Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hosting a Community Adoption Event

Two years ago, I was elected the President of an advocacy organization, The Pet Alliance of Central Texas (or. P.A.C.T.). While the premise of the organization was wonderful, my personal vision just wasn't working out with what had already been established prior to my joining, so only a few months later, P.A.C.T. was disbanded and a new organization, No Kill Wilco (Wilco = Williamson County Texas for those that are not in the Austin area) was formed. 

While the organization remains steadfast in it's mission of promoting our animal shelter's No Kill Programs in a positive light as well as encouraging those programs, I set out on a personal mission. My personal mission was to improve the relationships between the rescue organizations in the greater Williamson County area so that we could all work together for the greater good of our homeless community pets. 

While in theory it seems that everyone is working towards the same ultimate goal, the reality is that not every organization tends to agree with each other. When it comes to policies on adoptions, adoption fees and even the basic handling of the adoptable pets, everyone has their own and different opinion -- and that's fine! As long as the animals are well cared for, the rescues are all doing a great job in my book!

So, when I set about bringing the community together, I made a pretty simple plan:

1. Find a space to host a large-scale adoption drive.
2. Find Rescues and Shelters that want to participate.
3. Organize, plan and prepare for chaos!
4. Save lives! Save lives! Save lives!

Step 1 was the hardest step in this whole ordeal. Luckily, we had some great partnerships that wanted to help out, so we all started searching. Our first location was a large shopping center in the heart of Georgetown, TX. The location was ideal since a huge number of people were shopping in this center and we were given a large space to set up in, however the insurance requirements of 2 million dollars PER RESCUE were just too high for the smaller rescue organizations, so we had a small turnout for this event. After only a month, we decided that this was not the space for us. I reached out to several spaces and started doing some research online. It was only a week or so later that I noticed that Central Texas Harley Davidson in Round Rock had an adorable Boxer mascot named Checkers featured on their website. That same day, I ran over to the shop and met the Marketing Manager, Ric and 15 minutes later we had made arrangements for our first adoption drive. 

I won't lie, I was nervous! This was not by any means my first event, but it was the first adoption event that I had hosted solely on my own terms. We had 5 rescues in attendance; The Williamson County Regional Shelter, The Georgetown Animal Shelter, Georgetown Animal Outreach, Austin Westie Rescue and Greyhound Pets of America. We set up at 10am and by 11:30am two dogs had already been adopted and I was absolutely beaming inside. By the end of the day, 4 dogs had gone to their forever homes. 

Finding the rescues was the easy part. As a business owner that donates to Rescue Organizations, I already have contacts with many of these rescues. However, I know that many people that are starting adoption drives do not have those contacts already laid out. So, here is what I would recommend: Set up an excel sheet with all of the rescues in your area. The more organized and prepared you are, the more success you will see. I personally do not charge a fee for rescues to participate, BUT I do have them fill out a liability form to protect both No Kill Wilco and Central Texas Harley Davidson. (I am more than happy to share our form, just email me). Reach out to the rescues regularly via email or phone call. Keeping in touch with the rescues keeps your events on everyone's radar and helps the rescues plan ahead. My event is hosted once monthly and we schedule 5-6 months in advance. Rescues are required to RSVP at least a week in advance, but I send out a reminder email to make sure they RSVP and have an assigned space.

Once you have your space and your rescues signed up, just plan ahead. Assign booth spaces for your rescues. Let them know ahead of time what items to bring (for example, I allow merchandise to be sold as long as it does not compete with Harley Davidson who is hosting our event. I also ask that rescues bring a canopy, table, chairs, water for the dogs and the people, blankets for the dogs to lay on, crates or leashes - all dogs must be on leash or crated with no retractable leashes and poop bags.) Each rescue is responsible for cleaning up their area and for keeping their dogs contained and well-behaved.

I also have a 'Rescue Kit' that I keep in my car  at these events because inevitably someone will forget something. In my rescue kit I include: leashes, poop bags, water bowls and I carry everyone's liability paper with me. 

Prepare for chaos. Events never go exactly as planned, but with a little organization, you can certainly limit the number of incidences that you have happen. I 'make the rounds' during the event about once an hour checking in on the rescues to make sure they are all set. If they need help setting up, I am available. If they need a bottle of water, I will hold their dogs for them while they run to the vending machine, etc. Keeping your rescues happy at the events really builds a strong relationship and gives a positive experience so they keep coming back each month!

I also make sure to introduce rescues to one another. Since starting this event a year and a half ago, I have heard countless stories of these rescues partnering to ensure a pet gets pulled from our county shelter. For example, just a few weeks ago, our Great Pyrenees Rescue was contacted by one of the Greyhound Rescues because we had a Pyrenees pooch that needed help. The rescues were able to communicate and know who to chat with to ensure this pup was given a chance at a foster home with the Pyrenees rescue vs waiting in the shelter for a family to find her. Little stories like this are happening regularly because of these relationships and I am thrilled to be a small part in the bigger picture. 

The fact remains that puppy stores exist, in fact just a few miles from our monthly adoption drive we have a store that sells breeder puppies. This store has been in business for years and while I would love to see them move to a more humane source for obtaining their puppies and start working with rescue, the fact that they can continue to sell puppies means that the market is open in our area. People want pets and my goal is to create a space where we can showcase a huge variety of breeds with tons of different doggy personalities for our community members that are looking to bring a pet home. 

For those of you that would like to do the same in your area, I am always willing to advise. It just takes a little commitment and courage to step up and offer your time to create an event. While finding the space was a time-consuming process, now that we have a successful event, the Hawgs and Dawgs Monthly Adoption Drive takes up very little of my time. To date we have adopted out over 50 pups as a direct result of this event. Considering we are only out for 4 hours a month from September to April, we are averaging a huge number of adoptions for an off-site event. At least one dog goes home every hour on average!

Want to save lives? If I can do it... so can you!

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist

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