Remember when you could walk into a shelter and take a pet home with no questions asked? Animal sheltering has come a long way since then, but there’s more work to be done. So what makes a truly good animal shelter — one that is a humane, caring place where all adoptable animals can find a good home?
A short drive across the causeway to Front Street to the city of Sacramento’s Animal Care Services can help us answer this question.
According to Gina Knepp, manager of the Front Street animal shelter, it’s fundamentally about compassion, commitment and communication.
Compassion for the animals and sensitivity to staff are essential. Understanding the challenges, listening to concerns and acting upon suggestions boost staff and volunteer morale and improve animal care. Ambience matters, too. Local artists Jen Foss and Joey Stumpe are donating time and talents to create an appealing mural in the reception building.
Commitment is essential. Professional training for staff and building camaraderie go hand in hand. Knepp and Chief Animal Control Officer Daniel Torres regularly roll up their sleeves to help staff unload pet food, scrub kennels and organize storage areas. They also check all shelter animals seven days a week. Knepp and Torres are fully committed to increasing adoption rates to 90 percent or better and they are making progress. Comparing August 2011 and August 2012 adoptions shows an increase to 95 percent for dogs and 60 percent for cats.
Communication matters. Knepp regularly keeps in touch with the media so citizens know about upcoming events and the good work that the Front Street Shelter is doing. Offsite adoption events, low-cost vaccination clinics, Titanic’s Pet Food Pantry all help improved the status of the animals. Partnerships with other animal rescue groups reduces euthanasia. This summer Oregon Humane Society and Family Dogs New Life Shelter in Oregon were added to Animal Care Services’ rescue list.
Knepp also knows that recruiting and training volunteers is a huge and very important job. For that reason, Janice Wagaman, a certified volunteer administrator, was hired in August. Wagaman was Volunteer Coordinator of the Year in 2011 and earned the National Service Impact Award in 2012. In addition to working with volunteers and fundraising, Wagaman helps with website content and design, grant proposal management and newsletter publication. With Wagaman joining the Front Street team, even more improvements are on the way.
Knepp recognizes money is important but she knows it’s not the most important factor in increasing adoptions and saving lives. In spite of losing $1 million from the animal shelter budget and more than 12 staff members, adoptions have increased steadily. Compassion, commitment and communication really do make a difference.
Happy Tails: On June 1, Cinnamon arrived in the adoption building at the city of Sacramento’s Animal Care Services, where she waited. She went to off-site adoption events and was “Pet of the Week” on Fox 40’s Morning Show. Still, Cinnamon waited. Then on Aug. 25, Darlene Hartway-Young and her daughters walked into the shelter and fell in love with Cinnamon, who is now known as Hazel. Animal Care Services’ commitment to its animals definitely paid off for this sweet canine companion.
How to help: Attend the Davis City Council meeting on Sept. 25 to support the Yolo County Animal Services study and its recommendations for improving our county’s shelter.
— Evelyn Dale of Davis is a volunteer and advocate for shelter animal welfare. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column appears monthly.