Does managed admission really work? An interview with Dr. Emily Weiss

August 9, 2016

Managed Admission is a Million Cat initiative that some shelters have trouble accepting. So we noticed when, in a post this spring, Dr. Emily Weiss of ASPCAPro wrote:

Managed intake and intake reduction programs are spreading like wildfire across the country. For those unfamiliar with this type of program, owners are asked to schedule the intake of their pet so that the shelter can better manage the capacity of the animals in their care. In most cases, the goal of these programs is to decrease or streamline intake at the location where the program is implemented.

While these programs have varied success, they can be very effective in achieving the goal of reducing intake and managing the intake of owner-relinquished animals into the shelter. What does the data tell us? I have recently observed and dug into the data from a few managed intake programs. While dog and cat intake may decrease, without an initial focus and intent of working to retain that pet with that person, I have found that ultimately the vast majority of pets enter the population of homeless animals. Whether the owner comes to the shelter at their appointed time, or relinquishes to a rescue or other shelter, more than 80% of those pets are no longer with their people—and in some cases, the percentage is higher.

This got us wondering if it wasn’t time to consider the close relationship between Managed Admission and one other Million Cat key initiative, Alternatives to Intake — specifically, alternatives that keep pets with their people by solving the challenges that threaten that relationship.

When we reached out to Dr. Weiss with that question, she surprised us with an in-depth look at the bigger issue of shelter intake. With her permission, we’re sharing it with you here:

Q: In your recent post, you discussed managed admission, and indicated the data you’ve seen suggests it’s really only successful when paired with a robust intake diversion/alternatives to intake component. Would you say that’s a fair summary of what the data tells you?  

A: It is really more that a goal of intake diversion or a managed admission goal may not be quite the right lens through which shelters can achieve a goal of humanely ending homelessness.  If shelters instead focus on keeping dogs and cats in loving homes (when that is what is best for their welfare) and bringing critically in-need dogs and cats into the shelter or into rescue or foster placement (when that is what is best for their welfare), the same outcome of lower intake may occur. That way, the shelter doors are literally and figuratively open more widely for those who need it most.

Q: That’s interesting because at the Million Cat Challenge, two of our initiatives are Managed Admission and Alternatives to Intake. Frequently, people have trouble keeping the two apart — and these are people in the shelter industry, and even sometimes those of us who work for the Challenge itself!

For example, is foster to surrender managed admission, or alternatives to intake? Especially because when you offer people support during the “foster” period while they wait to bring a pet to the shelter, they often either are able to retain the pet, or find the pet a new home on their own. Given that, as well as the data you’ve seen, what would you think about considering these two initiatives as either a single one, or as so closely entwined that they really only work in concert with each other?

I think I may be one of those victims! It seems that the intake side of managed admission is an outcome achieved partially through alternatives to intake. While alternatives to intake are all things I think are powerful and important tools, the subtle shift from a goal focused on intake to a goal focused on retention is a powerful one – the powerful shift from “alternatives to intake” to “options to keep pets in homes” (I include the outside “homes” here) – keeps shelters focused on not looking toward rescue or rehoming first, but instead toward what is needed to keep pets in homes where their welfare can be supported.

Q: Many shelters believe if they implement managed admission, even with guaranteed emergency admission for animals who need immediate help as well as pet retention support such as veterinary assistance, behavior help, pet food banks, etc., they are no longer “open admission.” Do you think this is a productive distinction to make in situations like that?  

A: Personally I am not a fan of the labels in general.  I believe that shelters should provide refuge, protection, and care for animals that truly need it.   What I have observed is that we are not always so good at taking the time with clients to learn from them if they have the interest/capacity/tolerance to retain the pet until there is space – if we pivot from a goal of decreased intake to one of increased retention and welfare, the community needs only to know that we are here to help.

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1 Comment »

  1. Wonderful clarification on the goals and ultimately ‘redistribution’ of how shelters can help provide their communities with the resources they need by listening to what those needs actually are.

    I am a big fan of looking into the nuances and how we can craft our messaging and programs in our communities and love these discussions on ways we can improve our collective reach and impact for animals in need.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Kimberly — August 10, 2016 @ 6:51 pm

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