Animal Shelter of the Week: Episode 17 – Allen County SPCA in Indiana

Allen County SPCA has been around for more than 70 years & places thousands of dogs and cats into forever homes each year. They offer a number of programs that benefit the animals in their care and for the pet lovers of Fort Wayne, Indiana. One of their programs is Pet Promises which focuses on keeping pets with the people who love them. They have an event coming up in October and if you love karaoke and are in the area, we highly recommend joining them – it sounds like a wonderful way to support them and learn more! Listen in and see how you can support them today!

Check out their website & Facebook today and see how you can help!

Welcome to the ARPA Animal Shelter of the week podcast where we introduce you to incredible organizations around the country that are focused on helping animals.  We’re proud to be sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport.  Let’s meet this week’s featured animal shelter. The Allen County  SPCA has been providing a safe haven for homeless cats and dogs in Northeast Indiana for more than 65 years. They’re a limited intake facility offering an effective in comprehensive adoption program. And from the moment the animal arrives, they provide medical and rehabilitation services, enrichment and behavior assessments as necessary to give their animals the best opportunity for adoption. Welcome to the show. Thanks, Rachel. I’m excited to be with you today. Yeah, I’m excited to have you. So you are with Allen County SPCA in Indiana. So why don’t you start by telling us exactly where you’re located and maybe a little bit of history about your organization? Okay, well, we are in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and we are the largest on oldest nonprofit humane society in northeast Indiana. So been around a long time. About 70 years. And we work with our municipal partner here in port when a lot of communities have two types of shelters, right, they have a municipal shelter and a nonprofit, humane society. And so we are the nonprofit Humane Society here in Fort Wayne, serving cats and dogs in our community. Very cool. So 70 years is a really, really long time to be in this industry. How long have you been with the organization? Just over six years now, OK, which is still a really long time. And have you had the same role? Or have you played different parts within your six years with them? No. I came in as the executive director here with very little history in animal welfare, just really, as a volunteer. Only I came from the world of commercial real estate development. But I had been volunteering for some shelters around the state of Indiana when the opportunity to work at the Allen County SPCA became available and I left on it and I’ve never looked back. Yeah, that’s very cool. It does have a way to suck you in, right? Yeah. Sometimes people stumble into it, and they just they can’t get out, nor do they want to get out, right. So I think that’s that’s very cool, Andi. I’m sure the background that you bring, you know, is that it’s I’m sure it has to be interesting and right versus somebody who’s always known they wanted to get into animal rescue. I think what you did previously, you know, gives you a different perspective on things well, and I’m of a certain age. I didn’t even know this was a job. I did not know you could have a career in animal welfare. Sure, sure, when I was growing up, you could be a nurse or a teacher or whatever. So I was super excited to learn that you could not just make a living, but make a life as an animal shelter director or working in sheltering. And at two years I was the longest-serving director in the history of this organization, so there could be some turnover and animal welfare. There’s a lot of compassion, fatigue, and it’s not, you know, it’s not for everyone and not everyone’s cut out to do it. But I feel grateful every single day to be here. And I I can’t ever imagine going anywhere anytime soon. Yeah, I love that. That’s ah, not only the dedication, but it really just shows how committed you are to the animals and not just the animals, but the people. I think that’s really incredible. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what your purpose and what your mission is within the community and your dedication to the animals Give us a little bit of a story on that. Okay, Well, first of all, our organization was grassroots, and it was formed by wonderful volunteers all those years ago who had a common goal. And that was to help every animal in our community horses, livestock, cats and dogs, they anything that pertained animals, they were committed to. And over the years, we redefined ourselves, especially as our municipal shelter opened up and took on sort of the law enforcement capacity of animal welfare. We redesigned our programs to really focus on the adoption of cats and dogs. The only issue with that, Rachael, was that as a grassroots organization. Historically, animal shelters began to become very exclusive places where not everybody who wanted to adopt an animal was eligible to do so. So animals ended up staying here overtime for a long time. And that was kind of how things went for the Allen County SPCA for for decades. So it was a wonderful organization. Our hearts were in the right place, but we were loving animals longer than we should and keeping them for four years in some instances. So when I got to the SPCA I think with a fresh perspective, since I hadn’t been an animal welfare, I really wanted to rejuvenate the organization and infused new best practices. And I think we’ve made a lot of changes here, too. Expand from just pet adoption to a lot of pet retention programming as well. Yeah, so that leads me to the question. Of your six years with the organization what is the one a program that you are most proud of in your time with them. Undoubtedly, it’s our pet promises program. It is a shelter diversion program. You know, we know that people love their animals, and regardless of what their socioeconomic status is, people want to keep their pets at home. But in many instances, they feel like other people can provide a better life for their pets than they when they happen to stumble across a hurdle in their lives, whether it’s financial or whether it’s, uh, situational. So our goal is if you love your pet, we want you to keep that pet. And we developed a program called Pet Promises where we serve pets and the people who love them. Since this is the one that you’re most proud of, I want to dive into this a little bit more. How did you come up with this? Give us the background on this. And when did you start with it? What is the progression been like? Is the community around you? I just threw a bunch of questions out there, but tell us really how that got started. And how were you able to fund it. Well, first of all, I’m a child of a social worker, So I grew up with social workers heart and, you know, that kind of blood flowing in my veins. And so it’s not a far-reaching concept for me to want to help people in addition to helping animals. But several years ago, the Humane Society, the United States and PetSmart Charities got together and created this concept called Pence for Life, and they focused on major metropolitan areas in the country, and they were getting out door to door, encouraging neighbors to spay and neuter their animals. And I learned about it at national conferences that I was fortunate enough to attend. And so I kind of became obsessed with trying to figure out a way to have pets for life in Fort Wayne because I knew that poverty doesn’t just strike big cities, it happens everywhere. And this shelter where I’m working today on I look out my window is it is a socio, economically underserved area, and I knew that our neighbors needed help too. So I was very inspired to start a pets for life programme here and was even so bold as to reach out to you made it inside the United States and pet smart and asked them if in Fort Wayne we could have a lust for life program. Nice. Right. But then I then I came to understand that they were really focusing on giant cities with big population. OK, but that did not stop me. I figured you know what? I might not be able to do everything for my neighbours, but we can certainly do something. And I asked one of our, uh, generous donors to support one single vaccine clinic here. And on a Saturday morning, we had a vaccine clinic where we just invited our neighbors. And we did that through our weekly pet food bank. So our neighbors rely on us weekly for for free pet food. And so that’s the only way we publicized. Our first vaccine clinic was through our pet food bank and we had 200 pet owners and their animals waiting in line for us. When we open that first vaccine clinic. Wow. Yeah, right. And it only cost us $500. We partnered with our local ah, high volume spay neuter clinic to have a veterinarian here administering the rabies vaccines. We also offered ah distemper combo vaccines as well as microchips and off for four hours nonstop. We vaccinated and microchipped every cat and dog who came through the door, and it allowed us to see what that really need was that I suspected was there all along and utilizing that data, I wrote my very first grant request to PetSmart charities. We were fortunate enough to receive more than $70,000 from them on. And we Yeah, we launched our program s so we couldn’t call the pets for life because it was sure we call it pet promises. And so I mentioned it earlier. But that is that’s how our pet promises program was born. Nice. Yeah, it’s very cool. It just kind of goes to show you, no matter the challenges that that come up right. You shouldn’t. You shouldn’t let that stop you if you don’t hit your hit your goal. Right. Well, you know that old saying that just don’t let perfect get in the way of good, right? And so I knew I couldn’t do everything. It cuts for life. But I knew we could do something. And that was really what has fueled me all the time. And I always say, Hey, we’ll try something. And if it doesn’t work, you can always go back to the way it used to be. But we have never once gone back. Yeah, if you don’t try, it’s failure, right? You have to try. So you have to try something, So, yeah, absolutely. That’s good. When did that launch? And what has that progression looked like for you? It sounds like you’re getting the community really involved in this. And they’re loving this in getting this up and running. Did you encounter any? Any challenges? You know, it’s been so well received, Rachel. And if there have been challenges, we just, you know, bust right through way started in 2015. That’s when he got that that Grant and I was able to hire a full time promises coordinator. So that programme has one staff person and the rest is volunteer driven. And we with that first grant, we provided 500 free spay & neuter surgeries to our neighbors. We focused on the ZIP code right here in our own shelter neighborhood, and we got neighbors. Are volunteers rather out in the neighborhood going door to door, asking people how they would feel about having their pets spayed or neutered at no charge. And when I attended all those pets for life Training’s, a lot of those communities got resistance. They met resistance from the neighbours, you know, who didn’t want to get their pets spayed or neutered. They hadn’t thought about it. That was not what we encountered at all. In fact, we went through those 500 free spay & neuter vouchers quickly. Our neighbors were really open to it, and it inspired us to keep going into search for additional grant dollars. And then it also inspired us to expand our programming. We wanted to figure out why people couldn’t care for their animals, why they might consider rehoming. They’re animals, why they might consider surrendering their animals to shelters. And that’s when we just organically grew pet promises beyond pet food bank beyond spay neuter to include all the safety nets that we could come up with to keep pets at home with their people if they were loved and wanted to keep their animals. We wanted to solve problems that were that were, you know, preventing them from from keeping their animals at home. Yeah, that really is a big part of kind of running a shelter, right Is is really being committed to the community and keeping the animals out of the shelter. So I love that. That’s your approach with this, and it really sounds like it’s not just your vision. It sounds like it’s everybody’s vision both within the shelter and within the community, which I absolutely love. So rule quickly. Give me a picture of what that shelter looks like. How many animals do you guys have in your care? At any given point, we have the capacity. They have about 100 animals total, and we serve cats and dogs only. Hear the Spc. Eh? We have about 25 dogs in house at any time and 75 cats. The cat’s here mostly live in cat colonies, free Roman cat colonies. But we also partner with our three area PetSmart stores for off-site adoption. All the dogs here are in residents unless they happen to be residing in one of our foster homes if there were covering from something medical or were working on something behavioral. Very cool. So 25 dogs, 75 cats in the shelter. So that leads me to the next question of what does that foster home program look like for you, Where the majority of your animals are they in the shelter with you or in your foster home program? The majority of our animals are in our shelter. In fact, if there’s one thing that we’re really focusing on for the future, it is acquiring additional foster homes because obviously that increases our capacity and we can save a lot more animals. Uh, since since the shelter has a finite size, we know that we can save even more if we have if we have more animals. I’ll remind your listeners that really saving lives is as much about length of stay and quickly finding animals the right Holmes, rather than making adoption processes long and arduous and, you know it used to be really hard people. It was a really sad joke that people would make that it was easier to adopt a child than to adopt an animal from a shelter. And that’s kind of how it was when I got here six years ago. So streamlining that adoption process and lengthening Excuse me, shortening that length of stay from what used to be 13 days for a dog here down to six or seven days is game-changing for life saving in our community and really helps our local municipal shelter because they’re our partners. Most of our adoptable animals come from them in the first place, and they have to euthanize far fewer animals for space when they have a partner like us working diligently and quickly to find the animals home. So it’s It’s a snowball effect where we really When I first got here, our annual adoptions were at about 457 and last year we hit 27 100 adoptions. Wow, yes, from 527 105 years. That’s a lot more animals, lots for cats and dogs having the opportunity to live healthy and happy lives and homes. That’s what we’re here for. Wow, that’s incredible. That’s that’s huge, Jessica. I’m really proud of it. Yeah, that’s you I mean, I don’t even have another word, but huge, That’s I mean, that’s incredible growth in six years from 457 or five roughly 500 2 27 100 You know, the one thing I always find really interesting is the length of stay right 13 days, and now you’re down to six or seven. I mean, that’s cut in half. How were you able to do that? And it’s not just one or two days, which is still even a big difference. But that’s in half. How were you able to do that? Well, first of all, you know, as I said, we used to love our animals here. I’ll say this, and I don’t want to come out harshly. But when I when I got here and I realized how long animals were staying here and I realized that if we were full all the time with animals who’d been here a long time, then we couldn’t help other animals, right? We were literally too full to help other animals, So I gently asked our staff if we were loving our animals to death. It was a hard conversation to have, but they were so resistant to sending animals. You know, I used to say, you know, you’re looking for Cadillac adopters when reality is the Ford is a fine vehicle. Wait. Don’t have to have the cream of the crop adopters. And so we were We had all these requirements in place, fence requirements, home visits. Uh, we had a five-page adoption application, Rachel. Five pages. A lot of information. Yes, we were calling. Employment reference is your personal references. And it took us so long to reach everybody by phone. Sure that it became it became ridiculous is what it became. And so, thanks again to those national trainings that I was able to attend through HSUS and other conferences I was going to I learned all about same day adoptions and the process of what’s called open adoption in our industry. And I encourage the staff to be brave. And I had that whole philosophy of Hey, if it doesn’t work, we can always go back to the way it used to be. And we started doing same day adoptions here and when that happened, and so we moved from five days waiting to send on animal home with you tow. One day, all of a sudden animals were moving through our shelter five times faster. So you look at that. That 500 a year adoption rate to 25 100. That’s your explanation right there. It takes five fewer days, tops an animal from us. Plus, I knew that our competition was pet stores. Who sold dogs? Sure, Puppy mills. And so if you came to me looking for an animal, you connected and it took me five days to get that animal to you. More than likely you’d found a dog. By the time I called you in, finally approved your adoption application. So now if you come in and walk out with that animal, I know that you have saved the life of a shelter animal. And whenever you adopt a shelter animal, you save two lives. You save the life of the pet you’re taking home and you make space for us to pull another animal. Yeah, it almost seems too simple going from that five-page application process down to a the same day adoption. It almost seems like hidden in plain sight, if you will. Right? I know The answer is right there in front of us. But as people, we become complacent with our with our schedule, with our ritual right, with our processes. And it’s hard to take a step back, especially for those people that have been doing it the same way for years and years. It does take a fresh set of eyes, you know, a different way of thinking. Yeah, that’s I mean, that’s really incredible. Makes complete sense to me. But, you know, until it’s shown to you or you see it, you know you don’t really think about it because you’re so consumed in your day to day and what you’re currently doing. I think you’re right. And I think part really comes from dedication that we have to our colleagues at Animal Care and Control. You know, the Allen County SPCA. Always boasted that we were a no-kill shelter and we didn’t euthanize animals, and we didn’t. We were it was a luxury we chose not where a limited admission facility we were selecting the animals who came here. We didn’t euthanize them for space, but we also we were monitoring our space. We didn’t have open admission policies like animal care and control, where they have to take in every animal. So while we, as I said, had the luxury of not euthanizing animals are friends. Effort one. Animal care and control were so fortunate they were inundated. In fact, at one point in our relatively recent history, we had the highest euthanasia rate per capita in the Midwest. In Fort Wayne, Tao and I walked into the Alley County SPCA. And looked at my staff and said, You know where is responsible for that as anyone? If we are holding animals here so long that we are overcrowded ourselves and unable to help our shelter partners, then we are every bit as responsible for euthanasia and our community as the folks who have the really heart wrenching task of putting beautiful, adoptable animals to sleep. And I just wasn’t gonna have it. And so, you know, I don’t have the same staff that I had when I first started here. Okay, I was just going to ask you how was that perceived by your staff Go over braid. But I knew it was the right thing to do and thank God I had a board who was very supportive. They wanted to be a cutting edge shelter. They wanted to put their money where our mouth our hearts were. And they stood behind me as I made some really bold changes and took some different steps. And and I think that’s what’s made all the difference and the number one difference has been made in the live release rate now at Fort Wayne, Animal Care and Control. The people who work there,  are my friends Rachael and I know they didn’t want to put animals to sleep, and I thought, If there’s anything I can do to help them from having to do that, then I’ll do everything I can. And we had this common mission in this common goal to make Fort Wayne a community where animals were getting out of the shelter alive. Yeah, I love everything about that. Partnerships are so big in this industry, and sometimes it’s hard to make those connections or to keep those connections right, especially if there’s a little bit of friction going on. So I commend you for taking that approach. Of course, being friends with them kind of  helps the situation, but it really is about the partnership. It’s really about the relationship building on many levels, right? It’s the it’s the shelter staff. It’s the community. It’s organizations or other cos it doesn’t even have to be. Other shelter is necessarily write, but just other organizations or businesses in the community that I want the same common goal. It’s really important to toe work with people in your community. So I think what you guys are doing is really awesome. Thank you. Yeah. So let’s talk about your community for just a few minutes and so, Okay, give us paint us a picture of what your community looks like. And do you guys have any challenges in the community today that you’re trying to work through with them? There’s about 300 220 resident for under 20,000 residents. But then we’re surrounded by an agricultural community, which won’t surprise anybody when they think about Indiana, right, Theo in the middle of the corn fields. But our biggest challenge now, I think, is still an abundance of homeless cats, particularly out in those rural communities. And then we also have the challenge of puppy mills in our rural community as well. So those two are our biggest challenges. But met the metropolitan city of Fort Wayne has made terrific strides, as I sort of illustrated earlier in animal welfare. Lots of people here obviously are adopting animals, which has translated to amazing increases on live release rates. And now we are shifting our focus to being able to help other shelters around the country. So, for example, we take in most of our animals from animal care and control. But if they don’t have enough animals for our adoption program, we have empty kennels. We are in a SPCA relocation partners. So lots of shelters from the South are sending animals northbound now for adoption. And we are a receiving shelter now. So you think about it. Just 10 years ago, we could we had no space, even help our local shelter. Now we’re able to help them and help shelters outside the state of Indiana and shelters around the state of Indiana. So we’ve gotten sort of dog adoption, you know, mastered Now we’re focusing on helping community cats, rural cat overpopulation, and then that really challenging issue of puppy mills that happened out in our outlying areas. Yeah. And so how are you doing that? Is it through education? Yeah, it’s first of all, TNR wasn’t even legal in the city of Fort Wayne until 2014. So we have right way were late to the party. So, uh and it’s sad because that’s that’s who was really dying in shelters was cats, right? Because they’re just not enough adopters. You cannot adopt your way out of Yeah, overpopulation. We knew that sterilizing animals was going to be the key to that. So in addition to forward animal care and control, we have 1/3 coalition partner in our local high volume, low cost spay neuter clinic. They’re called Hope for Animals. And we, the three of us push local legislation through to legalize Tien are in Fort Wayne. And that was going was that was in 2014. And so the all three of our organizations have TNR programs operating simultaneously, and then the Allen County s P C. A operates the working cat program. We used to call it barn cats until we found out that there are a lot of other cool businesses that would like to have that. So we have. We have the working cat program in our community as well, and we placed 300 working cats out in Fort Wayne and Allen County. But our focus as Thie Allen County SPCA is to offer TNR services to farming communities. We know that that farmers love to have some cats in their barns. They serve a very critical role in humane pest control. But you don’t want to have 200 cats out in your barns are local farming community has really been receptive to our Spaying of cats in the barns. And for one animal care and control offers, Tien are inside the city limits and hope for animals does TNR as well. So we’re all three working, utilizing donor dollars and grant dollars, too. Continue to Spaniard er er those cats out in the out in the community and then with regard to puppy mills. That was a really difficult challenge and we haven’t even broached it really as well as we should yet, But it is on my radar, and I’m hoping to tackle it with all the fervor we have everything else in the past. Yeah, Yeah. I have no doubt that you’re going to find a successful way right into that into that realm to kind of try and help your community. So I definitely look forward to seeing what you guys come up with. Their Yeah, that the community cats or the working cats is is always an interesting one for me. Do you have somebody dedicated to that program? Is it driven by volunteers? Because you have to find tear point? It’s not just barn cats, right? That’s why you changed to working cats. So how did you guys go out and find businesses? Did they come to you organically? Did you have to go out and kind of sell this program like, how did that come to be? We definitely had to sell the program. You know, the idea of you know, people who really love cats. This understand TNR a lot. They don’t think any cat should be living outside. They think all cats should have safe and loving homes. And yes, in utopia. That is the case, right? Sure but we knew that wasn’t the case everywhere. So we did have to sell the barn cat program. I myself personally placed our very first barn cats. We followed the best practices. We we did all of our research with alley cat allies. To learn how to actually do TNR and barn cat stuff. And I place the 1st 2 barn cats myself on DH really loved the beautiful home and barn they were going to. I wanted to move in myself on. And when I did that and when the the barn cat adopter was sending me photos of his working cats and out there hunting chipmunks and I thought This is the life for those two cats, they would not have had a live outcome at any municipal shelter. They didn’t have any other options. And we save those two cats lives by placing them on that farm that day it just caught fire. So we had to do all kinds of advertising. I remember we bought ads. You know, those placemats at, like, little diners that have 100 ads all over? Yeah, we started buying. Adds that the ones that write like rural restaurant. Yeah. Yeah, I think it. All these farmers, they’re having coffee in the morning and read my add right s. Uh, yeah, I tried to get on like the farm show radio show. We tried to do everything, but since then it really kind of has grown organically because when one rural person mentions to their neighbor or their, you know, they’re pals who live out their communities that they have these working cats. Then those phone calls have been coming, and I have one part-time staff person dedicated to the tee and are out in the community. And then the Barn cat program has always been operated by the same person who manages our pat promises program for no other reason than she’s just been doing it for a long time. And and she loves the working cat programs. So she happens to also that, Yeah, you know, it often is really, really difficult to get programs up and off the ground. So I love that you were thinking outside the box and, you know, without spending a lot of money, you have to you have to invest a little something right to try and get that that momentum and that traction. I love that. You know, the community and the organizations or companies that you went to were kind of willing to to allow you, you know, to kind of kind of do that and support that. So and I want to thank best friends. Animal Society gave that very first grant 40 our and our community to all three of our organizations. They really wanted to honor our coalition approach to TNR. So all three of our organization’s spent a very sizable grant from best friends to get our tea and our program and working cat programs off the ground. So hooray for that. Yeah, so very, very interesting. You know, the challenges that you guys currently see and and how you’re working to kind of hone in on the on the solution for it on DH. Some of it does kind of come down Teo educational right, outreach, outreach programs and things of that nature. So, you know, it just it’s a job that never ends, right? You always have to be innovating. You always have to be thinking of the next best thing and having conversations. Tell us, do you guys have any outreach programs with the community while we do. And it’s funny because, you know, when I said that, we’re gonna focus on community cats and puppy mills, I think those air really broad issues. But I believe that the future of animal welfare really is in pet retention and shelter diversion. There’s going to come a time, we’re seeing it now where shelters aren’t going to have as many adoptable animals available as we once did, and thank God, right. This country is not euthanizing nearly the number of animals that we used to, so we really wanted to focus on pet promises. We think that keeping animals at home and providing those safety nets is what the future is all about. So we have reached out in our community to every social service organisation we can think of. So let them know what services we have available through pet promises, so that if they happen to stumble across a client and that client or that pet are in need, we are able to, you know, help them, and that’s been really great to in terms of a, you know, a community initiative. It is a very cool one. I know before we started recording, you would actually mentioned that you guys have in-home services. And so I want to talk about this because it does kind of tie into that. Why don’t you give us a little bit more information on what that looks like? And what made you really go that route? Okay, so once we got pet promises up and running. We wanted that program to grow organically. And so we started thinking about what the biggest issues are with people who are unable to keep your animals that they bring their shelf their pets to the shelter, wanting to surrender. And we just started having conversations rage, Would you started asking you? Why can’t you keep her animal? And there’s a myriad of reasons I’m moving. I can’t take the pet with me. Uh, you know, just behavioral issues. Whatever way. Here it. All right. And so we just okay, we need to redefine who we are or expand our programming to include helping those animals who might be at risk of entering the shelter in the first place. and we started focusing on helping to pay, for example, pet deposits. If that’s what’s keeping you from keeping your animal and you’re you’re bringing into the shelter because you can’t afford a pet deposit, it’s actually less expensive for us to help you pay the pet deposit than it is to bring your animal in the shelter. You know, vaccinate your animal, care for your animal and then find her animal a new home. Plus it either that then your animal would be taking up space on our shelter, and we couldn’t help other animals who are already in shelters. So we focused on that. And then, from that was born our in-home services program. We reached out to one low income, Medicaid funded assisted living facility here in Fort Wayne, and we just asked them how many residents they had, who had pets living in their apartments. And there were about 20 residents who had pets. So we stopped there and did an actual vaccine clinic. One day they’re on site, knowing that those folks would likely not have access to transportation. It was so well received that we began going. They’re volunteers once a month to make sure that animals in those apartments were getting what they needed. So think litter box scooping, dog walking, nail trims. Then we started transporting animals to the vet for individuals. We started bringing them back to the shelter to groom them, and we began to establish relationships not just with the pets but with their owners. Know we here time and time again about how elderly people don’t have people visiting them in the nursing home or whatever. Well, we can attest to that. And so we have become trusted friends for these pet owners. They trust us with their animals, and that’s like trusting someone with your life, right? Yeah, yes, absolutely. Yeah, And so we now have. It’s really strong relationships, not just with pets, but with the pet owners. And that was the very first, um, sort of residential facility that we visited. And from that I was able to write a big grant to the PC A to get out in out in the neighborhoods, working with churches to find out if there are parishioners who might be elderly or shut-in or might have trouble caring for their animals. and then again reaching out to those social service organizations with the same mission in mind. For example, meals on wheels. They know who we are. They have are pamphlets to pass out to pet owners who’s, you know, who’s homes. They’re serving lunches, too. And so all of a sudden, people are are keenly aware of these many services that we offer were working just in the homes, making friends with people and make sure they understand that. Hey, if you really love your animal and you want to provide it different services, then you’re able to provide it. Let the Allen County S P C a help, and that’s all volunteers out there, and it’s incredible to watch people, um, being able to keep their animals at home with them instead of feeling like they can’t provide their animals the best care and making that really difficult, painful decision to surrender. You know, it takes a lot for a volunteer and a homeowner to let another person into their home. There has to be a lot of trust to that’s built as well. I myself would be a little bit skeptical, right? Just because I’m and that kind of person. But yeah, it does take a lot of it, takes a special touch from from someone to, build that relationship, and it’s not easy to reach out to someone and asked for help, right? It’s really difficult for us to do is humans. And so I love that side of things, now they’re coming around and they understand that you’re truly there to help them. People do want to keep their animals. Yes, that’s right. I love all the pieces that kind of fit into that with what you guys are doing. Well, thank you. And there’s one of the program that we have this kind of an offshoot of in-home services. To that is Justus critical at keeping pets and people together. And that’s our compassion foster program, and those two programs go hand in hand on compassion. Foster is just us here at our shelter, providing temporary housing for pets belonging to people who are in personal crisis. So think like domestic violence for example, so victims of domestic violence it’s the number one reason that women don’t leave abusive spouses or partners is because of the threat that something will happen to the animal in the event that they leave. And so we wanted to provide that safety net for people, men or women in domestic violence situations where we will provide safe harbor for their animal anonymously and so that they can seek help and shelter for themselves. And, uh, and then the same thing goes for like a hospital. Patients, particularly elderly hospital patients, VA hospital patients. We’ve got multiple calls from the emergency room of people who refuse admission to the hospital. They don’t want to be admitted because they have to go home and care for their animal. So if you’re all alone in the world and you have to have some sort of medical treatment, but you were refusing it, because now that emergency rooms have our contact information so that we can provide compassion, foster the patient signs off. We gain access to the home through a friend or family member, and we take that animal. It’s a really incredible program. We will compassion foster animals for up to 60 days here at our shelter or in the homes of loving amazing foster families, and that keeps that bind intact. And people are able to reunite with their pets at the conclusion of whatever it is in this life that that has, uh, that that’s been, you know, tumultuous. For them, you actually had to reach out to domestic abuse shelters, to hospitals to these various locations and almost sell this programme to them, right? In order for them to be on board and and and provide that to the people coming to them, asking for help. Because if I put myself you know, in a medical situation, right, like if I put myself in that mindset, I’m thinking I need to take care of me and I love that The hospitals, VA medical clinics, et cetera, are our on board, and when they hear I have to go home to take care of my animals, it’s they have a resource for. That’s right. That’s right. If I’m if I’m sick and I’m going through that, I’m not thinking. I need to call my local animal shelter to see how they can help me like That’s not a thought in my head, right? Get myself to the hospital to figure out what’s going on. Yes, so if I think about putting myself in that position right, it just It’s important to have to arm those hospitals and abuse centers. The information right there, that first line of defense for the people. The people aren’t thinking. I need to call my animal shelter and you guys are open 24/7 right? Like there’s, you know, it’s it’s a different It’s a different piece. So I really love that. You guys are again going out to the community and you’re educating these other groups and you’re asking for help and providing them away. Teo, get through the barriers that people are giving them. I think that’s really awesome. Well, well, let’s start. Thank you. It started about I think it was in about 2015. Also, we had a lot of change here in Twentynine, so But it didn’t start with anything quite as dramatic as domestic violence or VA hospital patient was actually one woman who brought her dogs to the SPCA. To surrender them and I happened to be at the Humane Society, United States Animal Care Expo and that that year it was in New Orleans. And so I was at the Expo when one of my staff called me and she was really excited because a woman had just surrendered to really adorable dogs who were sisters. Their names were chubby and Carmela. I’ve never forgotten them. And she said, Oh, Jessica, they’re already spade. They’re vaccinated. We can put him right up on the adoption floor and they’re so cute and they’ll go home right away. So I bring that up because that was kind of the philosophy and animal shelters. We were kind of excited to get those super cute, fluffy dogs in because we could rehome him right away, right? It was like this, you know, this thing to celebrate. And then I thought about it, and I said to my staff member, her name is Chris. I said, Chris wide, Why’d she surrendered them? And she said, Oh, she lost her housing. Something to do with a landlord, some conflict of the landlord. And it dawned on me that here this woman had invested all of this money and these two adorable sister dogs spade them done all the right things were kind of act. It done everything right and through no fault of her own, had lost her housing and was going to have to move somewhere. They didn’t allow for pets. And it made me sick and maybe sad. Yeah. And so, unfortunately, here I am at this giant conference, right? So I’m surrounded by people who think outside the box. Yeah, and I don’t have to buy lunch table. And I said, Hey, does anybody here have a program where you guys will temporarily care for animals and somebody said, Oh, yeah, we call that compassion Foster. I said, Do you have a contract? Would that you would be willing to share with me? She did. She emailed it to me. I emailed it to our board attorney and I said, I want to do this and I need it to happen today I called the pet owner from from my cell phone from him and I said, Hey, if we could hold on to your animals until such time as you have your new apartment, right? Would you like your dogs back? And she audibly wept Yeah. And I said, This is it. This is This is this is what this is humane. You know, we talk about what’s humane animal sheltering. This is everybody’s humane. Is anything out there? And that is giving people the opportunity to reconnect with the animals they love? We kept those dogs for 60 days in and out of foster care because they were ordinary. So something way back. But I will tell you the day that she reunited with those two dogs was one of the most glorious things I’d ever witnessed. And it inspired us to start a program like that. And now we do it all the time. Yeah, that’s beautiful. Yeah, there is something to be said about that again. I think we get stuck in a routine right, And and so there has to be a trigger when those situations come up for you, right? You have to be able to see the other side. Because, like you said, my heart actually broke when you said she called you, and she was excited. Like, as I said here, I just I kind of melted into my chair and was like, what? Like, why is that a good thing, right? You know, most shelters, you know, our pull up a certain type of animal. Let’s face it, there are certain, you know, physical features of animals that predominately make up shelters in this country. So we want people to come in here and adopt from us. And we know one of the things that gets them through the door are short our curly coated dogs or the fluffy’s. Yeah, I want to kind of ask if you have a memorable story that you want to share. I feel like talking about all this compassion Foster home program. I feel like you might have something that you that you experienced that you want to share with listeners. Do you have anything like that? Probably 100. 100? I’m behaving more like 1,000 but okay. So, honestly, when you see a compassion fostered pet be reunited with her family, it’s amazing. We had about six months ago. A woman come through the front doors who, uh, I was shaking and she had her dog with her. Her dog’s name is dipstick No affectionately calls him dippy, Uh, and he was a little bit of a dip stick, I’ll tell you, but, I mean, in all fairness, uh, but she came to the SPCA under really tragic circumstances. She had fled her abuser who lived several hours away from here. Uh, he had beaten her so badly, she had traumatic brain injury and she sought refuge in Fort Wayne. But unfortunately, the place where she was staying would not allow for pets. And so with no information, they didn’t refer her to the SPCA She brought her dog here to surrender him and hope that we could find him, Uh, you know, a new home while while she sought safety herself here. And of course, the staff here are trained to respond. And we explained to her the Compassion Foster program, and she immediately left at that chance. To have dipstick fostered here at the shelter we took him in. But unlike our other, uh, situations it took, you have on a really long time to navigate our local social service community. First of all, she’s not from port way. And so she didn’t really know, even where to go for help. And she had she needed a lot of resource is she had medical issues because of the abuse. She had tons of trauma, Personal PTSD. Ah, lot of things were going on on DH. Dipstick was the one a single thing in her life that brought her comfort. He was her emotional support animal. He was her only family member. He was everything to her. And you even came to the SPCA. Every day, twice a day to lay in his kennel with him to take him out to the yard to play tow walk. She never broke that bond. But unlike our other er clients in that program, it took six months before she could attain housing. Wow. But I think the part that I’m proudest of is that she attained housing because of the Allen County SPCA. When we saw that she was struggling navigating local social service programs, uh, I started to reach out to different agencies who I knew, And before long, we had her connected to, uh, really strong social service program in our community. And one of my staff members mentioned that her landlord was pet friendly and so reached out to her landlord. And then all of a sudden, these pieces just started fitting together. Rachael. Yeah, And it was really I have to say the staff of the SPCA began to rally for her. We’d become friends with her. We loved her dog and that we became friends with her because she was here so often. And we knew she didn’t have anybody else really advocate for her. So between everybody working at this shelter, In fact, she actually ended up spending some time with one of my staff members staying it at her home because she was nowhere else to go. We tried to meet every need for you, Yvonne, and for dipstick. And at the end of the day, I’m really happy to report that you she has her own apartment with dipstick furnished with furniture that came from vouchers that we were able to help her attain. My staff moved her in using shelter vans that normally transport animals. We moved her into her new apartment and helped her get that new life that she deserved. And so did dipstick. Yes. You know, I think that that when I say that we’re committed to the pets and the people who love them, it’s that’s 100%. It wasn’t just about dipstick that day. It was about getting you von what she needed to, and it took us a long time to do it. But we did it, and I don’t know that there are a whole lot of other shelters out there who were doing that. It shows your dedication to dipstick, but I think what’s more important is it shows the humanity that you have. Thank you for sharing that. I think it’s important and it’s a good reminder for people to really take a step back. And when people come to you and they’re looking to surrender their animal, you have to ask the questions, the hard questions. It’s easy to take an animal in right all things considered it. But to really look outside that and create new programs and and try to overcome the barriers that exist, it’s it’s difficult. It’s really difficult, You know, an animal is not a pet until it has a person. If we want to find homes for pets, we have to be compassionate people toe other people. So just go. I know that you guys are a non profit, and so the fundraising has to be a huge part of what you guys do. So tell me a little bit about the fundraising that you have. And do you have an event coming up? We do have one coming up on Friday, October 18th and it’s called Growl at the Moon and it’s a riot. It is a professionally produced event. So everybody’s great carry oking at like your local pub write, write, write. This takes it to a whole new level. We are fortunate to have Sweetwater sound in our community that just like the preeminent amazing music organization, And so they support this by providing this amazing sound for the whole night. And we have a huge stage. We provide back up singers, and then people bid to get the opportunity to sing karaoke. On this huge stage, we have these giant screens. It’s broadcast is amazing, right, and I used to think that I sort of took the reverse approach that people wouldn’t want to sing and so you you’d bid not to have to sink But our community, it turns out, is full of hands Who love to sing karaoke. So we have that fun event Friday, October 18th. And you know you’re right. We are nonprofit organization. We have, ah, one point $2,000,000 operating budget. Our largest gifts are really given to us by just regular folks. That about the $50 level. And so those fundraisers are great ways, Tio educate our community about what we’re doing, but to have a whole lot of fun Wall. We’re doing it. Yeah, I definitely like that. And it is about community relationships and building, so I can appreciate that. You guys have, you know, three major events a year, and then you do rely on on the study donations. So well, we love what we do here, and we couldn’t do it without the people who support us. And I really appreciate you letting us tell our story today. Look. So Jessica, I could I could spend another hour chatting with you and I love the stories that you shared. Is there anything else you want to mention before we start to wrap this up? You know, your listeners who are working in animal welfare. I think I would just encourage you them to be brave, to not let perfect get in the way of better than what you’ve been doing before. And as I said all along throughout this podcast today, if things don’t go the way you thought, you can always go back to the way they were. But I think if you are brave and you’re compassionate, that you’ll see successes you never thought imaginable. And all of that equates to life saving. And that’s really what your job is. If you’re in this industry, your job is to figure out ways to save lives, and sometimes it’s animals lives, and sometimes it’s people’s. That’s really beautiful in a in a great way to wrap this up. So, Jessica, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing the programs that you guys have in in Fort Wayne, and and I and I look forward to kind of following your progress and seeing what you guys are going to do next. It was such a pleasure. 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