Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Animal Rescue Needs a Reboot

Dudley, Former Foster Dog

Most people typically don't understand much about the world of animal rescue. Most know that there are animal shelters in their communities, but few have ever given much thought to their inner workings, nor those of animal rescue organizations. Much like questioning where your food comes from, most people don't really want to know too many details.

In San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, we have a municipally-run animal shelter, the San Jose Animal Care Center, which is one of the largest on the West Coast. In 2015, this shelter took in over 14,000 scared, lost, injured and sick animals from its jurisdiction of San Jose, Milpitas, Saratoga, Cupertino and Los Gatos — an area representing over 1.2 million people. Many of these animals don't qualify to go up for adoption at the shelter due to illness, age, fear, or behavioral issues. Sadly, these animals face the risk of euthanasia because the shelter has neither the space nor the resources to care for them. It falls to the community’s animal rescue organizations to "rescue" these pets, provide them with the care they need, and find them permanent homes.

This situation is altogether too common across the country. San Jose’s shelter is well-run and operated by dedicated, hard-working people who save thousands of animals each year. But the reality is that there are just too many animals in need. As more and more communities strive to become “No Kill,” rescue organizations are becoming even more critical to the “business” of saving lives.

But the status quo is that many rescue organizations are struggling to accomplish their life-saving mission in the face of major challenges: all-volunteer workforces, extreme shortages of foster homes, extraordinary vet expenses, and lack of infrastructure, just to name a few. Despite the fact that U.S. consumers spend over $62 million each year on pet products and supplies, most rescue organizations are chronically under-funded. All of this takes a tremendous toll on well-intentioned volunteers who can easily fall victim to compassion fatigue and burnout. The result is that many of these organizations gradually erode or outright collapse as volunteers leave and finances dwindle.

Local shelters cannot succeed without partnering with effective animal rescue organizations, and yet these organizations are themselves often not empowered to succeed. Animal rescue needs a reboot — a fundamental reinvention for a new century.

What does this mean? It means that animal rescue should no longer be viewed as a hobby, but rather as a challenging business that is critical to the animal welfare landscape, and an important indicator of how a community values their pets.

There is and will always be a gap between what our local shelters can do with the resources they have, and what is needed to help the pets who need us the most. This gap can no longer be adequately filled by only well-meaning volunteers. We need to establish a viable business model for animal rescue that is creative, sustainable, and attracts talented professionals to help solve this problem.

Rebooting animal rescue means:

1 - A fundamental shift in viewing the cause of saving lives as a business that brings tremendous value and heart to a community;

2 - Hiring and paying professionals (in all areas of the business) who dedicate their time and talent in this pursuit, and paying them a living wage;

3 - Investing in infrastructure such as technology to make the business run efficiently and scale;

4 - Seeking out partnerships with other nonprofits (animal welfare, community, and education), community businesses, and corporations who support the business of saving lives;

5 - Transforming the dialog and the experience from one of sadness to a celebration of a pet's life by creating positive, engaging, and unique community centers for pet lovers that draw people in so they can learn, mingle and enjoy a pet’s company.

I remain optimistic about the future of animal welfare, especially in our community, if we can harness the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley and disrupt the status quo. After all, what better business to be in than the business of unconditional love?

Pictured above is my beloved foster dog Dudley. He was picked up by Animal Control in January 2016 in East San Jose, emaciated and very sick. This young dog needed extensive medical diagnostics and treatment that the shelter could not provide. My organization, Silicon Valley Pet Project (SVPP), rescued and rehabilitated this special dog. SVPP is an all volunteer 501c3 nonprofit organization with the mission of saving local at-risk shelter pets through rescue, community involvement and education. We are actively working to apply the principles outlined above.