This past weekend (Feb 1-4, 2019), the Pawlytics team went down to Austin, TX for the American Pets Alive! Conference to soak up information from some of the most successful animal welfare organizations in the country. One of the classes we attended was “How to be the boss of your organization’s save rate”**, and here is a little bit of what we learned.

First and foremost, NO other decision is more final than the decision to euthanize an animal. If you make other mistakes, you can always fundraise, repair relationships, or make other plans. But, you cannot bring an animal back to life. Therefore, it is so important to institutionalize lifesaving into your organization. What does that mean? Make the idea of lifesaving part of your culture, part of your shelter’s DNA. Austin Pets Alive! contributes much of their success to this idea and they have been successfully no-kill (a 90% save rate or better) for almost 10 years.

Austin’s Story – How did they become the largest no-kill city in the nation?

For starters, it is important to note that even the most well-known organizations make mistakes. They didn’t make change overnight and never have an unjust euthanasia again. It is ok to not be perfect on your journey to no-kill, but it is NOT ok to give up. Lives are counting on you.

To start, Austin Pets Alive! (APA) studied their data. They looked for trends (patterns in the data) and gaps (areas they wanted to improve). They used this information to create a 34 point “no-kill achievement” plan. Just having the plan in place was not enough so they wrote extensive SOPs (standard operating procedures), created new volunteer positions and wrote specific job descriptions (yes, as if they were hiring for the positions), and set KPIs (key performance indicators…or as I like to call them: key PAW-formance indicators heh) so they could measure if they were meeting their goals. Each year, Austin takes in 17,000 animals. In 2018, their live outcome rate was 97%. AMAZING. To this day, APA revisits their policies, procedures, and continues to study their data. Through this continuous feedback loop, they were able to identify a drop in kitten live outcomes, some potential causes, and are making new plans to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

How can you too achieve no-kill?

It can be a daunting task to get your shelter, rescue, or city to no kill. Breaking it into smaller steps will make it more manageable and far less scary!

The first step is to define what no kill means to your organization. No, REALLY define it. What does it mean to you? To your community? To your staff/volunteers/stakeholders? Because, simply put, it is more than just a number – those are LIVES!

Next, you’ll need to understand what you are euthanizing. Are they healthy? Treatable? Manageable? Rehabilitable? To do this, you’ll (unsurprisingly) need to study your data! Pawlytics can help you do this – simply by entering your data you now have more access to it and can even run reports in the reporting section without having to do a drop of math yourself! Woo woo!

Make it a habit to study your data. Start small and study your data monthly. As your grow more accustomed to analyzing your data and better at looking for trends, you can begin studying your data weekly, then daily. When you notice downward trends in your save rates, apply the 5 whys. Ask why this may be happening, then ask why that problem exists again, then ask why again, and again, then one more time. This will help you identify the true root of the problem.

Now that you have identified your problems, its time to develop and implement a policy on euthanasia decisions. Involve the team – because saving animals takes people. Show your team the data and they will help make a policy and will make good decisions. When you have made a policy, give it a test run! Decide on an amount on time to pilot your new policy and at the end of the trial period, look at the data, talk with your team, and make necessary adjustments. It is HIGHLY recommended that in your policy, you appoint the Director the final decision maker. Directors are held responsible anyway, but it is important to own the decisions being made. It is important to remember as you are getting started, that your policy can and will change – and that is GREAT! Continue iterating as you learn more about the data, your team, and your resources. Transform your policy to match your needs. Whatever your policy ends up being – it is important to share this with your stakeholders and the community. Transparency is the key to achieving no kill. Your community will understand your limitations, better understand your needs, and will want to help (better yet they will know how to help). Being transparent with the community will also help you share the responsibility with them – this is a community problem as much as it is the shelter’s problem.

Final thoughts on implementing a euthanasia policy:

  • Every community and shelter is different so you policies will be different
  • A policy is better than no policy
  • Your policy is only as good as the leadership and team implementing the policy
  • Review and revise the policy often
  • Always involve your team

Final tips to implementing a euthanasia policy:

  • Use SOPs
  • Hire good people
  • Advocates
  • Define roles
  • Collect and have good data

As you begin or advance your no kill policy, remember that no kill is not a destinations, it’s a way of thinking…a vision to be fulfilled. Mistakes happen. That’s ok. Learn from it and grow. The animals are depending on you to do this.

“You don’t have to be right but you have to get it right.”

**This talk (How to be the boss of your organization’s save rate) was given at the 2019 American Pets Alive! Conference by Lee Ann Shenefiel (South Central Regional Director, Best Friends Animal Society) and Paula Powell (Director of Animal Services, El Paso Animal Services)