Looking to improve your return to home rates at your animal organization? Return to Home Challenge Overall Winner, Peoria County Animal Protection Services (PCAPS) in Peoria, IL, shares insights, most effective practices and more from its winning program. See what you can apply in your community!“We have a great culture of Return to Home (RTH) in our shelter and among our team,” said Rebecca Spencer, Director of PCAPS. “We do everything we can to remove barriers to returning animals home.” This includes returning in the field whenever possible. A new officer started during the Challenge and he was taught to take animals home at all cost as being the norm, versus it being taught as something “new.”Spencer shares that PCAPS’ most effective practices included changing their local ordinances to allow them to waive or reduce RTH fees, should that be a barrier to getting an animal home. PCAPS recently changed its local ordinances to allow trap/neuter/vaccinate/return (TNVR) of cats!“In February of 2023, we worked with our Assistant State’s Attorney to re-write our local county ordinance to remove old language that prohibited TNVR. In March of 2023, I am thrilled to report that the County Board approved our language change and the new ordinance took effect immediately!”Spencer also shared that they work with pet owners to solve problems and offer resources and solution first, instead of taking an enforcement heavy approach. All Animal Control Officers carry tie outs, animal food, poop bags, collars and leashes – everything a pet owner may need to solve a problem. They also offer free microchips to any pet owner. “All they need is to bring their pet to the shelter with a photo ID or catch one of our officers in the field, driving by,” she shared.“Our staff know the goal is to get the animal home,” explained Spencer. “On a year where our intake numbers are at record high, our canine RTH numbers are at the highest they’ve ever been, causing our live release rates to hold steady and not decrease (as we would have expected due to increased intake).”All animals now leave the shelter wearing a collar with a microchip tag. The shelter also partners with Lost Dogs of IL and Lost dogs of Peoria. Both organizations post PCAPS’ intake photos daily (from the shelter’s website to their Facebook pages).Other ways PCAPS has made RTH part of their culture include:• Having officers post door hangers on several houses in the neighborhood where lost dogs are found, just to try and solicit more phone calls regarding the lost pet.• Putting shelters animals back on an officer’s truck and having them drive the pet home (to remove the barriers of coming to the shelter).• Starting finder to foster conversations over the phone and encourage finders to keep found pets (and educate how to do it appropriately).• Having volunteers use software to improve pet photos. Spencer said their Aha! moment was using texting and social media to reach people. “It always felt unprofessional but who cares about that, let’s get pets home,” she said.
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