By Spencer Conover (Assistant Director – Pasco County Animal Services)
The COVID-19 pandemic has been horrendous for many, life changing for all and devastating to others. We would never wish for anything like this pandemic again; however, dealing with the crisis has produced opportunities for incredible innovation and growth across many industries, including animal welfare. In late March of 2020, a vast majority of the country was shut down. Pasco County Animal Services (PCAS) saw its lowest animal population in the history of the organization in April of 2020, housing just 36 animals in the kennels by the end of the month. For reference, the organization saw 10 times that shelter population just the year prior. But here is the amazing thing about the work of Pasco County Animal Services. They never closed their doors, never stopped answering animal control calls and didn’t stop operations for even a day. So how did they do it, and how have they maintained a shelter population below the organization’s capacity for care since then? Innovation.
When the unknown of 2020 occurred and other organizations in Pasco County, like Libraries and Parks, were closing their gates, Pasco County Animal Services knew that halting their services. The community needed support and animals in true need had to have an option. The reality was the latter of that statement helped shape the organization moving forward. The focus had to be placed on the animals that truly needed the support and the organization needed to get creative when it came to helping others. With innovation as a core value of the county and the department, PCAS created new processes, new programs and helped join a nationwide movement dedicated to helping keep pets with their owners and reallocating resources for people in the most need.
Innovative Life Saving Changes
Although the doors never closed at Pasco County Animal Services, the team needed to be safe when it came to how they allowed individuals to enter the building. PCAS, who normally ran as an open shelter with services during all hours of operation, received a grant from Best Friends Animal Society to acquire appointment management software. This allowed PCAS to better manage what people, and more importantly what animals, were entering the shelter and why. Additionally, by knowing who was coming to the shelter and with what needs, the team was now better equipped to proactively find resources to meet those needs. Because of the appointment-based software, the team could now increase resources available at the twice-weekly public vaccination clinic; they could help contact pet owners who were looking for support with their pets prior to breaking the human animal bond and bringing them into the shelter; and most importantly the organization could schedule the intake of animals to line up with that of the surgery schedule and help find placement for animals, even before they got to the shelter. This final stepped allowed the organization to go from an average length of animal stay in the shelter of 28.5 days in 2018 to just 3.1 days by the summer of 2021.
Because the shelter was taking in fewer animals and getting those that had to come into the shelter out much faster, this allowed for massive reallocation of resources. In 2019 alone, PCAS spent approximately $21,000.00 on the medication Doxycycline to help treat sick animals in their care. By the summer of 2020 and into 2021, the organization’s animal intake and length of stay was so low, animals were not in the kennels to be sick. This allowed the organization to reallocate those funds to external facing programs, dedicated to help keep pets with their owners, not only for that year but in years to come.
Pasco County Animal Services also wasn’t the only animal welfare organization in Florida and throughout the country that successfully revised operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders at American Pets Alive! a rescue organization based out of Austin, TX had recently created the Human Animal Support Services program dedicated to helping keep pets with their owners, thus keeping pets out shelters, and creating sustainable programs to support community pet needs. Through their coalition, new sheltering methods were being shared nationally. Pasco County Animal Services immediately joined the movement and now acts as a tier-1 shelter for the program. As a result of partnering in this capacity with a national lifesaving partner and creating sustainability for some of these programs, PCAS has been able to increase the community-based support with other services such as one-time medical support for injured animals, spay/neuter efforts for the public, free microchip clinics in underserved areas of the county, free boarding for individuals misplaced by the pandemic and many more. Working smarter by collecting and analyzing data, community engagement, and process improvement continue to yield positive results. Increases in valued services has also yielded additional revenues with less need for promotions or discounted adoptions. Resource savings of both time and money are now utilized in supporting community needs through new programs and services.
The reality is, Pasco County Animal Services has seen an increase in intakes, back to similar pre-COVID-19 levels but because of the incredible programs, processes, and services they have created and the dedication of their lifesaving team, the shelter population remains low, the save rate of animals in the community remains at no-kill levels and the organization is poised to lead the new wave of progressive government municipal animal sheltering into the future.