Five Lessons Learned from the Fort Worth Animal Shelter Scramble

July 12, 2012

networking to save fort worth animal shelter pets

DFW's Fox 4 News shows the life-saving power of social media marketing to save shelter pets

Late in the day yesterday, the Fort Worth Animal Shelter announced a kill list of about 80 pets that had until 8:00pm. I saw the posts after 4:00pm – a time Facebook activity drops off as people finish the workday and prepare for dinner. Like many others, Pawsitively Texas got behind the urgency to raise awareness for the need and began networking the pets. We all felt the sense of urgency that we did not have enough time. It became the Fort Worth Animal Shelter Scramble as people sprang to action, networking relentlessly and racing across the metroplex to try and save lives.

There are some things that the Fort Worth animal shelter team does well. They have partnered with local pet stores to increase visibility for the pets awaiting adoption. Probably one of the strongest resources they utilize is the animal shelter volunteer team they allow to photograph and spend time getting to know the pets so they can post and network them using social media. The Fort Worth animal shelter does more than many other high kill shelters such as Dallas Animal Shelter and Houston’s BARC. But they could do so much more. I notice whenever interviewed, the shelter representative always comments about the “healthy and adoptable animals” but many of the animals posted on the Urgent Animals at Fort Worth Animal Care and Control Facebook page are not always unadoptable or untreatable as is inferred. And so many of the photos show such a lack of concern for the care of the pets; I can almost always spot a Fort Worth shelter pet by the photo; the pets are often held haphazardly, or crouching scared at the end of a catch pole. I have written Fort Worth Mayor, Betsy Price and the entire city council (note: Price submitted a no kill statement prior to her election as mayor; she’s also a bicyclist). I have asked them why they used the $50,000 dollars budgeted for a new HVAC system for the animal shelter for new employee showers (in case employees want to cycle to work or at lunch). The HVAC system contributes to animal shelter disease control – when the spread of illness is kept to a minimum in the animal shelter, more animals will move from stray hold to the adoption floor. So why did the city leaders elect to give the city employees the perk of showers taking the money from the shelter? I also shared with them some of the sad photos showing their staff carelessly holding the animals in need. I’ve never received a reply from the city leadership nor elected officials. Off-site adoption events in high traffic area saves lives; it’s working in Rockwall and Seagoville, as well as Austin, and Williamson County. Animal shelters can increase the live save rate if they would be willing to truly listen to volunteers and taxpayers about what IS working in other open-admission shelters that have implemented the no kill equation procedures.

The Fort Worth animal shelter official interviewed on the news stated they had sent out a press release on Monday about the shelter crowding. But Steve Eagar, Fox 4 News anchor reported they had not received the notice. In fact, he had learned about the problem when networkers began to contact him via his Facebook page. I watched both the 5:00 and 6:00pm WFAA news reports and there was no mention of the shelter need. At 5:30 pm, I emailed news anchor Gloria Campos to see if they would cover the story; there was no mention on the 6:00pm newscast, but they did a nice story on the 10pm news. Two hours past the fateful deadline; I don’t blame WFAA – I think it possible they too did not know until the last minute of the need.

Meanwhile, the news stations were still reporting updates on Hope, the precious dog severely abused in Parker County. So many people from across the metroplex, state, and nation wanted to help and/or adopt Hope. Her story touched us all so very deeply and compassion gave way to action as people offered to help. Meanwhile, so many dogs were facing an 8:00pm deadline at the Fort Worth animal shelter – and 60-100 adoptable pets die every single day at the Dallas Animal Shelter. There are thousands of Hopes in desperate need, but only one person or family can adopt the Parker County Hope … imagine if all of the other people saw the faces and stories of the other Hopes that sit on death row in shelters every day. Some come in as strays, some are surrendered by their owners. The shelter can be such a scary place for many pets and a scared shelter pet does not present well as adoptable. And the vast majority of these precious, adoptable animals die because no one ever saw their face, knew their need. Last night, we saw people spring to action and none of the animals slated to die at 8:00pm died. I give the Fort Worth shelter kudos for staying open late to process adoptions and rescues and for allowing their volunteer team to get the word out.

an owner surrendered dog scared and depressed at the animal shelterThis is one dog that made the kill list at the Fort Worth shelter yesterday. We didn’t know name, sex, age, or breed. Only that this dog had been surrendered by his/her owner – which is more often than not, a death sentence in a crowded animal shelter – and it was for him/her. Texas law gives strays a 72 hour hold for their owners to find and reclaim them; owner surrenders have no protection. They are “property” and can be destroyed of immediately. This dog was reported as scared and depressed; can you imagine being pulled from your home and left alone at a place that has ‘fear in the air.’ Dogs and cats are often scared in an animal shelter! So this precious dog made the kill list with very little time. But we networked him/her. And the story touched everyone deeply that saw it; this dog was saved because the networking community was able to get the story told. With almost no time, we (the networking community) saved this one. A pet scared in a shelter should not be a death sentence, but it is in so many shelters. On a side note – in Texas pets are considered property. I’ve never seen the kind of emotion this dog is expressing from my car, fence, or jewelry. Pets should not be considered property.

Five Lifesaving Lessons Learned …

1. People care. In rescue, we see so much abuse and owner surrenders that the overwhelming sadness of it all obscures the fact that people do care. But as proven by the frantic social media networking and people racing against the clock to adopt or rescue an animal minutes away from the needle, we’re reminded just how much people do care about the lives of a shelter animal.

2. Awareness Saves Lives. Lives were saved last night because awareness was raised. Although word came very, very late with little time to act, the Fort Worth animal shelter did get the word out about the extensive kill list. Today, the Fox 4 News station’s Facebook page is reporting on the animals in need again at the Fort Worth shelter. This single news page has a reach of more than 60,000. Imagine if we had more support like this! WFAA also aired a follow-up story showing people waiting to adopt today.

3. Social media is a life-saver. When the news media can not help because they do not know of a need, social media can spread an urgent message of need like wildfire. The Pawsitively Texas page has a Texas focus and following, but we also have networkers from all across the US that help. While they can not help with a local emergency such as this one by adopting, rescuing, or fostering, they throw themselves into networking and making donations – which is a huge help in saving lives! Other pages have similar networkers. People quickly figure out what they can do and they get to work. The army of compassion at it’s finest! Every single open-admission, taxpayer funded shelter needs to implement a social media plan for their shelter pets. It costs nothing but time – and compassionate volunteers will give of their time generously to save the lives of animals. There are blueprints available for shelters that wish to implement a social media marketing program to increase their save rate; there is no need to spend months researching how to do this, implementation can begin immediately. And results can be seen almost immediately. All it takes is an animal shelter, or city leadership, to support the volunteer program and provide them with the access to the animals and resources necessary to manage a successful social media plan. It really is that simple. And lives will be saved!

4. Be Flexible. The Fort Worth animal shelter normally closes at 6:00pm on Wednesday evenings. They stayed open late last night to process adoptions and rescues. Animals lived because the shelter was willing to be flexible with their hours.

5. The City Saved Money: If the city had killed all of the pets on yesterday’s kill list, they would have had to spend money on needles, kill solution, and body bags (or ‘trash removal’) – with no return on their investment. A waste of taxpayer funds and the lives of shelter pets – and an emotional impact on the one that wields the needle that can not be healthy. Instead, even though they offered half price adoptions, they spent no money to kill the animals, and instead, collected adoption fees. No kill is ALWAYS the better solution. Always. And it has a positive financial impact as well.

These five life-saving methods cost nothing but time; the resources are there to save the lives of shelter pets. All taxpayer funded shelters should implement a program like this. And we should not accept “no” as an answer. Taxpayers should have a say in the way their local government manages their community and resources. We’re a better community, a better people, when we don’t simply take the easy way out and kill healthy animals.

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  1. Hi Alva,
    Thank you so much for creating Pawsitively Texas & for working so hard to network innocent pets in need. Imagine how many lives have been saved because you followed through on a great idea to spread the news about animals needing help.
    I can think of another good thing coming not just from yesterday’s events, but from making shelter information available on social media, & that is city officials & shelter management & staff can be held accountable for what they do & don’t do for the animals they are supposed to be caring for. As taxpayers we must demand that best practices for the animals be followed–& when they aren’t, question why, & publish the responses. Choosing showers for people vs hvac for animals is disgraceful…we need to elect officials who will use tax dollars for the original intent.
    I also want to thank the volunteers who work so hard at the many area shelters. If it hadn’t been for these women (where are the guys?) 80 more dogs would have ended up in the local landfill. These are women with full-time jobs and families, yet they find the time to help animals survive & thrive with new families. I don’t know if they would like this, but I think recognizing the volunteers on a regular basis on Pawsitively Texas would be a good thing.
    Thank you again, Alva, volunteers, fosters, adopters, and Fox 4 for the great save yesterday…maybe Fox 4 would be willing to post status reports on a nightly basis for area shelters? They are pretty good about reporting animal abuse cases which helps with funds & awareness for helping the injured ones.
    & I know…it will be the same situation tonight at area shelters…

    • Thank you Eileen; great suggestions. But ‘accountability’ is also a reason why some shelters refuse to work with volunteers and use social media. The kill numbers and abuse are their dirty little secret. I do not make that statement lightly. It’s been documented several times by authorities of the Harris County and Dallas shelters – as two examples. However, it’s our government and we should demand transparency. Do you know Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price submitted a no kill statement to No Kill Fort Worth prior to election? It’s my understanding that she was behind using the funds to build employee showers – for employees who may want to bike to work or during their lunch break. She too cycles. Do you know what that percentage of employees would be? And few employers offer shower facilities as an employee benefit. Yet funds budgeted for animals well-being were used for employee benefits.

      • I know I read about Showergate at the time, & I think it was on Larry Powell’s blog. No doubt the mayor was behind it as she’s always promoting cycling by taking every photo op available. Politicians constantly renege on pre-election promises from the White House on down.
        As for the shelters that don’t “choose life,” it didn’t make sense to me until I learned that reps from companies that test on animals make the rounds to gather up new victims at these places, paying off the managers. Other companies pay for the dead bodies. So managers & maybe staff have a vested interest in making sure that death happens.
        Like you, I want transparency. I want irresponsible breeders shut down. I want a “shelter” to truly BE a shelter. What can we do?

        • Hi Eileen, I believe it’s important to continue to be a voice for the animals and to take the message to the community leaders (mayor, council, city manager) as often as is necessary to implement change. A couple in Sanger, TX were the lone advocates for their community for about two years; they attended every single council meeting and presented when they were allowed (open mic sessions). They presented facts and stats and copied the media on all; the media carried several stories which helped raise awareness. The city recently chose to outsource shelter responsibilities to a no kill group. It takes time, dedication, and an unwavering spirit, but change is possible. And the animals deserve for us to continue to be a voice.

  2. Great article. I am so happy to hear the Ft. Worth animals were saved last night. But, the battle continues and rages on, doesn’t it? I went to the North Texas Humane Society yesterday to pick up a Golden Retriever for our rescue. A 5 year old male, that was almost euthanized because he is heartworm positive. We treat heartworms on any of our positive dogs. Fortunately, he was saved and we were contacted. It was so depressing seeing all the useless people coming in to surrender their animals. Just while I was waiting, 7 people came in to dump their dogs/cats. The girl behind the counter told one of the people they are getting 200 OS’s a day when she was asked how long they give them before they are killed. I sat and glared at all of these useless owners and rolled my eyes, as one by one they gave their flimsy excuse to why they were condemning these precious animals to death. And, this was just one shelter in about a span of 30 to 40 minutes. When will it end, I asked myself. Oh, I just do not understand how callous people are. They were told their animal would probably be killed because of space, and they all still just walked away. I wonder what I can do to make a difference. How do we make politicians and city bureaucrats care about the plight of animals in their shelters? The war rages on. Thanks to everybody who made a difference last night for the Ft. Worth animals. I wish it could happen for every unfortunate animal that find themselves in a kill shelter. The war goes on!

    • We have to stay in the fight; I do believe the no kill equation can right this wrong! I believed it before because I see it working so well in cities that are saving 90% or more of all of their animals. I believe it even more after the DFW no kill workshop in March! One major disservice is so many people believe an organization with “humane society” of “spca” in their name means no kill – which it does not. You have to ask.

  3. Just before the last crisis at the Fort Worth Animal Shelter, the Community Service Officer visited my son’s home and told them that they must get rid of two dogs, because they had too many! I am sure these decisions by Community Service had an effect on the crisis!

    I posted a message on Facebook and got no response. Since I do not live in Fort Worth, I don’t know how to contact Betsy Price or that City’s Community Service Office.

    It is very possible the Community Service Officer has been telling more residents that they have too many dogs and need to find some place else for them!

  4. I have been receiving Pawsitively Texas posts for sometime now. I myself have rescue animals I have taken in or housed from time to time and know the needs. I have a facebook and twitter that I repost them on and use my email to email family and friends all over the U.S.A. There is no need for these animals to die. Communication and a little spared time is all it takes. I also am side by side with ASPCA and HSUS in fighting to get the puppy mills closed. They are a main source of the over population of animals in the shelters, especially those with genetic problems and deformations. Theyneed to be shut down! Kudos for the work you are doing Eileen and those who work close with you!

    • Thanks Paula! I became a supporter of the no kill equation when I saw how ‘common sense’ the programs are and how well they are working in the communities that implemented them. Keep up the good fight in closing down puppy mills. It’s a horror that should not be!

  5. There is a Shelter called Spindletop Rescue in Willis, Texas – who take Pit Bulls. They have a web site and are in Facebook.

    And I have included PawsitvelyTexas in my donation list amongst few others. Of course, I don’t donate to Politicians anymore.

    I would also draw PawsitivelyTexas the horrible situation in Harris Country Animal Shelter.

    We also need a Mobile facility to provide for neutering in poorer neighborhoods.

    Thanks for all your work and do keep an eye on Harris County Animal Shelter.



    • Hi Shamim, Pawsitively Texas does not accept donations (I’m interested in them if people want to donate for the video mission, but I haven’t yet started accepting any), but local rescues and shelters are definitely in need of funds! You bring up a good point with the problems at the Harris Co and I have covered a few of those. You may want to check out No Kill Houston, if you don’t already follow them; Bett keeps close tabs on what’s happening there in Harris Co.

  6. The sweet girl pictured here is doing very well. My husband and I are the ones that picked her up Wednesday evening. The rescue groups and shelter personnel were so very helpful and kind in getting things squared away and that was NO small feat as it was a MADHOUSE up there! The outpouring of help from the community was immense.

    She didnt have a name and we are calling her Momma for now – not sure why…it just sorta stuck! She is coming out of her shell and is very kissy and lovable. We are so grateful to the rescue community for letting us know that she needed someone to love her. Her new family is supposed to pick her up this weekend and until then, we are just enjoying this opportunity to get to know and love her!

  7. lesson #6
    When you rescue/save more than one life based on a verbal commitment from another individual, some distance away, to adopt one of those valuable lives, be prepared to accept the fact that you will most likely be responsible for that extra life because the individual making the promise flakes out on you.

  8. And sometimes even if you ask, the response is often couched in terms that would lead a naive person to believe they are saving most of their animals when in fact, they are not. I appreciate your writing the article Alva. I thought it was very fair and commended them for the actions they were taking that were right as well as pointing out those that need rectifying. Hearing about the showers installed at the animals expense is a very glaring one! Made more so by the fact that there appears to be a “personal” motive on the part of Betsy Price. I really wonder if people like their tax dollars spent this way?

    • Thanks Sue! I don’t think a lot of people follow the management of their local government closely, and many would be upset if they knew where their hard-earned tax dollars go. With hope, progress will continue as more people become aware of the problem and the solution.

  9. People should really be made aware that dogs are being killed. It really pains me knowing that many owners of shelters can just stand by and watch this terrible thing happen. I am sure that there is a better solution than just killing all of them. We just need to put our heads together and think about it. Politicians might just see them as animals but to many they are more than that.

    Great article, by the way.

    • Thank you! There is a proven solution that is working in more than 50 US cities; it’s called the no kill equation (commone sense programs properly managed). Austin, Williamson County, Seagoville, and Rockwall are Texas shelters doing this. I have more info on the blog under the Resources link. Please share!

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