2020 was a year that most of us would like to forget. There was no shortage of challenges that presented themselves at each and every turn. In challenges, however, there is opportunity.

I hesitate to look at data from 2020 and call it a trend. It is more an anomaly with the potential to become a trend if we listen close enough. There are a lot of good things that have come from this past year, and there are many opportunities to build a stronger foundation for the future.

Let’s take a closer look at the animals that come to Michigan Humane. In 2019, we took in 11,689 dogs and cats. In 2020, that number dropped to 7,887. That is a 32.5% reduction in intake in one year. Many factors go into that, COVID being not the least of them. The shutdowns and restrictions around COVID wreaked havoc on operations throughout the country. A portion of this reduction in intake has to be attributed to operational disruptions.

I, however, attribute a majority of that to programs intended to work in partnership with the community and keep families together. Programs like our Judith Phillips Caplan Pet Food Pantry, our community solutions work, Pets for Life, and our work in access to care – ensuring all have equal access to necessary services to keep families together with their beloved pets. Our reduction in intake is an intentional product of community/family-focused work.

Those community and family-based programs had a dramatic impact on animals that were surrendered by their owners – owners that could no longer care for them. In 2020, we saw a 29.9% reduction in owner surrenders. This means more animals are staying together, even in these difficult times, with their families.

As organizations around the country braced for and realized an increase in owner surrenders, why did the number at Michigan Humane drop so dramatically? To understand this trend, we surveyed clients of our pet food pantry. We found roughly 60% said that without the pet food pantry, they would have surrendered their beloved pet or that the pantry was critical to them keeping their family together. Extrapolate that out to the 5,000 dogs and cats supported through our pet food pantry, and that is roughly as many as 3,000 animals that didn’t come to the shelter through just the impact of this one program.

There is a compounding effect as well on our work in the shelter. Keeping families together and out of the shelter frees our incredible teams to expand our definition of health and treatable and continue to expand our lifesaving work. In the past, animal shelters were measured by quantity. How many adoptions? Live release rate? Now, it is the quality of work and the complexity and totality of work both in the shelter and in the community.

We now have the obligation to take this data and build on it. Our focus moving forward is on supporting, at the highest level, every animal and every family in Metro Detroit. It is about working side by side with the community as partners. It is about compassion, collaboration, passion, and being an inclusive organization that everyone can feel a part of.

When you look behind the curtain of 2020, you see some shining lights. You see possibility and positivity. Together, we can build towards a better future. At Michigan Humane, we are constantly evaluating our programs to determine how to best support the people and pets of our community. Everything we do is fueled by our heart but implemented and evaluated by our head. While 2020 was a strange year, the data that comes from it cannot be discarded but rather will be used to guide our programs moving forward. It is proof that families and communities are better together with their pets. That our focus towards serving ALL animals in our community, in the shelter and in our homes, is working. That rather than “serving” a community, “partnering” with a community yields more powerful connections with our pets and leads to healthier and safer communities.

Like all of us, I am glad to turn the page on the calendar and say goodbye to 2020. That said, we are stronger from the lessons we’ve learned.

Photo credit: Michigan Humane

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