May 24, 2017
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Have you caught your breath yet? I know I’m still in awe after an amazing week at Animal Care Expo 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. World-renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell kicked things off with an inspiring keynote speech at the welcome session, celebrating the deep emotional bond we share with pets—oh yeah—and we watched a dog fly a plane! If a dog can pilot a plane, what can’t they do? And this was only the beginning of the conference.
Each year, we work hard with our presenters and sponsors, including Maddie’s Fund and Petco Foundation, to create an environment that offers the most progressive learning opportunities in animal welfare. This year set the bar even higher, with more than 2,100 of you traveling from 52 different countries for three days packed with educational workshops, networking, special sessions and the most interactive exhibit hall in Expo history. There were sessions covering best practices for trap-neuter-return, community outreach, shelter medicine, women in leadership and so much more.
This year the special session (video coming soon to animalsheltering.org!) explored how local organizations can positively impact the lives of animals by becoming more active in the policy and legislation arena. Our movement is becoming more strategic everyday, and it’s exploring the conditions that have direct impact on the lives of cats and dogs. Topics such as cultural competency, socioeconomics and leadership techniques have become staples at Animal Care Expo, highlighting our field’s evolution and movement toward a truly holistic approach. I have no doubt that many terrific discussions took place at the conference, as it gave old friends and colleagues an opportunity to reconnect and celebrate the great work we all do.
The question I ask every year is, “What happens after Expo?” During my opening remarks, I put forth a challenge to make new friends, evaluate and assess our strategies, and most important, to engage new advocates from new communities, with the hope of continuing to grow our animal advocacy family. This is the key to ending the unnecessary suffering of animals, and one of the primary reasons The HSUS has put this conference together for the last 26 years. As a collective force, we have tremendous power to create lasting change, not just for animals but for society at large, so what happens now? When we return to the communities we work in, will we find ways to collaborate with other groups that we haven’t worked with in the past? Will we include community outreach in our strategic planning, or will we get sucked back into the vacuum of what we were doing before Expo?
Change can be a scary concept, but when embraced, it offers amazing opportunity. I could feel our animal welfare community changing in Fort Lauderdale. If you had told me in 1995 we would be having conversations about some shelters not having enough dogs to adopt, or community medicine becoming the norm, I likely would not have believed you, but those topics were covered in multiple areas at this year’s Expo. When I heard multiple speakers discussing how to support pet owners through safety net programs, and how to connect the most underserved communities with basic veterinary care, it was yet another symbol of change. Do we have a lot to celebrate, or what? We’ve accomplished some amazing things for cats and dogs, and Expo is the perfect place to come together and be proud.
So once again, “What’s next?” National and local organizations will be forced to reevaluate the role we play, and that can be intimidating or exciting, depending on our willingness to embrace change. If this year’s Expo is any indication, it seems clear we are choosing to embrace the opportunity of change. It’s an exciting time to be in the humane movement. We are making the world a kinder and safer place for animals, and I’m sure we will have even more to celebrate at next year’s Expo in Kansas City, Missouri. If you’re considering presenting at next year's Expo, please submit your workshop proposal! The challenge over the next 11 months is to continue to embrace change and explore new creative ways to move our movement forward. In the meantime, cheers to all we’ve accomplished, and many thanks to the thousands who made Animal Care Expo 2017 the marquee animal welfare event of the year.