DCHS Centennial Celebration: Changing the Lives of Animals

Photo by Amandalynn Jones Photography

Staff and volunteers at Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) have been positively affecting change in the lives of animals for more than a century. DCHS will mark the 100th anniversary of its incorporation in 2021 by commemorating the impact it has made locally, regionally, and nationally.

“Our centennial plans will likely be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as in-person celebration events for 2021 are questionable,” says Amy Good, DCHS director of marketing and development. “However, DCHS will be acknowledging milestones, such as the 100th adoption or the 100th wildlife release, throughout the entire year. Photographs and stories from DCHS’ history will be shared on our website, Facebook, and Instagram.”

Pam McCloud Smith, DCHS executive director since 2002, came to DCHS as a volunteer in 1988 and was hired as an employee in 1991. She says, “There have been many highs and lows during my time here, but I’d have to say the greatest challenge was enduring and surviving animal welfare in the 90s when there weren’t the resources or collaborations that there are today. DCHS made many transitions during the first decade of 2000, making us stronger and strengthening the foundation that allowed us to create the organization we are today.”

As DCHS looks back through its history, many accomplishments can be pointed to, including being seen as a state leader and a valuable resource for shelters nationwide. Pam and her team have guided DCHS to lead the charge to create a better world for animals by displaying and encouraging a humane ethic of empathy, care, and appreciation for all living things. DCHS frequently consults with shelters and hosts site visits so staff from other shelters can learn about DCHS’ industry-leading operations, which include daily animal care, medical treatment, wildlife operations, fundraising practices, and animal transfers.

DCHS staff have recorded many webinars, presented at national and state conferences, and written articles and whitepapers. There’s even a certificate program in lifesaving animal shelter management at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, that includes material developed by DCHS. Through partnerships and coalitions with local and national groups, DCHS shares lifesaving initiatives that can be implemented by other animal welfare organizations throughout the country.

At the forefront of many of its animal-sheltering innovations, DCHS’ save rate as an open-admission shelter (all animals regardless of age, health, or temperament are accepted) is in the top tier nationwide. In 2019, DCHS had its highest save rate (adoptions + redemptions + transfers / intake) of 92 percent. DCHS took in a record number of companion animals from overcrowded local and national shelters.

Photograph provided by Dane County Humane Society

DCHS’ concept of managed intake has proven quite successful. Admission is scheduled based on the shelter’s capacity. While it might be assumed that scheduling intake could lead to animals being abandoned or suffering harm, in practice these fears have not come to fruition. Instead, scheduled admissions have been linked to decreased intake, crowding, and costs and, in many cases, provided owners help to find ways to keep their pets or rehome animals directly to another owner without going to the shelter.

Fast tracking, which is utilized by DCHS staff, identifies highly adoptable animals and increases the speed of their movement through the system by quickly addressing issues that could delay a quick adoption. A shorter stay results in a lower chance of picking up a transmissible disease and suffering from stress that could bring upon behavior deterioration, which would reduce adoption chances.

A lengthy stay takes a toll on the shelter and its other animals; reduces cage availability; and increases the time of staff involvement and money to fund the animal’s food, housing, and other needs. These days, DCHS is seldom overcrowded—usually just a few times a year during kitten season. DCHS also runs adoption promotions to raise community awareness when the shelter is near capacity. Time and time again, the community shows up to adopt.

DCHS has partnered with the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine in its Shelter Medicine Program with students being hosted in the 2016-17 academic year. Up to 90 students come to DCHS each year, with 1 to 3 in place at a time for a two-week rotation.

The Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (SAAV) program is a partnership with Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS). It was launched in 2001 so that pets of domestic abuse victims could be confidentially fostered up to 90 days while abuse victims receive DAIS services. About 25 to 30 animals go through SAAV annually, where pets initially receive free routine veterinary care and then the owners receive pet-care packages when they’re reunited. Recipients are grateful and relieved that they don’t have to worry about the safety and well-being of their pets while they themselves seek safety.

Photograph provided by Dane County Humane Society

DCHS has been a 100 percent adoption guarantee shelter since April 2012. All healthy companion animals and those with treatable or manageable medical and behavioral conditions will find new homes. These animals stay at DCHS as long as it takes to find a new family.

The world’s first feline dermatophyte (ringworm) treatment center was developed at DCHS in 2010. About 120 cats go through the center annually, with approximately half being from other organizations. The facility provides the cats with a peaceful home while undergoing treatment. Large litters, as well as females with kittens, can be treated in the space. In 2019, DCHS veterinarians took over reading and monitoring the cats’ treatment cultures. Since the cultures are no longer transported to the Vet School, they’re started the day the cat is tested for an infection, and treatment is monitored in real time. The result is that the average length of stay has been reduced to 25 days.

DCHS also helps wild animals in its Wildlife Center, handling injured, ill, and orphaned wildlife from 20-plus nearby counties. Nearly 100 different species of animals, native birds, reptiles, and amphibians are seen. Many animals end up at the Wildlife Center because of some sort of negative human interaction, from being hit by a car to lead poisoning in the environment.

Best practices in animal sheltering continue to advance. Though the current main shelter building on Voges Road is only 20 years old, remodeling would reduce physical barriers, foster stronger, more meaningful connections between visitors and animals while providing more peaceful and humane stays for companion animals, pushing DCHS' ability to save lives even further. DCHS always has a need for additional enclosures for its Wildlife Center and to replace vulnerable outdoor structures.

A goal of DCHS this centennial year is to increase its number of Legacy Society members—people who include DCHS in their estate plans—by 100. “Legacy gifts provide the resources that create new opportunities to help more animals in our community and ensure a bright future for DCHS for the next 100 years,” says Amy. “These gifts are truly a transformational form of giving.”

“I’ve really enjoyed being involved in animal welfare,” says Pam. “Seeing our community be so animal friendly and sharing more resources to help reduce the number of homeless pets and better support people and their pets has been very rewarding. The long-term relationships with staff members and the partnerships and collaborations with volunteers and businesses have really been a special gift. DCHS has been a community institution that remains innovative and ready to adapt to our community’s needs.”

Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.

Photograph by MOD Media Productions

Review past issues of Madison Essentials for the full story on DCHS, including “The Introduction” in the March/April issue, “The Beginning” in the May/June issue, “The Shelter” in the July/August issue, “Give Shelter” in the September/October issue, and “Helping People Help Animals” in the November/December issue. This final article in the series coincides with the kick-off of DCHS’ centennial year. Please join them in celebrating by checking out giveshelter.org for upcoming events.