Nicole Farrell didn’t lose a minute making changes designed to increase adoptions as the new executive director at the Wild Rivers Animal Rescue and Shelter in Gold Beach. By the end of the new executive director’s first week, three dogs and five cats had new homes. That’s the same number of adoptions as occurred over the entire past month. Some of the animals had been at the shelter for years, waiting for the right home.
“After I applied for the job, I came out here and saw the shelter and thought it needed some work to get into the twenty-first century,” Farrell said. “You have to wait and wait and wait to get an adopted animal out of here. It needs some work, but there’s a passionate community behind it with a lot of animal lovers, and it seems like a good place to be.”
On day one, Feb. 24, Farrell started by updating the adoption policies at the shelter that were well-intentioned but created barriers for getting animals into new homes. The new philosophy at the shelter starts with a quote from the Million Cat Challenge: “Open adoptions address this reality by doing away with rigid policies and adoption applications and instead focus on conversations designed to help anyone walking into a shelter feel respected, and anyone walking out to be more educated, and hopefully, with a pet to love.”
The adoption information form has been updated and is now less intimidating. The new form asks prospective adopters to agree with animal care and shelter philosophies and provide basic information about themselves, but does not go into voluminous detail about training, veterinarian’s name and phone number, landlord’s name and phone number, size of yard, whether it’s fenced, height of fence, fencing material, training ideology, how much time you can spend with a pet, and much more.
“We’re going to have a conversation with them,” Ferrell said. “Instead of asking if they have a yard on paper, we’re going to say, ‘What kind of dog are you looking for?’ Well, this dog is super high energy. Do you have a yard for it to roam in or are you looking for an indoor dog? If you want an inside dog, we’ll say, ‘Let’s go look at this dog.’”
Farrell described her own story of being denied when looking to adopt a companion for her remaining cat after she lost her disabled cat a month ago. She applied to six different rescues and was denied by all of them.
“I am an animal shelter director, and you are up here telling me I cannot have an animal,” she said.
One said no because she doesn’t vaccinate for feline leukemia, but her cats are vaccinated against rabies and all the other diseases. Another one said she didn’t make enough money per year to take care of a special needs cat. A third said because she already had a special needs cat, she didn’t need another one.
“If you don’t let the animal go, you are going to have to put it down eventually because you can’t keep it forever,” she told them.
Eventually, a friend who runs an animal shelter connected her with a kitty in a wheelchair. Her background as a veterinary assistant and technician makes her more than capable of caring for the cat. Farrell was previously the shelter manager at a large, open-intake facility in Georgia.
The changes at the shelter don’t stop at streamlining the adoption process. She took the big book of existing shelter policies off the shelf, and pointed out several changes:
• Build up the volunteer program. Many of the volunteers have been with the organization for 20 years. New volunteers need to be recruited to keep the volunteer force strong.
• Establish outdoor cat programs. Shy cats would be better off living as barn cats than being confined to a shelter where they are uncomfortable and develop health issues.
• Standardize intake procedures to where every animal is weighed, vaccinated, treated for flea prevention, and their data entered into records to reflect each animal’s history.
• Start dog and cat foster programs. “A full-scale fostering program is the best way to save lives. Fostering is key to any no-kill shelter operation,” Farrell said. The animals are healthier and less stressed than when they are in a shelter, and getting pictures of them in a home environment gets them adopted out much more quickly.
• Start a field trip program. People can check out a dog and take them out on the town for a day. “It gets them out of the environment, you get great photos of the animal, and they get socialized with different people and animals,” Farrell said.
• Establish a sleepover program, which works for people who are thinking about adopting a dog or cat, or can only take care of them on the weekends. The animals get a break from the shelter, and for dogs, they come back better behaved
• Do more with special needs and senior animals. Farrell has a dog with cancer, a cat with heart problems that faints, and a paralyzed cat, along with a puppy that had been abandoned.
• Adjust the marketing strategy by highlighting the pets available for adoption more frequently and in greater detail.
This week, the shelter rescued animals from Humboldt County’s shelter, which had recently begun euthanizing animals deemed “unadoptable.” This week, the Gold Beach shelter took in a litter of husky-shepherd mix puppies and a high-risk dog, whose euthanasia date was March 3 because she gets “too excited” around other dogs. Farrell plans to bring some cats to the shelter next. Farrell says she has room for seven to 12 more cats after the adoptions that took place this week.
The shelter is currently at capacity for dogs at 20, mostly because of taking in the six puppies, which require more care than the adult dogs and the limitations of staff, plus the “death row doggie” named Bubbles. Farrell says they could rescue more dogs from Humboldt if people were willing to foster some of the dogs currently at the shelter. Currently, one dog and three kittens are in foster care.
The next fundraiser on the horizon is a puppy and kitten shower, which will also be an open house to meet the new director. The next few months will see an explosion of baby animals and the shower will help bring awareness, Farrell noted. [Ed. Note: The open house is scheduled for Mar. 28 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.]
Visit the shelter at 29921 Airport Way in Gold Beach and see the available animals and upcoming events at wildriversanimalrescue.org and on their Facebook page.