When Lauren Magielnicki joined NJ STRAYS, she did so, not just with a heartfelt commitment to animals - but also a desire to help pet owners in need: "Helping people keep their pets makes me feel great," she says. "Pets are like our furry children. Sometimes, people fall on hard times, but they get to keep their family together through the Owner Surrender Prevention project."
Owner Surrender Prevention project (or OSPP for short) has four primary functions:
Temporary boarding / fostering
Behavior consultation / training
In essence, OSPP is the Robin Hood of the #NoKillNJ universe: it moves resources from people who can help (donors) to people in need, with an overarching mission to reduce animal shelter intake. Magielnicki is the project director, working with a dedicated team. Tammy Fabian recruits and screens loving foster homes, while Jessica Benninger Vollero coordinates vet care payments.
"The project reduces animal intake into shelters by serving as a last resort," Magielnicki expains. "We believe that the best place for a pet is in the home. When pet owners are desperate and consider surrendering their pet to a shelter for re-homing, OSPP steps in."
In New Jersey, shelters are only required to hold surrendered and found animals for a period of seven (7) days before euthanizing to make space for other incoming animals. This means that - if an owner surrenders his or her pet to a high-kill shelter - there is a small likelihood that the pet will find a new permanent home. The likelihood decreases if the pet is older or has special needs such as medicine or care.
Research conducted by the ASPCA reveals some interesting statistics for the period of 2010 to 2015 in the United States:
6.12 million households re-homed, or surrendered, their pets (that's more than a million pets per year!!!)
36% of those (2.2 million) animals were surrendered to shelters
Vet bills and housing were listed as the top reasons for surrendering pets
"We have veterinary assistance for people who have hit financial trouble," Magielnicki says. "We don't cover routine bills like vaccines and wellness visits, but we do emergencies; and we will sponsor 50% of a spay / neuter procedure.
"Our temporary boarding and fostering program helps with those instances where a landlord rejects a pet or someone becomes evicted and needs to find a new home. We'll board for up to 30 days max and foster for 60 days max."
A free consultation from the NJ STRAYS dog behaviorist is also an option if a family dog is difficult to manage. Statistics demonstrate that animal surrender due to pet behavior is not as common as medical and housing hurdles, but occasionally, changes in the home (human stress, new baby, moving, etc.) can affect pets and cause them to alter their behaviors. Training can be an alternative to surrender; and if it doesn't help, NJ STRAYS can help with safe re-homing as a last resort.
The top challenge the OSPP team faces is financing: "Our food drives are very successful, and we are able to source some wonderful homes for temporary housing of pets," Magielnicki explains. "But we do have trouble raising money for vet bills. This initiative is new; but we anticipate interest and growth over time."
Speaking of growth: OSPP currently operates in four areas, but Magielnicki foresees a chance for expansion down the road. With greater funding comes the opportunity to help pet owners offset other expenses like wellness visits, training classes and vaccines. "As I said," she reiterates, "the best place for a pet is in his or her loving home."
If you need help, don't surrender. Contact OSPP at 973-324-7925 ext 3 (Hablamos Español, ext 0) or firstname.lastname@example.org.