While it seems like the focus in the effort to combat animal cruelty would be at the State legislative level, local elections give animal advocates a chance to make a difference in this off year election. On Tuesday, November 7, Pennsylvanians can cast votes for offices which can have a very direct impact on animal welfare policy.  Municipal officials, school board directors, and even local Judges of Elections might hold the key to bringing about changes at a state and local level.

When it comes to actually implementing new anti-cruelty laws, it’s often local offices which can ensure they are taken seriously. Municipal Council, Township Supervisors, and local Mayors oversee local police departments and set the tone and enforcement direction for communities.  They often direct local wildlife management policy.  If these office holders view animal welfare as important and as part of ensuring a good standard of life in their community, animals will benefit.

School boards make curriculum choices which can sometimes involve use of animals. Many schools still do “egg hatches” in elementary school and dissect animals in high school.  Some use euthanized cats which are sourced from animal shelters.  Little Johnny may be dissecting someone’s dead pet in Biology.  And although Pennsylvania mandates “alternative” assignments if requested by students, often those alternatives require extra out-of-class work.  This is an obvious disincentive to students who might otherwise wish to opt out.  That’s why pro-science but anti-needless cruelty school board members can make a difference by ensuring that the intent of the law is followed and that high quality alternatives are considered.

And all those obscure offices, such as Judge of Elections or local Auditor, can have an impact, too. Fair elections are critical to making sure good, animal friendly candidates have a fair shot at winning.  Just how much does your municipality pay to have feral cats rounded up and killed?  A Township Auditor might be able to take a look at that number.  When these small local offices turn over, they apply upward pressure to the county political parties and they have a voice in choosing future candidates for office from the inside.  That includes future candidates who will run in 2018 State elections and who will be able to pass meaningful animal welfare legislation.

Laws are only as good as the enforcement they receive and prosecutions only as good as the trials they receive. Don’t forget to do your research on the District Magistrates, Commonwealth Court, and Supreme Court Judges running this November 7.  They decide these cases, both in first round trials and on appeal.  One of the biggest barriers to prosecuting pigeon shoots under current law is the result of a decision by just one Commonwealth Court judge in Berks County decades ago.  Judges matter.

You can change things for animals this Tuesday, November 7, by choosing local and judicial candidates who share your belief that animal welfare matters. Do your research now (you’re reading this on the internet- use it!).  Ask candidates where they stand and make an informed decision.  Make a plan to vote November 7 and do it.

Passing good laws is up to our legislators. Electing pro-animal welfare candidates is up to us.

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Animal welfare is as much a realm of rumor as any industry. There is a rumor swirling around right now that the State Legislature and Executive Branch–or at least some in them–are considering a change in who provides initial and continuing education for Humane Society Police Officers (HSPO) in Pennsylvania.  Since the inception of the HSPO law, this training has been provided through a partnership of major universities (including Penn State) and Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, a volunteer professional affiliation group made up of representatives from over 50 animal welfare organizations across the state. Disclosure note:  I am on the board of directors of Federated Humane, and Humane Pennsylvania is a member agency.

Not So Hot For Teacher.

According to the unsubstantiated rumors, the idea is to grant the training contract to a new entity and an existing individual entity, rather than a collective of organizations like Federated Humane or a major dissociated entity, like Penn State. In other words, instead of a coalition of organizations representing all types of communities ranging from rural to suburban and urban; and all types of missions ranging from brick and mortar shelters for companion animals to farm animals; and a wide range of mission beliefs and approaches, the training could be in the hands of just one organization.  One organization, representing one viewpoint, one region, and one approach. In my opinion, this is a profoundly bad idea, for a number of reasons.

  • Trust: The choice of a major university and a membership group representing organization from every corner of the state to be responsible for training was no accident. It is reasonable to expect some lack of trust from country folk or city folk, or eastern PA or western PA, etc. (and vice versa) because it is reasonable to think that there may be less understanding of these specific communities. Federated Humane had members of every size, from nearly every county, and could speak credibly to the views of a broad spectrum of organizational and local priorities. A single agency will not engender that same breadth of representation and may be viewed with suspicion in some quarters. Any out of state advocacy organization, such as HSUS, will unequivocally face suspicion from the agricultural community. This may be undeserved, but it will be a fact.
  • Continuity: Penn State or a big university isn’t going anywhere. Federated Humane Societies or a similar group made up of and serving a large group of agencies of all sizes and types is self-perpetuating and less subject to major swings of capacity. The same cannot be said about individual organizations. The past decade has seen animal shelters growing or dramatically shrinking, some divesting themselves of shelters, other radically changing mission approaches. Some, including Humane Society of Berks County and Humane League of Lancaster County, chose to drop their legal rolls in cruelty law enforcement for a variety of reasons. In the case of the Humane League of Lancaster County, it literally collapsed as an organization and dissolved to be taken over by another organization in the matter of only a couple years. Placing all the training eggs in one basket is dangerous.
  • Credibility: It is far easier to call into question the credibility of any agency which stands to personally profit from taking on training. Penn State makes little if anything on providing training and even if it did, it’s a drop in the bucket of their billions. Federated Humane is a volunteer organization that provides training supports at a loss using volunteers. Will an individual organization answering to its own board, donors, and operating budget needs be able to say the same? Will its own financial history be called into question and raise doubts about every price increase or change to the curriculum or training location? That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is, of course it will.
  • Politics: Granting one organization the power to provide all training is also an invitation to turning already latently political issues and processes into openly political ones. If any legislator thinks partisan politics are bad, try wading into animal politics. As soon as it appears that one organization will benefit directly and exclusively, it is a sure bet that other organizations will question why they should continue to support the efforts that are imbalanced in favor of one of their peers, especially one which may not even be in its community, or is bigger or better resourced already. Why would they continue to exercise their influence on local representation over statewide issues if they no longer have a voice in decisions?
  • Moderation: Because of the current university and member organization control of training, there has been a moderating influence on all groups. For example, I serve on the board of Federated Humane and my organizations don’t provide direct cruelty enforcement any longer. But I know this is important to the member organizations which I am supposed to represent as a board member. It may make no difference to me and Humane Pennsylvania who does what, but it matters very much to scores of our members. That makes me fight on their behalf and it also obligates me not to unilaterally strike out on our own for our own political agenda. This moderating influence will be lost if training is placed in the hands of a single organization.
  • Fairness: Let’s also be honest. If there is a change, especially if any sort of contrived crisis is allowed to occur, someone is likely to walk away with money that isn’t on the table right now. It is entirely unfair to organizations who have been providing services to the state for free for 25 years to relinquish that role–only to have a new comer profit from it. It is also unfair if all organizations who have been doing the work have been excluded from any discussions about the any changes which may be coming down the pike. If only one or two organizations or individuals are “in” on plans that will impact every community in PA, it is flatly unfair.

Maybe the rumors are false. I hope so. But if they aren’t it means that behind the scenes discussions are being engaged in that could radically change how HSPO training is delivered in Pennsylvania and it will almost certainly result in a lack of trust, continuity, credibility, moderation, and fairness.  And that’s bad politics.  It could also be very bad for animals if the changes don’t go swimmingly.

I sincerely hope that the legislature and the executive’s office thinks long and hard before taking any action which could turn Pennsylvania into an animal welfare free-for-all.

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Hurricane Maria Gets Personal

September 27th, 2017 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I wrote in a recent post about how hurricanes and far away disasters can impact us locally.  Usually, it’s an economic impact as donors rightly extend their compassion and their donations to the people and animals in these hard hit areas.

Stephanie Desiderio helping animals and her community at a free vaccination and microchip clinic in Reading this year, made possible by the Giorgi Family Foundation.

But Hurricane Maria has now had a direct impact on Humane Pennsylvania and one of our own. Several of our staff members are natives of Puerto Rico.  One, Stephanie Desiderio, a certified veterinary technician at Humane Veterinary Hospitals Reading, took vacation time to travel to Naranjito, Puerto Rico before the storm to help her grandparents prepare for Hurricane Maria.  Unfortunately, once the storm took direct aim for the island, she couldn’t leave and is now one of millions of people stuck, with no electricity, no access to food, fuel, and (now, finally) only limited cell phone service.

Stephanie is a top notch vet tech, and as pleasant a person as you will meet. Just to give you a sense of what she is like, I’ll share one of the first things I remember about her:  Not long after she was hired I was walking through our hospital and heard a couple of people singing.  It was Stephanie and one of her coworkers, joyfully doing their jobs.  It was infectious, and that’s the kind of person Stephanie is–infectiously joyful.  That’s the only kind of infection you want in a veterinary hospital.

Thankfully, Stephanie and her grandparents are safe and sound, to the extent you can be in these conditions. Until the last day or two we couldn’t even reach her to make sure she was OK.  We know that this story is repeated for thousands of families in Reading and Lancaster, which both have large Puerto Rican communities.  It is nearly unimaginable that this many people–this many United States citizens–could be facing such a challenge and that we are helpless to assist someone in our own family.

We are doing what we can. We were finally able to speak to her in person today and I told her that we would keep her on payroll and insurance for as long as it takes to get her safely back.  I hope she will forgive me for sharing this, but when she heard this she began sobbing.  Like so many people, loss of a few days’ salary, let alone weeks’ salary, could result in personal catastrophe.  Humane Pennsylvania won’t let that happen to one of our own.

But I asked her to do something in exchange for this assistance. I asked her to help any animal she could, find any local group who was helping animals and help them, and to be ready to help any groups who we know of working in her area.  She, of course, said yes, because she has devoted her life and her work to helping animals.  We are proud to have such a representative of our organization available to help people and animals in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico in its time of need.

Naranjito, Puerto Rico, before.

We will share any news we get from her. She says the situation is terrible, that she has not seen a single dog or cat, and that she fears many or most drowned due to widespread flooding.  Survivors will need help, and we couldn’t ask for a better person to be there. (UPDATE 9/28/17:  Stephanie has a confirmed flight out October 8 and may have an earlier humanitarian flight for her with one of the several groups we are working with to provide assistance in Puerto Rico.)

This begs the question that has been asked again and again (and again and again).  Are we ready here in Pennsylvania, in Berks and Lancaster Counties, for “The Big One”?  Quite simply, the answer is no.  Despite our work since before Hurricane Katrina as the leader of the Berks County Animal Response Team, and our partnerships with the State Animal Response Team to support response in Lancaster County, despite our repeated sheltering deployments in our and surrounding counties, and despite being asked to support rescue efforts across the nation in the past ten years, the scale of our capability is small.

Naranjito, Puerto Rico, after.

We can count on helping tens, scores, maybe a hundred animals at a time in an emergency. But what about hundreds, or a thousand at a time, as we see happening in major catastrophes?  Can we–should we–count on big outside groups to get to us?  Or should we be prepared on our own?

I believe the answer is clearly the latter. We will want all the help we can get, but we should be able to deliver services on a large scale on our own in our own community.  Imagine the unimaginable.  Limerick Nuclear station has problem and tens of thousands of nearby residents are evacuated.  Or a local chemical plant has an accident, or massive fires break out, or a terrorist attacks, or massive flooding causes destruction due to a hurricane (remember Agnes in 1972)?

It can happen here and it will happen here, at some point. Humane Pennsylvania is currently working on expanding our emergency resources and I will be sharing those plans with you over the next year.  Until then, please remember that when disaster hits, we are here (and sometimes elsewhere, with folks like Stephanie). We can only be here with your help. Keep us strong, keep us prepared, and keep us ahead of the next catastrophe.  Please make a donation today.

Give to them. Then give to us.  Thank you.

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You might not think that a Gulf coast hurricane or New York City terrorist attack would have a direct negative impact on animal shelter operations here in Berks and Lancaster Counties. You’d be wrong.

After the 9-11 attacks, the animal shelter I worked for previously did not receive a check in the mail for 30 days. It was an unprecedented financial set back, and had it not been a fairly wealthy shelter with a few spare million in the bank, it could have been seriously damaging to our work.

Twelve years ago when Katrina ripped through the South, we saw a similar temporary drying-up of donations as people rightly turned their attention and compassion to people and animals in the storm zone. We understood this and we supported this giving by our supporters- with the reminder that they needed to keep supporting us because we are here doing our job every day.  In both these cases, and Hurricane Sandy and many others, we caught up as people remembered the local animals in need and made up for the lull in giving.

One thing we have never faced was a timing like we have right now, with first Hurricane Harvey and then Hurricane Irma. Past events occurred during periods of “general giving” or direct mail appeals.  These can be made up through later donations or the timing of mailings shifted.  Right now we are in the peak registration period for the Walk for the Animals.  More than half of our registrations come in during the three weeks prior to the Walk.

The “usual dip” in donations doesn’t get made up for when it comes to an event like this, because the event comes and goes. Just like in prior disasters, we are seeing the temporary impact.  Registrations dipped exactly as images of the hurricanes and displaced pets and people flooded the airwaves and internet.  Our registration numbers for the Walk are well below our usual numbers two weeks out (the Walk is Saturday, September 23).

It’s the Walk’s 40th Anniversary! The Walk for the Animals is one of the oldest animal charity walks anywhere and has grown from raising $12,000 13 years ago to raising around $100,000 a year now. It’s a critically important fundraiser for us!

Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma may have hit Texas and Florida, but they could potentially devastate us by bringing us up short on our Walk fundraising goals.  We don’t have millions in the bank to fall back on.  If we are a couple hundred registrations short for the Walk, as well as all the pledges those Walkers bring in, it’s a lot of very real money needed for very real animals, right here at home.

We are repeating what we’ve always said following disasters: give to local shelters in Florida and Texas, they need it.  Give to the national groups who are able to go in and set up big temporary shelters and transport animals who need it.  They need it, too.

And give to us or your local shelters where you live, because we always need it.  We are always here and we have work to do every day.  We will be the people who help take in displaced animals from these disaster areas.  And we are the folks who will handle disasters that happen here – if we remain strong with your support.

If you are already registered for the Walk, thank you! But please help us right now by getting a friend to register, by upgrading to a VIP Walker level, and by raising pledge support from friends, family, and coworkers.  Our FirstGiving fundraising page even makes it easy to ask for support from friends around the country.  As little as $10 each from five friends would make a huge (YUGE!) difference! These simple things would not just catch us up, it could put us ahead.

If you aren’t registered for the Walk, join us!  You can be a part of ensuring that we are here and ready to help animals today and tomorrow.  I hope to see you there!

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The Five Freedoms are a set of conceptual guidelines created in Britain in the 1960’s. They are periodically in vogue as guiding principles by many animal welfare organizations.  The American Humane Association refers to them as the “gold standard”.

The Five Freedoms are unique from most animal welfare standards laid out in the law because they are not specific directives, such as “a dog’s cage must be X feet long and Y feet wide.” Instead, they allow for an evaluation of the impact of the care, keeping, and housing on an animal’s state of physical and mental wellbeing.

The Five Freedoms are:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst: By ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort: By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease: By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior: By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress: By ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

In an animal sheltering environment, the first three should be givens. We are supposed to feed the animals, we keep them warm and dry and give them a blanket, and we vaccinate them and keep them healthy.  Good animal shelters should be able to manage that or they shouldn’t be in the business.

What about the last two? What do they mean and can they even be truly addressed in a shelter environment?  In food production, “expressing normal behavior” for a cow might mean running around in a field with other cows, being free from “fear and distress”.  Right up until they run you through a cattle chute and pop a bolt in your brainpan.  But I’m here to talk about dogs and cats, I’ll leave that oxymoron to a vegetarian to argue.

In shelter settings addressing the last two freedoms has increasingly meant fancier and more palatial shelters. Bigger cages- sorry, kennel suites- and couches to lie on instead of blankets, maybe a water feature!  Dogs get to play in high-end play group yards.  Cats get indoor/outdoor “catios” (Get it?  It’s like a patio.  But for cats! So crazy.).  Space, “proper” facilities, company of their own kind.  Check, check, check.

The combination of the first four presumably leads to the final: freedom from fear and distress. This is the one that always leaves me suspect.  How much or how little mental suffering are we talking about?  None?  Do we, can we, ever make an animal in a shelter, no matter how spectacular the shelter, free from mental suffering?  I’m not sure we can.  We can make an animal suffer less.  We can feed it well, make it completely comfy, have veterinarians on call 24/7, and play with it till it drops from exhaustion.  But it’s still in an animal shelter and not in a home.  Since these are domestic companion animals, can they ever “express normal behavior” if they are any place but in a home?  Without a home can they ever be free of some level of mental suffering?  I don’t know.

There are many in the animal sheltering world who truly feel most animals are better off in a shelter than in many of the homes in our communities. It’s almost hard to argue considering some of these gorgeous shelters we see around the country.  What home has the amenities and care provided to the animals as some shelters?  Most pet caretakers can’t provide five walks a day, regular Reiki massage sessions, and high end nutritional programming.  If they can’t provide that, why not better off in a shelter?

And if these caretakers provide even less, they can’t afford recommended vaccinations every year, perhaps the food is lower quality, perhaps the exercise is being turned out into a yard and not a half mile walk with hugs, perhaps these animals really should be in a Five Freedoms shelter until they can be adopted into a new and superior home.  After all, if we presume that Freedoms One through Four lead to Freedom Five, freedom from mental suffering, shouldn’t default to the place that can best provide for the animal?

I don’t think so. I think we have turned the Five Freedoms on their head with our assumption we can ever truly provide what a domestic companion animal needs.  Because we can never actually be its home.  What if, instead of thinking we can achieve freedom from mental suffering in a shelter, we decide we can’t.  What if we apply our belief that the first four freedoms lead to the fifth, but only in a home?  What if we put all our efforts for most animals into helping the caretaker of every pet provide freedoms one through four in their own home?

But some people are crappy caretakers you may say. Maybe.  But we’ve all seen a dog that runs back to the owner that isn’t a good owner.  Even the one who abuses it.  Animals want to be in a home, even a crappy one.  What if we could make the home better?  Maybe not as great as an uber-rich, swanky animal shelter, but better.  Food in the dish, basic vet care, a comfy pillow to sleep on. Freedom One, Two and Three?  Check, check, check.

Then let’s assume that “providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind” means a being in a real home. Check.  And let’s assume that an animal’s mental state will always be better in that home, assuming it is fed, comfy, healthy, and it’s not being abused.  That the quality of life in always better at home than it is in a shelter, any shelter.  That means an animal entering a shelter is a failure on our part, not just the owner who gives up their pets, because we know we aren’t doing what’s best for that animal.

Maybe you’re willing to play along with this mental exercise but the fact that not every person can or does provide all those basic requirements is nagging at you. Me, too.  However, I firmly believe, and research backs it up, that the vast majority of people would provide properly for their pets if they could, if they had the resources, or the access, or the knowledge.

“But they don’t,” you might say. “What if they did, what if we gave it to them?” I would ask.  “But we can’t,” you might say.  “Why not?” I would ask.  Why couldn’t we give every pet caretaker food if they ask for it, basic vaccinations, even sterilization, if they ask for it?  Or any of a myriad of other supportive services.  It would be hard and expensive.  But there is a dollar amount that could be applied to these efforts.  There is a man hour estimate that could be applied.  It’s possible to estimate how many animals need medical care who don’t get it, how many animals are food insecure.

We could figure out exactly what it would cost, what it would take, and do it for every animal. I mean: Every. Single. Animal.  We could flip how we pursue the animal welfare model and break from the 150 year old shelter based model and build a home based model.  Welfare for animals.  Sure, why not?  We don’t penalize kids (OK, we aren’t supposed to) because they were born into a poor family.  They still get CHIP and public school and free lunch.  That’s because we would never pretend that the average poor kid is better off in an orphanage or foster home.  But we often say that about animals.

We will always need shelters and they should always be palaces that strive to attain the Five Freedoms for all pets. They should also be the last option after we’ve done everything possible to ensure that an animal has everything it needs in its own home, that a caretaker knows how to obtain the basics to keep an animal in its home.

Humane Pennsylvania is looking at what it would take to do just that in Berks and Lancaster Counties. We are tired to stealing victory from the jaws of a defeated animal welfare model that doesn’t help animals until they’ve already been utterly failed.  This might have been a fantasy exercise ten or twenty years ago and it might still be one in many parts of the country today.  I don’t think it’s crazy in our community.

We are put a price tag on helping every animal in every home.  If we choose not to do it as a community, maybe it’s time to stop pretending we really give a damn about animals at all.

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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

September 6th, 2017 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Have you ever spent an hour on 2,000 words of dripping sarcasm just to decide it was 1,910 words too many?  I did and decided I could leave it at this:  Libre’s Law was a very good, if not perfect bill.  It did not change the status of pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania.  Humane Pennsylvania and I are happy to have played a small role in gathering the support needed to obtain near unanimous passage.  And Plymouth Rock is missing a Puritan.  It must be tiring.

Look at that, only 90 words.

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Mom and kittens rescued from Willow St. in Reading during major flooding in 2006, one of our first Berks CART activations.

Twelve years ago, I was in South Carolina attending a training with several staff and volunteers when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I remember watching the news coverage and seeing the first picture of a dog on a roof and texting back to the staff at Humane Society of Berks County:  They are going to start showing the animals, get ready for calls.

I was right. Coverage of the animals facing peril became almost as ubiquitous as the coverage of people.  It was clear that no plans had been made to help animals, or even people with animals.  Stories were told, perhaps apocryphal but probably not, that people had drowned because they refused to be evacuated without their pets or were turned away from shelters because they refused to abandon their pets.

And we received calls from our local and regional press, asking what planning we’d start doing in the event of a natural disaster or similar emergency.

What planning would we start doing?  Brother, we were way ahead of them.

The year before Katrina, the Humane Society of Berks County had already established the Berks County Animal Response Team (CART), which operates under the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team.  We brought together our staff, volunteers, and local partners to begin the preparations for emergencies that impact pets and people.  These teams were very new at the time.  I believe only three states had state teams and there were only a few Pennsylvania Counties with CARTs.

CARTs are semi-autonomous volunteer response teams that operate under the umbrella of the State Animal Response Team, which in turn is activated by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Administration (and in our county, Berks CART is activated by our Berks County Emergency Management Office). It is a highly effective and efficient private/public/government partnership that allows first responders to focus on people, while animal professionals and trained volunteers focus on animals.

Humane Society of Berks County was (and Humane PA remains) the only animal welfare agency in the State which took on direct control of their County CART. We felt it was an obvious fit- we had the resources, the knowledge, the trained volunteer base, and paid staff who we could assign to respond.  We also felt it was our obligation to be prepared for the animals in our community.

So when we were asked what we would do, we pointed to what we had already done, because we have always tried to look ahead to the next crisis we may face, not just deal with past problems.  Since the formation for Berks CART in 2004, we have been activated several times for storms, snow, and major flooding events.  We’ve operated shelters for animals and pioneered co-located shelters as standard practice (housing pets with their people instead of in separate shelters).

We’ve run shelters in other counties when their own county response was missing. Our volunteers and staff have been called to assist and manage response efforts following Katrina, the Joplin tornadoes, and Hurricane Sandy.  We’ve been asked to present our model to other shelters at the Humane Society of the United States national conference (coincidentally in New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Katrina).  Our staff has served on other counties’ CARTs and planning bodies and we have served on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team.

As a result of Katrina, plans and protocols are already in place to aid animals and people in the Gulf Coast today. New Federal laws were passed requiring animals to be considered in emergency planning.  We’ve been quietly responding and preparing in our neighborhood, as well as helping in other regions.  We’ve built a stockpile of emergency materials, caging, fans, heaters, generators, food, and supplies.

But the enormity of Hurricane Harvey is a reminder that “the big one” could hit us and even with our preparations and experience, we will be woefully under-resourced. This is something we shouldn’t be quiet about.  Humane PA is currently in the middle of major organizational planning for next year, and years beyond that.  We have been discussing how we can undertake what we are referring to as preparation for a generation.  This means laying the groundwork to address the needs of animals for the next two decades.  The needs of today and the needs that will come down the pike tomorrow, next year, the next decade.

Emergency response is one of those needs. I hope that you will begin thinking about your emergency plan.  I hope you will support the organizations working to save lives in Texas by donating, such as GreaterGood, which is flying out animals from flooding shelters, thanks in part to the work of our good friend and PA’s own Denise Bash.  And I hope you will remember that being prepared means having strong local organizations like Humane Pennsylvania serving our Lancaster and Berks County communities- and beyond- and you support us as well.

We will be sharing our needs and plans very vocally in coming months. Until then, give, share, and volunteer.  And remember that we’ve been here, ready to help because of your support, all along.

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It seems like we have entered an Age of Umbrage, where you can count on someone taking offense to just about anything. This offense is most annoying when it has a tone of smug superiority and starts with, “Well I do this and you don’t blah, blah.”  There is a substantial segment of this in animal welfare.  All the people who did something first, or does something everyone else doesn’t do, wants to remind us that they were there before us and bought the tee shirt to prove it.

There is a particularly prolific practitioner of this who just publicly called out Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania- not by name, but close enough- and its member organizations for not picketing at the last couple of pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. Since one of these is in Berks County, I’m pretty sure Humane Pennsylvania Berks got stirred into this steaming pot of umbrage.

I won’t link to it, because I’ve finally learned that acknowledgment just encourages some folks.  And I inevitably end up being drawn into saying something stupid that lasts forever on the interweb.  But this group is one which loves to antagonize, engages in personal attacks down to the level of a person’s religion or children, has proven themselves to be a rather untrustworthy political and strategic partner, and is a group that puts some of its stock in being created by a reformed trophy hunter and fisherman. Some of us knew that killing for fun wasn’t right to begin with, but, hey, now I’m just being petty.

I’ll barely acknowledge the absurdity of implying that Humane Pennsylvania Berks hasn’t taken on pigeon shoots, and we have paid a price for doing it. Just search “pigeon shoots” in this blog to read more than you’ll want to.  We went up against a DA who threatened to strip us of our police powers for attempting to prosecute pigeon shooters, we’ve lobbied our State House incessantly, and we generally haven’t shut up about them.  For a primarily cat and dog organization, we’ve done more than most.

But we certainly haven’t done more than all, especially if the bar being set by some folks is that we have to be there at every one, demonstrating, picketing, photographing attendees, and generally being obnoxious. Let me be clear- I love that there are people doing all those things and I hope they are as obnoxious as humanly and legally possible.  Pigeon shooters are immoral a-holes as a rule, and mostly aren’t even from Pennsylvania, who gamble on killing birds, and wave Confederate flags around because, you know…oh, heck, I have no idea what Confederate flags have to do with shooting pigeons.  Those people are just idiots.  If they don’t like having their faces posted on YouTube, don’t shoot pigeons.

However, when did taking umbrage at pigeon shoots and pigeon shooters, with which I can wholeheartedly join in, turn into faulting animal shelters in our state for not standing shoulder to shoulder with the protesters every time? When did my not going to a pigeon shoot equate to people actually shooting pigeons as a thing to be mad about?  Sure, these guys can think I should go protest.  I think they should invent a time machine and go back in time to stop themselves from killing Mako sharks for fun before they had their animal cruelty conversion.

I don’t get mad that I’ve never seen any of these protest folks cleaning our kennels or the kennels of any of Federated Humane’s members, do I? Were they there when Humane PA Berks was giving out free lifesaving vaccines and veterinary service to poor peoples’ pets?  Did they stand shoulder to shoulder with us when my staff and I left our homes during natural disasters to set up and man emergency shelters for pets in our region?  Where they in any of the meetings we had with our elected officials to lobby and pass Libre’s Law, or the Gas Chamber Ban Law, or the two Puppy Mill Bills?  Nope.  Maybe they were just being really quiet in the corner and I didn’t see them.  But we did those things to help animals in Berks and Lancaster and across Pennsylvania.  So did our fellow organizations.  Real lives of real animals.  They weren’t- and aren’t-  here, we are.

That’s entirely OK. We must all focus on what we think is best, what we have resources for, and what we can and should focus on.  I’m glad they are out there for the pigeons.  Good for them that they drive a long way to stand there, even if standing there doesn’t have much of an actual impact.  I don’t fault them for not being here, where we are doing what we do.  Both of these efforts need attention and both need people to focus more on one than the other, otherwise neither will get much undivided attention.

But don’t get on the high horse of umbrage because everyone isn’t as single mindedly pure about your issue as you are. It’s your approach and your issue, not everyone else’s.  There are many people who could fault us both for not doing more for children, or poor people, or veterans, or the rainforest.  They are just as right.

And please, don’t make your case in screeds that are wrapped in whining about who is getting all the money instead of you. Maybe you aren’t getting money because donors don’t think what you are doing is effective or something they want to support.  My organization, or HSUS, or some tiny upstate animal shelter, or anyone else isn’t stealing money from you.  We’re just doing a job that more people want to support than the job you’re doing- or at least how you’re describing it to donors, apparently.

Try just doing job you’ve chosen instead of telling everyone else how to do theirs. There’s plenty of work to go around.

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Yesterday Humane Pennsylvania received news that the Lancaster SPCA was on the verge of closing its doors to animals as the result of an acute fiscal crisis.  According to their press release today, effective immediately, no owner surrendered animals will be accepted.  In the coming weeks all strays will be turned away.  That’s a problem for the 1,000 to 1,500 stray animals which will have no place to go when the doors close.  That’s a problem for the community, which will have to figure out what to do with strays or how to find their own lost pet.  And, frankly, that’s a problem for Humane Pennsylvania, since we operate the only other major animal shelter in Lancaster County.

I won’t get into the sordid details of how a fight several years ago between the Humane League of Lancaster County (prior to its own fiscal crisis that ultimately lead to it being taken over by Humane Pennsylvania) and the City of Lancaster and Lancaster County municipalities over the cost of animal control intake services resulted in the ill-conceived creation of Lancaster SCPA under the control of well-meaning amateurs.  You can Google that for yourself.  I will simply leave it at today’s announcement was a predictable outcome.

However, we know something needs to be done to either allow Lancaster SPCA to continue to limp along or to find another, hopefully high-quality and sustainable alternative for stray intake services in Lancaster County.  Once Humane Pennsylvania was made aware of the issue yesterday, I immediately reached out to the Mayor’s Office in the City of Lancaster and offered to meet with their folks to discuss options.  The response was equivocal.  I hope that the City can set aside any bad blood it may have with the prior board and management of Humane League of Lancaster County before it was dissolved and merged into Humane Pennsylvania.  Humane Pennsylvania is here to work with anyone who wants to find a high-quality, equitable, and effective solution to the crisis about to face Lancaster’s stray animals.

However, we are not here to simply be counted on to open our doors to every one of these animals.  We can’t.  Humane Pennsylvania was asked to take over a no-kill shelter when it took over the Humane League.  That means it is limited access by design.  It is funded and staffed to be excellent as that model.  Suddenly becoming an unlimited intake shelter, unplanned, would overwhelm the Humane League’s resources and staff, and it would harm animals.

That does not mean that there is not a solution to be found and options open to our community.  Humane Pennsylvania operates a high-performing open door shelter in Berks County, our team has decades of animal control experience, and our consulting division works with animal control facilities around the nation.  We know what needs to be done to do the job well.  We also know what resources it takes to do the job right.  We welcome a chance to share our expertise with those who could benefit from it.  But we will say up front, we won’t hurt animals just so the job can be done on the cheap.

Maybe you are wondering why animal control is such a mess in Pennsylvania.  You wouldn’t be alone.  I have written at length on the animal control mess in our Commonwealth, so feel free to search for “animal control” in this blog for more than you’d ever want to know.  To shorten your read a little, fundamentally, I believe there are three primary causes of our quagmire, with three contributing factors.

Government won’t pay to do its own job and always chooses the cheapest option.  State law mandates that stray dogs are the responsibility of the government, state or local.  But you wouldn’t know that by how much finger pointing governments do regarding this responsibility.  Local governments want the state to handle strays.  The state pretends it handles strays by having a handful of underfunded and over-worked dog wardens pulling double duty on kennel inspections with stray pick up on the side.  The kicker is the state operates no impound facilities so even when a warden picks up a stray, they have no dedicated place to take it. The state used to contract with animal shelters but killed the grant program that paid for the contract several years ago.  This left shelters holding the bag with local government expecting them to do the job for free or cheap.  Since animal shelters and their humane officers and animal control aren’t viewed as “real” first responders, local governments treat them in a way they’d never think to treat their own police, fire or emergency workers.  This means little respect – and less money.

Some local governments are great, some are better than others, but most want to pass the buck and pay as few bucks possible for the bare minimum.  This results in animals not getting the care they require and deserve or the community getting the service they desire and expect.  That also results in damage to organizations who take on these lowest bid/lowest service contract agreements.  In some cases, it kills the organization, like we saw at the Lancaster SPCA.

Charities took on the government’s job (and still do).  If this is such a bum deal, why do shelters do it?  Because helping animals is what we are here for.  Since Women’s Humane Society in Philadelphia took the first animal control contract a century ago, we’ve all fallen into that model because we knew animals would face worse if we didn’t.  We helped animals, yes.  But we perpetuated a structure that ensured a better system was never put in place.  It was not until animal shelters started to face bankruptcy by providing these animal control services on one hand and faced the howling public who faulted shelters for killing so many animals – the obvious outcome of underfunded shelters and stray programs – that shelters started to drop their animal control contracts, just like the Humane League of Lancaster County and Humane Society of Berks County did in 2008.

But even as shelters drop out of these terrible service contracts, others form new non-profits to step in and continue the cycle of failure, just like Lancaster SPCA.  And local governments are more than happy to help them do it.  Why?  Because it’s cheaper than doing it themselves.  Until no charity takes one of these awful, deadly contracts and we all stand up and tell our elected officials, “Yo, this is your responsibility, pay for it!  Do it right, or we will vote you out and replace you with people who will!” we will repeat this cycle of crisis.  Animal shelters can’t continue to “help” animals by taking contracts designed to hurt animals because it’s cheaper than actually doing the job right.

We don’t view animal sheltering as a professional domain.  Animal shelters, and their Humane Society Police Officers and Animal Control Officers, are often viewed as jokes, run by puppy hugging do-gooders, in Pennsylvania.  This is often true, but that’s not always their fault.  What else will you get when that’s all you can afford?  This is not the case everywhere.  “Animal Cops,” armed, trained and employed by police departments are real things in other states.  Animal Control is a government service, taxpayer funded, with trained government employees in other states.  Impound facilities are government operated and funded in other states.  In many states these shelters are spectacular and surpass charitable shelters. (Google “Montgomery County Maryland Animal Services and Adoption Center”.)

If government won’t provide proper resources and support to non-profit animal shelters in Pennsylvania because the staff aren’t good enough, or properly equipped and trained, fine.  Then hire your own.  Or give us the money to do it and hold us accountable.  You can’t have it both ways.  For 100 years you have, and that’s 100 years too long.  And the non-profit industry has to stop pretending that dilettante amateurs who operate some shelters deserve to be considered professionals along with those who take their work seriously and have spent decades serving animals and the public.

There are also three contributing factors to this dysfunction that help ensure Pennsylvania doesn’t match up other states.

Contributing factor: The fractious municipal form of Pennsylvania.  Most states have fewer and more centralized seats of government.  Strong county government states means that more power, decision-making authority and money are in one place and one political body.  In Pennsylvania, each county may have 50-60 or more municipal bodies, all autonomous.  This requires a shelter which wants to provide animal control services to negotiate with scores of political bodies.  It’s totally unworkable.  Until the State comes up with a plan to either pay for or provide animal control on its own or force municipalities to pay a “fair share” amount, no equitable system of paying for animals control is likely.  Even when a municipality does pay more or provide more service, they have no incentive to provide that service to other deadbeat locales, and why should they?

In other states, like Maryland, where there are joint municipal animal control shelters shared by municipalities, you’re talking three or four, not fifty.  And those facilities don’t have to scrounge for donations – they just have to fight for budget allotments, like every other government department.  Our patchwork system of government and reliance on charity services is bad for animal control services and bad for animals.

Contributing factor:  No mandatory animal shelter reporting.  Pennsylvania also is increasingly alone in not requiring detailed public reporting of how many animals enter shelters and what happens to them.  As long as governments can hide the reality that animal control is so woefully underfunded that large percentages of animals simply get rounded up and killed, the public can’t rebel.  Why should our tax dollars go to catch and kill contracts?  As long as non-profit shelters can hide their real numbers, donors can’t rebel.  Why should donations go to places that don’t have to be honest about their outcomes?

After Virginia passed a mandatory reporting law with a publically searchable database, euthanasia dropped statewide in a decade.  It was possible to compare shelters side by side and see who is performing better, and replicate those results.  A state wide mandatory reporting law is needed now.

Contributing factor: Dogs and cats aren’t viewed equally under the law.  Finally, one of the biggest problems facing shelters that provide animal control in Pennsylvania is that animal control laws only apply to dogs.  That means every contract here generally only applies to taking in dogs and only pays for taking in dogs.  The problem is stray cats enter shelters at a two- or three-to-one rate compared to dogs, and no shelter wants to exclude cats because dogs are the only ones being paid for.  It’s the thing that makes a shelter a shelter and not a breed or species rescue.  As a result, a contract which might pay on average $100 per dog becomes an effective payment of $33 or $25 per cat and dog.  $25 is not enough vaccinate, care for, sterilize, feed, and adopt an animal.  You know what it is barely enough to do?  Kill an animal.  And that’s why animal control shelters have higher rates of euthanasia.  Too often, they can’t afford the better alternative.

Other states treat cats and dogs the same and expect to pay for their care and keeping.  Until Pennsylvania recognizes that there are more strays than just dogs running around, we will have a huge hidden expense built into the system.

Each of these factors has and continues to play into the problem of sustainable animal control Lancaster County. We could address and overcome each of these issues.  But let’s be honest.  There is no will to do so.

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Volunteer Update

March 21st, 2017 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Every now and again I send out an update to our active volunteers to give them the skinny on what’s going on at Humane Pennsylvania and our partner organizations.  I just sent out the last of the recent update and figured I’d go ahead and put it up here, as well.  Since these are letters I type, print, sign, stuff and send myself, without the usual adult grammatical supervision I normally receive, the volunteers get to play the usual game of “Finds the Typos!” with me.  Thanks to all of them (and you) who make our work possible!

Dear [Volunteer Name],

Thank you so much for your volunteer service in support of Humane Pennsylvania (and Humane Society of Berks County and Humane League of Lancaster County)! It may sound cliché to say, “We couldn’t do it without you,” but it’s a fact.  The staff, board of directors and I can’t ever thank you enough for the time you devote to our animals and mission.

I want to give you a quick update about some things going on at Humane PA. The biggest news is that our Reading Humane Veterinary Hospital just received American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) accreditation.  Only 12% of the 35,000 or so vet practices in the US have met this standard that evaluates on 900 hospital standards.  That’s impressive enough but of all those only twenty-three non-profit veterinary hospitals in the entire United States are accredited.  There are only three in Pennsylvania- our Reading and Lancaster hospitals, which were first and third in the state, and one in Bucks County (which we helped get accredited, so we can take a little credit for that one, too).  Accreditation means we know we provide the best care at the highest standards to our sheltered animals, adopted animals, animals living in at risk situations, and the general public.

Building on this, we were fortunate enough to receive a $75,000 grant from the Giorgi Family Foundation specifically to expand access to our veterinary services in Berks County. The grant will allow us to greatly expand our sliding scale discounts for hundred more clients this year, provide hundreds of free sterilizations to the public, hold multiple free vaccination clinics in economically challenged neighborhoods in Reading, and extend more services to pets of clients enrolled in our PetNet emergency foster program.  This will have a huge positive impact and is only possible because of our hospital capabilities and we are the only organization in the region offering services at this scale.  Plus, we are actively working to find grant support in Lancaster County so we can do the same there.

I’d be totally remiss if I did not mentioned- in case you didn’t know- that our two great hospitals in Lancaster and in Reading are open to the public, including you and your pets. Give us a try.

Another exciting plan on the near horizon is the renovation of the dog exercise and meet and greet areas outside the Reading Hospital. Last year we had some amazing volunteer support to get the mess of trees and vines cleared out.  Now we are getting pricing and drawings together to beautify, fix some minor safety issues, put some sun and rain shelters in, and make it so the spaces can be flexible to allow for small and large runs to be configured.  It won’t be cheap, but it will be awesome.  It will also be the feature project for our Fund A Need bidding at our Art for Arf’s Sake Auction this May!  We expect that we will be able to raise enough at the auction to get started soon afterward.

In addition to this good news, we have had a couple annoyances. Our computer server in Lancaster died and needed replacement, which is an unwelcome unexpected expense.  We also continued our streak of liability insurance increases again this year, with new companies and goofy new rules and mandates.  One good(?) thing about new insurance companies is they make you look at every policy and form you have and update everything- such fun!  One update that will be coming your way will be updated volunteer and staff code of conduct forms which everyone will have to sign on an annual basis and have on file.  Apparently we aren’t allowed to assume you know you shouldn’t burn down the shelter and shoot everyone as they run from the building [Postscript Note:  I had a much more colorful phrase here but someone who read it literally said, “Yikes!” and I changed it}.  Paperwork is the best!

But the biggest issue on the horizon is the need to renovate the Reading shelter. We have delayed it twice, once for the merger of HSBC and HLLC and then for the Reading hospital construction.  We can’t put it off any longer.  If you’ve seen the old kennels and catteries, you know why.  We are doing the behind the scenes work to raise the funds now but we are looking at a big pot of money.  So, if you know anyone with an extra three quarters of a million bucks lying around, please let me know.  We expect that we are looking at nine to twelve months just in planning, assuming everything goes well, but I wanted to make sure that our volunteers knew what was going on with that need.

Those are the highlights. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions or idea about this or anything else.  My cell is 610-763-4271 and you are always welcome to check in at my office at the Reading Veterinary Hospital.  I’m happy to speak with you if I am free (or drop me an email at kminor@humanepa.org).

Once again, thank you for dedicating your time to helping us help animals and people in Berks and Lancaster Counties, and around Pennsylvania and the United States!

Your Partner in Animal Welfare,

[Signed]

Karel Minor, President/CEO

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