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In some cases, the goal of SIPs is to help people help themselves. The PASS program at Austin Pets Alive!, which receives 650 to 750 calls and emails per month, has a hotline that pet owners can email or call. Alexander can then respond with resources they can use to find low-cost medical care or suggestions on how to raise funds to pay a pet deposit or veterinary bill. In a crisis situation, she may be able to refer them to a kennel that has donated boarding.
At Downtown Dog Rescue, counselors advise owners on options available to them — options they may simply have not known about. A shelter or rescue counselor can help them apply for a grant (think of it as “Peticaid”), start a GoFundMe account, figure out things to sell at a swap meet or coach them through conversations with landlords.
“More often than not, retention doesn’t cost anything,” Deisler says. “Sometimes it's just a matter of sharing some information and helping people to understand what their other choices and options are.”
Behavior issues can also threaten a pet’s future if no one steps in with help. Shelters are making inroads there as well, through counseling and classes.
“Many shelters have a behaviorist or staff member knowledgeable in behavior who can offer advice to members of the public who may be considering relinquishing pets for behavior concerns,” Dr. Putnam says. “Examples include inappropriate elimination, jumping or mouthy behaviors and separation anxiety. This counseling may occur over the phone or via email.”
At JHS, free training and behavior counseling are available at the shelter. They also recruit private trainers who are willing to donate their time or work with owners at reduced rates. When necessary, Deisler says, “We will pay for private training as well.”
The important thing to recognize is that the pet owner — even one considering surrendering a pet — isn’t a bad person. Helping them in a nonjudgmental way is key.
“They are just people who run into circumstances they didn’t foresee and weren’t equipped to deal with,” Deisler says.
It takes time and effort to establish and maintain a SIP. Shelters network with businesses and foundations to get the support they need. The programs can’t help in every situation, but they do help reduce the risk that pets will enter a shelter, with the accompanying physical and behavioral stress. And when they can give owners an alternative to losing a beloved companion, it’s a win — for the animals, the people and the shelters.
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