Dogs arriving from the local community often have significant medical or behavioral needs, and they may wait a little longer to find an adopter. The consequences of this include having low numbers and/or variety of dogs available to select for adoption. This may limit how many community members choose to select a shelter dog when they are ready to bring home a new pet, and may result in longer shelter stays for dogs waiting for homes. Longer stays in care strain shelter resources and the well-being of the dogs waiting for homes. Recognizing this, many Wisconsin shelters have started participating in interstate dog relocation programs.
Commonly asked questions: Why take dogs from other states? What about the Wisconsin shelter dogs who are still at risk for euthanasia?
Other areas of the country are still overwhelmed by the numbers of dogs and puppies entering their shelters. Puppies and other dogs that are highly desirable to adopters here in Wisconsin might be a dime a dozen in these communities. While they can adopt out some dogs, the intake pressures are so high that it is difficult to provide the care and housing needed to keep them healthy and happy in the shelter while waiting for adoption. Regional relocation programs provide a life-saving opportunity to bring dogs from communities of high supply to communities with high demand.
It is true that many Wisconsin shelters may still not be able to adopt out of the dogs who enter their care. It may seem odd to bring in dogs from other states rather than between shelters here in Wisconsin. Strangely enough, having highly desirable dogs available for adoption on a regular basis actually promotes increased lifesaving of those dogs for whom it can be more difficult to find adopters. This is illustrated in the case of a Wisconsin shelter that had challenges placing certain types of dogs prior to starting their relocation program.
Commonly asked questions: What about the pitties?!
In one Wisconsin shelter, pitbull-type dogs were more at risk for euthanasia. Even when they were made available for adoption they would wait longer than other types of dogs to be adopted, with a long average length of stay of 17 days. Because other types of dogs were adopted faster, sometimes the only dogs on the adoption floor were pitbull-type dogs, and the lack of variety limited community interest in adopting from this shelter. After this shelter began their regular transport program, the average length of stay for pitbull-type dogs dropped to 13 days, and the number of pitbull-type dogs adopted doubled!
Best Practices for source and destination partner shelters
There are three main parts of a relocation program: source partner shelter, animal transport, and destination partner shelter. The focus of this article is best practices within the source and destination shelters. For more information about best practices and logistical details for moving dogs between shelters safely and efficiently the following resources are recommended.
- American Veterinary Medical Association's Relocation of Dogs and Cats for Adoption: https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Documents/AVMA_BestPracticesAdoption_Brochure.pdf
- National Federation of Humane Societies Relocation Guidelines: https://www.animalsheltering.org/sites/default/files/content/NFHS-companion-animal-transport-programs-best-practices.pdf
- Society of Animal Welfare Administrators Companion Animal Transport Best Practices: http://www.sawanetwork.org/page/Bestpractice
It is also important for all partners to be aware of the legal requirements for animals entering Wisconsin from other states (or internationally). More information is available here: https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Programs_Services/PetMovement.aspx
Source partner shelter best practices
One of the most common concerns about animal relocation programs is infectious disease. The specific diseases of concern may vary by region. Diseases of concern in dogs from southern states include parvovirus, canine distemper, and heartworm disease. Risks for infectious disease can be mitigated by source partner shelters, but it’s important to remember that the risks can never be eliminated. Therefore, it’s important that destination partner shelters are prepared to isolate and respond to cases of disease when- not if- they arise.
The following practices are recommended for source partner shelters to minimize the risk of transporting animals with infectious diseases.
- All dogs should be screened by trained staff to look for signs of infectious disease or other health or behavior problems at time of shelter admission. Dogs should also be monitored on a regular basis thereafter. When an animal breaks with a contagious disease, the signs of disease need to be recognized promptly so that the disease is not spread to other animals in the shelter.
- Every dog 4 weeks or older entering the shelter must receive a modified-live DAP vaccination immediately at or before time of intake (no more than 30 min after entering shelter, ideally sooner). Puppies under the age of 20 weeks should be revaccinated every 2 weeks while they are in care of the shelter.
- In addition to providing appropriate vaccinations, puppies should be protected from infectious disease exposure through careful handling in the shelter and/or placement in foster care until time of transfer.
- Unrelated dogs or puppies should not be routinely co-housed due to lack of adequate space in the source shelter, as this creates a high risk for spread of infectious diseases between animals. Occasional co-housing for bonded pairs or behavioral enrichment is reasonable.
Commonly asked questions: How many vaccinations should a dog or puppy receive prior to being transported?
The answer may surprise you… at least one! To minimize the risk of infectious disease, vaccination at intake is crucial. In dogs over 5 months old, one vaccine is likely to offer full protection against canine distemper and parvo within 3-5 days. In puppies under 5 months of age, maternal antibodies may interfere with the vaccine (more information here: www.wisconsinfederatedhs.org/important-vaccines-for-dogs-and-cats-in-shelters.html). This is why puppies should be revaccinated every two weeks. Unfortunately, there is no exact number of vaccinations that we can guarantee will protect a puppy, so the safest thing to do is to get that puppy out as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of exposure. If a pup must stay longer for some reason, do repeat vaccinations every 2 weeks... but do not hold pups back to receive additional vaccinations!
Commonly asked questions: How long should we quarantine dogs at the source and/or destination shelter?
Except for a few limited circumstances, automatic quarantines are rarely helpful in relocation programs. If a source shelter is crowded, the risk of infecting a dog is likely higher if their stay is prolonged by a quarantine period. While this risk may be lower in the destination shelter, prolonging the animals’ time in shelter care for an unnecessary quarantine will strain shelter resources and put the dogs at increased risk for stress, behavioral problems, and infectious diseases.
Titer testing can be used to refine your risk assessment for each individual dog instead of automatic quarantines. Selective quarantines for high-risk individuals are more manageable than quarantining a large number of dogs at once. Titer testing can be used in dogs to define their risk for infection from parvovirus, canine distemper virus, or canine adenovirus. More information about titer testing is available here: https://www.uwsheltermedicine.com/library/guidebooks/canine-parvovirus/risk-assessment-how-do-you-decide-how-much-to-worry-about-exposed-animals.
If available, it can be helpful to “stash” dogs in foster homes if they will be waiting more than a few days before transport. By placing them in a foster home their risk of being exposed to an infectious disease is drastically reduced, they get a valuable break from the stresses of the shelter, and if they happen to break with disease while in foster they are not putting other shelter animals at risk.
Destination partner shelter best practices
Many of the recommendations made to source shelters are also applicable to destination shelters (and vice versa). However, the priority of the destination shelter is to get the newly-arrived dogs into homes as quickly as possible! This requires significant planning and development of systems to help keep animals moving through the shelter system efficiently once they arrive, in addition to systems for recognizing and managing signs of infectious diseases that develop after arrival.
The following practices are recommended for destination partner shelters.
- There should be sufficient numbers of trained personnel ready to receive, evaluate, and address medical and behavioral needs of the dogs upon arrival.
- Veterinary services must be available at time of arrival for any dog requiring urgent medical care.
- The shelter should have safe, comfortable, and humane housing units prepared for the dogs, and enough housing units to accommodate the transported dogs as well as any locally sourced intakes.
- There should be adequate space/housing units to isolate dogs with signs of infectious disease and systems in place to prevent the spread of disease to other animals in the shelter.
- There must be systems in place to ensure that transport dogs receive all services they need in order to be made available for adoption promptly (if not immediately), avoiding unnecessary waiting times in shelter care.
- The in-shelter population must be managed at levels well within the organization’s capacity for care at all times. No animals in the shelter should be subjected to preventable stress or disease exposure.
- The destination shelter should have an open adoptions philosophy that recognizes the value of adoption both to the dogs in their care and to community members seeking to adopt.
Commonly asked questions: Should we test all of the dogs when they arrive to make sure they don’t have parvo?
In most circumstances, parvo antigen testing is not recommended for animals not showing signs of disease, as it can reduce the accuracy of the test results. Parvo antigen tests (e.g. SNAP test) should not be used to rule out parvoviral disease, as false negatives (negative test result when the animal is actually infected) are not uncommon. This is especially important to keep in mind regarding puppies showing clinical signs consistent with parvo infection but testing negative. Alternatively, false positives are also possible in recently vaccinated animals. Monitoring health closely at both the source and destination shelters, and testing any dogs at the first sign of concern (e.g. decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, dehydration, and/or diarrhea) are the best ways to determine which animals are likely to be infected.
A final note
No amount of planning or organization will be able to prevent all of the questions and concerns that may arise in even the best relocation program. Having open lines of communication between shelter partners is of paramount importance to the success and sustainability of any transport program. Be prepared to offer and receive constructive and timely feedback, but also remember to try to be flexible and trust that your partners are doing the best they can. Everyone is on the same team in the relocation game! Maintaining and strengthening relationships with your relocation partners is the key to maximizing the number of dogs who can be transported and ultimately saved in your regional relocation program.