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How do you tell clients they must make an appointment to surrender their pet? Is there specific wording or key phrases that work?

Published on:  
Oct 22, 2015
Dear Million Cat Challenge, I’m all for the concept of Managed Admissions. However, my staff is understandably nervous about implementing it. The public around here is so used to being able to bring us a cat any time without any limits. How do you tell clients they must make an appointment to surrender their pet? Is there specific wording or key phrases that work? – At a Loss for Words
Dear Words,

We get that question a lot, so thanks for giving us the chance to answer! Julie and I aren’t the ones on the frontlines dealing with irate clients, so rather than give you an answer based on what we think should work, we posed the question to Challengers who are actually having these conversations on a daily basis. Here are a couple of different perspectives for you to share with staff.

Some shelters find that scripts are not necessary:
“There are no scripts, no phrases that we use. Each situation is different and we will often provide services to those having a difficult time keeping the cats for awhile. That resulted last year in over 400 cats being kept by owners.

“When the situation is impossible for the owner, or on the rare occasion that a person just isn't reasonable at all, we take the cat in but really even though this happens we build it into the program, always keeping a few cages open for 'emergencies'. Even if it happened daily taking in one extra cat a day beats the H out of taking in 50 cats a day that in the past we sometimes did.” – Barbara Carr, Erie SPCA

Some shelters find defined talking points are helpful:
“After three full years of having an appointment process, we still do on occasion get owner surrendered walk-ins. I agree we handle each situation individually but we do have procedures documented to help facilitate the conversation. Here are some of the talking points we use:

  • I’m sure you really don’t want harm to come to this animal. That you came to AHS for help shows you do care about what happens to your pet.
  • We do want to help you and your pet, but we need your cooperation by making an appointment.
  • I recognize that you came here today expecting to drop off your pet right now. I’ve explained how our animals surrender process works. Do you want to move forward with scheduling an appointment or would you prefer to explore other options and resources? I can provide you with some information on re-homing your pet if you’d prefer to go elsewhere.
  • What action you take at this point is up to you. We want to work with you but letting the animal go (or threatening to kill it) doesn’t allow us to help you.
Whichever way you go, one of the consistent things we hear from Challenger shelters is that the public will get used to the new policy over time, and complaints will lessen substantially. Be sure to communicate consistently across all your platforms, including clear information that’s easy to find on your website about the admission process and the reasoning behind it.

Ultimately, the public may pleasantly surprise your anxious staff by being genuinely supportive of a managed admission policy that is designed to allow you to serve both animals and community members better.
Dr. Kate Hurley