Webinar presenter Nina Stively answered a number of your questions after her presentation Lost Cats and Found Hounds: Community-Based Solutions to Boost Your Return to Owner Metrics. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: If someone lost a cat back in 2021, is there anything special that they should do or can do given the amount of time that has passed?
Nina Stively: As if they are the pet owner who lost the cat? I think this is the greatest reason for microchipping because cats can go so far. And people who are not truly cat people have a very hard time telling cats apart. They may honestly think that a Calico is the same thing as a Gray Tabby. So, if you are able to get good, full body and face photos of your pet and post them in a really wide radius, if the animal is microchipped to make sure that your information is current and on as many registries as possible, found animals, of course, is going to be your primary spot for registration. But whatever brand of microchip it is, make sure you are registered with their registry as well. Reaching out to vet clinics, as hard as it is to say, you may want to reach out to whoever picks up deceased animals in your community, and that’s not necessarily animal control. That could be like a Department of Transportation. It could be like a landfill team. Some of those agencies will maintain a log of animals that they’ve picked up that are deceased to offer some closure if that is the case, but really just continue to cast a wide net. And if you have faced and full body photos of the cat, I think that goes a long way, and really trying to do your best to help get the word out there. So, I’m very sorry for your loss.
Audience Comment: I did want to, in terms of tempering judginess with your own staff, a person suggested that “never forget that the pets may have gotten loose while the family was moving. That the animals may have gotten out and sense a person might be new to an area wouldn’t know what to do and where to go.” So, I thought that was a really great suggestion.
Nina Stively: Absolutely, and people don’t know, I mean, we got our animal shelter actually just moved within our county about 10 miles down the road. And the old location had been in place since the sixties. And it was crazy how often we’d be out and around, and someone would say, “Well, where do I reclaim my animal, or where do I buy a dog license? Or where do I adopt?” “Out at the Animal shelter on Waterford.” They say, “There’s an Animal Shelter in Waterford?” There are people who have lived in the county for their entire lives so people don’t necessarily know where you are located. So just keep that in mind that even if you’ve been well established and people a linear county forever, they don’t necessarily know where you are. So, if you add in the factor of somebody just moving to an area and then the pet is perhaps going a long distance because in their little animal mind they’re trying to get back to their original home. It definitely, it’s hard. So, encouraging people who’ve lost their pets to really cast a wide net. We had a cat who jumped in a UPS truck, and went two counties over, you know, I mean, they can really go any number of places in any number of directions. So really, just making sure that net is very wide, and keep that judgment out of there, because it’s not going to help anybody.
Audience Question: Do you find people are calling the animals astray? Because the shelter maybe won’t take it as an owner surrender immediately?
Nina Stively: Potentially. So that’s something that you need to really keep in mind if you are using appointment-based admissions, which we do here. You need to be aware that some people want to surrender animals right now, and that reason may sound completely invalid and ridiculous to you, but to them, that is the reason, and that’s really all you got. So, telling someone that they have to wait for an appointment has its place. I really do think that there’s a tremendous amount of value in that because it gives you the chance to make sure that you have appropriate space for the animals and that you have the right resources. You can really get the most information from the pet owner before they come here and are typically in the emotional or high-stress state of bringing in the animal. However, there are some people who, if you are going to really hold fast to the appointment model, are just going to say that the animals astray. So again, it’s got to be part of that judgment-free conversation. The way we do our surrender appointments, as you fill out an online form, if you saw an online form saying I need to surrender the pet, then one of my staff calls you and makes an appointment or determines if it’s an emergency and the animal needs to come in right away. So, say it’s an eviction, of course, an animal will come in right away. But if we then put those names into our database, it flags. So, if that person comes in two days later and suddenly found a dog that looks exactly like the dogs that they just put an appointment to try and surrender on our online form. We know. So, it gives us a chance to sort of circumvent that and say, “Hey, it’s no big deal. We know you couldn’t wait. No problem, let’s just get all her information.”
Audience Question: Why are so many microchips not registered?
Nina Stively: People do not understand microchip registration. They really don’t and I can’t fault them because it is very confusing. Years ago, I had a cat that I adopted from a shelter I was volunteering at the time. And I was told very explicitly by the staff, you don’t need to register this chip. “We’re going to do it for you,” and I said, “Okay.” So, I got an e-mail from Microchip Company, five, three, or, four days later, saying, “For $35, you can register your pet,” this and that. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, at the time, I don’t have $35, I can’t do that.” That makes no sense. And then I just didn’t do it. Well, and this was, I mean, this was 20-ish years ago, so bear with me a little bit on the age here. But I was moving a few years later. And finally, I had my first big girl job and decided to register my cat’s microchip, so I called up and they said, “Oh yeah it’s registered.” I said, “I thought it was $35 to register,” and they said, “Oh well that’s just for all that professional or the advanced services you get for the microchip.” So, people are very put off by what they perceive to be sales or extra expenses around microchips. They think that there are sales pitches, and honestly, they just forget. No one ever gets a pet and says, “Well, this guy is going to get out the door one day. They’re going to get lost.” Some number of pets are going to get lost. I’ve had pets get away from me. I moved into a new house and watch my own dog right in front of me, jump right over the fence. So, animals are going to get out, but no one ever thinks they are going to. So, I think people just don’t think necessarily of the likelihood of them ever needing the microchip, which is why it’s so important, that you do that registration before they ever leave the door, because, otherwise, it’s the odds are good that it’s just not going to happen.
Audience Question: Given our limited staffing, which of your recommendations and actions have the highest impact, and which would you recommend implementing first?
Nina Stively: I would say if you have the opportunity to do posters with a photo and little tear-off sheets. For us, that has been sort of the easiest one to get low-hanging fruit with. And it’s great because volunteers enjoy it. It’s something you can recruit volunteers who for whatever reason, cannot interact with your animals. So, whether it’s a Girl Scout Troop or a senior organization, or somebody who perhaps doesn’t have the time to do your volunteer onboarding process, engage people other than yourself to really have this be part of their work. To try and really make sure that that happens. That, for us, has been very successful, and make sure your posters are in the language of the community that you are posting them in.
Audience Question: Have you experienced or heard of any studies that examined the relationship between the return to owner fees and the likelihood of a person claiming it a dog?
Nina Stively: I have not seen research on that. I think if anybody wants to conduct research, it would be something that many of us could certainly use. I know. I think we all know that there are people who, when they come in and they hear the fees, have to go on the phone to try and find somebody to help them get that money, and that’s a hard thing to watch. Just because somebody doesn’t have the money right then and there does not mean that they cannot provide care and love for that animal. I would venture a guess that many people on this call, or in our families, or in our world, has had a week where they are just stretch on the dollars to get to their next paycheck. If you lost your pet during one of those hard weeks, imagined how much harder things would have been. So, it is easy to say, oh, if they can’t afford the $35 impound fee, they definitely can’t afford this dog. Okay, well, can you, really, if we’re taking on another now tan, grumpy mixed breed, who’d probably doesn’t like other dogs and is probably not great with kids and gets out the fence? No, I mean, this is a one-time deal. Get that pet back where his family loves him and is taking good care of him, and just happened to have an accident. So, for me, the cost, we will eat the cost every time, because I can justify my budget, that it is cheaper for me to return an animal home than to have to provide it with 10 days of care.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Lost Cats and Found Hounds: Community-Based Solutions to Boost Your Return to Owner Metrics.