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:


Anonymous said...

As a foster "parent" for over 20 years, It has had it's ups and downs but the few downs have made up for the many ups that I have fostered.The fun of taking care of an new "pet" has been a continuing learning lesson. I have learned the different attitudes of many animals and have had a lot of fun with them. Fostering has opened my eyes on the many attitudes of cats and the different breeds there are. As an active foster member in the community I do encourage people to look into this and save a life. It might even help drop your blood pressure.

Anonymous said...

When you wonder if you are going about things in the right way, remember you are "GOING." That's the key. Keep it up. Keep going.
Jason Gibbs

teetee5225 said...

All Animal Lovers,
This short comment is to thank all of you who are working so hard to reduce the killing of so many adoptable healthy pets in our community. It is such a joy to see the many positive changes happening in the last five years. Your compassion, caring and dedication will one day be rewarded. Please keep up the wonderful work.

Michelle Corella said...

Great article, Michel, with many great ideas on how to encourage more folks to get involved to help reduce the animal suffering and overpopulation in this area. These problems didn't happen overnight, and they won't magically be solved overnight, but if we all work together, keeping the goal in sight, we'll get there!

Anonymous said...

You have many good ideas, but you're missing one very big point. You are assuming that the Poor and Mexicans are ignorant or culturally retarded and don't know enough to spay and neuter their pets. This is a common Gringo conception. There has been many times that The pound offered cheap spays and for the most part it was turned down. WHY? Because your service to the communty was offered by the people who seek to step on the faces of pet owners, The Pound and Animal Control cannot be part of the solution, when they are part of the problem. No one trust them...When they are prying into everyones lives who want to have pets. Taxing your ownership of them through FORCED Tagging and Microchipping programs.

Might I also add that on Animal Control, that there are those of the old school that literaly took animals out to the desert and shot them. These same people are still there. These same people lord themselves over the citizens of Las Cruces, mostly the Mexican populace...And as a result has terrorized them into hiding.

Why they aren't either fired or retired I do not know. But unless you speak up and demand this and also demand that anyone left be psycholoically evaluated, from an outside source ONLY. Then retrained in sensitivity training, to curb their undesirable traits. AC officers will continue to spoil all attempts at making this a no kill area.

So let me know when you decide to do something about the REAL problems, then we can effectually implement your ideas.