In this post, we’ll take a real world situation answered by AmPA! speaker, Sgt. Karl Bailey. With no experience in shelter management he took the animal shelter, in Seagoville, TX from killing over 50 animals per month to over 97% live release rate the first year.

Situation

Lawrence County Commission has promised to build a shelter but has very little funds.  The county has been struggling with its tax base since the International Paper mill closed down a few years ago.  The contracted rescue refused to continue with the contract since the county has not followed through building the shelter it promised.   On Wednesday, the contracted rescue DID extend the contract 2 months to give the county the opportunity to open a low-budget shelter.  Having a no-kill shelter in the county would be nice, commissioners say, but may be unattainable.

Questions and Answers

What would you do to establish a safety net for the animals?

I would reach out to as many rescues as I could. I would also start a volunteer program and foster program (often times separate) to have as many places as possible to house homeless pets, especially those that are harder to adopt. 

What do you recommend as options for providing shelter with little funds?  Important considerations in building a shelter given a very low budget.

Building a shelter that is adequate is difficult, to begin with, but when the funding isn’t there that problem is daunting. The first thing I would do is speak with your Regional Department of Health inspectors and see what the minimum standards are for constructing a shelter. Going the modular route may be your best option. By modular, I mean that you may have to use a portable/temporary building for the office/cat room and then another, more permanent structure, for the dog kennel area. Reach out to contractors in your area who may be willing to donate building materials. Maybe something along the lines of a “barn raising” where people throughout the community chip in to help build the facility. Not knowing your intake rates, this may or may not be feasible. 

How do you fundraise in a struggling county?

That is the $64,000 question! Fundraising is always difficult. It’s time-consuming and work intensive. I would start by creating a media campaign to get the word out. Let the public know, without creating a negative uproar, your situation. This is where your volunteer program will also be able to help. Put out donation buckets at as many stores in your county as possible. Hold fundraising events at local restaurants and retailers. We have had restaurants donate a portion of their proceeds when we hold events. The hard part is getting large enough donations to build a shelter. I’m not sure that car washes and bake sales are going to ever raise that kind of money. 

How dependable is volunteer help when it comes to running animal shelters?

Our volunteers are great. Although they can’t run the shelter seven days per week, our volunteers run just about everything on the weekends and are very reliable. Most of our volunteers have keys to the building, know our paperwork and probably know the animals in the shelter better than the staff. We place very few restrictions on them, and they step up and take care of business. Of course, you have to let them know what they can and can’t do, and sometimes they need to be reminded of the parameters. But, overall, if you let people help, they will help. If you make it difficult for them they will stop coming. 

What is a sure-fire way to get donations from dog-food companies? 

There are several companies that work with shelters, but it is somewhat sporadic. You might have better luck contacting a distributor of foods or even local grocery stores. Our pet food mostly comes from the local Walmart and another grocery store in town. We get their “broken bags.” Another resource for us is a pet supply distributor that occasionally donates several pallets of food. You might also check with feed stores about the broken bags. One thing we have done in the past is a “Fill The Truck” event where we partner with a local grocery store/Walmart and park the Animal Control vehicle out front. Volunteers are on hand to hand out flyers and ask for people to buy a bag of dog food when they do their normal shopping. When they come out of the store they give the bag of food to the volunteer to put on the AC truck. We’ve always had a lot of success with that. 

What other insights or advice would you like to share? 

Building a new shelter is always a struggle. Unfortunately, local and county governments have other priorities. The mantra of most local governments is “pot holes before puppies.” Animal Control is often out of sight, out of mind and a very small portion of the budgets are relegated to it. We have been trying to get a new shelter for the past six years, but we are behind several other priority projects including new fire stations, additions to the police department and public works improvements. Our annual operating budget for the past six years has been $30,000. By the time you take out $8000 for the electric bill, another $2500 for building maintenance and some other line items, it doesn’t take an accountant to understand there isn’t enough money to go around. We survive on donations. 

Start with a donation account. Make sure it is one that people can donate easily to and that the account isn’t emptied at the end of every fiscal year. Get a volunteer program started immediately and get them to form a 501c3 non-profit corporation. This makes getting donations much easier. Start with a small corps of dedicated volunteers and let them recruit like-minded people. What I have found is that animal lovers know lots of other animal lovers. Create social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter to help get the word out. When we started, I didn’t have my own Facebook account. One of my dispatchers created one and then created a page for the shelter. Before we knew it we had 1000 followers. That has since grown to over 10,000 followers in 16 different countries. Post adoption events, donation requests, adoption photos, etc. If it happens at the shelter, post it, with pictures. 

The biggest thing I can tell you is Think Outside The Box! You have to get creative and can’t be afraid to ask, or even beg, for help and donations. It’s a bit like threading a needle with a tow chain sometimes but you will figure it out as you go. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Look at what other groups are doing and where they are having success and failures. You will figure out what works in your location and what doesn’t. Don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. If it doesn’t work, do something else. You are going to encounter hurdles along the way. You have to learn how to go over, under, around or through those hurdles. It’s going to be a lot of work and you’re going to need help so don’t turn it away. Channel your volunteers to make the most of your efforts. Sit down with them and brainstorm about how things can be done better and more efficiently. Be open to new ideas and processes. The worst excuse for doing something one way is that we’ve always done it that way. I hear that almost daily and I completely reject it. If it works do it again, if it doesn’t then try something else. You’ll be much less frustrated with those hurdles when you see them as challenges. Don’t be afraid to step back from a problem and look at it from different angles. Animal Control is like no other department in the city or county. Educating and retraining our leaders to understand modern animal sheltering is a difficult task, but one that must be done.
This a sample of what you’ll learn from our seasoned No Kill leaders at the upcoming conference. 
To save your spot. Regster at: www.americanpetsalive.org
For more about situation at Lawrence County, you can check out the following links: http://bit.ly/2xm7Ttf and http://bit.ly/2gik93f.
Thanks for all you do for the animals! – AmPA!
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