Progress in a Pandemic - Panhandle Animal Shelter

Progress in a Pandemic

Over the past decade, Panhandle Animal Shelter has been on a mission to transform animal sheltering in our region. PAS has gone from serving just 1,200 animals per year to serving over 8,400 in 2019. We had big plans for 2020 and were on track to expand our programs to serve even more animals and the people who love them. 

Then, enter a pandemic that closed businesses, stalled supply chains, and threatened the safety of our community. Even the best laid plans quickly became rewrites. 

To shelter animals, find new adoptive homes, and care for animals in the community, PAS interacts with the public, collaborates with local and national organizations, requires staff and volunteers, and relies on specialized equipment and supplies. There isn’t much of this model that the pandemic hasn’t challenged. Maintaining staff when a suspected exposure occurs is a challenge. Finding medical supplies is a challenge. Facilitating adoptions, intake, and clinics are a challenge. Adhering to consistent hours of operation is a challenge. Finding ways to safely engage volunteers is a challenge. Meeting with donors is a challenge. For a while, even finding a place to buy cleaning supplies was a major hurdle. 

Our greatest challenge has been being able to continue spay and neuter surgeries at the level we feel is necessary for our community. Many medical supplies are limited due to the crossover use with human medicine and during the pandemic, human medicine has taken priority. Following veterinary medicine guidelines and guidance from shelter medicine professionals we have limited our spay and neuter surgeries. Additionally, veterinary medicine is a highly specialized skill, and when a team member is unavailable due to COVID-19 exposure or testing, we can’t perform surgeries or other necessary medical procedures to protect our animal population. These supplies and staffing shortages significantly limit our ability to meet our goals for the year. 

Just like the community, we want things to go back to normal. Our team is tired and stressed and we miss seeing our community, working with our volunteers, and visiting at Yappy Hour. But be assured, our priorities have not changed. We are still as dedicated to supporting our community as ever before. We ask that you be patient with our staff and volunteers, hours of operation, and modifications to how our programs are operated. We are doing the best we can and we need your support. 

During the past few months, we’ve been receiving questions like, “Where donations are going now that there are fewer animals in the shelter?”, “What does the future holds for PAS?”, and the most common question of all, “Where are all the cats?” We hope this article helps answer some of these questions – but if you’re curious about something related to the work PAS does, we invite you to email us at info@pasidaho.org.

With fewer animals in the shelter, where are my donations going?

There’s no better way to answer this question than to share more about our programs and the efforts underway to, by design, keep animals out of the shelter.

PAS operates robust owner support programs that exist to help keep animals out of the shelter. These supportive services are offered through a multitude of programs like our Pets for Life program which supports pet owners by going door-to-door in specific neighborhoods providing services to people and their pets for free. Services may include pet food, advice, spay and neuter, medical, dental, or general pet supplies. Another key to keeping people and pets together has been the PAS helpline, which now serves over 1,800 people each year, and provides services to people to help prevent the need for a pet to be surrendered to the shelter. Services may include medical care, spay and neuter, training, free pet supplies, or connecting callers with PAS’s pet food bank which provides seven tons of dog and cat food to the community each year on a no-questions-asked basis. 

Increasing in demand is our Temporary Loving Care program, which provides free temporary pet boarding for people in transition. The program, provided on a case-by-case basis, originated to assist pets while their owners sought mental health care from Bonner General Health, but the economic impacts of the pandemic have increased the need for this program to provide pet boarding for people who are homeless or struggling to find pet-friendly housing. By providing short-term boarding, PAS helps prevent unnecessary surrender.

One of our most popular owner support programs is Home to Home, a rehoming program developed at PAS in 2016, provides support to families who need to surrender their pet with the option to rehome on their own with help from the shelter. 

As you may have guessed, these programs come with a cost. Despite having fewer animals in the shelter, donations are still needed to support this work. We’re investing into these programs because it’s part of our mission to support both ends of the human animal bond and we believe sheltering an animal should be the last option. Before PAS takes in an animal, have we offered other solutions like advice for an unruly dog? What about supporting a person and their pet by offering free pet food? Does the pet have a medical issue we can help with? Could the issue be as simple as a pet owner needing help with vaccines so they can keep their pet in their apartment? If these simple questions – a hierarchy of needs for the pet owner – haven’t been asked, then there’s options on the table that could help keep a pet with its family. Your donations help make it possible for people to keep their pets during their time of need, help shelter animals who have no place else to go, and make it possible for PAS to support people and animals across our region. 

Where are all the cats?

PAS is a no-kill shelter, and is proud to be a part of a national movement to prevent the euthanasia of healthy cats. For shelters to be no-kill and prevent overcrowding, multiple strategies are needed.

For owned cats, PAS assists owners as much as possible so they can keep their cat and avoid surrendering it to the shelter. This may include providing medical care, supplies, or food. If it’s not possible for a person to keep their cat, PAS will take the cat into the shelter, space permitting. PAS is a no-kill shelter, but the number of cats who need to be sheltered can be so high that the shelter must maintain an intake waitlist. By PAS monitoring the number of cats allowed in the building, cats in the shelter stay healthy. Too many cats crowded together creates stress and stress leads to illness. Illness means cats need to stay in the facility longer to get treated and recover. By practicing managed intake techniques, PAS has decreased the length of stay for cats by 62 days and the number of cats in the building at any given time from 105 cats to 53. This change increased the number of cats assisted each year in the building from 600 to 1,400.

For community cats, also known as unowned cats, PAS operates a “Trap, Neuter, Return” program through partnering with the community to trap cats, bring them to the shelter for spay or neuter, and return them to the location they were found. Due to limited staffing and supplies capacity, this program has been placed on pause during the pandemic, which is also why there are not a lot of kittens in the shelter. 

This year, PAS implemented a new methodology provided by University of Florida, University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine program, and UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. This program challenges what people believe is a stray cat. When a healthy, friendly, neutered cat is brought to the shelter as a stray, PAS asks the finder to go place it back where it was found. This is because 39% of cats are indoor/outdoor and when lost they are normally found three to four houses down from their home. When an owned cat is brought to our shelter it has a less than 2% chance of being reclaimed by its owner, a rate in line with national average for cats, despite PAS’s best efforts to reunite the cat with its owner. This means the cat has a much higher likelihood of finding its home without intervention. Although kind-hearted, well-meaning people bring the cat to the shelter out of concern, it’s important to highlight that they might be taking someone’s cat from right in front of their home. If a cat is brought to PAS that is in need of medical care, has a low body mass or circumstances that demonstrate the need for intervention, the cat is admitted into the PAS for care and may be adopted or returned to where it was found after it recovers. If you still have questions about managing cat populations, we’ve updated our website, pasidaho.org with more information.

What does the future hold for PAS?

Like many nonprofits, PAS has experienced setbacks due to the pandemic. Thankfully, because of our community centered and progressive owner support programs, we quickly adapted to accommodate the unique challenges of the pandemic. We relied more heavily on Home to Home, our online rehoming program, to help prevent animals entering the shelter. We made our foodbank available for curbside pick-up. We shifted our outreach approach for our Pets for Life program to phone calls instead of door-to-door visits. When many shelters around the country closed, PAS was proud to have maintained its services and as a result helped save lives of animals in need and helped to prevent owners from being forced to surrender their pets due to economic hardship. 

While we can’t predict the future, we can anticipate the needs of our community and we can plan for how we’ll respond. 

Internally, we are investing in hiring optimistic problem solvers who view the community as their number one partner and we’re continuing to implement prevention-focused, evidence-based, and best practice programs that help people keep their pets. Even during the height of the pandemic, PAS is proud to have hired its first full-time veterinarian who was trained in shelter medicine and management practices from the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program. 

We’ve experienced higher than usual medical needs through our helpline and we expect this to continue. We are also expecting an increased demand by owners who need to surrender their pets due to housing instability, and planning for higher demand for owner support services in case of recession. This means PAS will be providing more boarding, more medical care, more pet food, and more support to pet owners so they can keep their pets and avoid surrendering them to the shelter whenever possible. 

PAS will also continue investing time in growing the Home To Home program, a PAS-founded rehoming tool that helps prevent animals from ever entering the shelter. The program is now in 39 shelters around the nation. We have plans to expand the services offered through this program to support local pet owners with rehoming and to include tools to support fostering and increased access for under resourced shelters around the country.

It’s impossible to know what the future holds, but we’re committed to our mission, and we’re proud to serve our region. We continue to receive support from national animal welfare organizations like the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Best Friends Animal Society and Maddie’s Fund. We’re also honored to receive donations from local businesses and supporters who generously support people and animals with their giving and we’re thankful for the community support we continue to receive in the form of donations to our thrift store and donations of pet food and supplies to the shelter.

If you still have questions about PAS, or any of its programs and services, just ask. Staff are proud to talk about the shelter and what they are working on. Email us at info@pasidaho.org