The Path Ahead Animal Shelter Consulting

The official blog of The Path Ahead Animal Shelter Consulting

Infrastructure building, Lifesaving programs, Management team support

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Location, location, location.

As the Realtor quip goes, "What are the top three factors in choosing a property? Location, location, location." There are many other factors of course, but all things being equal, location is of paramount importance. Why, then, are animal shelters in categorically the worst possible locations? Raise your hand if your shelter is located next to: 1) the sewage treatment plant, 2) the jail, or 3) the dump. Slightly better but still poor locations include the airport, an industrial area, and out in the middle of nowhere. Zoning plays a big part in these unfortunate locations, but the historical approach to animal sheltering cannot be discounted. Over the last 100 years, animal care and control responsibilities have been passed from department to department in both city and county governments. In some cases, that responsibility has been handed over to a shelter's volunteer group, including a $1 lease on the property, or to another nonprofit or government agency with an existing shelter. Animal care and control is, it would seem, the redheaded stepchild of government agencies, and for good reason. It's costly, troublesome, and doesn't support itself. Some agencies provide the bare minimum in funding, while others spend millions, only to have the same number of complaints from the public calling them incompetent killers. Is it any wonder when department heads become discouraged and look for a way out? Nowhere in all this turmoil is anyone -- except for some nonprofits with new leadership, which we'll discuss in a future post -- looking at animal sheltering as a business, and making decisions based on sound business principles like location.

Why is location so important for this type of business? Because shelters are in out-of-the-way places, most people don't know where they are. Animal shelters aren't like grocery stores -- you don't go there every week, in fact you may have never gone there in your life. Many animal shelters are low budget, which means they don't do a lot of advertising, or any. Surrounded by industrial warehouses, water treatment ponds, or open fields, shelters get no foot traffic. What this adds up to is a very poor customer base, customers being the owners of missing pets, potential adopters, and potential donors. Further complicating the situation are the facts that some shelters are not located in their own jurisdiction, so an animal found across the street must be brought to another shelter, potentially 20 miles away, and that some have animal control contracts with as many as ten cities, as far away as 50 miles. This system is confusing for people who work in it, let alone for the public, especially the distraught owner of a missing pet. Regarding adoptions, studies have shown that, despite what we believed for so many years, impulse adoptions are often successful, and well-planned adoptions are not always successful. What this means is that shelters need to be there when folks are ready to adopt, and they may decide they are ready the moment they walk by and see the "doggie in the window." Whatever your adoption process and requirements may be, if you're not where the people are, the adoptions won't happen.

This is not an easily remedied situation, as new shelter facilities cost millions and zoning laws in your area will likely prohibit an ideal location in any case. If a move isn't in your shelter's future, focus on advertising. If you're by the freeway, a banner -- be sure to check local laws regarding signage -- or large sign is invaluable. "Freeway frontage" is something business owners pay big bucks for, so use it to your advantage if you have it. If a move is in your shelter's future, be very careful about choosing the new location. Some shelters have been in their less-than-ideal locations for 50+ years, so many people in the community DO know where they are and will return as adults to the place where they adopted a pet as a child. If the new location is no better than the old, you're better off staying where you are. While taking on animal control contracts brings needed revenue, think about proximity to the jurisdiction. Owner reclaims tend to be lower the larger and more spread out the service area, so all those unclaimed animals will start to cause overcrowding and all the resulting problems. If you're planning for a new facility or making the best of the one you have, we can help.

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