The Care and Marketing of Long Term Resident Shelter Pets

No kill shelters face some challenges that kill shelters don’t.  Among them, caring for dogs and cats who, for whatever reason, end up spending a longer than average time living at the shelter, waiting for the right adopter to find them.  Regarding the standard of care and special handling unique to these shelter pets, I contacted Dayna Kennedy, the Shelter Manager for Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter (UPAWS) in MI.  She had some great information to share:

While we don’t call ourselves a no kill shelter, we do operate like one.
We are an open admission shelter, so we frequently see “less desirable” candidates for adoption. We give an animal as long as they need and never impose time limits. This can sometimes mean an animal stays with us for a longer period of time. While very few dogs stay more than a couple weeks and few cats stay more than a couple months, I believe it is of the utmost importance that an animal’s health and behavior are assessed daily no matter how long the stay, because some animals handle shelter life better than others.

For dogs, structured training sessions, foster homes, other dogs to play with, extra walks, swimming, Kongs, car rides, and other enrichment programs can help these animals until they can be adopted. While cats tend to stay longer in shelters, their needs are much the same. Cage-less cat rooms, training, time outside in a secure enclosure, or maybe a fish to watch (at a safe distance) can keep cats emotionally stable until they are adopted.

If an animal has some health or behavioral concerns that need to be
addressed, it may not be beneficial to try to get that animal out of the
shelter until those concerns are handled. We see dogs with food
aggression, cats that are almost feral, dogs with severe dog aggression, cats that hate being touched, animals recovering from serious medical issues, and the like. We work with whatever issue an animal may have until we believe the animal is adoption ready, but it is up to the shelter staff to make them adoption ready by addressing their specific needs every day and in the meantime, make sure they remain emotionally stable.

Sometimes though, enrichment isn’t enough. If an animal is staying longer than usual and has no serious health or behavior issues, then we need to try to figure out why the animal hasn’t been adopted yet. There is usually an underlying reason that an animal isn’t being adopted as quickly as we would like. Maybe the animal has a black coat and is located in the darkest corner of the kennel. Maybe potential adopters don’t like the way the animal barks when they walk past its kennel. If the dog that has a bad habit of barking, the dog could benefit from training, a foster home, or a stay in a room or behind the desk while the public is touring the shelter. The dog may need some exposure at an off-site adoptathon or an extra article about him in the newspaper.

Sometimes, it is not even about the animal at all. Shelters may also need to evaluate how the staff may be making a person feel about a particular animal, how the written description on the website sounds, what types of advertising is most effective, and even how the animal looks in its cage. Cage placement, behavior, cleanliness, staff perception of the animal, adoption price, poor manners, etc., are all important areas to evaluate while enrichment programs are being used.

With that being said, I think if long stays are the norm for any shelter, managers should consider gathering some outside feedback from the public, adopters, and other shelters. Something might need to be done.

And, for a specific idea on promoting these special shelter pets, Dayna offers:

We  just implemented a new special adoption promotion called the
“Lonely Hearts Club”. We reduce a cat’s adoption fee to $20 and a dog to $30 and put special heart signs on their kennels if they have been at our shelter for more than two months. It is just a way to promote them a bit more. The key thing is to steal ideas from what is working for other shelters:)

Thank you so much Dayna for sharing your insights on this subject.  I’d like to collect some experiences and practices from other shelters in order to provide a resource for people looking for ideas to help these special pets.

So, open question:  Do you know of a marketing technique that works for your local shelter in helping to get long term resident pets adopted?  How does your shelter care for these pets differently than those who are at the shelter only a couple of days or weeks?

28 thoughts on “The Care and Marketing of Long Term Resident Shelter Pets

  1. I’m impressed by what UPAWS is doing and wish that all shelters were as diligent in promoting adoption of their animals (both short-term and long-term). Just as in real estate, I think “re-listing” helps. If an animal isn’t moving in a reasonable time frame, posting it as a “new” animal can help. I’m not suggesting that the animal’s real status be misrepresented, or the A-number changed and the LoS numbers recalculated, or anything like that–just treating it as if it is “new to the market” can change both the unconscious signals sent by the shelter staff and the perception of the animal by the public. In my opinion, any animal that has been in any shelter for 6 months or more needs a “team meeting” to come up with a customized plan for placement. Some shelters seem unduly proud that “We kept Fido here for two years until he finally found a home.” Nice to have no time limits, but not nice to let a dog spend what could be a quarter of its life in a shelter. How many other needy animals might have been able to use that cage while it was being occupied by an animal who becomes almost a “mascot”? Again, not supporting euthanasia for time/space limits–just urging more effort and creativity on those animals who are not fast-track.

  2. Thank you for posting this!
    Dayna thank you for sharing. I’m was working with a no kill shelter where dogs were there years and none of this was done.

  3. Hi,
    I’m from UPAWS and another thing to add is transferring shelter pets that are having a hard time getting adopted to another shelter to give them a fresh try in a new community. (with the understanding that if they are not get adopted with the transfer that your shelter will take the dog back). As an example, a wonderful dog named Yoda was recently transferred to UPAWS from another shelter 2 hours away. The other shelter adored Yoda and took great care of him. He was a special needs Bull Terrier mix who is as gentle as the get. But was not being adopted at the other shelter for some reason or another and was there for 7 months. He was called Yoda because, well, he looked like Yoda from Star Wars! He came to UPAWS, we immediately did a video, wrote a detailed bio and posted on our website, PetPortal sits, Petfinder, and facebook. He was also sponsored through our Shelter Sponsorship Program for his neuter surgery and he was our Deb’s Dog of the Month (a Program at UPAWS to help a shelter dog each month) which paid for vet tests. Well, within a week Yoda was adopted by a great family with kids. Yoda had folks on a list waiting for him. The other shelter that had him was thrilled — plus the other shelter helped UPAWS by transferring some of our bunnies to them since bunnies have a harder time getting adopted at our shelter. And good news, the bunnies were adopted there!
    Think Outside of the Box, work with other shelters, help each other. It’s a win-win for everyone — especially the shelter pets.

    1. I must say I am VERY impressed with UPAWS! The fact that they are basically a no kill shelter but don’t advertise themselves as such – yet have some really great programs in place to help place these animals, while at the same time addressing behavioral/health concerns AND promoting constant exposure to stimuli and people (or other animals) is very amazing. I really wish more shelters approached their sheltering system like this. It really does sound like the ‘perfect’ sheltering system all around. Great for staff, volunteers, AND the animals placed in their care. I wish my ‘local’ shelter did the same.

      By the way – does UPAWS kill ANY animals? And if so for what reasons?

  4. I so agree, it is how you promote your animals that is the key as well as well balanced shelter life. I tried to incorporate this ideas and speak up for the dogs at the shelter but I was given the boot, but I’m not giving up and these posts help for raising awareness and what can be done! Thank you!

  5. I have found that sponsorship was the best way of getting more attention. It our county shelter we put a heart on their records for every month they were there. We move the ones that are there the longest to the front of the shelter so more people see them.
    If it fair to keep them in a cage, alone , in a shelter atmosphere indefinitely?
    Are they getting out to adoption fairs every weekend ? Are they walked daily and do they spend time with people on a regular basis?
    The answers should be YES , or they are not happy and their life sucks. If they can be moved to another shelter where they are “new” , it can help . That is not always possible. Maybe the shelters can agree to swap animals ??? It is not fair to them.

  6. There is a huge network of animal rescue groups and it is possible to netowrk and help the dogs adopted. The internet as mentioned above -through petfinder, facebook and other sites, people are creating contacts and saving lives. It takes forward thinking by the shelter director and employees.

  7. I read about this in the local paper and thought it was very clever. A Portland running club, Team Red Lizard has teamed up with Multnomah County Animal Shelter to host a monthly event called Run with the Dogs. ( The shelter brings at least 6 dogs who are available to runners. After the run, they are available for outreach at the local Petco. This way, high energy dogs who generally do not do well in the shelter environment get out and get some exercise and socialization.

  8. Our local humane society started a guardian angel program where a particular animal is sponsored financially by an individual. I’ve had several over the years and generally choose those who are hardest to adopt (the shy dog, the senior cat, the “average” looking, etc). Having the guardian angel “guaranteed” the animal would not be pulled for killing. There were a lot of folks who love animals but who couldn’t take another one in who would become angels. Lots of people also sponsored as a gift, in memory of, in honor of . . . Unfortunately, the humane society decided that there were too many and it cost too much to take care of some of the “less adoptables” and stopped the program. I’m guessing the downside is that others were pulled in place of . . . not a good option. But I know that there were a lot of people who wanted to and did help.

  9. One thing i’d like to add- my place of employment would be considered a ‘kill shelter’ (because we euthanize for health and behavior) but do not impose time limits- so we, too, can have some of the same challenges as no-kill shelters. Luckily, our LOS is pretty low right now, but i remember a few years ago knowing a cat for over a year in shelter before she was adopted

    Now we have a Forget-Me-Not program. Animals in shelter over a month are added to the program- they get a flag for the kennel and a sticker on their card. They get a memo on their website post. Dogs get reduced fees (cats are already reduced right now under another program). We then have ‘Forget-Me-Not Fridays’ where a particular FMN animal gets featured in the media and on facebook.
    We also have multiple locations, so animals that are experiencing a longer-than normal stay (2+ weeks) can get sent to another location for a different audience.
    We also take into account in-shelter presentation: black cats are moved out of corner or bottom cages and placed on bright, solid color bedding. Black dogs wear bright bandanas (and are not kenneled next to other black dogs to ‘break up’ the black)
    I agree with UPAWS’ enrichment suggestions, and would add (for caged cats)- bedding, a shelf, toys (both soft and hard) and a scratching post

  10. Our main sheltering facility is run by the ACO’s in Franklin County (Franklin County Dog Shelter). We have a mandatory 3 day hold before the animal can be placed on the adoption floor – if it is deemed adoptable. Unfortunately almost all of the pit type dogs are killed, but a few escape the killing and end up on the floor listed as a mix breed dog (unfortunately it is normally only the ones that are most complacent and more “settled”, or should I say “mature” and calmer pit types. I know that we have at least 1 pit bull type dog rescue that pulls the majority of puppies, as many as they can place in foster care until they can be adopted out. But, to me, they still have a very high kill rate – which bothers me considering some fo the programs they have impemented – but according to their 2010 records – 38.7% were euthanized due to poor health, advanced age or unsafe temperament. 8.9% were euthanized at the owner’s request. Of this total number euthanized 46% were pit bull type dogs.

    Our shelter also has a program where you can sponsor a pet and that will enable it to stay on the adoption floor a little while longer. Our shelter also does adoption days called “Mingle with Our Mutts” that includes area rescues as well as the shelter animals available for viewing and they currently do it twice a month on Sundays. They also do a “Shelter Favorites” where any dog that has been there longer than a month gets a special listing if they have been there for more than 30 days and their adoption rates are half that of the other animals. They also do a “Pooch of the Week” that highlights some of those that have become shelter favorites – these dogs are highlighted on the shelter website AND the shelter goes to a local radio station each Monday morning to promote the “Pooch of the Week”. They also do a non-time news promo for dogs on a local TV station…but I am not sure if they are still doing it because I am not normally able to get to the TV during lunch hours. They also advertise the special needs dogs that require ongoing medical treatment or are seniors with beginning health issues. The shelter has recently begun working with fosters for things like animals who have undergone surgery and need a quiet special place to recoop in – as well as some of the animals that require some ‘extra’ love time to get them ready for adoption, like puppies that are still nursing and some animals that need additional behavioral training.

    Our shelter also does a yearly calendar to help fundraise for the shelter, which has been very successful for fund raising (they traditionally cost $20, but they do slash the price down to $10 after the beginning of the new year…and if memory serves me correctly they sell them until they are gone – sometimes by reducing the price just to move them. We have special professional photographers volunteer their time to take the animals pictures for listing on their website. (I don’t believe they use Pet Finder, as yet.) BUT they are still killing for animals that they deem unadoptable – unfortunately many of those killed are pit type dogs, or those with major health concerns that would require a lot of $ to treat.

    But we also have another shelters that is called Citizens for Humane Action – I believe they ONLY kill when an animal is obviously in major pain and they can’t treat it without spending tons – like for chemo treatments. BUT they do try their hardest to adtop out every animal that walks through the door – and they use volunteers to run the majority of the day to day work – including cleaning and spending time with each animal. They utilize foster homes when they have an animal that needs that special extra treatment – to work on behvior and basic obedience. They are a shelter that I suport more than the one run by the ACO’s just because of the rates of euthanization is much, MUCH lower. (In fact if there is a dog that would be killed the shelter director literaly moves mountains to try and find alternative solutions in these situation, but when nothing pans out sometimes they do have to euthanize – but it is rare as someone always seems to step up at the last minute…even if only to sponsor the dog until it gets adopted, which helps provide the food and medical treatment they may need. Recently they built a new facility which allows them to hosue more animals, which is great because they use to have to kill for space or turn people away due to being at capacity. :) They even do out of state adoptions if they get a request from someone outside of the Ohio area. They also work with rescue group, as possible. They also utilize fostering for special needs animals, when they’ve reach capacity, and to becially turn pure breds over to the appropriate rescues for placement. They have their own website, but also utilize Pet Finder.

    While I think both shelters are doing a good job of transitioning from the old methods to a better more up to date method of running the shelter. In fact back when they automatically killed pits (because they couldn’t adopt them out due to BSL restricitons and libility) – the shelter director would pull the dog (if she felt the animal wasn’t a liability – and she does this outsand kennel it elsewhere and foot the bill out of her own pocket until she can find either a foster to take the dog in or it is adopted out. They also utilize volunteer/fosters who can take in orphaned pups and kittens.

    While I have seen MANY very positive changes in both local shelters – I know that there is still room for improvement. Thankfully we have sehlter directors taht are willing to work outside of the traditonal box and ocome up with new programs and other avenues to promote adoption. But at least they are on their way!

    I can’t tell you how wonderful the usage of TV and radio media has been in actually placing animals. Plus the shelter is set up so that if someone comes in and wants to sdopt their “Shelter Favorites” and that animal is already spoken for – they will try to help locate another dog that would fit the family’s lifestyle…so they definitely take advantage of any media surrounding any of the dogs to place other animals as well – which I think is a great idea and on not utilized enough as other shelters.

    I think UPAWS is a really great example of what our shelters SHOULD be doing – although many of them wouldn’t use these methods – even if they have proven effective. That is sad. I think we should be looking ot the shelters like UPAWS as a base model for other shelters to look at and say “Hey we wantto do like that too!”

    Thank you Shirley, Dayna & Ann – for all the hard work and saving animals daily!!! BIG thanks for sharing this story – it gives me hope that others are capable of no kill (even if they have everything in place to ad that ‘label’ and choose not to).

    Kuddos UPAWS – keep up the good work!

  11. I is wonderful to read about shelters that are actually putting some effort into keeping their shelter pets happy, healthy, and creatively marketing them. Thank you for this post and enjoyed all the ideas in the comments too.

  12. Reading about this “can do” attitude makes me so sad for the shelters who don’t have someone like this. Where I live, we have a no-kill shelter that is run by someone who is a good friend of Nathan Winograd and leads workshops on how to go no-kill. But this director has not put these efforts into effect at his own shelter. It is not at all uncommon for dogs to be at his shelter for over a year. One has been there for 3 yrs! Cats are a little better off. They had a great trainer who got tons of dogs adopted but didn’t support her work & she left. The director seems to follow the rule of “Those who can’t, teach.” This is the kind of thing that people who are against no-kill use as a weapon & for good reason. Really sad.

  13. There is a cat rescue I NYC that have two male cats that are inseperable. In order to get them adopted together, the shelter is going to have them get married. Complete with a ceremony and reception. They’re even registered!

  14. We can’t stop, we have to fighting the status quo and get the leadership in place, believe me I know that is easier said than done. I’ve been up against leadership in place for 30 years but I can’t abandon the dogs and have to keep fighting!

  15. Great post! I work for a no-kill rescue shelter, and we also have dogs who have been with us for a long, long time, some for years! They do pick a “campaign dog” and spend time making flyers for that dog and putting them up everywhere. But I’ve always wondered, why does it have to be only one at once? Some of us on the staff have great ideas, but because of high-ranking volunteer egos, things don’t get done. One thing that would be very helpful is if we could be allowed to take some long-term dogs out to the park 15 minutes up the road and just walk around with them and stuff. It would be a nice break from the shelter for them.

    I have also recently learned that some of the volunteers think they know stuff about the dogs because they spend a few hours a week with them, but are actually giving out misinformation. I was told one of them told potential adopters that a dog was “shy and may bite.” This particular dog was shy when she came in, but has never showed even the intention of being aggressive to anyone or anything, and is actually doing much better now that we let her play with a doggie friend every day. But what does the staff know, they only spend five days a week with these dogs!

    1. This is interesting to me, @CristyF, because I am more familiar with situations where the opinions of the volunteers are ignored and the views of the staff reign supreme (for better or worse). You seem to be describing the opposite and I had never really thought about that. Obviously, the ideal is a partnership between paid staff and vols, but we all know that it can be a very delicate dance that doesn’t always go the way we might hope. So how ’bout it, @YesBiscuit–a main post on situations where the staff is getting ignored while vols run amok?

    2. “be allowed to take some long-term dogs out to the park 15 minutes up the road and just walk around with them and stuff.”

      Why is this not allowed? Seem like this should be included in the daily or weekly care of these dogs.

      1. After a friend suggested it, I started last year taking photo’s of 3-4 seniors and posting them in local coffee shops, cleaners, hair salons, even the super market allowed them. It did help expose them more and some ere adopted and they bring people into the shelter. I use their name to identify them and took the photo’s outside. Now a few other volunteers are doing the same in their neighborhoods. I do walk the dogs at the county shelter. I have asked to take them to the park and they have absolutely forbidden me to do it. I think it would be a great help !!

      2. @Joni Solis, I work at The Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside, CA and the staff frequently take the dogs on outings and hike in our community as team building and stress relief for our dogs!

  16. I agree with alot of these ideas, but marketing them and having exposure it really helps their chances at adoption. When Id id my first senior Adoption day for PAWS-we are talking serious long term 10 years , 9 years etc. I went to get get the permit wth pictures and a flyer. I didn’t find out until a few days after the event that one of the ladies helping me with the permit went and adopted Annie- a 9 year resident. Awesome1

  17. at all our senior pets are free to senior people – this helps move some of our older residents. most of my pet ads are “pet personals” and I write them like dating ads to keep them light and fun (Black man with hairy back seeks life partner etc.)

    1. That is really a great idea. Sadly I have seen a lot of shelters that won’t adopt to seniors because they are worried that the person will die and leave a dog behind with no one to care for it, resulting in the dog being returned to them.

      On the flip side I have also seen some shelters that offer senior animals at a discounted rate to senior people and have heard really great things about the outcome.

  18. Good idea Kris. At the local shelter,everyone is encouraged to name a guardian for their animal if something happens to them. They do not deny anyone because of age.

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