Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Simple Cat Kennel Enrichment Ideas

Photo courtesy of Chris Tanaka

Cats are not meant to be in a shelter environment (dogs for that matter either, but more on that in a later post); even the most well adjusted cat is measurably miserable in a shelter.  Our job as shelter professionals is to minimize their misery while they are in our care.  Below are some simple, and very low cost kennel enrichment ideas for cats:

1.     Old Shoe Boxes: make great hiding spots for shy cats, beds for tired cats, and even a sturdy box turned upside down can be a perch for alert cats.  If you cut one of the short side out of the same sturdy box, you can even create a hide and perch for the cat. 
a.     Cost = FREE!
b.     Easy donation item to collect from volunteers and community supporters.   You may want to consider having a volunteer or staff ask for donations at local shoe stores—most will be happy to save their discarded boxes for you. 
c.      Since the boxes are free and (theoretically) numerous, you can just throw them away if they get soiled or the cat vacates the kennel.

2.     Tissue Paper (or Newspaper): anyone who has lived with a cat for even half a day knows that they will sit on any piece of paper on the floor, and it seems the crinklier, the better.  Wad up the tissue paper into a loose ball and throw it in their cage for maximum efficiency!
a.     Cost = FREE!
b.     Another easy donation item to collect from volunteers and community supporters, especially good way for people to reuse their old holiday gift wrap!
c.      Again, once the tissue is at its end, just throw it away.

3.     Wine Corks and various bottle caps: make wonderful roll and swat toys.  First time I tried this at a shelter I was working for, I had a volunteer distribute a few to each kennel and she reported that the room electrified with cats romping and playing in their kennel!
a.     Cost = FREE!
b.     One more easy donation item for volunteers and community supporters to collect and reuse.
c.      As with the previous examples, dispose of the items when cat vacates the kennel.
d.     **Added bonus of the wine corks: you can poke fun at the volunteer who brings in the most!  At our annual volunteer celebration party, we gave out silly awards one of which was the “Lush” award given to the volunteer who collected the most wine corks.  In reality, he put up a sign and a collection bin in his apartment building so it was not just his wine corks, but still a funny joke nonetheless!!

4.     Straws: Again, make fantastic roll and swat toys.  Even better if the straws bend!
a.     Cost = FREE! or minimal (good dollar store stock up purchase)
b.     Additional straightforward donation item for volunteers and community supporters.
c.      Items are disposable when the cat moves on.

5.     Plastic Easter Eggs: this enrichment item can double as a roll and swat toy or, unscrew one half, smear a small amount of wet food on the inside rim, and they toy is also a treat!
a.     Cost = FREE! or minimal (additional good dollar store stock up purchase)
b.     Ask for volunteers and community supporters to donate, or stock up during the spring when they are readily available in stores.  I would recommend catching the after holiday sales to maximize your money.
c.      Easy to dispose of items when they are used.

These are such simple items, most used or found in our daily life and are a great way to give a second life to items we would probably just throw away in our home.  I have also found that these are great collection items for groups (corporate groups, apartment buildings, school groups) to gather on behalf of the shelter.  Costs little money and the donations go directly to the animals, so will make people feel very good about their donation.  I also know some shelters that send this list home with adopters—it helps to transition the cat into the new home as well as just an easy and inexpensive toy list for the cats!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Intervention Services versus Prevention Services: How Does Your Portfolio Stack Up?

Regardless of the specific mission of a shelter or rescue, I am confident in saying the heart of the majority of animal welfare organizations is to provide either prevention or intervention services (and in most cases, both) for the animals it takes under its wing.  At the most basic level, all shelter services, programs, or departments can be filed into either category (*sometimes they fit into both) and contribute to what the organization offers the community.  But an intelligent organization will intentionally control the percentage of intervention services if offers with that of the prevention services it offers.  In other terms, a clever organization will not put all its eggs in the same proverbial basket. 

First, let’s define what each of these services means.  Intervention services are any service, program, or department dedicated to intercede on behalf of an animal already in the shelter system.  Examples include:
1.     Adoption Programs: focus on permanent placement of homeless animals
2.     Investigations: use the law to adjudicate in support of abused or neglected animals
3.     *Behavior and Training: readies sheltered animals for placement in a permanent home
4.     Volunteers: invites supporters into the organization to contribute to the mission

In contrast, prevention services are any service, program, or department dedicated to averting an animal from entering the shelter system from the start.  Examples include:
1.     Spay/Neuter: prevents future litters
2.     Humane Education: fosters humane attitudes and living harmoniously with animals
3.     Safe Havens: attempts to keep people experiencing personal difficulties with their pets as they navigate towards a solution to their problems
4.     *Behavior and Training: promotes basic obedience and good behavior; well trained animals remain in their homes
5.     Trap-Neuter-Return: prevents further amplification of the feral cat population
6.     Pet Food Pantry: offers free or very low cost food and supplies to struggling families

*Notice that Behavior and Training can fall into both categories.

To find a typical distribution of services, I did a brief analysis of 5 shelters in the Chicago area.  Based on the programs and services they advertised on their respective websites, I calculated the percentage of intervention versus prevention services they offered and the following resulted:  

Brief Description
Prevention Services
Intervention Services
Large, Open Admissions (with a physical location)
Medium/Large, No-Kill (with a physical location)
Medium, No-Kill (with a physical location)
Small, No-Kill Rescue (with a physical location)
Very Small, No-Kill Rescue (without a physical location)

Each shelter’s budget, staffing, animal capacity, and mission are (obviously) different, but it’s interesting to see how the smaller organizations—in terms of animal capacity—skew towards intervention whereas the larger shelters balance the two more evenly.    

This investigation is very superficial and should not be used as the sole analysis of determining an appropriate allocation of prevention and intervention services.  What this analysis does not provide is how much (in terms of financial, human, and facility resources) are distributed per capita or as a total percentage of said resources.  From the above, one can make the correlation that the larger the shelter, the more it can provide by way of prevention services, but of course this analysis only examined shelters.  There are organizations out there exclusively dedicated to funding prevention services without actually sheltering animals.  

A strategic planning exercise—either in and of itself or as a subset of the overall strategic planning efforts of the organization—will help a group focus its efforts and resources on the types and general allotment of prevention and intervention programs and services it offers, but an annual detailed analysis of various shelter metrics (intake, live release rate, disease rates) will help guide a group to allot those programs and services to accurately meet the needs of the community it services:

1.     What is being spent on spay neuter services?  Have we noticed a change in our intake, especially kitten litters during “kitten season”?
2.     Since we started investing more time on post adoption follow-up, have we noticed a decrease in our return rates? 
3.     What percentage of adopted dogs enroll in training classes post placement?
4.     What percentage of volunteers donate over 20 hours of service per month? 

By examining the answers to these questions, groups can better understand and adjust their prevention and intervention services division.  Every organization’s distribution will be different depending on their mission and vision, but it does suffice to say that a good game plan includes diversifying your allocations.  Similar to the market, a diverse portfolio of intervention and prevention services will not only help an organization deliver solutions based the needs of a community, but it will also assist it in remaining relevant during a changing environment.  So, how does your portfolio stack up?