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North Bay Animal Services Finds Success Through Collaboration and Inclusion

Earlier this year, the city of Petaluma put out a request for proposals for animal care and control services. Three agencies responded to the request: Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, Marin Humane Society, and North Bay Animal Services.

Contracting for services is a common solution for cities across the country. With many issues on city plates, including housing, jobs, businesses, and roads, city officials often seek out a dedicated nonprofit organization that will focus their resources to meet the community’s needs. Animal care and control is a complex set of services including public safety, licensing/rabies control, housing missing pets and finding their owners, and adopting out unclaimed and surrendered pets. Preventive measures such as spay/neuter, vaccination, and microchipping are also typically provided to the community.

In August, the city awarded the contract to North Bay Animal Services, a newly formed nonprofit comprised of experienced local animal welfare professionals including Sue Davy, board president, and Mark Scott, executive director.

“Petalumans want a local organization serving their needs,” said Davy. “We’re thankful that the city council and city manager listened to the experts and to their community and chose NBAS.”

Residents may favor a local shelter because of convenience, but there’s more to it than that. Statistically, shelters serving smaller local areas are often more successful at lifesaving than those serving large, spread-out geographic areas. Lower intake (1,000-2,000 animals per year as opposed to 10,000-15,000 for some of the larger shelters) gives staff the time to handle each case individually. Close proximity to the shelter makes it more likely (and possible) for owners to search for a missing pet. More lost pets are found and reclaimed in local shelters, often more than double the national average of just 20 percent. For example, in 2018 the Chico Animal Shelter has maintained a reclaim rate for dogs greater than 50 percent.

Being small and regional are not the only ingredients for success, however; the organization must have the right culture.

“We want to encourage collaboration and inclusion,” Davy said, referring to the many stakeholders in the community, including volunteers, rescue groups, veterinarians, and other shelters. Scott stressed the importance of staff support and buy-in to public-friendly lifesaving practices, and said, “It’s a group effort. You lose access to lots of good things when you control too much.” Scott is wearing many hats as the new organization gets off the ground, but he hopes to delegate more as they grow.

“We want the staff to feel empowered to make decisions,” he said. “We want the public to feel welcome.”

The community-centric model of NBAS includes educational outreach, printed, and online materials in multiple languages, and a focus on customer service as well as “doing what is right.” As an example, during the interview with Davy and Scott – when the shelter was closed – a man was let in to reclaim his missing dog. Common shelter practice is to make an owner wait until the shelter is open, sometimes even two or three days, but why? Returning a pet to the owner as soon as possible is a win-win, freeing up resources for another in need.

With a community of 60,000 people and a yearly intake of around 1,200 dogs, cats, and “others,” NBAS plans to maintain the high live-release rate of the previously contracted organization. The organization will accomplish this goal through pet retention/surrender alternatives, proactive missing pet reclaim programs, adoption, fostering, and medical care for pets in need. The organization also has some exciting plans for the future, but prioritizing is key as the organization grows into its full potential.

“The most important thing is to deliver on the promises we made in our proposal,” Davy said.

Those promises include regularly scheduled public spay/neuter, vaccination, and microchipping opportunities. Recognizing that some residents don’t have access to transportation, NBAS plans to bring the services to the people.

“It’s not enough to offer services and assume residents can take advantage of them. You have to figure out what the barriers are and remove them,” Scott said.

Brigid Wasson is a lifelong animal welfare advocate and retired animal shelter director. She is the president of Mission Reunite and CEO or The Path Ahead Animal Welfare Consulting. She lives in Sonoma County with her partner, Maureen, and their animal family. For more information, visit: MissionReunite.org, AnimalWelfareSuccess.com, NorthBayAnimalServices.org.

Ed. Note: Wasson’s bio in print got the name of AnimalWelfareSuccess.com wrong; it has been corrected above.