For animals lovers, adopting a cat or dog is easier than ever these days. There are now countless websites through which one can adopt one of these cute, furry creatures. Unfortunately, however, while many of these animals find caring homes, scores of them still end up in shelters, where they are often put to sleep.
This trend is changing in Richmond, Va.
Five years ago, more than a third of the animals that came to Richmond's government-run animal shelter were put down. Today, the shelter is boasting record high adoptions — nearly 90 percent.
Christie Chipps Peters is the director of Richmond's Animal Care And Control department, and she told NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro the secret to their success in keeping animals alive and finding them loving owners.
On how she brought down the euthanasia rate by 40 percent within her first year at Richmond's Animal Care And Control
We had some changes to make. We made a few quite quickly. I would say the first two things that we did right off the bat, is we sort of put a stake in the ground and said, "We're not euthanizing any animals for space and we're going to do everything we possibly can to allow people to come and take them so that they get to leave the shelter alive.
Another thing that we did immediately was that we extended the hours that our shelter was open. You know, for working families, being open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. does not accommodate animals leaving alive. In addition, people prior to my arrival could just show up at the animal shelter and expect their animal to be taken from them. ... We put in place a very structured program to try and help people keep their animals.
Since we are the only open admission shelter in the city of Richmond, that means that we take care of every single animal that is in need. So if our officers are out and we have to seize 40 dogs, we need to make 40 cages at the shelter available. And previously, that would just mean that 40 animals would lose their lives. Now, we would put a post on Facebook and say, "We've taken 40 animals, we need to find 40 of our dogs that are in house, foster homes. Can you please help?"
On whether social media has transformed how they get the word out about animals in need of a home
It has completely transformed our operations and I'm hopeful that others would jump on the bandwagon. In the past, animal control agencies and open admission agencies have sort of put a cloak over the unpleasant side of our jobs. And while that is, unfortunately, a very real part of our job, the reality is if you're able to share your story and tell the truth and allow the public to see completely your operations and how you're doing things, and ask for help, the response has been incredible.
On whether they got any pushback for being so open about the status of animals in house
We have. It was interesting, because you know, I said, we're just going to tell the truth and put it out there and we had a couple people that had messaged back, "I'm sorry to see that there is even one animal euthanized." And while we do understand that, it's not the reality of the job that we do. We are an open admission center, so our officers are taking in animals who have really harmed other people or they've killed other pets. And these are not animals that could be put back into the community for safety concern. And, or animals that are so badly abused, or badly injured that we are unable to fix them. For those animals that come in that you know, are breathing their last breath as they're being carried into our shelter, the kindest thing that we can do is to perform euthanasia.
So I think that it just provides us a platform for every person that says, "Uh, I don't like to see the ugly side of your job," it gives us an opportunity to explain the truth of the matter.