What once was an overburdened animal shelter has now become one that is cutting edge and nationally recognized due to the introduction of new programs, and, of course, community support.
In the “old days,” the majority of animals at Panhandle Animal Shelter (PAS) in Ponderay were housed long term, sometimes for months and even years, until new families were found. The stress on the animals and the impact on their health and the shelter staff were overall unsustainable. They knew they needed to change.
Those involved with the shelter began to ask themselves: “Could we do this better?” “What needs to change?” “Can it change, and if we do change, how do we go about it?”
“The key was being vulnerable and admitting we did not know the answers and sometimes even the right questions to ask,” recalls Executive Director Mandy Evans.
The tide began to turn when Evans consulted Dr. Sandra Newbury, DVM and director of the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine program. These consult calls were a game changer for the shelter.
“Dr. Newbury’s advice and support helped us better understand why outbreaks and illnesses occur in shelters and how the flow of animals through the shelter makes a significant impact to health, welfare and even the bottom line,” said Evans.
The PAS team then began to look at its culture and the messaging that was being projected onto the community. They realized that they were inadvertently being judgmental and shaming people who were seeking their help; not overtly, but through policies that were counterproductive to an open and trusting relationship. They realized that they could not ask for the community’s support when they were not supporting the community and their animals to the best of their ability.
“Once we had identified these problems, Panhandle Animal Shelter set out to make changes,” said Evans. “Many of these changes had not yet been accepted by the sheltering community at large and were considered on the forefront of the industry.”
Some changes were counter intuitive, such as limiting admission into the shelter. One would think by not accepting all animals they would reduce the number of animals helped, but that was not the case. In the past, overcrowding led to illness.
“By limiting the number of animals housed at any given time, the shelter tripled the number of animals served and reduced the average length of stay by a month and a half,” said Evans.
The shelter team didn’t want to say no to people who needed help with their animal, so they created three new programs to directly support the community outside the shelter—Adoption Ambassador Foster Program, the Helpline and Home to Home. The Adoption Ambassador program allowed people with kittens the opportunity to foster them while PAS paid for their care, plus they encouraged these compassionate families to find new homes for them while they were being fostered. The Helpline and Home to Home programs support people who need to surrender their pets.
Evans shares that while many get upset at the idea of people surrendering their pet, sometimes it is best for the pet and necessary for the family, usually due to a change in economic situation, change in relationship and change in health.
“The people surrendering their beloved pets are in a fragile, vulnerable state and seeking help at a very difficult time,” said Evans. “The worst thing anyone can do is blame them for their choice. By having a ‘No Shaming Policy,’ we open ourselves up to everyone’s pain, story and need.”
PAS is devoted to helpings pets and their families stay together and creating new pet families in the community in a supportive, open and non-judgmental way. Often, they can avoid a pet being surrendered by solving a problem that may seem insurmountable to an owner.
The Home to Home Program also came out of PAS’s need to better serve the community. In an effort to address a significant uptick in animal surrenders, they created a program that allows pet owners to find new homes for their animals without the animal ever having to enter the shelter.
“Owners create an online profile which is shared on the Home-Home.org network and on our Shelter Facebook page,” said Evans. “This allows us to leverage our community to support and bring attention to the animal. Adopters communicate directly with pet owners. The program is free to pet owners and adopters, and no money changes hands.”
The program also allows shelters to help animals outside of their charter. PAS has found homes for birds, pocket pets, horses and farm animals all with a 60-percent success rate. Only 20 percent of Home to Home clients end up surrendering their pets to a shelter.
“This innovative program and approach to helping animals has helped PAS become a national organization with over 10 organizations throughout the nation onboard and another 22 in the pipeline. This expansion was due to a grant from Maddie’s Fund,” said Evans.
Though PAS has expanded to increase lifesaving throughout the country, they stay true to their community. 2019 will bring a new off-leash dog park with the support of donors and the City of Ponderay. This will provide health benefits to not only the community dogs, but their owners, too.
Evans shares that the changes PAS has implemented have gone a long way to increase efficiency, improve medical care and help to provide a more stress-free approach to animals in transition.
“The advancements here have been due to the immense community support we receive,” said Evans. “Appreciation is not lacking at PAS.”