Monday, July 27, 2015

The mechanics of pulling a dog

When rescue groups take dogs from public shelters, it’s called “pulling.”  There are many factors that determine when we pull a dog and which dog to pull.  It’s an art rather than a science, but there are some rational considerations that shape these decisions.  We are working on developing a fuller set of guidelines, to make the process as clear and transparent as possible.

To that end, we’d like to let our volunteers and friends know what the current guiding factors are and also ask for your suggestions, questions, and wishes to help us develop a fuller and clearer plan.

Before we get to specific guidelines for pulling that we might develop, here are some things to remember about our organization:

- We are an all-volunteer group.  No one does this full time.

- Each dog we add generates work and costs far beyond the obvious.  Each dog needs vet visits, food and supplies, rides to events, training and socialization, Petfinder listings, Facebook posts, and much more, and all of those needs make work for lots of different people.  Every dog requires a lot of volunteer time not just from the foster but from the folks doing fundraising, replying to emails, updating Petfinder, staffing events, and so forth.

- One of our goals is to save as many lives as possible, but we have additional goals that take up volunteer time as well, including education and advocacy work, training, shelter support, and other projects that, in the long run, contribute to better lives for dogs – but that, in the short run, place some limits on the number of dogs we pull. 

- Who decides?  Decisions about adding dogs are made by our five-member board of directors (required as part of our 501c3 status), but we are a fairly decentralized group and other volunteers have lots of input into every aspect of what we do.  We try especially to make sure we check with the people who will be most affected when a dog is added.  Thus we might say "no" if the foster coordinator or event coordinators are feeling overwhelmed, even if there is a spot available.  Or we might say "yes" when a long-time foster wants to us to pull a dog and offers to foster the dog as an "extra."  It's an art, not a science.

With that in mind, what are the factors that enter into the decision to pull a dog?

- Total number of dogs in the program currently.  We’ve found that once we approach 30 dogs, the logistics of events, supplies, etc. get difficult.  20-25 seems to be a good number.

- Mix of dogs in the program currently.  We usually have some dogs in treatment for heartworm or another condition who aren’t quite ready for adoption.  Among adoptables, we like to have a mix of puppies and adults and males and females, as well as a range of ages, sizes, and personalities.   This is important for adopters, who often have a particular kind of dog in mind.  If we’re especially heavy on boys at a given time, we may prefer to pull a female, or if we currently have a lot of dogs in treatment, we may want to pull one who’s ready to be adopted. 

- Shelter of origin.  As a breed rescue, we pull from a number of local shelters, including Alachua, Bradford, Clay, Gilchrist, Levy, Orange, and Putnam counties.  We try to support them all, and we try to have dogs from a range of those shelters in our program.  There are different reasons to pull from one or the other.  Alachua is by far the easiest to work with – it’s local, they vaccinate and heartworm test on intake, and they do good temperament tests and answer all our questions.  However, they have a much lower kill rate than any other shelter we work with, partly because there are more rescues working in Gainesville than other places.

- Available foster homes.  Very few fosters can take just any old dog.  Most have restrictions, based on their own pets and human household, their schedules, the size of their home, their location, whether or not they have a yard, etc.  Thus we may have a foster available who can only take a dog- and cat-friendly adult male dog, for example. 

- Foster juggling.  Often we have to move dogs around, because a foster is moving, or their home situation changes, or the placement isn’t working out, or the dog has finished treatment, etc. Juggling foster homes is really hard, because few fosters want to give up one who’s settled into their home, and we hate to move dogs around more than necessary.  Sometimes we have a dog who needs a new foster home, and an available foster home that can’t take that particular kind of dog (e.g., maybe the one in need isn’t good with cats). In those circumstances, we may pull a new dog even if there’s one who needs a new foster.  We prioritize the needs of our current dogs, but we don’t want to refuse to add an appropriate new dog when there’s a spot available that wouldn’t work for another one.

- Finances.  Dogs from rural shelters are more expensive than ones from Alachua County, because they need more testing and vetting.  Dogs with health conditions are more expensive than healthy ones – not just because of the vet care, but also because they end up staying longer.  And there are always surprises, such as medical emergencies.  Our budget is extremely limited and we can’t take in too many expensive dogs at a time.

- Special circumstances.  We love all dogs, but we love underdogs in particular.  We try to give a chance to dogs who otherwise wouldn’t have one.  That means we prioritize victims of cruelty and neglect, dogs with heartworm and other treatable health conditions, and dogs at high-kill shelters.

 So how do we decide when to add a dog?

We can add a dog when our numbers are not too high, when our finances look solid, and when we have an open foster spot.  Sometimes this happens because we get a new foster.  Sometimes it happens because a dog is adopted and the foster says “I”m ready for another!” 

When that happens, we look for a dog at risk of euthanasia who is a good fit for that foster.  Several different volunteers get lists of dogs at risk at many shelters on a daily basis, and we try to keep likely dogs in mind.  We have several volunteers who visit shelters to temperament test for us, and they go knowing exactly what kind of dog is going to work in the space available.  They give us as much information as possible, we consult with the foster, and if it all looks good, we pull the dog.

In addition, there are a couple of other scenarios that sometimes lead to us pulling a dog, when someone brings a particular dog to our attention.  The board still approves the decision to add the dog.

Sometimes we get a request from a shelter volunteer or staff person who has fallen in love with a special dog.  When that happens, we try to meet the dog to see if she or he is a good fit for POPB.  If so, we try to recruit a new foster home. 

Sometimes a foster asks us to pull a particular dog to be placed in her/his home.  We will do that if the dog has a great temperament, our numbers aren’t too high, our budget isn’t too stretched, AND the foster promises to commit to the dog until adoption.

We hope this helps clear up some questions you might have had, and that you’ll tell us what you think we should prioritize, factors we haven’t mentioned here, and anything else that will help us help more dogs!

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