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The power of mentoring: how shelters can help shelters

From Animal Sheltering magazine November/December 2014

Wayne Pacelle and his adopted dog, Lily.

After founding an animal welfare group in college, then writing for a magazine in the field, I had the remarkable experience of working as national director of The Fund for Animals at the tender age of 23. It was an especially exciting and intimidating moment for me because I worked under the tutelage of the legendary Cleveland Amory, one of the giants in the 20th-century animal protection movement.

At 6-foot-3, Cleveland was both an imposing and inspiring figure: a celebrated author, television personality, humorist, the volunteer founder of The Fund for Animals and the inspiration for the establishment of Black Beauty Ranch. For nearly six years I had an opportunity to learn about advocacy and organization-building from a great man—someone deeply dedicated to the principle of rooting out cruelty. Despite the often-painful nature of our work confronting animal abuse and indifference, he had a remarkable sense of humor and a winning way with people. He also had an unshakable courage, never hesitating to take on the toughest fights. What a presence he was in my life.

I thought about Cleveland when I looked through the stories in this issue of Animal Sheltering, some of which deal with the power of mentoring. You’ll read two inspiring stories of how a little guidance has helped struggling shelters achieve incredible results. You’ll read about the challenges, the heartaches and ultimately the amazing potential of mentoring.

I was particularly moved by Kelly Huegel’s feature, “A Tale of Two Cities,” (p. 32), which tells the story of Stockton Animal Services, a struggling shelter in what Forbes magazine called America’s “most miserable city.” In 2011, Stockton Animal Services was receiving 14,000 animals a year, and could adopt out barely a quarter of them. The staff at the shelter had lost hope, with some suffering from post-traumatic stress just from witnessing the horrific conditions at work.

Enter the San Francisco SPCA (SFSPCA). With an intake rate of 8.8 animals per 1,000 people—just a quarter of the rate in Stockton—and one of the lowest euthanasia rates in the nation, it was every shelter director’s dream. But rather than rest on its laurels, SFSPCA looked beyond its own four walls to offer help to another community.

The two groups worked together, with the SFSPCA mentoring the Stockton staff and volunteers in the hard work of improving animal health, adopting out more animals and bringing down euthanasia rates. Within two years, Stockton achieved an incredible transformation: moving from an 85 to 90 percent euthanasia rate for cats to nearly an 85 percent save rate.

What I love most about Kelly’s story is how it shows the power of cooperation and unity. Too often in our movement, we see people driven by competition—whether for funds, staff or just the public’s limited attention. With so many animals in need, and an endless array of challenges, it would be easy to never depart from our immediate tasks and to focus exclusively on the challenges before us.

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But we must always remember that we are part of a larger movement, and learning and teaching are essential elements to the development and success of our great cause. We can magnify our impact and fortify our movement by passing on knowledge and by offering a helping hand. Donors and volunteers will reward this magnanimous spirit because it’s good for animals and for the whole of society.

Spreading awareness of others’ effective work and smart approaches is the reason we publish Animal Sheltering magazine. As I’m reminded every issue, good mentors are everywhere. You may be one of them.

About the Author

Wayne Pacelle is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. Under Pacelle's leadership, The HSUS has been approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and is ranked in the top 10 for nonprofit brands.