Fall 2011 Magazine

Cover Story

2011 New Mexico Humane Conference

By Nancy Marano

On August 22-23, 2011, an educational event took place in Albuquerque for the animal community. Sponsored by Animal Humane New Mexico, this annual conference presented three-tracks of courses plus excellent speakers. Track 1 was geared toward the needs of shelter workers. Track 2 covered spay/neuter strategies and developments as well as New Mexico boards and services benefitting New Mexico's animals. Track 3 discussed various methods of treating and reducing disease in shelters.

Mike Arms, President of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego gave the keynote speech Monday morning on the "Future of Animal Welfare." Several hundred attendees responded to his plea for the animals, "Animals give everything they are capable of giving. When are we going to step up for them?" Then he proceeded to tell the audience some ways the Helen Woodward Animal Center "steps up" for its animals. All of his ideas were practical and usable by other shelters.

He compared the animal welfare industry to other industries. The comparison left animal shelters on the losing end. He stressed that the facilities and the industry need to change. "The business of saving lives costs money so shelters need to start looking at their product - adoptable animals - in a different way," he said. He suggested working with the media having them at the shelter frequently reporting on the things being done there.

Some of his ideas were
. Shelters should charge relinquishment fees for owner-surrendered animals.
. Animals and services are de-valued when we make them one price fits all at    the shelter. No other industry does this. We need to put appropriate value    on our animals and our services.
. Prices for animal adoptions and services should be raised in increments.
. Put a collection box on the cage with a card saying "$1.00 a day feeds me."
. Put the puppies in the back of the shelter so people have to walk through the    whole shelter before they see a puppy. This encourages them to adopt older    dogs.
. Always put two kittens together in a cage so people see them playing. They    are more likely to take both kittens that way.
. Don't put same-color dogs together. Mix them up.

Arms stressed that the job of animal welfare workers is public relations and getting people engaged with the shelter and what is being done there. The more the public appreciates what is being done for the animals the more they will be willing to support the shelter in a variety of ways.

He pointed out no job is more demanding physically or emotionally than working in an animal shelter. When he first started his career at the ASPCA in New York City, he planned to quit after a few months because he didn't think he could handle it. Then he got a call to pick up a dog who'd been hurt. When he got there, the dog was dying and a bunch of boys were standing around betting on how long it would take the dog to die. He told them, "That's sick." In return, they stabbed him. As he lay in the street, too, the dog used his last ounce of strength to pull closer to him and licked him. From then on he knew he had to work for animals.

His take away message was that animal welfare groups are in the business of saving lives. The public needs to know that, value that and see what the groups are doing at every opportunity. Cultivate the media and get your product - adoptable animals - out there.

Some of the highlights from other courses were:

"Compassion Fatigue," a problem for animal care workers as well as hospital workers and those in public safety, was discussed. Suggestions for recognizing it and ways to handle it were given.

Susan Reaber, Animal Humane New Mexico Behavior Specialist, spoke on "Dog Life Skills Training for Adoptability." While in the shelter it is important that every interaction with a dog waiting for adoption be an opportunity for training. By learning simple skills dogs will find homes more quickly.

Shelter medicine is an ongoing field with new techniques to solve old problems and some to treat new diseases. Among the shelter medicine issues discussed were "Controlling Disease Transmission," "Emerging Trends in Feline Infectious Disease," "An Update on the New Variant of Canine Parvovirus," and "Valley Fever." These are important topics for keeping your shelter as disease free as possible.

Spay/neuter is an essential topic at a humane conference because the failure of people to spay or neuter their animals is the main reason so many animals are in shelters awaiting adoption. The courses at this conference addressed many spay/neuter topics. "Guidelines for High-Quality, High-Volume Spay/Neuter," "Spay/Neuter Incentives and Pet Owner Education," "Spay/Neuter Solutions for Chronically Poor and Native American Communities," "New Mexico Spay/Neuter Programs," and "Reducing the Free-Roaming Cat Population."

Along with the courses, networking and vendor information, attendees were given a tour of Albuquerque's new regional spay/neuter facility courtesy of the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department.

The Animal Advocate of the Year Award was presented to Helga Schimkat for her continuous work on the behalf of animals. She is a lawyer and consultant who works on environmental and animal issues for nonprofit organizations and state entities. She coordinated the New Mexico Humane Conference for several years. Her work with Animal Protection of New Mexico included founding No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico and serving as its first President. She has consulted for the New Mexico Animal Sheltering Board and provided legal expertise to many other organizations. She graduated from Yale University and Columbia Law School and is currently starting an Animal Law Section for the State Bar of New Mexico.

Watch for notices about next year's conference and mark it down as a "must attend" event. The presentations are filled with up-to-date information and useful hints you can put into practice in your shelter or rescue. If you work in animal welfare, you owe it to yourself to be present at this conference.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by three cats, Sammy, Callie and Max. Callie and Max are new additions to our family. She is a member of the Cat Writers' Association and Dog Writers of America.

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