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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Insurance

February 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

When people think about running an animal shelter, they tend to focus on things like animal food, kennels, medical supplies, and the other things directly associated with the care and keeping of the animals. People often forget about all the other associated costs, such as electricity, natural gas bills for heat, trash pick-up, and the other costs of doing business.

“Let’s look at your coverage.”

One of those major costs is insurance. Animal shelters have multiple kinds of insurance.  We have general liability insurance, for our events, for someone tripping and falling, or for the rare occasion of an animal biting someone.  We have workers’ compensation, in case any of those things happen to an employee.  We have officers and directors insurance to cover our board of directors.  We also have short and long term disability insurance and employee health insurance.

Some insurance protects our volunteers, both general volunteers and our board of directors. Some we have because it’s the right thing for our staff, such as health insurance, which HPA offers with a 1/3 employee co-pay, and the short and long term disability insurance, which we have to protect our staff from major injury or illness.  We aren’t required to have it, but without it we wouldn’t likely have the great staff that we have.  It’s not cheap, especially the health insurance.

But some insurance we are either required by law to have, such as workers’ compensation, or for all practical purposes we must have to operate, such as our general liability, auto, property insurance, etc. Excluding health and disability, our insurance bill will be $80,086!  That’s more than we spend on animal food and little.  More than we spend on vaccinations.  It’s one of our biggest line items of our budget.

On top of that, the insurance comes with regular hassles. Because of several fairly minor events happening in one year, we had both our liability and our workers’ comp insurance companies drop us (because God forbid we should actually use the insurance we pay for).  The new companies, of course, cost more.  In addition to that, they come with weird prohibitions.  This year we are prohibited from accepting pigs.  I suppose they had another insured who had a pig bite and now we can’t take in a pot belly pig.  It’s absurd.  But it’s what we have to do.

We’ve struggled with insurance for years, with a major notable instance of being sued for a cruelty case we successfully prosecuted at the request of the State of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, on appeal when the case was handle by the County DA’s office and not us, the defendant was acquitted.  Under normal circumstances this would not matter.  Defendants can’t sue the State, the police, or the DA because of legal immunity extended to them.  But you can sue us in Pennsylvania because, unlike other states, our legislature hasn’t extended that protection to us, even when we are working on behalf of the police.  As a result our rates went up, we were later dropped, and we stopped doing cruelty prosecutions because we couldn’t risk it any longer.

I wouldn’t normally bring something this mundane to the HPA blog but right now we are making plans for what we can do for animals in the community this year and how many animals we can help*. How much more could we have done with that $80,086?  So, when we are begging you for money, don’t forget the things we have to pay for that aren’t cute and fuzzy.  Like insurance.

*So much doom and gloom!  Stay tuned to details on a major new program to help animals and people we are kicking off in 2017.

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Animal shelters exist in the tension between being highly competent at inefficient systems and finding ways of turning efficiency into incompetence, all in the hunt for efficacy.

I travel around to a lot of shelters and see many organizations which are highly efficient at being incompetent. These are the places which follow their rules to the letter and are models of consistency. Unfortunately, they are consistently engaging in terrible operations, have ludicrous policies, and inevitably have terrible outcomes. While this is certainly a step up from places which are wildly inefficient and have terrible outcomes, clinging to such an efficiency is like the court telling the innocent condemned man that he still has to hang because he received a “fair” trial.

There are also many sheltering organizations which may excel in the outcome realm, but have no competence and efficiency at all. They often kill themselves to have a great outcome for animals but they have to try so much harder than is necessary for the outcome and are far more prone to some small problem snowballing into something massive and damaging.

Perhaps the scariest scenario is when a highly effective organization becomes so highly efficient that it can begin to negatively impact its success. Sometimes every improvement and step forward, every means of squeezing more work out of the time or money available or getting more work out of the limited staff resources, or every attempt to improve outcomes, can actually backfire and lead to a negative return.

This is the one that scares me when I think of my organization. We’ve gone through efficiency/competence/efficacy cycles before. We’ve used computers, internet and databases to increase our efficiency in managing people or volunteers to the point where the efficiency leads to so little contact with our people and volunteers that we lose the connection with them. What’s the point of being able to handle more volunteers through “efficiency” if they no longer enjoy the process?

Ironically, we have constantly had to guard against increased performance leading us backward in animal care because of our new veterinary capacities. When we had no access to high quality vet care, any care was welcome and served the animals. But when you can deliver nearly unlimited vet care- but don’t have unlimited resources and time- we can end up spending too much time and care on some and risk not giving enough to others on balance.

We also face the negative impacts of staff competence. As our staff gets better and better and more and more skilled, they begin to ask for or even demand to do things in ways which can be too big a drain on resources and actually damage the entire organization. As a manager, I spend an awful lot of my time explaining why just because a staff member has the skills and wants to do to do something a particular way doesn’t mean we (the organization) can do it that way.

I’ll give a specific example. Ten years ago we performed sterilization surgeries in the standard model of shelter surgeries, not the American Animal Hospital Association model we do now. Although the “standard” model demonstrated no greater negative outcomes that our “advanced” model, we moved to the new model because it’s the model you and I would want for our pets. It was a “preferred” way of providing surgery. The two approaches were exactly as effective, with every animal getting sterilized, and without any demonstrable difference in negative outcomes, but for good reason we moved to a new model and we are highly competent at it.

Except we now do half the number of sterilizations in the same period of time. We are highly competent and highly effective, on an individual animal level. But we are about half as efficient and it costs us double in time and resources to do what we feel to be best for the animals. And that can be a real danger to the well-being of the organization.

That is the tension we find ourselves dealing with more times than not. We have become highly effective. We have become highly competent. But in doing so we can sometimes become less efficient and delivering the most services, helping the most animals, connecting with the most people. Or conversely, we can become so efficient we become less effective.

Suddenly, we tip toe our way into being an incompetence of efficiencies rather than the other way around. It is very tough to explain to staff that there are ways in which we were actually doing better before they had the database, or the new equipment, or did things to the highest level of expectation, rather than the average level. But that’s where a close eye on outcomes is important.

If we have a better fundraising event that costs us more money but doesn’t raise more money, is that truly a better event? If we start providing medical services that don’t save more lives and actually cost so much more that we get short on resources in other vital areas, is that a beneficial service? If we empower our staff to do the things they aspire to but these things don’t actually save the lives of more animals or uplift the organization, are we doing right by our staff, the animals, or Humane Pennsylvania?

I don’t always know. You don’t wonder these things when you have all the money in the world. But we don’t and never have. So we are left juggling competence, efficiency, and efficacy, trying to keep all the balls in the air at once. It doesn’t help animals to be so good at our job we can’t afford to help all the animals. But it’s also never an excuse to do less than we can and should because we claim we don’t have the resources.

If the job was easy, everyone would be good at it.

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I often joke that I thought I got into animal sheltering to worry about animals, not worry about money. The reality is that those two things are intertwined and the way we help animals is by having the resources to give them what they need.  As an organization we’ve done a pretty good job of that.

Ain't too proud to beg!

Ain’t too proud to beg!

We’ve pretty much always had to work off “cash flow”. In other words, how much we can spend doing our job of saving the lives of animals is based on how much we can bring in in donations and service revenue.  We have a pretty limited saved buffer and we’ve never been lucky enough to have a giant endowment like some shelters in our region.

That’s why it kills us when we have budgeted income that doesn’t come in when it’s supposed to.  Such as the $110,000 which was supposed to come in to our coffers this month but didn’t.  Surprise! That’s money we need to adopt animals, provide surgery and vaccinations, feed the pooches, keep the lights on, heat the buildings, and pay our excellent staff.

We budget as tightly as you probably do with your household income and when we get told, as we just were that the overdue check is “in the mail” in a month or two, it doesn’t help pay the bills right now.  It’s even more frustrating when we have had a great year, like we have had, because it means we have to decide where we will cut back on programs or services, even if it’s just for a month or two, services which won’t be in place to help people and pets.  When it is life or death, a month or two can be a long time.  Too long.

I wish we had ten, twenty, or thirty million bucks in the bank to draw from when an accountant decides to wait an extra couple months before distributing over one hundred thousand dollars given to us by a generous donor who passed away. But we don’t (can you imagine what we could do for animals if we did?!).  We just have to squeak by and hope this unexpected and unwelcome shortfall hurts our mission as little as possible.

Fortunately, we are highly efficient, we’ve got discipline and good financial practices- there’s a reason we have a four star charity rating! – and we’ve got you!

Our supporters have always come through for us because they know we do more with less than pretty much anyone out there and we do work on their behalf that makes them proud. I hope our work makes you proud. That’s why I hope you’ll consider helping us out right now, when we need it and are waiting for our critically needed gift to arrive.

Please consider making a gift online right now.  Consider giving a gift for holidays (the animals don’t care which one!) in honor of a friend or family member.  Have an office dress down day and ask people to donate funds or items from our wish list to help offset our costs.  Make a year-end stock transfer to avoid those pesky capital gains taxes or distribute a mandatory IRA payment to the animals.  If you’ve already made a gift this season or this year, double check to see if your employer makes matching gifts before the year ends.

We know you probably don’t have an extra $100,000 just sitting around (if you do, call me!) but every little bit helps and together we can all chip in to ensure that the animals get the holiday they deserve and our staff can focus on worrying about the animals and not worrying about money.

That’s my job.  Thanks for all you’ve done- and I hope will do- for the animals!

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