GPG staff and volunteers recently attended Purina’s Adoption Options workshop

As we embark on this incredible journey to opening Gateway Pet Guardian’s Community Pet Resource Center in East St. Louis,  the one word that comes to mind is CULTURE SHIFT. I will never forget a meeting we had about a year ago where as a team we were literally debating whose life was more important–the animals sitting in animal control rarely getting out of their kennel and in danger of being euthanized, strays roaming the streets without a caretaker or community members who now had a trusted relationship with us and needed to surrender their pet and were desperate for us to take their beloved pet. Whose life is more important? The question was impossible for us to answer. Afterall, ALL of these animals are “our” animals as they are from the East Side Pet District.  

We chose to make this giant culture shift because we knew we had to put ourselves in a position to make a bigger impact so we didn’t have to sit in meetings and debate whose life is more important.  We looked at the data and started putting together plans and what we saw was that we could realistically put a plan together to impact EACH AND EVERY ONE of the animals in our service area within 36 months!!   BUT, we have to be strategic and adamant about sticking to our strategy. And to do that, a lot of changes need to be made and sometimes change is hard, but as we consult with national leaders like the ASPCA, Maddie’s Fund and Austin Pets Alive!, we are learning so much about the most progressive, lifesaving programming and policies out there.   We are going to become a different organization. One that will save and impact A LOT more lives. Challenge accepted!

So in simple terms, what do these changes look like?  Here are some of the pieces of our strategy:

  • We are moving from a 2,000 SF emergency shelter to a 54,000 SF pet resource center.  For the first time, we are being forced to document SOP’s (standard operating procedures) and we needed a more robust shelter management software to help us operate more efficiently.  Let me tell you, nothing bores a bunch of animal welfare folks to tears like administrative work! But it is necessary to improve our efficiency.
  • And of course, we will need more staff to run our growing operations.  Already this year, we have added our first Intake, Diversion and Networking Manager and our first Animal Care Director.  We have also transitioned our former Shelter Manager to our Lead Animal Care Technician who has a stronger focus on working with pets with behavior quirks. In addition, we will be hiring additional clinic, kennel and support staff in the near future!  All of this requires us to rethink our processes and how we communicate.
  • Starting in 2020, our goal is to absorb all of the sheltering responsibilities for pets brought in from East St. Louis from St. Clair County Animal Services (SCCAC).  This also means we take in EVERYTHING from East St. Louis (medical cases, behavioral cases and lots of unknowns). Animals from other areas of our service area (Washington Park, Cahokia, Fairmont City, Centreville, and Alorton) will still be serviced by SCCAC, but absorbing sheltering responsibilities for East St. Louis, allows us to reduce intake by 9% at SCCAC.  Within 3 years, we will be able to absorb sheltering responsibilities for all of our service area reducing the intake at SCCAC by 25%!
  • With our new Intake Manager in place, we are creating a managed intake process that works with families that are considering surrendering their pet and doing everything in our power to provide families with the resources and support that they need to keep their pets. We are building a Lost Pet Team to get pets back to their owners through good old fashioned grassroots flyering. Check out a recent success story from the Lost Pet Team.  And we are working to grow our network of rescue transfer partnerships so we can transfer out highly desirable animals in order to have the resources to take in any and all animals that need us from East St. Louis.  It takes a village!
  • With our new Animal Care Director (who is also a Vet Tech), we will be able to bring initial and basic vetting in-house, so pets will be vaccinated, dewormed and heartworm tested/FELV tested before even seeing a vet.  We are moving towards a shelter medicine model, so we are in the midst of documenting standard medical protocols. This is different than “gold standard” medical care at private vet clinics that we are accustomed to, but is necessary so that we can provide equal treatment for all animals in our service area including community owned pets.  It doesn’t make sense to spend $7,000 on one pet in our rescue while simultaneously telling a community member that there only option is to euthanize their beloved pet because they/we can’t afford a $1000-$1500 surgery to save their life. We are exploring the slow kill heartworm treatment as a viable solution for our rescue and community dogs.  The cost savings is about $520/dog. All of this with the goal of furthering our resources so we can impact EACH AND EVERY ONE of the animals in our service area within 36 months.
  • We will be opening a low cost wellness pet clinic that will be open to the public. This will allow ANYONE to have the ability to access affordable healthcare for their pet… including heartworm preventative that hasn’t been offered in our community before!  Initially, we are planning to have the clinic open once/week and we as the demand grows, we anticipate opening the clinic more often!
  • We will be working to reduce barriers to adopting a pet by implementing more of a conversational adoption model.   Our philosophy at GPG is that everyone deserves a pet- regardless of income level, housing situation or demographics. We support families in our community that live in poverty but we know how important their pet is to them. We need to hold ourselves to that same philosophy on the adoption side. Why look for ways to say no to adopters when there is an endless number of animals that need us and are waiting?!  And as a community focused organization, we hope to build a relationship with adopters who will come back to us if they hit a rough patch and need help caring for their pet. We can’t fix community problems without engaging the community and one way we must engage them is through adoptions!
  • Oh and we will be sheltering cats for the very first time!  Cat people, we need you! We have maintained a small, but mighty cat foster program, but we know that cats are losing their life more often than dogs in our local shelters.  So we are looking for ways to better support cats! This includes developing Shelter-Neuter-Return programming, beefing up the foster programming and building enrichment activities for when cats are in the shelter.  Much more to come!

We hope that you will continue to follow up on this exciting journey!  We literally cannot wait to finish renovating the building and start operating in the heart of the community we serve!  To read more about our impact (grab some tissues!), check out the Gateway Pet Guardians Blog!

One of our community members and her beloved cat, Diamond

While it is our goal to keep you informed about our future direction and plans, all of these things are subject to change as we are continuously re-evaluating our priorities to ensure we are in a position to impact EACH AND EVERY ONE of the animals in our service area within 36 months!  Thank you for the faith and trust that you given the GPG leadership team! We are working hard everyday to make you proud and fulfill our mission!

Jill Henke
Program Director