Accidents happen. Every day nonprofit animal shelter teams work to educate, provide, and raise money for animals in need in their communities and beyond. Directors in charge of these valuable animal rescue organizations know firsthand volunteers are the foundation of a nonprofit’s success. But accidents do happen – to volunteers, visitors, and foster parents. Many animal shelters utilize policies, procedures, and handbooks to minimize the risk of incidents and accidents. Do you have an accident investigation plan ready to implement when “life happens”?

Accidents
There are a variety of accidents animal shelters and rescues experience during normal daily operations:

  • Slip & falls
  • Animal scratches
  • Animal bites
  • Animals knocking down volunteers or visitors
  • Scrapes, bruises, and cuts

Each type of accident (sometimes referred to as incidents) requires a unique plan to proactively manage the outcome and take care of the injured parties.
Accident Investigation Plans
Accident investigation plans are too often overlooked as part of the plan to manage accidents. They offer nonprofit animal shelters and rescues a great deal of valuable information. You can identify 3 main items in an accident investigation:

  • What and how the accident occurred.
  • What critical decisions were made or missed?
  • What can you do to prevent in the future?

Taking the time to investigate every accident requires time – but it is time well spent if you prevent future injuries.
Step by Step

  1. Appoint a lead person to investigate.
    Select a neutral individual to lead and conduct the accident investigation. A neutral party has no outside personal ties to any of the parties involved in the accident and is not considered a witness to the accident.
  2. Provide a briefing.
    Provide them with an overview of the accident. What you know happened, where it occurred, who is involved, and what steps are being taken to provide care and treatment.
  3. Inspect the accident site.
    It is important the investigator start by inspecting the accident site. Look for signs of the accident, anything that might have caused the accident, anything that potentially impacted the decision-making process during the accident.
  4. Conduct interviews.
    Have the investigator interview those involved in the accident along with any witnesses. Document facts only and guide interviewees to leave personal opinions out of the discussion.
  5. Analyze findings.
    Review all facts and interview details to gain a 360-degree perspective of the accident. Look for changes and updates your animal shelter can make to prevent future occurrences.
  6. Make changes.
    Implement these changes by updating procedures, policies, and handbooks. Hold a mandatory volunteer training to assure each volunteer has a clear understanding of new expectations. Have each volunteer sign a statement acknowledging they understand the updates.
  7. Document.
    Documentation is vital in any incident, occurrence or accident. Document complete investigation findings in a final report along with updates and changes implemented. Include a list of all volunteers who participated in the training and include their signed acknowledgment form.

Conducting a comprehensive accident investigation seems daunting and time-consuming. It doesn’t have to be. Create a plan and procedure now on how you will investigate future accidents. Your animal shelter or rescue benefits from a better understanding of how and why decisions are made in critical moments. You can be proactive in making changes to minimize future occurrences and promote a safe volunteer work environment.

Introducing a new dog or cat into your animal shelter is a vital yet stressful step in the path to successful adoption. Vital, because it’s the only way to gain a better understanding of the animal’s personality, traits, and behaviors. Stressful, because animals’ behavior is unpredictable – especially when their past leads them to be fearful of people and other animals. If you have volunteers new to the animal welfare world or volunteers who struggle in the initial phases of new animal socialization, now is the time to create an animal socialization plan. An animal socialization plan is a guide for volunteers to better understand animal behaviors. It doesn’t address every possible occurrence – it does provide steps volunteers can take during crucial moments.
The Steps

  1. Initial Introduction. Choose experienced volunteers who don’t get nervous in stressful moments for the animal introductions. Cats and dogs have different temperaments and unique methods for successful introductions.

    Cats
    Introduce cats to other cats in an open area with a few hiding spots set up. Make sure the cat you introduce the new cat to is well-behaved. Give the cat time to explore and feel comfortable in the room. Bring the other cat in after the cat is comfortable. Interact and play with this cat to increase your new furry friend’s trust. Cats cannot be rushed to meet and be friends – it takes time and commitment.

    Dogs
    Initial dog-to-dog introductions require both dogs to be on a leash that allows freedom of movement. They need to feel like they can explore at their own pace. Keep dogs 10 feet apart and give them a chance to sniff one another without touching.

    If any of the animals show signs of aggression, remove the animals from the meetings for the day.

  2. Assess body language. Body language speaks volumes when analyzing dogs and cats in different situations. Pay attention to their body language to gain an understanding of how they are handling and reacting to the situation. Aggressive or uncomfortable body language to look for includes:
    •    Hissing or growling
    •    Raised hair
    •    Stiff body
    •    Bare teeth
    •    Get low (getting ready to attack)
    Lunging at one another
    In these moments, separate the animals and try again the following day.
  3.  Group introductions. After the dogs or cats successfully interact with others in a one-on-one situation, move them to group introductions.

    Cats
    Add more cats to the first room. Watch to see how the cat reacts. Do they run and hide? Play? Attack? As long as all of the animals are behaving well, watch them for varied lengths of time. Increase the lengths of time daily until they can be trusted 100% of the time with the other cats.

    Dogs
    Take dogs into group settings on a leash. Give the dog time to sniff around and then drop the leash, letting them roam freely. Pay attention to their initial reactions and responses to the other dogs. Repeat this daily at increased lengths of time until they can be left on their own.

  4. Human interaction. Throughout the entire introduction process, keep track of how the animals respond to human interaction, new volunteers, male versus female volunteers. Make note of any potential human socialization dangers.

Your ultimate goal is to adopt the animals to their forever homes. The best way to accomplish that is to properly introduce and socialize all animals with other animals, volunteers, and your shelter setting.

The difference between being almost right and actually right leads to lawsuits every day. It’s no secret that our society continues to resort to lawsuits as a popular method to work out differences and be heard by a larger audience. Over the years, animal welfare organizations received lawsuit papers for multiple types of incidents.
The best animal welfare organizations implement policies and procedures to promote safety, honesty, and proper care of animals in need. When was the last time you reviewed these policies and procedures? Many times organizations utilize a “set it and forget it” approach to policies and procedures. This is risky business for animal welfare organizations.
How often do you need to review?
It depends on the scope of your animal welfare organization’s operations. A few things to consider before you determine how often to review:

  • How many volunteers are a part of your team?
  • What is your volunteer turnover rate?
  • Do you offer any TNR services?
  • Do you provide any veterinary services?

It is important to look at your services and what types of compliance you need to be up to date on. If you offer veterinary services, you need to review policies and procedures more frequently. Review policies and procedures at least once every year but more often if volunteer turnover is high and they type of services you provide requires it.
Why?
There are 3 important reasons you need to update policies and procedures on a regular basis.

  1. Prevents incidents and accidents from occurring.
    Policies and procedures provide a solid outline of expectations for volunteers. Those expectations address your operations at the time they are drafted and implemented. Your operations change as you grow and increase your volunteer team. It is important to “relook” at the procedures to identify operational changes, efficiency updates, and missing items.
  2. Provides the solution to the problem.
    Strong policies and procedures include solutions to problems that arise – how to reprimand or address non-compliant volunteers. Having this documented lets volunteers know what to expect and gives you a path to address issues and be consistent with all volunteers. Laws change over time – make sure you update regularly to remain in compliance.
  3. Protection in the event a lawsuit occurs.
    No matter how many steps you take to minimize lawsuits – they do happen. Your defense is only as strong as your documentation. Having up to date compliant policies and procedures helps you with that defense.

How?
You understand the importance of keeping policies and procedures up to date. How do you make it happen with an already overloaded busy schedule? Use this 4-step plan to simplify the process.

  1. Create a policy and procedures panel. Choose 2-3 strong volunteers to lead the project research for you.
  2. Review changes. Have the volunteers identify any changes made since your last review. Does a policy or procedure exist addressing these changes or new services?
  3. Review existing policies and procedures. Look for any changes that need made to comply with regulations, improve overall efficiency, and decrease risk.
  4. Implement. Make the changes to the policies and procedures. Hold a volunteer training with your volunteers reviewing the changes and updates.

Policies and procedures are vital to the daily operations of your animal welfare organization. Make it a point to update them regularly to keep volunteers safe, visitors, safe, and prevent potential incidents and lawsuits.

Halloween is the second largest consumer holiday in the United States. Even though many nonprofit animal welfare organizations consider Christmas to be the best time to launch fundraising campaigns, Halloween is actually better. 30% more consumers entered promotion campaigns at Halloween than at during the Christmas season. Why? Your supporters aren’t feeling the financial stress of the expensive holiday season – yet.

Advantages
Consider these four advantages before skipping Halloween this year.

  1. Increased donations.
    Launching your fundraising campaign months before the holiday craziness boosts your overall donations. Your animal welfare organization supporters haven’t maxed out their budget buying gifts and are more willing to donate.
  2. Less competition.
    Shhh! Halloween fundraising success is still relatively new and many nonprofit animal shelters and rescues still overlook it as a prime fundraising time. Less competition means your campaign or fundraisers are more likely to capture supporters’ attention. Often times, supporters become overwhelmed and inundated with donation requests in November and December, they ignore or politely decline all requests.
  3. More volunteer involvement.
    Volunteers keep you up and running every day. Without their commitment and time, many animal shelters and rescues are forced to close their doors. Many volunteers have out of control schedules with extra family events and holiday preparation in December. Launching a big fundraising campaign at Halloween increases their ability to help.
  4. Innovative ideas.
    Chances are your past major fundraising drives revolved around the spirit of giving in December. You probably copied the same fundraiser from year to year. Focusing on Halloween this year gives you a NEW list of fundraising ideas. Your long-term supporters will be happy for the change.

Fundraising ideas
Do you avoid Halloween fundraising because you don’t want to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch? Schedule a meeting with your fundraising committee to review these # ideas and pick one to start with.

  • Partner with a local pumpkin patch or fall fest. Contact local organizations and see if they are willing to host fundraising days for your animal welfare organization. Request a portion of the ticket sales be donated to you. In addition, set up a table the day of to collect donations and hand out information.
  • It’s all about the treats. Invite supporters to your location encouraging them to bring “treats” (food, toys, blankets, bowls, etc.) for your animals.
  • Sponsor a costume ball. Invite your community to a costume party. Sell tickets in advance and then offer dinner, raffles, and costume prizes the night of the event.
  • Launch a social media contest. Encourage your online followers to participate in a Halloween-themed contest. Invite participants to submit pictures of their Halloween decorations, carved pumpkins or pets in costume. Publish them online and request donations. Every five dollars = one vote. Award your winners with online recognition and prize.
  • Trick or treat for adopters. Promote adoptions in the month of October by offering a special gift to adopting families. They can pick either a ‘trick’ (training DVD or CD) or a ‘treat’ to take home with their new loved one.
  • “Mommy and me” costume contest. Host a costume contest for pets and their parents! Encourage participants to dress as famous duos or family members.

There is success in Halloween fundraising drives and events. Don’t less this time of year pass your animal welfare organization by. Brainstorm innovative fundraising ideas or use one of these to increase your donations this fall.