north shore animal league of america overcomes covid-19
While COVID-19 has forced many businesses to suspend operations until further notice, shelters like North Shore Animal League of America have continued to find forever homes for pets in need. We spoke to the Senior Vice President of Operations Joanne Yohannan and Senior Vice President and Chief of Veterinary Staff Dr. Verdino to learn how their dedicated team modified their everyday procedures to fit the new norm.
How no-kill shelters have changed since COVID-19
To insure every animal on campus receives adequate care with a limited staff, the rescue center reduced their number of intakes and conducts adoptions by appointment only. This allows the team to give each adoptable animal more one-on-one attention as well as control the volume of people within the facilities.
Shortly after joining NSALA in 2010, Dr. Verdino saw an opportunity to serve the greater pet community by also seeing the animals that were not NSALA rescues. This grew the medical operations exponentially over the years and has remained a core goal. The recent quarantine demanded that Dr. Verdino’s team temporarily close the wellness clinic and focus their efforts to assisting all animals with their medical needs.
“We started a virtual vet visit program. We have appointment slots every day designated to help families virtually for those who can’t leave home. For the most part, these virtual visits are helping with wellness concerns, things like ‘my dog is scratching his ear.’ Most can be addressed remotely,” Dr. Verdino explained.
For the conditions that can’t be addressed remotely, the team has taken special precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.
“We are doing a curbside check-in process. Clients aren’t coming into the building for everyone’s safety. Some infected individuals have asymmetrical symptoms, so we can’t be sure if people are entirely free from COVID-19. We chat via FaceTime or over the phone while we’re evaluating their pet and if there’s any questions or concerns.”
Technology’s role in the pandemic
Like with every other industry, animal shelters have leaned heavily on technology to continue their duties. Now, the public completes applications entirely online, which has streamlined the process and surprisingly, made it more personal. Once an application is approved, NSALA’s team of counselors work to find the best matches based on the family’s needs and lifestyle.
Joanne Yohannan, who has proudly worked with NSALA since 1995, says that after seeing the benefits of incorporating technology a bit more, the no-kill shelter is likely to continue using these updates long after the stay-at-home order is over.
“Doing preapproved adoptions over the phone or through Zoom lets people meet the pet before they even come into the shelter. When the families come in for their appointment, they can focus on one or two pets without being distracted by others,” Joanne noted.
Despite NSALA’s recent changes, one thing has remained the same: their commitment in making sure each adoption is set up for success. This starts with one of the 25 counselors interviewing the families to figure out their previous pet history, lifestyle and what they are ultimately looking for in a companion.
It’s all in the approach. Rather than telling them what’s not right for them, it’s directing them to discover what is. For example, if someone typically works a 12-hour day, maybe an 8-month-old puppy isn’t the best choice for them. Counselors help guide the individual to select the pet that is. Most people are really open to suggestions because they too want a successful adoption. No one wants to rehome an animal because it didn’t work out – that’s painful.”
Finding success under trying times
Joanne revealed the adoption center’s expansion this past November played a crucial role in the team’s success in meeting social distance guidelines.
“We just added a second floor to the adoption center. It’s over 14,000 square feet with 12 individual cage-free rooms so socially distancing was easier for us than most. The expansion was specifically designed for the comfort and enrichment of the felines. There are no barking dogs, plenty of interactive wall climbing and window seats for optimal bird watching.”
NSALA rescues and admits 75-80 animals per week. While their adoption rates have dropped by 50% since COVID-19, the rescue center is taking it all in stride. The team is proud to find responsible, loving homes for an average of 50 pets per week – including seniors and long-term residents.
“Interestingly enough, our shelter partners are seeing a decline in the number of animals being relinquished. I think a lot of that has to do with people having more time to spend with their animals; some of the behavioral issues that would have been a challenge when they were working, they now have time to address.” The SVP of Operations added: “And frankly, I think people realize animals bring a level of comfort and joy to a home especially during difficult times.”
Why partnering with Petplan is important
In a time when health concerns are on everyone’s mind, NSALA could not be prouder to partner with Petplan pet insurance.
“We’ve worked with Petplan for many years. We find that our goals – to ensure the healthiest pet population – are synergistic. There’s a variety of insurance carriers out there, but Petplan seems to be the most reliable and responsive. We’ve heard bad things about other providers trying to get out of paying claims. Petplan really thinks about the best interest of the pet,” Dr. Verdino commented.
He also added, “We encourage adopters to get pet insurance because it’s a win-win for everyone. No one anticipates their newly pet to get sick or injured but it does happen. I don’t think people know the costs of the treatments we see. Our feeling is if we can take the financial discussion out of the equation, then owners can make the right decision for their pet.”