Whether you’re new to the rescue world, or a seasoned long-timer, we are always learning how to rescue more effectively.
So at this time of year it’s worth taking a few moments to check your approach, consider your processes, and critically evaluate your policies. Is there anything you can do differently to improve outcomes for rescue pets?
The great news is you don’t have to wait until you’ve won the lottery to fund that longed-for animal sanctuary (though we can dream!). There are plenty of simple, cost-free changes that can make a real difference to rescue pets right now. And these small changes really can change the world for a rescue pet in need.
Give your adoption application form a makeover
There’s so much evidence that less is more when it comes to adoption forms. So send that long-winded application form packing, and bring it into the now with something short and sweet.
A basic application form combined with a conversation-based approach works wonders - putting out a welcome mat for would-be adopters, rather than giving these potential lifesavers a series of hurdles and hoops to navigate.
We know it can be tempting to take a heavy-handed approach in the name of protecting the pets in our care. But for the sake of the thousands of pets still looking for homes, it’s really important that we don’t let negative experiences with a minority skew our attitudes towards the majority of good people out there. Especially the great people who are already doing the right thing by choosing rescue as their first option!
For inspiration, check out the ASPCA’s information on open adoptions. You can also read more about PetRescue member Operation Cat's pared-down and policy-free approach here.
Make a commitment to respond to all applicants
Yup, even the unsuccessful ones. Easier said than done, right? But think about it from the adopter’s perspective.
They have made the decision to open their heart and their home to a rescue pet in need. They are eager to be a part of the solution to save the thousands of pets that get killed every year because homes aren’t found for them. Often, they have dutifully filled out pages of forms with highly personal details and submitted multiple applications only to hear nothing back.
Most people are understanding about the nature of rescue, and the fact that a response may take a little time. But when weeks go by with no response at all, these potential lifesavers are left hanging - wondering whether they are just not good enough to adopt a rescue pet.
Some feedback from potential adopters:
While I truly admire your work in pet adoption and fostering, I was disappointed after a number of sincere enquiries to have no response. My husband and I were wanting to adopt a rescue but were left not knowing one way or the other if we were to be considered. I very much understand the workload of volunteers in any organisation, but please don't leave prospective adopters hanging in limbo as we have been.
My husband and I have been looking to adopt a dog for over 3 months. I understand that most shelters are volunteers (and I love the work that they do because I am all for finding a loving home for every animal). However, I have filled out so many forms and called and emailed so many people. After 3 months of trying and not many replies we gave up a bought from a breeder. We love dogs, and I just find it sad that there are so many beautiful dogs out there needing homes, when there are people like us who are ready to love them.
I have filled out numerous amount of forms to adopt your dogs and have never received an answer. We are grieving for our lovely dog of 14 years and just want to have another furry friend to fill our empty lives.
Of course, some potential adopters may not be a good match for a particular pet, or for your organisation. That’s ok!
But it would make a huge difference to all the pets still seeking a home to have any unsuccessful applicants referred back to the PetRescue website to continue their search. This will help keep potential adopters in the lifesaving loop, rather than losing them to a non-rescue source to obtain their new furry family member.
Make life easier on yourself and set up an email template so that you can respond in a couple of clicks, rather than typing individual responses every time - ain’t nobody got time for that!
Let technology do the hard yards - set an auto-responder
Too many enquiries? Half your luck! And also, well done - gathering adoption interest is the first step in matching pets with new families, and proof that there is a caring public out there eager to do the right thing.
And whilst hoverboards aren’t quite as commonplace as we might have hoped in this day and age, there is one piece of technology that can help with the inundation of enquiries - the email autoresponder.
A welcoming and friendly auto-responder can go a long way towards reassuring potential adopters that their email or application has been received, and it will also make your life easier by helping to minimise follow up emails.
It’s a great way to manage expectations about response times and the adoption process. If you make it clear that it will take, say, 72 hours for a response, you’re far less likely to get bombarded every day by eager beavers who simply can’t wait to find out more about Fluffy.
This from a prospective adopter:
I realise that many of the foster carers are voluntary and have their own busy lives, but perhaps it would be better to set up an automated system that replied to the application/enquiry, stating that the applicants email had been received. I would go for weeks not knowing if they had even received my email and not knowing if I should apply for any other dog. I even tried different computers thinking that maybe the computer was at fault!
If keeping up with enquiries is a struggle, consider recruiting an additional volunteer - someone who is organised and with good interpersonal skills, to make sure potential adopters are confident from the start that rescue is the right choice.
For more information, check out our Guide to quick and easy adoption enquiry responses.
Go profesh - turn your rescue group into a non-profit organisation
From little things, big things grow. What may have started as a small one-person band can quickly expand to something much bigger. And regardless of the size of your organisation, it’s important to establish your rescue group as a legal entity.
There are loads of perks to going profesh - it improves your credibility as a rescue group, puts in place mechanisms to protect you against risk, and importantly it allows you to legally accept donations from the public to support your rescue activities.
The process can seem a little bewildering, if not totally overwhelming. But fear not! We have covered all the steps in our simple how-to guide - check it out here.
Recruit a willing wordsmith or a snap-happy photographer
Lifesavers come in many forms. Some lifesavers are on the ground, collecting death row pets from pounds. Some are the families that open up their homes to foster a pet in need. And some lifesavers carry a camera, or sit behind a computer.
A great photo and an engaging online profile will amp up your pet’s chances of wooing its new family. We all have different strengths, and if photography or writing isn’t your thing, now is a great time to put the call out for volunteers with the skills to make rescue pets shine online.
Put the feelers out for a helper who’s handy with a camera, or for a vollie who has a way with words. You can put a call out online, or put notices up at local TAFEs and universities that offer photography or professional writing courses.
There’s bound to be an animal lover willing to help the pets in your care put their best paw forward. A good writer can weave a wonderful profile from some basic information about the pet’s personality and activity levels - they don’t even need to have met the pet!
If you have any suggestions or feedback on how we might be able to help make your rescue life easier, we’d love to hear from you. Send your feedback and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.