Animals in shelters typically come from a background of abuse and neglect. Sometimes these animals have little or no social skills with other animals or humans. Similar to humans, social skills with humans or other animals are vital.

What is socialization?

Socialization teaches dogs to interact with humans and other animals in a friendly manner. Those responsible for socializing dogs use different tactics and methods. Placing dogs in foster homes and forever homes requires they have certain socialization skills. The skills required depend on the makeup of those homes. Do the homes have children, other dogs, or other pets? How does the dog respond to children, males, females, and other animals?

Often times, animal shelters know little about the dogs in their care. Especially when the dogs are found abandoned. In these situations, how do you know what type of environment they will thrive in? The best shelters perform aggression testing to determine what social skills are in place and which need to be worked on.

Proper socialization decreases the dog’s stress and the chance of lashing out. Shelter dogs need to be introduced to socializing differently than a 3-week old puppy. Follow these steps for socializing your shelter dogs:

  1. Choose the right volunteer. Choose volunteers who are calm by nature. Anxiousness is easily detected by the dogs. If the volunteer is anxious or quick to yank on the leash, the dogs get scared.
  2. Introduce them to other shelter dogs. During the initial meetings keep both dogs on a loose leash. This gives the dogs chance to move freely to check out the surrounding environment. Keep the dogs about 8 feet apart to avoid a face to face meeting which many dogs don’t enjoy.
  3. Pay attention. Take notice of how the dogs react to one another. Look for signs of discomfort – stiff body, bared teeth, or growling. Maintain distance between the dogs in these situations or stop for the day if they don’t calm down.
  4. Introduce them to a group setting. After the dogs do well in the one on one introduction, they can be introduced to a group setting. Have the volunteer take the dog into a group environment on a leash. Drop the leash inside – give them chance to explore while still having a method to manage them. Take them off the leash after 20-30 minutes of good behavior. Continue to watch them for another 20- 30 minutes to make sure they remain calm.
  5. Slowly move them full-time to the group setting. Move new dogs into the group setting in stages. Let them stay for a few hours adding time every day until you work up to a full day with the other dogs.

Volunteers are a valuable asset for animal shelters and rescues. Without them, shelters and rescues would be unable to achieve their mission. In 2013, the IRS released a report stating that 85% of nonprofit organizations are run by volunteers and have no paid staff.  Volunteers are responsible for organizing adoption events, raising funds, and caring for the animals in their animal shelters or rescues. Last week we reviewed the importance of creating and maintaining a volunteer program. One of the prime aspects of that program is to implement a volunteer handbook.

Volunteers differ from paid employees. However, managing volunteers requires a similar skill set.  Employee handbooks are common in both small and large businesses.  Nonprofit animal shelters and rescues need to implement a similar handbook for volunteers.  Here are the two main benefits of a volunteer handbook:

  1. Sets Expectations. A handbook is a tool that defines what is expected of the volunteer during their time at the shelter. It also identifies what the volunteer should expect from the organization in return for their donated time.
  2. Protects the Animal Shelter or Rescue. Creating and identifying clear policies and procedures for your volunteer team minimizes liability. The handbook provides guidelines and rules for how negative circumstances will be handled and offers a no-surprise resolution for both parties.

A hurdle many directors face is how to create a concise and informative volunteer handbook. Here are 7 essential sections to include in your handbook:

  1. What is the story behind your animal shelter or rescue? Tell the story of how you formed. Include your goals, mission, and vision for volunteers to gain a better perspective of who they are serving.
  2. Set expectations for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Behavior expectations include how volunteers treat one another, the animals, and the public.  Define work expectations in this section as well. Work expectations include the number of volunteer hours, responsibilities, and the appropriate way to take a day of absence.
  3. Policies and procedures for responsibilities are a tremendous help in minimizing potential dangers or disasters. Explain these procedures in detail in the handbook. This assures you each volunteer has the information prior to volunteering.  This is the section you address volunteer training requirements including times and methods of training.
  4. One of the biggest responsibilities of a shelter or rescue is to take in dogs, cats, and other animals that need care. This section reviews the policies for incoming animals and addresses the intake process including standards your shelter or rescue follows.
  5. Rescues or shelters that foster animals need a section on foster home policies and procedures. Often times, foster parents are overlooked as volunteers because they are not at the physical shelter.  They are a vital part of your volunteer team.  The risks and requirements of foster homes differ from other policies and procedures.
  6. Animal adoption is a major part of your operation.  This section identifies the standards and timeframes your animal shelter or rescue follows prior to placing an animal with their forever home.  This section also addresses the requirements of adopting families.  It is important that all volunteers are aware of the expectations so they can help properly place animals.
  7. It is common for volunteer handbooks to include a receipt that the volunteers sign. The signature verifies they read the handbook and are aware of the expectations outlined.

Create a strong volunteer program starts by implementing a volunteer handbook.  Work with your legal counsel to create a handbook that best suits your animal shelter or rescue needs.

 

Animal shelters and rescues have the weight of the helpless animal population on their shoulders.  They find ways and methods to accomplish their significant missions and visions with minimal funding and resources. Animal shelters and rescues rely heavily on the support of donors who provide needed items as well as financial donations.  The last thing they need to add to their daily worries is the risk of a cyber attack that compromises their donor’s confidential information. According to a recent study released by The Global State of Information Security, security incidents increased by 38% and theft of “hard” information rose by 56% in 2015 when compared to 2014.  With the threat of cyber attacks on the rise, it is a real concern for many nonprofit animal shelters and rescues. Implement a cyber security program to protect your donors and your animal shelter or rescue.

Here are eight items to include in your program:

  1. Backup your data. Create a backup of information stored on your computers and server daily. Hackers have the power to compromise your electronic information, making it inaccessible. A backup provides you with an up to date list of your donors and their contact information, simplifying the notification process (a little at least).
  2. Secure physical data. Store physical donor files and confidential information in a locked, fireproof filing cabinet. Allow access to this information on an as-needed basis.  The fewer hands that physically touch the files, the smaller chance they can be misplaced.
  3. Limit the information you collect. A great rule of thumb to implement immediately is “if you don’t need it, don’t ask for it.” The less data you collect from donors, the less information a hacker gains during a breach.
  4. Purge unneeded information. If you have years of donor information stored in a back room at your animal shelter or on discs, it may be time to purge it. Keep only information you need. Often times, older files are stored and forgotten about. Holding onto donor files and information increases your chance of suffering from a breach.
  5. Update computers and software. Update computers and software programs on a consistent basis. Companies release updates and patches to help protect their customers from data breaches.  If updates are left unattended, your risk for a breach increases.  If you are not technology savvy, hire a local IT company to help keep your system up to date and secure.
  6. Use encryption. Use a data or donor collection service that encrypts the information your donors enter. Encryption encodes the information making it only accessible by those authorized to view it.
  7. Train your volunteer staff. Volunteers are a significant help to animal shelters and rescues. They can also be a great risk.  If your volunteer team is not internet or computer intelligent, they may unknowingly download malware or spyware.  Educate them on what is an acceptable use of the organization’s computers and emails.  Make it mandatory that downloads are not acceptable and should be approved by the director.  Phishing schemes are a common hacker specialty. Train your team on these to protect your shelter or rescue.
  8. Purchase cyber liability insurance. Cyber liability insurance is beneficial if it is purchased prior to a cyber breach or theft.  Cyber liability insurance protects your nonprofit animal shelter at the time of the breach by paying defense and settlement costs. The best cyber insurance policies take care of the state required notifications, which can be a long and treacherous task.

Cyber breaches are a serious threat to nonprofits like animal shelters and rescues.  The unfortunate news is hackers are becoming more creative in their schemes, making it difficult for companies to keep information secure.  Implement a cyber security program outlined here to protect your nonprofit animal shelter or rescue.

 

Animal Shelters and rescues attend adoption events as exhibitors to help raise mission awareness and increase adoptions.  Events range from a small open house to a larger event with multiple animal shelters and rescues.  Deciding to attend an event comes with risks. Plan in advance to minimize these risks. Train your volunteer team on how their actions can help protect your animal shelter or rescue. Here are five things your animal shelter needs to know before attending a special event:

  1. Does the event align with your mission? Look at the mission or goal of the event.  Does their goal align with your mission? If the two do not align, the event is not in your best interest.  Attending an event that does not promote your mission, leaves you open to negative publicity or loss of a positive reputation.
  2. Read the contract. Most event organizers require you to comply with rules and an agreement to become an exhibitor. Make sure you read the contract or agreement to determine if you can meet these requirements. Common event guidelines include set-up and tear down times, proof of insurance, vaccine requirements for animals, and expectations for how you present yourself during the event. If you are unable to meet the requirements outlined in the agreement do not register as an exhibitor.  You risk a negative impact to your animal shelter or rescue if you attend and do not follow the guidelines.
  3. What can go wrong? Prior to attending an event, make a list of all the potential risks. Risks include animals getting loose, volunteers not showing, animals injuring attendees or volunteers.  Once you have a list of possibilities, create a proactive plan that identifies how you will minimize the potential for these.  For example, one significant risk is an animal jumping on an attendee and scratching that individual.  A plan to keep that from occurring includes making sure volunteers are assisting the attendees while talking to, petting and playing with the animals.
  4. Choose the right animals. Choosing the right animals to take is a key in minimizing the risk of injury to attendees. Your goal is to increase adoptions by attending the event.  Animals that have just recently entered your care may not be a good fit.  Choose animals that can handle social situations and interaction with strangers.  Animals that are skittish or easily scared have unpredictable behaviors and should remain at the shelter or in their foster home during events.
  5. Choose the right volunteer team. Volunteers who attend the event need to be knowledgeable of your animal shelter or rescue, your mission and how to present themselves during an event. If you choose to send new volunteers, make sure you pair them with an experienced volunteer that understands adoption event logistics and your expectations.

Adoption and special events are a powerful way to educate and involve your community with your shelter.  Follow these steps before attending an event to create a positive experience for all involved.

 

Volunteers are one of the cornerstones to running your animal shelter or rescue successfully.  You rely on them to help with day to day needs, care for the animals, organize events, spread the word about your mission, and be passionate about the great work they are doing. Did you know they are one of your biggest risks?  Volunteers are human and unpredictable in their actions.  To successfully manage their actions and minimize risk, implement an official volunteer program.  Here are the categories your program requires:

Volunteer Handbook

Volunteer handbooks contain valuable information about the animal shelter or rescue.  They provide new volunteers with:

  1. Background information
  2. Mission and Vision
  3. Application process
  4. Training expectations
  5. Behavior expectations
  6. Volunteer waiver
  7. Organization policies

Require new volunteers to review the handbook prior to completing a volunteer application.  This information sets the precedence for expectations during their time volunteering for your organization.

Volunteer Waivers

Volunteer waivers are typically included as part of the handbook.  They are vital for animal shelters and rescues to have in place.  A strong waiver includes:

  1. Release of liability for injury and bites
  2. Acceptance that injuries are not covered under a worker’s compensation policy
  3. Acceptance of policies and procedures
  4. Emergency contact information
  5. Release to contact to provide medical help or attention if needed

Volunteer waivers are a safety precaution. Volunteers may still choose to file a lawsuit if they believe the animal shelter or rescue is responsible for an injury.  Waivers are part of your defense in court but should not be your only defense.  Work with your legal counsel to draft a waiver that best suits your animal shelter or rescue needs.

The Right Insurance

The best way to be proactive in protecting your animal shelter or rescue from financial loss as a result of a lawsuit is to purchase insurance.  There are many types of insurance you can purchase for your organization including:

  1. General Liability Insurance
  2. Professional Liability Insurance
  3. Accident & Health Insurance
  4. Director’s & Officer’s Insurance

Liability insurance protects your financial assets by paying defense and settlement costs of a covered lawsuit.   Take the time to research animal shelter insurance options today.  Purchasing insurance after a lawsuit is filed will not protect you.

Volunteer Training

Volunteer training is vital for new and existing volunteers.  Create a strong volunteer training program by answering these questions:

  1. What do you want the training to accomplish?
  2. What do your volunteers need to know?
  3. What do your volunteers already know?
  4. How do they learn best?

These answers will help you to create a valuable training program that is beneficial to both the volunteer and the organization.  Once training is completed, have your volunteers tell you what they learned and how they can implement this in their tasks.  Training is never complete and should be offered on a routine basis to volunteers.  The knowledge and education help make them valuable to your team.

 

The spring season brings us green grass, blooming flowers, chirping birds and warmer weather.  In our homes, we usually get obsessed with “spring cleaning” by opening windows to release all the dust and dirt that built up, ridding out closets and drawers, and washing everything in its entirety.  This is perfect time to organize a group of volunteers to spring clean your animal shelter as well.  When planning a spring cleaning day, be sure to educate volunteers on the do’s and don’ts of cleaning as well as provide them with safe to use cleaners.
Dos and Don’ts of Spring Cleaning
1. Don’t do it all in one day.  Trying to conquer all of the cleaning in one day will lead to stress and aggravation among volunteers and with any animals in your care. Instead create a 4 week plan that identifies the goals of the cleaning project. (i.e. shred unneeded paperwork, clean kennels, wash bedding, dust vents)
2. Always finish what you start.  There is nothing worse than stopping a project in the middle of its completion.  If you do not initially complete the project, you are less likely to return to it later. Make sure you schedule more time than you think it will take and always see it through until the end.
3. Remember the little things. Often times small projects or areas are overlooked but can carry the most dirt and dust.  Be sure to remember things like vents and base boards when creating your cleaning plan.
4. Clean from top to bottom.  If your project includes washing a room in its entirety, start with the ceiling corners, then the walls, countertops, baseboards and floor.  This assures that you do not missing any areas and is the most efficient method of cleaning.
5. Don’t expose animals to harsh chemicals.  If you need to clean the areas where the animals spend their time, be sure to use animal friendly products. Look for all natural cleaners when shopping at the store. Some household products you can use in your cleaning include alcohol, baking soda, borax, and white vinegar.
6. Don’t clean windows on a sunny day. We tend to think that cleaning windows on sunny days is best but that is not the case. The sun speeds up the drying process of the cleaner and causes streaks.
7. Don’t overuse cleaning products! Using too much cleaner on a surface can cause a sticky residue to be left behind. Make sure you use the called for amount on the back of the bottle to avoid having to redo your work later.
8. Do get rid of clutter.  If there are boxes and piles of unused items sitting in the corners of your animal shelter, now is the best time to go through them and get rid of what is not needed.  Cluttered spaces tend to be less appealing to potential adopters, visitors and volunteers.
9. Remember your computer.  It is not just the physical building that needs cleaned out.  Be sure to schedule a time to clean your computer as well by getting rid of unneeded files and documents on your desktop.  Reorganize so items are easy to find and navigate to.
10. Don’t forget the shred.  You collect a great deal of confidential data throughout the year.  If you keep paper files currently, sit down and decide how long you want to keep those files.  Set a time frame and then shred everything that does not fit within that time.  This helps to prevent identity theft as well as security breaches in your animal shelter.

Cleaning is a necessary part of running an animal shelter and spring cleaning gives you and your volunteers the opportunity to do a deep cleaning of the shelter.  Be sure to create a plan and recruit volunteers to tackle the tasks at hand.  Your animal shelter will look more organized and clean and you will feel lighter with less mess to be stressed about.

Have you ever been driving along when out of nowhere a dog or cat runs into the middle of the street? You stop your car and get out to help the dog or cat but there is no owner in sight and no tags on the animal.  What steps should you take to get the dog or cat help and to safety?
Confining the Animal
If the dog or cat is in the middle of the road, pull over to the side of the road so you are not blocking any oncoming traffic (this is the best way to avoid potential accidents, especially if you are in a blind spot). Once your car is safely parked, you can approach the animal.  Walk slowly towards them as they are often frightened or scared and in those moments can be easily spooked. If the animal looks sick or dangerous, return to your call immediately and call the Local Township or borough to report the situation.  If that is not the situation, see if the animal comes to you easily by holding and hand out and speaking calmly allowing them to sniff and get acquainted with you.  If you are successful, lead the animal to the side of the road by your car and confine her there.
Take the Animal to Safety
There are three choices you can make once you have animal in a controlled environment, call for assistance, take the animal to a local shelter or take the animal home. Transporting an animal in these situations can cause them to get scared and become aggressive. Be sure to analyze all of your options before you make this decision.
Calling for Assistance
Organizations that are good to call in these situations include animal control, police, and local townships or boroughs.  When help arrives, be sure to provide them with any details you witnessed in regards to the animals behavior, demeanor, etc so they are better prepared to assess the situation.
If you choose to take the animal to a local shelter, contact the shelter prior to leaving the site and determine what their requirements are for drop-offs.  This is a great option, because many shelters have veterinarians that volunteer their time and would be able to scan the animal for a microchip, making the reuniting process easier.
If you decide to take the animal home, you should still contact animal control or a local SPCA or animal shelter first.  This way you have reported the stray to the appropriate authorities. You can provide them with a description along with your name, address, and phone number in the event the owner contacts them to report the animal missing.  If you have other animals at home, be sure to keep them separate from your new four-legged friend to avoid any stress for all the animals. Facebook and other social media platforms are powerful ways to reach a lot of individuals in a short time. Post a picture of the animal with a description of where they were fond and ask others to share.  There are also a number of lost pet pages like “FIND TOBY in PA”, that you can send the picture and description to and they will share with their community of followers.

Abandoned Animals
If you have taken all of the steps above and have not successfully reunited the animal with their owner, they are not automatically yours to keep.  Check local laws by contacting a local shelter or SPCA to determine what steps should be taken next.  If you wish to adopt the animal, there are often times policies in place that must be met first.  Animal shelters, rescues, and SPCA’s are the best place to turn a lost or stray animal in to and the volunteers will help find their owners or place them with new owners who wish to adopt and add to their family.
Before you decide that you want to adopt the stray, be sure to answer these questions:
1. Can you commit the time necessary to caring for a new pet?
2. Is your home pet-friendly?
3. Are you willing to financially commit to helping the animal get any needed shots or veterinary care needed?
4. Are you willing to return the animal to its owner if they show up in a few months?
Adopting new animals into your family is big commitment and yes needs to be the answer to each of these questions. Contact your local animal shelter or rescue for more information on adoption possibilities in your area.

Tick Prevention

June 10, 2015

After the long and harsh winter that hit many parts of the country last year, it’s highly likely your dogs are already feeling bored are restless. Playing outdoors under the spring sun is a good way for them to release some pent-up energy.

But before you let your dogs out the door, you need to protect them from tick infestation with these practical animal health tips:

  • Check your dogs for ticks whenever they come in from the outside. It takes hard work, but it’s worth the effort because it means preventing a tick infection before it even starts.
  • Remove all ticks you find. Ticks multiply fast, so the sooner you get rid of them, the lower the chances of an infection from happening. Use tweezers with a fine end for easy captures.
  • Bring your dogs to the vet for a regular checkup. The trained eye of a professional may be able to catch ticks that you didn’t know were lurking there.
  • Chat with your vet about the dangers of ticks and the preventive measures you can take. These doctors are experts in their field, so it’s best to listen when they’ve got something to say about your dogs.
  • Ask specifically about Lyme vaccine and whether or not your dogs need it. If Lyme disease is prevalent in your area, your dogs may be at a higher risk of contracting it if they’re not adequately protected.
  • Use anti-tick products like sprays and other forms of repellants when your dogs are scheduled to go outside. These products add a layer of protection against ticks.
  • Wash your dogs with tick shampoo. A thorough bath gets rid of whatever ticks that are still hanging in there after manual inspections.
  • Put a tick collar around your dogs’ necks. These accessories are both fashionable and functional; they come in many colors and designs, and they can also protect animals from ticks for weeks or months.
  • Improve tick-prone areas in your home. Ticks flourish in moist and dark areas, so if you have such spaces in your home, make them as tick-unfrlendly as you can.

No one else suffers as much as your dogs when they get tick infection, so in the case of animal health, the old adage still rings true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

As the winter fades away and the temperatures rise, we naturally spend more time outdoors. Spring is a glorious time of year, but for allergy sufferers, it can be an extremely irritating season.  You may not realize it, but your dog and cat can suffer from seasonal allergies as well. You don’t need to be an animal health expert to figure out if your pet has allergies. Here are a few things to consider to help alleviate your pet’s symptoms.

How to tell if your pet has allergies

As the trees start to bloom, they release pollen into the air. These tiny airborne particles can cause your dog’s eyes to itch, but you’ll most likely notice your pooch scratching a lot. Their skin becomes very itchy and they’ll scratch, bite, and rub themselves against hard surfaces to find some sort of relief. You might also notice hot spots on your dog. According to an animal health expert, a hot spot is noticeably red and there can be bleeding and hair loss around a small area of skin.

How to help your pet cope with allergies

Environmental allergies are almost impossible to avoid for dogs who need to go outside to do their business. For cats, it’s quite simple – keep them indoors. To help alleviate your dog’s allergy symptoms, bath them frequently. The more they scratch, the more inflamed and tender the skin will become. Regular baths throughout the spring and summer months can help sooth their dry, itchy skin.

How to help prevent allergies

It may not be possible to prevent all seasonal allergies, but you can help prevent the symptoms.

  • Clean your pet’s bedding frequently and vacuum and clean the floors regularly.
  • Use non-toxic cleaners. Household cleaners with harsh chemicals can irritate their skin even more.
  • Animal health is a priority. Keep your pet healthy by visiting the vet yearly for their regular checkup. Allergies are an immune system response, so it’s important to keep your pet’s immune system strong.
  • An anti-inflammatory diet or raw food diet may also help alleviate allergy symptoms.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of animal shelters across the country. While big name animal shelters often get a great deal of notice, there are many shelters that continue to operate under the radar, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways for animal shelters to get noticed quickly, and we’ve collected 7 easy ways to do just that.
1. Use Social Media
Social media is a quick, easy and often free way to get your shelter noticed. Starting a Twitter feed and building a circle of followers can be great advertising for an animal shelter. Facebook and Instagram are great options, too.
2. Offer Promotions
Adoption promotions are a great way to boost adoption rates and garner attention for your animal shelter. Slashing adoption fees, offering special “dog days” and “cat days” can get the community off their couch and into the center.
3. Pick a Spokesdog
Several animal shelters have gained significant awareness by promoting their shelter with a spokesdog. An animal shelter in Milwaukee gained significant awareness by taking their spokesdog, Gracie, to iconic areas around the city and handing out informational packets to passersby.
4. Create Videos
YouTube is a great medium for animal shelters. Take videos of the day-to-day activities at the shelter. Social transparency is a huge theme in business in 2015, and It translates well to animal shelters, too. YouTube can also be integrated into Facebook and other social media sites with great ease.
5. Interact and Engage
Once you have your social media sites set, you’ll need to engage with your audiences. Ask questions, run “cutest pet” contests and offer interesting content. The goal is to get users to engage with your sites and share your content so you can garner more followers.
6. The Newspaper
While print media has largely fallen out of favor with many people, the medium is still a great place to advertise special animal shelter events. Many newspapers offer both print and digital ad campaigns.
7. Talk to the TV Stations
Local news stations often look for “feel good” segments, so keep in contact with producers. This can help you garner your 15 minutes of fame on local media outlets, which can lead to a huge influx of community member coming into the animal shelter.
Exposure can make or break an animal shelter. While many shelters operate with a limited budget, getting the name out there needn’t be