I Double Dare You …

To all the naysayers, to all the obstructionists, to all the undecided, to all the traditionalists, I send out this challenge.  Come to Center for the Arts at University at Buffalo’s North Campus on Sunday, February 17th for Nathan Winograd’s presentation on “Building a No Kill Community”.  The informational fair starts at noon with Nathan taking the main stage at 1pm.  There will be a Q & A session at the end of his presentation and a hosted cocktail reception immediately following his presentation.  You can register at http://NoKillBuffaloNiagara.org

NKBN_WinogradBanner

I double dare you …

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The No Kill Equation – Moving them Out

In&Out-NoKill

Thank you No Kill Huntsville for the great graphic!

With Nathan Winograd’s presentation, “Building a No Kill Community” less than a week away, it is time to put to rest the “warehousing” or “closed admission” monikers that always seem to come from No Kill opponents when discussing No Kill.  While we admit that there are shelters out there that have taken No Kill to the level of warehousing and lack of animal care, that is NOT part of the No Kill Equation.  The first part is working hard to reduce the intake numbers by implementing low-cost or free spay/neuter for owned pets, TNR for free roaming cats, proactive redemptions and medical and behavior help for owned animals. The second part is about doing what is best for them medically and behaviorally while in the shelter as well as getting them adopted into wonderful homes, put into foster care or transferred out to rescue groups.  With protocols in place that make animals move through the shelter quickly into homes, foster care and rescue groups, the shelter can be available to take in animals as needed.

What does that mean?  First it means that all animals in care should be vaccinated at intake to prevent the spread of illness from one pet to another.  Research shows that vaccination at intake will prevent the majority of canine and feline illnesses that plague shelters. http://www.sheltermedicine.com/ The same illnesses that animals are routinely killed for, even if they got the disease in the shelter. Some shelters will routinely kill animals for these preventable illnesses, even if they are showing no symptoms as a “preventative measure” during any outbreak.  A distemper/parvo vaccination costs between $1- $4 per dog (depending on volume of purchasing) while killing a parvo or distemper infected dog and disposing of the body would cost 10 times that.  The same is true of the cat vaccines as well.

It means maintaining adoption friendly facilities by having clean kennels, condos, play yards, greeting rooms and offices.  It means welcoming people into your facility as if they are long-lost friends and making the adoption experience pleasant for the adopter and the pet.  It means promoting your adoptable animals using all available marketing  means at your disposal, Facebook, organizational webpages, print & electronic media, pet adoption websites, posters, even classified ads.

It means developing a foster and volunteer program where all interested people feel welcomed, valuable and appreciated, not just a chosen few.  It means engaging your volunteers and allowing them to have opinions, concerns and give feedback without making them feel that to question anything is treasonous.  It means having an open door policy that engages all the volunteers and empowers them to reach out to the community even further.

It means developing enrichment protocols that help the animals in care avoid breaking down mentally or physically.  It means taking an over-sized office and turning it into a cat play room so the cats and kittens get out of a 3×3 cage on occasion.  It means fencing several large areas to give the dogs room to romp and play with other dogs of similar play style.  It means working with trainers and animal behaviorists to ensure the animals in care get the work they need to become happy and healthy family members.  It means training your adoption counselors to be honest and forthcoming about the animals without making them sound like they have no redeeming qualities and are not worth adopting.

It means having adoption hours where the majority of people are able to come into your shelter to adopt.  It means having staff that are all 100% committed to the mission of saving lives, even if it means they miss lunch,  work late or camp out in the winter to trap free roaming cats.  It means doing what is right for the animals in care and not what is most convenient. It doesn’t matter if a shelter calls themselves “No Kill” and warehouses animals or if a shelter calls themselves “No Kill” and continues to kill 30% or more of the animals that come in by labeling them “unhealthy/untreatable” – neither follows the No Kill Equation’s formula for success.

If you want to learn how to successfully save 90% or better of all shelter animals, you should sign up to hear Nathan Winograd’s presentation  “Building a No Kill Community” on February 17th at University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts.  The event is free and open to the public, but you should reserve your spot today at http://NoKillBuffaloNiagara.org

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The No Kill Equation – A Balance of Programs

NoKillEquationPlease join No Kill Buffalo-Niagara for “Building a No Kill Community” with Nathan Winograd on Sunday, February 17th at Center for the Arts, University at Buffalo North Campus from 12 noon to 6pm. An informational fair starts at noon with Nathan taking the main stage at 1, followed by a book signing from 4 – 4:30 and a cocktail reception from 4 – 6.

This event is free and open to the public, but you must register to attend at http://nokillbuffaloniagara.org

As we approach the event we have been working on for several months, I thought it time to again reiterate what the No Kill Equation is actually about.  As shelters who are mired in the culture of killing continue to spread misinformation that no kill means hoarding, that no kill means warehousing, that no kill is anti-spay/neuter and that no kill does not work, I would like to remind everyone that the No Kill Equation is about balance – life-saving balance.  Balance between reducing intakes, increasing adoptions and increasing public support. This blog is part one of a series and will focus on reducing intakes.  Part two will focus on shelter programs and part three will focus on increasing public support.

Spay/Neuter Programs

Spay/neuter programs are a core part of the No Kill Equation, especially in regards to free roaming community cats and low-income pet owners.  National surveys and studies have shown that many pet owners would spay/neuter their pet as long as the services were affordable and convenient (Petsmart Charities, pg 30).  For free roaming community cats that have no owners, those services should be available for free and should be targeted so that an entire colony is done at the same time (Alley Cat Allies).  As you can see from the graphic, low-cost spay/neuter and TNR (trap, neuter, return) are programs 1 & 2 in the No Kill Equation.  Both spay/neuter programs are key components to decreasing the number of litters born within a community which will reduce the number of intakes at shelters as well as the number of free roaming community cats over time. For those that continue their life on the streets, TNR allows them to live healthier and happier lives within the community (Best Friends Animal Society).

Redemptions in the Field

Progressive field services and proactive redemptions is another key to reducing shelter  intakes and is program number 10 in the No Kill Equation.  Rather than having animal control officers bring all strays to a shelter where time and money is spent to intake the animal, feed and house them, have them checked by medical staff and vaccinated, it would be more efficient in terms of both time and money to return the animal to his owner in the field.  Many times the animal could live just a few blocks from where it was found and returning it to an owner a few blocks away would make much more sense than transporting the animal to a shelter that might be on the other side of town.  Add to that, for cats who are found stray, the likelihood that a cat will be reunited with his owner is 2% if brought to a shelter.  His chances increase to almost 60% if left in the neighborhood where found. (Maddies Institute) Having an animal control facility that is a community resource that makes it a priority to get a pet back to his home would not only reduce the cost at the shelter level, but could also increase municipal revenue by increasing pet licensing compliance (Calgary Animal Services).

Pet Retention

Pet retention efforts are another way to reduce shelter intakes.  Programs that help owners keep their own animals and not surrender them is program number 6 in the No Kill Equation.  Counseling people on available resources within the community that can help them with medical, behavioral or nutritional issues that might cause them to consider surrendering their pet can reduce the number of animals entering into shelters (Nevada Humane Society).  For those people who cannot keep their pets due to other circumstances, having programs that help the pet owner re-home their own pet would also help reduce shelter intakes and cost very little time and money (Austin Pets Alive).

We love spay/neuter programs, we support spay/neuter programs, we advocate for spay/neuter programs, but that is not going to help the adult animal that is about to die today or tomorrow or even a month from now.  Those animals need our help too.

Stay tuned for Part Two where we discuss the parts of the No Kill Equation about shelter and rescue programs.  It is not enough to limit the number that come in, you also need to take care of them while they are with you, develop working partnerships with other groups and people and find them homes.

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Those Wacky No Kill Extremists

Hippie-Gamer-DogWe hear it all the time, No Kill is full of whacked out extremists.  To hear some speak, we must all be sitting around our communal table, chanting, smoking something illegal and planning a revolution.  We must not have real jobs because we can spend all our time protesting, ranting, raving, giving hard working people grief for doing their jobs.

So I thought I would give a little biography of some of the leaders of the No Kill movement so you can judge for yourself.

Nathan Winograd is an award-winning author of four books, including Redemption, a critically-acclaimed and award-winning book on the No Kill movement in America. His most recent book, Friendly Fire, takes on the national animal welfare organizations for perpetuating shelter killing and failing to fulfill their core mission to help animals. Winograd is a graduate of Stanford Law School, author of animal protection legislation, former corporate attorney and criminal prosecutor, and sought-after speaker, both nationally and internationally. Mr. Winograd’s program – the “No-Kill Equation” – has successfully guided the renaissance in life-affirming sheltering, with 90 or more communities nationally. Whether rural or urban, north or south, industrial or agricultural, poor or rich, open-admission or limited-admission, government-run or private, the No Kill Equation underlies every successful effort.

Ryan Clinton is a Texas appellate attorney at Hankinson LLP based in Dallas, Texas (although he lives and works in Austin). He has eight times been named one of Texas’s best attorneys under the age of 40 in Texas Monthly magazine, and in 2010 was named one of Austin’s top young professionals under the age of 40.

In 2005, Ryan founded FixAustin.org with the goal of ending the unnecessary killing of sheltered animals at Austin’s Town Lake Animal Center. Six years later, in 2011, Austin’s shelter saved 90% or more of all sheltered dogs and cats— achieving “No Kill” status.

In 2009, Ryan was awarded the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Henry Bergh Leadership Award, and was a speaker on Reforming Animal Control at the 2009, 2010, and 2011 No Kill Conferences in Washington, D.C. Ryan’s charitable work has been featured in international, national, and local news sources including the Christian Science Monitor, the American Dog Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Dr. Ellen Jefferson, DVM, is the executive director of Austin Pets
Alive. Dr. Jefferson received her undergraduate degree from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas in 1993 and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1997. She moved to Austin, Texas in 1998 and has worked as an emergency veterinarian as well as in private practice while fulfilling her nonprofit goals in spay/neuter and rescue.

Ellen was voted “Best Activist” in the city’s weekly newspaper, was selected as a finalist for Austin’s Young Professional of the Year Award, and this year, she graced the cover of Austin Woman Magazine. Meanwhile, Austin Pets Alive now boasts over 1,400 volunteers, 600 cat and dog foster parents, and 1,300 individual donors. The organization also has 35 employees (it had none when she took over two years ago), and recently moved into an impressive, two-building complex in South Austin-a compound to match the organization’s ambitions.

Bonnie Brown is the Executive Director of the Nevada Humane Society in Reno, Nevada.  Since she took over in 2007 and within the first year, increased adoptions by over 60%.  Working in partnership with Washoe County Animal Services, Ms Brown has been instrumental in saving over 91% of animals in the the entire county.

Prior to taking over NHS, Ms. Brown was the Chief Operations Officer for Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless, abused, and neglected animals.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and learning from all four of these highly educated, passionate and grounded individuals.  You too can hear them as well if you choose to attend the No Kill Conference in Washington, DC on July 12 – 13, 2013.  If you cannot make the conference, you can join us on Sunday, February 17th and hear Nathan Winograd present “Building a No Kill Community” at the Center for the Arts, University at Buffalo North Campus.  This event is free and open to the public and we hope that you will open your minds and hear from the lawyer, the shelter director, the author and the “wacky extremest” himself.  For more information go to http://nokillbuffaloniagara.org

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The devil is in the details

Statistics. UGH! A word that strikes fear in the hearts of many, even those who have worked in animal welfare for years. But statistics are an invaluable tool for tracking performance, identifying problems, monitoring operations, and more. But beneath those statistics are raw data – data that equates to actual living, breathing animals. Those data (animals) can then be classified into categories. And those counts of cases within the categories provide a window into what happens to the animals once they arrive at the shelter.

When shelters report a particular statistic as proof of its accomplishments, the public must delve deeper. The shelter’s pronouncement may be accurate, or it may be misleading. Only by looking at the complete statistical picture can we be certain that the conclusion being drawn is a valid one.

Thankfully, many shelters these days post their complete statistics online, though you may have to search a bit to find them. If you look at an average shelter statistics report, you will find a 2-3 page document that includes a variety of breakdowns on animal intakes and outcomes. For example:

  • Where did the animals come from? Did they come from the public, or were they transferred into the shelter from other organizations?
  • What is the health/behavior status of animals entering the shelter? You may see them broken down into categories like: Healthy, Treatable/Rehabilitatable, Treatable/Manageable, and Unhealthy/Untreatable.
  • What happened to the animals? Here, you may see the counts on owner returns, adoptions, those transferred out to other organizations, and (unfortunately) deaths, whether “euthanasia” or lost/died in care.
  • Of the deaths, how did they die? There may be breakdowns into “owner-requested” euthanasia, “shelter-elected” euthanasia, or those lost/died in care with further breakdowns according to the health/behavior classification categories (Healthy, Treatable, etc).

Confused? It gets worse. Each individual shelter gets to decide for itself how animals are classified. This takes on special significance when they define such terms as “adoptable” or “healthy” or “treatable.” So, to get an even more complete picture, you may find yourself hunting for something called a “Pet Evaluation Matrix” which specifies various conditions or criteria for classifying animals into medical/behavior categories. Unfortunately, there is no single standard for classifying the animals into such categories, with each shelter having their own criteria. One shelter may classify animals with fleas and worms as healthy, while another shelter may classify them as treatable.  One shelter may classify large unruly dogs as healthy, while another shelter may classify them as treatable, and yet another shelter may classify them as untreatable.  These decisions may have little to do with agreed-upon standards by veterinarians and behaviorists, especially with respect to what is “Treatable” or not. And then there’s always the issue of resources: If it costs more or involves more effort than the shelter is willing to spend, then the animal may find itself in the “Unhealthy/Untreatable” heap.

But there is a simpler way. There is no need to wade through the myriad definitions of classifying animals. Well-performing shelters nationwide have shown that only about 5-10% of animals entering shelters (any shelter, even if Animal Control) are irremediably dangerous or suffering that they should be put down. This figure is also consistent with research in the veterinary and behavioral fields.

So what I thought I would do is show my version of what I feel a statistical sheet should look like and how No Kill Buffalo-Niagara computes the raw live save rate for shelters.  The first example is computed using the actual numbers from the Niagara SPCA, the “little shelter that could.”  They have brought the shelter from a 30% raw save rate in 2011 to an astounding 92.2% raw save rate for October & November combined.  They did this in less than a year with no grant money, animal control contracts and very little help.

NCSPCAStatScreenShot

Only a few explanations are necessary in my version of shelter statistics.  You may have to wade through the shelter’s statistical report, but you need only a few basic numbers to do the calculations.

Start by computing the total cases handled for the time period:

Total cases = Beginning shelter count + Intakes – Ending shelter count

Now I turn to outcomes. In my method, outcomes are broken out into positive outcomes (animal is alive) and negative outcomes (animal is dead).  I do include owner-requested euthanasia in public intakes and shelter euthanasia because that is where I feel they belong.  You can read my reasons why in a previous blog post, “Animal Shelters in the Business of Killing?”

Positive outcomes = Adoptions + Transfers out + Returns

Negative outcomes = Euthanasias + Died/lost-in-care

If the statistics are consistent and complete, the sum of positive and negative outcomes should equal the total cases.

Now, compute the raw live save rate as follows: Divide the positive outcomes by the total cases and multiply the result by 100 to get a percentage. In other words:

Raw save rate = (Positive outcomes/Negative outcomes)  *100

Simple math.

How does Erie County SPCA stack up?  Let’s take a look.  Since they do not post monthly statistics, only annual ones, and they have not yet posted their 2012 statistics, I can only look at their 2011 yearly total.  Below is a screenshot of their raw save rates using my computations based on their published 2011 animals statistics.

ECSPCA2011StatSheetScreenshot

Some might argue that Owner-Requested Euthanasia should not be included in public intakes or the shelter euthanasia line, but I beg to differ.  True No Kill shelters do not kill an animal simply because an owner requests it.  True No Kill shelters intake the animal and evaluate any medical and behavioral issues the animal might have, making their own decision as to whether the animal can or should be re-homed. If they determine that the animal is vicious and too dangerous to adopt out by their standards, they euthanize the animal and include it as shelter euthanasia. Similarly, if an animal is irremediably suffering with poor to grave prognosis for recovery or management of its medical condition, then that animal, too, is euthanized and included as a shelter euthanasia.

Some might argue that the sheer volume of intakes at the Erie County SPCA justifies their lower raw save rate and is the reason that they cannot do better. But again, I beg to differ. There are shelters across the United States where intake numbers are similar or even higher, where the rate of animals relinquished in their area is higher than in Erie County, where the poverty rate is higher, and where facilities and resources are even more stretched. Yet, those shelters still reach raw save rates above 90%.

So, if you still decide to support the work the Erie County SPCA does with your donation, then that is your choice.

For myself, I prefer to support the Niagara SPCA with its 92% raw save rate.

Perhaps Erie County has something to learn from the “little shelter that could.”

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The Many Faces of Animal Welfare

Speak No Evil, See No Evil, Hear No Evil

It is an argument that we No Kill advocates hear all the time in one form or another.  Basically the argument is that we should stop advocating for shelter reform (usually referred to as complaining or bitching) and actually go to the shelter to walk dogs or clean cat litter boxes where we would be actually doing some good.  That we No Kill advocates have no  idea of how hard the shelter employees work and we cannot possibly know how busy they are. This seems to come at the end of long discussion on shelter reform as a last ditch effort to end the discussion, after all arguments have been refuted.  We have already taken on and refuted the over-population argument, we have already taken on and refuted the people suck argument, we have already taken on and refuted the high cost of no kill, we have already taken on and refuted just about every argument against, so now we get the “if you want to help animals, stop complaining and go down to the shelter and actually volunteer” or the “no one wants to kill” argument.  What they are inferring, of course, is that we aren’t helping animals in our community unless we are cleaning cat litter boxes or walking dogs at one of the local shelters or allowing under-functioning, rude shelter employees a pass.

What they are basically saying is that we non-shelter volunteers or employees have no right to complain about shelter operations, we have no right to expect our tax funded municipal shelter to stop killing animals, we have no right to fight for shelter reform within our municipalities, we have no right to call shelter leadership to task for bad decisions, have no right to demand that shelter employees do their jobs – well  basically, we have no rights at all.  Of course if we were shelter volunteers or staff, we couldn’t advocate for shelter reform since we would have had to sign a “confidentiality agreement” that is basically a “shut up and do what you’re told” agreement.

My first point is this – No Kill is about more than one shelter, it is about animal welfare within the community and animal welfare involves a lot more than volunteering or working at one shelter.  There are many different ways to work toward animal welfare, all of which are just as valuable and just as important as being a hands-on shelter volunteer or employee.

There are the TNVR (Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return) folks that go out several nights a week in the cold and wet trapping free roaming community cats, making spay/neuter appointments for them, holding them for several days to get into appointments or recover from them, then releasing them back into their habitats on top of working a full time job.  There are the spay/neuter transporters that wake up 2 hours earlier than normal in the morning to get free roaming cats into the clinic before they even begin their work day and the ones that take vacation days to pick them up again.

There are the people that form animal rescue organizations that take the overflow cats that the shelter cannot because of space issues or the kennel stressed dogs that will not get adopted out of a shelter environment. These rescue people work an additional 20-40 hours a week on top of their paid positions, with no compensation other than doing what they feel is right. There are the rescue group volunteers that open their hearts and homes to these animals and work with them to undo the damage that many shelters tend to do to these anxious or stressed dogs.

There are the busy professionals that cannot spend their time to physically volunteer, but give generously to spay/neuter programs, shelters and rescue groups so that they can continue doing the work they do. They are also the ones that seek out corporate donors and speak to the politicians about the progress and goals of the shelters and rescue groups and the needs of animals in the community.

There are the cross-posters that spend hours trying to network the harder to adopt animals to rescue organizations and individuals throughout the US so that the one special dog or the one special cat doesn’t end up dead. There are the transporters that spend their weekends finding rides for animals from high kill areas into areas that have an abundance of adoptive homes.

There are the bloggers that bring to light the dirty secrets of some shelters that are committed to killing rather than saving lives. They call out the national organizations that do nothing to stop it even though these groups continue to raise huge sums of money from people who think they fight against animal abuse and advocate for shelter killing instead.

These groups of people do a great deal for animal welfare in their local communities as well as nationally and their contribution should never be disregarded or treated lightly.  They, just like the shelter volunteer and the shelter employee, spend countless hours, countless energy and countless amounts of money because they care about animals and want to help the animals in their community.  They are often used, abused, vilified and treated as second class citizens, many times walking into a shelter to save an animal amidst out and out hostility from staff.

My second point is this – everyone has a right to speak, everyone has a right to complain, everyone has a right to question, everyone has a right to hold their shelter, their community and their fellow man accountable for their actions, regardless of whether they volunteer or work at the shelter or not. While we might prefer to work with a strong local shelter, if that shelter is dysfunctional or has an “us against them” mentality, then we have a right to speak out and help the animals in our community as we see fit.

So non-shelter volunteers, please continue to speak, please continue to listen and please continue to see, because your voice, your opinion and your work is just as valuable and needed as anyone else.

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Stop blaming others and get on with it …

Shelters love to blame others; it seems to be a prerequisite for working at or volunteering at an animal shelter.  Blame the public for too many animals, blame the rescue groups for being uncooperative, blame the media for getting the facts wrong, blame the public for not donating and blame the adopters for not adopting, but let’s put blame for all those problems where it belongs – on the shelter itself.

I’ve been both supportive and critical of the Niagara SPCA in the past – and this article is going to be a little of both.  I’m going to be supportive of the things they have changed that have brought them closer to being truly no-kill and critical of the things that they have been remiss on.  Being a true no kill shelter is about sustainability, not about doing great one month and falling short in subsequent months.   It is up to the shelter to reach and sustain the 90% or greater save rate.  And in order to do so, more still needs to be done.

In the spirit of support and cooperation, let’s point out the things they have done RIGHT:

  • Drastically expanding their open adoption hours to evenings and weekends when most people can get to the shelter
  • Adding special adoption promotions to move animals out of the shelter and into homes more quickly
  • Refusing to take feral/community cats purely to dispose of them for the municipalities
  • Working with feral/community cat groups to address several free-roaming cat situations
  • Implementing doggie play groups
  • Installing Andrew Bell, a strong No Kill proponent, as executive director
  • Increasing the save rate over the last 5 months, 85.2% in June, 85% in July, 80% in August, 79% in September and 91% in October.
  • Electing a new board of directors, with a full complement of animal welfare people, business owners, public servants and professional expertise.

We’ve also been told that a few things are “in the works”, although at this time, they have yet to be implemented completely.

  • Meeting with all area rescue groups and instituting an open “pull” policy so as to increase transfers out to rescue groups.
  • Implementing a Niagara County TNVR program in cooperation with other organizations in the area.

But there is still so much more that must be done if the Niagara SPCA ever hopes to reach the goal of maintaining true No Kill Shelter status.

  • Get the good word out!

It was thrilling to see the shelter finally reach a 91% overall save rate in October.  That far surpasses every shelter in the area, even those with 100 times more money, staff, volunteers and donors. They should be celebrating, they should be shouting it from the rooftops, they should be sending out press releases, they should be lining up news interviews and they should be posting it in HUGE letters on their webpage.  So how did they advertise this great success???  Did they announce it on one or all of the three major news stations in the area?  Did they contact the Niagara Gazette to let them know they have finally reached that coveted save rate?  Did they write and submit an article for the Niagara Falls Reporter about their journey, their success and their challenges?  Have they made an announcement on their website home page?  They did none of the above.  Instead they posted a small piece with a link to a statistical sheet on a Facebook page that has a little over 1100 followers.  This means the other 214,900 residents of Niagara County who do not use Facebook, do not subscribe to their Niagara SPCA Facebook page or do not have computers, will have no idea of the progress they have made.

  • Stop asking for money for crematoriums and operating expenses

In a recent local news report, the shelter’s continuing fiscal woes were highlighted. In fact, the shelter has a projected $170,000 operating deficit for this year. Unfortunately, the story mentioned, among other things, the need for a new, updated crematorium.

WHAT????

Not the image that inspires potential donors to open their pocketbooks.  Would a hospital in need of funds send a plea to potential donors and sponsors by referencing their morgue? While a morgue is extremely necessary to hospital operations, it is not the image a hospital uses to get donors, nor should the shelter mention the need for an updated crematorium.  Marketing is about drawing people in, not making them feel uncomfortable with the image of burning bodies, especially given the previous year’s death rates.

Putting donation pleas out to help cover operational shortfalls such as payroll, utilities and cleaning supplies will not work either.  Animal lovers won’t open their pocketbooks for these types of donation pleas; they want to donate to help with successful adoptions or enrichment projects.  They will donate to help an animal get medical care; they won’t donate to add a bookkeeper to the staff, no matter how necessary it might be.  They will donate to purchase cat toys or cat towers; they won’t donate to pay an animal control officer. The stories that bring in donors are ones of hope and positive outcomes for the animals in the shelter’s care, not for daily operations.  It is the shelter management’s responsibility to come up with the right message to bring donors and supporters in.  If they can’t, they only have themselves to blame.

  • Follow through with promised transparency

While we were happy with the majority of the new Niagara SPCA board members that were elected, we have not seen the transparency they promised to get elected.  Dues paying members of the Niagara SPCA have not seen, nor voted on, any new bylaws as promised.  Dues paying members of the Niagara SPCA have not seen a new mission statement or vision statement as promised.  Board meetings have been closed and board minutes have not been made available to the membership.  In fact, communication with the very members that elected them has been non-existent.   There is no information on the website on how to become a member other than an application link that goes nowhere.  Are they trying to change to a closed board?  Are they not allowing new members?  Since there is no information, speculation runs rampant and feeds into the feeling from the public that the new shelter administration operates in secret, just as the old regime did for decades.   When renewals come up in January & February, will the members be inclined to again open their pocketbooks if they have been largely ignored for 10 months or no longer allowed to have a voice?  When that happens, will the shelter blame the membership for not supporting them or will the shelter realize that they were the ones that failed to engage their supporters?

  • Always be open for adoptions

In May, when the Niagara SPCA changed their adoption hours to encompass more evenings and weekends, we applauded them.  We felt they finally realized that to increase adoptions, you need to be open during hours of the day that most people are off work.  As a result adoptions HAVE increased for both dogs & cats.  We were thrilled to see adoption promotions on a regular basis, such as the “Pre-owed Certified Pets” promotion they had in September.  BUT – on the two large events that the Niagara SPCA had on their grounds this year, ”Dog Days of Summer” and “Zombiefest”, why on earth were they closed to adoptions?????  These were the days when the maximum numbers of animal loving people were going to be on the grounds, yet the Niagara SPCA did ZERO adoptions.

At the Town of Niagara’s Electric Lights Parade in early November, volunteers & staff of the Niagara SPCA walked in the parade with dogs.  It was a perfect opportunity to showcase some of the shelter’s adoptable dogs, correct?  While some volunteers walked shelter dogs, some of the staff chose to walk their personal dogs instead, while shelter dogs were left behind in kennels all day.

In October, the Niagara SPCA was invited to have a booth at the Autumn Festival at the Lewiston #2 Fire Hall.  The booth was manned by volunteers, yet those volunteers were not allowed to take shelter dogs with them.  Lewiston is known in the area as a very animal friendly community, yet no adoptable animals were allowed to be brought to the event?  Why?

These are missed opportunities to get animals showcased and adopted while the shelter is at max capacity.  Who is to blame?  The public for not adopting or the shelter for not doing everything it can to get adoptable animals out to places where people can meet them?

  • Employees & Volunteers need to be helpful and cheerful at all times

Every employee and volunteer at the shelter needs to project a positive attitude and a helpful demeanor at all times.  Every single person they interact with should be regarded as a potential adopter, donor, member, foster home, volunteer or all of the above!  For far too long, shelters have gotten away with bad customer service skills, and that results in animals losing their lives.  Animals losing their lives due to poor customer service is completely unacceptable on any level, but especially for a shelter looking to repair a badly tarnished reputation.  It only takes one employee or volunteer with a negative attitude to turn off potential adopters or donors as well as adversely affecting the moods of other staff members and volunteers.  It also takes one employee or volunteer with a great attitude to bring those around them up to their level and to turn a potential donor into a lifetime donor.

How about implementing a “secret shopper” program, just like so many other businesses do?  It is a competitive world and there are other shelters and numerous rescue groups that would gladly welcome these potential adopters, donors, volunteers and fosters.  The shelter could do the same at no cost by enlisting friends and family that are unknown to the employees and volunteers. These “secret shoppers” could go in looking for a new dog or cat for their family and report back the interaction with the staff and volunteers.

Does the shelter have standard protocols the employees & staff are supposed to follow when calls come in?  Do they have protocols on how to handle animal cruelty complaints?  Free roaming cat issues?  Lost dog/cat reports?  Are they all handled by qualified individuals that will treat these calls with empathy, knowledge and a helpful demeanor?

  • Own it and do it

So I say this to the board and staff at the Niagara SPCA:  Do not blame the public for not coming out to adopt, donate or support – look into your own practices and figure out what you need to do to get them back.  Do not blame the volunteers for not coming out to help when needed – look into your own practices and figure out what you need to do to get more volunteers on board.  Do not blame the media for getting the message wrong – look into your own practices and figure out what message you want to send.  Do not blame the membership for being non-supportive – look into your own practices and figure out how to engage them more.  In other words, stop blaming everyone else and get on with it already…

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