Save the Date” by Chad Sparkes

December 2, 2017; CBC News

If you are in the market to attend a singles mixer, it might be time to ditch the little black dress and leash up your black Labrador Retriever instead. Singles night has gone to the dogs, literally, and that’s a wonderful thing for the animal welfare wing of the nonprofit sector.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelters throughout the province of British Columbia (B.C. SPCA) are in the midst of an eight-year, $60 million renovation to replace or overhaul several aging and outdated buildings. To celebrate, they have planned some unusual events to engage the pet-owning public differently in their spaces as they transform, including a singles night. Unattached residents are encouraged to bring the pets they own for a playdate.

And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The new spaces will include room for workshops, a pet friendly patio, retail space where you can buy much-needed items for Fido and Fluffy, and a self-service dog washing area.

Canada’s SPCAs join a growing number of shelters across the United States looking to become destinations for pet lovers and shed their outdated image as miserable holding cells for homeless pets awaiting euthanasia. For the SPCA in Canada, it’s all about celebrating the animals they have for adoption.

“I think sometimes people think of animal shelters as places where there’s sort of second-class animals, or you know, sort of damaged goods. And that’s just really not the case,” Lorie Chortyk, general manager of community relations for the B.C. SPCA, told CBC News.

Since the image of shelters is shifting, it is worth noting that underlying and supporting this change is an animal welfare workforce that has quietly undergone a dramatic shift itself over the last two decades. The sector has been scaling up in knowledge and training, leading the way to the rejuvenated look and dramatic rise in save rates we are seeing in some areas of the United States. It’s also attracting qualified talent from both the private and nonprofit sectors; even smaller organizations with budgets below the $3 million mark are reporting in excess of 100 applicants to fill vacant CEO posts, with many boards for the first time looking to outsource their searches to firms to handle the volume. The Coastal Humane Society/Lincoln County Animal Shelter in Edgecomb, Maine, reported their recent CEO search yielded over 100 qualified candidate applicants from across the country in November.

If you look at foundation funding trends, this is one streak that’s not slowing down. Last week, mega-funder family foundation Maddie’s Fund announced they were plunking down 4 million dollars to Austin Pets Alive in Central Texas to fund master classes and training workshops expected to teach over 2,000 animal welfare workers from across the country best practices in shelter operations, running the gamut from utilizing foster homes to fundraising and marketing.

There is still so much work to be done. Two of the strongest trends for 2018 in animal welfare might be investing more in transport and community-based solutions to keep pets with their owners. Mass transport relies on a rescue being able to maintain the appropriate vehicles and relationships to move animals from areas where they are overpopulated to areas where they are highly desirable. Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue in New York recently received funding from the Grey Muzzle Organization to support their efforts to transport dogs from rural county shelters in the southern United States to the East Coast, where spay and neuter efforts took hold earlier and the census of adoptable dogs is lower. In Michigan, Detroit Dog Aid is chugging along with their community-based efforts to support owner retention, intervening to assist owners and their pets with the little things—like behavior challenges, pet care items, or routine vet needs—that can escalate quickly into big issues, leading pets to be surrendered to the shelter by owners who love them and want them in their homes.

All in all, it looks like singles night and this new model for sheltering are here to sit, stay, and help communities evolve into places that support responsible pet ownership for all individuals.—Carrie Collins-Fadell