to the dogs whose photos were the traditional kind taken upon intake,” she says. “So far we are really seeing incredible results.”
Adoptimize is amazing emerging technology that will be available to all shelters in the very near future!
Even the best-behaved cat or dog may display some behavioral issues in a new home. When adopters don’t have easy access to training resources, even the simplest challenge can be enough to cause that pet to be at risk of going back to a shelter.
“There are so many questions that have easy answers, but people don’t know where to look,” says Petcademy cofounder Bailey Schroeder. “Our site is a place where they can submit questions in the “Ask the Trainer” section and receive an answer via email within two days. They can also take five courses with content developed by professionals including Best Friends and staff from cofounder Annie Grossman’s positive reinforcement training school in New York. And all the resources are free.”
Petcademy works closely with shelter software companies so that new adopters automatically receive an invitation to access the site—and the volume of shelter and pet parent sign-ups has increased steadily during the past few months, proving it to be a valuable resource even during these chaotic times.
“Not only that, but in a long-term sense the data gleaned from this can help shelters build out proactive programs,” Bailey says. “So if we see that most of a shelter’s dogs have leash reactivity, the focus can shift to curbing that behavior before a pet gets into a home. Petcademy makes that info accessible.”
Especially now when shelters are limiting intake, pet owners need to know how to rehome their own pets either temporarily or permanently. Enter Rehome.
“If people don’t have a friend or family member, their options are to rehome their pet to a stranger on Craigslist, find a rescue to take their pet—which is almost impossible—or relinquish the animal to a shelter, where they may not survive,” says Abbie Moore, chief operating officer/chief product officer for Adopt-a-Pet.com, Rehome’s parent company. “Rehome offers resources that will hopefully let them keep their pet, but if not, individuals can take the process of finding a new home into their own hands.”
The benefits to shelters extend beyond keeping pets out of their facilities; 100% of the adoption fee is donated to a referring shelter or rescue. If there is no referring agency, the money rolls back into the program.
“Especially with COVID, none of us know what’s coming. As there is realization that this will go on for a long time, we all have fears about what happens when foster animals start coming back to the shelter at the same time,” she says. “We want people to be aware that there is an option for their pet that doesn’t involve them going to a shelter.”
Many shelters are turning to intakes and adoptions by appointment over the past few months, and the Waitwhile app makes the process easy. The app allows you to create virtual queues of customers, who are informed about their wait times through SMS, email or Slack. That means people can wait anywhere until their scheduled appointment instead of standing in the lobby of the shelter.
“Pre-COVID, we were just starting to test out Waitwhile and then, in a heartbeat, we had to shift from testing to going all-out,” says Nick Lippincott, training officer and special programs administrator at Orange County Animal Services in Orlando. “And people loved it. They could select the pets they wanted to meet and set up a reservation just like the would at the cool new restaurant in town.”
The public embraced it so much that OCAS employed the technology in other areas, like field services and managing people walking through kennels to see pets for adoption. As a result, the shelter has been able to reduce staffing.
“We are going to continue using this model to support our essential services as well as for our foster system.”
Today’s technology: simple solutions to chronic challenges
If your shelter has not yet harnessed the power of technology, you’re missing out.
Or as Adopets chief customer officer Jeremy Macdonald explains it, “times of crises provide organizations an opportunity to rethink operations and to make improvements. And they often emerge stronger and better prepared for the future.”
Senior Director of Lifesaving Centers
Best Friends Animal Society