Shelter Operations

Adopets' Guide to Remote Shelter Operations

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Jeremy Macdonald

In the course of building Adopets we have spoken with hundreds of shelters and rescues about improving adoption operations. Today, there is a new demand on shelters to work remotely and to engage with their communities remotely. To assist shelters meeting these new demands we have assembled a collection of best practices. If you find this helpful please share the post with colleagues.



COVID-19 has led to an overnight transformation of adopter behavior where people are confined to their home and need to conduct aspects of the adoption process remotely. For many shelters, this presents a significant challenge to develop online services. However, the efforts to meet adopters where they are will better prepare shelters for a future, where consumer expectations of robust online services is only going to be magnified in a post COVID-19 world. The first challenge presented by today’s “social distancing”  is how to engage adopters remotely. Disclosure: The following functionality is what Adopets adoption software provides shelters and rescues.



Without the benefit of being at the shelter, adopters need to be able to filter, sort, and save animals. Saving animals is particularly important as adopters are likely to share animals they have found with family members before making a decision.



Paperwork has never been something that adopters or shelters really enjoyed and today there is an opportunity to replace paper applications with an electronic application. Electronic applications enable shelters to efficiently gather adopter information while at the same time providing a source of rich data for community engagement, fundraising, and reporting.



With many adoption staff members working remotely shelters need an easy to use system for reviewing and approaching applications. Adopets approach is to segment application into three categories: New, In Progress, and Approved. By grouping applications by their status, shelter staff can easily begin reviewing New applications and continuing the approval process on applications that are In Progress. As adoptions are approved it is important to have a system that not only notifies adopters of their next steps but also notifies potential adopters who were interested in the same animal that it is no longer available. The discussion about Smart Email Interactions will provide more information on how to use automated emails to achieve good adopter communication.



Once an adopter has found a pet and has their application approved, you still want to minimize the time adopters spend in your facility so online contracting and online payment is critical. Having contracting and payment linked together saves time switching between two systems and makes it easier on adopters. 



One of the challenges of online engagement is providing a hands on experience. It is easy for adopters to get frustrated if they do not experience timely communication, clear process expectations, and accurate pet availability. To help achieve this, Adopets has introduced Smart Email Responses which are triggered at various stages of the adoption process. For example, a confirmation email is sent upon application receipt and adopters are updated upon application approval, and documents such as the adoption contract and medical records are automatically emailed to the adopter upon completion. Adopeters also receive an email if a pet they have saved or applied for are no longer available due to being adopted by someone else. Automation saves your staff time and enables you to provide a high touch and well orchestrated remote experience. 


Adoption counseling is a critical service and even in a post COVID-19 world there will be a high priority on adopters meeting pets prior to adoption. Let’s think about what is needed now and keep the post COVID-19 discussion for later when I cover A Vision for the Future. In order to support social distancing orders some shelters are providing remote adoption counseling over the phone or over video chat. This type of adaptation of a former in-person service is allowing shelters to get to know adopters in a one-on-one setting and cover the animal characteristics and behavior that makes for good match making. This can all be done remotely so that the adopters who come to the shelter are already matched with pets and only there to pick them up.



Online appointment scheduling can help shelters provide remote adoption counseling, schedule pet surrenders, pet pick up, and other shelter services. In today’s environment moving these services to by appointment only helps shelters maintain critical operations while also creating an efficient process for community engagement. Some of our favorite tools for online scheduling include; Acuity, Calendly, TimeTrade, TimeTap, and SimplyBook. 



Times of crises provide organizations an opportunity to rethink operations and to make improvements. Previous health crises in Asia and the global financial crises in 2009 presented a silver lining for organizations who leaned into the challenges and improved risk management, emergency planning, and financial resiliency. They emerged stronger and better prepared for the future.


The benefit to shelters who embrace remote adopter engagement systems for COVID-19 is that these moves will also set shelters up for improved shelter efficiency, customer satisfaction, and adoption results when the current health crisis is over. This is not to say that shelters will continue all steps being taken today to remotely engage adopters, but many of the steps like online applications, scheduling, contracting, and payment will likely become part of the new normal and will continue to benefit shelters who embrace them.


As a new normal is established, the threat of COVID-19 reemerging in the Fall or a new health crises emerging in the years to come will remain. Shelters who embrace remote adopter engagement systems today will experience better results today and be better prepared for what tomorrow brings.


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