Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Blog Has Moved

You can now find it at  Wordpress offers many more options that I would like to utilize... once I'm familiar with it.  Please check out my current post there titled "Dogs and Cats of Russia"

Thank you and see you soon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Thank you to Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Illinois

This is a blog post that is long overdue.  This is about two very different, yet very similar organizations and two people I admire very, very much. 

I started volunteering for Lost Dogs of Wisconsin sixteen months ago.  Before joining Lost Dogs of Wisconsin’s ranks, I had been out of rescue work for a while and had no serious thoughts of resuming that type of work in the future. 

I started volunteering with Lost Dogs of Wisconsin because I could work from my laptop…and, to be honest, that was the appeal.  I wasn’t going to bring animals into my house yet I was still helping animals that I dearly loved in the comfort of my own home. 

When I joined Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, the organization was fairly new. I don’t remember how new it was at that time, but it was new enough.  The person who trained me, Susan Jacoby, was extremely nice.  After working with Susan for a while, one of the group’s founders contacted me.  Her name was Kathy Pobloskie. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that Kathy is a very special person.  She is someone who is honest, truthful and trustworthy.  I have seen her demonstrate these traits over and over again in countless interactions with people.  She acts the same with each person she meets.  She treats everyone in the same, respectful manner.  I’ve never witnessed any other person enact his or her personality characteristics as consistently, as steadfastly as Kathy does.  Kathy is a leader who has no problem sharing everything she knows with anyone who asks; she is not threatened by the knowledge others may gain from her.  To me, Kathy’s honesty, trustworthiness and consistency, combined with her willingness to share her vast knowledge unconditionally are what make her such a strong leader.
Within its frameworks, Lost Dogs of Wisconsin has the same values as its leader, Kathy Pobloskie.  That’s not to say that Lost Dogs of Wisconsin is perfect.  The organization is relatively new, after all, and still going through some growing pains.  But this organization possesses something that is lacking in most animal welfare organizations - strong leadership.  There are no paid staff at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and that in and of itself says a lot about Kathy’s ability to attract and retain unpaid, dedicated, capable volunteers.  Although I no longer volunteer for Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, the group and its leader have made a lasting, indelible mark on me.  And it’s good one at that.

Lost Dogs Illinois has in its ranks another person who also exhibits traits that I feel are lacking in this field, Susan Taney.  Susan is a wonderful person with an encyclopedia of information in her brain and yet her knowledge is not what is most impressive about her.  Like Kathy, Susan has leadership skills that motivate her crew of unpaid staff to do whatever they can to reunite lost dogs with their owners day in, and day out.  Susan is truly an inspiration to her organization’s volunteers and everyone else she meets.

Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois work together, hand in hand.  They do it well and they have brought to the forefront an issue that has never really been appropriately approached before, the issue of lost dogs.  Lost dogs are what populate the majority of all shelters.  Most people acknowledge these dogs as strays when, in reality, they are lost pets who need to be returned to their owners.  These two organizations are making huge strides in educating people about how to go about getting their lost dogs back.  They are also making an impact on local shelters.  Both organizations are very young and it will take some time to record accurate, reliable numbers that demonstrate their effectiveness, but I know the stats are being collected and they will ultimately produce very fine data.

This brings me up to the reason I’m writing this…or, should I say, one of the reasons I’m writing this.
Lost Dogs of Wisconsin is holding its first fundraiser ever on July 26, 2012.  The event will be held in Milwaukee at Hamburger Mary’s.  Although I’ve never been to a fundraiser at this establishment, I have heard that hosting an event at Hamburger Mary’s guarantees every attendee will have great fun. 
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone who is available on July 26 to attend Lost Dogs of Wisconsin’s inaugural fundraiser.  Both Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois need remote control nets to help return nervous and/or shy dogs to their owners.  These nets cost about $5,000 apiece. 

I also want to encourage everyone to keep their eyes on Lost Dogs of Wisconsin’s website and/or Facebook page to learn further details about this fundraiser.  Personally, I’m looking for more information daily because this is an event I’m going to do my best NOT to miss.

And just for the record, thanks to everyone who works so hard to make Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois the successes they are.  Every dog returned to his or her owner is a testament to your commitment and dedication…to your love of dogs everywhere.  All of you are pretty special.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Visit to the Local Shelter

It had been a long while since I’d volunteered at a shelter.  When I used to volunteer at a different shelter a million or so years ago, I had the enjoyable assignment of walking dogs.  And I really hoped my first day of volunteering with this other shelter would be spent walking dogs again.  Yes, that’s what I hoped for despite the old adage, “Be careful what you ask for…you just might get it,” creeping into my mind repeatedly as I walked across the parking lot to the shelter’s front door.

Silently telling myself to stop replaying that saying in my mind, I drew a breath, walked through the door, and announced to the young lady at the shelter’s front desk, “I’m here to help!”  The woman greeted me and instructed me to head to the back of the shelter as there was a bunch of people back there who could use assistance.  I did as I was told and quickly realized that the woman’s definition of “a bunch of people” was three individuals.

Approaching the bunch, I asked one of its members, “How can I help?”  In response, the young lady I’d addressed immediately led me to a small kitchen where she hurriedly prepared a mixture of Beneful, canned Pedigree, and Gravy Train.  Fighting my urge to gag at the picture and smell of the combined dog foods, I began stuffing various Kongs with the mixture as I’d been told to do.  As I filled what had to have been the fifteenth or sixteenth Kong, I began to tell my companion a little bit about myself in an effort to build a little camaraderie.  Even though I know I’m not the world’s most interesting woman (which I guess is why I don’t do beer commercials), I was surprised when the woman said nothing in response to my statements.

I looked up from my mess, I mean work, and realized I was all alone in the tiny kitchen…and I was talking to myself and an audience of partially stuffed rubber dog toys.  Having finally stuffed the last Kong, I put all of them in the freezer and envisioned some homeless dogs enjoying them later that day.  As I cleaned the kitchen, I wondered if the dogs would approach their snacks as popsicles or toys and if they’d be surprised by what was inside of them.

Having put the kitchen back in order, I went to find someone who could tell me what I should do next.  As I searched, I heard an alarm.  Since the sprinklers didn’t come on and no one appeared to be sprinting out of the shelter’s emergency exits, I guessed the alarm wasn’t anything I needed to be too concerned with.  I was 90% sure everything was okay.  My confidence dropped to about 70% when I failed to find someone in the next minute and the alarm continued to sound a warning about something or other.

Finding none of the bunch in the back of the shelter, I made my way back to the front desk.  The woman who’d originally welcomed me earlier in the day suggested that I could check on the laundry.  And thus began my search for the shelter’s washing machine and dryer.

Winding my way through the shelter’s labyrinth of hallways and doors, I found two washing machines in different locations.  And I identified the location of the alarm.  The alarm was in the form of a nine week-old kitten who was not happy about being in a kennel even though it was quite spacious.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to read the kitty’s identification card and was soon surprised to learn that Ghost, named for his rather eerie white color, had been displaced from his home because he refused to get along with another cat.

I remember thinking, “Are you kidding me?  Ghost is just a baby.  He’s barely as big as my hand!”  I felt really bad that Ghost’s previous owners hadn’t given him more of a chance in their home and tried to brighten the little guy’s day by putting a toy in his kennel.  Not even my kind gesture silenced Ghost’s meows.

Remembering my task, laundry, I left Ghost to sounding his perennial alarm and went back to change out loads of clothes and towels.  While new loads were laundered, I folded what had already been washed and straightened out the shelter’s linen and food storage area.  With the laundry caught up, I again returned to the front desk for another assignment.  Noticing that I was a bit disappointed to learn that everything in the shelter was as caught up as the laundry, the young lady mentioned that a dog or two still needed to be walked and asked if I was interested.  I enthusiastically told her, “I would love to walk a dog!  Any dog.  Big or small.  It doesn’t matter.”

When she heard my answer, her eyes lit up with laughter which she tried to hide by turning away from me.  When she turned back to face me, only a sheepish smile betrayed her amusement…only a sheepish smile made me realize I might have made a mistake…only THAT sheepish smile made me realize I was about to walk a big dog, perhaps one even bigger than myself.

As I contemplated heading out to purchase a saddle, the woman said, “I’ll go get Buster then.”  “Buster?”  I wondered.  “Did he get his name because he busts people?  What have I done!?!”

When the woman returned from the back with Buster in tow, it didn’t take me long to see he was a bit energetic and to notice Buster’s powerful strength as he demonstrated both traits while dragging me out the shelter’s door.  Buster pulled me outside so quickly and determinedly that I didn’t even have time to ask if he knew any commands or make sure my life insurance policies were current.

I soon realized it didn’t matter if he knew commands or not.  Buster’s sole goal was to run and get away from me.  I can’t prove it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the shelter’s staff and volunteers were huddled in a corner laughing while Buster ran circles around me, grabbed his leash, and finally tackled me to the ground.

I didn’t even bother dusting myself off as I picked myself off of the ground since I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was knocked on my rump again.  I wanted to cry…and cry for help, but realized neither would do any good.  No one would be able to hear me over Ghost’s “alarm,” much less help me.  So I watched Buster run from side to side while silently praying he would stop and be still long enough for me to catch my breath.

In between a Hail Mary and an Our Father, I thought, “What in the world would I do if he starts to drag me all over town or gets loose?  What would I do then?  I should never, ever have said that I could handle a big dog!”  In between other prayers, I thought, “I might never get him back inside the shelter!  Oh, my word!  I might never make it back inside myself!”

Somehow (I personally think it was by the grace of God), Buster and I did eventually make it back to the shelter.  When Buster pulled me indoors, I saw that woman…and that same sheepish grin.  The lady asked, “How did it go?”  I don’t know why she bothered to ask when the answer was written all over my face.  I looked and felt like I’d just run the Boston Marathon without having trained first, after all.

I responded, “He’s crazy!”  In turn the woman observed, “Yes, he’s a little hyper.”  I thought, “A LITTLE hyper?  That’s like saying Mt. Everest is a little hill…that’s like saying a giant squid would make a single, little plate of calamari…that’s like saying the upcoming presidential election is a little political contest!  But…okay, whatever YOU say.  He’s a little hyper.”

As the woman led Buster back to his kennel, I realized I hadn’t even spoken to the dog during our lengthy time together.  Maybe it was because my time with him was consumed with prayers for my, I mean our survival.  Maybe it was because my breath had been knocked out of me a time or two.  Maybe it was because I didn’t have anything to say to the barely controllable creature and he had too much energy to listen.  I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter, does it?

I considered asking the woman if there was anything else I could do before I left for the day, but then remembered she’d said multiple dogs needed to be walked.  Fearing Buster’s equally energetic brother and/or sister might be in the back, I collected my things, turned on my bruised heel, and left, thus ending my first day of volunteering at the shelter.  I was beat…by Buster.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Observation in the World of Animal Welfare

Compared to other people, I have not been involved with the animal welfare world long.  I have no professional experience working with animals and I have only been volunteering with animal-related organizations for a year or so.  Yet, I find my experience in this relatively new “world” to be strikingly similar to those of people who’ve advocated for animals for years or even decades in both paid and unpaid positions.

I’m not talking about the joy of seeing a dog or cat go home with a new, loving family.  I’m also not talking about the wonderful feeling that comes from seeing a lost pet be reunited with his or her family.  And I’m not talking about the satisfaction that results from helping an organization to raise money so it can continue its operations.  Instead, I’m talking about my experience with people who choose to work with animals for a profession.  Specifically, I’m talking about my interactions with people who choose to labor in shelters and/or rescues in exchange for an hourly wage.

I have had the pleasure to meet many people who work in rescues and shelters during the months since I originally became involved with animal welfare issues.  While these individuals seem to come from many different backgrounds and have just as many different motivations for being in their chosen field, there seems to be a pattern of behavior that is readily apparent among the majority of them.

In general, these laborers are hard-working, dedicated individuals who genuinely care about the animals in their charge.  They are the ones cleaning kennels while everyone else is home enjoying a given holiday, for example.  In general, they also seem to be willing to share the details of their personal lives with just about anyone who will listen. 

They also seem to move around a lot, meaning they tend to leave one organization after a relatively brief tenure only to take a position similar to the one just vacated with another shelter or rescue.  Finally, they, for the most part, are more skilled at tending to animals than they are at communicating and interacting with other people.

I don’t know why this is.  Maybe it’s because many of these individuals come from abusive backgrounds.  Maybe it’s because many of these people seem to be perpetuating the cycle of abuse by being in relationships with verbally and/or physically abusive partners.  Or maybe it’s because they simply prefer interacting with animals to dealing with other people.  I just don’t know.

I do know, though, that their inability or overt refusal to act more kindly towards their coworkers and a given shelter’s volunteers and visitors is often counterproductive to an organization’s goal of adopting out animals.  I’m not saying that these people are deliberately sabotaging a rescue’s attempts to find new homes for the companion animals between its walls.  I am simply making the obvious point that potential adopters can be put off when a worker does not acknowledge them, is not enthusiastic about their arrival or interest in a particular animal, does not help them, or welcomes them with a story about a personal issue unrelated to their interest in adopting a dog or cat.

These workers do their best every day, just like the rest of us, to do what is right for the dogs and cats in the shelter or rescue they represent.  And I’m grateful for all of their efforts just as I’m grateful for all of the wonderful animal-related organizations that exist in the animal welfare world.  As grateful as I am, however, I’m just as eager for these organizations to invest in the people who work for them.

If an organization decides to pay to educate its staff about how to properly and effectively communicate and interact with people in a professional manner, it may not only succeed in adopting out more animals, it may also reduce its staff turnover.  Instead of criticizing charities for spending money on courses and materials that can be used to develop its staff, we should examine the very real, potential benefits of an organization doing just that.

I believe that the vast majority of money that a charitable organization collects should be used to protect and preserve the animals it cares for.  But I also believe that some funds should be dedicated to things that will help the organization operate in a more productive manner, including communication classes.

While I have had some frustrating, if not insulting interactions with shelter workers in the past, I believe they are the backbone of the organizations I serve as a volunteer.  And I believe they deserve the chance to improve their skills in every area, including communication, just as much as the workers in corporate America do.  I believe they are worth the investment.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Numbers Speak Volumes

It was a year ago this past April that I went to my first meeting at the Lakeshore Humane Society.  Not knowing exactly what a “stray” was at the time, I wasn’t sure why I was going or what I expected.  But since I had recently started volunteering with Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, I thought I should get acquainted with my own community shelter, so I went.

The Lakeshore Humane Society had scheduled the public meeting to discuss why it no longer had a contract with Manitowoc County to handle the area’s strays.  And the meeting did more than educate me about that issue…it literally changed my life
When the meeting’s presenter began to speak, I was torn.  On the one hand, I felt sorry for the man.  On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out why in the world he had been selected to speak on behalf of the Lakeshore Humane Society.  To be polite, I’ll describe his demeanor as “argumentative” even though “combative” is much more accurate.

Although I knew nothing about the Lakeshore Humane Society at the time, I lost all trace of sympathy for the lecturer when he began to recite statistics regarding the Society’s operations.  His exact words were, “We are a high kill pound,” and the stats he provided only validated his statement.  The Lakeshore Humane Society was a killing machine.  I left the meeting completely dumbfounded by how a group that exists solely to preserve and protect animals killed so many helpless, adoptable companion animals.  And that’s how my year-long journey began…

I’m happy and relieved to say that things at the Lakeshore Humane Society have changed radically in the months since that meeting.  In fact, the organization has done a 180.  The Society has proven that leadership is the number one reason that a shelter can stop killing animals…good leadership, that is.
I’m eager to tell you about the changes that have happened at the Lakeshore Humane Society since its fiscal year started last October and its new board was elected later that same month.  Following is a recap of the significant changes made by the Lakeshore Humane Society in the past six months:

·         After more than a year of negotiations, the Lakeshore Humane Society is expected to sign a 3-year contract with Manitowoc and Two Rivers on Tuesday, May 8, 2012!  Once the contract is signed, the shelter will provide pound services for both cities.  The Society will receive $22,000 per year in exchange for its services.

·         In the current fiscal year, the Lakeshore Humane Society has an adoption rate of 96%!  This rate is up 15 points compared to the 81% adoption rate recorded in 2011.  Of course, last year’s number at least partly reflects conditions that no longer exist at the Society.

·         The current reclaim rate, which measures the shelter’s success at reuniting lost pets with their respective owners, is 33%, but it tops out at 60% for dogs in the shelter.

·         The Lakeshore Humane Society presently maintains a kill rate of 4%, which is significantly lower than the 19% kill rate the Society reported in 2011.
·         This year, dogs stay at the shelter for an average of 19 days while the Society’s records show they usually stayed for 25 days in 2011.  Cats now typically stay at the shelter for 32 days while they reportedly used to stay for up to 73 days last year.

·         The Lakeshore Humane Society is now considered an open admission shelter, meaning it currently accepts all animals that are brought in.

·         Recognizing the importance of establishing relationships and partnerships with area businesses, the Lakeshore Humane Society has stopped boarding pets.  The Society will soon stop selling perishable pet goods such as dog and cat food as well.  The shelter will continue to raise funds by selling impulse items such as collars and pet treats, however.

As you can tell from the above list, it’s all coming together at the Lakeshore Humane Society!  There isn’t one thing that’s not improving over there!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Volunteer with Your Voice...For the Voiceless

Despite the erroneous announcement from the White House last week, THIS week is National Volunteer Week!  So…happy National Volunteer Week to all!

Even though I’m a volunteer for many animal-oriented groups, this post is not going to be about me. I want to talk about volunteers in general with a focus on those who work with organizations dedicated to animals.

To begin, I would like to know why you volunteer where you do.  If you’re like me, you volunteer where you do because you get some enjoyment out of it.  And if you’re like me, you love the clients…you know those furry little four-legged guys and gals who have no voice of their own.

As I spend more of my time volunteering and getting to know other volunteers, it’s starting to seem like the animals we all work so hard to help are not the only beings that don’t have a voice.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a volunteer say, “Well, I can’t say anything or else I can’t volunteer there.”  And yet it shocks me every time I hear someone make that statement.  It shocks me because what these people are reluctant to comment on usually has to do with one of two things:  how animals are being treated or paid staff members not doing what they are compensated to do.

Clearly, there is something wrong with this.

If you are a volunteer trying to do make a difference in the lives of animals, the most effective tool you have at your disposal is your voice.  It’s more valuable to the animals’ well-being than your hands or your back.  So, use it!  Stand up and say something about what you see, about what you know is inappropriate.  If you wouldn’t let it be done to your own pet, don’t let whatever it is be done to an animal who is not as fortunate as yours.  Call people out intelligently, in other words
Every animal-related organization has its share of workhorses (forgive the pun!) who do the majority of the physical work required to keep animals safe and well.  And I’m in no way, shape, or form trivializing the importance of what these devoted individuals do.  But while these organizations are lucky enough to have tireless workhorses, most of them are not fortunate enough to have people who are willing to say something when there is a breakdown…when things are obviously wrong.

Well, all of us and all of the animals need volunteers who are willing to use their voices to point out anything and everything that is wrong with how an organization operates.  What’s the worst thing that can happen if you do, anyway?  Will you get “fired?”

To put it simply, if that possibility is why you’re not saying anything, do yourself a favor and move on and volunteer somewhere else.  Life is short and you, your willingness to volunteer, and your voice are valuable resources for every single voiceless animal out there.  And there are many organizations that will recognize how valuable you, your effort and your words are.

Friday, March 23, 2012

No-Kill pioneer to lead Lakeshore Humane Society

What’s so special about April 9th, 2012, anyway?  It’s not a national holiday.  It’s probably not your birthday, your spouse’s, or one of your kid’s.  And, thankfully, it’s not the deadline for filing your income taxes.  So, why should all of us living in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin celebrate on April 9th, 2012?

Because that’s the day Dayna Kennedy officially assumes the position of Director of Operations at the Lakeshore Humane Society!

Well-known throughout the animal world, Kennedy helped turn UPAWS, a shelter near Marquette, Michigan around.  During her tenure with UPAWS, Kennedy successfully saved companion animals from death at a rate of 96 percent, meaning less than 4 percent of the animals that entered the open admission shelter she ran were put down.

Kennedy’s success at UPAWS is often discussed by NathanWinograd, the founding father of the No-Kill Movement, in his public presentations.  In fact Winograd, along with many other No-Kill advocates, considers Kennedy a pioneer in the Movement.  And, it is possible that with Kennedy’s demonstrated success in Michigan, that at least some of the 350 shelters operating in Wisconsin that have the tools necessary to turn themselves around and evolve into No-Kill shelters like Upaws, will do so.  Currently, Wisconsin only boasts of one nationally recognized No-Kill shelter,  Elmbrook Humane Society in Brookfield, WI, but hopefully that will change as other shelters follow the example Kennedy is sure to set in this state.

When Kennedy begins serving the Lakeshore Humane Society as its Director, the shelter will start to adopt its way out of killing animals…something Kennedy’s experience with UPAWS proved is possible.  With Kennedy at the helm, this community will have a shelter that works and staff members that care as much as their leader does…because Kennedy will accept nothing less for the animals, herself, and the No-Kill Movement.

While April 9th, 2012, really is a day we should all celebrate, the truth is our celebrations should have started about six months ago when  Lakeshore Humane Society’s Board of Directors was elected.  This board inherited a literal mess that included the Society’s horrible yet deserved reputation.  And, this board has taken some very large, difficult steps to address the Society’s obvious internal and external problems.  Hiring Kennedy is only the most recent of these steps.
The Lakeshore Humane Society’s current Board of Directors is probably the best one the Society’s membership has elected since the shelter opened its doors in 1970.  And, we all need to remember that whatever success Kennedy is destined to have in our community would not have been possible if the board hadn’t hired her.  The future success of  Lakeshore Humane Society, the future evolution of the Society into a No-Kill facility, belongs to the board members as much as it will to Kennedy.

April 9th, 2012, is a date we should look forward to with great excitement because it’s going into the history books of Manitowoc County and the animal welfare world.  It’s the date that will mark the beginning of  Lakeshore Humane Society’s transformation from what was to what will be.  It’s the date that will represent a victory for the No-Kill Movement because yet another shelter, our local Humane Society, will recognize that life is the only viable, desirable option for the animals between its walls.