The Path Ahead Animal Shelter Consulting

The official blog of The Path Ahead Animal Shelter Consulting

Infrastructure building, Lifesaving programs, Management team support

Friday, October 23, 2015

Cathedral thinking.

Back in the day before technology as we know it, large architectural projects took more than one generation to complete. The famous Notre Dame de Paris took 182 years to complete. Individuals involved in the project, whether designers or laborers, knew that they would likely not see the finished product in their lifetime. They worked not to satisfy themselves but to build the future.

In today's world of instant gratification, this is a foreign concept. 10 years ago, most TV commercials were 30 seconds long. Today, commercials other than those aired during the Superbowl are typically 15 seconds long. Even that proves too much for the smart phone and Facebook generation, accustomed to bright images and blurbs -- mostly with misspellings and poor grammar -- spinning past their field of vision at a dizzying rate.

What does this mean for animal sheltering? For one, it is more difficult than ever to hire young people who want to work. Instant gratification combined with the "every kid is an honor student" mentality has created a segment of the population who believe that they are entitled to what they want without earning any of it. These people are very hard to manage because they have no intrinsic work ethic, no desire to accomplish simply to see it done (or for that matter, done well), and no respect for anyone. If you're not that type of person, please come and help us in the animal sheltering world! We know you're out there, but you're sadly in the minority.

Another segment of the population, older but equally self-centered, are the nearly-retired government employees. You'll find many of these running the departments overseeing animal shelters. They may have 10 years to go, but they aren't going to do anything to rock the boat and disturb their chance at a $200,000 a year pension. These folks are also exceedingly difficult to work with, because they will usually not support the changes necessary for a shelter to succeed at lifesaving.

How does an enthusiastic new animal shelter director get anything done under these circumstances? It's not easy, that's for sure. Clear communication of expectations from the start are key. If superiors won't support the mission with the understanding that change is difficult, takes time, and comes with complaints and other complications, you're better off not accepting the job. If staff won't get with the program, they need to go. One wonders why anyone accepts a role as shelter director, but when things go well, a new future is built, a cathedral of lifesaving.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

World Animal Day

The mission of World Animal Day is "TO RAISE THE STATUS OF ANIMALS IN ORDER TO IMPROVE WELFARE STANDARDS AROUND THE GLOBE." On the web site are photos of animals in South America, Africa, and other locales. While there is no doubt that many parts of the world need help in caring for their animals, we need to turn the magnifying glass towards ourselves here in the U.S. and to the treatment of animals in our "shelters."

I'll never forget what an animal control officer said to me years ago when we worked together in a County shelter. Looking around the overcrowded room stuffed with cats in small cages, she said, "We do things here that I'd cite people for in the field." Day after day, unlimited animals were admitted to the shelter, which kept them in a perpetual state of overcrowding, stress, and illness. In time I was able to turn the place around, never forgetting what that ACO -- who took 38 cats home one year to treat them for ringworm, then adopted them out herself -- said. Nothing surprises me today, but back them I was surprised when, again and again, the powers that be over that shelter ignored my concerns, not wanting to limit intake because members of the public might get upset and complain.

All across the U.S. this drama plays out in shelters run by Counties, Cities, and private nonprofits. With intakes from a few hundred to tens of thousands, every day shelters accept dogs, cats, and other animals into their system. Without proactive programs to prevent unwanted births, missing pets, inability to care for pets, and identification of pets, this "system" grinds along every day without pause. When things don't go well -- stress, illness, behavior issues -- it is common for shelter staff, even those who are very compassionate and mean well, to blame the public. But it's not the public's fault, and it's time for shelter professionals to take responsibility for their actions, for the choices they make every day. Operating a shelter is a choice. Intaking animals is a choice. All that happens to those animals once in the shelter's custody is a choice. Will they receive vaccines and other necessary medical care? Will a photo and description be immediately posted online, giving the owner a chance to find them? Will rescue groups be contacted if the intake exceeds the shelter's ability to adopt?

Shelters implementing even one or two new best practices are seeing great improvements. Don't accept less. Don't make excuses. On World Animal Day, look right in front of you and ask yourself, "Are we doing what is best for these animals?" If not, seek out a new path, the path ahead.