Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Picture is Worth .... an Animal's Life

This is a kitten's (?) intake photograph at MADACC. 
Over the last couple of weeks No Kill Milwaukee have focused their attention on trying to get the quality of intake pictures improved at the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission(MADACC). It may not seem like a big thing to some people - but it is to that animal. It can be the difference between life and death.

Many of the animals that are brought into MADACC are "strays" or in other words, lost pets. Pets that have escaped the custody of their owner or guardian. They are picked up by animal control officers and impounded. During the intake process a quick picture is snapped of them and then uploaded into the Pet Harbor software that the shelter uses. The website is updated every morning and the intent is that the owners of the pets will be able to look online and see if their pet is there. A great concept ... except...

a) The animal has to be recognizable.
b) Those animals not reclaimed, transferred or adopted  have a 53% chance of getting killed at the hands of the shelter. MADACC killed 6241 animals in 2009 (52%) and 7064 in 2010 (53%).

Even if the animal is not reclaimed by its owner, the website is viewed daily by the numerous shelters and rescues that "pull" from MADACC to restock their own shelters. Many Wisconsin shelters have a very high adoption rate by running successful adoption programs. An animal with a good picture is far more likely to get pulled than one without a good picture. In essence, those pictures are the animal's ticket out since MADACC does not have a full-fledged adoption program (Despite efforts by volunteers to make this happen).

No Kill Milwaukee supporters  have been emailing and calling MADACC and the MADACC board members to complain about the quality of the pictures. This is a copy of the letter that I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

Good Morning,
I am one of the founding members of Lost Dogs of Wisconsin. We currently have 35 volunteers, many who spend their evenings doing online lost and found matching for lost dogs.

We appreciate the speed with which you get the photos of impounded pets on your website. We also appreciate that you provide pictures. Many Wisconsin shelters don't. But the quality of the pictures is diminishing. Our matchers are having trouble. So I must think that owners who are searching for their lost pets - perhaps even on their cell phone, are having trouble as well.

Would it be possible to improve the quality and closeness of the pictures so that we can hopefully make more happy reunions happen?
Thank you.
Kathy Pobloskie

After many requests by many people,  the pictures improved slightly for a day or two; but are dreadful again. Obviously, because the quality is so inconsistent, some staff members care and some don't.

Excuses by defenders of the shelter include:

1. There isn't enough time or money to take a good picture. Umm - sorry, I don't buy it. It doesn't take any longer to snap and upload a good picture than a poor one. Move a little closer please.

2. The camera is on a table. Is the camera nailed to the table? And how is it used to take the cat pictures then? That appears to be a roving camera.

3. Sometimes the animals are squirming around. Possible excuse - but then just click a few (up close, please) and use the best one.

4. The camera is old, so I (meaning me, Kathy Pobloskie) should donate a new camera. What do I look like - the camera fairy? (*see note below) Please explain how the old camera can take a decent one now and again?

5. I (meaning me again) should volunteer to take the pictures at MADACC. Sorry, I already am heavily involved in running two animal welfare non-profit organizations which take upwards of twelve hours per day. The staff at MADACC are paid to do their job which includes taking intake photos.

*I learned my lesson on this one. I donated a camera to another local shelter over a year ago to take pictures of their "stray" animals on intake. They don't use it. I guess it was far too complicated for the staff to figure out how to use a Kodak Easyshare and upload the photos. Funny, they all seem to be able to use computers and cell phones. So, no.  I am not going to spring for a new camera for MADACC.

The only conclusion seems to be that a failure of leadership at MADACC is causing the poor quality pictures to continue. When management doesn't care - how are they supposed to inspire their staff? Or as Bill Bruce of Calgary Animal Services likes to say "Fish rot from the head down."

Please remember, if you are behind the lens of a camera at a shelter - think of the implication of that picture you take. It could be the difference of life or death.

"Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well." - Phillip Chesterfield


  1. I used to work there and I recall a little over a year ago after adding a camera to a holiday donation wish list about 3 really nice cameras were donated. That is bullshit that they need a better camera. EXCUSES. For the sake of argument if they really did need that then why is it not on the wish list on their website? Why don't they ask friends of madacc to buy on for them, they have money set aside from donations. And what I really want to know, what happens to the donations people make directly to madacc? Why can't that be used for a new camera? Or do those donations just buy more blue juice? But, they don't need a new camera anyways.

  2. JM, I guess you would know this better than I since you say you worked there, but it has to be just laziness. There are some pretty good photos mixed in with alot of bad photos - so we know that camera is capable of taking good photos. The camera is OK. It's some of the people behind it that are not. And that's a shame when innocent lives are in these people's hands. They should find other work where noone or nothing can be hurt by their incompetence. Leaving will be the best thing they ever do for the animals. They should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. It isn't the camera, it's the photographer. A photographer with the most basic knowledge of composition, exposure and lighting and who cares about the results, will get better results with a 7 year old, cheapo point-and-shoot than will someone who doesn't know what they are doing or doesn't give a crap will get with a high-end DSLR. Excuses, excuses.

  4. Kathy, I completely agree with your post, and I think people dramatically underestimate the value of pictures both with respect to finding lost dogs and finding new homes for them. If a better pic is taken, people can fall in love with an animal online very easily and people from further away areas can consider transporting them if they are the type of animal or size they are looking for. While I understand the limitation of time, ironically, I believe better pictures save time and money in the long run.

  5. A shelter worker probably took the nice donated camer home for him or herself.

  6. I couldn't even tell what that was supposed to be when I saw the photo until I saw the caption! They expect people to be able to identify their pets through these lousy excuses for identification photos?! Yes Stephanie, you are absolutely right! These workers should definitely find another line of work. So they can't hold the lives of innocent creatures in their hands.