Not long ago, the city of Petaluma's animal shelter was in a state common to many municipal facilities: money was short, conditions were dismal, and most animals who entered the system didn't get out alive.
Enter a group of concerned citizens who recognized that, especially given today's financial challenges, animal welfare is always going to get short shrift from government entities—given the choice between improving conditions at the shelter and funding a 911 operator, officials aren't likely to choose the critters. Truly improving the situation required a self-supporting, animal-centric community organization, they believed, and the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation was born.
Last year, in August 2012, after extensive discussion and planning with the city, PASF assumed the contract for running Petaluma's animal services, including an open-admission shelter that takes in all the community's stray and surrendered pets. Since then, they've achieved a remarkable turnaround, making the shelter a inviting place and creating numerous clever outreach programs. One big hit was the slumber party, where the shelter stayed open all night, staff dressed in pajamas, and adopters who arrived in sleepwear took home their new pets free of charge. "As long as we're in 2013," says PASF training director Valerie Fausone, "we might as well change our thinking so we support people and families in a positive, animal-centric way."
Thanks to enthusiastic fostering, creative marketing and outreach, and a can-do attitude regardless of a pet's issues, 98% of animals entering the shelter either go back to their owners or find new homes. Fausone points out that a critical factor in adoptability is the length of time an animal spends in the shelter–the shorter the better. Currently the average length of stay for dogs is 13 days (down from 52 days the previous year under city management), and 29 days for cats (down from previous 69).
"We had an opportunity, we took it, the animals won," Fausone says. "And isn't that the point?"
Among the current group of hopefuls is the charming Amos, a 2-year-old Manchester terrier mix who turned up homeless in a local Safeway parking lot. Now neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, he's a fast learner who's coming along nicely in his training. He also loves to fetch, and would be a great candidate for agility, flyball, and other activities.
photo: Amos-Petaluma Animal Services Foundation