A New Approach to Save Shelter Animals

with Karen Walsh of the ASPCA

When animal shelters become overcrowded, animals face an increased risk of being euthanized. A new approach is being introduced at select shelters nationwide that aims to change this — by relocating animals where there is increased demand for pet adoption.

Karen Walsh, Senior Director of the Animal Relocation Program at the ASPCA, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how the organization is working to implement creative solutions to grow pet adoption rates.

Posted on:

March 31, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The ASPCA estimates that 6.3 million cats and dogs enter US animal shelters every year. Nearly a million of them are euthanized. But there's good news on the horizon. Those numbers have been declining steadily since 2011, and two-thirds of the animals now get adopted. Today, we'll hear about new strategies that are offering even more hope in the fight to save shelter animals. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Animals are typically put down when shelters get too crowded or lack the resources to properly care for them. But different regions have different needs, and one tactic finding success is called relocation -- moving animals to regions where adoption demand is higher. Joining me to talk about this and so much more is Karen Walsh, senior director of the Animal Relocation Program at the ASPCA. And, Karen, thank you so much for being here.

Walsh: Thanks for having me, Tetiana.

Anderson: So, set the stage for us in terms of the scope of this problem. I mean, we gave some pretty striking numbers at the top. But talk to us about how they impact the work that the ASPCA and others are doing to really improve this animal shelter system.

Walsh: Progress has been made over time, right? We've definitely made a big impact. Adopting animals is now considered a great way to get a pet. It's become publicly popular, whereas that didn't used to exist in shelter years ago. So we've made great strides in sheltering to give better opportunities for animals. But like you said, there's still animals that are in need of help. Intake in shelters is down in many areas. There are some parts of the country where they've largely solved their community overpopulation issues and they now have space and availability for animals from regions where they're not quite there yet. There's an imbalance in the country of resources, of ways to manage the animals, and like you said, of need for adoption. And so relocation is just a tool in the toolbox. It's a really important tool to free up resources and give those shelters a chance to have a supply and demand share and get a balance so that those animals that in the southern shelters might wait a long time for a home, up in the Northern or Midwestern shelters can get adopted very quickly.

Anderson: So, the animal relocation program at the ASPCA was started in 2014. Walk us through how it works.

Walsh: Okay. So we were a very small program in the beginning, and we've greatly expanded over the last five years to include more ground transports and air transports as well. We have great sponsors that have come on board, like Nancy Silverman, who greatly expanded our program and allowed us to expand and help even more shelters. Our source shelters are usually southern shelters where they have less resources in their community and an overabundance of animals -- more than they can adopt in the community. And then in our northern shelters and in shelters that are up in the New England area, there's a lot of areas that have solved this problem that don't really have a local overpopulation problem anymore. They have space for animals, and we're trying to balance that between the shelters that have too many animals and shelters that really have need. And that's what this program does. This is a supply and demand issue. It's actually shifting the animals from one place to another where they get adopted very quickly. Relocation works best when it's not just an occasional movement of animals, it's a reliable flow. The shelters can rely on that transport coming and know what animals will be going and what space will be made available for them.

Anderson: And what does a successful relocation look like? I mean, can you share a story?

Walsh: One that comes to mind is Ava. She was from Washington County in Arkansas. She was a pet in need in the community. She's a larger dog, and larger dogs are often harder to place, especially when they're already adults. And so they didn't have a lot of opportunities for her. She's a husky mix, and so it was harder to place her locally. And so they turned to the transport program. They wanted to put her on the rescue ride, and they sent her to one of our destination shelters in Kansas, where she was quickly adopted into a home. And she ended up with a great story, a loving family, whereas in the shelter in Arkansas, she might have waited a lot longer before having an opportunity for a home.

Anderson: And what else do you think needs to happen so that the animals out there who need a good home can have a good home?

Walsh: So, relocation is a tool in the toolbox. Animals continue to flow into shelters. And really what we need to do is turn off the spigot, turn off the source of the animals so we don't need the relocation anymore for all of these large numbers of animals. But it can be targeted more for animals that really need that ride to a resource. What we're trying to do is make less and less and less animals that are in need of these -- of relocation as a resource. And the way to do that is to offer more spay/neuter in the community. So the ASPCA works to train people to add spay/neuter clinics to the community, to offer free spay/neuter, to offer very low cost spay/neuter so that it's available to everyone.

Anderson: So much important work, Karen, and I know people will want to know more. What's the website?

Walsh: It's ASPCA.org for the public, and ASPCAPRO.org for any shelters, organizations that might be interested in learning more about our programs.

Anderson: Karen Walsh, senior director of the Animal Relocation Program at the ASPCA, thank you so much for being here.

Walsh: Thank you.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit ComcastNewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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