Intake Should Not be the Only Goal of an Intake Department

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Animal rescues have foundational departments that are crucial to the organizations’ abilities to achieve their goals.


Here are a few examples of foundational departments that animal rescues need to succeed:

  1. A Humane Education Department

  2. An Intake Department

  3. A Foster Department

  4. An Adoption Department

  5. A Marketing Department

  6. A Fundraising Department

In this blog post, we focus solely on the function of your animal rescue’s intake department.

When most people think of an intake department, they think of a department set up to facilitate the process of bringing animals into their organization’s care.

However, that should never be the main function of your animal rescue’s intake department.

What does an intake department in an animal rescue do?

An intake department is a department responsible for:

  1. Organizing a lost and found program to reunite lost pets with their owners

  2. Providing support to community members who are considering rehoming their pets

  3. Referring community members who are struggling with pet ownership to community programs or initiatives designed to help them I.e. spay and neuter clinics, subsidized veterinary care providers, pet food banks

  4. Organizing pet food banks and other pet initiatives to keep animals in their forever homes

What should the goals of an intake department be?

Contrary to popular belief, an intake department should never be built solely around the goal of bringing animals into your animal

rescue’s care.

Instead, intake departments should be built around several different goals like:

  1. Supporting animals already in homes to prevent your animal rescue from overflowing with pets unnecessarily.

  2. Assisting pet owners who may require additional assistance caring for their pets.

  3. Rehoming animals in need of rehoming.

  4. Taking animals in need into your animal rescue’s care.


It is crucial to keep these goals in mind when designing your animal rescue’s intake department.

Your intake department will need to execute different programs to achieve each of these goals.

Here are a few examples of programs commonly facilitated by intake departments to achieve their organizational goals.

1. Lost and Found Programs


When animals are lost, their owners usually call every animal shelter or animal rescue they can, hoping someone may have brought their lost pet to an animal shelter or rescue.


This is communal thinking, because usually when someone finds a pet that is lost in the community, the first place they contact is an animal shelter or animal rescue to ask what to do.


Your animal rescue is then placed in the perfect position to reunite lost pets with their families. But of course, facilitating this service is going to take a bit of work on your animal rescue’s end!

You’ll want to start by having a telephone number that community members can use to contact your animal rescue in instances where they’ve either lost or found a pet.

Here’s some information you’ll want to gather from community members who contact your animal rescue after finding a pet:

  1. First and last name

  2. Telephone number

  3. Major intersection

  4. As much information as possible regarding the pet

You’ll also want to instruct the finder on what to do to assist in the process of reuniting the animal with their owner.

Your intake team can start by asking the caller to bring the animal to either an animal shelter, animal rescue or veterinary provider, where the animal can be scanned for a microchip.

If the animal has a microchip with current and up to date contact information for the animal’s owner, then the animal can be reunited with their owner.

If the animal is not microchipped, then you’ll want to ask the pet finder to take a photo of the animal to assist your team in locating the animal’s owner.

Your animal rescue can attempt to locate the animal’s owner by:

  • Contacting local animal shelters and animal rescues to see if the animal's owner has reached out to any of them searching for their lost pet.

  • Posting the animal on local Facebook groups dedicated to lost pets.

However, you’ll want to make sure the animal is being adequately cared for while this process takes place.

Your intake team can ask the caller if they would like to keep the animal in their home until the animal’s owner can be located or if they’d like to surrender the animal to the care of an animal shelter or animal rescue.

Either way, your animal rescue may be required to continue providing both the animal and the person who found the animal with ongoing support.

If an animal’s owner contacts your animal rescue inquiring about a lost pet, then your animal rescue will also need to provide the person with the same level of support you would provide to the animal.

Your intake team can provide the animal’s owner with information on how to locate a lost pet.

To increase the animal’s chances of being found, your animal rescue should also be instructing the animal’s owner to contact their microchipping company to provide up to date contact information.

Your intake team should ask the owner for a photograph and description of their pet.

That photograph and description can be shared on lost pet groups on social media or with the intake departments of other local animal shelters and animal rescues via email.

2. Pet Food Banks


Unexpected job loss can make it difficult for pet owners to continue caring for their pets.

In fact, it is not uncommon for animals to be surrendered to local animal shelters simply because their owners are experiencing temporary financial difficulties.


The keyword here is temporary because overtime, most people’s scenarios will improve.

It would be very unfortunate if a community member was to be forced to surrender their pet in hard times, only for their situation to change shortly after.


It would be even sadder for their animal who now must go through a stressful rehoming process.


Pet food banks are a great way to prevent these animals from being rehomed unnecessarily.


A pet food bank is a program organized by a non-profit or charitable organization for the purpose of distributing pet foods and supplies to companion animals in need to avoid hunger and homelessness.


Pet food banks can be accessed by pet owners experiencing financial difficulties.


Pet food banks have the potential to:

  • Keep animals in their forever homes.

  • Prevent animals from being surrendered to overcrowded animal shelters where they may be at risk of being euthanized or contracting an infection or disease.

  • Save your animal rescue the cost associated with bringing an animal into your animal rescue’s care unnecessarily.

  • Give your animal rescue the opportunity to educate pet owners in your community.


Part of your intake department’s role is to provide support to animals in your community including animals already in homes.


Your intake team is also more likely to be contacted by an owner experiencing extreme financial difficulty than any other area of your animal rescue.


This means your intake team is probably the best -equipped team in your entire animal rescue to understand the needs of struggling pet owners in your community.


When community members contact your intake team for the purpose of rehoming their pet due to a lack of financial resources, your intake team can ask additional questions to determine whether the financial difficulties appear to be temporary.


In these instances, your intake team can tell the community member about your animal rescue’s pet food bank.

The community member should be able to access your animal rescue’s pet food bank to access a variety of animal care items such as:

  • Dry food

  • Wet food

  • Litter


You’ll need to secure donations to help your animal rescue operate your pet food bank.


If you’re in need of donations, then you may be able to secure donations from local:

  • Pet stores

  • Pet food companies

  • Pet boarding facilities

  • Groomers

  • Veterinary clinics

You can also ask each entity to consider allowing your animal rescue to place a donation bin at their places of business. This will help your animal rescue to encourage community members to make donations to your pet food bank.


You’ll need to have a specific location where community members can go to access your animal rescue’s pet food bank.


If you’re a foster-based rescue who does not operate at a physical rescue location, then you may want to try collaborating with a local people food bank in your community.


After all, it would only make sense that some of the people using the people foodbank maybe pet owners too right?

Your animal rescue’s pet food bank is also a great place to provide humane education to members of your animal rescue’s community.


3. Animal Help Hotlines

Animals end up in animal rescues because they’re in need of care – yes… but in some instances, animals already have caregivers who are simply struggling to care for them.

It is not uncommon for owners to contact animal rescues to surrender their pets because the animal needs veterinary care that the owner can’t afford.

In these instances, your intake team will have the opportunity to provide these owners with the resources needed to keep these animals in their homes.

For example, you can refer the owner to:

  • A local veterinary clinic that offers discounted rates or payment plans.

  • A charity or non-profit organization who provides funding for veterinary care.

  • A subsidized pet clinic.

If an animal’s owner can successfully fund the animal’s veterinary care, then the owner will be less likely to surrender their pets.

This is great for the animal that gets to avoid all the stress associated with the rehoming and it is even better for your animal rescue who can use your resources to help other animals in need.

It is also not uncommon for owners to contact animal rescues to surrender their pets because the animal is displaying behavioural concerns that the owner is unable to deal with.

For example, an animal may at any point begin to:

  • Experience separation anxiety

  • Display Aggression

  • Have trouble utilizing their litter box

If your intake team can make resources available to help the owners learn the skills needed to successfully manage these behaviours, then you can successfully prevent a lot of these animals from having to endure the stress of rehoming.

Sometimes the community member who needs to use your animal rescue’s hotline is not even the owner of the animal.

For example, a community member may find a stray cat in their yard.

If that community member is not a pet owner, then the community member may not know how to even approach the cat.

In these instances, the community member may turn to your animal help hotline to determine what to do next. This will give your intake team the opportunity to provide that community member with the tools needed to save the life of an animal in need.

Had your intake team not been there, that animal could have been left outside. The animal could have been hit by a car or preyed on by a larger predator.

Instead, the animal may already be on route to the nearest animal rescue, animal shelter or veterinary provider – thanks to your intake team’s expertise!

According to the Animal Humane Society “A free Pet Helpline (952-HELP-PET)… handled 74,302 incoming calls, providing caring advice and resources to help with everything from solving behaviour problems to finding pet-friendly housing.”

Pet owners need support!

Your animal rescue is the perfect organization to provide them with that support!


4. Intake Services


Even in instances where your animal rescue chooses to work solely with one or two select species of animals, you will still have admissions of animals belonging to different demographics.


Here are some of the demographics your animal rescue is likely to encounter:

  • Stray Animals

  • Abandoned Animals

  • Owner Surrenders

  • Animals from local animal shelters

Your animal team’s role will change depending on which demographic they’re serving at a given point in time.

An owner surrender may result in your intake team gathering information about an animal’s medical history but in the case of an abandoned animal, no owner would be available to gather that information from.

A stray animal may need to be placed on a stray hold. An owner surrender may not.

Your intake team needs to be trained on how to assess the needs of each animal, as well as how to facilitate the intake of each of these animals into your animal rescue’s care.

In some instances, facilitating the intake of an animal in need may involve gathering information from the animal’s owner or another person who may have found the animal.

In other instances, facilitating the intake of an animal may involve working with the adoption department of a local animal shelter.

In each of these instances, it is important to gather as much information about the animal as your animal rescue possibly can. It’s important to have forms prepared to address each possible scenario.

It is also important for your intake team to practice adequate infection and disease control when interacting with animals who have not yet been seen by your animal rescue’s veterinary team.

Concluding Thoughts.

Intake departments are responsible for facilitating the intake of animals in need into your animal rescue’s care, but that is not their sole responsibility.


Intake departments also exist to:

  • Provide support to animals

  • Provide support for pet owners


Your intake department can help your animal rescue better serve your community by executing several different community initiatives such as:

  • Pet help hotlines

  • Lost and found programs

  • Pet food banks

If you’d like to learn more information on how to organize your animal rescue’s intake department, please follow Rescue Corner to access more of this amazing life-saving information!

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