Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Former Best Friends CEO visits Las Cruces

I was very fortunate a couple of Sundays ago to spend some quality time with the former CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, Paul Berry. He passed through Las Cruces as part of his Our Humane Nation motorcycle tour. Las Cruces was lucky for this visit because our community was not in Mr. Berry's original plan. He had a last-minute cancellation in Albuquerque so stopped by here instead. He got my name and number from a fellow No Kill advocate in Austin, TX. Thanks to Ryan Clinton at FixAustin.org for the referral!

You can read Paul's blog about his Las Cruces visit on his website (http://www.ourhumanenation.com/) when he publishes it. I think he said that should be posted within a couple of weeks from now.

During his visit, we stopped by the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV), and then we stopped by Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary. We then had a nice vegan dinner with fellow Las Cruces animal advocate Jean Gilbert.

Paul is an electrical engineer who made a career move to animal welfare and away from corporate America some time ago. He has been an animal-cruelty investigator and also ran a mobile spay/neuter van before taking the Best Friends CEO post for the last seven years. He left Best Friends earlier this year, though his wife is still working there. He decided to take this tour to find out what is going on in the world of animal welfare across the United States.

Some of Paul's remarkable work at Best Friends included the rescue and rehabilitation of the Michael Vick dogs; Best Friends took on the dogs that needed the most work and rehabilitation from this group. Paul is also responsible for making the TV deal for Dogtown, one of my new favorites that shows on National Geograhic.

It was especially nice to bounce off my questions and ideas on Paul. He agreed that our community has a long way to go and a big problem in our yearly animal intakes at our one shelter. He urged us to start doing some data gathering and research to use to build up alternatives to the one municipal shelter.

I was also glad to hear that he had some insight into one of my dreams for our near future -- opening an NSNRT clinic from the Humane Alliance group (http://www.humanealliance.org/). He said that model is terrific because the clinics are able to service a wide area of a community and spay/neuter hundreds of animals each day. Wow! Isn't that something to work toward for our community? We all can agree we need that level of high-volume spay/neuter to start reducing our shelter's intake rate in a significant way.

Shelter observation

As a critic of our shelter and former volunteer, I admit that I have not been there for many months. I decided to quit my shelter volunteer work to instead work in the community to the best of my ability to help animals and people. However, I also agree that there is a place for all of us and that our shelter needs the support of volunteers in the community. I also think that the more staunch critics should not be silenced, but I myself have stepped more away from this role because I think one group of animal-welfare people needs to actively work on alternatives to our shelter. If you let yourself, you can become completely overwhelmed with the shelter's issues, and that leaves little time and effort for anything else.

So, Paul and I stopped by the shelter that Sunday at about 4:30 p.m. The shelter was going to close at 5 p.m., so there weren't too many people around. We were allowed to walk through the adoptables area when Paul explained to a shelter staffer who he was and what he was doing there. Usually, people are not allowed to walk around our shelter and just look. People are required to fill out a complete adoption application.

We walked around for a bit in the dog adoptables area, and then we moved on to visit the cats and bunny rabbits. On our way back out toward the entrance, Paul stopped to look into the dog adoptables area again. There is a door that leads to it from the hallway on the way out the shelter. He stood at that door for a while, looking through the door's window, so I went over to see what he was looking at.

We saw a kennel attendant, dressed in scrubs, standing at the entrance of one of the dog adoptable kennels. The two dogs being housed in that kennel were standing in it, and the kennel attendant was hosing down the feces/waste using a hose. Himself and the two dogs were inside the kennel at this time. I was surprised to see that he was not only doing this (which is against humane care and cleaning standards for shelters) but that he was not hiding it from anyone either. The shelter was not not closed yet, and there were still a few people from the public, including Paul and myself, walking around.

It may be my imagination, but I got the feeling and an attitude from the shelter staff from the moment we walked in that they are pretty much autonomous and can do as they please. I guess this comes from the fact that our leaders blindly and fully support the shelter's director, so there is no fear of repercussions. For more stark evidence of this, see the last blog posting on this site and the pictures at right.

It was at this time that something hit me. Maybe all us advocates have been going about this the wrong way. All this time, we have been pushing the leaders on the ASCMV oversight board to visit the shelter more often. They sometimes do this but announce their visits ahead of time. Yet, even if they didn't, would they be able to see that someone hosing down a kennel with the dogs standing in it raises a BIG red flag?

I think what we should be pushing for instead is that each person that sits on the board of directors for our shelter should have to become educated about sheltering industry standards. They should have to take numerous shelter tours in nearby areas as well as other states, including visits to shelters that have very good reputations. After all, this board will be setting policy which then feeds procedures for our shelter. Unless they know something about animal sheltering (the industry and its standards), they will never see what is wrong with the picture when they visit our facility.

It's no wonder our shelter staff, including the director, do not feel they need to be held accountable to sheltering standards. No one in power is holding them up to any.


Tangi Adopt A Rescue said...

Paul is wonderful. I knew him when he worked so hard for the SNIP Van out of New Orleans. Go Paul!

>I think what we should be pushing for instead is that each person that sits on the board of directors for our shelter should have to become educated about sheltering industry standards.

This is a good idea. But knowing better and caring enough to want to make changes can be two totally different things. The board of directors for a shelter should been made up of people that really care about animals and believe a quick death is not the best and only way to deal with shelter animals.

Lizzie Borden said...

OH DUH! Heaven forbid that the people in power should be educated in their job requirements. What's with you guys here?

You need to incorporate a spy system for both the shelter and animal control. Volunteers and visitors could report back to a central commitee. Use corporate tactical practices to root out the poison that is infecting this place....Seek and Destroy.

Concerning the policy to have everyone fill out papers just to look.....How many walk out because of this privacy invasive practice? How many dogs died because of it?