Here's why I wrote this ebook.
In which Jill explains the need for Shelter Reform in the Digital Age.
Many of us in the animal rescue community start out wearing rose-colored glasses. When I began visiting animal shelters and networking dogs on social media, I was a babe in the woods. I assumed that all animal shelters were modern and well-run; that they leveraged technology effectively; that everyone cared as much about saving lives as I did; and that fellow animal-lovers could collaborate, each of us leveraging our individual skills in the spirit of teamwork and saving lives.
Call me Pollyanna.
The pendulum swung the other way when I saw how some shelters operated. I visited shelters where staff members refused to enter the kennels. Shelter managers avoided answering emails, presumably afraid to put anything in writing. Meanwhile, rescues remained on the sidelines until a dog’s online pledges topped $500.00. Shockingly many would override a qualified adopter to get the dog, only to take it to a boarding facility. Online chats would often blow up as tempers flared and people resorted to using aliases online to troll others. Some of these same people would disappear when asked to help, but show up later to lecture people in capital letters.
Humans are at the root of social problems and, while I couldn’t fix tempers in chat rooms, I could at least call attention to some of the organizational and process dysfunctions so prevalent—and fixable!—in the shelter system.
What began as a catalog of the common animal rescue challenges quickly took on a life of its own. How could I document problems without proposing solutions? Maybe the lack of creativity and innovation were the culprits? Maybe it was time to modernize outdated shelter technology and manage the data? And what about ongoing governance and updated policies?
The result became an ebook, Shelter Reform in the Digital Age. It inventories the problems many shelters should be able to overcome. The recipe calls for infrastructure modernization, updated measurement, digitization, data, and visionary leadership.
Happily, since I wrote the ebook two years ago, some of the dreams I envisioned have come true! Shelters like Ventura County Animal Services have introduced mobile apps, making it easier for potential adopters to browse available animals and receive real-time updates. Tablet computers now greet visitors at Austin Pets Alive! offering updated information about adoptable pets, and search functionality for common questions and answers. And L.A.’s new Wallis Annenberg Pet Space features interactive screens to help visitors understand the plight of adoptable animals—which stay in state-of-the-art “adoption suites” complete with floors that absorb and treat waste. Pet Space offers opportunities for the community to participate in the no-kill movement with workshops on topics like puppy development, crate training, and animal behavior science.
When I wrote the ebook most of my proposals came from a combination of my experience as a management consultant and my imagination. As you read it now some of the remedies will look familiar. Maybe you’ve even seen data analytics and shelter videos in action? The real promise of the innovations taking place in animal shelters around the world is: if we can modernize shelters, we humans can spend less time in online chat rooms and more time with our companion animals!
Hopefully, that will be sooner than we think.