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Surviving a Sea Change

Twenty-odd years after an essay that sparked a movement, leaders reflect on how the field has changed - and changed them

Noah MacMillian

by Katherine McGowan Shenar

In 1989, independent animal activist Ed Duvin wrote a series of articles under the title “Animalines.” One of the most well-known essays, “In The Name Of Mercy,” is credited by many as the spark that ignited the no-kill movement.

In his piece, Duvin criticized shelters for failing to collect good data, for failing to invest in education, but most of all for accepting euthanasia as an outcome for the animals in their care.

“Euthanasia might be a relatively painless end to this journey of terror, but each death represents an abject failure—not an act of mercy …” Duvin wrote. “… A new and larger vision is needed, a vision in which shelters hold themselves accountable for meeting demanding performance standards that preserve life—not destroy it.”

The subsequent decades have brought both progress and culture clash to animal welfare organizations across the nation. Some immediately embraced the new philosophy; others rejected its premise or fell into bitter conflicts over language or policies. New organizations were founded. Some communities warred while others united.

Duvin’s essay forever changed how animals are viewed in our country. Many animal welfare professionals have seen the results firsthand as they themselves evolved, moving from one job to another, observing the results of different approaches and implementing changes, trying to figure out what worked best. People who were once die-hard open-admissions supporters have found themselves questioning their blind spots. Passionate limited-admission supporters worry about health issues caused by crowding, and about how the quarrels are causing burnout among devoted shelter veterans whose knowledge is needed in our field. And over time, as people have moved around within agencies and organizations of differing policies, they’ve brought what they’ve learned with them. Our field has grown richer for it.

In this feature, Katherine McGowan Shenar, president/CEO of the Asheville Humane Society in North Carolina, speaks to other veterans in the field, reporting on their personal and professional journeys and how they’ve witnessed and instituted a shift in culture for the betterment of the animals and communities they serve.

Standing Alone When It Wasn’t Popular

Ed Sayres, president/CEO
American Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
Years of service: 38

When “In the Name of Mercy” was published, Sayres was running St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey.

Duvin’s essay questioned whether humane societies belonged in the animal control business. At the time, Sayres’ shelter had 27 animal control contracts, and he wasn’t ready for the question. “I felt very proud of our work, and when someone raised the issue, ‘Maybe this is the right way to go,’ I defended our work and asked why someone who had never worked in this field was questioning it,” he says. “Then I began to consider the possibility that maybe he was right.”

Spurred by Duvin’s assertions, Sayres asked his shelter manager to review records for the past year to see how many dogs categorized as “adoptable/treatable” had been euthanized. Records indicated that none had, but when Sayres reviewed the data more closely, he found that healthy animals were being euthanized due to age. He realized, he says, that his staff had built a mental construct to rationalize which animals were leaving alive.

  • Noah MacMillian

Sayres wanted to save more lives, but he also understood how the shelter’s culture had evolved. He believes that the staff’s interactions with the estimated 10 percent of animal owners who were doing things wrong caused them to tar the rest of the public with the same brush. “We had a warped view of the situation,” he says.

Determined to study his options, Sayres traveled to San Francisco and met with Richard Avanzino, then head of the San Francisco SPCA. Avanzino had just transferred the shelter’s animal care and control contract back to the government and was positioning the San Francisco SPCA as a lifesaving agency rather than an extension of animal control.

Avanzino declared San Francisco a “no-kill” city in 1994, five years after dropping the animal control contract. Sayres compared the phenomenon to his own organization, finding that St. Hubert’s was subsidizing animal control even as it couldn’t afford spay/neuter programming and mobile adoptions.

After this epiphany, Sayres took a position with the American Humane Association. Believing the organization should be hosting discussions of the controversial issues of the day, he agreed to host the second annual No Kill Conference. “Basically, all hell broke loose. Most of my shelter director friends of the past 20 years were just livid,” he says. “It was the same level of defensive anger I had felt when I first read Duvin’s article. The intensity of the reaction reinforced to me that we had to examine the topic.”

No matter how you look at it, sustainability for success is based on collaboration. It’s not a war. All of the tactics—fostering, TNR, working with rescue—are all collaborations."

Sayres’ enthusiasm for this new philosophy was evident, and in 1998, he was asked to succeed Avanzino, who had departed to head Maddie’s Fund. Five years later, Sayres accepted his current position at the ASPCA, stipulating that he would take the job only if the staff and board of directors were open to cultural change.

At the ASPCA, Sayres has focused on a philosophy that prioritizes saving lives. He integrated for-profit management strategies into the organization’s culture to great effect, especially those from James Collins’ bestseller Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t. “Fact-based business strategy with a mission-based cause is a very powerful combination,” he says.

The result was an ambitious program that reached across the country from the organization’s home in New York City. The ASPCA launched its Community Partnership programs in 2006, with the goal of building sustainable lifesaving programs through partnerships with communities around the country. By providing significant funding coupled with strategies, the program integrates cultural change in communities where, the ASPCA hopes, the change will continue long after funding ends. The culture changes include embracing an open-adoption philosophy, in which adopters aren’t judged or screened out of saving a life. No more landlord checks. No home visits. Austin, Texas, was the first of these communities, graduating from the five-year partnership in 2011 after growing its overall live release rate to 89.5 percent.

Sayres believes humane societies will evolve over time into community resource centers, playing a more preventative role. “You’ll have some specialized animals who need some long-term treatment prior to adoption,” he says. “But the only way to be a community resource center is to be involved in the community.”

Sayres tells his staff to be relentless in communicating with the public about the life-and-death reality in shelters. “I actually held a meeting the other day and encouraged my staff to ‘think like a Kardashian’—obsessed with communicating their every thought. … Give the public ways to help us with what we are facing.”

He knows firsthand that accusations from detractors can be discouraging, generating a great deal of antagonism and forcing groups to spend time responding to the storm. He notes that some people can get so focused on single animals and isolated negative events that they miss the bigger picture and don’t focus on the progress toward sustainable, lifesaving systems. “No matter how you look at it, sustainability for success is based on collaboration. It’s not a war. All of the tactics—fostering, TNR, working with rescue—are all collaborations.”

The collaborative element is so important, Sayres argues, that it actually trumps physical resources in its power to save more lives. While limited in space and budget in comparison to some other major metropolitan areas, in 2012, New York City reached a 1 per 1,000 per capita euthanasia rate, a phenomenal achievement for a city of more than 8 million.

“When all is said and done, I came here to prove that it works and then start to export it,” he says. And the success of the approach has changed his perspective. “I used to have a much more intellectual view of the problem, and was more accepting that we could never solve it,” he says. “Now I have a more emotional view and 38 years of experience. And I’m very confident that we can solve it.”


Change Starts on the Inside

Lori Kane Redmon, executive director,
Kentucky Humane Society
Years of service: 22

“Early in my career in animal welfare, I was told by a seasoned professional, ‘We will not see the end of pet overpopulation in our lifetime, but it doesn’t mean we stop trying,’” says Redmon. And she believed that well-meaning sentiment until a few years ago. Now, having seen more and more people become aware of adoption and spay/neuter, she thinks the end may be within sight.

Redmon once accepted euthanasia as a necessary evil—better than death on the streets. But she’s changed her mind about that too, noting that there can be a fine line between the belief that euthanasia is better than suffering on the streets and a kind of learned helplessness, a sense that “you know you’re never going to see the end of overpopulation, so why even try?” she says. “I’ve changed my perception that if we don’t take them in, people will do bad things to them. Now I believe in the good in people—that they will do the right thing and find appropriate, alternative solutions for their pet.”

Redmon didn’t arrive at this belief overnight. In her 22 years working at shelters, she served as assistant to the director, events manager, volunteer director, behavior director, and operations director before taking on her current role as executive director for the Kentucky Humane Society. After starting a behavior program at Michigan Humane Society, Redmon came to Kentucky to do the same. She found herself doing more, shifting her organization’s focus onto proactive solutions to pet overpopulation—such as spay/neuter, education, TNR, and adoption, rather than reactive approaches like patrolling for strays and issuing citations for ordinance violations. She phased out animal control contracts, opened a spay/neuter clinic, and expanded behavior training. She focused on measuring results and decreasing animals’ length of stay, with the goal of increasing the number of pets leaving alive.

Her own personal turning point came thanks to a litter of feral kittens.

“When I started in the industry, you learned about responsible pet ownership: cats being indoors, protected and safe,” she says. It seemed obvious that the population of free-roaming cats contributed hugely to pet overpopulation.

But over time, she determined that if potential adopters who intended to let a cat outside were denied, they would simply obtain a cat elsewhere—one who wasn’t spayed or neutered. When she and her husband purchased property and built a barn, “along came some feral kittens that weren’t socialized enough to adopt into a home,” she says. “My choice was euthanasia or try them in my barn. It was a real eye-opening experience for me. They love life—they have a much more enriching life than my indoor cats who are lazy and complacent.”

Now when Redmon gives presentations, she feels compelled to tell her audience about her “dirty secret.” “I would go to another animal agency in my community and be declined for an adoption because I have outdoor cats,” she says.

As Redmon’s opinions evolved, she began researching a feral program for Kentucky Humane Society. “I think my ‘Aha’ moment came when I realized that we had the opportunity to place a sterilized cat into a home,” she says, noting that her friends with barn cats—people who loved and cared for their animals—weren’t getting those cats from Kentucky Humane, and weren’t getting the spay/neuter message. Within a year, Redmon had instituted a “working cats” program for her organization.

When she began relaxing adoption criteria for indoor/outdoor cats, it wasn’t an easy sell to shelter staff. “It took time for some of the long-term employees to change their perceptions,” she says.

Redmon started to shift the culture by relaxing the policy on adopters who wanted declawed cats. (The shelter now tries to direct these adopters to cats who are already declawed or educate them about the declawing procedure, rather than flatly refusing the adoption). She made sure that leadership was on board, trickled it down to management, and met with the staff—quite a task given that Kentucky Humane Society has eight off-site adoption locations. With 6,200 annual pet adoptions, it was important to get the message across that the policy had changed. “When we circled around in 90 days, we would find that one adoption counselor would decline an adopter whereas another counselor would be more relaxed,” she says.

The staff struggled most when other animal welfare groups started criticizing the new policy. But Redmon and her staff have weathered the storm by celebrating their success both internally and externally and through positive communications in social media.

“If you ever hear yourself or one of your team members say, ‘We’ve always done it that way,’ raise the proverbial red flag and regroup,” she says. “It’s that kind of thinking that stagnates creative thought.”

Conquering her own judgments was essential for Redmon. “I cut my teeth in open-admission, and I had a judgment against organizations that were limited-admission,” she confesses. “I felt they judged us and therefore, I judged them. I’ve changed my perspective to ‘Everyone is doing what they can with what they have.’” She draws the line, she says, only if a group publicly criticizes Kentucky Humane.

Redmon worries that negativity and criticism are driving longtime animal welfare professionals out of the industry. “Good people that I consider mentors are leaving leadership positions in animal welfare because of the stress,” she says. “Being called a killer when you’ve dedicated 20 years of your life to this industry makes people leave. … It scares me because we need those people.”

She resents the notion that people who have been in the field a long time can’t bring innovation to their organizations or communities. There’s a misguided view floating around that “if someone is a seasoned animal welfare professional, they must have outdated views, be complacent, unwilling to learn new strategies or implement program changes, or that they are happy with the status quo,” she says. “As someone who has been in the industry for 22 years, I’m proof that it’s simply not the case.”


Problem-Solving Usurps the Big Stick

Dawn Danielson, director,
County of San Diego Animal Services
Years of service: 35

Culture change isn’t limited to the nonprofit sector. Many animal care and control agencies have altered their approach to focus more on education and less on enforcement.

Danielson has three decades of perspective on her department’s evolution. “Thirty years ago, we wrote a lot of tickets, picked up a lot of dogs, but I don’t think we solved a lot of problems back then,” she says. “Now we solve problems. You can solve a lot of neighborhood problems by working with the person. Enforcement is a tool, but it’s not the answer to everything.”

When Danielson started as an animal control officer with the county in 1977, she says she witnessed the worst of humanity. “It’s very easy to get very cynical. But, over time, I started developing more faith in people. Most people want to do the right thing; they just need to know what the right thing is.”

Danielson now believes education is key to solving most pet-related problems—after all, it’s been key to her own career. Back when she started out, “we were pretty much an untrained, unprofessional organization. … Now we are a well-trained, compassionate, skilled work force. We focus on education and always listen to new ideas. We try to understand the other person’s point of view.”

She reflects on how the field has gone through cycles. “Everyone starts out being the adoption police. No one can own an animal and do the right thing except us,” she says. “I think about all the people that we’ve turned down that would have been great pet owners. It may not be exactly the way we do things, but it can still be a wonderful home. We need to loosen up and look at the big picture.”

When Danielson started her current position, she says the effects of the restrictive adoption policies really hit home—she felt the community had lost faith in the department. Public criticism should be listened to, she says: Before an organization circles the wagons, it should be sure it’s really right about the issue. Listen to volunteers, to the general public, to the people who are reclaiming their animals. The perspective of people who aren’t in the animal care profession provides critical insight.

Danielson admits her greatest concern about the animal care and control field is how the public interprets the “no-kill” terminology. She credits the movement with doing a lot of good, like getting people to think innovatively. “It’s the phrase that I find offensive, not the philosophy,” she says. “I’ve seen it turn shelter against shelter and turn the community against shelters. People don’t even know what it means. We all strive to have good outcomes for the animals in our care—it’s a goal for all of us.”


Evolving From Within

Jo-Anne Roman, senior vice president of
operations, Humane Society of Broward County
Years of service: 34

When Roman started as a kennel attendant at the Humane Society of Broward County (Fla.) in 1978, she did a little bit of everything—cleaning, feeding, adoption, and euthanasia. With a staff of only eight, everyone had to job-share. “I was cleaning kennels in my bare feet. There were no job descriptions back then, and everything was very primitive,” says Roman.

  • Noah MacMillian

Roman believes the organizational culture back then was to “love the animals to death.” She puts it in perspective with sobering numbers. “We handled thousands of animals in 1978. The first year I was employed, we adopted out 258,” she says. And she thought they were doing everything right: “I was one of those people who would quickly run into the parking lot and stop [someone surrendering a litter] from giving a puppy away to someone we had denied an adoption to.”

Roman’s tenure has given her the chance to witness the evolution of her own organization. In her current role, Roman oversees sheltering operations for the only open-admission humane society in an area that includes Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward counties. “For the most part, the evolution was easy for me,” Roman says, though she laughs and refers to herself as “an old goat who is old school,” and says she had to be convinced that calling landlords to check on adopters wasn’t necessary.

“We’ve learned how to trust people and not love the animals to death. They don’t need to stay in the shelter—it’s not a home. … We’re here to help these animals, not put barriers up.”

The more trusting approach toward the public didn’t force Roman to abandon her core values. “I don’t compromise my beliefs,” she says. “I believe in quality of life. My principles and how animals should be cared for and treated haven’t changed. If anything, they are probably stronger. I’m just more open to the public.”

The last few years proved pivotal for Roman and her staff when they started doing fee-waived adoption promotions to increase their live-release rate. Even with the shelter’s already progressive program, Roman says, it was hard for her to get on board.

But after several successful fee-waived adoption promotions, Roman is completely sold. Last summer, for the first time, the shelter had room to transfer in more cats from Palm Beach Animal Control. “That really sealed the deal for me. … We aren’t having animals returned to the shelter, and it’s helped more cats.”

The chaos of the national rescue efforts following Hurricane Katrina inspired Roman’s shelter to make transparency an imperative when dealing with the public, especially over surrenders. “We would ask, ‘Have you tried to find this animal a home?’ We would be honest about the situation because people really believe there are farms out there for an 8-year-old shepherd mix with bad hips,” she says. The transition at the admissions desk is still a work in progress, she says, but “we’re straight-up honest with folks,” providing a list of alternative placement options, mostly limited-admission shelters and rescues. But most importantly, staff will tell the owner if the animal will be euthanized and will not be a candidate for adoption.

“That has been a huge change for us,” she says. “Originally, I was worried … but the admitting staff is thrilled because they no longer feel that burden when someone leaves that blind, 10-year-old poodle with the expectation there is a home out there.”

Some people choose to leave with the animal, which Roman says has rattled some volunteers, who worry the person will dump the pet in the Everglades. But Roman thinks that’s wrongheaded. “Someone who loves their 10-year-old poodle isn’t going to go dump it.”


Merging a Culture

Sherry Silk, executive director,
Humane Society of Tampa Bay
Years of service: 31

Starting as a volunteer assistant manager of the Detroit shelter branch of Michigan Humane Society, Silk quickly moved into a lead management role and found herself making life-and-death decisions as she juggled the large daily intake of animals.

“I grew up in Detroit, and it was about groups of dogs running the freeway. I would rationalize in my mind that a humane death was better. It really was a struggle for me,” she says.

The past 31 years have changed Silk’s perceptions. “I used to be very judgmental of people. It’s what we all felt in the animal industry. We had five-page adoption questionnaires: You prove to me that you’re going to be a really good pet owner. We would refuse people if they mentioned they would declaw; that was the way we were. Isn’t that silly? We would have a cooler filled with dead cats,” she says.

Noah MacMillian

After 24 years working in open-admissions, in 2007 Silk accepted the role as executive director for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, a managed-admission facility. Since arriving, Silk has worked to reconcile the two philosophies for herself, her staff, and her community. She’s switched from accepting any animal who comes to her door (“in many ways, that’s so much easier”) to limiting intake, and she concedes that having to turn people away was tough.

But Silk has adjusted her thinking. “I find myself relaxing more, because I’ve learned people can be resourceful and don’t just dump the animal on the road. I’ve learned people will try different venues.”

She remembers the lack of community spirit in working with animal control in times past, and believes that’s changed for the better. “If you haven’t had to make those choices—who is going to live or die—you don’t get it. I am a big believer that we couldn’t be limited-admission if it wasn’t for [animal control]. We know at least there is a safety net for all the animals in our community.”

One of the greatest philosophical shifts for Silk has been her position on feral cat management. “Now I am the biggest TNR advocate, but I wasn’t before,” she says. “I have a colony that I personally feed. … TNR has been around 20-25 years, and I just wasn’t open to it. I wish someone had shook me back then and said, ‘Cats are better alive than being killed.’ I think we thought back then that we were all doing the right thing.”

When Silk started at Tampa Bay, she wanted to make some changes. “It seemed really silly that we had empty cages—maybe one-third of the cages were empty—but Hillsborough County had animals lined up to be euthanized. … It seemed obvious to me that we should all help each other out.”

In spite of some internal resistance, Silk pushed ahead. She had a feral cat patio built, and added another 20 cages for large dogs so that they could house more animals brought in from Animal Services. The staff would get mad at her, and volunteers didn’t quite understand, but once they saw the variety of animals placed up for adoption, they began to accept the changes. “The whole marketing piece was a difficult change for this organization,” says Silk. “Now everyone understands. Now we are importing puppies from other places. The more puppies I have, the more people visit my shelter, the more animals I can adopt. You have to have variety and give the public what they want.”

Silk has great optimism about the animal welfare movement, but worries about the tension between groups, which she thinks only confuses the public. “The public believes that if you are no-kill, you are good, and if you’re anything else, you’re not,” she says. “Because of this divide, people who are doing good work, being progressive, with a save rate going up, are afraid to be honest about things because you get slammed by the public.”

She encourages shelter colleagues to stay focused. “No matter how frustrated you are, keep moving forward, because the animals need us. We’ve lost some really good people in this field because they are sick of the turmoil. Even on the tough days, you have to keep moving forward. If everyone leaves, what’s going to happen to the animals?”


Change Can Happen in a Union Shop

Kathleen Olson, executive director,
Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County
Years of Service: 13

Olson credits her early years as a journalist with shaping her approach to managing an open-admission animal shelter that has a union contract. “Being able to tell the story, being transparent, releasing the statistics, and issuing a monthly executive director report with all the stats and updates on where we were on our various critical issues really made a difference,” she says.

You can’t change everything in 12 months or even five years. Transparency. Just keep telling the truth—even as hard as it is sometimes."

The biggest cultural change in Olson’s organization is that pit bull-type dogs are no longer subject to discrimination during adoption evaluations—but it took time to make this shift. When Olson started in 2007, the shelter was euthanizing such dogs due to breed. Focusing on her internal audience first, Olson worked with her board’s planning and policies committee, convincing it to allow the shelter to work with a pit bull rescue. Funding from PetSmart Charities allowed her to send staff to visit other shelters, many of which treated pits just like other dogs. In October 2011, her board decided it made sense to do the same. Pit bull-types have been integrated into the adoption program and featured on Facebook and other places along with the rest of the shelter’s dogs.

“For decades in our county, we didn’t adopt them out because we believed people wanted them to fight and wanted them for the wrong reasons,” Olson says. “… If you had told me eight years ago that I would own a Chihuahua and a pit bull, I would have told you, ‘You’re crazy.’”

  • Noah MacMillian

Stories circulate about the difficulty of making changes in environments where staff duties are delineated so specifically and some staff refuse to do anything beyond what’s on paper. Many executives fear leading union shops because they have a reputation for being slow to accept change. But Olson’s staff really got behind the shift. Of her 37 employees, 23 belong to the union, and Olson says she feels blessed that people who have been with the agency for 35 years remain flexible.

Patience should be the rule for leading culture change, she says. “You can’t change everything in 12 months or even five years. Transparency. Just keep telling the truth—even as hard as it is sometimes. It’s easier to remember what you said if you always tell the truth. You can’t graph and show change if you aren’t truthful about your statistics.”


Focusing on the Community

Shelly A. Moore, president/CEO,
Humane Society of Charlotte
Years of Service: 27

After a few months in 1985 as a part-time kennel attendant in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, Moore became an ACO. Over the years she’s been a cruelty investigator, supervisor of investigations, humane educator, and served as executive director of two other nonprofits. Her job as head of the Humane Society of Charlotte represents her first role at a limited-admission shelter.

The shelter has changed since she arrived. For starters, it no longer calls itself a “no-kill” organization, though it still embraces that philosophy, notes Moore, who spent her entire previous career in open-admission shelters.

Before, Moore says, the organization was isolated, not part of the community. “We were doing really good things for animals, but the philosophy was once they crossed our threshold, they were safe, and that’s all we need to worry about,” she says. “When I arrived, I brought to their attention that we are part of a bigger community here—animal care and control is just down the street handling 16,000 animals, and we were handling 2,000.”

Moore has broken down the barriers and welcomed more animals into the organization. “I knew we had to do our part,” she says. “We were already bringing animals from their facility to our program, but I wanted to try to bring more. I wanted to find a way to manage our population flow, so that we could help more of those animals.”

Moore says her ideas were scary for the staff. “They had that illusion of control built in their heads. We had animals in our care for several months. I wanted to reduce our length of stay because it’s not good for the animals or for the staff,” she says.

The shelter changed its approach to adoptions, and the switch is reflected in its stats: Two years ago the shelter was doing fewer than 2,000 adoptions a year; it ended 2012 with 3,392.

Bringing an open-admissions perspective to a limited-admission culture has changed the organization’s role in the community. “I think about the myths we all used to believe—[like] ‘if you don’t charge something for it, people won’t value it,’” Moore says. “I think we’ve all come to realize that’s not the case. I envision the founder of this organization … looking down at us and screaming, ‘Oh my God, they’re giving away free cats!’ With only 17 percent of pet cats in America coming from animal shelters … that just makes me laugh,” she says.

Coming from an enforcement background initially made it difficult for Moore to trust adopters. “I carried a lot of that old stuff with me for a long time, those rules that we established about animal welfare: Don’t adopt to college students, military, don’t adopt black cats at Halloween.”

Prior to her current role, Moore spent 10 years at Asheville Humane Society, where her perspective started to change. “I found myself in a community where the expectation was that we shouldn’t euthanize any healthy animals. Of course, that’s what I wanted personally, philosophically, and emotionally—but I really didn’t know how to make that happen,” she says.

She acknowledges that the community itself helped push her forward. “I felt like I was attacked and put on the hot seat by activists in the community. They felt that the organization wasn’t doing what it should to save animal lives.”

Instead of resigning or running away, Moore reached out and tried to look at what other organizations were doing. “I tried to build a really good team to help make a shift using those resources and best practices to shift our philosophies within the organization,” she says. “Being an administrator, I would handle the phone calls from people who were denied an adoption and learned what they were thinking during the process.”

Once Moore embraced the open-adoptions philosophy, she felt empowered. She’s carried that confidence to her new position in Charlotte, and is no longer wary about having tough discussions with those who may not see things her way. “I’ve gone from being very guarded and cautious and judging to more open and authentic in how I deal with everyone,” she says. “I’ve realized that you can have tough conversations, if it’s staff or volunteers or if it’s someone who wants to adopt an animal, if you’re compassionate.”

Moore has been around long enough to notice the shift. “I can remember when I first started, you could walk in and there was no kind of adoption process. You could pay five dollars and take an animal,” she says. “But then the culture shifted and no one was worthy. …. The pendulum swung totally the other way.”

I’ve realized that you can have tough conversations, if it’s staff or volunteers or if it’s someone who wants to adopt an animal, if you’re compassionate.”

Moore has shifted her focus to include people as well as animals; she recognizes human and animal issues are connected and is concerned about both. Once, she says, “the people were the tool I used to find the best outcome for the animal. I didn’t really connect with the people so much, and … I made assumptions based on what neighborhood I was in or the economic factor of the people I was dealing with.”

She believes everyone should embrace change—because it will come, regardless of how it’s received. “Control is an illusion,” says Moore. “To try to control the outcome of an adoption … it’s counter-productive. The best way to approach that is to establish a rapport with that person so they will come to you if there is a problem.” Moore watches some animal welfare leaders flounder in the face of criticism. “What’s been really heartbreaking for me to witness is when a longtime leader in this field is negatively targeted because they haven’t been willing to embrace change. I think that speaks to the illusion of control.”

Flexibility is key to changing a culture, she says. Your organization will thrive if you “recognize that animal welfare is a movement, and that’s what it does—it moves and changes and evolves.”

Above Moore’s desk in her office, she keeps a quote for every staff member to keep in mind: “If nothing changed, there would be no butterflies." 

Katherine McGowan Shenar has spent 17 years in the animal welfare field. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, five dogs, and two cats. She is the president/CEO of Asheville Humane Society.

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