5 Questions to Ask Before You Donate to an Animal Welfare Organization by Stafford Animal Shelter

We at Stafford Animal Shelter have many rescue partners realizing “it takes a village” to save them all.  Being a small shelter in Southwestern Montana that takes in 1,200 pets on average annually, it’s crucial to have collaboration with other animal welfare professionals as we cannot serve all the abandoned, neglected and abused animals on our own.   We proudly have been operating in Livingston and the surrounding communities for 20+ years and have recently been designated a no-kill shelter as we now treat infectious diseases like parvo, distemper, ringworm, URI etc.. We are an open door shelter that takes in all domesticated animals regardless of age, behavior or medical conditions.  We service neonatal kittens right up to senior dogs and find forever homes thanks to the generosity of our donors and the dedication of our staff, volunteers and fosters. We have great working relationships with the City of Livingston Animal Control, Livingston Police Department and Park County Sheriff’s Office. We have a very generous community comprised of individuals and business partners who financially donate and believe in our mission to end homelessness for all pets.  There are times when our donors ask for advice on what other organization may need help too and we happily recommend reputable partners.

We know how meaningful it is that you donate your hard-earned money for animals and we never take that for granted.  To help identify worthy organizations, we have complied 5 key questions you should consider asking yourself before you donate.  We hope you find it helpful.

“5 Questions to Ask Before You Donate to an Animal Welfare Organization”

1.       Will they allow you to tour the facility?

All reputable shelters, fosters and rescue groups will allow you to tour their facilities (and like Stafford Animal Shelter they will be happy to show you around!)   Organizations will be proud of the condition of the animals and the housing. It’s a red flag if you cannot stop in and see the animals. Things to look for: appropriate kennels,  play yards, bedding, runs, shade, enrichment toys, adequate space to exercise and rest. It should also be a clean, tidy & welcoming facility.

2.       Are the animals healthy?

Shelters and rescues take in animals that are abandoned, elderly, injured, abused and neglected so it’s understandable they may not all appear healthy to the untrained eye but overall the herd should look healthy and happy when you visit.  Overcrowded shelters and kennels are very stressful on animals. Stress reduces the immune system and make residents more vulnerable to respiratory infections and infectious diseases. Stafford adheres to the “Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters” which was written by The Association of Shelter Veterinarians in 2010.  The lead author, Dr. Sandra Newbury, is also the Director of the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program which chose Stafford Animal Shelter as one of five shelters to participate in their prestigious shelter medicine fellowship in 2018.

3.        Are they working within their capacity for care?

Just because a shelter has “space” for animals,  doesn’t mean they should take them all in. Responsible organizations know their capacity for care and regularly evaluate how they are handling their population and procedures.   They factor in finances, the kennel environment, foster homes, employee & volunteer thresholds etc.. If a shelter is overcrowded and cohousing large amounts of animals, that is a sign that they are sheltering beyond their means. It should be suggested that they transfer out animals to other organizations or put a freeze on intakes until they adopt some out. Beware of organizations who seem overwhelmed and beg for funds and operating capital on a regular basis.

4.       Do they have high adoption rates?

As great as a facility may be,  nothing is better than “home sweet home”  for an unwanted animal and responsible organizations know that.  They promote pets on their websites, hold adoption events, have affordable adoption fees etc…   Letting go of animals is difficult for even the most professional animal welfare workers & fosters but they know it’s the best for the animal to be adopted so a spot can open up for another deserving pet.   There’s no argument that people who start a rescue/sanctuary/shelters love animals, but being self aware and being able to set boundaries is a very important component to running a successful operation. All organizations set out with good intentions but some are overcome with the feeling of sadness and hopelessness when they witness animal abandonment and abuse. They become emotionally attached to the animals and think no one else is good enough for them. This leads to strict adoption criteria that is complicated,  difficult to live up to and turns off potential adopters (ex. Fenced yard, background checks, home visits, personal references etc..) They place themselves as the role of savior and the last & only option for the animals. This mentality leads to low adoption rates and overcrowded kennels. Adoption statistics and outcomes, good and bad, should all be published on all responsible organization’s website (or provided if asked). Stafford Animal Shelter’s table on animal’s served can be seen here: SAS STATISTICS

5.        Are they fiscally responsible and transparent? (if you only read one section, this is it!)

All reputable non-profits will have 501c3 tax exemption status,  but not all 501c3 non-profits are reputable. The process to receive tax exempt status is relatively easy from the IRS and once obtained,  there is no watchdog to assure donations are being spent properly or animals are being cared for. This was the case with a local 501c3 last summer when Stafford Animal Shelter and Park County Sheriff had to seize several animals who were neglected. The director of “Their Last Best Place”, Barb Marsell, pled no contest to cruelty to animals, harboring a vicious dog and trespassing subsequently as part of her sentencing she must pay restitution,  fines, serve jail time (suspended) and may not possess any animals.  Restitution was not received by Stafford because she claimed financial hardship,  but we were happy to help these neglected animals and find them homes.

To avoid situations like this a pro-active Board of Directors is very important to non-profits.  Directors should be local residents who have the ability to visit the facility regularly, attend events and know the pulse of the community.  They exercise fiduciary responsibility and oversee the budget and expenses. Board members other important job is to fundraise and advocate for the mission while the staff is busy running the day to day operations.  Board and staff bios should be listed on websites and literature so there is no mystery as to who is involved with the organization. 501c3s are obligated to file a 990 and they are publicly available on charity databases such a Guidestar.

If a rescue you trust is in the process of becoming a non-profit but doesn’t have status yet,  monetary donations are highly discouraged. The best way to help is to volunteer, donate in-kind services, Amazon wish lists or put the money directly on account with a local veterinary or pet food store.  Donating money to respected larger or national animal welfare organizations can assist too as they often have grants and funds that can help a smaller groups set up.

Collaboration and communication is very common in the animal welfare industry, unlike typical businesses. It is suspect if an organization does not network or have transparent communication with other professionals.   Stafford Animal Shelter is part of the Montana Association of Animal Welfare Providers where membership is comprised of reputable shelters & rescues in the state. We regularly attend conferences and continuing education classes with other professionals in the field to share ideas and improve operations.  We have transfer networks to help expedite the adoption of animals and regularly share policies and procedures with other shelters. If the organization you’d like to support is not part of collaborative circles and cannot be verified by another shelter or rescue, ask them for references – talk to their volunteers, adopters, fosters, staff and veterinarians. Transparency may be the most important factor when trusting the organization will apply your donations to the care of deserving animals.

Published by: Stafford Animal Shelter – Livingston, MT August 31st, 2018stafford animal shelter logo

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