LOVE is Positive: An Interview with Ann Brownell of UPAWS, Part 2

Note:  If you missed Part 1 of this interview or you have yet to meet Ann Brownell, read this first.  Part 2 is below.  My questions are in bold and everything in italics was written by Ann.

6. You frequently contribute to the blog’s Open Threads, both to promote UPAWS and to encourage readers to find out about what’s happening at their local shelter. Why do you feel it’s important to maintain an active presence online?

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

Having an active online presence is essential, especially nowadays. People are used to finding things fast, they look on the internet for most everything, including when they are looking to add a furry friend to their family. Shelters have websites that feature pets and all the things happening, as well as a donation button. An active Facebook and Twitter page are also very important. Having your pets seen on Petfider.com and as many other online adoption sites is very important. UPAWS uses the Pet Adoption Portal by Rescuegroups.org. With one entry, your pets will load into numerous sites. All no cost!

Communicating every single day with your online community is vital! You must remind them that you are there. Don’t let the public forget about you. Every day UPAWS posts online a few times. Whether it’s a promotion (UPAWS runs many), plea, pet to promote, fundraiser, update on who was adopted (done daily), stray pets posting or to thank our supporters – we are active online every single day. Please note, always thank your supporters, volunteers, adopters, community, the media, and fans, daily! Yes, every day if possible. It is that important!

7. How do you avoid becoming lost in the endless stream of individual animals and shelters in need with your online pleas?

The way we don’t get lost or ignored is that UPAWS does not ask constantly. We are not every other week asking for a special plea for a pet. We feel that eventually will be like crying wolf. We ask maybe a few times a year. When we do ask, we are an open book, honest and true to that animal that needs help. Also our community knows UPAWS is doing everything possible to help that pet (all are pets). They also know that when they give a donation for a special needs pet, we are using it for that pet and other emergency pets in need.

We make it easy for them to donate by using our Firstgiving site. We set a goal of what amount we need and the Firstgving bar will show the progress. People love that and love to help!

Let me share a heartwarming example. This plea for Buddy Holly was put on our Facebook page and website at 10pm on New Year’s Eve. Within 13 hours we had surpassed the $800 needed by over $400!

Also please keep the public actively involved by thanking them and posting photos and updates.


8. In addition to maintaining an online presence, what other ways do you connect with the community on behalf of UPAWS?

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

UPAWS has a variety of ways. PSA’s to all our local radio stations, newspapers and TV stations whenever we have something to promote, we have a Pet of the Week on one radio station, Mon. – Fri. one of our local TV stations features a rotation of shelter pets from the area, UPAWS has a pet for adoption featured every Thursday on another TV station. We are featured each Wednesday on the Pet Page of a local newspaper – this paper features pets whose ads are sponsored by caring individuals and 3 other UPAWS pets (sponsored by the newspaper itself) as well as whatever else we send to feature that week, which may be a fundraiser, promotion, thank you or event such as our Spay/Neuter offers.

One local radio station DJ is a huge supporter and she has a Mon – Fri UPAWS featured segment which is sponsored by a local vet.

We use flyers for adoption promotions, fundraisers, events, Spay/Neuter offers and pets for adoption and those are posted throughout the community. Our 12 page Pet Gazette newsletter is mailed 3 times a year to 4000 supporters and another 1000 are distributed around the community and at the shelter.

Our manager has an online newsletter that she sends out once a month. Our President and Manager produce a UPAWS direct solicitation letter in color that is sent 3 times a year.

A local Mall has a special area where we have a 6 foot three sided wooden kiosk that has photos of our pets, newsletters, flyers etc.

We will ask to have features in our newspaper, radio and TV stations all the time to promote whatever we have going on. Our local media and community are amazing and very supportive.

BTW, the majority of these things cost UPAWS nothing. Of course the printing of the newsletters and mailers cost money, but please remember, these bring in donations, adopters and supporters too.

9. UPAWS sometimes runs promotions for things unrelated to pet adoption – e.g. nail trim specials.  What benefits are there in getting people to visit the shelter for these types of events?

There are many benefits such as not only offering the public a great service but to bring them into your open, inviting shelter to adopt, foster, volunteer or donate or just to say hello and visit. If they are not familiar with your shelter or programs, it is a great way to introduce them to your services, programs and pets. All good things!

10. There are many elements to the No Kill Equation and each aspect plays an important role in a no kill shelter’s success.  That said, for those shelters wanting to do better but not prepared to implement all the programs of the No Kill Equation today, can you recommend some no cost improvements that could be immediately made by a volunteer and would likely result in increased lifesaving?

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

If you are one person, or one volunteer and you would like to make a lifesaving impact, approach your shelter and offer to take the photos and/or write the bios of their pets for adoption. Ask them to let you load them onto their website or other sites they have for adopted pets. Be consistent. Use these tips and you will be on your way to saving lives.

Shelters can contact the local media, TV, radio and newspapers. Fax or email them PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) about certain pets or what positive things are happening at your shelter. The media is looking for upbeat and positive news! Plus who doesn’t love a great looking, happy pet for adoption. And it is free!

Put together a great looking Facebook page for your shelter. Update it every day with good news, positive things. Ask your fans to share and help. People want to help and they will if you ask them in a positive manner.

Wish list drives – our manager implemented Wish List drives during the warm months. She asks local grocery stores or other stores like Wal-Mart and pet supply stores if we can have volunteers outside their store on a certain day to collect Wish List items. We advertise on our website and Facebook. Not only do we get lots of wish list donations but we also get a lot of cash donations (so be prepared and have canisters at your drives). It is a win-win proposition because the shelter gets needed supplies and the hosting retailer gets business from the sales supporting the drive. Plus, they get public recognition from the big thank you I know you will be giving them through social media, your web page, and newsletter!

Have an Open House. Or offer $5 nail trims to the public.

Ask some local businesses to donate some pop and baked goods. Run an awesome discount adoption promotion at the same time. Advertise with those free PSA’s. Watch the public come!

TechSoup is a great resource for non-profits to get low cost programs and software for their shelter.

And don’t forget that smiles, thank yous, and a welcoming atmosphere are all free and come with life-saving dividends. Visitors who are treated with respect, compassion, and kindness will become your adopters, donors, volunteers, and good will ambassadors in your community.

Above all, spread the good word and always be positive about what your shelter is doing.

Thank you Ann for providing these informative, detailed answers and for sharing your wonderful shelter pet photos.

I’d like to interview more people like Ann. If you know a shelter employee, volunteer or advocate who does an extraordinary job advocating for shelter animals, please e-mail me their contact information if you think they might have time to answer some questions about what they do.

LOVE is Positive: An Interview with Ann Brownell of UPAWS, Part 1

Regular readers are familiar with both UPAWS – Marquette County’s open admission, no kill shelter in MI – and its Pet Promoter in Chief, Ann Brownell. For those who aren’t, I asked Ann to preface her answers to my interview questions with a short bio. My questions are in bold and everything in italics was written by Ann. Part 1 of this interview focuses on marketing individual animals and Part 2, which will run next weekend, is primarily about marketing the shelter itself.

ann

Ann Brownell

My name is Ann Brownell and I have been volunteering since 1997 at The Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter. I was at UPAWS (formerly called Marquette County Humane Society) during the years of killing when our save rate as low as 34%. In 2006 our high-kill shelter began making crucial changes which put it on the road to becoming the open admission No-Kill shelter it is today. I am honored to have played a role in that journey and am proud to tell anyone who will listen that in 2013 we are at a 97% save rate.

My volunteering background includes cleaning cat cages for the first 5 years, editor of the newsletter, member of the fundraiser committee, Chair of our largest profit fundraiser Strut Your Mutt, Community Outreach, Website and Facebook page admin, Pet Promotions and shelter photographer. I have been the volunteer Pet Promotions and photographer for more than 10 years. I was on the Board in 2002-2004 and have been currently on the UPAWS Board since 2008 as V.P.

I have 30 years of retail background which I think has helped in marketing and promoting UPAWS and most importantly our shelter pets.
Please read my full bio and background with UPAWS at this link.


1. Shelter pet photos help get animals returned to their owners, adopted, fostered and rescued and they aid in fundraising. In your experience, how does the quality of the photos impact these outcomes?

HUGE!! The quality of the photo can mean the pet lives or is killed in many shelters across the nation! A good quality, positive looking photo is essential to helping pets find homes, being returned to their homes and attracting more supporters. In this day and age, people don’t have to drive to the shelter to see the pets for adoption. It’s as easy as a click of your mouse to see who is available to be part of that person’s life and family. A good photo can draw the attention of people who may not otherwise have noticed an animal and entice them to drive out to the shelter for a closer look. These pets did not ask to be homeless, they long for loving homes. They are not cast-offs and should be given the respect they deserve by showing them as the worthy and desirable pets they are.

In the case of pets being returned to their owners, a good clean photo can focus on the size, markings and weight of the pet, making it that much easier for the owner to identify their pet and get them back home. And contrary to what many people think, anyone can lose their pet – it is irresponsible of shelters to play the blame game. I could lose my cat with every precaution I believe I have taken. The goal of a good shelter is to help that pet find their way back home and part of that solution is advertising the lost pet with a photo and description.

Good quality, happy, snugly, detailed, well lit pet photos are wonderful for fundraising. UPAWS has found that people want to help but they want to see that their donations are going toward saving lives. UPAWS will never, ever play the card of “this poor sad looking pet behind these cage bars” photo plea. We just don’t advertise that way. We found that it turns people off and makes them feel bad and sad, neither of which will make them want to come to your shelter.

In pet adoptions, a positive, clean, clear in focus and well lit photo with good detail will make your pet stand out among the 1000’s of pets available, meaning, that a potential adopter will be drawn to that happy, clear, good looking pet photo which will bring them into your open inviting shelter to adopt, foster, volunteer, donate or just to say hello and visit. All GREAT things! What’s the saying? You never get a second chance to make a good first impression!

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

2. What specific qualities are you aiming for when photographing shelter pets? What things do you want to avoid in your photos?

A great quality photo will be in-focus, detailed, well lit, happy looking and close up. Bottom line is positivity!! No sad, behind-the-cage, grey, dark, sitting-in-a-concrete-dirty-cold-looking kennel, out-of-focus pictures will make anyone feel good. It sure will be more difficult to get them to want to get in the car and head to your shelter and adopt.

You want to have the person looking at the photo to see that pet as part of their home and as a beloved family member. You want to touch people’s emotions – get them to want to come and meet that positive, happy, clean-looking pet.

For Dogs – have a volunteer or staff member help and take the dog outside on a leash (try to never take the photo of a dog in their kennel – it is very depressing). If you have to take the dog’s photo inside, take the dog out of their kennel and find a colorful background. It has been freezing here in the U.P. One day I had many dog photos to take but it was so cold, we found a colorful blanket in the bedding, hung it up and ta-da, great dog photos!

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

Make sure to get down to the dog’s level – don’t shoot the dog from a viewpoint hovering above them. Kneel down, lie down, put the dog on a bench, have your helper hold the dog up – bottom line is to get at the dog’s eye level. Use a dog treat or squeaker, or my trick, toss a rock over your head and get ready to get that shot! Get the dogs’ attention!

If the dog is too wiggly or nervous, take the dog for a good walk or run – when the dog returns, they will be more relaxed, panting (which looks like smiling) and all-in-all will be ready for a great photo. If a dog is still not settling down, have your helper kneel down and put their arm around the dog – makes for a nice shot too since it is nice to have interaction with people in your photos.

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

Get that great close up shot of the dog’s face, eyes, and smile. If you have the ability to have a couple photos, you can add one as a full shot if you want.

Also take the flash off when taking pet photos – you don’t want those shining eyes in the photo. Relax, don’t hurry, and talk in a happy, cheerful manner. Animals know if you are stressed out or in a hurry and this will show in the photos. Keep everything upbeat, positive and have fun…remember, you’re helping save lives!

For Cats – it’s great again to have a helper but it isn’t as necessary as with the dogs. Again, please don’t take the photo with the cat behind bars of the cage. Avoid photos of cats lying in litter boxes. Have someone help you; wrap the kitty in a colorful blanket and have the person hold the cat. Some of the best shots are with people cuddling with felines. Gives the shot warmth and the person can imagine themselves with the kitty at home as part of their life.

bowser6

If the cat is in its kennel, open the door (remember no cage bars!) have a feather wand or bag of cat treats that you wave above your head or just at eye level. This will get the cat to look at you – you want a great close up face shot – the warm, big round wide eyed look of the cat. This again is done by getting the cat to look at you with that feather wand, crinkly toy or bag of treats (make sure to give the kitty a treat though!) Use a colorful blanket as a backdrop for the cat to sit or lie on.

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

Another trick I have found is if the cat is lying down in their kennel (say on their Kuranda bed) and you are getting the shine off the back of the kennel stainless steel; put a colorful plastic placemat behind the cat (see example). Not only will it pop but it will take away that shiny cold stainless steel look which you don’t want. And again, no flash as we don’t want shiny glowing eyes.

Editing – Once you get your photos, you’ll want to edit them, by cropping them to an appealing size. Editing will take out all the undesirable things such as a litter box in the background, peoples’ legs, leashes, dog drool etc. If you want to go the extra mile, you can enhance your photos by sharpening and brightening them and by adding soft borders. For years I used Microsoft Digital Image 2006 Suite to edit my photos. I still use this but have recently Adobe Photoshop to edit and enhance my pet photos. Add the pet’s name and, if you wish, the shelter’s logo.

There you go…great photos in the making! There you go…saving lives!

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

There are many great websites to help you with advice on taking great photos. I have been taking the UPAWS photos for 10+ years and have Googled, and learned through reading and gathering information, what works the best. One website that I highly recommend is “One Picture Saves a Life”. Not only does the site have great tips, it goes into the types of cameras and lens that work the best. Please note, you do not need a high-end expensive DSLR camera to take great photos! DSLR’s are recommended and if you or your shelter has one, they are excellent but not necessary. I use a Nikon D7100 DSLR in my photos but have used point and shoots and smart phones in a pinch and they have worked fine. Just keep that flash off and follow the above tips and you’ll be on your way to taking super photos and more importantly, become a part of the solution in helping homeless pets find loving homes.


3. What types of profiles/bios are most helpful in marketing shelter pets?

Keep it positive, happy and upbeat! You want to paint a picture and tell a story of how that pet can become a beloved family member. Describe the dog as a buddy that would love to be your walking pal, snuggle buddy, and best friend, or the kitty as lovely pet to come home to with her calming purr and gentle ways. The reader doesn’t want to be depressed reading the bio. They want to read how wonderful this pet would be in their life. They want to feel good. Tell them how grateful that the pet will be and how it will repay your kindness with hugs, kisses, and unconditional love.

NEVER say this pet has X amount of time or will be euthanized! Don’t threaten or guilt people into adopting. Don’t go on and on with a bunch of negatives like “no kids”, “not house-trained”, “no other animals”. There are ways to address these issues without being negative. The key is to keep it positive. At times switch it up, tell the story from the pet’s point of view. Have the words come from the pet’s mouth.

I learned writing bios the hard way. Many years ago, before UPAWS was No-Kill, some of my bios were angry – not angry at the pet, but angry at the person surrendering that pet and the bios showed that. I even got a few complaints! I really had to sit back, stop, and reflect on what energy and message I was putting out there. Who was I helping writing something negative in the bio? Absolutely no one! Especially not the pet looking for a new home! If what you write isn’t nice, leave it out. Positive, happy, enduring, loving and upbeat are what you want your bios to be, for the pet’s sake.

Our UPAWS staff deserves recognition too as they are always willing to give me a hand with taking dogs out and holding pets for photos. Also our Manager will pitch in and help write bios whenever I need help catching up, or for a fresh outlook or update. We will also do “Staff Favorites” and a staff member will write a bio about why they love a certain pet.

Photo by Ann Brownell

Photo by Ann Brownell

4. You’ve mentioned previously about highlighting a pet’s positive attributes without being deceptive in his profile. Could you give us a couple examples of this?

Keep the description positive and upbeat. Think of ways to say things without being a downer.

Examples:

Dog who jumps on people/has little training:
Zayda is a fun-loving, full of energy, live-life-to-the fullest gal! She knows the commands sit, down and shake and she sure would love to learn more fun tricks with your positive training guidance – especially for a Scooby Snack!

Bounty’s a great dog with a happy-go-lucky, “I love you…do you love me?” personality! Happy, joyful, enthusiastic; this big boy will be up and ready for most any type of adventure! From playing in the yard to chasing a Frisbee…Bounty is ready to go, plus be your faithful buddy all the way! He is smart and eager to learn, Bounty will work hard to please his people pals. He would love to have some training and learn some tricks. He is a fast learner, having learned “sit” quickly and is doing well walking on his leash.

Not good with kids:
He is exuberant with his greetings and a big boy! A home without small children is best for this active, silly boy; he may be a little too exuberant for young ones and possibly unintentionally knock them over.

Separation Anxiety:
Chuck would love his new family unconditionally showing his affection with kisses and tail wags. He gets along with people of all ages and other dogs (loves to wrestle and play!) Chuck would love a person who would be home with him since he loves people so much. Come and meet adorable, lovable, beagle-boy Chuck today.

Yia Yia is loyal, curious and trusting canine. She’ll make a wonderful buddy and would really prefer a home where someone is around with her – she loves her humans so much that she gets sad and has a some separation anxiety when they leave. But she is a very good girl and really just not much out of the pup stage – with a little positive mental and physical training, Yia Yia will be just fine!

No other pets:
Suzie is a delight who loves her people pals and is a bit of a Princess. She longs for a home where she is the only pet, getting the entire limelight to herself; after all, she is a pretty Princess!

5. How do you market shelter pets who are typically challenging to place such as feral cats, dogs who are aggressive with other dogs and elderly animals?

By not writing that something is wrong with them, always look for the sunny side! Here are a few examples:

Cat that is unpredictable:
Bandie has a unique personality and considers herself Queen of the Castle. Bandie likes to do things on her own terms, that including being affectionate with the people she knows and snoozing in her favorite places. Bandie has a personality! She loves to talk and walk around and pretend like she owns the place. She is a fun girl, with a unique personality that deserves a good home. Come meet Bandie today!

Cat that gets over-stimulated easily:
Zilla has a BIG personality!! She LOVES to play and play and play!! Zilla also likes to meet new people on her terms…yup, she likes to be the center of the universe and will let you know that! Zilla likes to be busy…playing, or looking at the birds in the feeder outside the window. Zilla is best placed in a cat savvy home. One who knows cat language – who knows the twitch of an ear, flick of a tail, size of the pupil – and what that means. Most times it means for Zilla – I am done being pet or I want to play and play until I am really tired. We love Zilla and want her to find a great home – she really is a sweet, brave, little gal. This is a best friend in the making, so come meet Zilla if you feel you may be the home for her!

FIV cats:
LOVE is positive…Being FIV or FELV positive doesn’t matter to Jimmy John & Rosie. But you know, being loved does. Caring for a pet with special needs may take less time and money than you think and the love you gain is priceless. They are special kitties and need a special indoor only home – one without other cats or with cats that are also FELV positive.

Dog aggressive with other animals:
Bobby adores all people – all ages, makes, and models! He will play, cuddle, and love you. He wants all the attention and love to himself. Because of this, Buddy prefers to be the only pet. Though he gets along happily with all people, he isn’t too happy with other pets taking his attention, love and food. He wishes to be the only fur-child of the family.

Elderly animals:
Hi, my name is Buddy and I am a 12-year-old, male, neutered, apricot colored, miniature poodle. I belonged to a beloved older couple most of my life – sadly they both have passed away and I am now looking for a new loving home. I was loved all my life and long for the rest of my years to be the same. You know what I miss? I miss sleeping in bed with my Mom – I used to love to snuggle real close to her against her back. She loved that too.

Living in one home since she was a young dog, Lulu had a great life. All of us adore her and are doing all that we can to help her transition (she is now in a caring UPAWS foster home). Miss Lulu is good with children, other dogs and is fine with kittens and cats. Her foster family had this to say about Lulu: “She’s a very quiet girl, doesn’t seem bothered by any of the animals here, enjoys short walks and sniffing around in the snow, hasn’t had any accidents; she slept thru the night with no problems. We haven’t heard her bark, no issues with food. She is a wonderful girl”. Lulu is a gentle soul who will give you pure, unconditional love, kisses and devotion. Lulu has known a family and love for 16 years, and hopes she will be lucky again with a second chance. Open your heart, give Lulu that wish.

Feral or semi-social cats (colony cats):
Grizabella is a gentle little girl with a darling personality. You can most often find her grooming and snuggling with her other feline condo mates. She would do great in a home with another kitty to bond with. Grizabella was found living outdoors with a group of other kitties. It has taken some time for her to adjust to people, but we have slowly seen her open up and blossom. She would need some time to adjust to a new home, but we think after given love and care, you’ll see a wonderful kitty show her true fun and gentle personality.

Thank you Ann for sharing your expertise in shelter pet marketing and for your fabulous photos.

I’d like to interview more people like Ann. If you know a shelter employee, volunteer or advocate who does an extraordinary job advocating for shelter animals, please e-mail me their contact information if you think they might have time to answer some questions about what they do.

Minneapolis Pound Brings the Hammer Down on Volunteers Saving Pets via Facebook

Screengrab of a dog posting on the Friends of MACC Facebook page

Screengrab of a dog posting on the Friends of MACC Facebook page

A couple of years ago, volunteers at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control started a “Friends of” page on Facebook.  MACC wasn’t promoting its own animals online and some of the volunteers were professional photographers who believed that good photos and descriptions posted on social media could help get more pets out of the pound alive.  Kathy Boyd began volunteering about a year ago after being inspired by the success and community involvement of the FoMACC page.  She and the other volunteers would photograph animals and write up summaries of their observations and interactions with pets at the pound so that potential adopters could get some insight into the animal’s personality.  They also gave all the pets names and answered questions from interested parties.

Since its creation, Ms. Boyd estimates that at least 100 people have adopted or fostered pets from the pound due to the FoMACC page on Facebook.  But even while staff at MACC cooperated by supplying information to volunteers, they also complained.  Ms. Boyd was told that staff did not like the extra effort required of them when potential adopters forgot to to make note of an animal’s ID number and instead inquired about a pet by name.  Staff was also reportedly  annoyed by angry phone calls from compassionate pet lovers after the FoMACC administrators moved a pet’s photo into a category reserved for pets killed by the pound, which was a common occurrence.  MACC has historically tried to hide the killing at its facility, failing to report on any animals it deems “unadoptable”.

Around the beginning of summer 2013, things began to change.  MACC staff stopped cooperating with the volunteers and refused to give them information on what happened to individual animals.  The partnership deteriorated, at the animals’ expense.  On November 2, the volunteer coordinator at MACC, Jeanette Weidermeier, called a meeting of the volunteer photographers which Kathy Boyd attended.  It was announced at this meeting that MACC would be using its own photographers, posting its own photos (using PetHarbor via its website) and from now on staff would no longer be sharing information with the FoMACC Facebook page.  A gag order of sorts was imposed upon the volunteers and they were all required to sign forms acknowledging the change in policy.  Ms. Boyd writes:

So, at the meeting on Saturday, Jeanette passed out print copies of the new procedures. One copy for each person to keep, and one to sign. But I got a different piece of paper. Mine was a memo that said, in effect, “Thank you for graciously offering to step in when we needed photographers… and now we can let you go back to your passion – cuddling cats.”

Feeling distraught by MACC effectively killing a successful form of marketing for its animals as well as humiliated for being kicked to the curb in an open meeting, Ms. Boyd resigned. The FoMACC posted about the meeting on Facebook.

When asked about the situation by a local TV station, MACC issued a statement in response.  It reads, in part:

Our new website features the most accurate, real-time information for all of the adoptable and lost animals at MACC and allows for more animals to be seen online than ever before.

I checked the PetHarbor listings on the MACC website yesterday.  There were 5 dogs and 10 cats available for adoption.  While there were a couple dozen additional animals listed in the stray category, there were also duplicate listings there for some of the adoptable animals.  It’s unclear to me how a facility that takes in roughly 4000 animals a year could find only 15 of them adoptable at this time.  If this is MACC’s idea of allowing more animals to be seen online than ever before, I think their idea is clearly a fail.

Screengrab of a dog listed as adoptable on the MACC website.

Screengrab of a dog listed as adoptable on the MACC website.

Thank you Kathy Boyd for speaking out publicly about MACC’s attempt to stifle the First Amendment rights of volunteers and muzzle anyone telling the truth about the needless killing there.  The volunteers have started a petition asking the city pound to reverse its decision and once again permit them to help save animals’ lives through their Facebook page.

Nobody WANTS to Kill Animals – Columbus County Edition

A man in Columbus Co, NC was reportedly keeping dogs in sub-standard conditions and authorities had received complaints from neighbors.  After the man died, ownership of the 13 dogs went to the Columbus Co animal shelter.  Shelter director Rossie Hayes decided to kill all 13 dogs immediately, without ever offering them for adoption or even posting them online.  The first excuse – lack of space – is straight out of Pound Killing 101 and, while unacceptable, isn’t exactly new.  The second excuse though is new to me:

According to Hayes, he had no choice but to euthanize the animals, since his shelter did not have any space and he did not want to violate state law.

“The dogs we had in the animal shelter are already on Facebook, and I’m sure the rescue groups are out there raising money to get them adopted, and vets to come pick them up,” Hayes said.

The 13 dogs who should have been rescued by the shelter after living in what were reported as poor conditions for so long, had to be killed because other dogs were already on Facebook. By this logic – erm… nothing, actually.  [Left side of brain explosion]

Tragically, someone described as an animal rights advocate was interviewed by WECT for the story and demanded to know why dogs who had been at the pound longer weren’t killed to make space for the 13 incoming dogs.  [Right side of brain explosion]

[...]Hayes tells us his shelter has one of the lowest kill rates in our area, and that statistic shows he’s dedicated to saving animals.

Oh thank ponies. Finally a chance to examine something objectively and scientifically. Let’s go look at the Columbus Co pound’s statistics:

Columbus Co pound's 2012 report to the state of NC

Columbus Co pound’s 2012 report to the state of NC

In addition to impounding 55 possums and raccoons – and killing every one of them – the Columbus Co pound killed more than one-third of the dogs and cats in its care last year. Mr. Hayes is stating that the killing of 1541 dogs and cats is in some way illustrative of a dedication to saving animals.  [Remaining bits of head explode]

(Note:  The report states the Columbus Co pound is spending close to $6 grand per animal which I believe is a typo.  Not sure how such a glaring error made it through to the final report.  Maybe the reporting party’s head had exploded during preparation.)

A ray of hope:

Monday night, many animal rights advocates plan to attend the county commissioners meeting to voice their concerns. The county manager tells us, the incident is under investigation.

Please oh please let someone go before the county commissioners and advocate for the right of all shelter animals to live.  Is that too much to ask?

Here’s the part of the post where I normally summarize.  I’m gonna need a minute………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  • 13 dogs HAD TO be killed instead of being rescued by the Columbus Co pound because they weren’t on Facebook and putting them on Facebook would clearly not be an option.  Because Facebook.
  • Killing 1541 dogs and cats in 2012 is proof that the Columbus Co pound director doesn’t want to kill animals.  Because one thousand five hundred forty-one.
  • The person complaining wants to know why 13 other dogs weren’t killed instead.
  • I have no head.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Bringing Up from the Comments

The point I was trying to make with my Jokes R Us post the other day was that shelter pets have value to people who love them, whether those people pay an adoption fee or not. Obviously a few people missed the point but it’s so important and one I’ve tried to make repeatedly on the blog. Thankfully, we have some great commenters here who are pretty good with words – much better than my singing. So I’m bringing up this exchange for everyone to read:

mikken / October 10, 2013

You know, people who value animals see their intrinsic value. People who don’t…no amount of money is going to help them see the intrinsic value. I’m sure Michael Vick paid lots of money for his dogs, wanting only “the best”. And we all know how much he valued them.

Just because an animal was free, doesn’t mean it’s not loved as part of the family. Even if that family chooses to sing at it…

Eucritta / October 11, 2013

This is true.

Here’s another thing: if not for people who perceive the intrinsic value of animal life and happiness, there would be no rescue, no foster homes, no wildlife rehabilitators, no movements for shelter or wildlife management reform. No-one would agonize over a backyard puppy who can’t walk or a feral kitten with neuro issues or a neglected flock of young roosters. No-one would make pet wheelchairs, or floation devices for aquarium fishes with swim bladder disease.

The notion that there’s a division between people who care and the Irresponsible Masses is a false one. Time and time again I’ve met people who, seeing a need, stepped in to help as best they knew how. Time and time again I’ve met people who love their pets, no matter how they got them.

[...]

What they said.

Thank you.

What Really Happens to FREE Shelter Pets

Added, October 14, 2013Some of you have taken this tongue-in-cheek post seriously and have jumped in without watching the video or reading anyone else’s comments.  I have just two things to say to you:  1.  It was meant to be IRONIC and CLEVER and SWEET.  2.  You lot are ruining the internet by making me explain this.

Original post:

To the many commenters who have visited this blog in an effort to set me straight on the the hazards of free adoptions – specifically that they put shelter pets into the hands of abusers – I dedicate this post to you.  Last night I received this horrifying video from someone who requested to be kept anonymous.  She proudly stated she had obtained this shelter dog for free.  As if the cruelty exhibited in the video isn’t bad enough, she admitted the dog is subjected to this same abomination every night.  While I have agreed not to publicly identify the abuser, I did Google her and suffice to say – she looks like trouble.

Please take care that no small children are in the room when watching this clip, particularly at bedtime, and turn the sound up in order to experience the complete terror.

Shelters, rescuers and all animal lovers, please remember this poor dog the next time you think about possibly waiving adoption fees on pets.  The next free pet you place could end up in this same situation.

“Abused and left for dead” – or hey, little dog needs help.

I regularly receive forwarded e-mail pleas for shelter pets in need of rescue.  Sometimes they come with a story – not the real story of what happened to these pets but an obviously fabricated tale, a lie.  While I understand that the motivation to lie about a shelter pet’s background may originate from a positive place, i.e. a fabricated story might engender more sympathy than the truth and possibly motivate more people to donate or at least network the animal, it’s an unacceptable practice to me.  And in the big picture, I believe it does far more harm than good.

One of the pleas I received recently showed photos of a very thin young dog who was lame in the rear.  There was also a photo of an x-ray showing what appeared to be a broken bone in one of the rear legs.  The plea requested donations to pay for veterinary care and a rescue to take the dog.  The story indicated the dog was a stray who had shown up in the yard of a shelter volunteer, been examined by a vet and determined to have a broken leg which appeared to be a few days old.  And it should have ended there since no additional facts could possibly be known about this dog.

But the story went on to tell how the dog had been “kicked & abused, then left for dead.”  It said she had suffered for an extended period of time, roaming the streets alone and starving.  That divine intervention lead her to the home of the volunteer where she collapsed, unable to go any further.  She had endured “horrendous abuse and neglect” and by donating, you could show her that not all humans are evil.

Still from the film Cowboys and Aliens

Still from the film Cowboys and Aliens

Of course all that is fiction.  The dog could have been hit by a car.  She could have climbed a 6 foot fence and landed badly.  Aliens could have abducted her, used her for medical experimentation and then dropped her off with a broken bone.  My point being, there is no way of knowing how the leg got broken.  And while it’s possible she roamed the area alone and starving, it’s also possible she had a buddy, or a pack.  Perhaps she was unable to move and therefore unable to access food.  Maybe a broken-hearted owner was looking for her or you know, the aliens wanted her back as a pet.  And if we are going to float divine intervention, I would suggest that divinity would have guided the dog to a place where she could get her broken leg repaired immediately, not someplace that lacked the means to do it.  Or alternatively, the miracle thing.

When pet advocates lie about “horrendous abuse and neglect”, it undermines the effort to save shelter pets on so many levels.  For starters, the lies diminish the verifiable, relatively rare cases of pet abuse and neglect by making them seem commonplace.  The practice feeds the myth of the “irresponsible public” – the very group being targeted in these pleas.  It leads to compassion fatigue among donors and networkers, resulting in the opposite of the desired effect.  And most importantly, lying about abuse and neglect suggests a fundamental belief that shelter pets have no intrinsic value and that a fabricated tale of woe is required in order to instill some value in them and motivate people to take action on their behalf.  Few things could be more dangerous to the shelter pet advocacy movement than implying that shelter pets have no value.

It is my hope that those who write pleas for pets in need will stick to the facts.  Share as much verifiable information as is known about each pet but don’t resort to lying.  The most basic tenet of the no kill movement is that every shelter pet deserves individual consideration and is born with the right to live.  Abandon that tenet at your own risk but in doing so, you lose compassionate allies.

One Thing Shelters Can Do with All Those Cats

One of the most popular excuses among shelter killing apologists for why it’s impossible to go no kill is that there are way too many cats and no one wants them – especially the adults.  Even if that were true, and I don’t agree that it is, it does not follow that shelters “have to” kill cats.  In fact, here is a suggestion for what shelters can do with all those adult cats from UPAWS volunteer Ann Brownell in Michigan (brought up from the comments):

UPAWS 9 Lives for $9 cat promotion is June 21 – 30TH! Being June is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month we are super excited!! I won a Marketing Grant to promote the event! We’ll be on our local TV stations, newspapers, radio and of course social media. Here is our commercial that was produced for us:

How she did it:

I submitted my marketing ideas to Best Friends Animals Society and I won the grant to advertise the 9 Lives for $9 event – a local TV station produced it for free and on top of it, then donated double in air time for the ad! So I got a 2 for 1 air time and also 20,000 impressions on their website pointing to our website : )

UPAWS saves every healthy/treatable pet in its care.  So can your local shelter.

Next time someone tries to convince you that no kill is impossible because your local shelter doesn’t have an enormous budget or because, “What are we supposed to do with all these adult cats?” – tell them.

“They’re doing the best they can!” – Lowndes Co Edition

Screengrab from Petfinder.com showing a portion of the 48 dog and cat listings from the Lowndes pound in Georgia.

Screengrab from Petfinder.com showing a portion of the 48 dog and cat listings from the Lowndes Co pound in Georgia.

A quick check of the Petfinder listings for the Lowndes Co pound in Valdosta, GA tells me the place is not serious about finding homes for pets.  Hardly any photos or personal information is included with the listings – two criteria essential for getting pets adopted.  Minimal marketing efforts could turn the Petfinder listings into a lifesaving tool but no one at the facility is apparently interested.  The pound’s numbers make it plain as day:

In 2012, the Lowndes County Animal Shelter received 5,870 animals. Of this number, 1,433 were adopted or rescued, 386 were reclaimed and 4,031 were euthanized.

That’s a 69% kill rate for 2012.  And the Valdosta Daily Times reports that this month is off to a horrifying start:

Since June 1 of this year, meaning in the last 11 days, more than 260 animals have been brought into the Lowndes County Animal Shelter. Of the 260, 167 have had to be euthanized.

This is not a shelter.  The primary function of the Lowndes Co facility is pet killing.  And county officials are in full blame-the-public mode:

Paige Dukes, Lowndes County clerk and public information officer, said, “The over-population of animals in Lowndes County is not an animal problem, it is a people problem. [...] It is a problem that can be fixed with one simple solution, the spaying or neutering of pets.”

Low/no cost spay neuter is one of the eleven core programs of the No Kill Equation. But to state that spay/neuter is the one and only “simple solution” that would end the killing of shelter pets is not only false, it’s objectionable.   The county is blaming the public for the killing at a taxpayer funded facility where employees are failing to do their jobs to shelter animals.

There is a “Friends” group for the Lowndes Co pound and the best I can say about that is – second verse, same as the first.  What the community pets of Lowndes Co really need is a voice.  Advocates who engage the public instead of blaming, who demand that the shelter actually shelters animals in need and who won’t give up on shelter reform until every dog and cat in Lowndes Co is respected as having the right to live.

(Thank you Clarice for the links.)

Just One Day – Share How Your Shelter is Participating

Today is June 11 – the second annual day asking shelters across the country to promise to function as a safe haven for pets for at least one day.  Animal Wise Radio will be broadcasting live today.

What is your local municipal shelter doing, if anything, for Just One Day – free adoptions, taking pets to the local TV news station, something else?  How well did your shelter promote its participation in order to draw people in for adoptions?  Do you have an idea of the number of pets that will be saved today because your shelter is participating?

I checked my local shelter’s website and didn’t see anything about participating in Just One Day.  I haven’t seen any advertisements on social media or locally promoting their animals for today.  As far as I know, they aren’t participating in any significant way at all.  I hope many of you will have more exciting news to share about your local shelters.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 860 other followers