A little serious, a little satire, and all opinion on animal welfare.
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I’m driven to find new and novel ways to solve the problems facing animals in our shelters and our community- to a fault at times.  That’s because this desire to race ahead of the curve means I forget that the battles waged in years past are, in fact, not always behind us.  I forget that because we think we have found a solution or relegated an outmoded idea or policy to the scrap heap, everyone else has, too.

I had a harsh reminder that this is not the case when someone forwarded me a blog piece from another animal shelter recently.  The premise of the piece was that adoption specials, reduced or free adoption, and adoption promotions were bad.  That not charging full price led to bad outcomes.  And that this fact was born out by “research and experience”.   When I read all this (and there was much more) I was honestly shocked that anyone would still take this outdated view of pet adoptions.

However, it made me reflect that HSBC spends so much time looking forward that we sometimes forget to look behind us to see how many people haven’t been keeping up.  It was also a reminder that I have not always been as progressively minded as I try to be today.  Animal welfare has changed a great deal in the twenty years I’ve worked in it and I have not always been on the right end things myself. 

When I started in animal welfare twenty years ago, I worked at an open door shelter, the type often referred to by mean people as a “kill” shelter.  We did animal control and took surrendered pets so we had lots of animals.  We had all the old mind sets so we euthanized lots of animals.  I was trained from day one to accept that state of affairs as I should expect the tides.

Like most then, it was a place which did not adopt around the week before Christmas for fear of “bad” adoptions.  We did not adopt black cats around Halloween.  If an owner surrendered a pet and had a change of heart, we’d refuse to return the pet, even if it was likely to face euthanasia.  If someone couldn’t pay the owner claim fee for a lost pet, we’d keep it.  After all, if you were a deadbeat your pet must be better off with us, even if that meant better off dead.  If you arrived to adopt early or late, the doors stayed locked.  You wouldn’t ask Sears to open for you, would you?  And the price was the price.  Period.  After all, if we don’t charge, why would anyone value the pet?

The worst thing was the open belief that we could do nothing about the euthanasia situation we faced.  With a set of irrational, unfounded, inflexible and unfriendly policies and beliefs like those, we were probably right.

And I drank that Kool-Aid by the pitcher.  I didn’t know any better, as most people didn’t and some apparently still don’t.  That began to change for me the day I was nearly fired for breaking a cardinal rule:  We did not adopt to college students because college students abandon their animals.  So sayeth the Lord.  Or at least the Operations Manager.

Except I was a full time college student when I was hired.  I was also married, had my own home (a rental- don’t get me started on our rental policy), and in addition to working at the shelter I had my own business.  I knew all college students were not created equal.  So when a married couple who were also full time college students came in to adopt, I broke the rules and adopted to them because there was no other reason they should be denied a pet.  I was almost canned for breaking the rules and reminded that “research and experience” justified the hard and fast ban on college adoptions.

That was the first chink in my faith that “research and experience” was always right.  Over the next few years that chink became a crack and that crack shattered the entire artifice.  I started asking why and demanding proof for every barrier we were placing in the way of a successful adoption.  By that time, I was in charge of operations so I could start making changes when I could prove my case to the executive director.

Black cats at Halloween?  There was no documented case of an adopted cat being sacrificed.  That ban was lifted.  I now offer Halloween Black Cat adoption specials.  Blanket Christmas adoption moratorium?  We improved our adoption screening, did advanced screening, and offered pre-screened “gift certificates”.  We adopted more animals and the return rate was not only no higher, it was lower than the average adoption.  It turns out “the research” also began to show that gift pets have a lower relinquishment rate than ones which are purchased, found or adopted (New, Jr. et al, 188).

Those pesky facts.

There was one notion to which I continued to cling to for a long time.  It was that people had to pay for the adoption.  Despite the obvious logical disconnect in the argument that paying equals value.  First, our shelters are full of dogs and cats, many expensive pure breeds, which were paid for and had great deals of money spent on them in food, care and medicine. Yet they are in our shelters.  Second, if cost equals value, why then didn’t we double, triple, septuple the adoption fee?  Wouldn’t we increase the value to the adopter?  But we didn’t do this.

It was not until I was an executive director and the ultimate responsibility for the lives of our animals rested solely and exclusively on my head did I begin to question my commitment to this baseless position.  In the summer of 2004 when I started at HSBC we had the usual seasonal influx of cats and kittens, leading to the usual seasonal wave of euthanasia so that we could free up cage space.  After that summer I knew that we’d have the same problem the next summer.

My mind finally went to that place that I’d never allowed it to go before.  What if we just gave away the cats which we knew were most likely to be euthanized, the adults.  If we could get just one cage open by giving a cat away, we’d save the cat and we’d open up space for six kittens which would be adopted in a heartbeat.  Why not try it?

There was staff opposition.  Q: How do we explain that the other animals cost money?  A: We are honest.  The other animals aren’t facing impending euthanasia, these are.  Q: What’s to keep people from making bad adoption decisions or getting a cat they can’t afford?  A: If we do that bad a job in our adoption screening, we need to improve our adoption screening (and we did).  Q: What if the people don’t “value” the cats because they were free? A:  Then they’ll return the cat and it might be euthanized later.  But it won’t be euthanized today.

Ultimately, the answer was, “I can’t sign off on killing more cats when there is something we haven’t tried, I’m the boss, and I’ve decided we’re going to try this.  Make it happen” There were some perks to being in charge, too.

At the time we did not sterilize in advance of adoption, as we do now, so the decision was limited to previously sterilized adult cats.  We set the trigger for the program to be the day we euthanized our first cat in the summer strictly for space.  We provided every benefit we offered for every other adoption and all the same requirements and adoption screening.  In order to ensure that there was no misconception that what we were doing was breaking a taboo, we went with most in-your-face name we could think of:  “Free To A Good Home”.

When we kicked off the Free To A Good Home emergency adoption program in the summer of 2005, we put out a press release and the response was overwhelming.  We immediately adopted our every eligible cat and we kept getting them adopted out for the summer.  It was not a large number, only one a day (since it was only for pre-sterilized cats which were not the majority then) but it totaled about 80 adoptions that summer.  Because we could open up a new cage space on a daily basis it allowed us to shift our feline population around internally so that we did not hit the point of euthanasia for space that summer.  The increased public awareness also helped lead to a 17% increase in overall adoptions that year.

We still euthanized cats (and tragically still do).  But we did not have to euthanize one single healthy, happy cat just because there was no room at the inn.  Not one.  It was stunning.  But what about the return rate?  We tracked it.  In the first year there were two returns, both for congenital health problems later found by a vet which could not be treated.  Two out of eighty.  Under 3%.  At the time our standard adoption return rate was pushing 15%.  We saved their lives and then gave them a successful adoption rate more than three times normal.  I knew we hadn’t solved the problem of cat euthanasia but I knew we had made a small step toward that solution.

I nominated HSBC for an American Humane Association Best Industry Practices Award.  I wanted to share our success story because I knew it could be replicated.  In 2006, we were awarded the AHA Award for Adoption Practices at their national conference in Chicago.  It gave me the chance to share the program and the hard data (I came with graphs and charts to prove my case) with others in the animal welfare.  After I presented the data, the room broke out in applause and a few people even stood to applaud.  I could not be prouder and my ego was inflating by the second.

Until the next award recipient took the podium.  He was a very famous animal welfare professional from the west coast, one who I was a little star struck to meet.  His organization has won an award for something and he started by congratulating the other recipients on our award and our innovation.  And then he turned to me, seated next to him on the stage, and derisively said, “…although I can’t say I think giving cats away seems like such a good idea.”  Or something to that effect.  I don’t remember because I was deflating and turning beat red in anger and embarrassment.

It was my first reminder that in animal welfare even hard proof is not proof enough for some.  It also made me wonder how many other good ideas and approaches might be out there untested because the Kool-Aid drinkers and mixers, even the stars in our field, couldn’t look beyond their own traditions and beliefs.

I’ve got that award tucked away somewhere.  Since then we expanded Free To A (now) Great Home to dogs.  We made it a year round program.  We have now expanded it to old animals, sick animals, animals sheltered for more than 90 days.  We have Penny Adoptions for strays.  We have 30 Day Adoption Health Guarantees.  Free adoptions for seniors.  These programs all remain a success, still have a lower than usual adoption return rate, and are some of the many reasons we have not had to euthanize any animal for space in over three years.

HSBC wasn’t the first to have a program like this but in 2005 but we were among a very few and we were certainly the most aggressive in its promotion.  And we got our share of abuse from those in animal welfare who thought this program would lead to the end of animal welfare as we knew it (like that would be a bad thing).  Now virtually every animal shelter has some version of this type of program.  Whether free or reduced adoptions, reductions for special needs animals, or holiday promotions, few if any do not routinely waive, discount or have an adoption price differential.  What was once controversial is now the standard.  Even the organization arguing against these policies previously posted a special rate for seniors.

These different programs might be a matter of degrees, but it’s fundamentally the same thing.  It is disingenuous to pretend it isn’t.

I use that memory of being dismissed by that man at the awards presentation as a driving force to try to find new ways to help all of the animals we still don’t save.  And to be open to new ideas, even when they seem stupid or ridiculous, or come from someone without my level of experience.  I still want my data and my proof for these ideas and claims.  After all, parroting “It’s not rocket science” doesn’t exempt one from showing me the data.  But if there’s compelling proof something works, I want to do it.  To refuse to do so because of personal belief, tradition or ego only means animals will die which did not have to.

But in that drive to find new approaches I still too often forget that there are people and places mired in the beliefs, traditions and arguments of decades ago.  Those beliefs and traditions are damaging and they are dangerous.  And when they stand in the way of getting animals the homes they could have, they are deadly.

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That spells “BEER”!  I love good beer.  In Pennsylvania, we’re fortunate to have some pretty good breweries, even a few which hold their own against the best in the nation.  At one time we led the nation in the number of breweries and we still have about seventy.  We also have over one hundred wineries in Pennsylvania, including some world-class vineyards.

Wine and beer makers tend to be very generous people.  The support of brewers has allowed HSBC to raise funds through our Pints for Pups and help to improve the spirits- and giving potential- of our donors at our other fundraisers and special events.  In fact, I can say with certainty that a good glass of wine or beer has more than once helped us make our fundraising goals and kept HSBC and our mission afloat in tough times.

And if you do the employment math on a couple hundred beer and winemakers, you will also see that they directly employ thousands of employees, plus all the down-the-line employment their production, shipping and sales result in, plus the tax revenue and out of state influx of funds they bring in for cross state exports.

And when they are supporting non-profits like us, that employment number is vastly multiplied.  Did you know that about one in eight private workers in Pennsylvania work at a non-profit (2003 Johns Hopkins report)?  The non-profit employment sector is bigger than any other sector of the private economy.  We’re bigger by far than manufacturing and double the construction and financial sectors.

So when the politicians like California Representative Darrell Issa want to increase the cost of our mailings, he’s negatively impacting the single biggest employer in our State.  When our State and local governments talk about taking away our tax exemptions- I believe that would be called a tax increase if they did it to Marcellus Shale gas drillers who are also currently tax exempt but considerably less charitable- they are hurting the single biggest group of private employers in Pennsylvania.

And there are already rules in place which put an unfair burden, or at least exempt others from our burden, on non-profits like the Humane Society of Berks County.  Churches, incorporated sportsmen’s or hunting clubs, dance troupes, fire companies, “architectural heritage” organizations (really?) and a handful of other non-profits may obtain a special occasion Liquor Control Board permit allowing them to sell alcohol at events.  These permits are highly regulated, generally one day permits.  They are why you can buy a pounder can of Genny Cream Ale at St. Bibiana’s summer fair but no non-profit groups other than the twelve or so on the PLCB’s list can do so.

Yummy, yummy…and raised over $40,000 for the animals.

That’s also why HSBC holds its events at stadiums, restaurants, hotels and other places with a liquor license, despite the increased expense and inconvenience at times.   It’s the only way we can safely allow our supporters and patrons who want a drink (and the fact is most people do) to have one without opening ourselves to liability in the confusing and contradictory legal morass which is the PLCB code.  We remember the absurdity and travesty of the local non-profit which was busted for running a speak easy because they were holding a fundraiser- for Berks Crime Watch!  I prefer not to be cuffed in public.

It might not be so galling if organizations like HSBC were not doing the work of the State.  Our officers are sworn in PA courts to uphold PA law.  We bear all the costs of this and we all know that the police would not be investigating animal cruelty on their own, especially with all the cut backs they are facing.  We do the state’s work, we have the pleasure of paying for it, too, yet we can’t have the same fundraiser that a place which holds pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania can?

That seems unfair and it seems like the government is putting a regulatory burden in the way of our success.  I’d think any animal lover would be opposed to that.  I think there are a few folks out there who hang tea bags from their hats who are supposed to be opposed to that, too.

I have an idea for two changes to Pennsylvania law which would not only help the non-profit sector which employs 1 in 8, but would give the breweries, wineries and hospitality industry a huge boost in a tough economy.

First, open the list those allowed to apply for a Special Occasion Permit to include all 501c3 non-profit organizations.  If that’s too wide a net, make a category which allows any 501c3 non-profit which engages in activities that assist the state directly in law enforcement, regulatory assistance, or social services (which means non-profits whose charitable donors are paying to do the state work in some way) to apply.  If that’s too broad a net, just let animal shelters which do cruelty, animal control or take in strays.  Heck, I’m not picky, I just need to raise these animals some money.  (Great news!  Thanks in part to the help of former State Rep. and former HSBC board member, Dante Santoni, the SOP list was expanded and now included 501c3 animal welfare organizations!  If you’ve got a shelter and want to improve your special events, start serving some beer!  Feel free to get in touch if you need any help with details.)

This would allow organizations like ours to hold successful fundraisers in support of the work we do which subsidizes the Pennsylvania government and its taxpayers.

Second, create a new limited liquor license for exclusively food service establishments which would allow for the limited sales of beer and wine as long as it was produced in Pennsylvania.  Many or most restaurants without LCB permits are already BYOB, so people are drinking in them.  This special permit would allow those of us who want to have a beer or glass of wine with dinner to do so, without carting it around ourselves.

Before the histrionics start about nuisance bars, let’s exclude hard liquor, preclude carry out sales, and make sure it’s only for sit down restaurants.  That wipes out most of the problems.  The program could be self-funded (politicians love that) by having a permit fee of $1,000 annually to cover the cost of a visit by an LCB inspector once or twice a year to make sure the rules are being followed.

What would this do?  It would make more people go to small, locally owned restaurants rather than stay home or go to chains which divert profit out of state.  It would force all wine and beer purchasing to be from Pennsylvania producers- that means Pennsylvania employers and employees- who will pay both corporate and personal tax to Pennsylvania, not another state.  Those increased sales would increase the production volume of those producers, bringing down their costs and making them more competitive.  This would further open the export market to them and bring income from other states back to Pennsylvania.

Both of these things would spur business among employers- something everyone should want.  They would spur tax revenue- something the state should want.  It would help non-profits do our puppy hugging work- something animal lovers and Progressives should want.  And it would remove governmental regulatory burdens on tax payers and employers- something Conservatives and Libertarians should want.

Seems like a win for everyone.  But what do I know?  I’m just a tax payer and employer of a couple dozen people in an animal welfare sector employing thousands in a non-profit sector employing millions.

If it does somehow make it into a bill, though, can they please call it the Minor Puppy Hugger Amendment?

Like your beer and wine and animals?  Share this with someone else who does and with your elected officials in Harrisburg.  Find yours here.

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This essay is only peripherally animal related and is born of my increasing frustration with the economic climate facing HSBC.  It’s a wee bit politically pointed, has some R rated links, and like an Oliver Stone movie it’s too long and completely self-indulgent, so if that’s going to irk you, please keeping surfing.  I think that counts as fair warning.

So, anyway.  I’m really tired of this economy.  I don’t mean that flippantly.  I am deeply weary of the “new normal” and the strain it has put on HSBC’s ability to undertake its mission. 

As the person who asks for the money we need, I cringe at having to constantly thank our donors on one hand for coming through better than ever and then on the other hand tell them we need more because of the giving and investment climate which has handed us such a pounding in the last couple years.  I feel sick that the way I have to balance our budget because of the drop off in some income as a result of the recession is to decrease our wage budget through attrition and ask the remaining staff to do more work, while not receiving raises in going on three years and cutting our contribution to their health insurance.

I know we should all be elated for the support we get from our donors, and we are.  I know we should all be grateful for the fact that we have health insurance and that we have jobs at all, and we are.  I know just how grateful we should be because we just had to lay off our first worker to close a very small gap in our budget.  It closed the shortfall but it was the very first strictly financial bloodletting we have had to do and I do not relish ensuring the stability of the rest of the staff on the back of one.  It is simply wearing on us.  I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir since it is only a very few who are doing vastly better right now than they were before and I doubt you are one of them.

It probably doesn’t help my mood that I’ve been listening particularly to one band and a genre lately.  They are The Kinks albums from the late seventies and American punk from the early and mid-eighties.  This music not only resonates today, it might have been precognitively written to suit of current national circumstances.

The Kinks “Low Budget” could just as well be an anthem for most families now.  The title track is about making do with less, wearing bargain clothes that don’t quite fit, and how “circumstance has forced our hands to be cut price people in a low budget land”.   Sounds familiar. A Gallon of Gas is about it being easier to buy drugs than fill your gas tank.  With an unintended consequence of defeating the Taliban being the massive increase of production of opium poppies, this seems right on target, too.  Catch Me Now I’m Falling is about America looking to the rest of the world, who we bailed out in the past, to help us.  And Pressure talks of the never ending pressure piling on everyone, every day.  It all sounds so familiar, despite being 30 years old.  I’m not making any value judgments, I’m just sayin’.

Of course, it also has Misery which is telling someone to stop being such a bummer, so maybe I should take the point all the way.

Too late now.  I’ve also been listing to several punk bands from the US, circa early/mid-eighties.  I’ve especially been listening to the Dead Kennedys, as well as other bands with even less tasteful and more vulgar band and song names.  The times they worked in called for a level of satirical vulgarity.  I’ll venture to say that our current times almost demand it.

Songs which seemed topical then seem prescient now.  DK lead singer Jello Biafra’s rants on big business control of the political system (Stars and Stripes of Corruption), the impact of war on children overseas (Chicken Farm), the shuttering of houses (This Could Be Anywhere), and the efforts by government and big business to balance their budget and make their earnings targets by limiting collective bargaining and discarding employees (Soup is Good Food), are freshly topical today.  And M.T.V. should still get of the air.  Again, I’m not making any value judgments, I’m just sayin’.

But what got me on this little rant of my own was some newly released data that showed the number of animals entering shelters and being euthanized in shelters has declined again.  That’s great news but it is amazing that the trend for animals looks better than the trend for the unemployed.  And it sometimes seems that there is more effort, energy and compassion being directed at pets than there is being directed at the working class in this nation. 

If animals have a sense of irony, I wonder if they’d say to us what Jello wrote in 1985, what we’ve been saying to animals for decades: “We’re sorry but you’re no longer needed or wanted or even cared about here.  How do you feel to be thrown out in the cold like a piece of trash?”  I hope they’d appreciate the irony that they have statistically more hope of being adopted now than a long time unemployed worker has of finding a good job.

In the same way I wonder why we ever have to euthanize a pet when so many people should know better and simply adopt rather than getting one from a pet store or choosing not to sterilize their pet, I wonder why our politicians seem to remain willfully ignore the recent causes of our recession and insist on recasting the problems and solutions in ways which are demonstrably false.  Listening to millionaires (and millionaire politicians) say that cutting their taxes further will create jobs when Warren Buffet already pays a lower rate than his secretary is like asking advice of puppy millers on how to solve the shelter euthanasia problem.  It is absurd.  In this case, I will make a value judgment.  Warren Buffet and hedge fund managers having a lower tax rate than their secretaries is not just wrong, it’s immoral.  Just sayin’.

The political slogans and jingo are about as useful as the simple minded slogans used by no kill dilettantes (who I believe differ from genuine no kill advocates) which sound good but lack real substance or proof.  And the ones who sling the jingo in both cases often seem to secretly be in bed with some mighty skeevie people.

But apparently slogans is all we will get because we all seem to act and vote against our own interests.  We succumb to the jingo and find ourselves in lock step with people who are clearly in it for themselves, not us, and then lambast those who actually trying to make a real, direct difference for us or the animals.  It is frustrating and bizarre behavior in both cases and it is so much less easy to ignore now that only the richest individuals and non-profits seem to be weathering all this unscathed.  And they damn sure aren’t looking out for us.

So, if your former steak and shrimp budget now only supports a sloppy joe and tuna lifestyle so that a Wall Street banker or politician can buy a little extra Kobe tartar and fresh Maine lobster, remember Jello’s advice:  “Soup is good food”.

And if you put an extra can of water in it, you can probably stretch it out for two meals.

Boy, I’ve got to start listening to happier music.

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I get forwarded lots of animal articles.  Pretty much daily I can count on getting at least one which involves some agitating reform group condemning some animal shelter somewhere.  Inevitably the condemnation revolves around the animal shelter in question euthanizing animals which shouldn’t be euthanized.  It is rare that I see one of these articles and don’t shake my head at the shallowness of the attacks.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think the states of most shelters in America and the entire U.S. animal welfare “system” are archaic and deplorable.  I routinely state that I think half the people in animal welfare should find other work because they are, at best, ill equipped and, at worst, very nearly criminally unqualified to do their jobs.  I think management of the majority of shelters is terrible, that health and welfare programs within most are sub-par, and that a culture of secrecy, defensiveness and cronyism blocks most meaningful change.

However, that doesn’t mean these “death row dog” groups, No Kill acolytes, and candle light vigil holders are correct in the reasoning of their attacks.  Nathan Winograd, the Dumbledore or Voldemort of animal welfare, depending on your personal view, beats the drum loudly that it is simple math and he is correct, in the most simplistic way.

He uses some simple math to show that there are more pets needed by the public than there are in shelters.  Therefore, simple math shows that no animals should be euthanized.  The death row acolytes then highlight all the animals euthanized for what they view to be questionable reasons: non-life threatening illnesses, behavioral problems, or even just no space.  Heck, you can even count on someone to protest if an animal is slated for euthanasia after killing a person.

Taken together, one could believe that there really is no reason for any animal to be euthanized in a shelter.  The logic goes that badly run shelters are euthanizing adoptable pets when simple math shows us there must be more homes looking for pets than there are animals needing homes in shelters.  Just do the math, stupid.

Except the math isn’t that simple.  People and animals aren’t numbers.

The simple math tells us something very different.  More animals enter shelters than are adopted, leading to lots of animals euthanized.  Some of these animals- some- face euthanasia due to entrenched, old school, better-dead-than-adopted-to-a-renter-or-at-Christmas, shelter thinking.  But most are euthanized for a simple reason.

People don’t want them.

People don’t want older pets.  They don’t want ones which pee on the furniture.  Or growl.  Or are this color or that color or this size or that size.  Math may be simple but people are complex.  You can do all the equations you want:  Ten people in a community need dogs.  Eight dogs enter a shelter.  10 – 8 = all the dogs adopted with room for more!

But the word problem is a little less simple:  Q: Ten people want to adopt a dog, all prefer a puppy, preferably not a pit bull.  Eight dogs enter a shelter.  Four are pit bulls, seven are not puppies, four have behavioral or health issues.  How many dogs get adopted?  A:  Depending on which one is the puppy and which ones have the health or behavioral problems, between one and four of the eight get adopted.  The rest get euthanized.

These advocates would say, “They should work more with rescues, make it easier to adopt, have more outreach.”  Yes, they should.  But HSBC literally gives away pets and we don’t have 100% adoption.  We pay for adoption billboards, have tons of outreach, have “One Penny Stray Adoptions”, give away free health care to adopted pets, have adoption retention programs, and we still can’t get every animal adopted.  Would we do more with more resources?  Yes!  Would it be better?  Yes! But better wouldn’t mean all and it never will.

People are fickle.  They want what they want and the reality is they don’t always want what’s in a shelter.  Don’t believe me?  Think about the amount of out of date food that gets thrown away in grocery stores.  The manufacturers have mathematicians, accountants and huge advertising budgets and they still have food which rots on shelves.

Or how about the simple fact that there are hoards of people wanting to adopt children yet there is still an unending supply of brown skinned non-infants sitting in orphanages and foster care for no other reason than those people want white or Asian infants, not a twelve year old black boy.  We leave orphan children to rot in America.  Why do death row dog advocates think we won’t do the same with a dog?

When these passionate animal advocates spend their time claiming simple math and working on absurd legislation rather than advocating for legal and animal health care service reforms which would allow us to be more like Great Britain and other nations which don’t have our animal euthanasia crisis, they just prolong and defer implementation of the solution.  They are well intentioned.  But so are the old guard sheltering people they demonize.

I don’t claim to have “the” solution.  I just know that most of “the” solutions being put out there aren’t as easy as 2 + 2 = 4.  People and animals aren’t numbers and the answers aren’t that simple.

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A supporter of the HSBC recently shared with me an exchange she had with someone who was, to put it mildly, not a fan of the Humane Society of Berks County.  After our supporter had waxed poetic (and we thank her) about the great things we do for animals, the “not fan” dismissed her assertions and then dismissed her personally with, “Well, they [HSBC] sure are good at fundraising!”  This was not intended to be a compliment. 

I’m not sure why the improvements we have made to our fundraising efforts over the past seven years are the stuff of an insult.  We’re proud not just of how we’ve improved our fundraising through the support of many, many more supporters than we’ve ever had, but we’re proud of the amazing, ground-breaking, nationally recognized work to help animals that increased fundraising has allowed us to undertake on our donors behalf.

But I want to object to the statement because I don’t believe it’s true.  We may be better at fundraising than we were or than some other charities- hardly a fact I would think would inspire boasting on their part- but I feel that we fail daily in our fundraising efforts. 

How do I know this?  Because every single day we face life and death decisions about animals and the services we can provide them based strictly on money.  Every single day I have to admit that if we had just raised one thousand, one hundred, or one dollar more, I might have empowered our staff and volunteers to save one more animal- or ten more, or one hundred more.  For that reason, I am a failure at fundraising.  A complete and utter failure.

Like any charitable non-profit right now, I can come up with lots of excuses.  The economy is terrible.  Berks County has a much lower per capita income than neighboring counties.  The stock market has destroyed the value of the trusts established to fund our work.  The good health and long life this year of our friends means that the money we rely on from wills and estates has come in a 3% of our previously worst year in the modern history of our 110 year old organization.  We toast your health, but seriously, three percent- or $90,000 lower than our worst year ever- makes it really, really hard to keep to on track with our budget.

We don’t have a big endowment to fall back on.  We don’t have multi-hundred thousand dollar animal control contracts.  We rely on sensible budgeting, sound management, and conscientious staff – and we do have exceptionally good staff- to make do with what we have.  These efforts are reflected in our four star rating and recognition as an outstanding charity by both nationally known, independent, charity analysis organizations.  And, yes, we rely on our fundraising efforts.  Guilty as charged there.

But this year we were forced to limit or decrease the vet care we provided to pets of those who lost their jobs, their health, and their homes because I couldn’t raise enough money.  The result?  Many of those animals were given up because their caring and devoted owners couldn’t afford to treat them.  This year I made decision after decision not to provide the care that could save an injured animal’s life just because I had to face the fact that the money we had on hand would save ten others with lesser injuries if we didn’t save that one.  The result?  Animals were euthanized which could have been saved if I had just managed to find the extra money.  We couldn’t provide as many parvo vaccinations to prevent the annual outbreaks in Reading.  We couldn’t help in other counties during emergencies because we needed to ration our resources here.  We couldn’t, we couldn’t, we couldn’t.  Why?  Because I didn’t.  I didn’t make a compelling enough case to our supporters, to you, to open your wallets and purses once more or to give a little more. 

It wasn’t because I and the HSBC were too good that we faced these realities.  It was because we weren’t good enough.  Being better than we were seven years ago or than some other charity just isn’t good enough.

Yesterday I got an article forwarded to me about a Humane Society in California which just opened a new shelter that cost twenty five million dollars.  Right now I’m behind the scenes scrambling and begging to see if we can convince our donors to pony an extra half million- one fiftieth what they raised in California- to allow us to finally demolish and rebuild our pound of an old dog kennel at our Reading shelter.  In that article someone said, “A community gets the humane society it deserves.”  I ask myself how I can make that happen here.

Someone also recently offered a compliment- at least I took it that way- by saying we were certainly good at being direct.  So, I’ll be direct:  Dollars save lives.  More dollars save more lives.  People give money.  More people give more money.  And most people can give more money than they do.

We- HSBC and the animals and people we help- need you to give, to give more, and to get others to join you.  We can’t do what we’ve done in the past, let alone what needs to be done today and in the future without that support.

If you planed on giving later in the year, please consider giving now.  If you planning on making a certain sized donation, please try to make it bigger.  If you are registered for our Walk but not raising pledges funds, please try to raise $200, $20, heck, $2 extra.  Please tell your friends about us.  If you can adopt, please adopt.  If not, please forward our adoption promotions.  Pretty please.

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The bulwark against celebrity misdeeds, TMZ, recently broke a pathetic story.  Steven Seagal, long denied the Oscar he so richly deserves, has been shooting his new reality TV show.  The working titles include “Steven Seagal: Has Been”, “Steven Seagal: Never Was”, and “Steven Seagal: Look At Me! Look At Me!  Won’t Someone Please Look At Me?”  It features Seagal as a volunteer sheriff’s deputy or lawman or something proving that he’s just as tough in real life as he is in the movies.

Steven Seagal. Oh, and he's a "musician", too. I bet he can crush those hammer ons.

According to TMZ, he proved how tough he was by driving a tank into the home of a cockfight suspect during a bust organized by Sheriff and first rate media whore, Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona.  You know, the guy who makes convicts dress in pink and has never met a brown skinned person he hasn’t suspected of entering the country illegally.  George Hamilton doesn’t even fly over Maricopa County.

On an ironic aside, doesn’t Sheriff Joe seem just like every self-important local sheriff in every Seagal-esque movie who is either corrupt, turns a blind eye to trouble, or trumps up charges against the world weary drifter, probably played by Steven Seagal?

Anyway, during this raid General Seagal’s tank apparently crushed one hundred roosters and the suspect’s pet puppy.  Now that’s a tough guy.

The suspect was in all likelihood guilty as sin.  He had hundreds of roosters on his property.  My family recently got a dozen hens and when one turned out to be a rooster, we couldn’t find a new home fast enough.  Several hundred roosters?  Oh, yeah- the suspect had also been convicted of attendance at a cock fight.  We know what he was doing, so no sympathy there.

I’ll set aside the seriously suspect nature of all of those “real life” cop shows, animal related or otherwise, which can’t possibly lead to good policing and have more to do with PR and money, two things which Sheriff Joe seems to covet.  We’ll even set aside how truly ridiculous it is to pretend a minor celebrity leading the charge in a tank has anything to do with reality, let alone real police work.

But it’s bad enough when police are serving warrants unrelated to animal cruelty and end up killing animals on the scene.  How ridiculous is it when the police and their doughy celebrity bro are serving an animal cruelty warrant and crush a hundred of the rosters they are there to “save” and a puppy.  With a TANK!

It turns out that Seagal and I have something in common other than our catlike grace and love of comfort foods.  On a radio interview he said that animal cruelty was one of his “peeves”.  Me, too!  We may have been separated at birth after all.

Of course, I’ve never saved a bunch of animals by running them over with a tank.  If this is how he rescues animals from cruelty, let us pray he never serves a warrant in order to save animals from bestiality.

P.S.  Since “crush videos” are considered obscenity and are illegal, will they even be able to air this footage?  What a jackass.  And perhaps a pornographer?

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