When Beauregard McGee was found and taken to a North Philadelphia shelter, he tested positive for the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). Previously, his life would have been at risk because of this disease. Luckily for Beauregard, the Get ‘em Home Challenge had just begun, and Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) was kicking off two programs that would enable them to rescue more cats just like him!
Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) focused on two groups of pets who routinely have longer shelter stays: cats with ringworm and cats who have FeLV. Prior to the Challenge, pets who had ringworm weren’t made available for adoption until after they were given the all-clear, which resulted in long stays. By making these cats available for adoption during treatment they could not only shorten their length of stay, but the pets could be treated while living in their forever homes.
“We were inspired by our participation in a Maddie's Fund apprenticeship at Austin Pets Alive!, where they had programs up and running for FELV and ringworm cat adoptions,” says Sara Schoenleber, Grants Manager at PAWS. “For ringworm cats, adopters can bring the cat to our clinic free of charge post-adoption for skin testing, medication, and dips until they are confirmed clear. For FeLV cats, the adoption fee is waived and PAWS commits to providing basic clinic care for the duration of the cat's life.”
Creating the Programs
In order to create the programs, PAWS staff had to do several things. First, they needed to determine what medical services and treatments they could provide to adopters at their clinics at no cost. “We knew we needed to offer extra support to make adopting these special cats more approachable and manageable,” says Schoenleber. “Yes, it's extra expense, but much of it is cost we would have incurred anyway were the cat to stay in the shelter for the duration of its treatment.”
Next, they needed to decide how they would communicate about it with the public and potential adopters so they could ensure transparency without scaring people unnecessarily. “We try to talk about their conditions in terms of what their needs are and what daily life with them will be like, instead of labeling in ways that sound daunting or less desirable,” says Schoenleber.
The hard work PAWS did to decrease length of stay had a major effect on the length of stay for both cats and dogs. The organization started the challenge with 11 dogs and 190 cats whose length of stay was over 30 days. By the conclusion of the Challenge, 48 dogs and 653 cats with shelter stays of over 30 days had been adopted!
Saving More Lives
PAWS is using the funding they were awarded to help them rescue even more of these cats. “The grant is making a big impact by helping with the increased costs of veterinary care that come with caring for FELV and ringworm cats,” Schoenleber tells us. “It's helping us provide clinical care in our shelters, and also offer post-adoption care as an extra level of support for our adopters.”
PAWS hopes other organizations with the capacity to save more lives can learn from their experience and follow their lead. “We'd encourage any shelter with the ability to provide basic veterinary care in-house to explore ways to responsibly move up the timeline for making animals with manageable conditions available for adoption. Administering meds and coming in for vet checkups are all normal aspects of owning a pet, and not too much to ask of an adopter (particularly when it's included with the adoption fee). Another important thing we realized is we send cats with medical needs home with fosters all the time, and if foster parents can handle it, adopters can too. Just make sure you have the staff capacity to provide the extra guidance and support that may be necessary to set the adoption up for success.”
A New Life for Beauregard
As for Beauregard McGee, he was transferred to PAWS and went into foster care, where he thrived and his personality blossomed. After two months with PAWS, he found a loving home with an understanding adopter who was happy to care for him.
His mom, Amy, told PAWS, "I am so grateful that PAWS gave this FELV+ boy a chance at happiness. He met with his future mom and she loved his affectionate, spunky, food-obsessed personality…he will never have a shortage of laps, food or costumes ever again!"
Schoenleber says, “There's someone out there for every shelter cat, even ones with FeLV! People have unique situations just like shelter cats do, and for some, the animal that seems "undesirable" to most will be a perfect fit for someone else…or, they simply may want to help the most in need and will open their hearts and homes to a cat with special needs, if we give them the opportunity.”
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