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25 years of the Expo experience (and counting)

Hear from guest blogger Jim Tedford, President and CEO for the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators (SAWA) and die-hard Animal Care Expo attendee, as he reflects on the last 25 years of the conference.

Jim Tedford (far left) with other veterans in the field, at Animal Care Expo 2002 in Miami, FL. Jim has been to every conference for 25 years.Friends you make at Animal Care Expo may last a lifetime.No matter how long you've been in the field, there is always more to learn.

I take great pride in knowing that I am a member of a small fraternity of people who have never missed Animal Care Expo. Not once since 1992. In the interest of full disclosure, the first couple of years I had no choice. I was on the staff at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and many of us were required to be there. Much of what had to be done was done manually in those days, so we found ourselves working 14-16 hour days. During the week of the first Expo in Las Vegas, I bet I logged 100 miles without ever leaving Bally’s.
I was a much younger man then with much higher energy levels, but at the end of that experience I was as exhausted as I’ve ever been. During my HSUS years I helped with major cruelty cases. I recall one huge cockfighting raid in Ohio where we all stayed awake for over 24 hours handling over 1,000 roosters. My first Expo left me with similar sensations. The casino where we held the conference smelled a little better than a cockfighting bust, but the work was just as grueling. The crowds were larger than we expected—in fact, so many attendees showed up, those of us on staff were asked not to partake of meals until we were certain there would be enough for attendees! I vividly recall gathering at a buffet late one night with several colleagues and slamming my entire face into a huge tray of desserts.
Expo has come a long way since that austere beginning. By 1995 I had moved on to head-up a sheltering organization and was thrilled to be invited to come to Expo as a speaker, and every year since, I’ve been an attendee, a speaker and an exhibitor . . . sometimes all in the same year.
For me it is tough to imagine not showing up at Expo. Even this old dog still has lots of new tricks to learn--after 32 years in animal welfare work, I still feel very strongly that the day I stop learning will be the day they scatter my ashes in the Great Smoky Mountains. Expo offers tremendously diverse learning opportunities for our field; attendees can learn about everything from proper cat handling to building community collaborations. The range of training available is unmatched in this industry.
And the exhibit hall is ridiculous. I was impressed that first year, but the thing has grown dramatically every year since. The range of products and services represented in that one impressive space is worth the price of admission. Where else in our field can you buy stainless steel cages, cat-handling gloves, direct mail services and t-shirts all in one place? As a self-described humaniac, I’m like the proverbial kid in a candy store every year. It’s one thing to browse through catalogs or surf suppliers’ websites, but quite another to see all this tech and get to handle it.
I was still an animal welfare newbie when I figured out that there was a great big universe of expertise out there just waiting to be explored, but I didn’t know how many friends I’d make in the industry through Expo, friendships that have lasted my entire career and will undoubtedly last a lifetime. “Networking” is a much overused cliché these days, but that doesn’t diminish the value of MY network. If I didn’t show up for Expo, what might I miss? Who might I not get to see—and hug? (I’m Southern. We hug.) Every year I meet new young folks, the ones who are getting themselves ready to take over when the old folks like me are too tired to carry on. They give me energy and they give me hope for the future of animal welfare. Keeping up with them is difficult, but watching them learn and grow is pure bliss. And I spend quality time with veterans—the folks who have carried the torch for as long as I have or even longer. It’s a golden opportunity to let our hair down and celebrate just how far our hard work has moved the needle.
Will I see you at Animal Care Expo 2016?  It’s in Vegas again, so I feel as thoughI’m returning to the scene of the crime. It’s one of those years where I’ll be attending, exhibiting (now for the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators) and speaking. It’s still weeks away and I’m already anxious to see my old friends—and to meet as many new ones as I can cram into those few days. Supposedly “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!”, but the things we all learn at Animal Care Expo will be taken home and put to use doing great things for animals and communities. And, the friendships we make will be with us no matter where we are.


About the Author

Jim Tedford serves as President and CEO for the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators (SAWA). Previously he was a regional director for The Humane Society of the United States. Jim has also served as a consultant on not-for-profit management, strategic planning and organizational development. Jim holds a degree in animal science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The Tedfords share their “empty nest” in the Smoky Mountains with four dogs, one horse and a macaw.