Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Smartest People in the Room

At one of my previous jobs, my boss and mentor taught me a very important lesson.  He said that to be successful, you don't have to know everything. You just have to understand what you already know, and acknowledge what you don't know. Then go out and educate yourself on what you don't know from the best and brightest in the industry. He invested the time and money in me to send me to conferences and seminars so that I could help make his business successful. That was in the corporate world where industry secrets are sacred and you usually have to pay a substantial amount for information and an education.

It is much easier in the animal welfare world. Since most animal welfare professionals and volunteers truly love animals, they are willing to share what they have learned with everyone.  No use reinventing the wheel when somebody has already figured out how to do it. The quicker you can incorporate new life-saving techniques the quicker you will; well you know, save more lives. Pretty simple.

So it frustrates me to no end when I see shelter management and staff who don't make use of the vast amount of knowledge that is available to them. There are webinars, and seminars, and articles, and conferences and Facebook information that are free or almost free for the asking. You can shoot a quick email or Facebook message to somebody that has had success in the area that you are struggling with, and I bet they will reply with helpful advice and ideas.

I'm not sure in what other industry or profession, the level of complacency that is prevalent in animal shelters is tolerated.

I prefer to hang out with the smart folks. Gleaning what they know - what works, what doesn't. How were they able to save over 90% of the animals in their shelter? What did they do? What mistakes did they make along the way?  I'm not proud - I'd rather ask now than waste a lot of time and effort doing something the wrong way.

I hope to meet you at a conference this year. Come and look me up. I'll be hanging out with the smartest people in the room.

"Leaders have a never-quenched thirst for knowledge.  They read and ask questions. They study problems, watch others, and think.  A leader understands that the mind is the most effective leadership tool, and he sharpens it constantly." - Stan Toler

Links to free educational resources:

Petsmart Charities Free Webinars for Animal Welfare Professionals

Best Friends Animal Society Free Resources for Animal Shelters and Rescues

No Kill Advocacy Center Free Resources and Articles

Animal Farm Foundation Free Resources for Shelters and Rescues

ASPCA Pro Free Recorded Webinars

Free Articles, Webcasts, Recordings and Videos from Maddie's Institute from Maddie's Fund

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What's in Store for 2014

As 2013 winds down, I'm going to make a few predictions for the coming year.

In 2013, Wisconsin citizens spoke out against shelter atrocities in several counties.   Even though 230 communities around the nation are able to save upwards of 90% of the animals that come into their care; we have Wisconsin counties that are lagging far, far behind.

2012 kill rates for the following counties:

Washburn County: 65% (for every 100 animals admitted, 65 were killed)
Oconto County: 54%
Outagamie County (Fox Valley): 54%
Sauk County: 52%
Polk County: 45%
Milwaukee County: 45%
Sheboygan County: 44%
Rusk County: 40%

Counties saving over 90% (for every 100 animals admitted, 10 or less were killed) include Lincoln, Clark, Green, Dunn, South Wood, Waupaca, Adams, Pepin, and Iowa County and should be commended for their outstanding work.

I predict that 2014 will be another year of turmoil for the poor performing shelters. Wisconsin residents are no longer willing to sit idly by and watch as their local tax dollars and donations are used to kill homeless animals. They are demanding change and transparency; and rightly so. As each new person speaks out, it inspires, encourages and emboldens another. What started as a tiny ripple is now becoming a tidal wave of anger. Volunteers and even staff members are coming forward. Several of Wisconsin's largest shelters lack transparency and accountability; and this will increase doubt and suspicion about their performance.

I also predict that in 2014, the cream will rise to the top. The shelters that are doing an excellent job will want to separate themselves from the poorly performing shelters; to avoid being painted with the same broad brush.  They will no longer want to wallow in the status quo and will gain goodwill and financial support for their life-saving initiatives.

I predict that more and more small non-profits will form to fill in the gaps that the shelters are leaving. This will fracture charitable giving, leaving less financial contributions for poorly performing shelters.

I predict that 2014 will be another banner year for education and advocacy of the animal-loving public. The public is getting involved in many facets of animal advocacy including breed discriminatory legislation, animal cruelty, and community cat management. Social media has given us the ability to educate and inform at the click of a button. While many shelter directors and staff lag behind in continuing education in their profession; advocates and volunteers are jumping miles ahead by reading, watching webinars, and attending workshops and conferences.

I predict that the dinosaurs of animal welfare will  attempt to circle the wagons and blame the No Kill movement for having to kill animals. With  their twisted and warped thinking; they will alienate their donors, the public and volunteers; and continue their own demise. All the while, blaming everyone but themselves for killing shelter animals.

But as with most things, along with great turmoil comes great progress.  And I predict that 2014 will bring about much progress towards a No Kill Nation, both in Wisconsin and across America.  The animals thank you for joining the fight.

Progress always involves risks.  You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first.
 -  Frederick B. Wilcox. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What Do You Think About Out of State Transports?

Perhaps the most controversial topic in animal welfare in Wisconsin today is the subject of transports. I want to make it perfectly clear. I am not talking about breed-specific rescues that are pulling a dog of their breed from a kill shelter in another state. (eg. a German Shepherd rescue that has available foster homes and is transporting a German Shepherd Dog from out of state).

I am talking about transport programs such as the Petsmart Charities Rescue Waggin'  which is used to import dogs from other states.  If you would like to comment, please do.   I will leave the comment thread open.  You have to log in to Google Blogger to leave a comment on my blog. Comments do not publish automatically because they are filtered for spam. (Otherwise, my comment thread would be loaded with unrelated spammy comments.)  So please be patient.

Here is what the supporters of transport programs say:

1. The diversity of breeds that arrive on the Rescue Waggin' increases traffic at the shelters and helps all of the shelter dogs.

2. Shelter dogs from the south have as much reason to live as Wisconsin dogs. This is helping those dogs and the shelters they come from.

Here is what the critics of transport programs say: 

1. We should take care of our Wisconsin dogs first.

2. Transports from the South expose Wisconsin dogs to new diseases.

3.  It is unethical to take the puppies and small dogs from the shelters that need the revenue they could have generated by adopting them out in their own community.

Through October 2013, 1554 dogs have lost their lives at MADACC.  That is more than five per day. Yet the Rescue Waggin' rolls in to Wisconsin, week after week, month after month. At least four Wisconsin shelters use the Rescue Waggin': Wisconsin Humane Society, Ozaukee Humane Society, Elmbrook Humane Society and Bay Area Humane Society.  There are some other shelters, like Fox Valley Humane Assocation, that also have private transport agreements with southern shelters.

Here are the MADACC statistics year to date (click to enlarge):

My thoughts (and again, you are welcome to post your thoughts below):

I could agree with the "diversity" argument a few years ago when the transports were bringing up a diverse mix of dogs.  But this is no longer the case. Small fluffy dogs are in high demand and short supply in most parts of the country so they are seldom coming by transport.  Puppies also fly off the shelves in many shelters.  So the "diversity" argument is fading fast. The remaining dogs that are coming on the Rescue Waggin'  are typically all the same, although they may be a slightly younger version of what are currently being killed in Milwaukee.  They are large, mixed breed dogs, of which we have plenty right here at MADACC; less than 10 miles from two of the Rescue Waggin' receiving shelters.  Here is an example of a dog that arrived on the Rescue Waggin' to Elmbrook Humane Society in October.  He looks lovely and I'm sure he is a wonderful dog - but there are many here in Milwaukee that look just like him that need a home also.

This is from the Rescue Waggin's frequently asked question on their website. An interesting note, they recently changed their website and have now omitted this page of FAQ's.
So something doesn't sit well with me here.  Is the Rescue Waggin'  blatantly ignoring their own policies? Or did they change their policies when they changed the website? Do they now believe it is okay to kill dogs in the destination communities by displacing them with transported dogs?

Here are the MADACC transfer statistics for October 2013.  You can see that transfers are down yet the number of dogs killed has increased over the same period last year. Click to enlarge.

Your thoughts? Please feel free to comment. Healthy discussion leads to new ideas and new ideas can save lives. Thank you.

More reading on the subject of out of state transports:

From Maddie's Fund:

Also from Maddie's Fund:

From Animal Ark:

From Out the Front Door:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Milwaukee's Forgotten Dogs

Sally, seized on 6-10-2011 by the Milwaukee Police Department. She has been housed at Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Commission ever since, with no hope for adoption.
Update: I originally wrote this blog in 2012. As the 2.5 year Anniversary of the incarceration of the Court Case Dogs approaches, nothing has changed. They are still being held at MADACC in small kennels with very little socialization or human contact. 

David Mangold is a persistent man. David is a Milwaukee citizen who is determined that he is going to change the fate of how Milwaukee (and Wisconsin) handles dogs that are seized in criminal cases.  Currently, the outcome is not pleasant. Many people do not realize that in Milwaukee these dogs are held for months and possibly years, awaiting the trial of their owners.  They are usually killed when they finally become the property of Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC). Housing these dogs for months or years is also a huge expense to the taxpayer; so even if you don't love dogs, it affects you.

David has outlined four main areas of concern for the Court Case Dogs:

1. Dogs are usually segregated from the rest of the kennel population. This means they are not allowed to be walked or socialized by volunteers. Busy staff members don't have time, and so the behavior of the dogs regress. Currently several of the dogs are having to be medicated to ease their extreme anxiety.

2. Authorities, including the Milwaukee Police Department and the District Attorney's office are unduly dismissive regarding animal welfare. It's out of sight, out of mind for them. The dogs are evidence, just like any other piece of evidence that is left in a box in a warehouse somewhere. Yet, the American Bar Association and the National Animal Control Association have written guidelines concerning the treatment and handling of court case dogs. Click the links to read the excellent guidelines that have been written.

3. MADACC  embodies a "throw-away dogs" mentality, despite its binding, municipal agreement to resort to the euthanasia of dogs only as a "last resort".

4. These dogs (as well as all of the dogs at MADACC) are not protected by Act 90 - the Dog Seller's Law; which ensures daily exercise and socialization.

So the Milwaukee Court Case dogs are double victims - victims of their owner's crimes; and victims of the system which will ultimately destroy them. No second chance, no hope for a new life.  Not even an opportunity for an individual assessment of their temperament. Many of these dogs were never involved in dog fighting. Several of them were puppies when they were seized.

Plus, they are overcrowding MADACC; currently using over 30 kennels that are needed by other dogs. These other dogs are losing their lives also, due to lack of space at the outdated, poorly designed facility.

But finally a ray of hope. David is fighting hard. He is fighting hard to change a system that has failed these dogs. Please follow the progress and the fight to improve the outcome for Milwaukee's Court Case Dogs by "liking" David's Facebook page - Save Milwaukee's Court Case Dogs. Share the story with your friends and family.

Together, let's put the pressure on the bureaucrats that have forgotten these dogs. Let's show them that as voters and citizens of Wisconsin we demand better for our companion animals.

Additional Reading: American Bar Association Supports Justice for Victims of Animal Cruelty by Ledy VanKavage

Link to the TMJ4 coverage of the story: Man wants new program for Milwaukee dogs seized during police raids

Link to story about "Leo's Bill" introduced by Representative Spiros. 

Link to story about Senator Tim Carpenter's Bill to help court case dogs. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What MIGHT You Accomplish if You Let Go of Your Fears?

Twenty years ago I remember listening to an audiotape from a self-help guru telling the story of his aunt who wouldn't drive on the freeway because she couldn't merge.  Although she was a competent driver otherwise, she had this deep-seated fear of merging and what MIGHT happen if she tried to merge onto the freeway. She  limited her life to where she could drive in her local neighborhood and via side roads.  She missed out on many vacations, family gatherings, special events, etc. all because of what MIGHT have happened.

Sad, but true, I see this sort of thinking all of the time in animal welfare. Shelter and rescues make policies based on what MIGHT happen.  They are held hostage by their fears, instead of looking at the research and basing decisions on logic and common sense.

These are just few examples of what makes me beat my head on my desk daily. I'm sure you can think of others:
  • We can't adopt out pets as gifts because they MIGHT be returned.
  • We can't adopt out black cats at Halloween because they MIGHT be used for evil purposes.
  • We can't do same day adoptions because people MIGHT have buyer's remorse.
  • We can't post pictures of found pets on our Facebook page because people MIGHT try to reclaim a pet that isn't theirs.
  • We have to do home visits because people MIGHT have unknown dangers lurking in their household.
  • We can't adopt out barn cats because people MIGHT think that means it is okay to let cats outdoors.
  • We can't post our adoptables on Craigslist because people MIGHT use them for bait or research.

Nine thousand animals per day die in our animal shelters in America.  The greatest risk to companion animals is not what MIGHT happen if you take a chance on trusting the public. The greatest risk to companion animals is that they will be killed in an animal shelter.

Be bold.  Merge onto that freeway and see what is possible when you stop being held hostage by your fears. The animals are depending on you.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Owner Requested Euthanasia - What Does it REALLY Mean

When I first heard the term "owner requested euthanasia" I envisioned a low income, older couple with a frail, elderly dog or cat wrapped up in a blanket, lovingly carried in their arms into an animal shelter to be peacefully euthanized at the end of his life. 

Providing the service at an animal shelter seems like a smart thing to do. It brings in a little extra revenue and provides a compassionate service for the community in their time of need. 

But then I learned the ugly truth. Along with the above scenario, other scenarios are playing out at some shelters in Wisconsin.  

1) A healthy or treatable pet surrendered by an owner who hopes that the shelter will find their pet a new loving home doesn't pass the shelter's behavior or medical evaluation. Often unbeknownst to the owner, they have signed a surrender document consenting to the "euthanasia" (killing) of their pet. This is often buried in the fine print.  The pet may be dead before the owner's car leaves the parking lot because a surrendered pet doesn't have to undergo the mandatory seven day stray hold in Wisconsin.

2) A healthy or treatable pet is brought in by an owner in the hopes that he can be re-homed.  
A "friendly" staff member counsels the owner that "euthanasia"  is the most humane option.

The benefit to the shelter? They don't report this in their regular kill numbers. So when you look at the "owner requested euthanasia" numbers, it looks suspiciously high.

The good news is that the cat is out of the bag about owner-requested euthanasia.  More and more people are demanding a clear definition and accurate reporting.

The new national database project Shelter Animals Count (more on this in a future blog) gives this definition of Owner Requested Euthanasia:  "For the purposes of this document, we are choosing to define owner requested euthanasia as the euthanasia of a pet whose owner brought the pet to the shelter for that service.  In other words, the owner brought the pet in specifically for that service - it was their intent before arriving.  Any other definition of "owner requested" euthanasia leaves much up to interpretation and therefore a great deal of variation among organizations and their reporting."

Richard Avanzino of Maddies' Fund wrote an excellent article on the subject of owner-requested euthanasia. 

Here is how the Tompkins County SPCA deals with the owner requested euthanasia:  "We've eliminated owner requested euthanasia from our menu of services.  If someone asks for it, we give them the party line: "we are not in the business of killing people's pets for them."  We recommend taking the animal to his own veterinarian where the pet can die with dignity surrounded by caring people who know and love him."

My advice? 

1. If you have to surrender an animal,  ask before you sign on the dotted line.  "What will happen to my pet if he/she doesn't pass your evaluation process?" Can I come and pick him back up?

2. Scrutinize shelter statistics carefully.  Ask your local shelter what their policy is on owner-requested euthanasia.  If you don't like the answer, or if you don't get an answer; take your donations and support elsewhere.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Damage Control - FVHA, You're Doin' it Wrong

Affectionately called "little Peanut" by the family who found her and who wanted to adopt her; this friendly young beagle was killed at Fox Valley Humane Association for what was described as "food guarding" during her behavior assessment

If you're involved in animal welfare or if you live in the Appleton/Green Bay Area of Wisconsin you've probably seen the brewha about the Fox Valley Humane Association's (FVHA) killing of a friendly, "stray" young beagle that had a family willing to adopt her.

If you need a refresher here are the details.  Thank you to Yesbiscuit and the Milwaukee Animal Welfare Examiner for covering this story.

YesBiscuit!:  Nobody WANTS to Kill Animals: Fox Valley Humane Edition

Milwaukee Animal Welfare Examiner: Despite Being Wanted by Her Rescuers, FVHA Euthanized Peanut

For additional background, the story was also picked up by the following news agencies:

Appleton Post Crescent (newspaper)

Fox 11 

ABC 2 


So first off, it should be immediately apparent that this story was BIG news. On a day when most of Wisconsin was focused on Green Bay Packer's quarterback, Aaron Rogers, broken collar bone,  four television stations and the local daily paper covered it.  And how did the FVHA handle the story? By sticking their fingers in their ears, going la-la-la and ignoring what their donors and supporters are saying. They didn't deny that the killing occurred. They defended it. They made it out to be an isolated "incident". The FVHA director even told me on the phone that she was proud of providing "humane euthanasia" to the people of the Fox Valley.   There was nothing humane about killing Peanut.  This was not euthanasia. This dog was killed. She was young. She was friendly.  She had a home.

The bigger story is that FVHA took in 3614 cats and dogs in 2012 and killed 1957 of them. Yet, on their website they claim to have saved 100% of adoptable cats and dogs in 2012. They are deceiving the public and the taxpayer. (The shelter received over $169,000 in municipal income in 2011). The public should be outraged and they are. 

The public wants shelters to be safe havens where they can take lost pets and know that they will be cared for. Not slaughtered.  Read through the comments on the news stories and the Facebook pages. People do not want the FVHA to fail.  They want their donations and tax dollars used  to shelter animals. The public wants shelters to shelter. Not to kill.

In the newspaper this morning I read that U.S. Cellular was getting backlash for poor customer service and billing problems.  Here was the statement from U.S. Cellular spokesperson:  "We are completely focused on getting this right. We are sorry that customers had experiences that haven't lived up to their needs or expectations."

In stark contrast are the FVHA director's, Liz Dietz's responses yesterday in the news media:

"The Fox Valley Humane Association says it has reviewed its policy, and says it was followed precisely with the animal.  It has no plans to change its procedures."

"Calling the attacks on their organization slander and misinformed...."

"The problem with Facebook is that it's very easy for people to voice an opinion but not take responsibility.  It's misinformation, not factual and, in fact, slanderous."

So while  Dietz, accuses the public of slander and defends the killing; the turmoil continues. Even to the point where I saw a recommendation that they probably need to consider calling in public relations firm to undo the damage that has been done by  Dietz. 

Business guru, Seth Godin wrote an excellent blog on customer satisfaction a couple of weeks ago. "The complaining customer doesn't want a refund.  He wants a connection, an apology and some understanding. He wants to know why you made him feel stupid or ripped off or disrespected, and why it's not going to happen again." 

But Dietz, apparently doesn't get it as she digs the FVHA further into a hole by defending her actions. Because killing 1957 animals in one year at a well-funded Wisconsin shelter is indefensible.

I have blogged about FVHA in the past.  Here are the links:

The Power to Kill

Ask Your Shelter Director - Part 3

What's in a Name