Differentiation

May 1st, 2018 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

If I could distill the reasons for the success of Humane Pennsylvania and the animals we serve have enjoyed over the past 13 years in one word it would be “differentiation.”

Differentiation stands in complete opposition to the way most sheltering organizations view the world and the problems we face. Our industry tends to think in terms of broad generalities and in the plural.  It thinks of animals, people, and breeders. Humane Pennsylvania has long focused on the animal, the person, the breeder.

Why does this matter? It matters because animals, people, everything, are not the same and how one handles them and their needs vary widely.  A cat is not a dog or a boy and a golden retriever is not a chihuahua and a house cat is not a feral cat.  Yet most animal advocates still try to take our work down to the broadest, most common denominator.

For example, at Humane PA 13 years ago (then The Humane Society of Berks County), we had a “cat problem.” We took in 4,000 cats, we killed 3,000 cats.  Broadly, that was a problem for cats that seemed insurmountable.  But we began to differentiate.  Of those 3,000 doomed cats, 1,000 were deemed “feral” and that was not something we could handle, so they were killed.

1,000 seemed like a lot of feral cats to those of us who were new to HSBC, so we further differentiated.  What did we mean by feral?  It turned out that we meant cats that hissed, clawed, and were nasty, and maybe truly feral, too.  Truly feral cats were, in fact, pretty much impossible for us to handle at the time so we set aside that group for the moment and looked at the nasty ones.

Why were they nasty and what could we do about it? We gave all incoming cats a 24 hour cooling off period.  The result was nearly four out of five cats demonstrating themselves to be simply unhappy cats, not ferals.  With a little time those cats were happy.  We reduced euthanasia of supposedly feral cats by 800, literally overnight.

That left us with 800 extra cats for the adoption pool. We didn’t look at them as generic “cats” we broke down the population to those most in danger of being killed.  This included cats who would be killed just because we ran out of space.  We created what was then a groundbreaking, controversial, and largely unheard of practice of simply giving cats away when we ran out of space (Free to a Great Home Program).  If our goal was to not kill cats, why not simply choose to not kill them?

It worked. We only gave away about 200 cats that first summer of 2006 but the extra space allowed us to avoid killing any for space the entire rest of the year.  We won a national best practices award, our first time on the national stage.  And we gathered the data to show that these adoptions were actually more successful long term than normal adoptions.  Fee waived adoptions are now common practice across the country.

We then extended the practice to special needs cats; cats that had been with us more than 90 days, then 60 days, then 30 days; and older cats. Then dogs.  By the last quarter of 2007 we killed our last animal for space and we haven’t looked back.  Euthanasia rates of 75% turned into live outcome rates of 85%, 90%, and higher.  Now we have even found ways to handle feral cats successfully.

We did it one, two, ten, one hundred animals at a time. We did it by seeing the trees that made up the forest, not just the forest.  We have tried to extend that to everything we do.  Our events are tailored to provide as many opportunities to give for as many people as possible.  We create services that target as many groups and pockets of people and animals in need as possible.  We differentiate.

Is it easy? Hell, no, it’s way harder.  But it’s way more successful and it’s the only way to get that last, hard to place group of animals adopted, or hard to serve humans served, or hard to hook donors giving.

Shelters want to know how to save them all? Stop thinking about them all.  Differentiate.

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OK, maybe not the final frontier, but a final frontier.  When animal “shelters” started over a hundred years ago they were pounds in the truest sense.  A place where animals were rounded up to be killed as nuisances.  Transition to more modern adoption shelters and behavior was hardly relevant.  With overflowing numbers, bad behavior was not something to be addressed, it was a solid excuse for making space.

Even today, when the number of animals entering shelters nationwide is continuing to plummet and adoptions increase, physical issues are often the first to be addressed. In shelters with veterinary support or staff, which nearly all have these days, a broken leg or simple illness can be repaired and an otherwise happy animal can be rendered healthy.  Viola, adoptable.

It is the nebulous “behavioral problem” which now nags at shelters. Overpopulation is no longer the driver of dogs entering animal shelters throughout most of America.  REPEAT:  There is not an overpopulation problem for dogs any longer and I will call you grossly misinformed if you claim otherwise.  How do we know?  There are virtually no puppies in shelters most shelters any longer.  There are ten homes- twenty- for every puppy.

The dogs in shelters are not there because there aren’t enough homes. They are there because there is something “wrong” with them.  Put away the pitchforks and let me clarify.  Sometimes that something wrong is nothing more than being an adult rather than a puppy, or being the wrong breed.  People love what they love and what people love the most is puppies.  But virtually any dog or any age or breed that is healthy, happy and well behaved gets adopted now.

Note my emphasis on well-behaved. Most of the dogs that get waves of sympathetic apologists beating drums, such as Big, Black Dogs and pitbulls, aren’t languishing in shelters because of their size, color or breed.  The ones who have trouble being adopted are idiots.  I mean that in the gentlest but most honest sense of the word.

The reality in modern shelters is that we get young adult to middle age dogs who never received the kind of basic obedience training (along with basic veterinary supports) that makes a good dog a great dog. A poorly behaved dog isn’t a bad dog, but it can often be an unadoptable dog.  Especially when it’s big, or a breed that has some baggage.

Well trained, perfectly behaved dogs get adopted. A dog that sits, stays, waits to eat until you say he can, doesn’t get on the couch without permission, doesn’t pull on a leash, jump on guests, or bark incessantly- the hallmarks of well trained dogs- get adopted.  It’s that simple.  Making a dog without those attributes into one with them takes time, effort, people power, and space.  Until recently, we could give the effort and we could find the people, but the overcrowded shelters of the past didn’t allow for the time.

To quote Harry Bemis, we now have time enough at last. What we need it the space.  Space to turn obnoxious dogs into great dogs.  Dogs who listen and wow potential adopters.  Our Lancaster campus has always been blessed with excess space, but Reading was been a landlocked postage stamp until we acquired our new hospital and corporate office facility across the street from the shelter.  It has space which is about to be put to good use.

On May 24, at 10:00 AM, we will be dedicating Humane Pennsylvania’s new Spike’s Woods Canine Enrichment Center (1729 N. 11th St., Reading, PA 19604).  The new space will have three individual fenced training and socialization yards, with covered seating areas for staff and volunteers for snowy and rainy training days.  It will be beautiful, with 18 big flowering and shade trees recently planted, and shady seating for staff and adopters.  It’ll have flowers, it’ll have a gazebo, it’ll have super keen shade sails, and it will be boffo.  It’ll also be adjacent to a brand spanking newly paved parking lot and entry skirts, which doesn’t matter to the dogs but if you’ve ever dragged the bottom of your car coming into our lot, it will be pretty awesome, too.

It will let our staff and volunteers- mostly of spectacular volunteers who put in hours of time working with our dogs- create ideal canine adoption candidates. This will get more dogs adopted, which frees up more space to let us work with even harder to place animals for even longer so they get adopted…and so on.  We have needed it and we are about to have it.  Our behavior program can start going to warp speed.  This space is only the first step in implementing some transformation behavioral responses in both our shelters.

The canine enrichment center was made possible through the generous support of many kind supporters, with special thanks going to Joan Baldino and her very patient family, Jerry Roba, and Purina, as well as dozens of Arf’s Art Auction supporters who bid on last year’s Fund-A-Need project, which was this project. We managed to do more with less (which we are pretty good at) with the help of carpentry volunteers and staff swinging some hammers and landscape support from Moore Landscaping in Oley and Geissler Tree Farm in Leesport.

We hope you will join us for the dedication May 24. It’s not too late to show your appreciation and support of this lifesaving project by making a donation (just click here).  Or, get an update on the project in person and learn about this year’s Fund-A-Need project by joining us at this year’s Art for Arf’s Sake Auction on May 19.  It’s a Westworld theme, but with no killing and more clothing.  Everybody loves robot cowboys!

Join us May 24 for the dedication. If you can’t, swing by some other time and check things out.  This is just one of many steps in some very exciting transformations that will help Humane Pennsylvania realize its mission of building the best possible community anywhere to be an animal!

PS…I didn’t mention cats in this post. Don’t worry, that’s coming.

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An amazing thing happened recently in Western Pennsylvania. One of the very few politicians to vote against the wildly popular omnibus Libre’s Law, a major animal welfare/anti-cruelty victory, lost his bid to become a US Congressman in a special election.  In a district that skewed heavily toward his party’s advantage.  By 500 votes.

Now, when a loss margin is only 500 votes, everyone can and does claim to be the group votes that put the winner over the top. But if any constituency can take some satisfaction in this anti-animal welfare politician losing, it’s animal welfare voters.  Because they were pissed.

The person who beat him jumped on the animal welfare train with a vengeance- and he needs to be held to his promise to be his district’s pro-animal legislator in Washington. The politician who lost may have paid for standing tall in support of animal cruelty by refusing to vote for a law that passed overwhelmingly in a rare bi-partisan vote in Harrisburg.

There is a price to pay for being bad on animal welfare. There is a new third rail in politics, and it’s furry.  It cuts across party lines and the old trope that it’s only granola crunching hippie Dems who care about animals being demolished.  The ship of animal welfare is being lifted by Republican women voters.  Politicians are taking notice.

On April 16, 2018, I joined a swarm of citizen animal welfare advocates in Harrisburg for Humane Lobby Day. It was by far the largest group I’ve ever seen.  Politicians made time to meet with these advocates and some of them were a little less smarmy about these silly little animal issues than they’ve been in the past.  Not because they see it as an easy way get votes to pad their already gerrymandered vote counts.

No, they now see this group of voting advocates as a threat, and well they should.  The power of a lobby is in swinging elections.  Educate, yes.  Advocate, yes.  But if that doesn’t work, vote the intransigents out and replace them with someone who sees things our way.  That’s a power lobby.  Just ask the NRA.  We’ve learned at the feet of the masters.

Humane Pennsylvania is a 501c3 charity and cannot endorse or oppose candidates for election (as a reminder, we are not the similarly named Humane PA PAC, the political action committee which can and does endorse candidates).  We welcome every elected official and every candidate to visit, talk, and learn what we do and how they can help us help animals.  Humane Pennsylvania can only encourage you to ensure that every candidate, from every party, starting in the primary elections, is a pro-animal candidate, so we can do our work to help animals better.

If you elect great pro-animal candidates in your party primaries, then partisans on both sides can go back to fighting over guns and taxes, like God intended, knowing that no matter which hard boiled gun lover or Prius driving pinko wins, animals won’t lose. If you keep letting them hear your voice, at the local, state, and national party level, in their offices, in the letters page of your local newspaper, or on social media, you will keep them worried about the price for turning your back on animal welfare and the voters who think it’s important.

We only need to point to Western Pennsylvania, where someone who turned his back on animals paid the ultimate political price.

Mark your calendar. The next Primary in Pennsylvania is May 15.  Who are you voting for and how do they feel about animal welfare?

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The Power of the Dog

April 12th, 2018 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

This week I thought I’d take a detour from the usual topics and share again a poem by Rudyard Kipling.

The Power of the Dog

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie—
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find—it’s your own affair— But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You will discover how much you care, And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long—
So why in—Heaven (before we are there) Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

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Sometimes you can get more done by being more efficient. Sometimes you need to get bigger to get more done.  And we’ve just gotten a little bigger!  Our Humane Veterinary Hospitals (HVH) Reading welcomed Dr. Linda Womer to the family this week.

Dr. Womer is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and Penn State (We are…you know the rest) and has been practicing for over 20 years. She brings a wealth of knowledge in a wide variety of veterinary approaches, including veterinary chiropractic, holistic and acupuncture, and rehabilitation.  As we expand our services and capacity in Reading to help even more animals in the community, Dr. Womer will be a great asset and partner!

Last week we also welcomed Lindsay High as our new Director of Marketing. Lindsay, who has deep roots in Lancaster County, has extensive experience in non-profit and corporate marketing, branding, and communications.  As we continue to expand and roll out new programs and initiatives, Lindsay will guide to process and content you’ll be seeing.  We are really excited to welcome Lindsay and Dr. Womer to the Humane Pennsylvania family.

They are coming on board at an exciting time for Humane Pennsylvania (see last week’s teaser!). We are about to try some new things and some old things in new ways to test a hypothesis.  We think we can show that when you give animals and animal caretakers in a community everything they need to be healthy and well, we won’t need traditional animal shelters any more.

Nobody ever said on their deathbed that they wished they had though smaller.

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An End to Animal Suffering

March 30th, 2018 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

A while back I reached the conclusion that the “No Kill” Contingent (capital N, capital K) essentially had it right when they philosophically paraphrased Ronald Reagan: Animal shelters aren’t the solution to our problems, they are the problem.

The once radical premise that shelters aren’t to be pitied, let alone applauded, for being the ultimate doom of millions of animals, fundamentally changed our approach to animal welfare. Shelters and their management became personally responsible for the lives in their hands and could no longer point a finger at “society.”  Shelters that did not save enough were failures.  The ones that did, were successes.

Humane Pennsylvania is a success. Over ten years ago we killed our last healthy animal for space.  Over the past ten years we’ve diminished the number of animals killed in our shelters so that even sick, injured, and behaviorally challenged animals now have over a 90% chance of leaving alive.  By the arbitrary “No Kill” formulas, we are a success.

But an organization which claims to be an “animal welfare” agency declaring victory because most animals leave its cages alive is like a prison claiming success over social ills because it has a high prisoner release rate. Prisons and shelters are the response to failure.  Our claims of success are like a chef who serves tainted meat and then wants to be congratulated for getting you to the hospital before you died of botulism.

The animal welfare world has tip toed around targeting the causes of animal intake at shelters over the years. Humane education was supposed to make people love their pets.  Increased cruelty law enforcement would stop animals from being abused.  By far, the most successful has been sterilization campaigns and the change in public attitude about having litters of puppies and kittens.  To a lesser degree (the first two) and greater degree (the last), efforts like these were targeted at stopping animals from entering our shelters in the first place.  That is true success.

In the past decade there has been an increased focus on relinquishment prevention. These are too often based at the front counter and assumes that there has already been a breakdown in the pet/caretaker relationship which has resulted in the animal coming to a shelter, even if it is successfully returned to its home with targeted counseling and supports.

Humane Pennsylvania began focusing on some core reasons for the break in the pet/caretaker bond back in 2006, by targeting preventable health issues and delivering affordable, high quality vet care to at risk communities. Yes, before there was HSUS’ Pets for Life, there was us.  This approach worked and it has changed the lives of thousands of animals and their families in our communities.  We believe it will prove to be the most successful “humane education” program ever because children in families who never experienced animal health care services as a normal part of life now see it as the proper way to care for pets.  They will grow up to believe, rightly so, that animals need and deserve that care, and they will know how to access it.

Despite this, we know that we are still receiving animals, as are other shelters in our communities. Can’t we take the lessons we learned about getting animals out of our shelters successfully by targeting approaches to suit specific populations (different breed, species, feral, stray initiatives) and merging that approach with intake prevention efforts?  Isn’t it time to have a goal where no animal enters our shelters because no animal needs to?

Too lofty a goal? So was a 97% save rate for healthy and treatable dogs 13 years ago, but we did that.

If we break down intake by shelters by major cause in our region (these causes vary around the country) we see some specific groupings:

  • Kittens
  • Stray cats and dogs without identification
  • Young adult dogs with health and behavioral issues
  • Animals with acute injury or illness, or mere hunger, which pose a financial burden on caretakers
  • Animals needing temporary short to medium term housing that are relinquished because caretakers can’t find an alternative
  • Lastly, animals entering because of the need of appropriate end of life euthanasia support

Just these six intake categories account for 80-90% or more of shelter intakes. How much more successful would we be if we could eliminate the causes and stop these animals from entering our shelters?  What if we could very nearly eliminate litters of unwanted kittens by providing universal, on demand sterilization for every cat in our community?

We can.  We don’t, but we can.

What if we provided every single cat and dog in our community with microchip identification so that strays could be identified in the field and returned to caretakers without coming to a shelter? Or if they did come to us, they’d get returned immediately?

We can.  We don’t, but we can.

What if every pet caretaker could receive all medically appropriate vaccinations, sterilization, and veterinary engagement and guaranteed access to a proper diet, which we know decreases the likelihood of current and future health and behavioral problems?

We can.  We don’t, but we can.

What if we had a means of providing emergency short term foster care for all animals, during a disaster or just for a week while someone is in the hospital or between houses?

We can.  We don’t, but we can.

Community expectations have changed. Demographics for companion animals have changed nationwide.  Wanting to be a “no kill shelter” is a laudable goal but, it’s not only easily possible, it’s fundamentally not enough.  Even declarations of being a “no kill community” are hollow. Not dying isn’t a good enough yardstick to measure ourselves against.

We need a no suffering animal community. We need a 100% thriving and safe animal community.  We need to build it brick by brick and the time to do it is right now.

I listed a string of things that we could do but don’t do. Humane Pennsylvania intends to start doing them.  We are going to build the very best community in which to be an animal and an animal caretaker anywhere.  Period.  We are going to show that it can be done anywhere.

And we are about to announce how, where, and when. Watch this space….

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Whew, it’s just under the wire but I have kept up my New Year’s Resolution of sticking to a weekly posting schedule! And I’m sticking to my “State of Humane PA” detail follow-ups this week (don’t worry, I’m sure there’s a tirade post in the near future). This week: Update on our events!

Let me start with some background on what our events are supposed to accomplish. We define events as being successful is they are good at raising funds, friends, awareness, or level of mission delivery. We use this as a yardstick to decide what works and what doesn’t. If an event doesn’t get us a lot of at least one of those, it doesn’t stay on the calendar. For example, 13 years ago we used to do a fundraising yard sale. It was a ton of work, it didn’t have anything to do with mission, and it might have raised $1,000 in a good year. Bad return on time, effort, mission, and money. So we scrapped it to put our effort into better returns.

That’s how we ended up settling onto out four major special events: Art for Arf’s Sake Auction, Walk for the Animals, Pints for Pups, and Tailwagger’s Trick-or-Treat. These each serve(d) a particular purpose. The Walk for the Animals raises a lot of money (about $100,000 annually), gets us our biggest crowds (thousands) and has a low barrier to entry (low registration fee and open to the public if they just want to check it out. I am super excited to announce, again, that the Walk will be returning to First Energy Stadium in 2018 on September 15! The Walk will return to its City origins, will be expanded to return it to its Walktoberfest full glory, and will have an additional focus on mission, with a developing (stay tuned) community pet health fair component. The revitalized Walk will check off all four boxes of funds, friends, awareness, and mission!

The Art for Arf’s Sake Auction is also switching things up by returning to the old Rajah Theater in Reading, currently known as the Santander Performing Arts Center, on May 19. The return to the theater will allow us to open the doors to more attendees. The Reading Museum was a blast, but it had a hard limit on attendance and we hated turning away friends who wanted to join us (and give us their money). The Auction is an event which has a smaller friend raising potential but it also raises about $100k each year and it allow us to share important news and plans with a few hundred of our best and most financially capable friends, and that allows us to build our mission capacity. Again, all boxes checked. This year’s theme is Westworld. I know, weird. But we do weird well.

The Tailwagger’s Trick or Treat is a newer event that grew out of having two Walks to manage when Berks Humane merged with the Humane League. The Humane League’s Walk was not as big in attendance or in revenue. So we decided we’d scrap the money motive entirely and just make it an event about introducing people to Humane PA and raising awareness of our work. A true “friend-raiser”! And although it is free and open to the public, thanks to sponsors and voluntary donations it still raised over $12,000 last year! It is growing and we hope that it can become a major community event open to all, and bringing together lots of partners who share our love of animals and our humane ethic for society at large. This year we will return to Buchanan Park in Lancaster on October 13, which helps keep a solid anchor event among our Lancaster family!

Now for the big change in 2018. Pints for Pups grew out of a one year anniversary party thrown by the old Legacy & Reading Brewing Company as a benefit for the animals a decade ago. It went from a couple dozen people to a hundred to as high as 500. It was a good intermediate fundraising event with a modest admission cost and it brought in some new friends. It was a good event to have one on one time with donors over a beer, but it wasn’t great for sharing news with a whole crowd. It was always on the weaker end of the check boxes. Modest financial, attendance, and awareness returns, and zero mission. It was also a LOT of work for the staff. As much work than the walk for a financial net that was only a quarter the return. It was also very subject to finding a good host, which was always tough due to the booze aspect, or the weather when we had it outdoors- last year tornadic thunderstorms and the year before sweltering heat. This year, we just couldn’t find the perfect venue.

Which is why we are announcing that Pints for Pups as we know it is evaporating, like foam on a draft beer. Awww, I know, bummer, right? Don’t worry! We wouldn’t leave you high and dry! We are announcing the creation of a Mini-Pints for Pups series! Bigger than our Yappy Hours, smaller than a full blown PfP. It will be a variety of events at different breweries and restaurants around Lancaster and Berks County! We have confirmed our first two (Stoudt’s Brewing Company In Adamstown and Union Jack’s Inn on the Manatawny) and we will have more to come. The new model will be more cost effective by a mile, won’t kill the staff, and will give everyone a chance to attend a Pints (or four) near them. We will be putting details out soon. There will still be sponsorship opportunities, tees, glasses, and beer, lots of sweet, flowing beer. It just won’t all be on one day. That means we improve our chance to make new friends and share our mission across our service area.

And, of course, we still have all our mission and awareness focused events. We have a slew of adoption days, community event participation, veterinary service delivery community events, and more in the works. These are all the ones we do with a strict focus on the mission, awareness, and friends.

Speaking of which, we always need volunteers to represent us at these events. They are fun, low impact, and flexible ways to help the animals of Humane PA. Trained event volunteers help us share our important work with the community at large. Consider learning more and joining us in this important volunteer role! Click here for more information about volunteering.

And if you want to join us for any of our events or learn how to be a sponsor or patron, visit our events page here. Your support makes our work possible and events are a way to support us and have a little fun, too!

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Well, enough preaching! Let’s get back to the 2018 State of Humane Pennsylvania follow-up posts!  One of the very biggest and best things that happened to Humane Pennsylvania in 2017 was to be honored with an amazing gift from a long-time supporter of the Humane League of Lancaster County.  Carol Culliton-Metzger, husband Richard, son Adam, and grandson Charlie, have made a multi-year, $500,000 commitment to the Humane League and our animals and programs!

If that name rings a bell, it should. Carol previously donated $150,000 to get our nationally accredited Humane Veterinary Hospitals Lancaster operations up and running.  Thanks to that support we were able to expand veterinary services, purchase all our major medical equipment, and receive the first accreditation of a non-profit animal hospital ever in Pennsylvania (and only one of 19 in the nation!).  As a result, we have been able to increase the amount of services provided to animals six fold, providing 6,000 client visits a year, plus all medical services- about a half million dollars in care value- for our sheltered animals.

But the need didn’t stop there, so Humane PA and the Culliton Family didn’t stop there, either! We developed a plan that would double or triple our service delivery over the next three years, increase our organizational efficiency, improve the quality of animal care, and get more animals adopted.  Like all great plans, we had to pay for it and the Culliton Family embraced our vision and made the single biggest gift to that date from a living donor to the Humane League!

This gift will allow us to make some major and much needed changes. First, cats will be returning to the primary adoption center.  HLLC’s cat adoption center was dreamed up when the shelter housed 10,000 animals a year and built when it housed 7,000 animals a year, nearly two decades ago.  The sheltering world has changed since then and HLLC now houses fewer than 3,000 animals a year thanks to our relinquishment prevention programs, veterinary services, and changes in shelter intake demographics in the United States.  Having a separate cat building actually serves to decrease the number of adoptions and also increases the cost of operating our adoption centers.  Creating a dedicated cat adoption center in our primary building will save more lives and direct more resources to our animals.

We will also be creating new, dedicated dog adoption meet and greet spaces and making general improvements to the facility to make for a happier, brighter shelter space. This will help get more dogs adopted and improve the working conditions for our great staff and volunteers!

The space that is opened up by the creation of a new dedicated cat adoption center will allow us to expand our public veterinary hospital. Right now we are maxed out on space and staff.  More space and exam rooms will allow us to add additional vets and support staff and that will allow us to help even more animals!  Our goal is to at least double services provided to the community over the next three years (and tripling isn’t out of the question!).

All this will be taking place in stages over the Spring and Summer (and maybe Fall since some of this will require building permits, etc.) and we will keep you up to date with our progress. If you’d like to support these awesome upgrades, Brian Pinto, our spectacular Chief Advancement Officer, would love to talk to you (bpinto@humanepa.org) and maybe arrange a tour with us.

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There is a predictable progression in the lifecycles of many open admission animal shelters. They start off with the world view that says there is nothing to be done about the animals that die in their shelters.  It is out of their control and everyone else’s fault, so they effectively stop trying.  They adopt as many as that can, throw up their hands, and don’t think beyond today.

*Please see a note at the end of this post.

At some point these shelters often face some crisis of conscience. Someone in leadership just can’t take it any longer and tries to break the model.  Or there’s bad PR, or a push from municipal contract holders who are getting yelled at by tax payers for spending their money on a catch and kill contract.  When this happens, there’s usually two ways for a shelter to go.

The first is to actually make changes that do something concrete. This can range from changing programs, services, and direction, to changing the fundamental model they operate under.  Perhaps they drop animal control or they become a restricted admission shelter.  Usually once a shelter actually starts making changes and getting a positive result, they start progressing rapidly and drop the shackles of prior convention.

There is a common second model, however, and it’s been utilized for years. It’s the blackmail model.  It’s often used in a variety of ways when a shelter recognizes it has a problem, but can’t quite bring itself to believe that it is the problem.  These shelters still cling to the notion that the problem originates outside itself.  It’s the community’s fault.  It’s the bad pet owner’s fault.  It’s someone else’s fault.  The shelter can do better, but only if you and I do X, Y, or Z to make it possible for them.

This can manifest as the good old, “Fluffy has 12 hours to live unless you adopt her!  If she dies, it’s your fault!” Facebook posts.  Or cajoling the community that it’s their fault a shelter has a crummy building.  Or doesn’t have proactive programs in place to save lives.  If you’d just give, they’d be able to make the changes necessary.

This is a step up because at least it acknowledges that there is the possibility of improvement. But it is a continued abdication of the fundamental responsibility that starts with an animal shelter.  Humane Pennsylvania’s consulting division travels around the country helping shelters of all sizes, kinds, and success levels.  The ones that are the most successful are the ones most open to considering new approaches and implementing them now.  Not when the community comes around to seeing things their way or when the money comes in, but now, with what they have, in any way they can.

We’ve seen tiny poor shelters that accomplished what big rich shelters don’t. And the common thread among failing shelters is that when they lament their failures and you suggest one, five, a hundred things they could do right now to improve things for one, five, a hundred animals in their care, they push back.  They tell you why it’s not their fault and why it’s someone else’s fault.  The community.  The law.  The donors.  The shelter up the road who takes all their money so they can’t succeed.  Someone else.

I’ve been there. We’ve been there.  But then we moved to a new place.  You know what?  When you just do it, you find that you get the support you need.  You start to get the volunteers, the foster families, and the money.  And you get better at getting better.  But the community shouldn’t ever be held hostage to any shelter that says, “We will do better as soon as you volunteer, you foster, you give us money.”

We try hard to constantly improve because it starts with us. It starts with me.  Will your time and money help?  Yes! Most of what we do can be done better and faster with money and people.  But we hope you’ll give your support because you see that we would be trying to be better regardless.  You aren’t ultimately responsible for our success, we are.  And we are responsible for our failures and we can’t and don’t put that responsibility on you.

13 years ago we had a euthanasia rate as high as 70% seasonally. Since then we’ve brought it down to 2-8% for cats and dogs, if you exclude animals deemed “unadoptable”.  But why stop there?  This year we think we may reach the milestone of saving 90% or more of every animal who enters our shelter alive.  Massively injured, profoundly ill, a raging Cujo. Every animal.  This wasn’t even imaginable 13 year ago.  But it didn’t mean we didn’t try.  It didn’t mean we waited until we received the level of support we have now.

We started with next to nothing and next to nobody. Our success is what got us more resources and more people and even more success.  Shelters are only held hostage to their own lack of imagination and willingness to start making a difference now.

 

*Post script:  This post was written and scheduled prior to the latest school shooting.  This is an image that I’ve used before, and always with a little trepidation because it’s in rather poor taste.  But I use it because the reality of what animals face in shelters is worse than this picture.  And the 17 dead people in Florida were killed by a real gun, not a picture.  Ideas and images don’t kill people and animals, people do.  And umbrage and offense don’t solve the problem, action does.

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Sometimes you have a bad enough week to write 1,100 depressing words that culminate in an off color joke.  Sometimes you also have enough sense to delete those words and just include a couple comments minus all context.

Here is one: “There’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

Here is the other:  “Cheeseface” and can one blackmail their way to success?

If you can’t laugh, all you have left is crying.  There.  Only 93 words and I feel much better!

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