Day in the Life: Dumb Friends League animal movement coordinators

Remember Tetris®? It’s a video game that, according to the official website, embraces “our universal desire to create order out of chaos.” When playing Tetris, tile puzzle pieces drop from the sky and the player manipulates the pieces, attempting to fit them together. When they fit together properly, the pieces disappear, creating more space. When playing the game, one can feel as though they will never fully complete the puzzle.

So, what does this have to do with the Dumb Friends League? If you ask Animal Movement Coordinator Autumn Shea, she’ll tell you that’s how she describes her role, “my job is like real life Tetris with animals!”

What is an animal movement coordinator?

The Dumb Friends League receives 58 pets per day on average. At the writing of this article, the League has more than 500 pets onsite at the Quebec Street Shelter alone (that’s one HUGE Tetris puzzle!). All pets are in various stops on their journeys through the shelter. They may be lost and on a stray hold, awaiting surgery, returning from a foster home or ready for adoption.

How do we figure out where those pets are housed throughout the shelter? That’s where animal movement coordinators, our resident pet population puzzle solvers, come into the picture.

Creating order out of chaos.

With hundreds of pets onsite and dozens more constantly coming through our doors, days can be a little chaotic and overwhelming at times, especially for the animal movement coordinators.

The day starts by pulling reports of animals that are becoming available for adoption and others needing to be moved to different areas of the shelter, assessing current space and anticipating where there may be challenges throughout the day. “I am always thinking ahead,” Autumn says. “I think about the pets currently here and try to prepare for any that will come in. Nobody puts an animal anywhere without checking with us first.”

After pulling and reviewing reports, Autumn does a walk through to visually check out kennel space and determine where the animals on her list can go, taking note of where two small dogs could perhaps be housed together or if a cat was sent out to a foster home, therefore making space for another pet.

Once determinations are made about where dogs, cats and small pets like guinea pigs or hamsters should go, Autumn and her volunteer begin moving animals. Today there are 38 animals going up for adoption, as well as other pets that need to be moved from one area of the shelter to another for various reasons. All pets animal movement coordinators interact with have one thing in common, they are all one step closer to meeting their new families.

Making friends.

Animal movement coordinators not only physically move animals throughout the shelter, they review information about every single animal going up for adoption. “We’re like the police for everything,” according to Autumn. They comb through records to confirm pets have received all required vaccinations, medical checks and anything else they may need, ensuring nothing falls through the cracks. If they notice something hasn’t been done, they alert the team responsible for providing whatever care the animal still requires.

They also review behavior notes to help determine where a pet will do best within the shelter. For example, they’ll look for an individual kennel for a cat that has a history of not getting along with other cats, or find a kennel with similar sized, social dogs to help a more fearful dog feel more confident and comfortable in the shelter.

Because they review these records so carefully, animal movement coordinators likely know the pets at the League better than anyone else. Let’s meet just a few friends we moved to new spaces in the shelter during the day we spent with Autumn.

Molly is an adorable 10-month-old terrier mix. At only eight and a half pounds, the young dog was very fearful when she arrived at the League. Our behavior team worked with the Molly to help her gain confidence and learn to trust. When it was time to move her into a new kennel, Autumn decides to see how Molly would do with two other small, social dogs. Not a fan of walking on the leash, Autumn carries the little dog down the hall and tells her, “it’s time to make some friends!” Upon entering the kennel, two happy pups readily greet Molly. Autumn stays inside the kennel for a few minutes to ensure everyone is being friendly, then stands outside of the kennel and observes the new pack. Satisfied the little dogs are becoming fast friends, Autumn updates Molly’s record so everyone knows where to find her.

Riley is a friendly gray tabby who was diagnosed with allergies and heart murmur. He’s also not a fan of other cats. Today, Riley is moving up to the adoption floor. Autumn locates a single cat kennel for Riley since he requires a special diet and doesn’t care for other kitties. She speaks softly to Riley as she gently removes him from his kennel in the back of the house. When getting him set up in his new kennel on the adoption floor, she makes sure he has a soft bed to lie on, a litterbox, food and fresh water. She places signs letting staff and volunteers know about his special dietary needs on his kennel, then takes a moment to give the sweet cat a little love. “My favorite part about my job is interacting with the animals.”

Helping out where help is needed.

Since animal movement coordinators work with just about every department, they often find themselves jumping in to help others when they have a little extra time. Note: This is a common theme you will see with League staff—people always willing to assist their coworkers whenever they can. We have a pretty great team here!

Autumn explains that sometimes they will help the adoptions team when they are extremely busy or assist animal care in getting kennels cleaned and prepared for new pets. Today Autumn discovers that she’s needed in cage wash.

This area is pretty self-explanatory—cage wash is where we wash kennels. It’s important that cages be properly sterilized before being used for new animals, but it’s also important to have several clean cages available should anyone urgently need one.

So, as the animal movement volunteer moves several cats to new colonies, Autumn tackles the stacks of kennels, getting them cleaned up and ready to go for all departments to use.

And the pets just keep on coming.

Many animals are in place by the time the shelter opens at 11 a.m., but much like Tetris, the pet population puzzle is constantly changing. Pets are adopted creating more space, but other pets arrive and need a place to go.

Autumn constantly walks through kennel areas and checks reports so she can let staff in pet admissions, veterinary services, animal care, foster, transfer and adoptions know where there is space is available for any pets coming in or needing to be moved.

Specifically, animal movement coordinators try to make sure kennels in the adoptions area are filled with available pets, so as one pet gets adopted, the kennel is sterilized and prepared for another pet.

And so, the Tetris blocks continue to fall.

Game not over.

While the job of an animal movement coordinator may seem like a never-ending game of Tetris, it’s one that is highly rewarding and extremely valuable in the lives of homeless pets at the Dumb Friends League. By coordinating the flow and movement of animals through the shelter, they are playing a role in helping pets quickly find new, loving homes.

And next time you play a game of Tetris and the tiles stack up as more fall from the sky, think of Autumn and the animal movement coordinators at the League and send them a little gratitude for having the desire to “create order out of chaos.” And thanks to the space created by the new Leslie A. Malone Center, there will be a little less chaos.