Animal shelter seeing record number of adoptions

The award-winning Bay County Animal Control and Care Center has been making strategic changes in that past few years and it’s culminating in happier animals, increased adoptions rates, and a brand-new name.

This month, the department, which is located at 800 Livingston St. next to the Bay County Fairgrounds, is changing its name to the Bay County Animal Services and Adoption Center.

“Services encompasses a lot of things as opposed to just control. It's not just controlling the population or controlling an animal,” said Craig Goulet, Director of Administrative Services and Veteran Affairs for Bay County. “Sometimes the control is needed, but it's not everything that we do here.”

That’s why the county added "adoption center” to the name. The center’s save rate has been increasing since 2017. The save rate jumped 20% that year, which earned the agency the Most Improved Shelter Award from the Michigan Pet Alliance. In 2019, through the month of July, the center has placed more than 300 cats and dogs with families through adoption and claims of lost pets. The save rate has reached 95%, an all-time high for the unit.

Becki Maes, clerk at the Bay County Animal Control and Care Center, poses with one of the cats at the center.According to Goulet, this organizational change was set in motion more than three years ago when County Executive Jim Barcia started a conversation with Deborah Schutt from the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance at a conference. This got the (fur)ball rolling for a new committee that established the best practices being used today.

The committee began a deep dive into what it is like for an animal when they walk through the doors. The animal's experience while in a shelter has a direct correlation to adoption rates.

“Everything from scents to sounds to sights are different and so we have to keep those types of things in mind when we're looking at what we're doing and provide for them,” said Goulet.

Center staff spend time inside and outside with the animals. They interact with people and each other, but also spend time alone. The goal is to create an atmosphere similar to a home with a family.

Olivia Shields, Animal Control Officer who recently became interim manager, went into further detail.

“As an adoptive animal going home, you want to make sure that you're matching up a pet with the family that's going to work," Shields said.

Staff members get to know the personality of each animal, so they can match them with the right families. They also keep the animals stimulated, so they aren't jumping whenever someone enters the room.

"We want to be able to enrich their lives where they're comfortable being in their cage, so that when somebody walks in, they look immediately at them and think, ‘This is a good fit for me and my family’ as opposed to ‘I can't handle this dog,'" Shields said. "If we don’t do that, they might be missing out on the best dog in the world just because it was jumping up."

When the dogs and cats are comfortable at the center, they can show their personalities to visitors. "We want to enrich their lives. We want to give them things to do. We want to give them jobs. We want to be able to get them out and exercise them so that when somebody walks in and the whole line of dog sit down, then they're going to get to see a little bit more of their true personalities.”

Anthony Trevino, a kennel attendant, plays with one of the dogs at the center.According to Shields, this type of care for the animals in shelters is happening worldwide and there has been an emphasis on proper training. The Bay County center and staff went through three full-day training sessions in 2019 to learn new techniques.

“Everybody's getting excited about how to enrich the lives of these poor pets in shelters. I think it's gone from old school dog catcher with a net, you would see on the cartoons, to what’s going on inside the shelter is equally important now. I think that the movement is here,” said Shields.

Continued awareness of the center is very important. Hosting events like “Coffee with Cats” allows volunteers to socialize with feline friends. The center has also recently improved its website and started a Facebook page that allows staff to share the stories of their furry guests. Along with videos and pictures of them in different situations, this allows prospective adopters to spend some virtual time around the shelter before heading in.

“We're always looking at how we can improve as a shelter,” said Goulet. “Is it through a more robust volunteer program? Can we get dogs out walking with volunteers? Can we take part in parades? Can we participate in weekend events? What can we do for visibility so people see that there is a need for homes? Social media allows us to show that we have some wonderful animals here that just need a home.”

Becki Maes, clerk at the Bay County Animal Control and Care Center, encourages a dog to learn a new trick.Re-uniting families and pets is also easier with the new model. “It allows us to promote reunification,” said Shields. “Trying to get them back home. Ultimately, we want them back home. The home that knows them best.”

The work being done at the Bay County Animal Services and Adoption Center is just beginning.

“Between training, experience, educating ourselves, seeing what's being discussed, how other people do it including how they evaluate forums that they use, grants that they pursue, other funding revenue, sources, opportunities, volunteer programs, a lot is possible,” said Goulet.

“Like I said earlier, some things are being worked on currently. We're close to being able to talk. We're just not quite there yet, but even this year there will be more good things resulting from what we've been working on even recently. And it's really for the betterment of these animals while they are here with us and that is what we're keeping in mind as our main focus.”

If you’re interested in more information or want to visit the shelter, visit them online or call (989) 894-0679.

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