This article first appeared on our #ChewOnThis blog in May. We recently caught up with Lindsay Layendecker, Jacksonville Humane Society’s (JHS) Senior Manager of Education and Outreach, who told us about some exciting additions to the program and how they used their winnings!
The deck appeared to be stacked against 15-year-old Freckles, who had been awaiting adoption for several months. “Freckles had some hair loss and a fairly appropriate ‘cattitude’ for a lady of her age,” says Layendecker. “Her age, look and behavior made finding her a new home challenging.”
Luckily, JHS was pulling out all the stops for pets with shelter stays over 30 days during the Get ‘em Home Challenge. In looking at these pets more closely, they quickly discovered that many of them had barriers to adoption such as medical issues, old or outdated biographies and photos, adoption fees and behavioral issues. Many of these barriers could be easily overcome individually but breaking down barriers for all overlooked pets would take a systematic approach. Using a combination of creative adoption promotions, innovative foster care, marketing and partnerships, and the creation of the Long Stay Task Force (LSTF), an interdepartmental team dedicated to the pets who have been awaiting adoption the longest. JHS created a comprehensive plan that ensures pets like Freckles aren’t forgotten about.
“One thing we noticed prior to this is that we didn’t always have an accurate picture of who was a long-stay (we also say ‘overlooked’) pet,” says Layendecker. “Sometimes a pet would slip through the cracks or another would garner a lot of attention. The LSTF ensures that all pets are getting equal promotion and helps decrease length of stay.”
In three months, JHS was able to find permanent homes for 83 dogs and 831 cats that had been in their shelter for over 30 days!
Here’s how they did it:
• They created the Long Stay Task Force. The LSTF meets once each month and includes members of the behavior, medical, foster, communications team and more. Standard Operating Procedures were created, containing specific actions to take for each pet who reaches milestones of 30, 60, 90 and 110 days. These actions ensure that each pet is treated as an individual and is promoted strategically by removing barriers to their adoption. The team uses a Google spreadsheet to track the pets and actions taken.
• They held monthly adoption events to feature their longest resident pets. For example, the JHS Bachelor event designated their 10 “most eligible” cats and dogs as bachelors and bachelorettes. Visitors were given the chance to participate in “speed dating,” which they highlighted on Facebook Live.
• They used innovative foster care. Their “Dog Day Out” program invites members of the community to take a shelter dog who has a stay of 30 days or more out for the day. This provides them with information on the dog’s behavior outside the shelter, great material to market them with on social media and gives the dog a break from the shelter. JHS also created the “Promote a Pet” program, where a foster takes a pet home for 30 days to get to know them and promote them for adoption.
• They engaged their volunteers. JHS makes sure volunteers know which pets were being overlooked by adopters so they can give them extra attention and steer potential adopters their way. They also created the “Project Pet” program, which matches volunteers with pets who have been at the shelter for over 30 days in order to give the pets targeted enrichment and advocacy.
• They created a web page to highlight overlooked pets. This page, “Top Dog/Top Cat,” featured their longest-stay pets and was used in all of their event marketing. It was linked to their two most visited pages and was easily accessible through the website’s menu. During the challenge, it was their website’s fifth most visited page.
As for Freckles? After rising to fame during JHS’s Homecoming adoption promotion and being elected Homecoming Queen after a hilarious campaign in which her tag line was, “VOTE FOR ME OR ELSE,” Freckles was adopted by a volunteer. Her mom told JHS that she’d never previously interacted with Freckles but her seeing “coronation” sealed the deal. Freckles is now the reigning queen of her new castle.
Freckles being crowned
Freckles rejects crown
The Long Stay Task Force has become a permanent part of the way JHS operates, and they’re continuously making improvements. “We discuss what methods are working or need improvement and share any new ideas,” says Layendecker. “One program that we recently designed with the support from Dolly’s Dream Dogs is “Dolly’s Dream School” where our long-stay dogs go to a class lead by our trainer. It’s a four-week class and if they are adopted, the family can continue the class. We just had our first class last week and we’re very excited… two of the dogs were adopted after the first class!”
Jacksonville Humane Society has generously offered to share their Long Stay Task Force protocols to help your organization find homes for its long stay pets! Check out the attached documents, and let us know if you implement any of these great ideas!
Since this blog was originally posted in May of 2019, JHS has made some exciting changes. They’re now tracking where the adopters of their long stay pets found them. “So far, “Visit to Shelter” is in the lead, so we are putting measures in place to make sure all adoption counselors and volunteers are up-to-date on the long-stay list and know about each pet, so they can make recommendations to visitors,” says Layendecker.
They’ve also created a new volunteer position for the LSTF. JHS doesn’t have a dedicated marketing position, but one of their volunteers is majoring in marketing at a local university. They’ve asked her to help them create social media content, write website profiles, keep kennel cards updated and create promotional materials for their long-stay dogs.
“Winning the $10,000 from Maddie’s Fund came at an excellent time for JHS,” Layendecker tells us. “Jacksonville has seen rising kitten numbers for the past few years and we are actively working to get those numbers down. In 2018, kittens under 5 months made up 46% of our overall intake. Thanks to Maddie’s innovation grants, we’ve been able to put programs like our “Finder-to-Foster Kitten Krusader” in place to help with kitten numbers. Kittens make up the greatest percentage of our pets in foster care and have greater “length of stays” than most other animals. Funds were used to support those efforts.”
3 More Wins for Long Stay Pets
"We recently had our first Pop-Up Cat Café,” Layendecker tells us. “We had hour-long sessions for the public and our longest-stay cat, Cardi, was in attendance. We told every session about Cardi, who had been a wonderful mom to her kittens and was still waiting for a home. Cardi sat faithfully by the front door greeting everyone who arrived. Finally, in the last half hour, she was adopted!”
"One of our long-stay dogs found a home via our partnership with Central Bark, a local doggy-daycare and boarding facility,” says Layendecker. “The owner of Central Bark fosters one dog at a time for JHS. The dog gets to go to work with him! One of our long-stay dogs, Mike, was seen by his soon-to-be-mom on the JHS Instagram after a “Dog Day Out”. Then she saw Mike in a Central Bark post the next week. Since she takes her dog to Central Bark, she went to meet Mike and the rest is history!”
“Randi has been in and out of the shelter system through no fault of her own for years,” says Layendecker. “She’s been at JHS twice and recently came into the city shelter as a stray. She was transferred to JHS and had already spent a few months at the other shelter. She’s older now – around 10 – and it was evident from her last intake picture with us that her muzzle has much more grey than before. Randi was a super star with our JHS camp kids and they even made a video to promote her. During our recent “Clear the Shelters” event, a mom with three kids stopped by “just to look”. She thought she’d adopt a cat for her children. However, when she walked by Randi’s kennel, she saw all the artwork that our camp children had created for Randi and thought “Hmmm, maybe we could get a dog instead!” She asked to meet Randi who fawned all over the three children. And now Randi is at home! Her new mom recently posted an update on our Facebook saying that Randi is a great “big sister” to her little humans.”