When I visit shelters for my work at Alley Cat Allies, I’m often pleasantly surprised by their level of dedication to the animals they care for. This May, as I stood in the sun-filled intake room of the Humane Society of Broward County (HSBC) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I witnessed one such shelter that is going above and beyond for its animals and community.
My colleague Alice Burton, Alley Cat Allies’ Associate Director of animal shelter and animal control engagement, and I were in the Fort Lauderdale area for Animal Care Expo. So, we decided to stop by HSBC to learn how the shelter engages its community to help cats—and all animals.
HSBC Senior Vice President of Operations Mary Steffen explained that she often encounters citizens who believe all shelters must be depressing. She recalled one constituent who insisted on meeting her in the parking lot to drop off a donation because he was convinced that entering the building would make him too sad. But as I wandered the shelter’s sunny pet supply shop—complete with a view of two clumsy puppies gamboling around the dog meet-and-greet area—I couldn’t imagine a less sad place to be.
Mary led us around the facility and talked about the shelter’s unique programs, including hosting children’s birthday parties and a story hour where kid volunteers read to cats. As we walked past the rabbit cages, a bunny began to hop around and kick her back legs into the air. This is called a “binky,” something rabbits only do when they’re feeling happy and comfortable.
We rounded a corner, and I stopped short at what I saw before me. Behind a clear glass wall was a fully-decorated “bedroom,” with bright blue walls, wood floors, cat toys everywhere, and even a bunk bed! Adoptable cats cuddled on the bed and sprawled on pieces of furniture around the room.
Mary told us that the adoption rate for cats in this room was actually lower than the rate for cats in cages. The reason: potential adopters didn’t want to take the cats out of their cozy room! Have you ever heard of someone bypassing a shelter cat for looking too happy and comfortable?
We then learned about one of the most exciting HSBC services: its portable spay/neuter clinic. Unlike a mobile clinic, it’s not a vehicle. The portable clinic is a semi-permanent installation that folds up small enough to be transported by pickup truck.
The clinic usually stays in one place for six months, then moves to another location. This brings much-needed low-cost spay and neuter services to community members who don’t have veterinary clinics nearby. Best of all? HSBC specifically promotes that the clinic welcomes community cats, which helps residents conduct Trap-Neuter-Return!
Though I was proud to see HSBC’s progress, I still know that many animal shelters remain grim places that thousands of animals—especially cats—never leave alive. These shelters don’t have humane programs in place, so most of the cats they take in are, sadly, killed. Thankfully, I also know that more shelters around the nation are moving away from cruel, outdated policies and adopting innovative programs to protect the animals in their care. Alley Cat Allies is always working hard to help them get there!
It’s important to understand that community support has a huge effect on how shelters operate and make humane changes. For example, a foster volunteer network can make a life-or-death difference—especially for kittens, who shelters often don’t have the resources to care for. HSBC has its community behind it, and that infuses into all the compassionate work they do.
A great way for a community to get involved with their shelter is a Wait Until 8 program. When someone brings young, motherless kittens to the shelter, staff can ask the person to instead foster the kittens until they’re old enough to be adopted—and provide a “Kitten Care Kit” to help. This keeps more kittens out of shelters, which saves their lives. The popularity of these sorts of programs is growing, and I can’t wait to see more shelters transform into the lifesaving institutions I know they can be.
I want to say a big thank you to HSBC for treating us to a great time in a beautiful, positive shelter environment. Thank you for all you do to help cats and the other animals in your care—not to mention the human members of the Fort Lauderdale community!
To learn about more shelters and animal control agencies across the country that are doing great work in their communities, check out our Animal Care & Control Appreciation Month post.
Until next time,
Outreach and National Cat Help Desk Specialist