Name a clock, a jock, and a crock.

There is a tendency in our animal welfare industry, one which I engage in as much- OK, more- than most, of pulling the old Carnac the Magnificent routine and claiming we saw everything coming.  A few of us are better prognosticators than most and have the blog, article, award or speech transcript to prove we saw it coming first.  Good for us!  We bought the concert tee that proved we were their and we heard of them first! I was reminded of that in a recent article about No Kill prognostication.

CarnacBut what caught my eye was one line in the article which presumed to tell “shelters” (prolific ironic quotes warning), whatever than even means these days in the wonderfully fragmented and diverse animal welfare world, what our “job” is.  Or more to the point what we should be doing to prove we are “doing our job”.  In this particular case it is that “shelters” should be taking in, and presumably killing, dangerous dogs, and shouldn’t be “neglecting birth prevention” which sounds as much like code for not spay aborting animals which could be birthed for 100% adoption chances as much as it does simply offering sterilization services.

Fair enough, tell us what you think our job is.  But expect us reply that the random person on the street doesn’t get to define what “our job” is any more than we get to tell the person on the street what his or her job is.  Your job is to file by date, not alphabetically.  Your job is to give everyone free braces.  Your job is to do oil changes at 3,000 miles, not 6,000 miles, no matter what those fancy new cars say, because my dad told me so when I learned to drive.

Our “job” is defined by our board, staff, and most importantly, our supporters, volunteers, and donors who make the work possible.  Without enough of them, we can’t do our job no matter what any of us think it is.  So, when one writer or one guy on the street tells us what “our job” is, I simply think, “Good for you!  How lovely it is to have an opinion!”  Then I go back to my actual job.

Interestingly, in the context of the article about the rise of No Kill in the US in the past 20 or so years, not doing our jobs is exactly what lead to the widespread successes of the past two and especially past one decade in sheltering and the utter and complete sea change in how we approach sheltering in America.  When I started working in shelters in 1992 my job was to kill all feral cats because “better dead than on the street”.  My job was to kill every pit bull, regardless of history or temperament.  My job was to refuse adoptions to most renters and most brown people, because “those” people are a bad adoption risk.  My job was to kill animals rather when I could give them away through adoption promotions because people who don’t “pay” for a pet don’t appreciate them.  My job was to kill animals that sneezed because my job wasn’t to have a vet on staff, let alone have a public vet practice.  My job was to be the dog catcher and kill strays for the government. My job was to take every animal, even if I knew I would probably kill it and even if I knew that some minimal help would keep it safely at home because, once a person decided to give up a pet, they became a horrible person.  Basically, my job, the job I was told was my job, sucked.

It was not doing my job that made things better and started to save lives.  It was dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of other people and shelters like mine not doing their jobs which has resulted in  so much success and so many lives being saved now which weren’t before.  It was other people doing jobs that weren’t theirs, like starting small rescues, creating Facebook pages, and creating fostering networks, that helped change things for the better.  It was basically all the people who said, “F*** you, you don’t get to tell me what my job is,” and changed what their job is that turned our industry from one based on killing more than we save to saving more than we kill who did the real hard work in the past 20 years.

We’d all do well to do our jobs less, or completely opposite what we have been told we should, because the first hundred years of “doing it right” didn’t do the animals any favors.  For the past decade at every workshop I’ve given on any topic, I’ve always shared my opinion that half the people in animal welfare just shouldn’t be doing the job at all and should find new ones, because they are terrible at the job they do.  That percentage has gone down in my estimation because so many new people are getting into animal welfare work and doing the job in a new way.  Sometimes the new way works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it beats the alternative of 20 years ago.  I might tell them what I think works well or even best, but unless they work for me, I don’t tell them what their job “is”.  That’s on them to decide, not me, not writers, not loudmouths on Facebook or online comment pages.

I knew what wasn’t working 20 years ago and so did lots of other people.  I predicted what might work better and was even right in a few cases, and so did lots of other people.  But anyone who tells us with certainty what the one right way to do our job has better testicular endowment than a big brass monkey.  For them I revise the answer to the query: Name a clock, a jock, and a crock.

Answer: Big Ben, Joe Namath, and anyone who thinks they know the one true way for you to do your job in animal sheltering.

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Children of Inheritance

February 20th, 2015 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

A certain amount of vision is required in any entrepreneurial business, whether non-profit or for-profit, and I feel like I have enough to get by.  I also remind myself when I’m inclined to get too wrapped up in being visionary that having visions got you burned at the stake in the Middle Ages.

A leg up never hurt anyoneMy own definition of being a visionary means that one either sees the thing that needs to be done which no else recognizes or sees how to do the thing every agrees needs to be done but no one else can figure out how to do.  The first isn’t of much use without the second and the second is somehow considered less impressive and more a testament to effort over inspiration.  When you can do both, you’re on to something.

I’ve been the pretty good at being the Sony to someone’s Philips and effectively tweaking things in my animal welfare work which are really just improvements on others’ ideas and have “discovered” a few things at the same moment as lots of others, which means things were floating about so much in the ether none of us can claim origination, even if I can claim better promulgation. 

But there is one area where I think I can claim some genuine vision in my work.  It’s the delivery of veterinary services by non-profits to the general public in open and unapologetic competition with for-profit vets.  I know, it’s not like I invented veterinary care generally or even non-profit service delivery.  However, I’ve been making my case long enough to know that my epiphany a decade or so back that there is not the “real” veterinary sector and then there’s the non-profit veterinary sector, handing our cheap scraps at low rates to poor folks, it is simply a broad veterinary sector which lacked a non-profit corporate component that goes head to head in competition with the rest of the sector.

We’ve always known that vet care makes a difference in whether animals end up in shelters, even if it was a gut feeling before we started to get the research to back it up.  Sheltering and animal welfare organizations nibbled around the edges with vaccine clinics, low/no cost sterilization programs, even large “charity” hospitals for the few mega-organizations which could afford them.  But all the efforts were adjuncts to the true veterinary market that you and I patronized with our pets.  They weren’t “real” vets, charging real prices, delivering real services in real practices.  They were shelter vets charging cut rates to people who couldn’t afford better in offices which couldn’t be accused of being on a par to the best local vet practices.

My vision, a vision shared by our organization and board, was to turn that model on its head.  We wouldn’t be the charity place that sometimes offered “real” services, we’d be just what the for-profit veterinary community has pretended it is: real practices which also provide charitable services to those who need it.  We would serve everyone, rich or poor, and we’d charge market or less, as required by the client, but everyone gets the same high quality care.  Sick animals don’t know or care if their owner is rich or poor, and neither would we.  This was not just good business- and we openly admit that- it is primarily, centrally, singularly the core of our mission because every animal needs and deserve high quality vet care and it helps keep them out of shelters.

Competition for for-profit vets?  Yes.  But our adoptions are competition for pet stores which sell dogs, too.  That doesn’t make it wrong for us to do it, just like it’s as reasonable for us to provide mission driven vet care rather than profit driven vet care as it is for the non-profit Reading Hospital to compete with local for-profit hospitals.  In fact, that human health care model is the means by which we will realize the vision of realigning a massive non-profit veterinary sector which will both save animals and save a floundering veterinary sector.  It’s a vision which will save millions of lives and carve out a place in a multi-billion dollar industry.  It’s a big vision and I’ve seen where we need to go and how to get there. 

That has resulted in a couple people throwing kindling around my feet because I’ve been very loud about it.  I presented the first national workshops about it.  I’ve blogged insensately about it.  I’ve worked successfully to assist other shelters to do the same in Pennsylvania and nationwide.  I’ve been dismissed and derided by vets in the private and the shelter sector.  I’ve been threatened by veterinary associations with lawsuits, legislation, and IRS audits and I dared them to do their worst because this vision of the future is coming to pass whether they like it or not.

I’d very much like to be the person to lead us there- OK, if I’m waxing visionary, I might as well wax messianic- but I’ve always had the feeling that while I could lead the animal welfare industry through the desert, it would be someone else who took it to the promised land.  It would be a bigger, richer organization, with the resources to do today what it will take our little organization years to do because we lack the organizational capacity.

 

That’s why my heart sank twice this week, even though I know in the end it will be the best thing for animals.  First, Humane Society of the United States’ political arm put out a white paper making a forceful case for the expansion of non-profit veterinary services, although they it is still firmly in the apologists’ camp.  Then today comes the announcement that the other goliath in animal welfare, ASPCA, is planning to merge with Humane Alliance, the oldest and largest non-profit pet sterilization organization in the country.

 

Now, they will deny they have plans to move into the general veterinary services sector and they may even believe it when they say it.  But I know that they will see the mission sense of making that leap eventually, and when they see the business sense of it, that leap will come sooner than later.  This will be great for people and animals and, whether the vets want to recognize it or not, it will be great for an out-moded veterinary industry.  But it bums me out a little, because I know I saw the end game and I saw the way to get there, my definition of vision, but my little organization just doesn’t have the means to do it as quickly as these two organizations which have hundreds of millions of dollars available to them.

What might nag me most is knowing that a few years ago I made an appointment to meet for a few minutes with the CEO of one of the two big national animal groups specifically to make the case that public veterinary services delivered by non-profits was the future of veterinary medicine and the wellbeing of companion animals.  I paraphrased a line for that Facebook movie, The Social Network.  “A 150 million dollar animal welfare organization isn’t cool.  Do you know what’s cool?  A billion dollar animal welfare organization.”  I even offered to do the work for them because I thought it was that important and that we had hit on the right scalable model.   It was a polite meeting, I was well wished on my vision, but it was clear it wasn’t on the radar for this leviathan.  I didn’t make my case.  But maybe I planted a seed.

Since then the model has served our organization well.  In that short period our organizational capacity has increased fourfold, and the number of animals we help exploded.  We’ve hit all-time save rates in our shelters specifically because of our veterinary model.  We went from one small public practice to two.  We’ve received national accreditation for one of hospitals (being one of fewer than 20 non-profits in the country to do so, and by far the smallest one), and we are starting construction on our new hospital which will be completed and accredited this year.  We’ve inspired multiple organizations to take the leap in their shelters, and non-profit veterinary practices are blossoming nationwide.  But we are tiny.  It will take us five years to double our capacity again and probably five more to double it again though veterinary service expansion.  And that will still only make us barely 5% the size of the either of the two biggest organizations who tentatively put their toes into the veterinary waters this week are right now.

These big places are like the children of the rich who inherit just enough to have the resources to become kingly in their wealth.  Let’s face it, even The Donald would probably acknowledge that a little leg up and a $200 million dollar inheritance helps.  I don’t begrudge them their good fortune but I just can’t help but think of what we could do with both the vision and the resources to realize it.  I’m sure every self-made billionaire will tell you the struggle is more satisfying but in this case it isn’t about amassing wealth as the end, it’s about reaching a place that helps more animals which is facilitated by having access to that organizational wealth.  How many more animals could we have helped if we had $150 million behind our vision four years ago?  How knows?

Humane Pennsylvania and I and our veterinary services division, Humane Veterinary Hospitals of America (I know, that’s some cheeky big talk, right?) will keep scrambling toward our vision of what we can do for animals through a realignment of the veterinary market, even though I know we will be beat to the promised land by one of the Big Two.  I’ll have to settle for old timers reminiscing about that wild eyed guy from Pennsylvania- what was his name?- they saw at a conference decades ago, who prophesized the coming of the new veterinary age.  Maybe someone will Google my blogs for a dissertation forty years from now and I get a little credit in a footnote for my one bit of vision, or at least for my big mouth. 

Since, after all, we are talking about what’s best for animals, I’ll cede the war and the Land of Milk and Honey to the big boys with the cigars and the inheritance.

But, dammit, I still know how it should go and how to get there fastest.  So, Wayne and Matthew, call me, OK?…….

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A Scorpion’s Nature

February 18th, 2015 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

300px-Tortoise_and_ScorpionFor some reason people are often surprised that “animal people” can’t seem to get along.  After all, we’re all in it for the same reasons, right?  That may be the case but our ranks are still made of people and these people are as diverse in their motivations, desires and trustworthiness as any other.  This is why it is hard to maintain good partnerships and alliances.  Too often our partners disappoint us and when they do, we never forget it, and we never partner again, even if it’s the best thing for animals.

I’ve been burned my fair share of times but over the years I’ve increasingly been willing to partner again with someone or some group which has proved a faithless partner in the past.  I believe that I and Humane Pennsylvania are pretty good partners, as far as these things go.  We have our own intrinsic motivations just like any other group.  But I think we are pretty clear on what we want out of a partnership, what we will do, and what we will not accept.  When one is honest in a partnership, one can partner effectively with just about anyone.  Humane Society of the United States (no relation) a model of this at times.  They have partnered with people and groups that probably make them sick.  But as long as there is clarity on the shared goals and about the overlapping point of interest on their Venn diagram, they can work with even those whom they despise to get something done.  The same is true in politics, although apparently less so now than it has been at times.

What causes the trouble is when someone gets everything they ask for in partnership and it still is not enough to inspire them to keep the pact they have made.  Even worse, when promises are made- I’ll do this with you if you agree to do or not to do that right now, the classic political compromise- and then broken.  These circumstances certainly throw a bucket of water on whatever the partnership was and it can also spoil the chances of ever working together again if we let it.

But we shouldn’t let it because we can’t blame the nature of those with whom it is in our best interests to partner with when something good can be accomplished.  Even if we know it’s possible, likely, or even certain that the true nature will reveal itself.

For example, thanks to a couple really bad sunburns as a child, I have had two rounds of a mild skin cancer show up on my back since my early twenties.  I don’t blame the sun.  I don’t refuse to go outside for fear of being burned again.  Instead, I recognize the sun will do what the sun does.  It will try to burn me.  I take precautions and wear hats, and shirts, and sun screen.  When, even with these precautions, I occasionally get a mild burn, I chalk it up to my choices, I do not curse the sun.  And I hope whatever I was doing to invite the sunburn was worth it.

I try to do the same when I know it’s in the best interests of animals to partner with those who have either burned or stung me and my organization in the past.  I weigh the risks and rewards, decide if the good potential outweighs the bad likelihood, and I let the scorpion climb on my back.  Of course, like with sunscreen, I’ve learned to put some protection between my back and a fatal sting over the years.  But I’m still prepared for it and I know it will hurt.  For the greater good, we should take the risk.

But we should never, ever allow ourselves to believe that once a scorpion has proved itself to be one, it will likely ever prove itself to be anything else.

The Fable of the Scorpion and the Frog

One day, a scorpion looked around at the mountain where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey through the forests and hills. He climbed over rocks and under vines and kept going until he reached a river.

The river was wide and swift, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn’t see any way across. So he ran upriver and then checked downriver, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back.

Suddenly, he saw a frog sitting in the rushes by the bank of the stream on the other side of the river. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the stream.

“Hellooo Mr. Frog!” called the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

“Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you wont try to kill me?” asked the frog hesitantly.

“Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

Now this seemed to make sense to the frog. But he asked. “What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!”

“This is true,” agreed the scorpion, “But then I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the river!”

“Alright then…how do I know you wont just wait till we get to the other side and THEN kill me?” said the frog.

“Ahh…,” crooned the scorpion, “Because you see, once you’ve taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!”

So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river. He swam over to the bank and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog’s soft hide, and the frog slid into the river. The muddy water swirled around them, but the frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the stream, his flippers paddling wildly against the current.

Halfway across the river, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog’s back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs.

“You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we shall both die! Why on earth did you do that?”

The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drowning frog’s back.

“I could not help myself. It is my nature.”

Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river.

 

I guess it’s also a safe bet that even though I’ll keep partnering, I’ll also take a moment to write a snarky blog about it.  Oh, well.  Give a scorpion a keyboard…

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Milestone: 2015

February 5th, 2015 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

[A word of warning:  I’m burying the lead and it’s a big one, so please stick with me.]

When I started as Executive Director of Humane Society of Berks County (HSBC) in 2004, HSBC killed about 4,000 animals a year.  Our live release rates were in the range of 50%-60% for dogs and 30% to 40% for cats.  The organization told itself that there was nothing we could do about it, but that was a lie.  The truth was there was a lot we could do about it but it would be hard work, it would require downright radical change, and it would take a great deal of time.  The staff and board who shared this vision came together and started the work that needed to be done.

Somewhere over the rainbow got a lot closer last year.

Somewhere over the rainbow got a lot closer last year.

In 2004 we started by changing our policies on feral cats and establishing the region’s first TNR partnership in an effort to stop killing the 800+ cats being deemed “feral” and euthanized annually.  In 2005, we created the Free To A Good [now Great] Home program and started literally giving animals away during peak holding periods, expanded our PetNet Emergency Foster Program, and took the lead on forming the Berks County Animal Response Team.  In 2006 we opened the first of its kind Cat Adoption Center and hired our first staff veterinarian, and created Ani-Meals On Wheels.  In 2007 we became the first open admission shelter in our region- maybe simply the first shelter period- to publish our intake and outgoing data unfiltered on our website and implemented Asilomar based reporting and tracking  and we expanded our veterinary services to the public, created our Adoption Health Guarantee, opened our innovative dog adoption center, and opened our veterinary services to the public.  In 2008 we opened our first adoption satellite, we ceased killing strays for local municipalities, and started our first year of not killing a single healthy animal entering our shelter.  In 2010 we opened Berks County’s first free public dog park.  In 2013 we began the merger process with Humane League of Lancaster County, a “no kill” shelter, in order to create our own regional lifesaving network in Pennsylvania.  And every day in between we tried, succeeded, occasionally failed and regrouped, and implemented, a myriad of new programs and ideas, both original and borrowed, to save the lives of more and more animals.

It was not easy and it did not bring us the point of saving every single life.  But it brought us pretty damn close.  Closer than we have ever been, closer than most have ever been in our region or nationally, and so close that total success now seems like a real possibility, not just a fantasy goal.

Here’s the lead:  We now have our 2014 animal statistics in and Humane Pennsylvania reached a new milestone of 85% live release rate for cats, 98% live release rate for dogs, and 100% for all other animals.  I’ll let that sink in.

This is not just healthy, happy animals.  This includes sick, injured, behaviorally challenged, and downright miserable animals.  We are within striking distance of 90%- the “consensus” for achieving “no-kill” for everyone but that last 10% who get killed- for cats and we blew by 90% to come within 2% of saving every dog.  This is so good and so improved over the past we went back and audited all the numbers to make sure.  Twice.

How did we do this?  We did it by doing everything we could, all at the same time.  We did it by not allowing the impossibility of total success from stopping our drive for more and more partial success.  We did it one, ten, one hundred animals at a time.  We did it by throwing out everything we “knew” and focusing on doing what we could prove worked, or someone else had proved worked, or just something we never tried before to see if it would work.

We did it by helping people keep their pets by making it easier to do that then to give it to us to kill.  We gave people surrendering a pet a dozen options to not do it before we gave anyone an easier and cheaper option to do it.  We did it by offering a true helping hand to those who wanted it rather than making the easiest choice relinquishment.  Being open admission doesn’t mean being here to kill any animal someone hands across the counter.  Being limited admission doesn’t mean you only have to accept the most perfectly healthy and cute pets.  We know that the best place for a pet is at home, in any home, because the most dangerous place in America for any animal is in an animal shelter.  Only now it is a lot less dangerous at ours.  85%.  98%.  100%.

Of course, just as when we split the hair by saying we adopted 100% of all healthy and happy animals, we are splitting a hair now by saying that we adopted 85%, 98% or 100% of healthy and happy and also sick, injured and miserable animals.  First, there are clearly 15% of cats and 2% of dogs, and they were all among the sick, injured, and miserable group, we did not save last year.  That’s a failure.  That’s our failure, that’s my failure.  And since life-saving is a community effort, it’s a little bit your failure, too.  But it’s a much smaller failure than it was ten years ago.

We also can’t forget the animals which we exclude from the pool which we determine, based on our Asilomar policies and even with significant interventions and efforts, to be “adoptable”.  The reality is that 1,082 animals did not leave our shelters alive last year, both those which had a chance and some which did not.  Of that number, 150 came to us dead for disposal.  Some people may say I think a lot of myself, but even I can‘t raise the dead. 330 came to us to be euthanized for health issues or old age by their owners.  38 were bite cases severe enough or had wounds of an origin requiring PA State rabies protocols.  94 either died due to severe injury, illness, or age, or could not be saved despite veterinary care.  In these cases and a handful more, we did all we could or all the law allowed, although I know with more resources, we can do better.  I can sleep at night knowing that.

17 feral cats were euthanized, and while that’s a damn sight better than 800, it still nags at me that we couldn’t find a way to get these few- a mere 17- out.  But I can move forward accepting this as progress.  163 cats and dogs were euthanized for aggression we believe rose to the level of outright danger to staff and the public.  Many, if not most, of these animals came to us this way, but not all.  While I know these were the right decisions, and when in doubt I can Google child dog bite victims”, I also know that with better veterinary interventions while they were still in the home and more resources in our shelters, we could have kept some of these animals from reaching a point where the safe and prudent decision was to kill them.

About 60% of the animals which did not leave our shelters alive last year couldn’t, because they were already dead, terminally ill, catastrophically injured, legally obstructed, or dangerous to the point that conscience prevented it.  I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about that, but I can work with that.

What I can’t work with, what I can’t live with, is the 378 animals which had injuries or illnesses and the 81 animals with non-dangerous behavioral issues that we just had to make the choice to give up on.  I will not split hairs here.  For 459 animals, we lacked the resources, the time, the ability, the adoptive homes, so save them.  We fundamentally lacked the will.  Sure, this include cats which would piss outside their cages rather than in a litterbox yet had no definable medical condition, making the odds of finding that special family looking for the one cat who will soak their carpets and beds in urine extremely slim.  It includes animals with chronic illnesses requiring constant treatment and attention for the rest of their lives, even if we provide that expensive vet care for free at the cost of twenty other animals getting it and can find that special person (That wasn’t me, was it you?  Turns out it wasn’t for these animals).  It includes animals with illnesses and injuries that would simply take more time and money that we had to offer them.  For 459 animals, I know we could have saved them.  If.  If we had more time, more staff, more money.  If we could find the right fit out of a thousand wrong ones. If.  I can’t accept these and neither should you.

It doesn’t matter that this is fewer that we used to kill in a year in 2004 just because we ran out of space.  Healthy, happy animals who died just because we ran out of space. It doesn’t matter that this is less than half as many animals as we used to kill in a year in 2004 just because they sneezed.  I kid you not, we killed over 1,000 cats in 2004 because they f***ing sneezed.  I can’t even imagine doing that now, let alone needing to do that now.  It doesn’t matter that we killed more than that in 2004 just because they were pregnant, had a limp, or just happened to be pit bulls.  Yes, that was the policy when I arrived, all pit bulls were euthanized by policy.  We changed that, too.  But it doesn’t matter.

I start out doing these annual reviews being proud of myself, proud of my staff, proud of our volunteers, adopters, donors, and supporters.  I share that pride with them and with you.  And then I go back to the 2% of dogs and the 15% of cats which had a chance I couldn’t give them and the animals which still fall through the cracks as being deemed “unsavable”.  As these numbers grow smaller and smaller each year, as our amazing staff and volunteers save more and more, I find the ones we didn’t save- didn’t, not couldn’t- harder and harder to accept.

Numerically, in most areas we are near or above the magic 90% save rate which would allow us to claim we are “no kill”, especially if we just turned away a select few of the toughest cases that come to us.  Declare victory!  But that is bullshit.  You know it, and I know it.  It may be hundreds now and not thousands.  It may be the sickest of the sick, the meanest of the mean.  It may be a success rate I would have taken in a heartbeat when I started in animal welfare twenty years ago.  But they are still ending up in the freezer.  It is still not enough.

In April of 2007, when I announced the positive results of the first couple of years of our efforts, I ended by pointing out that in the first three months of that year we still had 1,183 animals enter our shelter and that 612 of them were euthanized.  I asked you what we were going to do about it.  Eight years later, we did more than I dreamed we could.

But in the first month of 2015, 252 of animals entered our Humane Pennsylvania shelters and 30 of them were euthanized.

Now, what are you and I going to do about that?

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Milestone: 2007

February 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Why the HSBC Publishes All Its Data

[Below is the April, 2007, announcement that Humane Society of Berks County would be publicly posting all its complete incoming and outgoing data online, making it the first shelter in Pennsylvania to do so, and something which most shelters still do not do.  It was one of the first steps in our ongoing mission to change the failing paradigm in animal welfare.  Within one year of this posting HSBC achieved the previously thought to be impossible goal of finding homes for every health and adoptable animal in its care.  Seven years later we are about to announce a new milestone (stay tuned to this blog) but we thought a reminder of how far we’ve come with the community’s help was a good idea.]

Benjamin Disraeli is credited with saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  We’ve all seen news reports and television ads claiming something bad is up X% and something good is down Y%, all in very sinister tones.  Yet any statistician will tell you that “facts” like these might be meaningless unless you know a few things: Up or down compared to what?  Over what period of time?  According to whom?  In what context?

The Humane Society of Berks County recently conducted its normal review of our statistics in which we look at our various organizational numbers and compare them to the same period in prior years.  Much of what we found looked great.  While we had a 2% increase in the number of incoming animals when compared to last year, cat and dog adoptions went up 12%.  Owner claims of stray cats and dogs went up 13%.  As the executive director, these are the kind of numbers I want to pick from the mix and announce to the world to show what a great job we are doing.

But the fact is, when I announce one of these successes, I may be only telling half the story.  Shelters all scramble to tell the good news but we rarely give the bad news in the same sentence.  We tell ourselves it’s because you already know the horrible reality of euthanasia in shelters.  Or, that so much of it is “beyond our control”.  We hold detailed statistics close to our vests and often only share them with our staff and our board.  We tell ourselves that you, the public, simply won’t understand or that the numbers won’t be in context.

I believe that is a lie.  It’s a lie shelters tell themselves and it’s a lie shelters tell you.  Shelters tell it because the hard reality, the unacceptable reality, is that open access shelters like ours euthanize millions of potentially adoptable animals each year.  We know we are trying as hard as we can to avoid it, that the public and the government share the blame for the atrocity of numbers we face, and that if we didn’t do it, someone else would, probably far less humanely.  But we also don’t want to have to compound the tragedy we are forced to embrace daily by having to explain it to a public that we don’t give credit for truly understanding the scope of the problem.

The Humane Society of Berks County has decided that we will no longer be complicit in keeping the facts from you.  We are proud of the work we do and we have been making steady strides forward each year.  You not only have the right to know exactly what we are doing on your behalf, you have the obligation to know what animals face right here in your neighborhood.  If people don’t know what is going on, how can we expect them to step forward in righteous indignation and do something about it?

For all of the chest beating about the importance of pets in our society and all the best-selling books about how much this person or that loves their dog, our society is hiding its head in the sand as millions of companion animals die unnecessarily each year on the streets and in animal shelters around this country.  Thousands of those pets will die right here in Berks County.

Effective immediately (4-26-07), the Humane Society of Berks County will post its incoming and outgoing animals statistics on our web site.  In 60 to 90 days, the HSBC will have undertaken a complete review of all of our reporting protocols, with the assistance of a panel representing all facets of our community,  and will begin reporting our numbers based upon the format created as part of the Asilomar Accords [Note: Humane Pennsylvania shelters now report in a simplified Asilomar format for clarity].  This reporting format provides a very simple to understand number: the percentage of animals leaving the HSBC alive.

I have always been adamant about the importance of providing our numbers, in exactly the same format and detail that we provide them to our staff and board, to anyone upon request.  However, even I made sure I talked to the person requesting them to provide “context”.  I must admit, I feel a little queasy about unilaterally publishing our statistics.  I say unilaterally because none of the other open door shelters in Berks County or the region currently provide complete statistics as openly and as readily available as we now do.  While we are all in the business of saving animals, anyone who thinks that shelters are not all seeking to draw from a limited pool of vital resources– or that some won’t use other shelter’s numbers to their own benefit– is fooling himself.  But we’re about to open our books for the world, and other organizations, to see.

Someone very close to the HSBC asked me recently, “Why would you do that if you don’t have to?”  My question, and the question I hope you ask, is, “Why doesn’t everyone else do it?”

Mark Twain also had a great quote about statistics. “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.”  So, here goes with some statistics:  In the first quarter of 2007, compared to the first quarter of 2006, the number of animals entering the HSBC increased about 2%, the number of cat and dog adoption increased about 12% and the number of stray owner claims of cats and dogs increased about 13%.  The statistics tell us we’ve made great progress.

The facts:  During the first three months of this year, 1,183 animals of all kinds entered the HSBC.  612 of them were euthanized.  The facts tell us we have a very long way to go.

Now, what are you and I going to do about that?

Karel I. Minor, Executive Director
(April, 2007)

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