Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So, where is it?

     If you were to ask people on the street about the Baltimore County Animal Shelter, what response would you expect? Would they say they had been there before, that they knew just where it was, that they would go there to adopt a pet or find their pet if it were lost? Hmm. Click on the video below and let's find out.

     After watching this video,  I think it's safe to say that a whole lot of Baltimore County residents don't even know their county runs a shelter, much less where it's located.
     The facility (and the planned new one that will be built on the same piece of property) is tucked away in Baldwin, sort of near the Loch Raven Reservoir.  Most county residents never pass by it. This is not the current County Executive's fault. The shelter's location long precedes Kevin Kamenetz's election. But if you believe the old real estate adage that it's all about "Location, location, location," you know we're at a real disadvantage.
     So, it's no surprise that many people don't go to the Baltimore County Animal Shelter when they want to adopt a pet. That's bad news for the almost 5000 dogs and cats that end up there each year, not just the owner-surrendered animals, but also the strays. Pet owners whose dog or cat is missing might want very much to find it but probably don't know where to look. The shelter is required to hold those strays for only four days. After that, the animal can be offered for adoption. But if there's no room at the inn, it can be killed to make room for another stray brought in by Animal Control. There's always the chance an owner won't learn where the pet is, until it's too late.
     So, what must we do if we want to "save 90" (90% of the animals that come in to the shelter )? The answer is: create more visibility. Here are some ideas for increasing awareness about the shelter and its whereabouts:
1) Contests
a) You could have a contest to re-name the shelter. "Baltimore County Animal Shelter" is, for lack of better terms, not very warm or appealing. Surely someone can come up with a better name or a cute acronym like BARCS (The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter in Baltimore City.) Not only would the name be new and improved, the contest alone would increase awareness about the shelter.
b) You could have a contest among shelter employees. They would compete to see who could facilitate the most adoptions. Promise prizes. Prizes can be small. People just like winning stuff. Or the winner could be named Employee of the Month. Recognition is nice. It gives people a stake in the operation and makes them feel appreciated.
c) A contest for the public could allow citizens to pick the cutest new dog and cat at the shelter from photos on Facebook each week. The shelter does not currently have a Facebook page. It needs one. People will get involved on Facebook. And when they do, they'll share pictures of the animals with their Facebook "friends" which might even lead to adoptions. Awesome.
2) A PSA Campaign
There are many well-known personalities in this community who are also animal lovers. I would bet money that many would be thrilled to be in a public service announcement for the shelter. I myself would do it. I would even volunteer to write the copy!
3) Bus Signs or Bench Signs
Maybe the signs would have a picture of an adorable dog or cat and would read, "Come find me and take me home. I'm at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter 13800 Manor Rd."
4) Incentives for Adoption
Do what retail stores do. Have promotions and advertise the heck out of them on that Facebook page we just talked about. Perhaps the promotion could be a discount on adoption fees at specific times (when traffic at the shelter is typically low), or a chance for your adopted pet to be in the shelter's calendar for the coming year, (they don't have a calendar but I know a great photographer who says she would shoot the photos). Other organizations, even the Orioles, have calendars highlighting their pets.      The possibilities are pretty endless. And once these promotions catch hold on social media, there's no end to the numbers of people who might get involved. Just think of the
2014 Ice Bucket Challenge that's spreading awareness for ALS research. is there anyone in the entire country who hasn't heard about that?
4) I saved the best for last
If people aren't coming to the shelter, bring the shelter to them. Let's open one (or more) small adoption centers in addition to the Manor Rd. facility, perhaps in Towson, Cockeysville, Dundalk, or Essex, anywhere along a main artery in the county. It doesn't have to be big or fancy, just a nice, clean space with a big sign outside. Perhaps it could be located in a building owned by the county that isn't currently being used, or maybe an animal lover has a property they would lease to the county on the cheap.
     Here's the bottom line. We need to think outside the box. This is 2014. We have amazing tools at our disposal. We must choose to use them.
     This shelter is OUR shelter. The animals there are OUR community's animals. Everyone who lives in Baltimore County needs to know where to find them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What is Save 90?

   Imagine a reporter who spent twenty years covering protests and vigils...a woman who interviewed countless people, and every day crafted stories about the passions and concerns of others. She was always objective, never part of the story. That reporter was me.

     I'm no longer on television and I don't have to remain uninvolved. So now I'm reporting for my own blog, "Save 90".
      90% is the percentage of animals being saved in many shelters around the country. Many other communities are working hard to achieve this, like Pasco County, Fla. whose county commissioners adopted a Save 90 plan in 2012. Since then, the Pasco County shelter's live release rate has jumped from 22% to 80%, and the shelter's administrator is working hard to attain the 90% goal.
     Clearly it can be done, and this mission should be adopted by the Baltimore County Animal Shelter (BCAS) on Manor Rd. The BCAS live release rate in 2013 was about 50%.
    As medicine and technology and all fields have evolved and improved over the last decades, so it is with animal sheltering. There are now best practices that improve the quality of life of animals in shelters and also save lives that were once deemed un-savable.
     You can see these improvements in the numbers. According to the Humane Society of the United States, in 1970, shelters put down 12-20 million animals. Today it's an estimated 3-4 million. Sadly it's a lot, and way too many, but it's a big improvement nonetheless.
     Social media and sites like Petfinder and Adopt A Pet which link adopters with animals available for rescue have made a big difference. A virtual explosion in the number of animal rescues that take animals from shelters and find them permanent homes has also helped. Another big piece of the puzzle is found within the shelters themselves: new ways of operating and networking, and an overriding emphasis on saving lives.
      Baltimore City's shelter is a case in point. Its kill rate in 2003 was about 95%. Just think of it: 12,000 animals coming in each year...only about 600 walking out the door. But in 2004, the shelter became a 501c3 and changed its name to BARCS, the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter. BARCS operates as a public/private partnership. This means the city of Baltimore contributes some of the shelter's operating revenue; BARCS is responsible for the rest. What's resulted is no less than amazing. Executive Director Jen Brause has lowered the shelter's kill rate to below 25%. Now of the 12,000 that come in, 9000 leave alive. Some are placed with rescues. Some are fostered by volunteers in the shelter. Some are adopted. It doesn't matter how they survive. They survive.
     This is what we want for the shelter in Baltimore County...a shift in mindset, a new mission to save as many lives as possible through coordination with rescues, the implementation of a viable volunteer program, and the utilization of all best practices developed over the last decades.
     Many believe this cannot happen until we emulate BARCS...create a new entity to run the shelter as a 501c3 in a public/private partnership (PPP) with the county. I believe a determination to make change can have great success with or without a PPP.
      Baltimore County is finding itself under fire from animal advocates over the need for change, but it's not unique in this situation. A movement for shelter reform is happening in communities all over the country because most animal shelters everywhere have been run in the same way forever. Shelters were places where almost all animals that went in were killed.
     People who wanted pets bought their dogs and cats from breeders and pet stores, or from a friend or neighbor whose pet had a litter.
      It isn't easy for government to shift its mindset and adopt new ways of doing things. So, it's our job to speak up. If you care about the lives of animals in our community, let our elected officials know it. Tell them you want our shelter to be a model for others around the country, that you want Baltimore County to Save 90.
     I have faith in our government to ultimately do the right thing, once officials see that it can be done and recognize that it is being done in many counties just like ours.
    In the meantime, remember animals at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter have the potential to be wonderful companions and family pets. They are animals like Molly who you can meet in this video.

     Stay tuned to this blog for some of the amazing stories about BCAS animals and the shelters around us.