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Petaluma Animal Shelter is increasing its adoptions

Published: Friday, November 23, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.

When Gus, a crotchety old gray and white cat with an immune disorder requiring special care, arrived at the Petaluma Animal Shelter, staff and volunteers knew they'd have to get creative to find a home for him.

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Petaluma Animal Shelter worker Kathy Sousa works outside with Twix, a Lhasa Apso currently at the shelter.

John O'Hara/ For the Argus-Courier

So, they gave him a Twitter account. The idea, they say, is to let Gus's personality shine through for anyone to see and fall in love with. And with colorful posts like, “Hey there baby, what's your sign? Buy me a Catnip Cosmo and let's get to know each other ... ” Gus has gained a number of followers, if not yet a home.

The foundation is energetically employing this and other creative strategies to find homes for as many animals as possible as quickly as possible. The tactics seem to be working, according to recent numbers announced by the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, which took over the animal shelter and animal control operations from the city on Aug. 1.

Since then, the shelter has achieved a 94 percent “live release” rate, meaning 94 percent of all the animals that come to the shelter walk out alive.

Valerie Fausone, who directs the animal shelter's training center and helped found the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, said she cried when she heard the news.

“People tell you that in an open admission shelter, it can't be done,” she said, referring to how many animals the shelter has saved. “But we knew we could do better, and we did.”

Lynn Spivak, a spokesperson for Maddie's Fund, a nonprofit that tracks shelters' live release rates, called 94 percent “outstanding,” though she hadn't looked at Petaluma's numbers specifically. According to Maddie's Fund statistics, in 2010, Petaluma reported a much lower 83 percent live release rate and nearby Rohnert Park reported a rate of 79 percent.

Jeff Charter, director of the Petaluma shelter, agreed that the number was a great sign. He recalled that, when he came to the shelter in 2008, upwards of 500 animals were euthanized in a year. That number had decreased to 126 in 2011, a decline he attributed to the staff simply committing to “not take the easy way out” and do whatever they could to find the animals a home. Since the foundation assumed operations in August, that can-do spirit has only grown. Just three dogs and 16 cats have been euthanized since then, Charter said — two because they were too aggressive to adopt and the others for medical reasons, at the recommendation of a veterinarian.

According to Fausone, more animals are being saved thanks to an increased focus on adoptions through social media, adoption events, and any other method they can think of.

“We're adoption maniacs,” she said, adding, “To get results like this, you have to have all pistons firing. You have to have an adoption and marketing plan.”

That includes Twitter feeds for cats: “Because he's got special needs, we had to think of ways to make Gus cool,” she explained. “We try to give the animals a personality.”

Facebook, she added, tells the story of the shelter in real time. People get to follow, and perhaps adopt, a favorite animal, or at least see that animal's story through to an adoption.

The shelter also actively encourages people to come visit and get to know the animals.

“We always encourage people to come in, check the shelter out,” Charter said. “We're a community-based organization.”

In addition, the shelter has gained about 25 foster families since the foundation took over, essentially doubling the number of families willing to provide foster care to animals who are awaiting adoption. Fausone said this is a great help to animals who need special attention, such as kittens, puppies, and old or sick animals.

The goal, she said, is to have animals spend as little time in the shelter as possible before going to a good home. A result of those efforts is that there are about 65 fewer animals in the shelter at any given time now than before the shelter took over, even though new animals come in every day.

There are about 120 animals in the shelter currently.

Fausone said all the changes were a reflection of the community's commitment to animals.

“The way we understood it when we took over was that Petaluma wanted a shelter to reflect the community's values,” she said. “We care about our pets and wildlife, and we want to see them cared for properly. It's a big deal for us.”

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@arguscourier.com.)

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