Ok, first off hats off to some of the great folks who were live blogging and live tweeting from the conference. It was kind of like being there -- without being there. Thanks all -- particularly Christie from the Pet Connection and jsibley on Twitter. Thanks all.
Christie had an awesome set of live blog posts. I'm going to link to all of them individually with a few comments about each of them. I have seen most of the speakers before so I feel comfortable about knowing what the basics of the presentations. So please, go read Christie's posts - And some from the No More Homeless Pets Conference blog -- which are the links provided. And enjoy. My thoughts included below.
It is great to hear how much Best Friends has really embraced the No Kill movement. But what I think may be the most interesting part of this is just how many organizations (all the panelists except one) that are turning against Mandatory Spay/Neuter Ordinances. As recently as 4 years ago, it seemed like most everyone favored MSN ordinances -- but after seeing the devastating effects of these ordinances, most animal welfare orgs now do not favor them. The bottom line is that most people now currently alter their pets on their own. The most common reason people don't alter their pets is because they cannot afford to. Laws don't change that. And laws on their own only cause many animals to be confiscated for non-compliance with the law. Low cost spay/neuter programs -- programs that remove the #1 barrier for non-compliance - do work. While laws can seem to work when the low cost options are in place, they are unneccessary because the low cost options work without them. At best, the laws are unnecessary, at worst, catastrophic for animals.
I'm also amazed at how anyone could use Los Angeles as a model of "success" for this type of law. Just because they have it, doesn't mean it's been successful.
It is amazing to me how slow the animal welfare/rescue industry has been to adapt to change. While virually every other organization type is actively learning from other industries that will move them to the next level of success, it seems that many in animal welfare are horrible about goal-setting, and many even believe that success is not possible. It is time to abandon old ways of thinking about animal welfare and adopt new models that have proven succcessful.
I'm still fascinated by the number of cities that have laws that actively work against Feral Cats and feral cat caretakers. Programs that actively seek to alter animals so the colony populations begin to stabalize and then dwindle are great. Barn cat programs are excellent. The idea that squirrels have more protrection under the law than cats is just odd to me. And I know many people get upset about "outside" cats - but as Winograd pointed out at the conference, being outside is not the leading killer of cats in this country -- our animal shelters are. It's time to re-think feral cats and give them a chance to live out their lives naturally vs prematurely killing them in our shelter systems.
Sometimes it's important to think about "friend" raising, not just "fund" raising. Social media outlets are excellent ways to make friends, and maintain connections, cheaply and efficiently. The more we can do to use these to our benefit the better we'll be able to reach out to others when we need homes for animals (which is always).
In three years, Bonnie Brown has taken the community of Reno, NV from essentially a city like most others than kills about 50% of the animals in their shelter, to a community that is essentially no-kill. It hasn't been just her thought -- it's taken an entire community of people (including animal control - yah Mitch!) to get them there.
Much of the success in Reno has been by avoiding the type of thinking that leaves animals in shelters and taking a proactive approach to marketing. While many shelters get upset about the idea of "impulse" adoptions, Bonnie points out that most of us in rescue have certainly "saved" an animal on impulse. Why would adoptions be different? Just because a decision is made on "impulse" doesn't mean it isn't a lasting decision.
She also believes in using ideas from retail to save lives. Auto dealers really work to get people to take cars for test drives because they know once someone drives a car, they are more likely to fall in love and buy it. Why don't we do more "trial adoptions" for people who are not 100% sure if they want a pet or not and let them take an animal home and fall in love. It's about creating an experience with the animal, not trying to get them to fall in love through a metal cage wall.
Nevada Humane also has some of the most innovative adoption promotions -- seniors for seniors, Valentines Day Speed Dating, St. Patricks DAy, Mardi Gras, and even Arbor Day (some funny stuff here). She also recommends taking the Wal-Mart approach to adopting out animals. While high end retailers may charge more, they move fewer items. In a shelter environment, we must move a large number of animals. Think Wal-mart, not Saks 5th Avenue. If you move a lot of animals, and do things the right way, you'll more than make up for the fees with more adoptions and more donations from people who see you're doing right by the animals.
I've talked a lot about Calgary here in the past -- and there are a lot of great things going on in New York as well. Some things though that I think are particularly relevant that are making Calgary a success where others are failing:
1) In Calgary, their main idea is that most people WANT to do the right thing, but often don't know what that is or don't have the resources to do it. There, they are all about educating people on the right things to do, and removing the barriers to doing them with things like low cost/no cost spay/neuter.
2) Their focus is also on education, not enforcement. Bill Bruce there firmly believes that laws and ticketing are not the way to gain compliance -- that education is. "Enforcement is always the last resort, not the first". This is probably where most US cities go astray as we put way too much emphasis in this country on punishing people vs getting the right desired behavior.
3) Calgary has very high licensing rates -- which allows them to have very high Return-to-owner numbers. 30% of the animals they "intake" never even make it to the shelter -- but are driven directly home. Their focus is on getting the animal home, and not 'punishing" the owner for having the loose dog in the first place. If someone becomes a "habitual" offender, THEN they get fined. But free rides home are always available for first time offenses. This allows their animal control to be seen as a service, not as a punishing organization -- which increases licensing compliance. It also saves them a small fortune in sheltering costs by never having the animals come into the shelter.
Thanks to all who attended this weekend that made getting the information out there possible.