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What I’ve Learned in 55 Weeks of Working in Animal Welfare

As I wrote this piece, I realized it’s been 55 weeks since I started at IndyHumane. There are times when it feels like it’s been every bit of 55 weeks and other times when it feels like…well, 55 minutes. I’m learning a lot and have much more to learn. Also, I admit that I wrote this with commentary that is informed more by my observations and developed opinions and less by data and research. But I feel lucky to be able to observe and be subjective, as I am only able to do this because my colleagues at both Michigan Road and at our midtown clinic in Haughville are so utterly outstanding. I wander our facilities and continue to be inspired and marvel at the tireless commitment, creative expertise, and brilliant efficiency of our entire team at IndyHumane. 

I’ve learned that this kind of effort and care vibrates through other organizations in the animal welfare sector. Just one example is FACE, whose equally-relatively-new CEO Jen Hancock shares my desire to work collaboratively, not competitively. While some folks believe that duplicating our efforts in the sector is futile, I believe that Indianapolis and Central Indiana cannot have enough high-quality organizations to do the work that makes our community safer, healthier, more humane, and even more compassionate. In my nearly thirty years of experience working in Indianapolis, I’ve seen the most success from leaders and volunteers who aspire to work together to achieve important results. Competition in nonprofit and social sectors creates an image of organizations who are self-centered rather than mission-driven, and ultimately creates a losing situation for everyone involved, including the community. I’m too new to make a conclusive judgement about the degree to which the animal welfare sector works together, but I can say this with confidence: we all have work to do.

In a changing environment that is seeing the unintended outcomes of success…(reduction of euthanasia by nearly 90% since the year 2000; demonstrative gains in spay and neuter efforts finally paying off and resulting in fewer and fewer dogs; “desirable” dogs ending up in shelters less and less, resulting in shelters filling with dogs who need more specialized care before they are adoptable; a lack of adoptable dogs in some parts of the country)…we MUST find ways to work more closely or we will face challenges even greater than we face today, and we will face them alone. These new challenges will require us to band together and look outward at what a 2020 Central Indiana needs from us.

Yes, we’ll continue to be an adoption agency. Yes, we’ll continue to be providers of low-cost care so that more people in our community can take care of their animals the way they truly want to. But we’ll need to be MORE than that to the areas of our community that still aren’t being served.

We need to be there for the people who don’t know where the closest humane society or pet adoption center is. 

We need to be there for the 75% of income-challenged neighborhoods and zip codes who don’t know of any vet presence nearby. 

We need to understand that “low-cost” still comes at a high price for those who have to take time off work from their hourly job to get their pet to our clinic, or who don’t have a vehicle and have to pay someone to drive them to their pet’s appointment. 

We need to be there for those who still can’t adopt when the fees are waived because they won’t be able to afford costs like supplies and veterinary care once the pet gets home. 

“Free” is rarely free. So it’s time to transfer some of our laser-beam-focus on animal care to a focus on how we care for and about people. Our brilliant work at saving animals and readying them for adoption is in vain if we don’t connect appropriately to the people who need support and to the people who give support to our work with contributions — because we all know that saving lives is financially challenging and never will be supported by adoption and service fees alone.

Believe it or not, the aforementioned matters are a source of inspiration to me and are the reason I took this job in the first place. The goodness of my colleagues and the latent support of my community fuel my work every day. The opportunity to press on with colleagues positively and find those ways to collaborate and maximize our resources together, while challenging, is a puzzle worth solving. And when it feels overwhelming, I can take a break and check in on our animals, often with a tremendous and generously spirited volunteer, and remember why I’m here.

Week 55 is feeling pretty great, and I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead in the coming weeks. If you’re one of those people/households who help us, thank you…and if not, there’s plenty of room for you to join in on our joyful adventure. 

S2
Steven Stolen
CEO, IndyHumane
@sstolen on Twitter