SHELTERING AND THE VALUE OF WELCOMING COMPANY
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2000:
WALTHAM, Massachusetts– – ” It
has often been observed,” New Hampshire
state neutering program architect Peter Marsh
told Spay/USA conference attendees recently,
“that people tend to resemble the animals they
choose as companions. I submit,” Marsh
added, “that people who rescue feral or abandoned
or abused animals also tend to resemble
the animals they choose, not in physical
appearance but in the psychological sense.
“Just as feral or abandoned animals
or animals who have been abused tend to be
frightened and furtive,” March continued, “so
we ourselves are often frightened and furtive,
and fear the public will think badly of us
because we have too many animals, or must
euthanize some animals. We don’t invite people
into our shelters because we think they
won’t understand what they see. Therefore
they don’t understand why we can’t give lifetime
care to every animal someone dumps on
us, or why we are always stressed out and
blaming pet keepers for being irresponsible––
and we don’t get the help we need to change
things. I further submit,” Marsh finished,
“that it is time we opened the doors.”
That evening ANIMAL PEOPLE
visited the Bosler Humane Society, two hours
to the west, whose new shelter in Templeton
should become a crowd-pleaser.
The site is a wooded former hunting
camp, on a private lake.
The cat quarters are appropriately
modified wooden playhouses, each with an
exercise yard, grouped like a minature New
England village beneath a single high roof.
The dogs in longterm care are
grouped more-or-less by size in spacious yards
with bunk-buildings, a variety of views, and
access at times to a pond. While most were
outside when we visited, several were inside
watching a John Wayne movie on television.
Founder Elaine Bosler insisted that John
Wayne movies are canine favorites.
As animal control contractor for the
towns of Barre and Baldwinville since 1974,
the Bosler Humane Society may have been
doing no-kill animal control for longer than
any other agency in the U.S. Impounded dogs
occupy ordinary cinder-block-and-chain-link
cells most of the time, but are rotated in and
out of a large exercise yard.
The Bosler Humane Society facilities
are neat, clean, attractive, and remarkably
seldom visited. Donors, adopters, and
people looking for lost pets are welcome, but
Bosler makes little effort to pull in others.
A long-planned September 2000
open house may change that.
Elaine Bosler seems still scarred,
however, by the hostility she met 27 years
ago, when the only “shelter” she had was, as
she recalls, “Twenty-seven dogs tied to 27
trees and scarcely enough money to buy food.”
The Bosler Humane Society has survived
and grown with volunteer help, consignment
sales, and bequests––but it hasn’t built
the high adoption rate it could have, expanded
the on-site neutering clinic to handle the volume
of animals Bosler dreams of fixing, or
completed the new shelter as rapidly as Bosler
would like, because the cash flow it needs has
yet to be developed.
The Massachusetts animal protection
donor base is perhaps the most generous in the
U.S. The Animal Rescue League of Boston
and the Massachusetts SPCA, for example,
have reserves of $101 million and $90 million,
respectively, as the two richest animal protection
groups in the U.S.—and, between them,
have increased those reserves by $150 million
during Bosler’s years of operation.
Bosler, however, isn’t even getting
a penny for each dollar that either the Animal
Rescue League or the MSPCA raises. The
Bosler mailing list, compiled from direct contacts,
is responsive, according to board president
Ann Bent, but only numbers in the hundreds
because the volume of direct contacts
remains quite low.
Draw the crowd
Attracting visitors is the surest way
for Bosler or almost any other shelter to raise
more money. The more visitors a shelter has,
the more volunteers and donors it will attract.
Even one-time visitors to shelters and sanctuaries
on average donate at many times the level
of non-visitors, and can be encouraged to
donate as often as 12 times a year by effective
direct mail follow-up.
Most visitors to well-reputed shelters,
especially no-kill shelters, arrive with a
positive preconception of what they will see.
They may be shocked by bad conditions, but
will usually understand and appreciate honest
effort––and what they see depends largely
upon how they see it. Successfully attracting
visitors who become regular donors begins
with presentation. Every shelter should welcome
visitors with an attractive sign, stating
the name of the facility, the address, and a
telephone number that will be answered after
hours as well as during business hours.
The sign should also state the adoption-and-reclaim
hours, when senior staff are
on duty, and the visiting hours, which may
overlap the adoption and reclaim hours but can
usually be handled by volunteers.
Adoption-and-reclaim hours should
include afternoons and evenings, all seven
days of the week if possible, from three p.m.
(when children get out of school) until 7 p.m.
(to accomodate working people).
Visiting hours can be briefer.
Wildlife Waystation, of Angeles National
Forest, California, has been highly successful
in fundraising chiefly from visitors for 23
years, offering visiting hours only on
Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Each visitor
gets a volunteer-guided tour.
Tour guiding, incidentally, is
among the easiest jobs to delegate to volunteers––especially
young volunteers, such as
high school students. Volunteer guides should
be given an inexpensive identifying vest to
wear while on duty, and a specific tour route,
ending at whatever attraction seems most successful
at inspiring donations, with certain
specific things to show guests, and a list of
answers to frequently asked questions.
More complex questions can be
referred to senior staff––but most questions
will be repetitively asked, and will concern
either features and policies of the facility, or
the life histories of resident animals.
Each question is a chance to solicit
funds. For example, at the Bosler Humane
Society, “Why do you keep cats in modified
playhouses?” might be answered in a manner
ending with the explanation that, “If you wish
to donate a cathouse, and be recognized for it
with a plaque on the door, please take one of
our handouts on ‘Donating to the Bosler
Such a pre-prepared handout should
be ready for volunteer tour guides to distribute.
More should be left in a clear plexiglas box,
like those real estate brokers use to help sell
property, near the welcoming sign. The handout
should explain how and where to send
money, how to donate material goods, what
goods are welcome, and how to leave a
bequest to the organization.
Questions about particular animals at
Bosler should end with a mention that carefor-life
of unadoptable animals costs much
more than killing them, as conventional shelters
would do, and should mention that contributions
may be placed in one of the donation
boxes on the grounds.
Any shelter without prominent donation
boxes needs to add some.
The life history of any particular animal
ends similarly: “It costs us X-amount per
year to keep (name of animal). Each contribution
helps. Please make yours in one of the
prestamped self-addressed envelopes we gave
you with your tour packet,” which should also
include a copy of the shelter’s latest appeal.
The more items people take to read
later, distributed with a postpaid, selfaddressed
envelope, the more money a shelter
will receive. The envelopes make donating
easy, ensures that all donations are correctly
addressed, and the shelter only pays postage
on contributions actually received.
Thanking donors increases response
––including when prospective donors see others
being thanked. On the shelter grounds, an
attractive sign or plaque should acknowledge
every donated item, from art to zoonotic disease
reference books. Prominent thank-yous
not only encourage donors to give again, but
also inspire others to contribute, and will
exempt a shelter which receives quality goods
from any criticism of “luxury” by visiting
misers who might nonetheless make a bequest.
Access roads, if any, should be kept
in good repair. Rough roads discourage visitors––and
every dollar they spend on car
repairs is a dollar the shelter won’t get.
A shelter capitalizing on visitor traffic
must not stink. If a shelter stinks, people
will be reluctant to enter, stay long, bring
children, return, and adopt pets, because––as
Helen V. Woodward Animal Center director
Mike Arms has long emphasized in teaching
adoption promotion––they will fear that the
animal might make their home stink too.
Shelter odors are 90% preventable,
with retrofitting and redesign, so as to have
floor-level air ducts, to remove odors from the
point of generation instead of at nose level; to
accomplish continuous air exchange; and to
keep all drains automatically flushed.
Eighty percent of animal protection
donors are female, most are between the ages
of 20 and 50, and women in that age range
have up to seven times the olfactory acuity of
most men and women over the age of 65.
In short, the animal sheltering donor
base tilts toward the very people who are most
likely to have a negative response to a bad
smell––even though the response may be
An occasional bad smell can be
turned into an asset with a prominent sign in
the problem area that frankly states, “Smell
something bad? Please tip us off! We don’t
want our shelter to stink.”
A successful shelter should also
never be noisy. Noise drives dogs and cats
crazy, and drives visitors out, away from the
very animals who most seek attention.
Dogs crave company. They want to
be part of a pack, so it is quite all right––
indeed essential––to house small groups of
dogs together. It is also quite all right to let
enough of them be together at times, under
supervision, to choose their own companions.
Once dogs are in compatible groups, however,
noise can be reduced by minimizing visual
contact among dogs who are not housed
together. This can be as simple as alternating
the directions in which runs face, so that no
dog looks directly at any in different runs,
thereby seeming to pose a threat or challenge.
This is not to be confused with
reducing the dogs’ mental stimulation and
social life. Among mentally healthy dogs,
barking is usually reserved to deter intruders––
and even the appearance of intrusion can be
limited if fewer dogs at a time see any given
Shelters of older design may have
obsolete and ineffective sound baffling.
Hanging pressboard ceilings, commonly
installed to deaden sound during the 1970s and
1980s, tend to absorb and then re-emit odors,
and tend to have discolored, if they haven’t
outright disintegrated. They are often now
ready to come down forever.
What an older shelter may really
need to muffle sound may be a high ceiling,
with lots of insulation to keep the tin roof from
Make a jailbreak
Finally, and almost self-evidently, a
shelter successfully attracting visitors should
avoid looking like a jail. Cats need vertical
space and a comfortable bed. Dogs do better
in almost anything but conventional cinderblock-and-chain-link
runs, which unconsciously
reflect the medieval practice of keeping
hunting packs in otherwise empty stalls at the
end of a horse stable. When humane societies
began sheltering dogs about 130 years ago,
they blindly copied the arrangements of hunting
kennels, not pausing to consider that
hunter attitudes toward animals, including
dogs, were and are fundamentally opposite to
the humane ideal.
Yet even a shelter which looks like a
jail can be shown off to advantage for a
while––as part of a fundraising drive to build
Lest there be any doubt about the
fundraising potential of attracting shelter visitors,
note the visitor-driven growth of Best
Friends, whose sanctuary near Kanab, Utah,
is several hours away from the nearest big city.
Raising under $3 million a year as
recently as 1995, Best Friends in 1999 took in
more than $10 million. Direct mail is Best
Friends’ basic collection method, but friendly
attitudes, open doors, and the positive experiences
of thousands of visitors are what open