When we last checked in with the Humane Society of Fremont Co in Colorado, the place was a hot mess. State inspections revealed that the facility was killing animals before their legal holding period expired using inhumane methods, including heartstick, performed by untrained staff, leaving sick and injured animals to suffer without immediate vet care, housing cats in cages that were too small and had mesh flooring, and using the surgery room as a cat intake/holding area as well as an isolation area for sick cats. Local advocates were calling for a new director to bring reform.
On September 24, 2014, advocates’ efforts paid off when newly hired director Douglas Rae started on the job. I recently interviewed Doug and learned that under his leadership, the HSFC is now saving nearly every animal in its care. And it’s not being done at the expense of cats either since HSFC isn’t a participant in the War on Cats, choosing instead to reunite lost, friendly, outdoor cats with their owners or find them new ones if needed. Feral cats are neutered and returned to their place in the community. And the only time HSFC performs owner requested euthanasia now is when an animal is medically hopeless and suffering.
I asked Doug to describe his first day at the Humane Society of Fremont Co:
I was greeted with a large sign on the front door that said, “Welcome Douglas Rae To Our Shelter.” A volunteer was at the front counter when I walked in, he recognized me, and he greeted me straight away before I could introduce myself. I talked with this volunteer at the front counter for almost 30 minutes. This volunteer (and his wife) took me and Lynn (my wife) out to lunch on my first day.
After speaking with the volunteer that greeted me, I immediately went into the cat adoption room and introduced myself to every cat. “Hi my name is Doug, I’m getting you out of here.” After the cats, I had the same talk with every dog in the building. And then the rabbits. And then the cats in intake. It’s a ritual I do in every shelter on day one.
When the Board flew me out for in Interview in August, I spotted several changes that needed to be made. So I had noted many things I would address on day one if I were selected as the new director.
We had signage seemingly on every wall inside of the shelter. I took every sign on the walls down but one, the pricing structure, which I relocated to a better area.
In the front lobby, we sold urns, lots of them. To me, it looked like death with all of the urns on display. I understand why the urns were out for display, I simply didn’t want others to think what I did when they walked in the shelter for the first time. The last thing I want people to think is about is “death.”
So we moved the urns out of immediate eyesight, put nice pictures on the wall in the front lobby and the hallways, moved a couch with pillows into the lobby, added a giant and soothing waterfall in the front window. and made the front area look nice and homey We also started playing soft music and piped aromatherapy through the ventilation system in week one.
In fact, as I write this, over one hour after everyone has gone home for the night, not one dog is making a sound. Not one dog is howling or crying. Not one dog is barking. If dogs were barking tonight, the aromatherapy was not changed out from the previous day. Silence is golden in an animal shelter.
I have a volunteer willing to help us with easy yet potent protocols utilizing homeopathy, essential oils, flower essences, herbs, etc. There are several, easy-to-use remedies that can help calm, ease anxiety, and relieve stress for animals in a shelter. Diffusing oils in both the front area and the kennel area would be very easy and helpful as well.
Individual dogs will also receive homeopathy and other remedies that are good for them specifically – post surgery, digestive support, skin support, URI, UTI, lameness, wound healing, eye issues, arthritis, etc… and guess what, volunteers are all over this making it happen for the animals.
We made a lot of changes straight away because I have high expectations for how a shelter should look. But especially in Canon City, where the shelter had been under such scrutiny. Getting the building to where the community needed it was a priority on day one/week one.
I want the lobby to be warm and inviting. Heck, I want the entire building to be warm and inviting. For the month of October the shelter was decorated for Halloween. It was scary spooky in here. The day after Thanksgiving, Christmas decorations went up throughout the entire building. Including dog and cat cages. It was quite something to see.
Animal shelters need not look and smell like an animal shelter.
I filled a notebook on day one with things we needed to address. But I always do this in new jobs. A lot of notes were written that day.
Since no kill deniers often falsely claim that shelters can not be open admission without killing animals for population control, I asked Doug if HSFC was still contracted to provide animal control services:
Yes. We are contracted through Fremont County, CO and the cities of Canon City, Florence, Coal Creek, Williamsburg, Rockvale and Westcliffe, CO.
There were months of discussion of pulling the contract. Once my appointment was announced online, and after several people who wanted the contract canceled but were now advocating that the contract remain in place (after my announcement and one month before I started), the council decided to not pull the contract.
I also asked about the facility’s budget:
The combined per capita number for all cities and the county we are serving when I started was $1.07. We are still at $1.07. Though I desperately need more money to manage this shelter, I have not received more contract dollars.
Our donations decreased a good deal due to the shelter’s recent history and the medical expenses increased after my start, as we treat all animals requiring treatment, no matter how big or how small the bill (we do not have a vet on staff).
Although much ado is made by some animal groups about length of stay for shelter pets, Doug is not overly concerned with that number at HSFC and doesn’t track it:
Some people think an animal living in a shelter for longer than 7 days (or whatever that magic number is) should be moved out; I guess through the back door, but I don’t. Nor will I ever.
If we have to keep an animal for 30, 60 or 90 days to find that animal a home and ensure life, then we will. We kept two dogs for over 30 days because they needed to be kept together. They were adopted and are now alive in a loving family. Other shelters might have split up a bonded pair of dogs and adopted each individually, or worse, killed the animals if they couldn’t be placed within a designated time frame. Not here, ever. We treat all animals as individuals.
HSFC has been returning lost pets to owners at an impressive rate since Doug started:
We have a 37% Return to Owner rate in my 3 months.
We have a detailed list of lost animals at the front counter, we have a lost and found bulletin board in the shelter, we have a “lost animal found” Facebook page where strays are “immediately” posted online at intake, we scan for micro-chips on intake, we check the Colorado lost pets Facebook page to see if animals match any in our shelter.
We literally have had ACOs bring in a dog and the owner and dog were reunited in less than 30 minutes.
Adoption promotions run continuously:
October, National Shelter Dog Month: half price adoptions. Half price adoptions for rabbits. Half price adoptions for cats. November Adopt a Senior Shelter Dog month $25. Black Friday $25.00 adoptions.
Our shelter was incorporated December 26, 1950. Adoption prices this 12/26, and adoptions always on 12/26, will be $19.50.
Currently we are doing “Gas prices have dropped, and this week…so have our adoption fees for dogs!”
We are always doing something.
Doug attributes credit for saving almost every animal at HSFC to the so-called irresponsible public:
In October (my first month) we saved 93% of the animals, November 99% and December 100%, with a $1.07 per capita and close to being 300 operational hours short.
What we have accomplished over the last three months may not be noteable when compared to other shelters doing the same thing in other cities, but it is historic in this County. And not because of me. I am simply fortunate to be sitting in the drivers seat as this bus makes its way down the road to bigger and better things. My team has made everything happen and because of that teams efforts, Canon City is now on the national life-saving map.
I have never had such a committed and focused group of people saving lives before and I have had a few solid teams in the past. Volunteers from around the state of Colorado (and beyond) have reached out and asked me how they can help.
Volunteers drive two hours one-way to bring animals to a rescue. Volunteers have written a check for $900 to cover a cat’s dislocated shoulder, as quickly as they buy a cup of coffee in the morning (and without my even asking for a penny).
Volunteers raised $400 for a dog’s eye surgery in less than 24 hours (again, without my asking them to do anything). Volunteers completely manage my rescue program. Volunteers take and upload pictures of adoptable animals onto the website. Volunteers foster pregnant dogs, and bring back healthy puppies for people to adopt 8 weeks late. Volunteers save neonatal kittens when they need to be bottle fed by taking them into their foster home. And so much more.
Volunteers are the absolute foundation for what we do in Fremont County. I simply could not be prouder of this team. And really they seemingly were behind me on day one. Sure, I reached out to several people at the start, meeting everyone one-on-one, but folks that were not currently volunteering at the shelter embraced life-saving with little to no direction from me at all.
Rather than clinging to the old/failed ways, which we see so often in animal sheltering, Doug embraces change and sees it as an indication of progress:
If we are not changing, we are not getting better.
Thank you Doug for bringing hope to the lost and homeless animals of Fremont Co. Thank you to the animal advocates who campaigned for reform. And thank you to the irresponsible public for making lifesaving the priority at the Humane Society of Fremont Co. It would be hard to imagine a more impressive turnaround or a more promising start. I hope the future holds continued success.