First Day to Adoption Day: Shelter Pet Life at The Michigan Humane Society

At the Michigan Humane Society (MHS), making sure shelter pets find loving, permanent homes is more than a goal. It's a thoughtfully planned process carried out daily through the actions of the shelter's staff, volunteers and partners.

And how exactly might a stray or relinquished pet finding his way to MHS become the newest member of a human family? According to C.J. Bentley, Senior Director of Operations, the journey begins the moment a shelter pet arrives there.

MHS's multi-step procedure emphasizes care for every pet, starting at first contact. "Right away, stray dogs and cats are checked for identity tags and a microchip," explains Bentley. Efforts are made to discover if a stray is actually a pet that's gone missing and can be reunited with his or her family. All states have different rules, but at MHS, if an animal isn't claimed in seven days, he or she will be eligible for adoption.

From the time a shelter pet arrives at MHS to the time he is taken home with a new person or family, he receives a level of attention he may not have gotten in weeks, months, or possibly years. Cats and dogs here spend their days being treated and/or monitored for any health and wellness issues, going on walks, taking naps, and having playtime and training sessions with staff, volunteers and visitors. Here's how the path from intake to adoption unwinds at MHS: 

  1. Intake. Upon arriving at the shelter, all pets will undergo a veterinary examination. Each pet is checked by an on-site veterinarian and given a medical and behavioral assessment. By getting to know the personalities of the pets eligible for adoption, those working at MHS can help better match pets with people. (More on that in Step 3.)
  2. Health care. It's not unusual for incoming pets to have some health issues. Any such matters are identified, addressed and treated by the on-site veterinarians at MHS. Vets do rounds twice daily to check on their patients, and when pets are deemed healthy enough to be adopted, which for many happens quickly, they are put up for adoption.
  3. Personality Assessment. After MHS evaluates the behavior and personalities of adoptable pets, they assign each one a color-coded card that is blue, yellow or green. Each color denotes a set of criteria representing the dog or cat. This simple system helps improve the chance of matching a dog's or cat's temperament, energy level and general needs with that of their new owner.
  4. New digs. While at MHS awaiting adoption, the kennels of cats and dogs are kept clean and made comfortable with a toy, a blanket, food and water.
  5. Interaction. Volunteers and staff help prepare pets for adoption through socialization, communication and care. This shelter's dog walkers and cat socializers walk, pet and brush the animals. Says Bentley, "We also have some volunteers that just want to come in and sit with the animals and read." Additionally, MHS has a unique program in which shelter dogs work with trainers on exercises that introduce dogs to training interaction and help prepare dogs for learning after they're adopted.
  6. Partner facilities. When it comes to connecting adoption-ready shelter pets with people who want to adopt them, MHS extends its reach beyond its three facilities. They partner with some Michigan-area Petco and PetSmart stores to offer MHS pets for adoption there, as well.
  7. Adoption time. Potential adopters coming to MHS in search of their next pet are helped by an on-staff adoption counselor who works with every family or individual to help find the pet that's right for them. Some topics that adoption counselors may bring up during this time include questions about whether this is the first time someone has owned a cat or dog, or where an adoptive family lives (for example, in a house or apartment).
  8. Follow-up. The adoption of a pet isn't where the story ends for MHS or the cat or dog who has found a new home. The shelter touches base via e-mail three times a year with the new family of a shelter pet, and the MHS Alumni Club offers ongoing support and answers for people with MHS pets.

Now a well-oiled machine, the process that MHS uses to guide cats and dogs from intake to adoption ensures that the pets experience plenty of personal interaction every step of the way. MHS is one of many shelters whose strong commitment to pet welfare motivates the staff and volunteers to do all they can to ensure that every pet finds the right home.