Monday, February 23, 2015

Newsflash! The Genie is Out of the Bottle

If you pay any attention to social media posts on animal welfare issues you will have noticed that in the last couple of months there has been a flurry of activity regarding freedom of speech and volunteer rights.  Everything from watching an ex-employee spill the beans on the goings on behind the PETA killing machine, to the volunteer handbooks trying to stymie free speech and volunteer's rights, to a court decision in Maryland that protects the rights of volunteers to speak out when they see something wrong. 

Social media has made it increasing easy for people to share their concerns and opinions. Social media has also allowed the general public to access the most current information available. The information is being shared amongst interested parties with the click of the button. We now have volunteers who may know more about life-saving methods than shelter staff, management and board members (I recently had a conversation with a shelter director who had never attended an animal welfare conference or picked up a magazine to read an article.  She was in a time warp, still operating in her 1980's model of animal sheltering). 

We also now have volunteers and members of the public who understand that they have a right to know where their tax dollars and donations go and are demanding statistics and information by filing Freedom of Information requests.  They are then distributing the information they acquire through social media. Pretty much a good thing isn't it? The more that we can expose the under performing shelters, the more lives that can be saved. 

I have to say that I find it more than mildly amusing to watch micromanaging shelter directors trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Changing volunteer handbooks, trying to stymie free speech, not permitting photos (even to the point of not allowing volunteers to bring their cell phones to the shelter).  Yes, let's treat our volunteers like toddlers. That's a good way to motivate them. 

Their first attempt to stuff the genie back in the bottle is to discredit a volunteer's concern by labelling them "disgruntled" or "troublesome".  Are there truly "troublesome" volunteers and employees? Of course there are. But they are a very small minority. I don't think anyone can deny that 99% of people that sign up to volunteer in animal welfare do so because they want to help animals. When you hear the same complaints from more than one or two people, it's a big red flag that something is wrong. 

The second attempt to stuff the genie back in the bottle is a shelter director who tries to  to make the volunteers feel guilty about voicing their concerns by saying "This isn't helping the animals.  We all need to work together to achieve our goals."   

So what's a shelter director to do?  Here's my advice. Poof! Let it go. The genie's out of the bottle. Don't waste time trying to stuff it back in. Don't waste time trying to keep control. Focus on saving lives. Focus on being the most transparent, compassionate, volunteer-embracing shelter possible. Listen to your volunteers. Ask for their input. Acknowledge their concerns. Listen to their ideas. Empower them to take leadership roles.  And then see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised!

The following quote is from a little book that I keep on my bookshelf called Minute Motivators for Leaders by Stan Toler.  His words sum it up nicely: 

"The greatest barrier to effective leadership is the desire to control others.  Tight control breeds low morale and ineffective performance among team members.  Micromanagement stifles the creativity and natural ability that teammates bring to a project.  Good leaders know that more is accomplished by empowering others than by commanding them. ... Motivation, encouragement, inspiration, support - these are the weapons of the greatest generals.  They don't rigidly manage their troops. Instead, they motivate them to achieve the mission.  Leaders give power to the people."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Honesty is the Best Policy

I was recently chatting with a new acquantaince about her quest to adopt a dog. She doesn't know me well and was busy telling me her exciting news so I didn't interrupt. I just listened. She told me that she was considering adopting a dog from a rescue that brings 100% of their dogs from the south because (and her eyes got as wide as saucers) they KILL dogs in the south. Wasn't that horrifying? They kill dogs in the shelters in the south so this rescue swoops in, transports them north, and finds them homes. Wasn't that wonderful? And she was going to do her part, by saving an animal that would have surely been killed in the shelter. 

When she finally took a breath, I asked her if she knew that dogs were killed right here in Wisconsin also.  In fact, we have shelters that are still killing half of the animals that come in their doors. She gasped and sputtered and shook her head in disbelief. Noooooo..... it couldn't be so.  She only saw nice things on the TV news about Wisconsin shelters. 

Petsmart Charities recently released a study (you can read it in it's entirety by clicking here) that 85% of the public underestimate how many animals are killed in shelters each year.  This woman was clearly part of that 85%. 

Milwaukee Animal Alliance publishes the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) stats monthly because unless people know that there is a problem in Milwaukee County, they will not be inspired to help.  In fact, they may choose to shop rather than adopt OR adopt from out of state rather than a shelter or rescue that helps our local animals.  Critics of MAA feel that the statistics should not be posted. Rather, they prefer  a "Move on, there's nothing to see here" attitude.  Which has clearly not been in the best interest of Milwaukee County's animals in the past.  

Only by shining a spotlight on the reality of the facts and figures will the public become aware so that more lives can be saved. Sorry, critics.  You can't have it both ways. Honesty is always the best policy. 

Oh, and by the way. She adopted a local dog. 

I find that when you open the door toward openness and transparency, a lot of people will follow you through. - Kirsten Gillibrand

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Smoke and Mirrors - 2014 Version

I've blogged about the deceptive phrases and language used by Wisconsin shelters in the past. A few years have gone by and although there has been some progress, there is still a long ways to go.

Here are  statements from two Wisconsin animal shelters that show their intent to deceive the public about their practices:

This is a screenshot from the Fox Valley Humane Association website:
Here are the statistics for the years 2011 thru 2013 from the same website:

Sauk County Humane Society seems to have the Pinocchio syndrome also:

In a statement to the public they recently said: 

Yet their 2014 statistics year to date show this: 

As shown in Purple, only 10% of shelter animals are "unadoptable". Is your shelter saything they are saving all "adoptable" pets yet still killing more than 10% of their population? Then something doesn't add up. All healthy, treatable and manageable pets should be saved and national research has shown that this amounts to about 90% of shelter animals.  Here is a graph from the Center for Shelter Dogs: 

Year-end giving is fast approaching. Please only donate to shelters who are being truthful and who mirror your beliefs. These are YOUR community's animals. They deserve better.

Follow these two Facebook pages and support the changes they are trying to bring to their communities:

He who permits himself to tell a lie once finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual.  - Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Join the Believers

In a follow up to my last blog post, here is the reverse side of the signs at the Best Friends National Conference.  Just like with the Ignore the Naysayers side, these were very inspiring. Please share them with anyone who still says that No Kill is impossible. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ignore the Naysayers

It was a long, long corrider in the Rio Hotel and Casino to the meeting rooms where the Best Friends National Conference was being held. (I have learned to pack sensible shoes). The highlight of the hike was these wonderful signs that inspired and delighted everyone. I was posting them on Facebook and Twitter and I had a request to put them all in one place.  The pics were snapped with my phone so please ignore my bad photography skills. One side of each sign featured an "Ignore the Naysayers" message.  The other side had a "Join the Believers" message. I'll put those in a separate blog post.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Managing a PR Crisis - Update

I'm home from the Best Friends National Conference with, as usual, a boatload of information stuffed into every nook and cranny in my brain. Since I had just blogged on the topic of Damage Control I wanted to share this oh-so-timely slide from one of the sessions I attended on public relations for your animal welfare organization.

As you can see, none of these bullet points were addressed in the situation with Jim at the Elmbrook Humane Society. You can follow this link back to his story.

Since Elmbrook Humane Society has had a good reputation for life-saving in the past, I truly hope they will take heed of these tips, find Jim a wonderful new home and get quickly back on track.

The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour. ~Japanese Proverb

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What Jim's Story Can Teach Us About Damage Control and the No Kill Movement

UPDATE (February 21, 2015)
I have been on vacation but I wanted to make sure that I updated this story to give credit where credit was due.  As many of you know, through no fault of his own, Jim was designated a "vicious animal" by Waukesha County.  Due to much public pressure, Elmbrook Humane Society did the right thing and went to bat for Jim.  On February 2 Elmbrook announced that they had reached an agreement with Waukesha County and the vicious animal declaration has been removed. Many other shelters in Wisconsin would have killed Jim without a second thought, so Elmbrook Humane Society really needs to be commended on their actions.

 Here is the rest of the update from the EBHS Facebook page:

"We are very excited to share that we have reached an agreement with Waukesha County regarding Jim – they have removed the vicious animal declaration placed on him! Additionally, there will not be a hearing on February 16.

Jim will remain at EBHS and is currently available for adoption, but not physically on our adoption floor as we remain extra cautious for him. Our established staff and volunteer Jim team will continue to provide him the care and enrichment that has kept him mentally, emotionally, and physically well.

What does Jim’s future home entail? He needs an experienced owner, someone who has owned dogs before, able to manage a strong dog, and savvier than Jim. He needs a home without children or with children above the age of 12 due to his strength and playful nature. He needs a home that can demonstrate that they have homeowner’s insurance that will provide for him. And, finally, he needs a home that will be patient, kind, and love him for the wonderful dog he is!

If you are interested in adopting Jim or considering him for placement into your rescue organization and can ensure the criteria above is met, please contact us or stop in to complete an adoption application and meet the big guy!
Here is Jim enjoying his very own winter coat to help keep him warm when outside."

I'm writing this from the 2014 Best Friends National Conference.  I'm sitting in a coffee shop catching up on emails and watching with interest as the situation regarding Jim, a dog at Elmbrook Humane Society, unfolds back home.  Jim, a 5 month old mixed breed puppy, originally from MADACC, was pulled by Elmbrook Humane Society (EBHS) in late 2013.  Elmbrook, a medium-sized shelter that is saving over 90% of animals, has been considered the golden opportunity in the last few years as a ticket to freedom and a new life. But due to a lack of a robust foster and marketing program, Jim languished in the shelter and has been there almost a year.   Now, a series of unfortunate incidents for which Jim can not be faulted (inappropriate puppy mouthing) has put his life in jeopardy.  So Jim who is a goofy, dopey loving young dog (according to all that know and have worked with him) has a "bite" history and an uncertain future.
But this blog isn't about Jim.  If you want to see Jim's story you can go to the SAVE JIM Facebook page that was hastily put up this week in an attempt to bring exposure to his situation and possibly save his life. The page quickly gained over 400 followers.

This blog is about a new breed of volunteers and animal lovers no longer willing to sit idly by as the shelters they support regress backwards instead of moving forward.  This blog is also about damage control (a topic that I blogged about once before) and the lessons that could be learned. You need only watch what major successful brands do when they are in a pickle (which EBHS is).  EBHS needs to get quickly back on track to saving lives (something they are generally very good at).

Elmbrook gets five brownie points for acknowledging the situation in a Facebook post (pictured above) that they put up on Tuesday in response to the uproar about Jim.  But then they lose five points each for missing the boat on the following items.

1. Thank the public for their input (not admonish them for not getting the facts straight). Admit that they have failed Jim not once, not twice, not three times, but four times by their handling of his situation.

2.  Apologize for their mistakes.

3. Outline their plan for how they will rectify these mistakes.

4. Assure the public that this will never happen again. Then, thank the public for their support and encourage their continued involvement with their brand. 

That's called damage control and it is sadly lacking in Jim's story.

If you read the EBHS statement it reeks strongly of "We'll decide what's best for Jim, and you, Joe General Public, should just go away and mind your own business."

Elmbrook, and all of the shelters that operate with this type of mindset, had better open their minds and eyes to the 21st century.  The public is fed up.  These are THEIR community's animals, supported by THEIR tax dollars and donations.  Social media has made it easier than ever for people to connect, build "tribes" of like-minded participants, and apply public pressure to the institutions which think they hold all the power.

This is social change. And if shelters think they can operate the way they did five or ten years ago, they are in for a nasty surprise.  Thank you to all of you who are speaking out for the Jim's of America.  

I'll leave you today with this quote from one of the conference boards.  Remember, someone also thought the light bulb was going to fail.  Just like the light bulb, the No Kill movement is here to stay.  Embrace it and together we can Save Them All.