Monday, November 24, 2008

Less talk, more action ... starting with ME

When all of us in animal welfare start talking too much, and I am guilty of this as well, we sometimes end up down a path of negativity, defeatism, and face empasses with each other that get in the way of the work we could be doing. I have seen us get stuck on words and ideas, and I truly think we play out too many scripts in our minds and hold onto too many myths and sometimes have elitist views about "others" that are not in tune with reality. Instead of arguing endlessly about what "no kill" is or isn't, let's just do some good work to save lives ... I'm sure we can all agree that the more lives that are saved and enriched, the better.

I for one am tired of the talking and philosophizing and hitting brick walls. I am also sick and tired of letting the way our animal shelter does or does not operate be the main focus of my own thoughts and actions and what I write about. I honestly and truly believe that saving more lives is something the entire community can achieve, with or without the shelter's leadership or help.

I guess I am realizing the error of my own ways these days and the need for me to prove my worth with more action as well, which I know can lead to bigger things (good, hard work usually begets rewards). Any non-profit organization doing good work now started somewhere, usually doing small things, doing them well, and growing from there. On the other hand, there is nothing more disappointing than endless cycles that lead to more of the same--especially when that is failure. I know I can do better than that, and I know that our community can do better, too.

Another challenge I pose to myself and others is to be able to work toward goals and the good of animals/people right alongside those you may not personally care for or have past bad experiences with. After all, we are not seeking each other's hand in marriage--just a working partnership for the good of others. In other words, I see that our own egos sometimes lead us to make poor decisons or to refusals to work with one another, and we often do not genuinely put what is best for animals before our own selfish feelings.

So, where do we start?

Thinking about everything that has to be done in our community to seriously make a dent in how many animals we put to death is overwhelming, and there is no way one person or one group can get it all done alone. I think if we break things up into manageable bits that individuals/existing groups/new groups can take on and dedicate time and effort to reach success in--one area at a time--we'll even surprise ourselves. Some of the best private sanctuaries and shelters started off as small groups reaching small goals. Wouldn't it be nice to prove to ourselves that we can do more and better as a community?

Here's some places to start ... by addressing needs that our community has AT THIS MOMENT.

Pet Help Line Needs Help

Pet retention efforts in our community are needed desperately, and I was trying to find the time to lead these efforts myself, but I have not been able to dedicate enough time to it. I envision area trainers and behaviorists stepping up and joining together to lead a pet help line, which will take inquiries by phone and e-mail. I am willing to volunteer some of my time to this as well as some materials to help start it off, and I can answer some calls from those who only speak Spanish.

I last posed this project to the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico, who approved it. All they need is a group of volunteers and a leader to run the program. If you are interested in helping, please contact HSSNM; you can find out how to get ahold of them by visting their website at

Networks for Saving Lives

Another dire need in our community is temporary help taking care of animals that are homeless for whatever reason and re-homing them. For example, we need a foster network independent of the shelter that can simply care for animals that have been left behind by owners that have passed on--a group concentrating on just this issue would be pretty busy and would make a huge impact on animals that end up at the shelter, not to mention ensuring that these once pampered pets don't end up in a stressful situation. Many of these pets are seniors themselves and could be matched up with new senior owners.

I know that HSSNM and Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary get many of these calls. They also get many of the calls a pet help line would best serve, such as someone at their wit's end with an animal behavior issue that may soon lead to a relinquishment. One group could help with re-homing efforts alone for anyone who is willing to hold onto a pet long enough for that new, better-matched home to come along, or anoher group of foster homes could be formed to help mitigate many owner turn-ins at the shelter as well.

Look for a new, action-oriented coalition we are forming in January that is going to be all aboout action we can take now to save more lives. We'll call a meeting for this soon to start the year off on a positive foot.

I have realized that writing yet another report about the good others in our nation are doing in animal work is a waste of time at the moment. I've been there and done that. I wrote a Shelter Reform White Paper for our leaders that went ignored, which I turned in before they hired a new director. You can view it online at the HSSNM website on their News page, if you are interested in that blast from the past!

Why I thought another, more detailed report would do wonders is beyond me. I have tried to communicate with our leaders enough times to know that no one will read it or even respond to it. I also know we'll just hear the same mantra about why "that would not work in our community because ..."

I want help proving these assumptions wrong! Yet, I also don't want the research and answers we have gotten in the no kill study group to go to waste, so look for excerpts on this blog. We can also use some of the examples from other areas to help us build successful programs and services.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Organizations need volunteers for spay/neuter van runs

The Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department has procured a Marc van that has multiple uses ... with the first and most important use being disaster rescue and relief. However, when it is not being used as such, it is available to be used by the shelter and non-profit animal groups--through agreement with the AC department--as a mobile adoption unit and spay/neuter clinic. From what I have heard, plans are in the works from the local Spay Neuter Action Program ( to run the van in Chaparral for two weekends in December and then they hope to move on to Hatch in January. SNAP hopes to get about 350 animals fixed on the van before the Spring wave of litters hits our area.

SNAP is looking for volunteers, especially bilingual ones, to help with the van runs in our outlying County area. If you can help with the tentative plans to run the van in Chaparral on Dec. 5, 6, & 7 and Dec., 12, 13, and 14, please call the volunteer coordinator for this effort, SNAP volunteer Julie Miller, at 405-1295. You can also call myself at 644-0505 as I am helping Julie with volunteer efforts and outreach in these areas. It's time to start speaking some Spanish again for me, and thank God for that. I am rusty at the moment from non-use!

Rumor has it that the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico will also be looking into an agreement to run the van, and we can only hope more non-profits come on-board because high-volume spay and neuter is one of the biggest and best ways we can save more lives in our community. Like our border sister city of El Paso, our kill rate is higher per capita here than in many other places in the country, and we have to get the numbers of litters born each year under control. Only then will we be able to concentrate our efforts even more on the other programs and services of the No Kill Equation and outreach ideas for helping poor people provide better for their animals, through efforts such as fixing fences, providing dog houses and dog/cat food to the needy, and perhaps one day helping to build more cat fencing systems as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Calling all those interested in forming action groups

Wise words from a wise man

Sometimes, I have moments of doubt, as all people do. When it comes to my personal No Kill advocacy, I wonder if I am going about things the "right" way or in an engaging way or if there is something I have not thought of before that I could try to connect with people in real ways.

I sometimes write to Nathan Winograd, whom I admire, to ask for advice. He is very gracious about answering the inquiries of "green" advocates such as myself, though I am sure he is a very busy man. His recent advice to me was golden: Instead of concentrating on the words "no kill" and the progressive philosophy behind the words (the semantics), try to focus your attention and actions around the logical, helpful programs and services that make it possible.

I had a lighbulb moment when I thought about the possibilities in our community. Honestly, we have so much opportunity for growth, and if we look at that in a positive way, it is very exciting to explore ideas and possibilities and be in a position to start things from the ground-up. As my Las Cruces No Kill Study Group is speaking to other shelters in our nation, we will learn more and more about what others are doing and what might apply here.

It dawned on me that we have so many untapped resources in our communithy as well ... such as people with proven track records in running successful rescue programs, those that have been working in the area of spay/neuter services and outreach, and countless animal lovers and trainers and behaviorists and business owners and retirees with specific skill sets, etc. I'm sure there are bilingual people like me willing to do outreach work in areas that need it the most, too.

The possibilities ARE truly endless ... none of them are free, but there are many national resources and local organizations and grants our community can tap into if we get organized, set our personal agendas and personality differences aside for the benefit of our homeless animals, and get down to some real work. I know I am happier when I am acting rather than sitting around philosophizing--belive it or not! Just from online dialogue I have had with readers of the Las Cruces Sun-News recently, it is obvious others have wonderful ideas to do more to help our animals, such as a Habitat for Humanity-type approach for expanding our shelter. We could first hold brainstorming sessions to get our collective creative ideas flowing.

My challenge to all of us who care about our homeless animals is this: Look long and hard at the programs and services listed at left in the No Kill Equation ... save for the few of you that are opposed to TNR, I'm sure many of you are drawn to one or more of these ideas. They are not radical, and it makes logical sense that any community working hard and in an organized fashion along the lines of all of these services will save and enrich more lives--animal and human alike. I can't think of one single animal lover that would not support this end result, and positive action begets positive consequences.

Here's some examples of what I mean.

If you are interested in helping with the foster program at the shelter, and if you have previous experience and a track record in such programs, a group of you could get together and make a unified offer to the shelter for your volunteer support in this capacity. I know our shelter is now utilizing more foster homes than they have in the past, and that's a good start. However, a successful foster program runs like a well-oiled machine, and we are not there yet. We need to support foster homes in proactive ways that move animals along into permanent homes in a timely manner so that foster parents can keep fostering and saving even more lives. In other words, those foster doors need to revolve more smoothly, and we can work to still grow the foster home numbers even more. The more people that have positive experiences fostering, the more that word-of-mouth will help the program grow, too. PR and outreach to the community to explain the benefits and rewards of fostering can also do wonders; I don't think the Average Joe understands what fostering a shelter pet entails.

If you are interested in comprehensive adoption programs, you can group together to offer adoption counseling at the shelter, form off-site teams that can run adoptions througout the week in various locations and events where people are already out and about (with a goal of someday doing at least one daily), etc. Explore and research other ideas for adoption, such as organizing super adoption events that include all area animal groups, offering special promotions, helping to attract adopters to some animals overlooked most often, such as big black dogs, pitt mixes, and nondescript cats, etc.

If you are a local cat or dog behaviorist or trainer, you could help with pet retention efforts through a Pet Help Line and/or donate time to the shelter for socializing and rehabilitating troubled but treatable animals. You could also work with foster parents trying to help a dog overcome treatable issues such as food agreesion. Any would-be trainer or behaviorist could also gain valuable experience for their own careers by working with more animals, so it would be a win-win for all.

If you work in any of our prison systems or correction systems or in social services of some kind (and we have several correction facilities nearby), you can work on "cell dogs" or "cell cats" programs that work to rehabilitate or socialize the animals that need that help the most, which in turn helps the humans involved in this empowering process. In one TV show I watched about such programs in our nation today, dogs were even placed in maximum security prisons with carefully-selected inmates. These men lived with and trained the dogs 24/7, and they even did the online postings on Pet Finder for the dogs and placed them. The warden was very happy with the program because it remarkably reduced inmate violence as well.

So, ask yourself some questions ... how can you apply what you do for a living or your skillsets to saving animals? Are you a PR maven? Do you have connections with the area radio stations and TV stations, or do you have filmmaking skills? Can you create print and audio/video PSAs around responsible pet ownership and humane education for adults and children that approach these audiences in more respectful and engaging ways? Are you a bilingual person? Did you grow up in our border area, as I did, and do you want to help your fellow raza learn how to become better pet owners?

I know I have personally influenced this change in many of my personal relationships over the years in supportive, not didactic/accusatory ways, and people with just a bit of humane capacity can grow into more understanding and care of their animals when we make it easy for them to do so or help them find their lightbulb moments and compassion. One of my previous friends went from having dogs tied up to a tree in his backyard to sharing his inside home life with them years later and thinking of his dogs as family members. I remember how sad it was for him when, within weeks of each other, his beloved dog died as well as his mother. I have seen other people change when they realize the error of their former ways; it might not be possible to change everyone, but each change counts.

I ask this, too: If we can canvass for political votes, why can we not do the same and go out into our underserved communities and see what is needed to help resolve animal issues? A team could go out to deliver donated food from pet stores and individuals to struggling areas, or we could speak at community centers or knock on doors to talk about spay and neuter and convince people to do the right thing and explain how we can help them do so. Explain why it is cruel to abandon a dog in a yard with no social contact, etc.

Do you own a van you could donate for use as a "neuter commuter" service for people that work too much or are elderly or infirm and cannot drive their pets to the vet for vaccination and altering appointments? Do you own a business, and can you lend a hand at mending fences, installing electric fences or covered runs for jumpers, or offer other kinds of work for the community and shelter alike?

I am very interested in organizing action/working groups around actual programs and services, which can be done outside of the shelter or presented to our shelter leaders as a concerted offer for help from people who are experienced or passionate about a certain area. If you are interested or want to find like-minded people to partner with, please e-mail me at

Pumping Up the Spay/Neuter Volume

Our community has one hard-working, overtaxed low-income program for spay/neuter, which is SNAP. They have grown and are doing more surgeries than they can keep up with, done by local vets, and it is good they serve the poor in our community. The volume of surgeries has grown as well, and now with the County having a Marc van that can be used as a mobile clinic, there are possibilities to increase the volume even more.

Yet, for our combined City/County population of roughly 300,000, we are still allowing more animals to procreate than we should, and we are still killing thousands of animals a year. We need to find ways to up the volume of spay and neuter. How can we also help those that may not be living at the poverty level and are median income but still struggle to make ends meet and may rightfully put the family pet's needs last in their long list of necessary housing and family expenses? How can we offer more options for services, in other words?

Some of the most progressive ideas for spay and neuter outreach and programs and services can be found in the links listed at the left for PetSmart Charities, Humane Alliance, SpayUSA, and Best Friends' No More Homeless Pets. National charities and organizations like PetSmart Charities and Humane Alliance are opening full spay/neuter, low-cost clinics across the country, and we can research how we can get them to come here. We could approach area vets to donate their surgical units on days they close and their services to do more surgeries. We could rent out empty office spaces in underserved communities and run MASH units. We can also reach out and target those that need it the most.

We can incentivize spay/neuter of the types of animals we see too much of in our area, such as pitt bull mixes and chihuahua mixes. One community offers a $5 reward to anyone who brings their pitt in to get fixed, so imagine if you partnered with gas stations or movie houses to offer free movie tickets, a gas card, etc., for anyone who brings in their animals for alteration, vaccinations, licenses, microchips, etc.? I even have ideas of how to tackle the macho attitudes that sometimes get in the way in our culture. I had an idea to hold a spay/neuter fiesta of some sort ... part of the fun is thinking about new things to do.

The local non-profit organizations that are already formed in our area and have some money in the bank and are wondering how they might be of most help or could make the biggest dent in this issue could first start in this important area of high-volume spay/neuter. It is true that in our current circumstances, we cannot simply adopt our way out of our problems. We need to also cut off the supply next spring of puppies and kittens born and relinquished at the shelter and keep up that work each year thereafter. Most areas that are having spay/neuter success and are offering more services do so without the need for punitive legislation. However, mandatory legislation can only come after you provide ways and options and time for people to comply; otherwise, the enforcement of laws can indadvertently lead to more suffering for people and death for their pets.

Think of the possibilties with spay and neuter alone ... we could put up billboards, devise catchy, bilingual mail inserts, etc., to get the word out and ask people to help with the solution to these issues. And, the impact of this would be huge ... for, once the shelter stops getting such an influx of animals, it can more readily concentrate on other programs and efforts, such as pet retention, community involvement, rehabilitation, etc. First, it needs to get to a place where it can implement sheltering best practices across the board, including equitable routing and animal assessments, disease control, implementing good policies and procedures, etc. We can all understand that is hard to do so when you are overwhelmed with the day-to-day care of hundreds of animals under one roof.

Though we often point to our area being too poor and backward/antiquated, it does not mean we can't start chipping away at the issues little by little. It seems that areas that start toward progressiveness attract money down the line as a reward for their good work. You cannot attract prosperity out of negativity or lack of action. Plus, running a shetler at ~$4 per capita is not that bad--other areas have it worse in this sense.

I know my "concentrate on the positive" mantra gets on some people's nerves, but what do we have to lose by trying this? Let's put our own negative voices and scripts aside and think of one positive program or service we are intersted in helping with ... let's organize around those efforts for now and see where that leads us.

Day of the Dead Momento Cards

The pet altar we built last weekend for the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mesilla was a big hit. Thanks to volunteer Kim Doner, this was more the case when she had the wonderful idea of giving people cards to write memorial notes to the pets they have lost and pinning these to our altar. People really loved participating in this, and we have more than 170 notes written to beloved pets--some with just the name of the pet, some with funny notes on them, and some with very sad sentiments as well. Some people were crying as they filled out their cards and hung them up, and it was a truly heartfelt experience for us all. We are in the process of reading through the cards, and some examples of tributes written will be featured with pictures from the event at the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico's website: