People driving in the Chesapeake, VA, area this spring may have noticed some out-of-the-ordinary billboards.
Instead of featuring the next rest stop or tourist trap, these billboards advertised for one of the community’s greatest needs—kitten foster families.
This creative campaign helped Chesapeake Animal Services save kittens’ lives—by simply getting them out of the shelter. Across the United States, 70 percent of cats who enter shelters are killed. That number rises to virtually 100 percent for community cats, who are unadoptable, and unweaned kittens, who need round-the-clock care that most shelters lack the resources to provide. Chesapeake Animal Services is working to change this.
Chesapeake Animal Services’ campaign began after Adams Outdoor Advertising donated its unused billboard space and helped create ads calling for families to foster kittens. With kitten season (the time when most kittens are born) underway, the shelter needed help and needed
to spread awareness.
Alley Cat Allies and the National Kitten Coalition cosponsored a presentation about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and caring for kittens that also helped the shelter as it was launching this new kitten foster program.
One billboard counted down the number of foster families still needed. In March, it was 20. As of early June, they had seven new kitten foster families.
This creative advertising was the key to getting volunteers for the first year of the kitten foster program.
“I believe firmly that we would not have been able to get these families into our shelter without those billboards,” says Dyanna Uchiek, the shelter’s outreach and volunteer coordinator.
Empowering the Community
Any shelter can start a kitten foster program. Alley Cat Allies is helping shelters around the nation prove it to themselves through Wait Until 8 programs. Through these programs, shelters empower community members to become kitten caregivers—which keeps more kittens out of shelters.
The Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Florida started its own lifesaving Wait Until 8 program in 2015. Instead of taking in the young kittens people bring to the facility, the shelter provides those citizens with training and supplies so they can raise the kittens themselves at home. When the kittens are 8 weeks old, the caregivers bring them back to the shelter to be neutered, vaccinated, and adopted.
Wait Until 8 has made incredible changes for the Pet Resource Center, which, like most shelters, lacks the resources to care for neonatal (less than 4-week-old) kittens. Pet Resource Center Director Scott Trebatoski says that the shelter has saved thousands of kittens each year since implementing the program. For 2017, the shelter has its biggest goal yet: save every cat and kitten who comes in.
Getting Kids Involved
At the City of El Paso Animal Services in Texas, the minimum age for volunteers is 14. But the shelter has still found a way to get younger kids involved.
Their Kitty Reading Book Club began in January for kids 8 to 13 years old. It’s “an effort to get the younger generation of our community involved in volunteering, while also offering them the opportunity to brush up on their reading skills and provide our kitties some love and enrichment,” says Michele Anderson, public affairs specialist for animal services.
Once a week, kids in the club bring books to the shelter, or use ones the shelter provides, and read aloud to the cats to keep them company and help them cope with stress. Anderson says the cats get curious during the reading time, sitting right at their kennel doors or even in the kids’ laps. In this way, kids get to help with the vital process of socializing cats for adoption—all while having fun and getting their nose in a good book.
The Power of the People
These innovative programs save lives by simply tapping into their greatest resource—the community. And shelters aren’t the only ones doing it. Animal Balance, a U.S.-based nonprofit, provides high-volume spay and neuter services for dogs and cats on islands around the world. Alley Cat Allies partners with the group, including on its cat program, Trapped in Paradise. In many places where Animal Balance works, there are no animal shelters, so instead the community collaborates to save animals’ lives. Animal Balance brings together local veterinarians, animal protection organizations, and community members to get the job done.
All of these successes prove one thing: Never underestimate the power of people working together!