It's an unfortunate reality that our historic destruction of shelter animals, regardless of their health or behavior, has led most of the public to get used to the killing, at least to a degree. People have come to believe either that something must be "wrong" with the animals who are destroyed or that there's just no other way to function. "Surely," the argument goes, "shelters would not be destroying animals unless they had no other choice, right?"
The reality is that there are other ways for animal shelters to function and that healthy and treatable animals don't have to die. Yes, we should absolutely euthanize shelter animals who are suffering or who are irremediably ill. To do otherwise would be unethical. Yes, we should destroy dogs who are genuinely aggressive to people and for whom no sanctuary placement is available simply because we cannot have them in our communities endangering the public. But what about the other animals in shelters? What about those animals who are perfectly healthy or who have treatable health conditions and would made a great companion for someone?
I think that a lot of people who work in shelters or who volunteer there think that the public knows about animals who need homes and they don't care enough to save them. I just don't agree. Most of the public does not know about the animals needing homes because they just don't think much about what happens at their local shelter. Even though they may love animals, or may be thinking of getting a new-to-them animal, most people have no clue about those healthy, wonderful and very worthy animals at their local shelter. It is up to shelters to make sure the public knows about these great animals and to put the subject on the "community radar" by being very vocal and very consistent in terms of the message. It has been said many times that we could be a no kill nation now if only shelter animals and potential adopters were better introduced. Exactly.
There are an endless number of ways to get shelter animals into new homes, most of which require no extra spending by animal shelters and just a little creativity. In most communities, all it takes to get animals adopted is to let the public know they need homes and to talk about how great they are. The more shelters view themselves as customer service based businesses with animals who need to be marketed, the more the public will respond. Whether shelters use web sites, social media, television media, radio or billboards, there are a host of ways to put the message in front of the very public who can be persuaded to adopt your animals in need. People have a host of options regarding getting a new pet from a breeder, from the internet, from a store or from a newspaper ad. Those people need to be convinced that your shelter is the first, best, "green" and the "go to" option when the time comes to bring a new animal into their home.
Be positive. Get creative. "Sell" the attributes of your animals. Offer ongoing adoption programs like Pets for Vets to place animals with those who have served in our armed forces or Seniors for Seniors to place older animals in homes with older people. Have regular adoption events not just in the same place in your city every few months, but at your shelter so that people can see how you operate your business and how much you care. Consider doing adoption events in different locations in your community on a regular basis so you are taking at least a few of your animals out to the public who may adopt them. A lot of people are afraid to go to an animal shelter because they are worried about what happens there or that they will be overwhelmed by animals needing homes. Why not take the animals to them instead? Take advantage of national events like Just One Day to help get exposure for your shelter and your animals in the media and using social media.
Who knows. You may find that the demand for your animals exceeds your supply. And wouldn't that be a wonderful problem to have...