Local animal shelters keeping business afloat

By Allen Awfe  and Haleigh Kochandski
Foothills Focus Contributing Writers

Valley nonprofit animal shelters have adopted business models and procedures that are helping them operate safely, not only for the pets in their care but also for people looking to adopt.

In light of the pandemic, the number of people wanting new pets has increased, financially helping the shelters in an otherwise difficult time.

“We are very fortunate, but it has not been easy,” said Loretta Isaac, co-founder of Home Fur Good in Phoenix.

“People are home. The kids are home from school. It’s kind of been an ideal time and we’ve actually seen a lot of adoptions.”

The shelter relies on two clinics for cash flow: a low-cost vaccine and microchip clinic and a low-cost dental clinic. Both have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading into the shelter, Home Fur Good hosts appointments to see animals on the shelter’s website and over the phone. In addition, the shelter employees are working at home.

The Arizona Humane Society has two main locations that are still operating: the Nina Mason Pulliam Campus for Compassion, which is located just north of South Mountain Park and Preserve, as well as the Sunnyslope Campus in North Central Phoenix. The shelter has closed its additional adoptions out of PetSmart in Mesa and Scottsdale.

Bretta Nelson, public relations manager at Arizona Humane Society, said the shelter has changed its traditional adoption process to a virtual matchmaking program.

“Potential adopters can visit us on azhumane.org/adopt,” Nelson explained. “They can schedule their appointment online and an adoption matchmaker, who’s actually working remotely from home, will call them, talk through what kind of pet they’re looking for, hopefully find them a few matches and then they will come in for their appointment.”

The animal shelter also adopted its foster program to a drive-up service. The shelter made this process fairly simple: A new foster person—or “foster hero”—would set an appointment with the animal shelter team, then drive up. After texting upon arrival, a concierge brings out the pet, as well as all of the paperwork and supplies needed to care for the animal.

All of the shelter’s staff are practicing social distancing and cleaning protocols, and its new modifications have allowed a minimal number of people in the facility.

The Humane Society’s Sunnyslope Campus also has expanded its full-service veterinary clinic to being open seven days a week. It has shifted the shelter’s trauma hospital to 24/7 service.

Another addition was switching in-person pet training to virtual training classes. For $20, a pet owner can get a 30-minute session with a pet trainer through either Zoom, Skype or FaceTime. 

“That’s a service that has been very well utilized,” Nelson said.

Recouping lost funds

A major setback though for the Arizona Humane Society is loss of revenue due to fundraising cancellations.

“We are forecasting about a $1.35 million net shortfall due to lost fundraising revenue and lost service revenues,” Nelson said.

The increase in adoptions is helping with the lost funds. It helps, too, that the adoption fees have stayed the same.

“We have seen such a wonderful response from people,” Nelson said. “It’s the perfect time for people to integrate a pet into their homes. They’ve always wanted to but didn’t feel like they had enough time.”

Lost Our Home in Tempe is in a similar situation. This isn’t the first time it’s encountered a crisis. It was founded during the 2008 housing crisis, which left thousands of people displaced and many pets abandoned.

“Our adoption operations have gone down while the adoption applications have gone up,” said Jodi Polanski, founder and executive director of Lost Our Home. “We’ve had to change everything about the way we work right now.”

Adoption meet-and-greets are made by appointment, and only one person at a time can meet animals. All dog introductions are outside, while cat meet-and-greets are inside the shelter. Each appointment lasts about an hour.

Some staff members have been furloughed, while others are cross training and taking on multiple positions due to cancellation of fundraising events, Polanski said.

Most staff members work remotely from home, with just a skeleton staff at the shelter. Most of the pets are in foster homes.

“We have more fosters than we’ve ever had,” Polanski said. “We have people waiting to foster pets and we are getting a ton of applications for pet adoptions because people are home and want a pet right now.”

The rescue is also asking its staff to interact with customers over the phone. “We’ve been having them do video calls with the fosters,” Polanski said. “When they come to the shelter, it’s almost like a hand-off, because at that point, they know so much about the pet.”

In addition, Lost Our Home created a temporary care program that provides up to 90 days of care for pets of families experiencing domestic violence, homelessness and illness. The program has already received more than 160 applications since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One person who adopted a pet through Lost Our Home shelter is Letitia Frye, a Phoenix businesswoman. She recently adopted Fozzie Bear, a 4-year-old Australian shepherd from Lost Our Home.

She described the adoption as “unbelievably easy” through Lost Our Home. She said the revamped adoption process was accommodating.

“She set up an area where someone is adopting the dog at the front, and in the back, someone is dropping off a dog like Fozzie,” Frye said.

Lost Our Home’s developed two different entrances for those dropping off and for those picking up, and Frye described that as “perfect” and “completely COVID compliant.”

Fozzie Bear was dropped off by his previous family on March 17 and she adopted him on March 18.  Frye said that he is a completely trained dog and she hopes to one day train him to become a service dog.

In the end, the processes are working.

“People are home, they’ve got the time and are coming out and adopting,” Isaac said.