Back in October, Lorrie attended Best Friend’s Animal Society's 2013 No More Homeless Pets Conference and when she returned, she was so energized and enthusiastic about it, I asked if she would be interested in sharing her experience here on the blog. I am beyond thrilled that she agreed.
Trust That We Can "Save Them All"
by Lorrie Browne
|Lorrie with her crew: |
Roxie, Brewster and Gunther
Since then, we have enjoyed great conversations about our pups, training methods, pharmaceuticals, our patient families and the trials and tribulations of fearful dogs, animal rescue and advocacy.
I got involved in rescue a few years ago. My dear Emma, a soulful and intuitive VizslaWeimer, had recently passed and our house was eerily quiet. While I knew I couldn't replace her, I ached for the daily routine of caring for a dog, so I took to the internet, in search of a dog in need of a good home. We adopted Roxie, a sweet but shy Weimaraner who'd spent the first 6 years of her life being bred in Kentucky. They were done with her and if a rescue didn't take her, they were going to kill her along with 5 other dogs. She needed a new home and our hearts needed healing. She has blossomed into a wonderful companion.
This set me on a path I wouldn't trade it for the world.
The plight of homeless dogs shocked me. I jumped in to help and this turned into a couple of years of being deeply entrenched in dog rescue. I saw the cycle from beginning to end and dedicated myself to observing, learning and trying to make things better. Dogs took over my life.
I dreamt about them, talked about them constantly and was always trying to solve some problem. Reading, researching and taking classes on Maddie's Fund, the ASPCA and the Humane Society sites. I wanted to bring all these best practices to our rescue. While it was highly rewarding and filled a place deep in my soul, it soon became exhausting and I felt like I was on a treadmill, running at a pace that I couldn't keep up much longer.
Recently, I've taken a step back to consider how I can best advocate on animals' behalf. While rescue is very necessary work - and I am grateful for every donor, vet, volunteer, board member, transporter, foster and employee who does it - it's basically cleaning up the mess that society creates.
Instead, I wanted to search further up the chain and see what I could do to prevent these problems from happening in the first place. I wanted to gain more knowledge and hear the perspective of others who've been doing this work for years and have proven methods and data to share before moving forward.
So, this past October I attended the Best Friend’s Animal Society 2013 Conference in Jacksonville Florida. I’d heard it was "THE" conference to attend but nothing prepared me for the information and inspiration I was about to receive. I signed up, got the last hotel room at the special rate (good omen :) but then the hard part began - figuring out what classes to attend!
The conference is 4 days long and offers over 50 classes on 8 different tracks including:
You can mix and match any combination of classes you like and there's no no commitment. You can choose up to the minute the class starts. I met shelter directors, volunteers, foster parents, shelter employees, transporters, vets, vendors, fundraisers, board members and advocates. 1500 people from around the world - the furthest participant from Australia.
Saving Them All: Reaching Out to Help the Most Vulnerable
Animal Advocacy: Speaking Up for the Their Lives
Adoption and Fostering: Finding Good Homes for Pets
Fixing the Problem: The Spay/Neuter Solution
Technology: Your Computer to the Rescue
Since I've been working on an ordinance in my village to ban puppy stores and I'd like to help our county shelter improve, I focused on the "Animal Advocacy" and "Saving Them All" tracks and also took a course on Surrender Prevention. Each class offered a wealth of information and insight from the presenters as well as the attendees.
Most sessions left time for Q&A which was informative as well as therapeutic. Anyone who's devoted time to animal rescue/sheltering knows it can be frustrating and overwhelming. We've all got a story... or 2... or 10.
There were 1/2 hour breaks in between the sessions that flew by as I chatted with the most recent friend who I felt I could help or they me. I was surprised that the conference offered information for everyone from the person rescuing one dog at a time in their backyard to someone running a 200 animal facility. And everyone received equal respect and support. The focus was not only on the challenges we face; it was also a huge celebration of how far we've come in the world of animal advocacy. And that's something we rarely take the time to recognize.
I left the conference feeling optimistic and empowered.
The key word for me is "Trust" and this is what its boils down to:
Every rescue and shelter has different standards, fees and tests they’d like their adopters to pass. On the whole, public shelters have low fees and very few requirements. Some private rescues swing far in the opposite direction: home-visits, only allowing you to adopt if all your pets are neutered, not adopting to families with children or those that rent.
With 4 million healthy, adoptable pets being killed in shelters each year, we are not going to close the gap by interrogating people. As Dr. Ellen Jefferson from Austin Pets Alive put it:
We have to trust that people are going to do the right thing and most do given the chance. It's important that we address instances of animal cruelty but remember, those situations are the exception, not the rule. Most people love their pets and would do most anything to keep them happy and healthy.
The rescue I was with did home visits for nearly 2,000 dogs per year and I was never convinced this was necessary. Some home visit volunteers were easily impressed by nice homes and neighborhoods and some adopters lost interest when the home visit took too long. Anyone can put on a show when they want something. I have a friend who is a huge rescuer/advocate tell me she gave her sister's address when she adopted her first dog. She was renting a place without a yard and feared she'd be turned down, yet her animals are treated like royalty.
If you keep a dog in your rescue another week because the home visit has not occurred, that is a spot that could have been given to a dog in a kill shelter. Do the work on the front end. You can usually call their vet on the spot or verify they own their home. Ask about their lifestyle and match them with the best possible pet. Inform them of specific breed traits. Make it clear that you are there for support and if it doesn't work out, the animal is welcome to return and their adoption fee will be refunded. It really comes down this: Do you want to trust people or let animals die in kill shelters?
I am aware the home-visit topic may spark a flurry of comments and I welcome the discussion.
Trust Fellow Rescues/Rescuers (to a point)
We all have a different approach to everything we do in life. Who says yours is the only way? I've heard harsh criticism about how this rescue/shelter or that one is being run. You can have an opinion but don’t harp on it and don’t use your energy to tear others down.
Find an organization whose approach and values align with your own and jump in. If that changes over time, move onto another or start your own. Time and energy spent criticizing others is done at the expense of animals being killed. I took a great class called "Getting Along without Going Along" that addressed situations like this.
But if you have a real concern for the welfare of the animals then help them improve or officially report it and follow up. That may be your contribution. The point is that you cannot effectively rescue animals and police other organizations at the same time. Choose your battles for maximum effectiveness and aim to be objective.
Trust That We Can "Save Them All"
The Call to Action at the conference was "Save Them All". Imagine that, when we've often been told by others that "we can't save them all!" I know I've had rough days when I used that phrase to convince myself I'd done everything I could - but deep down inside, I didn't buy it and neither does Best Friends Animal Society. Here are some statistics that may blow your mind - for better and for worse.
Thirty years ago, in 1983, 11 million dogs and cats were being killed in shelters each year. It was a horrific situation. Sure, there were always people saving and adopting animals but they were in the minority and most people weren't even aware a problem existed. The founders of Best Friends Animal Society, decided it had to stop. They set out to unite people and create a more humane world and so far, they are doing an awesome job.
Today, 4 million healthy, adoptable animals are dying in shelters each year. While this remains tragic, it's a nearly 75% decrease in animals killed in the past 30 years. With animal consciousness rising, social media and pets now treated as family, imagine what we could do in the next 10 years? The gap is closing and it's an exciting time to be an animal lover and advocate.
It does require an investment to attend the conference. There's travel, hotel and the conference fee was $325. Breakfast and lunch were included. The conference fee itself is a great deal compared to conferences I've attended in other industries. I don't know that I will be attending every year but it's certainly worth a spot on your bucket list and if you can swing it, a trip every few years.
They are an innovative group that not only runs an awesome rescue and sanctuary but they pay it forward. They know that exponential growth is powerful and that by teaching others, they expand their reach. To be surrounded by a group of like-minded people for such a wonderful cause created an energy I've rarely felt. So if you've been on the fence, it's time to make the trip! Attending this conference will empower you with knowledge, confidence and renewed dedication and you will help save more lives. Does it get any better than that?
Here’s a FREE link to all the PowerPoint presentations from the 2012 and 2013 Best Friends' conferences. You can also order the full audio and PDFs for $89.95. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter and they will keep you informed about the 2014 conference in Las Vegas.
Lorrie Browne is a dedicated animal advocate who became highly active in dog rescue shortly after adopting her Weimaraner, Roxie, who had spent the first 6 years of her life as a puppy mill mom. As a Board Member and volunteer, she has been highly involved in the areas of animal care, adoption, shelter systems, veteran adoption programs, website administration and fundraising. More recently, she is focusing on a local ordinance to prevent puppy stores in her town and the Best Friends Animal Society movement to "Save Them All." By day, Lorrie is an interior designer and lives in South Florida, with her very supportive husband Tim, Roxie the Weim and Gunther & Brewster - the 2 "foster" dogs who never left.
Did you know New Hampshire is essentially a 'no-kill' state? Do you "trust" it's possible on a larger scale? Are you willing to try? Are you already working towards it in your city/state/province? Share your stories and ideas in the comments. -- Leslie