Karel Minor became the Executive Director of the Humane Society of Berks County in 2004. It contained the usual chain-link kennels for dogs and overcrowded areas for cats, with all of the noise, stress, and unwanted smells that most people are familiar with when visiting a humane society or animal rescue shelter.
Minor proposed a new “Mission and Vision” statement for the Society in 2005. He wanted to “eliminate pain and suffering and enhance the quality of life for animals; act as a source of information on behalf of animals through education and community outreach; become the model for other animal welfare organizations; and develop satellite facilities so no Berks Countian would be further than 30 minutes away from a location. He wanted the Humane Society of Berks County to fulfill their motto: “Berks County’s leader in animal welfare.”
Constant overcrowding forced unacceptably high levels of euthanasia as the only option to open up space, control costs and maintain humane care. Summertime creates a huge problem for most humane societies, especially for cats, which arrive in multiples. One of the first major innovations was the “Free To A Great Home” (FTAGH) program started in 2005.
By offering harder-to-adopt cats, over 11 years old, for no adoption fee, many more cats got homes through the FTAGH program. As a result, the agency got a lot of press coverage and public attention, and the euthanasia rate dropped for the first time in the shelter’s history. In fact, the BCHS received a “Best Industry Practice for Adoption Programs Award” from the American Humane Association in 2006.
By reducing the number of cats available, there was more room for other animals. More good news: The program worked so well, it was extended year-round and included dogs eight years and older. Any animal not adopted after eight weeks was also included in the FTAGH program.
In 2007, they began “PetNet: Foster housing for pets in need.” At first intended for victims of domestic violence–often women who avoided fleeing to safety because they wouldn’t leave family pets behind–the program was extended to any family affected by a crisis or disaster: fire, hurricane, personal catastrophe, etc. The HSBC provides housing free of charge to such animals. Further, they provide foster homes for some and supply pet food from the PetNet food bank of donations. They also offer free pet supplies, basic vaccinations, and medical care.
Eligible families are referred by emergency management agencies, health and welfare agencies, domestic violence centers and hospitals. The HSBC works with Berks Women in Crisis, which provides services for victims of sexual or domestic violence.
Personal note: We have a Community Watch Program that works directly with local police. We were trying to create such a program for our area. When I discovered this under-advertised service already existed through the BCHS, I informed our contact officer. Now, all of our local police carry a BCHS brochure with contact information they can offer to any family in crisis. Awareness is often the first step to solutions. Any community can copy or extend such resources to its needy citizens.
Karel Minor said the HSBC researched the main reasons behind pet overpopulation, animal abuse, and homeless animals. They discovered the major problems were not due to lack of owner responsibility to spay/neuter that produced an overflow of unwanted pups, strays, or abandoned animals; the influx of animals were from owners who could not afford vet care or behavioral training for their pets.
In 2007, they opened their new version of a Cat Adoption Center, which changed how feline adoptions were handled from that time on. The HSBC installed large HVAC units that purified the air at rates similar to that in human hospitals. Adopters could visit the cats in “getting-to-know-you” adoption rooms. Some cats lived in glass-enclosed group habitats; others were featured in well-lit displays in individualized, glass-enclosed, comfy surroundings with clean litter boxes, toys and blankets. See pictures of the HSBC’s modern cat adoption center.
The HSBC started the “Ani-Meals on Wheels” program in May of 2007. They deliver pet food monthly to qualified seniors and others with mobility or health problems or proven financial limitations. Volunteers also provide kitty litter and pet supplies.
Since these innovations, along with networking with other rescues and foster homes, the euthanasia rates were greatly reduced.
This was only the beginning of innovations that affected the lives of hundreds of animals and put a stop to euthanasia due to overcrowding and lack of resources. (Part 2 Note: No healthy cats or dogs were euthanized in 2008-2010.)
Minor believed in transparency. He felt that an informed public would become an involved public, a team player. By way of public disclosure of the “realities” the Humane Society faces, Minor began publishing all agency statistics online regarding the intake and outflow of all animals since January 2008. The community has become more involved than ever. His theory is working.
“2007 Kennel and Cattery Campaign.” http://www.berkshumane.org/about/HumaneSocietyofBerksCounty_2007Kennel-CatteryCampaign.htm
Humane Society of Berks County: Free To A Great Home (FTAGH) Adoption Program. Http://wwwberkshumane.org/adoption/adoption.asp#healthguarantee .
Humane Society of Berks County: HSBC History, by freelance writer and former Board President, Terry Scott Reed. Http://www.berkshumane.org/about/about_history.asp .
Humane Society of Berks County “Mission and Vision” Statement, Karel Minor, Executive Director. Http://www.berkshumane.org/about/about_mission.asp .
Humane Society of Berks County. “PetNet: Foster housing for pets in need.” Http://www.berkshumane.org/services/services_petnet.asp .
Humane Society of Berks County. Pictures of the new Cat Adoption Center: http://www.berkshumane.org/news2.asp.