If you follow our work and communications at the Humane Society of Berks County, you know we tend to go with a pretty light touch. We think that people don’t just want us to do a good job on their behalf; they want to feel good when they connect and communicate with us. That’s why we try to instill a smiling voice if what we do, why we use humor, why we make sure our events are actually a lot of fun.
That doesn’t mean we don’t take our work very, very seriously. We do. We simply try to do “serious” effectively and with measure. When a hand shake and smile will work- which is most of the time- we use them. When the handshake needs to turn into an arm twist, we’re not shy about it. But we try to keep that to an as needed basis. Even here in our slightly more angst and gravity ridden blog pages, serious issues are discussed in a slightly satirical and humorous vein. At least that’s the intent.
But this lightness of approach can sometimes lull people into a false sense of security and when we break out of that mold as is sometimes required, it can be a real shock. Last summer we did something that is quite common for other animal shelters to do but extremely rare for us. We publicized, very bluntly and directly and with zero humor, that if we did not get a wave of adoptions over the course of a weekend, we would be force to euthanize cats simply for space- perfectly happy, healthy cats dying for no other reason than more were coming in than going out- for the first time in three and a half years.
We promote adoption heavily at all times because the reality is we euthanize animals on a nearly daily basis for a variety of reasons. Illness, injury, age, aggression. But we have been trying, by bits and pieces, to decrease euthanasia by targeting populations for adoption. Animals with minor injuries are now routinely saved because we have staff vets. Bone fractures are now commonly fixed and the pets adopted. More behavioral issues are being addressed, saving more lives. But the key population, the first that we decided we were targeting for saving four years ago when we decided we were going to stop accepting the “there’s nothing we can do about it” model most shelters accept, the primary target group, was healthy, happy animals.
For three and a half years, we were able to get everyone one of those healthy and happy cats, dogs, hamster, turtles, and others adopted. To the point where we often can take in happy, healthy animals from other animal shelters which are unable to reach that goal. To the point where some of our donors and supporters started to take it for granted. But when we had done every adoption promotion we had up our sleeves, when we had shifted around as many cats between our facilities as we could, when we had finally run out of options, we had to say, “But seriously, folks…..” and lay it out.
It worked. We had tons of adoptions and got the breathing space we needed. Now that the year is winding down we won’t face that again, probably, until next summer. And I still run into people who ask me about that announcement and say, “Good God, Karel, you killed me with that one!” And I tell them what I’m telling you now. We do great, wonderful, happy work. We like being positive and strong. We won’t be a place that sends out countdown to euthanasia lists, which fundraises on our instability and wears our weakness as a red badge of courage. We won’t play the suffering victim. But when we say something seriously, with no joking, no cleverness, take us seriously. It means the need is acute.
So let me take a moment to be deadly serious. While we have been fortunate not to contract and cut services in this economy, it has been a very delicate balancing act. It is a tightrope that we could fall off if we do not continue to receive strong support from the donors who fund our work. Fewer adoptions, fewer medical interventions, fewer cruelty investigations, no new dog parks and equine and adoption centers. This is not crying wolf, this is reality. Do not let our recent accomplishments lull you into a sense that we do not need you now more than ever. Next summer, we will face a crisis of euthanasia for space again, probably earlier and more acutely than this year. We will need your help to avoid it.
But we want to be the happy-go-lucky organization you know and love. So we will make you a deal. Help us keep that smile on. When our Holiday Appeal hits your mailbox, make a big enough donation that gives you a little discomfort. When your thank you letter comes, pass the enclosed brochure along to a friend. Attend one or all of our events. Forward our emails, hang our posters, talk about how great we are. I promise you, you will not be keeping us from collapse, you will be keeping us strong. That is a very different thing entirely.
We can remain the happy successful place you want us to be and we want to be. Or we can diminish. You will decide which it is. Seriously. And sorry about that cat email.