Pet Lover Geek

A Whole New World for Animal Shelters

November 02, 2020 Lorien Clemens Season 5 Episode 10
Pet Lover Geek
A Whole New World for Animal Shelters
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In response to COVID-19, animal welfare organizations across the country are reimagining the role shelters play in supporting animals and people in their communities. We talk with three pivotal partners in the new movement: Human Animal Support Services, Panhandle Animal Shelter, and Greenville County Animal Care.

Human Animal Support Services promotes collaboration between animal welfare professionals, animal services agencies and the communities they serve. Working together, HASS creates and shares resources including policies, tools, and training to create meaningful, institutional change, ultimately reducing shelter intake and the number of animals housed in animal shelters.

In 2015, Panhandle Animal Shelter (Idaho) was experiencing a 15 percent increase in owner surrenders. The shelter decided to help pet owners in their community by creating a positive and proactive rehoming program called Home To Home™, a free program that allows pet owners to self-rehome their pet via an online platform hosted by the shelter. Within the first year of the program, they saw a 31% decrease in owner surrenders, and now the program is used by over 45 shelters. 

Greenville County Animal Care is a Tier 1 pilot program in the HASS initiative and quickly pivoted to focus on their foster program when the nationwide lock-downs happened last spring (more than 50 percent of their shelter population was placed in foster homes).

Learn more about the HASS program and the work these shelters are doing to build stronger community resources for people and animals.

Music featured in the episode:
- Pet Lover Geek Theme by Ray Clemens
-  Runaway by VESHZA
- Eminence Landscapes by Ian Post
- Where Were You by Evolv
-  Cabana by Peter Spacey

00:03 Lorien Clemens

Welcome to Pet Lover Geek powered by Pet Hub, pet lovers! I'm Lorien Clemens and today we're exploring an exciting revolution happening in the animal services and welfare world. Now if you've been listening to our recent episodes, you've heard from a lot of experts in a variety of fields talking about the effects of COVID and what it's had on the pet industry. Well, it's no different for shelters across the country who are having to pivot to provide more services for pet parents who are dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

In August the ASPCA released data estimating that 4.2 million pets will be entering poverty in the next six months as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. I mean, it's devastating. And it's a 21% increase from the pre-pandemic estimates, and it means that there will be a total of over 24 million, almost 24 and a half million animals that would be living in poverty by February of next year. Awful.

So, a lot of leaders in the animal services are using this as an opportunity to flip the switch on some of the longstanding ways that they've been doing things in the shelter world, and I'm really excited about all the guests that we have on today's show. I want to get right in and let them tell you about these amazing things that are happening in shelters across the country. It's like a big paradigm shift, and I'm really excited about it.

So today we're lucky enough to have three guests on the show who are making waves through new programs and initiatives that focus on collaboration and community. I absolutely love it. I want to give you a sneak peek of who we're talking today.

First, we're going to talk with Kristin Hassen. In March, Kristin co-founded the Human Animal Support Services. It's an international coalition of animal welfare leaders and organizations. It's like a big, huge think tank of a bunch of really smart people in the animal welfare world. And they're all coming together to transform the role of animal shelters and animal control agencies and what they're doing to support animals and the people that love them.

And then we're going to get to chat with two different shelters who are pilots shelters for this brand new program. So first, we're going to talk to Mandy Evans. She's from Panhandle Animal Shelter and she's going to give us details about the founding of the Home To Home program, which provides a really positive and proactive method to rehome pets without ever having to go into the shelter.

Finally, we will wrap up the episode by talking with one of the shelters using PetHub ID tags to reunite lost pets with their owners quickly -- Greenville County Animal Care. We're going to talk to Shelly Simmons and she's going to share those strategies that they're using in the shelter to support pets and owners alike, including things like Home To Home, being at Tier 1 pilot shelter with that HASS program.

Now I hope you're ready to jump in, pet lovers. This is going to be a really motivating and encouraging episode because there's a lot to do to meet this challenge. We're going to jump right in after this quick break.

[Music: "Runaway" by VESHZA]

03:03 Lorien Clemens

Our first guest today is Kristen Hassen. She's the director of American Pets Alive based in Texas. Did you know that an estimated 2 million companion animals are killed in shelters across the United States every year? Well American Pets Alive is a nationwide educational program with the purpose of saving as many animals as possible from these unnecessary deaths. They work to accomplish this goal through a variety of programs and the newest endeavor is one that I'm really excited about, Human Animal Support Services.

I just want to give you a heads up that we're going to refer to this program by its acronym throughout the interview just because it's easier to say.

So HASS is a national coalition of animal service leaders and more than 30 pilot organizations who are transforming traditional sheltering systems to serve the entire community by supporting that human animal bond. And through the hard work of over 500 collaborators, HASS is building community support solutions for shelters across the US and Canada by focusing on 36 elements.

Now, I really wish we had time to delve into all of those elements in the topics today, but we're just going to focus on a few. We're going to focus on keeping families together, lost and found, self-rehoming, foster care, and then of course the impacts of COVID-19 which are forefront of everybody's mind right now.

Now this is really exciting, groundbreaking stuff. We're talking about a whole new vision for animal services where pets are housed in the homes of the community, not in the shelter. So let's dive in and learn first hand from one of HASS's co-founders Kristen Hassen. Kristen, welcome to the show!

04:44 Kristen Hassen

Hi, thanks so much for having me.

04:46 Lorien Clemens

Super excited to have you here. Now before we dive in more into that proactive work that's being done right now through this new initiative, I would love it if you could just walk us through how all this got started because this is a big paradigm shift and it's more than just the response to COVID-19 right? 

05:03 Kristen Hassen

Yes. I've been leading municipal government animal shelters for the last eight years, and in that time the thing that has struck me the most --regardless of what shelter I've been leading -- is that in order to serve animals, cats and dogs who need our help, they have to be separated from their families, their homes and their communities in order to get help from the animal shelter. And at this point, animals are considered family by people, so to make it so that they have to be taken away from the people that love them in order to help them, it just seems wrong now. And we really wanted to say animal shelters don't need to operate this way anymore. Let's do something different and try to serve animals in their homes with their families and keep them in their communities. 

05:56 Lorien Clemens

Yeah, absolutely, because as soon as you take a domesticated animal, an animal that's all about bonding with humans, out of that human interaction you've got all sorts of things that are going on. So I'd love if you could -- to really kind of help us breakdown HASS -- I mean it consists of two different types of categories of pilot shelters that are implementing the program, what you guys call elements in their communities. Looking at the HASS website, the aim of these elements is to create that critical engagement among animal welfare organizations that build the system so it can better address modern needs of the communities when it comes to these animal services.

So I'd like it if you could explain that a little bit more -- like so what specifically are these pilot shelters working on?

06:44 Kristen Hassen

So in order to do that, I have to take you back about 150 years to the foundation of our modern animal shelter movement. It started in the mid-19th century, first in the Northeast in big cities like Boston and New York. And it was at a time when there were more animals living in places like New York City than there were people. At one time in New York City there were supposedly more pigs roaming the streets then there were even people living there.

07:11  Lorien Clemens

Oh my gosh!

07:13 Kristen Hassen

And it's hard to imagine that now, but there were also --at the time -- dogs. And as places increasingly urbanized, free roaming dogs became a nuisance and a problem for a variety of reasons. And really there was no system setup. Dogs were just free roaming -- most people didn't have fenced in yards at this time. Then something came on the scenes that was known then as hydrophobia -- we know now as rabies -- and when rabies emerged, people really didn't know what it was, but they knew that it had 100% fatality rate and that they were somehow related to those free roaming dogs.

And this is where we see the pound model emerge, and long story short, the pound model really meant rounding up all of those free roaming dogs, taking them to a building and disposing of them. And at the time that meant 99% of them died -- there wasn't adoption or foster programs in these early days.

So although we've made tremendous strides in animal welfare and we have dramatically reduced euthanasia, the system is still fundamentally built on this idea that animals that are found that aren't immediately attached to a person need to be rounded up, taken out of their community, and brought to a building. We still live with that today.

HASS really looked around at other industries and looked around at how -- for instance, children that have lost their parents were being managed. And we looked around at how other societal problems were being tackled and said we can do better than this now. We can do better than just rounding up these animals and bringing them into buildings. And so the elements of HASS -- there's actually 16 elements but 36 working groups aiming to solve difficult industry problems -- those elements are really designed from proven practices, things that different shelters have been doing the last decade or so that we know work. It's putting them all together into one package to keep as many animals out of the institution of the shelter as possible and to house more of them in the community. 

09:20 Lorien Clemens

Great, and I think it's important because I don't want people when they're listening to this going wait, wait, you're going to get rid of animal shelters? And I don't think that that's what was being said. It's not that animal shelters aren't needed, it's that HASS envisions the role of shelters to house animals who genuinely need to be in that shelter. So it allows the shelter then to explore innovative ideas and programs with available resources better and to do more.

So I'd love it if you could break that down. I mean, so if they're not going into that building, where are they going? And how do you know which ones need to go where, and what type of service they need to do?

09:57 Kristen Hassen

That's such a great question and it's something that comes up a lot. A few years ago many people in the movement were talking about the end of animal shelters, and there were those of us, myself included, who said that's not going to happen because animals can't speak and the reality is that we do find animals that need help every single day. There's victims of cruelty and neglect. There are tiny, orphaned puppies and kittens. There are animals that have been hit by cars. Those animals truly need sheltering services. They need to be able to come to a safe place, get the care they need and then get outcomed.

What I would love to show you if I could take you behind the scenes at my animal shelter is that there are about 25% of the animals that are there that really need to be there. And then there's this other 75% which are these happy, healthy, friendly, loving pets. And it's just many times a mystery how they got there and they don't need to be in the animal shelter. It's not serving any need except as a holding repository, and those animals are the ones that we're trying to tackle through HASS. They are the ones that we could better serve if we could, for instance, get them home while they're still in their neighborhood without having them come to the shelter. Or help their owner keep them if the owner is facing hardship or can't find housing. So it's those animals HASS is addressing.

And what that will do ultimately, we hope, is to reduce shelter intake by up to 50%, which means that the animal shelters will be more equipped to care for those animals with urgent and emergency needs that do come in.

11:30 Lorien Clemens

Yeah, absolutely. I mean at PetHub, one of our main missions was to get lost pets home before they ever hit the shelter door because once they hit that shelter door then, you know, there's so many things that can affect it in a negative way. And getting them home, like you said, most of them are in their neighborhood or within 3 miles of their homes, and so getting them home before they ever have to go to the shelter, which in some cases could be a county away -- a long way away from home -- and get it even farther away from being able to be reunited with their families. That's huge and it really hits home with what we're trying to do here at PetHub.

And so I want to talk more about that community services and the support and how keeping things closer to home is such a huge part of that vision. So it's not only about providing the services to pet parents, which I know we're going to hear a lot about later from some other guests, but also utilizing the community to support shelters better through things like foster home.

So I want to read this stat that we found on your website: Over the past several years, organizations that operate high volume foster programs have placed 3,000 or more pets in foster homes with just one full-time employee. And the emergence of COVID-19 lead organizations to send record numbers of pets to foster homes. Many organizations are housing 75-90% of their total inventory -- and we're talking about the dogs and cats that normally would be in shelter cages -- in foster home.

So I would love it if you could talk about how COVID kind of was a shining a light on these standard foster programs and how they could now be grown into something that's much more significant and beneficial to the community.

13:12 Kristen Hassen

That's a really important question because we look at it in relationship with something like telehealth -- telemedicine in human medicine -- and many people wondered for years and years why telemedicine wasn't widely available. During COVID, what the medical field found out was that it was really the medical industry itself and doctors that were resistant to that model and they didn't believe it could be effective. And during COVID, in those first couple of months, the medical industry learned a valuable lesson that telehealth is really, really important and it can be done.

And the same exact thing happened in animal welfare. We just, as an industry, didn't quite believe that foster could accommodate as many animals as we needed or that it could make such a significant impact on our industry and it did. So during COVID, the first days, we all came together on these Zoom calls and we were all really worried that shelters were going to be ordered shut down as a non-essential services and that we would be faced with the possibility of having to euthanize the animals inside. All of us who were on these calls knew that wasn't an option, but we also knew that our only sort of a wing and a prayer was to try to get as many animals to foster as we could.

Nationally we all came together and we asked for foster care givers, and at one point we got 43% of the total shelter population in the country in foster homes. And looking back on that, it was not only tremendously lifesaving in that critical moment to get all of those animals out, but it taught us a lesson that foster really is the future and it's how we should be housing most animals.

14:57 Lorien Clemens

Yeah, and it keeps them in home. I mean their domestic animals. They're meant to be with humans, and so I love that you guys are coming together like that. I'm curious though because I know that there are still some holdouts in the medical profession who are still like agh telehealth. So are there still those holdouts in the animal welfare world who still are like no once we get back to quote unquote normal, we don't need the foster care system anymore. Do you find that there are still people that are reluctant to make some of these big shifts in thinking?

15:33 Kristen Hassen

Yes, I do. So, partly the industry worries that when people go back to work -- or they worried probably 3 months ago and you were hearing a lot about what about when people go back to their day jobs? Aren't all of these animals that are fostering going to flood back into the system? It was a big concern. But we have not seen that happen yet. We don't think we will see it happen. So many of the foster parents who took those animals home have adopted them. But there's certainly always concern whenever change happens.

I think, more than foster is concerning, I think that there is a skepticism that animals can receive care from the everyday people in our community: your neighbor who might find your lost cat or the person that you may rehome your dog to. And what we're seeing is that slowly but surely our communities are starting to get excited about this idea. When early on there were some trepidation and now people are excited, because what we have all known for years is that people want to help. They want to help animals, but previously all we told them was if you find an animal, take it to the shelter. We never said if you find an animal you can help hold it for three days and help us find the owner. And now we're giving people a lot of different ways to help and they love it. More often than not, people want to help us get that animal home or get it re-homed. And, so I think people are starting to believe it's possible.

17:03 Lorien Clemens

Yeah, and I love that people, I'm hoping, that this will start to help people look at the shelter as a resource and as something that can really help them rather than -- you know, we hear all the time of PetHub, oh no, I'm not taking that animal to the shelter, those people are terrible -- because they still got these preconceived notions that go way back to what you were talking about 150 years ago, that as soon as I take him to the shelter they're going to be euthanized or they're going to be locked in a cage and it's going to be, you know, whatever. I having been now in this industry for 10 years, I can tell you the people that are in the industry are wonderful and so much of the work that you guys do is is really wonderful. I'm hoping that this helps shift, again a paradigm shift, of how people think of the shelters and the animal welfare organizations in their community.

I would love it if you could kind of talk a little bit too about, you know, what you think that this means for the future of animal welfare in the next few years as we move forward, because the other thing on my mind too, like, we're all kind of bracing ourselves for economic, you know, downturn of some kind -- we gave that poverty stat earlier where, you know, how many people are potentially going to be going into poverty and how that might might change things. How do you see animal welfare helping us shape, you know, what's going to happen to all these animals?

18:22 Kristen Hassen

You know, on the bad days I worry that if we see 30-40 million evictions that we're going to be doing all of these HASS programs and we're going to be keeping 50% of the animals out of the shelter, but that that number is going to be made up for by the animals flooding in because their owners are losing their homes and aren't able to keep them. So I think it's very possible the next several years are going to be historically challenging for animal shelters, and there's no way to sugarcoat that. The reality is looking pretty dire financially for people, and we know that when people are in crisis, they can't always find ways to keep their pets.

When you combine that with the increasing lack of pet accessible housing, we have a real problem as a movement on our hands. I think the fight for pet accessible housing is probably going to take up the next decade of our lives.

But on good days, I think that the generosity and willingness to help on the part of people in the United States -- and HASS is an international project, so we have to include Canada, Australia and other nations that have reached out to us -- people want to help and the help they will give is endless, but animal welfare has to do a lot better job asking for help and then making it really, really easy for people. We've got to get out of our own way. We've got to stop putting barriers in place.

We hear all the time from people who say I went to foster a pet from my local shelter and they told me I had to go to three trainings and wait two months and have a background check. And that just isn't, in today's world, that's just not going to fly. We have to let people help at the moment they want to, and I believe that if we as an industry can do that, we're going to get through this together and we're going to see historically low rates of in-shelter euthanasia.

20:17 Lorien Clemens

Awesome, well I'm glad that we have people like you working this challenge that we have before us, because it's before all of us and we're all in the same storm and all in different types of boats. But we're all in the same storm together.

So I know that we just were able to explore just the tip of the iceberg about HASS and I know that there's going to be a lot of people that are listening that really want to learn more about this initiative and how they can get involved. So would you please tell us how they can learn more?

20:45 Kristen Hassen

Yes, absolutely. You go to humananimalsupportservices.org. You can learn all about the project and how to get involved. We need volunteers. This organization is largely volunteer run. We have more than 600 animal welfare experts involved in it. It's really a think tank, it's a movement, and it's a pilot project with about 40 shelters participating. So, HASS has legs, we are going places and we really are excited for people to get involved. So check out the website, contact us and we can use all the help we can get.

21:23 Lorien Clemens

Awesome, and I would be remiss in also not throwing out that American Pets Alive is and amazing organization. You can visit them at americanpetsalive.org and learn about all the incredible things that you guys do there. Kristen, thank you so much for joining us today.

21:36 Kristen Hassen

Thanks so much for having me. 

[Music: "Eminence Landscapes" by Ian Post]

21:42 Lorien Clemens

Right now, actually after we take a little break, we are going to talk with Mandy Evans from Panhandle Animal Shelter in northern Idaho. In 2015, they started a program called Home To Home and it focuses on self-rehoming, and now they are one of the pilot shelters with the HASS initiative and that Home To Home program is spreading everywhere. So it's really exciting. Sit tight, and we'll be right back to talk with Mandy. 

[Music: "Eminence Landscapes" by Ian Post]

22:20 Lorien Clemens

Welcome back, pet lovers! I don't know about you but I am so inspired after listening to Kristen and hearing more about the future of animal shelters and what we can do if we all come together.

So many of the shelters in the HASS program have stated that they were already doing programs that really resembled some of these initiatives in the elements of the HASS program -- Panhandle Animal Shelter is a great example. In 2015 they started the Home To Home program and it provides pet owners an alternative to surrendering their pet to a shelter when they can no longer keep them or whenever a challenges arrives about keeping them at home. And today their goal is to provide this tool to shelters and rescues around the world for free. Panhandle is also one of the pilots in the HASS program who are working to implement all those HASS elements that we talked about with Kristen.

I'm really excited today to introduce Mandy Evans. She's executive director of Panhandle Animal Shelter. Mandy, welcome to the show.

23:18 Mandy Evans

Thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to have our little chat today.

23:23 Lorien Clemens

I am too. I am too. And before we dig deep into talking about the Home To Home program, I want to make sure that our listeners have just an idea about you and your shelter. So Panhandle Animal Shelter serves three counties in northern Idaho and it provides for approximately 2,200 stray or surrenders animals every year. That's right?

23:42 Mandy Evans

We actually this year helped -- excuse me, in 2019 -- about 2,400 in our building and through all of our community programs we helped 8,400.

23:53 Lorien Clemens

Wow that's fantastic. So almost 10,000 animals are helped by Panhandle Animal Shelter. That's awesome!

And you and I were talking just offline about, you know, the idea of counties and how animals don't understand that counties are different places and everything. So it's a big area that you serve and there's a lot going on, and there's probably a lot of different socioeconomic things going on just because of how large the area you serve is.

And so I want you to chat a bit about this Home To Home program that you started in 2015 and talk about the challenges that you were facing as a shelter that you built this tool for. It's essentially a self rehoming tool for pet parents.

24:34 Mandy Evans

So back in 2015 we started to see an increase in our owner surrenders and being the main shelter in this large area we wanted to be able to provide our community with a resource that was really proactive.

Calling around other shelters just to see what they were doing and what kind of innovative programs were out there -- a lot of them were doing delayed intake. So it would be, oh, you need to surrender? Well, we can take your animal in two weeks, will that work for you? And then celebrating when that animal never came to the shelter. And we knew in our environment that wouldn't work because we're really the only game in town.

So we wanted to do something that was different. So we started at the Home To Home program, which is essentially a website where community members can post their own pets. They fill out a very simple brief pet profile and then it's shared on our Home To Home website and automatically shared on our Facebook page. So it really gets out to the community pet lovers who are wanting to adopt. They're seeing these animals just as much as they were seeing our shelter animals. And within three months we saw 31% reduction in our owner surrenders.

25:53 Lorien Clemens

Wow, that's great! So you saw immediate success with this program, and that's fantastic. So you had in the first year 31% decrease and I want to make sure, like, to be able to capture like how awesome that is, because a lot of times when people are taking their animals to a shelter and they're having to surrender, they get this label of being bad people. Or you know, whatever, there's all kinds of really negative, nasty names that are given. And I know too, that a lot of times when people are trying to help rehome their pet on their own without that support of a shelter, again, it's really hard on social media and there's a lot of negativity around it.

So this, I feel like this can really help us basically change those misconceptions that are out there about not only rehoming animals but also animal surrenders and the challenges that everybody can face. So can you walk us through what the reality is of, like, why people would actually be surrendering their animal? You mentioned the challenges of not bringing animals into the shelter but just the challenges of doing that in general, for getting that animal then adopted into other places and how like Home To Home can act as that benefit for the pet parent and the pet, and also help change this perspective, I guess?

27:16 Mandy Evans

Yeah, so one of the things that -- I'll be honest, I was really worried about launching Home To Home because I didn't want people to attack us for, like, thinking that we were encouraging people to surrender their pets or to have to find new homes. And really, quite the opposite happened. We were inundated with people saying how much they love to this program. The feedback from the owners who used the program to rehome their pet was just immensely positive. People really felt this empowerment that we had provided them with the trust and the tools to help themselves. And essentially they wanted to do that -- this was a missing piece in animal welfare where we assumed that we had to be in control of the situation.

And most of the time when people have to surrender, you know it could be something that one person would think is not a big deal and that they could get over, but for these people, it's really a big deal like they can't get over it. As an example, an older couple getting, you know, doing their part by helping a friend with a dog that they couldn't keep and then knowing the dog was too high energy for them. Knocking the woman over. And so the decision was really for the dog to find a home that was better suited for the dog, and that's what we find is a lot of times people are really making these decisions not about themselves but about the pet. I think that's the piece that we tend to miss.

The other kind of fundamental of Home To Home is that we don't allow any shaming. So if somebody shames then we put our No Shaming Policy on, we delete the post and that's been really positive. Since launching Home To Home here in our community it's the only thing I've done in the 10 years I've been at the shelter that people have interrupted me at dinner, have run over to our float to yell how much they loved Home To Home because they got their dog or cat on Home To Home. So it's been a really significantly positive experience for us because it allowed us to partner with our community.

29:43 Lorien Clemens

I love it and I would say it's very close to my heart. I don't know that our listeners know this, but my husband and I had to rehome our beloved dog earlier this year because even though he had had a wonderful relationship with our then six month old son, he bit him very, very abruptly an it was over a toy.

And something that we had seen with other dogs where he was, you know, very protective of his toys with other dogs. All of the sudden, as Sagan was crawling around on the ground it was a resource-guarding type of thing and we realized, oh my gosh, this is too dangerous. And so we started by just separating them and Ullr was miserable. I mean being away from his family all the time, you know, and we would like have like time we spend with him and then time we spent with the baby, but we couldn't all be together.

We realized we have to rehome him because it's better for him. We were very lucky. We had friends of the family who literally had always called him Uncle Ullr and their boys were really excited to get a dog. Mommy was not -- their Mom was not as excited, but now she's actually, I think, more in love with Ullr than any of the rest of the boys are.

But anyway, for me, having a system out there where I'm supported by my local animal welfare and I'm not just out there doing it out on my own, dealing with the shaming and that negative piece that's there. And also like having no way to vet these people who might be taking your pet in, you know, I mean, you're adopting your pet out to a new family.

So can you talk about that? Like do you help vet the people who might be taking the new animal in? Or how does that all work?

31:25 Mandy Evans

So what we do is that Home To Home is simply a platform and the people who post their animals are agreeing that they're going to do the interviewing, they're going to do the vetting, they'll come up with a safe place to meet the potential owner. And we've been running this for quite some time, and we've not had any issues. We found that people really make wonderful decisions and try to find the best match for their animal.

31:52 Lorien Clemens

That's great, and you said you've been doing this for several years, and you've helped a lot of other shelters implement it, right?

31:58 Mandy Evans

Yes, yes.

32:00 Lorien Clemens

Has the program morphed in any way or have new ideas come in that you've been able to implement as you go along? As you learn more about this way of doing things?

32:10 Mandy Evans

It's interesting because I'm, I guess, I'm a drive, like I've always pushing for the next thing; and Home To Home has really been quite stable in its concept. So we're right now in 47 shelters. We're hopefully going to be onboarding our first Canadian shelter next month.

The kind of tenants of our program is that shelters that join have to agree to our philosophies, right? So that's don't shame people, really provide support -- lean into your community. You can't use Home To Home just to benefit your shelter, so it has to be not just about lowering your intake. It's got to be that this is a community resource.

So you assign someone to run your Home To Home program. When people call we want them to -- or when people post their animal it has to be approved by someone at the participating shelter. So they'll look at it, they'll review it, and if there are resources at their shelter that can provide assistance so that that animal doesn't need to be rehomed, that would be a success.

So it's really shelters leaning in and supporting their community in a different way. And the only real change that has happened -- or is coming up, hopefully, we're in contract stage right now -- is adding a peer to peer fostering element. So, especially right now with the housing crisis, if people just need two weeks, if someone can just watch their dog for two weeks while they look for a new home, then allowing community members to seek out other community members.

So back to your other question, the shelter does not get involved in vetting at all, so even with the peer to peer, they would not get involved in that. It's really allowing community members to help community members.

34:09 Lorien Clemens

I think that's great. And you mentioned, you know, they're not just doing it for their own benefit -- these shelters aren't -- but there's a huge benefit though, for the shelter, because taking surrendered animals is a cost, a deep cost for many shelters.

I read that you estimate that shelters utilizing Home To Home are saving as much as $750,000 a year - 3/4 of a million a year?

34:34 Mandy Evans

That was one example for a shelter system that has seven different shelters and --

34:39 Lorien Clemens

OK, so they are huge, right.

34:43 Mandy Evans

But what we see is on average shelters that use Home To Home have a 26% reduction in their owner surrenders and that -- even if you just base, and I think it's a really low number, if you look at $130 per intake and that's what it costs because when -- so there's a benefit for everyone involved with Home To Home.

So the shelter benefits -- they do have to dedicate, you know, staff time to it, but the benefit outweighs that. Plus the fact that they're really working with their community, like that partnership is huge.

The pet owner that needs to surrender. I mean, I can't imagine. We see people who are older and their families have moved away and now they need to go to a nursing home and their best friend is their dog or cat and they have to surrender it to a shelter. That's heartbreaking. So Home To Home allows and empowers the family to be able to find a home so that that transition isn't so hard on that individual. So it benefits them and then animals.

When you look at the way shelters were established, they were established with really this kind of turn and burn mentality. Like we have cages -- they're not huge -- you go in the cage, we feed you, you have certain amount of time and you get euthanized. That was like the focus of shelters. It wasn't even really adoptions and originally it was just housing animals for the purpose of public safety. And as we've evolved a lot of shelters -- we've beautiful programs to support the well-being of animals in the facilities with cat portals and playgroups and all of these resources over the last 10 years that have been placed in really making the shelter environment enhanced in so many ways.

But what Home To Home does that takes a different approach is where we're not reactive, which I think shelters have been reactive for years. We're saying let's be proactive. Let's keep families together. Let's keep animals out of the shelter in a really positive way, so they're going from one home to another, and not having to go to a shelter.

We know that when they enter into a shelter there is behavior degeneration because it is not a home. It's sad. Especially dogs who are really super connected to humans, so having that cage and people walking by them can be really stressful. And then cats. Oh, cats. They're so sensitive. And they get sick so easily in shelters.

So let's act as -- we are doing our role. We're doing our part. We're helping the community, but we're just adjusting it in a different way that's more proactive and helps the community and animals in a better way in my opinion.

37:40 Lorien Clemens

I love it. I totally agree. I guess there's this part of me that's wondering -- so you have to get approval from the shelter to put your animal on the Home To Home, and you mentioned a, I think, 26% reduction so that other 74% are then their animals that no they really do need to be surrendered to the shelter? Or that they don't qualify for Home To Home in some way? I mean, like, I guess from my perspective, I'm just curious about who doesn't Home To Home work for?

38:17 Mandy Evans

So there are plenty of people. So some shelters use Home To Home as like what we talked about in the beginning with that appointment schedule. So they'll say we want you to try Home To Home for two weeks before we take in your owner surrender. And there are shelters that won't take in owner surrenders, so this is kind of a tool for shelters like that that would be able to provide the Community with assistance by not being able to take animal those animals.

But there are always situations where Home To Home may not work. There are some shelters that use the program that will not put any dog on that has ever had a bite history or any sort of aggression. Those dogs would go into the shelter where the shelter could properly evaluate a good home or what the path would be for that for that dog.

There are some people who may be -- like this happens a lot and it's a part of our role as the shelters to educate our community on our programs --but they literally show up the day they're moving or the day they are --  and like they're like here, here's my animals. And so obviously Home To Home doesn't work for people that are doing that because -- and that's where when you have a more proactive approach, you're able to educate your community on this is what we can do for you. And then you start to see that change a little bit, but it's still out there.

There are situations like yours where there's a child in the home, and they, you know, the situation has changed and they just don't know what to do, and they really think it's best to surrender. So, always -- there's always going to be this need and Home To home just helps the people who can use it have an alternative approach.

40:06 Lorien Clemens

Yeah okay, I just love it. I'm so excited about this program. And before -- we do have to go to commercial break, but I would love it if I could just give you a minute to talk about what you are personally hoping to see in the next few years? Whether it be more things like Home To Home or other things -- how are you hoping that animal welfare changes?

40:24 Mandy Evans

Well, I mean along the same lines of everything that's going on right now, I think I'm excited that shelters are being more proactive. That, you know, there's Pets For Life and you've got people on the streets knocking on doors. I'm really excited about the connection between human medicine and animals and how we can really support our community in keeping their pets together with their family and supporting their health and well being.

So my overall goal is that a shelter -- I don't think shelters are going to go away. I think it's an important aspect, but I'm just hoping that shelters become community resource centers and that there's a stronger approach towards partnerships. I really am hoping that we see transfers kind of go down a little bit because the communities are being supported and the need won't be there as much.

So yeah, I mean I'm a Pollyanna, that's what I want. I want this beautiful shiny world where everybody supports each other.

41:30 Lorien Clemens

I don't know that you are a Pollyanna. I think it's achievable and I would like myself for the word shelter to really be that. It's a place where you can take shelter from a storm until, you know, the sun comes back out and then you can go back out for an animal. It is just really a place that is there if you absolutely need it. It's there to help you and support you, which I think is what you guys are doing and it's just fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us today.

41:56 Mandy Evans

Thank you, I appreciate it.

41:58 Lorien Clemens

It's really amazing to get to talk to you and to get to talk to Kristen and I'm going to talk to Shelly here soon from Greenville about you guys coming together. And Kristen called it a massive think tank, you know, of this energy that's happening and it's really exciting to see all these innovative solutions that benefit pets and pet parents, and the animal welfare organizations and the shelters out there.

So if you are looking for your next pet or you need to consider rehoming, we encourage you to go to www.home-home.org to see if there's a participating shelter near you.

And Mandy I would love it if you would give out some information about how people in northern Idaho could reach out to you if they want to work with you and Panhandle?

42:42 Mandy Evans

Sure! They can email us at [email protected] We are right now, primarily funded through grants and donations, so people that want to give us a shout and support us would be greatly appreciated. We're trying to kind of change the picture of animal welfare.

43:03 Lorien Clemens

Love it, just love it. When we get back we're going to be talking with our last guest Shelly Simmons. She's the animal care division manager for Greenville County in South Carolina and their animal shelter is one of the HASS pilot programs implementing some amazing new programs, some great tools and resources in their community and she is going to tell you all about it. So we'll be right back. Hang tight, pet lovers.

[Music: "Where Were You" by Evolv]

43:37 Lorien Clemens

PetHub works with over 600 communities across the US to provide innovative lost pet recovery tools via our digital ID tags. One of the communities that we love working with is Greenville County in South Carolina. They use our ID tags as their pet licenses.

Well, our tags are just one of the many programs and services that Greenville provides for their pet parents. In addition to the Home To Home program to assist with self rehoming, Greenville is a Tier 1 pilot shelter for the HASS program, which means that they are an integral part of the program and fully invested in holistically implementing all of the HASS elements.

So as we know, COVID-19 has brought on a ton of big changes for everybody, and Greenville County Animal Care is no exception. And in terms of operations and community connection today there's been a lot of changes for everybody. So in line with HASS their goal has been to have between 50 and 90% of their animals in foster homes. This allows their staff to have more time and resources to support animals that have difficult medical needs or behavior issues.

So walking through all of this today with us is Shelly Simmons. She is the animal care division manager at Greenville County Animal Care. Shelly, so happy to have you on the show. Welcome!

44:57 Shelly Simmons

Thank you for having me, Lorien.

44:58 Lorien Clemens

Really excited to get to chat because, you know, we've gotten to hear just in the last little bit, we got to hear all about these programs, so now we're going to hear how they actually get implemented in the shelter. So before the show you had shared with us that your shelter saw a huge increase in your community's willingness to foster pets -- like 50% of the shelter population was able to be placed in foster homes. Incredible! So would you just walk us through how the pandemic, which is still going on, has affected your shelter? And then what you guys have discovered about the importance of foster homes during this time?

45:33 Shelly Simmons

Sure, absolutely. Well, you know, first of all, the pandemic didn't affect just our shelter. It affected every business, every organization, you know, every person in our community was impacted. And of course each one had different challenges. So, I think initially for us, our challenge -- our challenges -- I think were to keep our staff safe, but also still be able to save dogs and cats that were coming into the shelter. And that was a scary piece for us because we assumed that we would still have the same amount of dogs coming into the shelter and cats coming into the shelter but we wouldn't have all of the people coming in.

So from a safety standpoint, to be safe, we split our staff into two teams and that really meant that we had half the capacity to help animals and people at any given time. And that wasn't as challenging right in the beginning because that was kind of early spring and the shelter doesn't fill up quite as much then, but definitely more challenging as the summer months hit. So it really became very apparent to us that we needed to have fewer animals in the shelter, and that's how fostering became our main focal point. And then, of course, it just fell in naturally with the HASS model.

So for us, I think the importance of foster homes really goes much further beyond making room in the shelter, even though that was kind of our first, like oh my gosh, we need space. We're going to have to have room for all of these other animals that we think are going to come in. And it really turned into something where we recognize the importance of community involvement. And really, how getting the community more involved help them understand what we were doing here.

You know, we're a government animal care and control agency, and sometimes there's a stigma that goes with that. And so it was really interesting to see the community as they became more involved realize just how progressive their community's government animal shelter was, and so that was a really great positive that we saw in addition to making room in the shelter.

Also health and behavior, of course, benefits of animals being in homes instead of in cages. As much as we try to make it as nice as possible and provide enrichment, it's always better to have an animal in a home.

And it really also expanded our reach. So, you know, we can only reach so far with the people that we're trying to get to come in and adopt, but fosters, they have their own network of people that they know that may never otherwise get involved or come into an animal shelter that they can tap into. So that really has helped and it even goes further beyond that to new volunteers, new donors.

But certainly I think the most important thing for foster homes during the pandemic was that it just really allowed us some breathing room in the shelter. We're always a shelter who is full or overfull. So we, for the first time, had enough breathing room that we were able to start to like, triage, more medical cases, our staff -- and later our volunteers when we brought them back on -- were able to focus on behaviorally challenged animals. So the importance of foster homes became very evident during the pandemic and it just becomes more and more of an eye opener and more and more of an integral part of what we do here at the shelter every day.

49:15 Lorien Clemens

Yeah. A couple points there that I'd love to unpack with you. I think it's critical that shelters across the country -- I've been hearing this from everybody -- is that they need that help from the community and this has been a golden opportunity to change those perceptions of what that municipal animal shelter does and what the services that you offer. So I'm so glad that you mentioned that.

And the other thing that I love is that again, you're hearing this across the country that fosters and the community stepping up and being willing to take these animals into their homes has allowed you to not reduce the services that you're offering, but in fact do better at the services that you that your offerings animals. It's just really great.

So let's talk a little bit about those services because you provide services and support to pet parents in your community, like the PetHub ID tags, which of course you and I know very well, we'll talk a little bit more about those, maybe later, but the Home To Home program and the new Animal Support Services -- the HASS initiative. And so it seems like now more than ever, community engagement is a huge aspect in getting pets into their forever homes and then keeping them into their forever homes and then places like you guys that are able to bring these more progressive things in there -- it really helps animals.

So I would love it if you could try to talk about your holistic approach about all these things, the ID tags, the Home To Home program, the HASS program and how that's really helped you guys.

50:43 Shelly Simmons

Yeah so, we're so thankful that we're part of the HASS program and that we're a Tier 1 shelter because as challenging as it can be sometimes, because we're, you know, agreeing to implement -- go all in and implement -- all of these things, we're also the guinea pigs, right, for all of these grandiose, radically innovative ideas. And so it's been an amazing journey so far for us and our staff. 

And I think that it's really open our eyes to how we can engage the community in ways that we hadn't really thought of before. And we do -- we provide a lot of services and I feel like there was like even before COVID came around and impacted us the way that it has and before we were involved with HASS we did have a lot of services. We were already doing the PetHub ID tags and we had a lot of other things that were going on, but I always felt like we were just kind of scratching the surface and we were just doing a tiny bit of what really needed to be done. We weren't making a huge impact because we couldn't focus our attention on any one thing because we had so many animals coming into the shelter, and our focus always had to be reactive. Like how are we going to, you know, get these animals out of the shelter and I think the only proactive thing that we did really well and we've done well for many years is our spay neuter programs which we have some really great ones.

But I think that for us, yeah, being able to implement or provide our community choices that doesn't require them to come into a shelter per say to get the help that they need, and I'm not the one that coined this, but I love the way that it was explained to me one time by another shelter director who said that, you know, that we're changing the center of gravity and we're taking it away from this shelter and out into the community. And that is exactly what we're doing, because if you think about all of the programs and services that most animal shelters or animal organizations provide -- and this is very much true of Greenville County Animal Care -- is it did require people to come here. It required their ability to get here. It required their willingness to come into a shelter which can kind of be a scary place or maybe even somewhere that they didn't want to come because they felt like that maybe they would be judged. So there's a lot of different reasons why people haven't used our services in the past, so I love that it's going out into the community, it's engaging them -- and that's been a challenge with COVID, definitely, to do that safely but we have found ways.

Home To Home is a great example of that because we're able to assist with rehoming without that pet ever coming in, and we can actually do that all remotely and provide all of the support to that pet owner that they need to rehome their pet.

53:56 Lorien Clemens

So there's some elements of HASS that specifically you're doing and I would love -- can you highlight one or two of those for us here so the listeners can kind of get an idea of what do you mean by this radically -- it's a big paradigm shift. So what are some of those parts of that paradigm shift that you're talking about?

54:10 Shelly Simmons

I think I think the best example honestly is the getting pets home element of HASS. So traditionally when we think about a lost pet, I think the first thought for people is take, you know, call animal control, take it to the animal shelter. And on the shelter side -- the staff side -- we're thinking okay what are we going to do to try to find that owner. And that never works.

You know, as soon as you take them out of their communities where they live, you know, most -- and you know this I'm sure -- most dogs and cats, when they go missing they are usually found within a few blocks of their home, sometimes even just a couple of houses away. But people aren't so good of getting to know their neighbors these days, so they don't know that their neighbor owns this dog or this cat. So being able to find ways to get pets home without them ever having to come into the shelter is radically different for animal sheltering in general and animal control.

55:22 Lorien Clemens

Yeah, that's one of the main things we do with PetHub, I mean, that's one thing we pride ourselves on is that because you're having that multiple ways of getting to that pet owner, we can get them home before they ever hit the shelter door.

Talk about some of the other things that the program does with that.

55:36 Shelly Simmons

Well, so one of the things that we've implemented here is that we have a text messaging service so that, you know, now we promote this heavily that if you have lost or found a pet that you just text this number and you're going to get all of the information that you need to solve where this dog lives if you found it or where your dog or cat might be if it's gone missing. It gives you everything that you need. Everything that people would have to, again, either call or come into a shelter to get help with.

We're sending videos out that's showing where the best places and how best to look for your lost cat and dog. We're also sending out links to fill out lost reports; here's a link to, you know, a self made custom type of lost pet sign that, you know, that you can put out. You know, access to a lot of different Facebook social media sites of lost and found pets.

And so it's really putting all the tools that we relied on when a pet came in and we put them at the fingertips of the people. And when we first did this, we were really a little concerned that people would look at this -- our community would look at this -- and say, you know, why are we doing this? This is your job, you know. And what we found is instead, for most people it made sense to them. Like well yeah, why would I bring it to a shelter? Take it you know 20 miles away to the shelter whenever, you know, I can just do A.B, and C and the pet can be home.

That's why we love, we really love, PetHub ID tags and why we started using those is because of that. We really loved the idea that people could do it themselves. They didn't have to involve us, they could solve their problems themselves or help an animal themselves. And so that's what we really liked about that and what we like about the getting pets home model. And there's a lot of other components to that, and, you know, I mean, we could spend an hour just talking about one element, but that's one thing I really like about what we're focusing on with getting pets home.

And then, of course, you know, I want to touch on one more thing, maybe, is the keeping families together piece of it, which I think is radically different than how we have looked at things. And we're still very much in the infancy of that, I would say, you know, compared to where we want to be, but we do have some things that are happening, you know, pet food pantries, we're planning like a roaming pet resource fair, you know, where we're going out and we're providing solutions to people who would otherwise have to give up their animals.

We have some really great stories of where we've helped people who have lost their jobs and maybe some that have lost their homes and just needed someone to temporarily take care of their animal, and we've been able to use our shelter because it isn't as full, and our foster homes to take care of other people's pets temporarily and then be able to give them back, you know, whenever they have their situation resolved and they're able to take their animal back, and that is incredibly rewarding. It's probably one of the most rewarding things that I've personally seen since we started doing things like that over the last few months.

59:15 Lorien Clemens

I have to say I think that's so critical now more than ever. I mean, people have always had issues come up with finances or what have you, housing related issues that mean that temporarily they can't care for their pet anymore. But now with COVID, so many people losing their jobs and losing their housing or being in a situation where they simply can't care for their pet anymore because of where COVID put us. I think what you guys are doing with that is really tremendous and I love seeing more of it happening because I think it's, you know, let's be honest, I don't know that it's going to get better really quickly. I think we're in for kind of a long haul here. And yeah, there will be a dawn, but it's kind of going to be dark for awhile I think before we really are able to pull out economically and get people back on their feet. And I think there's also, too, I mean, it's great that you guys have such a wonderful success with foster. Have you had more adoptions or is it all kind of stayed the same or what? I mean, I personally would probably fail at every foster I did.

1:00:22 Shelly Simmons

So I think relative to in-take -- the number of animals that are actually coming into the shelter -- our adoption, the percentage of animals that we're able to adopt is definitely gone up. But overall the number of animals in the shelter, you know, has gone down and so that means there's fewer animals in the shelter that we have to find homes for.

So instead what's really cool is now we're in the process of actually transitioning some of our adoptions team members into the foster program so that they can be adoption mentors to our fosters so they have the support that they need.

So that's that's where, you know, some people I think when they when they hear about HASS and they hear about some of the things, the programs and the ideas, there's this idea that there is a reduction of service or this isn't going to be necessary because all of your animals were in foster. That's not the case at all. These foster homes need support. If we're going to make this sustainable, we have to be able to support our foster homes and be able to give them the same tools that we use here. Why wouldn't we utilize our adoptions counselors -- as one example -- to help people in our community who are also serving as adoptions counselors basically and trying to help us bring home and use our expertise to help guide them and make them successful.

1:01:51 Lorien Clemens

And what you're talking about kind of is like the future of where we could look forward and see like what could be, and that's really exciting. Wouldn't it be great if we could take the same amount of time and resource that we have but now dedicate it to things that are going to make a bigger difference long-term. I just love it.

Before we wrap up, I would love it if -- we have listeners that are in your area that maybe want to learn more, maybe they want to help with the foster program, maybe they want to adopt pet, who knows. So I would love it if you could give us contact information for folks that are in the Greenville County area.

1:02:22 Shelly Simmons

Well, first of all, I would encourage anyone to visit our website which www.greenvillepets.org. And we have lots of information on our website. Also you can contact us, our phone number is 864-467-3950 and we can direct you to the department -- if you're interested in adopting, if you're interested in volunteering, and especially if you're interested in fostering, we can get you to those departments. And, you know, everything of course right now is by appointment or most is by appointment, but we're able to usually get people in the same day. And try to be as flexible as we can with people schedules.

1:03:05 Lorien Clemens

Awesome, thank you so much for everything you're doing, Shelly, really wonderful having you here on the show today.

1:03:10 Shelly Simmons

Thanks for having me. I always enjoy talking about HASS. so this is a great opportunity to really, you know, share what we've been doing and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.

1:03:22 Lorien Clemens

It's all really exciting and I know there are a lot of folks that are out there listening that maybe didn't know about it before. They're going to be looking into it now.

And I would also just say here at PetHub, we love working with you and your team, seeing all of your adorable adoptable pets on social media and wearing our tags. It's fabulous for us.

Pet parents, we're going to take one more quick break and then we will be right back wrap up today's episode.

[Music: "Cabana" by Peter Spacey]

1:03:52 Lorien Clemens

COVID-19 has proven to be a challenge for people across the nation, in fact, across the world. But as we discussed today with our guests, there are some silver linings here with COVID. There are some parts that have actually helped bring us together. The lockdowns provided shelters a moment to breath and really rethink how they can better serve the people and the animals in their communities. And now with more than 500 people and 38 shelters working together through this new project, the Human Animal Support Services, they are able to really incredible things and really change and shift how we are thinking about community and animal shelters.

So I want to thank our three guests again for joining us today to walk us through this new vision for animal shelters that comes from HASS. And if you want to learn more about the three organizations we highlighted today, look at the show notes for the links to all of the websites where you can get information, and we've also posted an article on pethub.com that talks about this new HASS initiative.

So, pet lovers, if you're still listening I really hope you'll consider giving Pet Lover Geek a 5-star rating on your favorite podcast app. It will help other find us. And we would also love hearing from you so please feel free to leave us a review, give us some feedback, and tell us what else you want to hear about on our shows.

We are sending you the warmest wags, pet lover, and I will see you next time on Pet Lover Geek powered by PetHub. 



Introduction
Kristen Hassen | American Pets Alive | Human Animal Support Services
Mandy Evans | Panhandle Animal Shelter | Home To Home
Shelly Simmons | Greenville County Animal Care