Twenty five years ago when I started in animal welfare I would never think of Pennsylvania as a particularly innovative place. Most people looked to New York or Boston or the West Coast. But one thing that came along with the disruptive influences of the “no kill” model, technology, research, and social media, was a reimagining of what shelters could do. Not just shelters in the broad sense but shelters as individuals.
We could suddenly focus on individual approaches and models. We were no longer in the cookie cutter, “we are THE shelter in this county and we must do things exactly like this because we always have” mold. We could do what we wanted. And we did. In the past ten years especially, Pennsylvania shelters have become diverse and unique, both from one another and from others around the country.
Some, like Berks Humane and Lancaster Humane League, along with Pennsylvania SPCA and Delaware County SPCA, got out of the dog catching business altogether. Others, like Chester County SPCA built on and developed the animal control model away from being a mere dog catcher, while expanding their service areas. Even among those who dropped animal control, the divergence expanded. Lancaster Humane League move to a “no kill/restricted access model” more in line with the traditional “no kill models” Berks Humane’s expanded veterinary offerings to drive an aggressive relinquishment prevention model while remaining an open door/open access shelter.
Pennsylvania SPCA moved into expanded statewide cruelty law enforcement. Delaware County SPCA brought the more expansive and aggressive no kill models of the North East US to Pennsylvania. Bucks County went to a dual facility model. Berks and Lancaster undertook a merger, uncommon among animal welfare organizations. And all this is in just our five contiguous counties!
I’m obviously most excited about the veterinary model we have pioneered and aggressively promoted as a logical and effective means of helping more animals, if not being the future of animal welfare. This is much to the dismay of some veterinarians who fear the competition and in some places both here and across the country have actively tried to block non-profit animal hospitals. Like the whale oil industry and the human healthcare market, which were long ago respectively replaced by petroleum or overtaken by non-profits and charities, these fears are too little and too late for a transition which is inevitable.
With two hospitals, one nationally accredited by American Animal Hospital Association, the gold standard among vets, and one soon to be when our new hospital opens in March, we remain at the cutting edge of this evolution. But we aren’t alone. In the past few years we went from the only fully public practice in Pennsylvania to one of many- in Delaware, Chester, Bucks, Crawford, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and probably beyond. We are still the only AAHA accredited hospital in PA and one of only 18 nationwide, but others are gaining, following our model and pressing us to keep on our toes.
That’s progress and innovation. We demonstrate and inspire, then we look to see how others are improving on our model and we take those lessons to improve ourselves. As I look around the Commonwealth, I’m actually surprised and proud of what I see. It may have been a long time in coming, but progressive and innovative animal welfare in Pennsylvania is finally arriving.