Monday, January 6, 2014

Trust That We Can "Save Them All"

I am so pleased to share a guest post with you today written by my new friend, Lorrie Browne. Lorrie will explain how we met but I wanted to just quickly give you an idea as to why I asked her to speak to you today.

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.
-- Leslie

Trust That We Can "Save Them All"
by Lorrie Browne

Lorrie with her crew:
Roxie, Brewster and Gunther
Bella's mom and I became friends as a result of us both being moms of Scaredy Dogs - her Bella and my Brewster. Late one night after my rain & thunder phobic pup (Yes, I said rain! I live in the tropics and Brewster is afraid of rain!) had worn himself out, and my husband was asleep along with our 2 other dogs, there I sat, on the cold bathroom floor (his "safe" place), wide awake with my iPad, searching for kindred souls. I stumbled on her awesome blog, "Bringing up Bella" and instantly felt less alone.

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:
  • 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
  • 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.

    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:
    Trust Adopters

    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:

    "If 10 dogs are drowning and I am trying to save them all, I am not going to ask the people standing on the shore with open arms if they've had their home visit."

    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


    1. I wish I could bring every buddy home

    2. Thank you for writing this, Lorrie. It's a great post with a lot of good information in it.

      Re: the idea of "trusting adopters", ordinarily I would be the first in line to jump up and defend the rules many rescues put in place - it's a defensive stance for many of us who volunteer our time and try to the best we can. But you didn't make me feel defensive this time and that's a big deal.

      I do know why some rescues knee-jerk their response to certain situations but I think they also need to learn to be flexible and realize that most people who are coming to them are doing so because they want to help a dog in need. And that alone should go a long way into assessing the adopter's potential to be a good pet parent.

      Thanks for getting the point across in a positive and productive way.

    3. I hope someday all dogs and cats will have a wonderful home.

    4. Pamela | Something WaggingJanuary 7, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      Bravo! Thanks for sharing the key takeaway of the importance of trust.

      I'm very lucky to foster for an awesome open admission, no-kill shelter. And the greatest lesson I've learned from working with the staff and other volunteers is that we can get a lot more done when we trust other people who love dogs. It may not result in perfection but it certainly saves a lot more animals.

      And many of us who weren't "good enough" to adopt a rescue become good enough because we love our animals enough to learn more and get better.

      Thanks for sharing the PPT links. I've bookmarked them to enjoy later.

    5. "Trust the adopters" totally struck a cord with me. We fostered a mini Aussie that wasn't right for our family. A friend of mine and her family came to meet him with their rescued doxie mix and they got along well and the family loved him. She filled out the application and was turned down because she had a smaller dog and the mini Aussie "might kill the small dog". The mini Aussie was a big mushy lover boy. I was so upset! Now I understand why this rescue group has had the same dogs in foster care for 6 months!

      I think it is SO awesome that you went to this conference. BFAS is one of my favorites and I dream of the day I can visit their facility in Utah :) Thanks for sharing all of the info with us and for all of the work you do!

    6. Thank you all for opening your minds and offering your support. Animal rescue and advocacy can sometimes be a a lonely and difficult path. We are stronger together than we could ever be acting singly. Keep up the great work everyone!

    7. The world in general would be a much better place if we'd all look at it with a less jaundiced eye. Your point that most people are good, kind-hearted, and just want to help a dog is right on. It would be a tragedy for a dog to accidentally be placed in a bad situation, but it's also a tragedy that so many pets are killed waiting for an "acceptable" home. I use myself as an example - I doubt many rescues would allow me to adopt a dog considering I live and travel full-time in an RV. However, my German Shepherd and Shar-pei want for nothing, get more exercise than most dogs that have fenced yards, and get to sniff the country as we travel. Does not having a house or a yard make me a bad dog owner? I think not ... but many rescues wouldn't trust me with one of their dogs.

    8. Thank you for this post. Sometimes it's difficult for people to understand why rescue groups charge such high fees and have so many requirements. But I've found that the rescue group we adopted our dogs from are very wise and through their experience they know what is best for the dogs. They've helped us make the right choices and even once a rescue didn't work out for us. Thankfully his foster adopted him. I know that people who work in rescue are often stressed emotionally because they can't "save them all."

    9. This is such an excellent post and thank you for sharing! I believe that trust is something so important that all dog lovers need to have in order for everyone to work together and truly help make a difference in the lives of all dogs.

    10. Trusting adopters is something that a lot of places around here need to do more of. A few of them have reputations of requiring people to have golden fences before they can adopt. It rarely happens that there's an adopter good enough for them.

    11. Many rescues mean well with their standards. They want the best for the animals that they've put their heart, soul and funds into. They get positive feedback from the adopters and this confirms their feelings; they've done the right thing. But many of them aren't basing these rules on much of anything. They are doing what they've always done. No yearly reviews, no serious looks at statistics. But what they are failing to consider are the dogs who never made it into their limited admission rescue. If they looked at those stats, they may change their point of view. And to be clear, I am not suggesting quantity over quality, I am suggesting that they may have to consider that a quality home takes many forms.

    12. Thank you so much for sharing the links to the conference presentations! I've been wanting to attend but finances have kept me from being able to. I want to start an organization that helps keep pets in their homes so the information will be so useful.

    13. It's great that you're starting in your own home court-- banning puppy sales in your town, not your county, not your state. As the saying goes, "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step." Maybe one year you'll be the presenter at one of the classes at the conference!

    14. What a great piece Lorrie! Now I want to attend one of their conferences! I would love to learn from them and other experts.

      I thought it was interesting that they promoted trusting people over doing a home visit every time. I have volunteered in both a shelter environment (over 8 years) and with a rescue ( over 2 years) and have seen both sides to that one. I have seen many an animal come back to our shelter in worse shape than when they left, but not as many as were adopted out. In our small brteed-specific rescue we conduct home visits with every dog and do a phone interview and reference check. I know that it might not work for everyone, but I have to say that it has worked for us. I have never seen a dog returned to us that was in worse shape or ill-treated. We also don't get many back and end up adopting out more over time. But then again, we specialize in a specific breed. I think that allows us to be more diligent. Very interesting food for thought.

    15. Wow, that "trust adopters" really hits home for me. Two years ago, my ex and I were dying to adopt the sweetest little puggle girl. We failed their application process and never even got to a home visit. Why? I work full time and Kolchak isn't neutered and Felix isn't up to date on vaccinations. What the rescue didn't ask and wouldn't listen to when we tried to tell them? My MIL lived with us and and was home full time, Kol isn't neutered due to a breathing issue that makes putting him under a dangerous proposition and Felix has terrible vaccinosis reactions. All these choices have been endorsed and supported by my vet. Casa de Kolchak is a fricking HAVEN for dogs...but I'm unfit and if I am unfit, then there is no hope for a lot of good dogs that just want a home, regular meals and a human to love.

    16. Thanks for sharing your experience Lorrie, and also to Leslie for presenting this topic. I've been in animal welfare for two decades and have seen a lot of changes in that time. Trust is key to driving more adoptions and improving the public perception of shelters. When you lead with trust, you don't project suspicion, anger, or behaviors that generally irk and drive away potential adopters.

      Shelters are not ACC and I know this is not about modeling their adoption practices, so asking questions to make a suitable match is always a good idea. I think having a good attitude toward the general public, weaving questions into your conversation in a natural way so you're not coming off as an interrogator, even if you're recording their responses on your form, goes a very long way to building a good reputation and relationship for your shelter/rescue with that person, whether they adopt or not. Absolutely we cannot afford to have 1 shelter or rescue refuse an adoption candidate because they don't have a fenced yard!! I'm glad for this conference and any other measures that offer the education and support that continues to professionalize this industry. Thanks so much for sharing =)

    17. Pamela | Something WaggingJanuary 8, 2014 at 5:53 AM

      There has also been some interesting research that finds that introductions to existing family dogs in the shelter don't predict whether the dogs will get along in the home. Patricia McConnell was talking about it on her blog.

      We have to remember that not everything that makes sense to us actually works in the real world. And to rely on science when we're trying to figure out what works to give the best lives to dogs and their humans.

      There's a webinar on the subject tomorrow. Here's a link to McConnell's piece:

    18. Pamela | Something WaggingJanuary 8, 2014 at 5:57 AM

      Our local shelter is the first open admission, no kill shelter facility in the U.S. So they've done some thought about this.

      They do not do home visits for adoptions. But they're real hard asses about getting landlord permission. In our area with a low rate of homeownership and lots of transients, that's the biggest issue.

      As a matter of fact, my foster dog is going on a field trip tomorrow to actually meet a landlord so he'll give his permission for her adoption.

      And that's what I think is important here--knowing the issues in your community and working with what you got, not with the situations from another state.

      Home visits might be vital in one situation because of local culture. And considerably less important in another.

    19. Pamela | Something WaggingJanuary 8, 2014 at 5:58 AM

      That's a terrible story. But who would want to enter into a relationship with a rescue organization unable to have a simple back and forth conversation with you?

      I hope that little puggle did find a "fit" home.

    20. Great info and great links with lots of resouces - thanks for sharing!
      I love the "save them all" message - it's easy to feel morally defeated when trying to make a difference.

    21. Fantastic info! Thanks so much! I will be sharing the infographic on my blog.

    22. I'm so sorry, Jodi. I understand that some rescues are trying to be careful but when careful turns into obstinate, everybody loses. :(

    23. Thank you very much Pamela! The trainer from Austin Pets alive talked about this very thing. Even with the best assessments, dogs can act far different and often much better once they are settled in a home. With all the animals we are trying to save, the last thing we want to do is judge them prematurely!

    24. Very good points Pamela! Animals help us rise the occasion. I was a one dog person for many years and now I have three including one that was reactive another with severe storm anxiety. At times it's been challenging but I have learned a lot am proud to share with others.

    25. Thank you for the complement! Nothing replaces good care, medically and behaviorally, whether it's in a shelter or with a foster. But when it's time to find them a good home, they can take many forms!

    26. Amy, it sounds like your dogs have a wonderful life. Not the typical home but lucky them! We have foxhound who needs TONS of exercise and yet we have a small yard. Our solutions? Miles and miles running next to my husband's bicycle. He loves it and it helps his behavior as well since he has to be focused.

    27. I am glad you have a good relationship with the rescue you adopted from. The fees are usually just a drop in the bucket compared to what is spent to get the animal healthy and vaccinated. Down here in Florida so many dogs come in with Heartworm Disease and that's a $600 treatment if all goes well. I always talked to adopters about the fact that they could pay a breeder thousands and the dog wouldn't' be spayed or neutered! It's all a matter of perception and what you want to support.

    28. That's wonderful Dawn! All the best to you and don't forget to look at the ASPCA, Humane Society and Maddie's Fund websites. They have a wealth of information! Good luck!

    29. I have some very good news on this front! I received confirmation yesterday that he first reading of the ordnance will be next week. Everyone keep their fingers crossed! I appreciate the support!

    30. Pamela and Mel, thank you for sharing two very different paths with the same goal in mind.
      Mel, I also was involved in a breed specific rescue for Weimaraners and as most know, this breed can be a handful if their adopter doesn't have full awareness of all their "special" traits. They need tons of exercise and companionship. But that was always a serious conversation we had on the front end. Sometimes we found out that an adopter wanted one because of how beautiful they are but knew nothing of the upkeep. Most were honest and took a pass.
      Pamela, the information you shared is very interesting and a great example of modifying your process to reflect your population. The same methods won't work everywhere. We've got to be creative.

    31. That's frustrating and sad. I don't believe in over vaccinating, especially when an animal has health challenges. We do the titers blood tests on our dogs each year and if the vaccination is still live, we don't give them more. Rabies is the only one they get every year. It has to be a conversation, not an interrogation!

    32. Thank you Mary. Your long time dedication to the animals is wonderful. The importance of making the adoption process comfortable and friendly is very important. Whether it's employees or volunteers who act as adoption consultants, they must be chosen carefully and trained well. They are your link to the public. They must we people-people as well as dog-people:)

    33. Thank you for sharing the info-graphic on your blog. Love the name and that cute pup!

    34. Jan K, Wag N Woof PetsJanuary 11, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      What a great article. Best Friends does such wonderful things, and it is encouraging to see those statistics. I hope they are right that we truly can save them all. We just adopted our first rescue puppy, and it was a good experience for us. I am thankful for all that you and everyone does in this field, Lorrie.
      Leslie, I didn't even know that about my own state of NH, but I was very pleased to hear it, so thanks for sharing that!