If it seems to you like there are more charitable fundraising events than ever, you are not wrong. Auctions of every variety, galas, beer tastings, and don’t even get me started on the multitudinous versions of walks and runs out there. When I started in non-profit animal sheltering over twenty years ago, there were far fewer non-profits and, therefore, far fewer fundraisers.

Back when our Walk was a mere ten years old- and yes, that is our very own Adrienne Trafford rocking the leggings at right.

Back when our Walk was a mere ten years old- and yes, that is our very own Adrienne Trafford rocking the leggings at right.

Back then, the Walk type fundraiser was pretty squarely in the pocket of animal shelters since, you know, dogs walk. Humane Society of Berks County, with its 35 year old Walk for the Animals, is among the oldest around. Over time, as Walks have become more ubiquitous because of their relative ease to conduct- “Hey, everyone, we’re walking, hope you show up!”- the number and diversity of groups has exploded. Cancer walks, domestic violence center walks, walks for Horses, walks for schools, pro-life walks. I even saw a walk for Beethoven or something. Half of them have added dogs to the program, so we don’t even have that unique aspect going for us anymore.

The latest boom in events are beer festivals. This is one area in which I think we were way ahead of the curve. The first beer tasting fundraiser I and fellow staff put together was over twenty years ago when we worked for a neighboring county’s organization. That was back when craft beer was still microbrew, you were lucky to find a bar with more than a couple taps and one of them had Bud Light and the other wasn’t likely to be much better, and you had to drive across the county to find micros or imports (shout out to Buy Rite in Morgantown for carrying Franziskaner!). There may have been another beer tasting fundraiser that long ago, but it pre-dates the internet and I haven’t found one.

In the past decade we brought the model of a small, non-frat boy dominated, fun beer fest to Berks with the Pints for Pups events. It quickly caught on and became one of our signature events. Of course, there had always been the for-profit warehouse bacchanalias and these began to proliferate, as did the smaller local non-profit versions, especially after the change in the Special Occasion Permit rules (which Humane Society of Berks County was instrumental in bringing about, so you’re welcome everyone else) expanded the list of eligible organizations exponentially. Where there used to be one in Berks County there are now four or five or more.

The gala type event, and often the associated auction, tended to be reserved for the “big boy” charities with the higher end donors in past decades. Hospitals, conservancies, museums, and the like tended to dominate this type and when little fellas like animal shelters got into the action it was pretty paltry competition. Fortunately, I had been tutored in Chester County (shout out to the lovely and wonderful Jane Thouron), the land of the swanky gala, in not just how to put one on, but how to create a culture of giving among an attached crowd that built on itself over the years. We brought much of that experience and structure to our events in Berks, especially the Art for Arf’s Sake Art Auction, and very quickly grew the event to the point where it routinely broke the $100,000 barrier so rarely achieved by any organization, let alone an organization our size (tiny by comparison to most) and we were trouncing the performance of the “real” charities who tend to have a lock on successful events.

How did we do it? The easy answer is the old chestnut, make an event fun, and we did that. I think our events are pretty fun: we switch things up pretty well, we have great entertainment, good food and booze, and all the things that make people want to attend rather than prefer to just send a check and stay home. That’s the easy answer. The truer answer is that we have always worked our butts off in creating a critical mass of people attached not merely to the fun event itself, but to the purpose of the event and the funds they raise. We put special thought to ensuring we have an array of events at all entry points, from free community events for large numbers, like the Walk, to smaller crowd, higher dollar events like Pints and the Auction. However, even those events, with added benefits for big dollar sponsors, have reasonable pricing and sponsorship opportunities since we know not everyone can write a big check. That’s why the Arf’s Art (Berks) and Wags and Whiskers (Lancaster) Auctions provides tickets to artists who donate their creations to both the auction and the Patron Preview Parties because they are as much a donor as the person who buys their art. We do our best to thank everyone, regardless of level, although with as small a shop as we run, we never do it as well as we could or would like to.

We also try to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap of raising money at the expense of spending huge amounts through things like consignment items in auctions (great, it sold for $10,000 but we have to pay $9,500!) or by treating expenses like it wasn’t real money. It is real money. It’s real money someone is donating to us that could go to the animals and our programs. I know donors appreciate that but our vendors often don’t when our staff negotiates pretty hard bargains for the services we pay for.

Most importantly, we try to make sure that everyone who attends our events not only has a good time, not only gets thanked, but knows exactly what we are doing on their behalf, with their money, with the money raised from them and with their help. Our events are where we raise funds for specific purposes. We’ve applied event funds to creating Berks County’s first free, public dog park. To opening its first public, non-profit animal hospital. To opening the first modern, non-pound type adoption facilities, to provide free, targeted medical services to prevent parvo outbreaks, to create Pennsylvania’s first nationally accredited non-profit animals hospital, and much more.

That’s why, despite the intense competition for donor time and money from all these other events, even ones which sometimes are pretty patent knockoffs of our own, ours still do really well, even during economic downturns or other factors which could really damage them. And it’s why, when I see the latest billboard for the local “Beer Auction Gala Walk for the Dogs of Earthquake Survivors” I may say to myself, “Really? Another one?”, but I don’t begrudge them for trying.

I know we not only try harder, we do better, and we do better with what do raise than most manage. And we do it with the loyal and deeply appreciated support of all the people out there who don’t just want to attend an event and they don’t just want to “help animals”, they want to attend our events and help us help animals in the very special, unique and uniquely effective way we do it at Humane Pennsylvania, Humane Society of Berks County, and Humane league of Lancaster County.

If you are one of those people. Thank you and I hope to see you soon. If you haven’t yet been to one of our events, you’ve been missing out! Please join us- you won’t just have a good time, you’ll know you are going to empower us to do some really good work on your behalf.

We know that being first and four bucks will get you a cup of coffee. It’s about being the best. And we strive to not just to give you the best event to attend, but to do the best possible work that can be done, anywhere, with the donation you make.


Race and Animal Welfare

April 15th, 2015 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

In retrospect, even with my preamble to our HSUS minder that it was meant with all love and respect, my announcement of my pleasure at being at the HSUS EXPO at which “HSUS discovered black people” might have been slightly over-the-top ironically pithy, even for me. I acknowledge a tendency to bite the hand that feeds me on occasion when my conscience or mouth get the better of me. And while I know all EXPO workshop presenters get a staff handler, I sometimes wonder if in my case it might not be because they one day expect me to revert to feral, rip off my shirt, start a bonfire with the conference room chairs and throw in anyone I deem to be of the old guard.

Cleavon-little-blazing-saddlesMy comment came in the midst of a workshop I was presenting along with Humane Pennsylvania COO, Damon March, at the request of HSUS, on the future of disaster response (“Is the future of disaster response “no response” at all?”). I have to be honest, I don’t think we were entirely comfortable with the topic as it isn’t our hedgehog, for the Jim Collins fans out there. I’d give us a B, and the evaluations we reviewed afterwards seemed to generally agree. Solid effort, won’t be adding this one to our future workshop bank. Sorry, attendees, they can’t all be grand slams.

But my comment hinting at the reality of race and animal welfare was not entirely off the cuff and it was appropriate for the portion of the workshop addressing the need to be sensitive to the widely heterogeneous nature of victims of disaster as well as to our own, possibly subconscious, biases and perceptions toward them. Two of the workshop reviews we received specifically mentioned the “race portion” of the workshop, but with diametrically opposed opinions. This utter divergence of view is why I addressed the issue in the first place, why I struggled with the issue specifically after what I found to be a disconcerting welcome session at EXPO, and why I return to the topic of race and animal welfare again here.

One of the two evaluations specifically thanked us for addressing the issue of race in animal welfare and our interactions with our clients. The other suggested that we (I) should have kept our “racial views to ourselves”. This familiar response to any discussion of race is no surprise and I bet a small sum I can guess the skin tone of the two evaluators, although I wouldn’t bet a large one. I have found that many whites in animal welfare, and animal welfare is comprised overwhelmingly of whites, and nearly exclusively once you reach the level of executive management, would prefer not to discuss the impact of racial prejudice in the field of animal welfare.

I will state my belief succinctly: There is and has been massive racial bias, intentional or not, in all facets of our industry and it has negatively impacted our ability to deliver services to our community and to connect with people and animals in need. Period.

This is changing. The, for me, disconcerting welcome ceremony at EXPO was ample evidence of this. There were four individual recognitions or awards offered. The first three were animal caretakers or rescuers of some stripe or another, all black. The first was a man who would not abandon his dog during Katrina. Guess what? The dog was not a pit bull, it was an Akita! In the workshop I also noted that I thought that anyone who did not think that a large majority of welcome session attendees did not have that clearly racially biased thought pass through their head- black or white- in a way it would not have for a white person is kidding themselves and doing their clients and staff a disservice by not recognizing that bias. The next honoree, who had an award posthumously named after him was also black. OK. Then the award was given to a wonderful woman who rescues neighborhood cats. Black. Uh. Damon March and I are looking at each at this point, because it seems like a pattern is building.

Were all of these people worthy of recognition? Of course they were. Is there also a whiff that the recognition was somehow more laudatory because the great white majority of our industry might credit non-white folk less with doing what we expect white folk do? Take a deep breath, you’ll smell it. Was HSUS, which has taken a clear and, in my opinion, wise and commendable turn toward recognizing that we are here to serve all animals, not just suburban white owned animals, and that access to comprehensive services such as veterinary care and not just animal control interventions is a right of all, was making a pretty pointed case for the fact that poorer, urban, black people actually love their animals, too? On that, I would wager a large sum. I applaud it.

So why the- snarky?- commentary if what they are doing is recognizing something which I think has gone too unrecognized and unaddressed for decades? My discomfort, and the discomfort that literally had me up later the night following the welcome session than I’d have preferred, springs from the fact that while there was clearly a point to the selection and presentation of the honorees and the programs being highlighted, the audience was left to awkwardly figure it out the subtext on their own.  When there is a clear, long-term, seemingly intractable problem, we must do more than just offer some remedial action. We must actually state, aloud, what the problem is, why we are addressing it, and what we are doing to remedy it. Simply letting Tiger Woods or the first woman into Augusta National Golf Club isn’t enough. We don’t just leave them standing there looking around sheepishly in a crowd of old white guys. “Hey, thanks for letting me in, not sure if you noticed but I’m a woman and he’s black. We’ll just stand here wondering if we are tokens or if you really see what the problem is.”

Sometimes a problem is so pronounced that just taking steps to fix it needs to be accompanied but an explicit statement that you are fixing it. Allowing membership to the club one day doesn’t make the club post-racial. It just makes it slightly less homogeneous. Until the addition of minorities- hell, in animal welfare being a man got a raised eyebrow in many shelters until recently- is unnoticed, there’s still an issue. Ignoring the reality of that issue, not saying, “Hey, we noticed that for whatever reason, there are no people of color in our club, we think that’s probably an issue, and we are going to change that,” doesn’t fully address the need, even if we are trying to take steps to.

Our animal welfare club is homogeneous to a fault. We may not have a secret handshake or citizenship tests to keep it that way, but a simple glance around any meeting of sheltering agencies should make it clear that we’re a lilywhite crowd. Whether this leads to outright bias in our work is certainly debatable but I don’t think that it is debatable that fewer members of diverse groups- racial, ethnic, gender, orientation- brings fewer perspectives to our work, less understanding of those unlike us, and a greater likelihood that we may inadvertently approach our work with bias that negatively impacts our efficacy.  It certainly makes it more likely that we will utter the word “they” when talking about problems facing animals.  As in “they” don’t view animals they was we do.

Those biases are very real. I have seen them in our organization and we have worked hard to crush the openly bigoted policies and approaches of the past and to minimize the inadvertent bias that can come from a lack of diversity. When I started at Humane Society of Berks County it was standard practice, if not actual policy, to refuse adoptions to people of color on weekends until we could check the ownership status of their homes with the county courthouse on Monday. We routinely waived that requirement for whites. When we overturned the total ban on pit-bull adoptions staff would refuse adoptions of pits to young black male adopters, because, you know, pit bull. I write “we” but I should more accurately say “they” because I and my new managers immediately stopped these practices when we saw them, we moved along staff that clearly did not see a problem with these approaches, and we had a 100% turnover within a very short period of time. Sometimes the only way to change a culture is too destroy it and start from scratch.

It was more insidious than that, though. In all my twenty plus years in sheltering, I have never had one charge levelled against me that my COO has had levelled against him repeatedly by the public, by staff, by the board, in whispers and knowing glances. It’s the charge of selling pit bulls out the back door to dog fighters. Care to guess what color our COO is? Yep, black. Or actually half black, since in our culture we don’t think half white is white, we think half white is black. And apparently black managers with decades of experience and skills sell pit bulls for fighting while white ones don’t because, you know, pit bulls.

Having managers and staff of varying genders and complexions helps lead to having even more variety. It builds on itself. Is our staff a United Nations reflection of the community? Not quite, but better than before and better than most in our region. Does it make us perfectly unbiased? No, because we all are to some extent. But it makes us aware that we are not dealing with “them”, we are dealing with people, just like the people we work with and for. Just like the people we and HSUS give awards to. Just like the donors and volunteers of all shades who make our work possible. Speaking of which, that fourth person recognized at the welcome session was a lovely old white lady who was an originator of HSUS from the 50’s. We’ve all certainly all come a long way since then.

HSUS doesn’t need me to tell them how to make a change in the culture of animal welfare. They are bigger and smarter than me and I’m sure they have discussed how best to approach it for a massive organization which needs to ensure it brings the most people along into this brave new multicultural animal welfare world, as it tries to find a way to bring in a whole new group of previously overlooked. In the same way a President has to modulate his speech once she governs us all and a Congressperson can spout off whatever he thinks is the most important issue of the day, with every step Wayne Pacelle is making seismic shifts in animal welfare and must be very careful how he treads.

I’m fortunate in that I am much less relevant and I can say what I think the animal welfare industry needs to hear. I do appreciate that may be a sensitive subject to some in a workshop or even reading a blog, but I know it is equally sensitive for those who have been ignored, marginalized or even openly accused of horrible things simply because of their skin tone by people who believe themselves to be humane and merely looking out for the animals.  I also know that sometimes it needs to be said by someone with an ass as white as mine since I’ve never been on the receiving end of racial bias in our industry.

I can say that the way we, as an industry, view and treat minorities, especially but not exclusively poor minorities, is different than how we view and treat non-minorities. I can say that the near or utter absence of non-white faces at our shelters and conferences does a disservice to our work and undermines our credibility. And I can say that by not discussing the reality of the impact of racial bias on our work we are impeding our progress, the very real progress we, HSUS, and some many others are making.

We can’t just do it. We need to acknowledge we are doing it and why. We need to say it.


Each year, when we come to asking for art for our art auctions, we end up having the same conversation with a few artists. It can be summed up as “Too many organizations ask me for art and I can’t deduct the value of my art so you don’t appreciate it.” Yes and Yes. Wait.  Yes and No.  Yes and sort of? That second part is confusing.

On the first charge of too many places asking artists for art, that is, hands down, true. There are a bazillion charities out there asking artists for art for their various auctions. They also ask everyone else for money, so they artists aren’t any different from any one else in that regard. The only difference is the currency being requested of us.

Yeah, I've got an artistic streak, too.

Yeah, I’ve got an artistic streak, too.  That’s right, that’s a guitar made out of noodles.

In my case, since I’m not an artist, a charity might ask me for $500. If I choose to give it, that comes out of the proceeds of my work. If an artist is asked for a $500 painting, that is also coming out of the proceeds- at least potential proceeds- of their work. A donation is a donation and $500 is ultimately $500 whether it is cash, a painting, or gold.

The question then becomes whether it is a $500 donation well invested. Poorly run charities, or poorly run auctions, don’t deserve the donation whether it is cash or art. If the value of my donation is going out the window, I’ll give elsewhere. In the case of Humane Pennsylvania or Art for Arf’s Sake Art Auction, we have a well-run and effective organization and auction. Humane Pennsylvania is a leader in its field, helps animals far and wide, and is widely emulated. With confidence I say we think we make the best use of your hard earned donation. Arf’s Art is equally high performing. In fact, it raises on average $100,000 each year, most art sells for market value or vastly higher, and it beats the returns of arts auctions held by actual arts organizations in the region. With equal confidence I say we think we make the best use of your hard created artwork.

So, if too many people are asking for donations, just decide whose mission you wish to support. If it’s us and the work we do for animals and people, wonderful. If it’s some other mission, that’s fantastic, too. No more hard feeling than for the cash donors who have to choose between the myriad of deserving charities and we’re just glad you give to someone.

They second part of the argument above, that the art is not “valued” because it can’t be deducted, is a little more complicated. That’s thanks to- shocker- the government and the IRS, not us. According to IRS regulations*, an artist, or lawyer or architect, can only deduct the cost of materials, not their time or the value of the “product” they supply. They are considered “volunteers” in the same way as a dog walker at our shelters is, even if that dog walker is a professional dog walker who charges the public for the same service. If it was up to me, I’d give all y’all a big ‘ol tax credit for your time and “product” because it does a world of good for us. But I can’t. Because the IRS won’t let me.

Here’s the crazy thing: If the artist gives their painting to their best friend and their friend donates the painting to us, the friend can most likely deduct the market value of the painting, not the materials cost. I know, crazy, right? But them’s the rules. So Picasso paints a masterpiece and he can deduct $12 for the paint. He gives it to friend who donates it to us or a museum, and the friend deducts $1 million because that’s the market value. Go figure.

That’s not saying the art isn’t valued. It’s not saying we don’t value the donor just as much. It’s just how the IRS works and if the tax deduction is the incentive for the donation of art, because all your artists are all so rolling in dough you need the deduction, right?, then giving your art might not be the best tax move. But we aren’t your tax advisor, we’re a charity who needs help doing good work in the community.

Your donation or your art to our art auction does make a difference to our success and our mission because it helps us with our financial bottom line in a way that no one donation could on its own. Can you write us a check for $100,000? Nope, me either. But by donating one piece or art to join 99 other artists who created one piece of art to be joined by 350 non-artists who write a check to attend the auction and bid on the art, we combine to generate $100,000 for our mission. All those pieces of art and all those donors come together to create one of those mosaic images that spells out: “Hey! We just raised $100,000 for the animals!” (Yes, I paint my pictures with words and that masterpiece of a sentence is yours for free.)

Not only do we appreciate and value the art, we arguably actually appreciate and value the artist a little more than other donors. All the donors have to buy a ticket to the auction and the preview reception with cold hard cash they earned doing their job, whether it’s a creative one or not. If one of them gives us a painting they bought, we gladly accept it and, yes, they can maybe deduct the full market value, but we don’t give them tickets. They still need to buy tickets. Originating artists get comp tickets. That’s because we recognize that our artists are what makes our art auctions unique and special and not just some Holiday Inn starving artist art sale.

Our artists are our patrons, not the other way around, and that’s why we welcome them with an invitation to join us at both the auction and the patron preview, along with the big dollar donors. They have both chosen to support our mission. With different currency, yes. In different ways, yes. But we value and appreciate their support equally, and we are glad that from among the many, too many, charities out there, they chose to support ours.

Even if the IRS has stupid rules about deductions. Blame Uncle Sam (and Richard Nixon), don’t blame us and the animals. Please support us in any way you can, whether it’s time, art, or loot. And if you don’t support us, support some other great organization.

But I’d rather you support us.


*I am so not a tax professional and you’d have to be an idiot to do your taxes based on whatever I say or something you read on some animal shelter blog. Do yourself a favor and Google your way to a real tax pro when it comes to filing your taxes.


Assuming the Best of People

March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (9 Comments)

The other day on the radio I heard a Philadelphia Councilwoman describe her inspiration for offering an ordinance which would require more trashcans. She used a well-known facilities management chestnut about Disney World having trashcans every 30 feet because Disney figured out that’s how close they needed to be to “keep people from throwing their trash on the ground”

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible."

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

That’s not exactly how I recall hearing the trashcan story. The version I heard was that Walk Disney got a hotdog from one of his stands at the new park, walked while eating it, and when he was done eating it and was left with the empty paper tray in hand he said, “This is how far a trashcan needs to be from where ever a park goer gets food or drink.” It’s basically the same thing except the difference between Walt and the Councilwoman is that he assumed the best in people and she assumed the worst.

In her world, the absence of a trashcan meant a person would simply throw their trash on the ground because we are innately uncaring pigs. Without the can to cajole us into doing the right thing, we’d do the easier, wrong thing. In Disney’s world, he knew that a person wants to do the right thing, wants to throw trash in a can. By having one close at hand, he was helping us to do what comes naturally, and what comes naturally is to look for a trashcan.

This is a glass half full or empty world view with a real impact and one which we engage in all the time. Do we think teachers don’t want to teach and need to be forced to do their jobs or do we think they need the training and support to do what they want to do well? Or kids learning? Or criminals recidivating? Or politicians governing?

Or, in our world, pet owners properly caring for their pets?

For 100 years the animal welfare world has proceeded from the point of view that people default to bad. They will be bad caretakers, they will surrender pets, they will not claim strays, they will not provide veterinary care, and they will breed their animals unless we are there to steer them into going against their nature and actually doing the right thing. We, at every turn, insulted anyone with an animal, even those who did us the favor of coming to our doors to support us and adopt the pets in our shelters, by presuming the worst of them.

For the past decade Humane Pennsylvania shelters have been proceeding from exactly the opposite point of view. We’ve believed that people want to do the right thing by their animals- and ours- and simply need to have that natural instinct facilitated. We stopped proceeding from a starting point of, “You are bad and the answer in no unless you can prove to us you are not.” This difference in approach was expressed through specific changes in our programs and policies.

We recognized that people didn’t not get (grammar police, hush!) their animals sterilized after adoption because they wanted litters, they didn’t do it because it was inconvenient and sometimes even a small inconvenience can derail best intentions. So we simply starting sterilizing everything before adoption. If spay/neuter is SOOOOOOO important, why weren’t we doing it? Instead of thinking people wanted to discard their pets at the drop of a hat we looked at why animals were relinquished. If someone’s granny was sick in the hospital for a month, maybe they couldn’t keep her nasty little poodle and maybe surrender wasn’t the easy thing, it was the only thing. What if we provided them with emergency foster programs? If we had an animal with a health problem which wasn’t being adopted, what if we helped people make the decision to adopt by providing them with free or reduced vet care for the pet so they wouldn’t need to worry about the cost? If we were out of space, what if we incentivized adoptions by literally giving them away so people knew how important adoption right now was? What if we gave them access to affordable, high quality veterinary care for their own pets at home? What if we assumed that people in disasters might be able to care for their own animals if we just asked them what they need rather than essentially forcing them to give up their pets to emergency shelters? Or maybe if we just smiled at them and treated them like they weren’t secret sociopaths?

The list goes on and on. All of our approaches fundamentally come down to assuming people want to do the right thing and will, if we can just make it easy for them to do it, not easier for them do not do it, or do it someplace else, like a pet store or a puppy mill.

Increasingly, we are seeing others joining this fun new party where everyone is viewed first as friend, not foe. Some of the programs which we pioneered, or at least pioneered in methodology and implementation as many were secretly offering these pro-people programs on the sly like they needed to be a secret, are being emulated by organizations across the country. HSUS has Pets for Life. Shelters are routinely offering no cost adoption promotions. There is a whole organization which does nothing but emergency and military foster services, which is super cool (I did note with a chuckle that they claim to be “the ONLY”- why do we all feel the need to be the only? – organization offering these programs. We were recognized by the Harvard School of Government in 2006 for our PetNet program which was expanded from a domestic violence foster program to a full disaster/emergency/medical/military foster program in 2004, so maybe they aren’t “the ONLY”…).

But the one which warms my heart today is PETsMART Charities’ announcement yesterday that it was reprioritizing its grant programs away from just being sterilization centric and beginning to focus on community veterinary access. This is the cornerstone of Humane Pennsylvania’s approach to our animal welfare programs and we are the ONLY- just kidding, couldn’t help myself- we are one of the organizations which have been on the cutting edge of this new approach. OK, to be fair, we are the only animal welfare organization in Pennsylvania with a nationally accredited, public, community veterinary hospital, with our second hospital expected to be accredited later this year. That’s just too cool not to brag a little. And I hope that soon, accredited Pennsylvania non-profit vet hospitals will be nothing to brag about because they will be commonplace.

What is so awesome about this new approach is that it makes our work fun and exciting, not a total bummer because we view our work as essentially hopeless in the face of all these Philistines we are forced to deal with. Instead, it’s a party that everyone is invited to join in on: pet owners, government, other organizations, everyone. Welcome to the party, PETsMART! Grab a drink and let’s help people do what they want to do- take good care of their pets! Woohoo!

Walt Disney knew this. He knew that when you assume everyone wants to have a great time and do the right thing, you were half way there. Just a few well-placed trashcans and a smile could make it a magical day. He knew that every boy and girl wanted to be a Prince and Princess and they’d act like it if we led with, “Hello, Princess!” instead of, “You better behave, little girl.”

Finally, we in animal welfare are doing the same. This is going to be so much fun! And, please, have a magical day!


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.


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?…….


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…


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?


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)


(This is a repeat blog from December 2013)

At Humane Society of Berks County, we do pretty well on fundraising, especially compared to ten years ago when I started as Executive Director. We also do better than many of our peer charitable agencies in the region, both within animal welfare and in other fields. But I am not the first person to say that Berks County is a tough row to hoe compared to neighboring counties when it comes to fundraising.

Please sir may I have some moreOf every contiguous county, Berks is at the bottom, second only to Schuylkill County, in both median giving and percentage of giving per capita. Those two stats are not about how rich or big the county is, they are about how generous Berks is when compared on an equal footing to other counties. Lots of people have asked why, but I think the reason HSBC has been doing better than average is that we have in part figured out the reason. It’s because Berks has been stuck in a culture of parochialism instead of one of philanthropy. And we’ve been stuck here because of the people doing the asking, not because of the people doing the giving.

We all talk about teaching children to be generous. We have community service requirements in our schools, we encourage Alex’s Lemonade Stands. It doesn’t matter what they are doing as long as they are contributing their time, service, and money to make a difference. But as soon as they grow up they get a different message in Berks County: We must give in this way, not that way. We must give to this group, not that one. Berks is oddly dichotomous. While focus tends to be singularly on Reading, there are two major hospitals close together and you are supposed to like one or the other. There are two major higher education institutions in town, and we should choose sides. There are even two competing billboard companies. Of course, there are also two major animal welfare organizations and for years we’ve all been expected to pick a side, like there are sides in saving animals’ lives.

HSBC has been very up front with one message for the past ten years. Please give. Please give to us. Please give to them. Please give to everyone. Don’t like us? Give to them. Just give. When you do give, we’ll say thank you. Whether it’s a dollar or ten thousand dollars. No bumper sticker, no free hotdog, just a thanks. And if you donated a painting worth $100 or gave a check for $100 or gave a check for $10,000, you get the same thanks because we know people give what they can. People have responded to that increasingly and I think it’s helped not just us, but other charities, too.

But the traditional model in Berks has been to look to the big money folks. Can we get Al Boscov to give us a million? It was the first question my board asked me ten years ago. My answer was, probably not, but I bet we can get a thousand people to give us a thousand dollars each. If we’re lucky, Mr. Boscov will take note and send a check, too. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve built a community of giving instead of holding our hands out to the top twenty philanthropists in town, which is unfair to them and to us. Unfair to them because the burden of giving falls on all of us and, based on our giving stats, we all fall short.

Unfair to us because when we hand that power over to a few, they use it as they see fit. When HSBC first considered a capital campaign we were told that we had to go hat in hand to get permission from the committee of the wealthy who would decide when we were allowed to ask our community for capital funds. Our local community foundation openly believes that charities can’t be trusted with large endowment gifts unless they are safe in their hands, not ours. When we hoped to ask our supporters to give to us through their United Way donations, we found that ours was one of the very few United Way agencies nationally which prohibits donors from directing their giving to a charity of their choice. You are required to pick from the list of a mere 32 charities they give you. These are great charities, to be sure, but why only these 32? HSBC gets donations from United Way chapters in nearly every county surrounding us and from around the nation, but not one penny from Berks County’s chapter.

Our community isn’t asked to just give. Please give to us; give to them; give to everyone. It is told how to give, when to give and to whom to give. HSBC and many other local organizations have simply been opting out of this parochial view of philanthropy. We ask for what we need, when we need it, and from whom we need it. We encourage giving and volunteerism on the part of anyone in support of whatever they wish to support because we know a rising tide floats all ships and giving is a habit that needs to be learned and fostered.  Until it becomes an addiction.

I recently saw a great example of just such a fostering in Lancaster County, which held something called The Extraordinary Give. It was a single day of giving in which everyone in the community was asked to give. All the money was given directly to any charity which registered, it wasn’t just put in the bank. Better yet, the big money crowd and the local community foundation matched the money given so that the average person was standing shoulder to shoulder with the wealthy in support of their common community. It made the giving something bigger than the gift, not something small or petty. Together the community raised $3.2 million dollars in one day and it is being swiftly and directly distributed to 260 local charities. Not a free hotdog in sight and no one telling us who deserves our gift.

If we want to know why we don’t give more in Berks County, let’s ask why we try so damn hard to control what is given? In this holiday of giving I hope you’ll give generously to HSBC. And to other deserving organizations locally, regionally, and nationally. No matter who you share your generosity with, I have one thing to say: Thank you.