Friday, May 8, 2009

Conference Workshop: Harnessing Compassion

The theme of this workshop was how shelters working toward No Kill use the public's overwhelming compassion and love of animals to help save more lives. The main way to do this is to change the paradigm between the shelter and the community -- instead of an adversarial one of "us against them" that is very ingrained in old-guard shelter leadership and the public's perception of shelters as "pounds", those working on progressive sheltering models work hard to change the distrust and bad feelings into good ones and collaborations with the community to significantly reduce kill rates -- no matter that some in the community are irresponsible and the reason why animals end up in shelters.

The new paradigm says that it is a given that animals will be homeless, neglected, and relinquished to shelters. It's a shelter's duty to be animals' safety net and afford them an opportunity at a second chance at life in a good home. It is also a given that there will always be those that are not good with animals, and it is a shelter's duty to protect animals from these people. However, if you look at how animals are loved and treated as a whole by most people, there is an entire army of compassion ready to be tapped into. Those of us who love and care for animals far outnumber those who do not, so how can we attract more into the shelter to help save more lives?

Foster homes kicked into overdrive

At most shelters, foster homes are utilized to help care for some animals that are not ready for adoption for many reasons, especially puppies and kittens that need extra care. Most shelters have a small number of dedicated fosters they rely on, but to get to No Kill, a small number of fosters is not enough. Progressive shelters work to build the foster numbers in order to save most animals that are treatable and can be readied for adoption. Some No Kill directors have been so successful as to turn the number of fosters they utilize from two digits to three digits ... from 10-50 foster homes to hundreds and some have even thousands of foster homes.

Susanne Kogut, the director at Charlottesville SPCA, did just that. She turbocharged the number of foster homes by using this formula:

Organize & ativate

FIND is perhaps the most important part of building a foster network. Too many times, shelters are complacent with or settle for the few foster homes they have, assuming people are not interested in this work. From the public's point-of-view, the message is just not getting to them often enough or clearly enough. Most people don't understand what fostering is, what it entails, how rewarding it can be, or how it fits into a lifesaving model of sheltering.

Kogut uses media to help get her messages to the public. She played a story that came out on a local news channel that highlighted the work of one of her foster families. This family traveled often and could not have their own pets full-time, but they loved and adored animals. Fostering was their way of having pets in the home when it fit into their schedule, and the whole family participated in the efforts. There's nothing like people who actually do the work taking about fostering to help clarify the message to the general public at home. Kogut also uses other methods of reaching the public ... postcard mailers, fliers, etc.

Once people sign up to foster, the next steps are to offer the support they need to be successful. Instead of relying only on those with fostering experience or experience in a certain area (e.g., neo-natal kittens and puppies), the Charlottesville SPCA organizes and activates those who are willing to give it a try, offers full information and support along the way, trains and teaches people how to care for special-needs animals, empathizes with fosters when they are having issues and energizes them to keep on going, and last but not least, rewards their fosters often. They never let fosters feel like they are alone or saddled with animals forever; they offer support to adopt out the fostered animals when they are ready and to keep the lifesaving cycle moving along.

Kogut ended her presentation with advice to have a set program but to also remain flexible. She also talked about using Internet social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to reach out to more segments of the population. That way, even if some foster families end up keeping the animals they were caring for and no longer want to foster, there are more volunteers available to foster animals and the cycle goes on. This way, you don't run out of foster homes; on the contrary, you attract more and more of them.

Building resources for TNR

Unfortunately, TNR and community cat programs are scarce in our community because both our city and county ordinances make feral cat caretakers into outlaws. One person who commented on this blog asked who is working on TNR in our community, and all I can point that person to is our one program on the NMSU campus (which is a very successful local model of how these programs work). The FCamp website is listed under my Progressive Animal Welfare Links to the right of this blog. Contact that group if you'd like to help.

That said, I hold onto the hope that our area will someday come up to speed on cat population management and the only method that has proved to be both humane and effective. This is the case for both rural ferals and urban ferals, of which there are many in our community.

Mike Fry, the director of a sanctuary in Minnesota called Animal Ark, talked about how they grew their feral program. They have a spay/neuter van they run that only fixes cats. They started out strongly and boldly and even before they had all the funding they needed. His philosophy is that if you make a decision to do something, start doing the good work you want to do, then the additional resources you will need usually follow. It may be along the lines of the cliched phrase "Build it and they will come", but this mantra seems to work for many successful No Kill shelter directors.

It worked for Animal Ark. They started out by purchasing a used spay/neuter vehicle and barely getting by, but as they worked in the community, their good work was rewarded. After some time, an individual in the community purchased a new van for their neuter commuter, and now they are out performing surgeries on groups of cats on a regular basis.

His advice for working in communities that are anti-TNR was to get out there and talk about how and why TNR works. Usually, those that do not approve of it or fight it have misunderstandings and are not well-informed. Instead of arguing with people and getting nowhere, he says you must address the problems head-on, acknowledge real issues with loose cats, and talk about how TNR helps address these issues. There is common ground for those on both sides of this debate: everyone acknowledges the fact that shelters are inundated with cats, that there is nowhere for them to go in the sheltering system, and that at a great cost to taxpayers, they are put down. Polls on the subject also show that the majority of people in the public do not want the cats trapped and hauled off and killed. This method has been used for decades and is not successfully reducing cat populations or shelter deaths.

The way to address the concerns of those that love and feel sorry for birds is to first respect and understand where they are coming from. Agree with them that birds being hurt and/or killed by cats is a sad reality. Explain how feral colonies controlled by TNR will address this issue better than catch and kill ever has.

Boost those volunteer numbers

Bonney Brown, director of the Nevada Humane Society, shared her secrets for increasing the number of volunteers at her shelter from 30 to 1,300 in one year, and then increasing this to 2,740 the next year. She says that it begins by seeing that volunteers are ambassadors of your shelter in the community and well worth the efforts of having their work and enthusiasm in your facility -- no matter if there are issues with volunteers from time-to-time.

Although all shelters have those die-hard volunteers that are there no matter what and last the test of time, studies show that most volunteers last 30-90 days. However, you can still tap into these volunteers for shelters as well. Make it easy for people to come out and help.

She spoke about the importance of written materials and training for volunteers. Coming from Best Friends, Brown understands that even if a person shows up for one day to volunteer and nothing else, you can still put them to work for the good of animals. In order to keep the flow of volunteers coming so that you don't miss those that are going, you need to work hard at recruitment and training. Among all those you attract, you will find more and more of those faithful volunteers that won't disappear after a few months.

Start by sharing your mission, goals, and programs/areas of need with the public. Provide many volunteer opportunities that help people use their own skills and interests in their volunteer work. Clearly define shelter policies, and write volunteer job descriptions. When expectations are clear, less issues arise.

The Nevada Humane Society offers orientations that are very short that then break up into training groups. Seasoned volunteers are used as mentors and trainers.

It all starts out with creating the volunteer program, putting it in the hands of a capable volunteer coordinator, and adjusting the program as you go along. Be flexible in scheduling, and don't turn people off or away. In your recruitment, you can be specific about your needs. However, the biggest secret to volunteer program success is to focus on fun. After all, people are there because they want to be; they are not paid to care.

In order to recruit volunteers, share success stories with the public. Use good photos in all stories you share, and ask for help from volunteers and others in getting the word out. Employ grassroots strategies, use classified ads, send out PSAs on a regular basis, and use online networks, such as the one on the Best Friends website. Get out there and engage with civic groups, too.

Working with rescue groups

The last part of this Harnessing Compassion workshop was about working with rescue groups, and the presenter was Abagail Adams, the director at the Tompkins County SPCA. The first words out of her mouth were, "More is better; network, network, network..."

Don't sit back and wait for rescues and other groups come to you; be proactive and contact them. Contact rescue groups, other animal non-profits, trainers, etc. See how and when you can facilitate them coming to your shelter on a regular basis to take animals or make suggestions of where you can transfer out of the area.

Rescues and shelters can help each other by sharing referrals and sharing advertising. Rescues have breed expertise that can come in handy with rehabilitation cases or with other issues. They also have a vast group of resources and relationships that you can tap into. By sharing this information, you start to build a bigger and stronger network. This network helps make the safety net for the animals in your shelter larger and larger. The larger the network, the more lives you will save.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

no one can ever tell me how and who will be sure all the cats in a TNR program are vaccinated for rabies. Who will keep all of these records and who will be liable if a cat does happen to bite someone.
And now with the fact that we have bats that are possitive in the area and two unvaccinated cats had to be euthanized because they came into contact with the bat. It was ordered by the State health department. And how about other feline deseases that can spread rapidly. Who will have all the records of each cat if they are vaccinated.