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Report recommends new strategies to increase cat adoptions at Willmar, Minn., shelter

One of the cats available for adoption naps Tuesday at Hawk Creek Animal Shelter in Willmar. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — A consultants’ report suggests several strategies the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter can implement to increase adoption rates for cats and reduce the amount of time they spend at the shelter.

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Shelter staff and board members are reviewing the recommendations and will likely adopt “most if not all” of them, said Steve Gardner, president of the board of directors.

“It’s simply a matter of taking the next step,” he said.

“We’re looking at this and are going to be making some changes,” agreed Bobbie Bauman, director of operations for the shelter. “We’re all going to be working on these recommendations. The goal is to adopt out animals and get them new homes.”

Findings from the report will be shared with the public at the annual meeting tonight of the Humane Society of Kandiyohi and Meeker Counties. The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. in the community room at the Willmar Public Library.

The Hawk Creek Animal Shelter sought the outside review last month in response to ongoing issues with upper respiratory infections among the shelter’s cat population. Kathie Johnson, director of animal care for the Twin Cities-based Animal Humane Society, and Dr. Graham Brayshaw, senior veterinarian with the Animal Humane Society, spent most of a day at the shelter in Willmar, reviewing its cat health policies and practices and talking to the staff.

One of the most important findings was that the local shelter is following good, evidence-based practices to keep its cats healthy, Gardner said. “We’re on the right track.”

Johnson and Brayshaw offered several recommendations, however, to raise the adoption rates for cats. Doing so would reduce cat overpopulation and lower the risk that cats will develop upper respiratory infections while they’re in the shelter, they said.

Managing the cat population is a challenge for most shelters. Cats stay longer in shelters than dogs do and are adopted at lower rates, leaving them more vulnerable to stress, crowding and exposure to respiratory viruses.

At the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter, the average length of stay is about two weeks for dogs but 30 days for cats, Bauman said. “That’s too long.”

Overpopulation is an issue locally, she said. “There’s so many cats out there and people just are not spaying and neutering cats. We have calls every day from people wanting to bring in their personal pets to surrender. We just don’t have the space for them all. It’s a big struggle.”

Hawk Creek Animal Shelter recently received a $4,000 grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to implement a cat adoption program called “Meet Your Match,” Bauman said.

It’s hoped the program will help increase the number of cats who are successfully adopted, she said. “We’re always trying to come up with new ideas to get them out the door quicker.”

One of the recommendations from Johnson and Brayshaw is to fast-track kittens and cats who have the best prospects for adoption.

The Animal Humane Society uses this approach and saw the average length of stay drop significantly for its cats, Johnson told the staff.

She and Brayshaw also recommended collecting more data to track cats throughout their stay at the shelter. This would help identify logjams and seasonal trends and allow the shelter staff to better manage the flow of felines, they said.

Other recommendations include updating the shelter’s standard operating procedures and speeding up the process of vaccinating cats when they arrive at the shelter.

The consultants’ report provides a valuable, objective look at how the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter stacks up against the current standard in evidence-based shelter practices, Gardner said.

“Improving what we’re doing means we’re following the data, we’re following the science and we’re continuing to work on improving our best practices,” he said. “When going through a difficult spell, you begin to question yourself. You just need to make sure that you are doing all the right things.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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