Episode 106 – Betsy McFarland

Passionate about engaging the community, Betsy McFarland has extensive experience in growing volunteers within organizations large and small. She is the author of “Volunteer Management for Animal Care Organizations” and has published research on staff-volunteer relationships. Betsy is a Certified Animal Welfare Administrator (CAWA) through the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators (SAWA). She has participated in the formation of several new nonprofit associations and serves on multiple nonprofit boards of directors.
“Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll Podcast is probably sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now on with our show. Betsy McFarland has more than 23 years in animal protection, including 18 years at the Humane Society of the United States, where she served multiple roles in the companion Animals department, including his vice president. For the last five years of her tenure, Betsy Love the development of policy and educational campaigns, including those that focus on eliminating gas chamber euthanasia and animal shelters in the United States. Those that increased man lethal solutions, formacion cat populations and programs focused on keeping pets in their homes. She’s advice hundreds of shelters and rescues around the world on animal care and sheltering in operations, policy, leadership and volunteer engagement. Passionate about engaging the community, Betsy also has extensive experience in growing volunteer programs within organizations large and small. Hey, Betsy, thanks for coming on the show. I think they’re having me start us off and give us a little bit of background and insight into you. Well, I have been involved in an animal welfare and rescue. Probably going on now more than 23 years, Thistle. While I have I guess it’s amazing how fast Time place and you’re having fun. So I kind of fell into this work. Um, like so many people, like, I actually did not grow up saying I’m gonna be a vegetarian or anything like that. I actually thought I was gonna be a psychologist, okay? And I did my degrees psychology and then I always loved animals. I had animals growing up, um, and ended up after I got married. My husband, Mike, was accepted to graduate school in Texas A and M, and we’re from the East Coast. I’m originally from Virginia and we moved to Texas, which felt a bit like a foreign land to me at the time. And I wanted to meet people. And so I thought, how better to meet people than to get involved in the community. And I started to volunteer. But as I was looking for volunteer opportunities I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do, and I saw that the animal shelter needed some help. They had that back in the mid nineties that had that little dog icon running across the screen like websites used to D’oh d’oh! Go! And I went and it was a fascinating on experience and it’s what kind of ended up changing the entire course of my career. So it was, I think, what was so crazy about it? Waas What? I went. They had me, Ah, watch a little slide show in a conference room by myself. It was the kind that you advanced yourself. You have to play separate audio recording. And I was there with somebody else who had was there for court ordered community service. And then when we finished our little thing, I went back out to the desk and said, OK, so how did I get started? And they literally looked at me like I had three heads. They didn’t know what to do it. They didn’t know what to do with the volunteer, and I thought, Well, this is odd. And so they said, Well, Goto on adoption event this weekend or whatever. And I started doing that. Um, what I quickly realized was this was, ah, shelter that desperately needed help. They were so overwhelmed. It was an animal control agency. They had high euthanasia rates and they were a revolving door for volunteers because, as you could imagine, most people have the experience I had wouldn’t stick around. So I ended up really in interested in it in a treat by it and just kept thinking Gosh, they need help. And I can’t believe this is happening in our community. And so I just stuck with it, and the rest kind of was history. Wow, that’s interesting. So you were just looking for a place to volunteer, And then after that, you went I could do a lot of good here. I did? Yeah, because I thought I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have any, I actually, that was the first time I’ve never even been in an animal shelter. And I was working for the Texas A and M University in book publishing of all things. And so it was just this random thing. But when I went in there and I saw all these amazing animals and and thought Kash, if they had more help in the community, knew this was going on. I think more people will get involved. And so what I end up doing was I just kept going back. I mean, they kind of ignored me at first. Not And it wasn’t It wasn’t out of malice. It was just overwhelmed. And as we know, a lot of people who do this kind of work tend to like animals more than they like people think is a good thing. Exactly. It’s not always a good thing. And in this case So I just kept going back and whatever they wanted me to d’oh ay dio I was like cleaning the traps they used for catching raccoons. I was, you know, scrubbing kennels, whatever they asked me to do, I just did it and I just kind of watched and thought OK after they gained my trust after a few months, I approached them and said, Look like, here’s what I’m seeing And now that you know, you know I’m not going anywhere, can I help you? And they said okay and we started to develop a volunteer, a really volunteer engagement plan for the for the shelter. Of course. I was making it up as I went, I was frantically calling other animal shelters to figure out how to Thio. You called yourself the expert and you’re calling ahead other places, right? One day in advance. It’s okay. Our next lesson for today. Exactly. And so you know, But it worked. And I ended up running this volunteer program for them as a volunteer for about two years. Um and I just It was such an incredible experience. I still have friends who were there. They think we have a new shelter. Things are much better there. Euthanasia rates are far fewer than they used to be On diet was at that point that I just said to myself, I really I want to do this. I was really captivated and thought, Oh, my gosh, this is happening across the country. We have to change this. And so I started looking for work in animal welfare. I was talking to animal shelters and all kinds of organizations, and ultimately I ended up at the Humane Society of the United States. So I joined that team in the National headquarters office out of the D C. Area in 1998 was July 1998. So yeah, so Ah, And from there, you know, I just got my foot in the door. I became an editorial assistant for the animal sheltering magazine That’s still around And just, you know, I was doing all kinds of assistant work and then grew up in the organization and was there ended up being there for 18 years. And, gosh, the stories I could tell I mean, did lots of disaster response. I got to work with all kinds of shelters and rescues all over the country and was a tremendous experience for me. And hopefully I’ve made Cem good things in the field. And ultimately, I ended up becoming a vice president and ran all of companion animals work for the Humane Society. For the last five years, I was There s so it was kind of funny to go from, you know, just volunteering at an animal shelter, not having any clue what I was doing. Thio, ultimately being a vice president of all the organizations, work with shelters and rescue us. And you had a psychology degree to back you up, right? And you know, it’s funny, though, is I? Actually, I have found in all my work that my psychology degree, I use it every day because most of this is about people. I really believe this work. While our ultimate goal is helping and saving animals, it all comes back to people because the animals can do it themselves. It takes people to make that happen. And so I really, you know, I really think that there’s a strong connection there. Yes. So now you mentioned you led a lot of programs. I’ve see it. Hsus tell tell me about some of the programs that you lead and kind of your perspective on things. Yeah, there were so many different areas, but we you know, we did everything from legislative issue. So I was working too, with some my colleagues, especially in go freaky to end gas chamber euthanasia across the country and still some work to do there. But we made a tremendous amount of progress, which is really thrilled with, and way did a lot of work on community cats on how Thio address community cat challenges. And I think one of the things that I was super thrilled about was the work our teams did around connecting with underserved communities. We started the Pets for Life program, which goes into underserved areas, like in any given community. The program really targets those it coz and neighborhoods that have the lowest income rates. The list, you know, wrote lowest number of resource is available to them and what we’ve found in that work. And it really actually, that work started because of Hurricane Katrina, because what we found in the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina was that you know, the hardest hit areas, as everyone knows, were by the Ninth Ward and some of the other areas where people had very little. And we discovered really high rates of dogs that were still intact, you know, have heartworm people in. But people love their pets. They didn’t want to leave them behind. They were crushed. And after Katrina, you know someone who helped run the call Center for Humane Society. I was talking to the 100 thousands of people who were desperate to be reunited with their pets. And so I think what we learned is that, you know, just because someone doesn’t have the resource is toe provide. What we would say is the really good care for dog or cat or any animal. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love that pet like they do any other family member. And so we really took that to heart and started using that and more of our everyday work and working on the Pets for Life Program, for example. Yeah, and I really appreciate that perspective because, like you said, it’s really it’s all about perspective. It’s all about what you think. Maybe he’s the right way to care for an animal. That doesn’t mean that they love them any less. They’re just having to balance different priorities, Yes, and it’s a huge bad challenge for people. I mean, you think about this so much so I think those of us who you know, have some resource is I know many of us were doing this work. We’re not in it because we’re getting paid millions of dollars, right? We’re all struggling a little bit, but it’s not even close to what people in underserved or like come generational poverty areas. They just well, they just you’ve just to take your dog to the vet is such a luxury on S O. You know, what we find is in that work was that if we would show up and remove barriers. So what is it that’s keeping that pet from getting what it needs or preventing that animal from staying in its home? If we can really think about what are those barriers? Then we can help check off the boxes of removing those barriers. And then everybody is healthy, unhappier. And so from that work and what we saw about people who would come out in these neighborhoods. I mean, people would wait in line for five hours with their dogs are their cash, and they wouldn’t complain. All they would, they would. They would thank you and cry and say how much they love the animal. How grateful they were that we were there to give them a Rabies shot, you know, I mean, I I would never wait five hours for a Rabies shot. I would pay my 30 bucks or whatever it costs and get it done. But people couldn’t afford it. And they were so grateful that they would do this stuff in droves and they would sign up for Spain owner and, you know, as long as the barriers removed, which for that mostly was cost an ability to do transport and access people were hungry for it. And I think in a way that really helped shift how I looked at our entire field and the work that needed to be done. And I do believe now more than ever, as euthanasia rates and shelters air coming down, it’s really incumbent upon all of us to start looking outside of shelter walls for the solution and that we, you know, we so often measure progress in animal effort by euthanasia rates, right? Like what is the line? Religious right. But I think we’re not paying attention necessarily every time to what’s actually happening out community. So I think we can use shelter. Euthanasia is the only measure of success. It’s an important one, but it’s not the only one so that I want to know. Okay, well, what’s happening in the community where animals not even showing up at the shelter, but they’re still challenges. And so I think, as we get better and better at this and we’re more solving some of the challenges that shelters are basing. We’re gonna be turning warm or to being more of a community centered and out in a field type of organizations to be sure why not? Let’s go out in the community and right there intervene. Keep pets in their homes so that they never have to come to the shelter to begin with. You know, I feel like that to me, is the place I want to see us get to. Yeah, I really like that perspective. It’s very proactive and it’s very focused on as you said. I mean, we’ve we’ve not eliminated euthanasia, but the problem is is headed in the right direction. The numbers have come way down, and then you start thinking, What is What’s the next five years gonna look like, Right? What? Yeah, is the transformational role that a animal shelter facility plays within their community? Exactly. And I think it’s interesting because in the in the consulting work that I do now, since I left Humane Society three years ago, I do a lot of consulting with all kinds of organizations, but in the animal space, what I’m seeing over and over again, no matter whether I’m working with an organization in Colorado or Massachusetts or Florida or wherever there’s there’s some key consistencies that I’m seeing. I mean, one is, um you know, that behavior issues is a huge challenge particular on dogs, and a lot of it is actually dogs transported in. You know, they’re coming from areas where they haven’t had a lot of socialization or training, and so people are struggling with How do they have them as pets in their homes? I think we’re seeing still community cats in a lot of communities is still a challenge. I also think we’re seeing you know, these under served areas is a problem, but also housing. I think rental housing with pets is a tremendous problem, and more more people rent, houses and fewer are buying houses. I at least I think I don’t quote me on that. But I think that been somewhat of a trend among millennials on. And so what does that mean for the future of pet ownership in this country and the challenges that shelters will need to be addressing as we move forward? So on. It’s funny because I do see a lot of those those kind of those four things I mentioned, and I’m sure there are others. I’m just not thinking, but I see those pretty consistently wherever I go. So I do think there’s still a lot of work to be done. Is just very different work that it was when I first walked into that shelter 23 years ago, right, That was that was just like we were swimming in puppies and kittens and swimming and animals that we just couldn’t place and they were euthanizing healthy puppy and kittens, which is just horrifying, right? And now we I mean, there’s that still happens in some places, but we’ve come so far, but they’re still challenges. They’re just such different challenges. So I feel really kind of privileged to have been able to watch all this evolve and still have an opportunity to contribute to it. Um, and, you know, and I’m excited by what’s to come, because I just didn’t think we’d get this far this fast, so it gives me a lot of actually a lot of hope for the future. Yeah, So I’m curiously what the organizations that you’re working with, and you’re you’re discussing some of these things and the changing you know landscape. What do you recommend for them? How do you help them to put together a strategy and a plan to be prepared for the future? It’s a great question, and it takes a different shape, depending on the organization we’re working with, but my business partner dying with the Diese, which is our consulting organization. You know, we we do a lot of strategic planning with organizations, and so our role as facilitators. While we have a lot of knowledge clearly in a lot of experience in this space, you know, it’s it’s not our job necessarily to dictate where an organization should go. We want to help them find the right path from them, because I do feel every organization in the animal space plays an important role right and that not everyone needs to do the same things. In fact, I think we’re stronger in a community when different organizations are carrying a different piece, right, because then we can have a much more comprehensive and holistic approach, and it’s not all falling on one agency, so we often will just partner with that organization, you know, see what their challenges and barriers are. Help them work through those things and then facilitate them through some planning processes to determine based on their particular challenges and needs in their community. What are the biggest impact Dayton make and how, and then help them set that up for the future? You know, one of things I really like about what you’re saying to you is it is very community focus. While we are all focused on animal welfare and caring for animals. Even in the other podcasts that we do the animal shelter of the weekend and rescue the weak, we find that depending where they are in the country, even in the state. In the city, the problems were slightly different, and their challenges are different rates somewhere more focused on community cats. Some are more focused on under privileged areas, so it’s interesting here. You kind of reaffirm that and say like, we really tried to focus on what they need instead of trying to say, Look, here’s the Here’s the magic cookie cutter path that you should be taking exactly. I really don’t believe in a cookie cutter approach. I think you have to look at what those needs are and then figure out how to address it. Because also, I mean, aside from that, each organization has a different culture. Different resource is so each time it’s a whole different experience when I do the consulting work. And so I think that’s one thing I actually, you know, really enjoyed the most. I get so much I’m so passionate about these issues that you know. It’s so fun for me to be able to work with an organization and help them to figure out what their terms, knowing how they can solve it. Because at the end of the day, I am so happy when they’re feeling strong and ready and they’re often running. I mean that that, to me is the greatest reward because I know that they’re going to go and help so many more animals. And I could have ever helped on my own right. So I kind of see that, as you know, how do we help multiply this effect and empower all organizations to be their best Selves so that they are, you know, impacting animals in the most positively they possibly can with what they have. Wellness? Natural pet food is for pets and their parents, who believe as we do, that good nutrition and healthy food are the building blocks of a long, happy life created by a nutritionist, veterinarians and animal lovers. Wellness recipes provided an ideal balance of nature’s finest ingredients. All won this Recipes include lean meats, whole grains and fruits and veggies with no wheat, corn or soy, and no edit artificial flavors, colors or preservatives from head to tail. Wellness is nutrition with a purpose. You can learn more at wellness pet food dot com and follow them on Facebook and Instagram at at Wellness Pet Food. So are there specific things a minute away? The organization’s you’ve talked to use their set of common things. Maybe that, you would say, are kind of recommendations like Betsy’s top five things to really be thinking about. So for an organization listening to this podcast, they can kind of see, how does that affect, you know, animals in their community? Mmm. Oh, that’s such a good question. Now, all right, I gotta think about that. So I mean a few things that come to mind listening to that question are, you know, I think I think there’s multiple ways to look at it So I would say, for example, to an animal shelter. Let’s just take that as an example to say, Well, first, you know where things going really well, what do you bright spots, you know? And how can you build upon what’s working really well for you as an organization, um, you know, taking a look at what’s happening in the organization inside the animal shelter, right? Like how how are was the wealthier, like, What are those numbers looking like? You know, what needs to be improved there and then turning outward into the community? I always like to look at What does this community looked like? If I’m helping an animal shelter, it’s not enough just to look at them like we were talking about earlier. I always want to know what’s happening outside. What what is their service area? Where did they? Where do they spend the most time responding? Where do they see the most animals coming from where you know what’s happening so that we can kind of marry both internal operations with also stemming that tied and addressing issues where they live in the community. And then I also think it’s well, what what What are our human assets available to us? And how do we, you know, increase that or strengthen s. So whether it’s the staff and what supported any, what training did you need? Where they, you know, we don’t want to prevent burnout, but also volunteers I, as you know, you, you know, from my background like volunteer engagement is, is by far one of my favorite topics. Mostly because that was my start, right? Like that was my spirits getting others have such a good experience, right? And I see organizations so often struggling with volunteer engagement, and that if that that component alone can be strengthened and you have clear, you know, clear infrastructure support to engage volunteers. Every organization I worked with who’s able to maximize that sees so much more ability to for them to meet their missions because they can’t do it on their arm or so most organizations don’t have enough staff to do everything they need to do. And what better way to support the community and bringing the community along with? And that’s the volunteers. Are they our community? So I’m a huge believer and that so those are just a few of the things that I I tend to work with organizations on. But you know, there’s there’s just so many ways to look at these issues that I I do hope you know that as we go forward, you know, we will all continue to challenge ourselves to say Okay, well, we saw this piece. But what about that? Because, right, like, we’re never gonna be done. I feel like there’s always going to be more weaken d’oh! And we can’t just rest on euthanasia rates alone. Yeah, I know. And I think that’s a really good point. I mean, volunteer having a successful volunteer program is just a common name that I hear every organization. I talked to this really doing a great job because, as you said, it allows them to do more. It allows them to pecan more programs. Andi. It’s also one of the biggest barriers, though that I find is that organizations say tears are just too hard to manage and their pain in the butt and they’re unreliable. And you know all those other things that certainly those air I calm symptoms and you’re gonna experience people like that. But any any suggestion for somebody that’s struggling with their volunteer engagement program. I mean, where would they begin? Yes, and it’s so interesting because you’re right and it’s all in. It’s to some degree. It’s all true because and this is where you know we laugh about My psychology interest is because I think humans are messy, and I think you could replace the word volunteer for staff, write and say, Well, staff are also a pain in the butt sometime just human made for people are people. And so But I think what is so important when it comes to volunteers is you having some structure is really important and having some someone or someones to help to coordinate. That makes a big difference. And I think thinking about it first for the point of view of understanding. What does the organization want to achieve? What are the programs it wants to run, you know, where does it need support and then building out what that looks like to have volunteers do it rather than just saying, Oh, we need help? Let’s just let people in the door to help us in whatever way you know who happens being strategic about how you place volunteers I feel is really, really important. And then not just accepting anybody who comes through the door. But much like you might do with paid staff is find the right volunteer for the right role. You need them to play. Not every volunteer is the same. And so if you have a strong need to have someone out engaging the community at, I’m making this up. But say an event, fair parks are taking dogs out with a dot me best to get them adopted. You want a volunteer who enjoys going out and meeting new people and interacting with people and has a great ability to sell right? You know you want a sip specific skill set. It’s not just any person, or, you know someone who’s a wallflower is not gonna be a successful at that. So I think that’s where a lot of organizations run into. Trouble is when they’re not taking the time to make the right match. Justus, you would with an adoption you need to make the right match between volunteers and the moles. You want them to play an order for everyone to be successful and then, you know, and then providing some support and making sure they understand. You know, what are the guard rails in which they’re working so that everyone is working from the same set of guidebooks and you know, the same kind of playbook, I guess so to speak. So I find most organizations who are really struggling volunteers don’t have those pieces. They’re lacking infrastructure. They’re lacking, you know, support for volunteers. And it ends up spiraling out of control. Yeah, and it seems like things that are so basic. But I I’m listening. Thio. It’s also really hard to do sometimes when you think, you know, people think about volunteers and it’s sometimes volunteers I’ve seen are very entitled, like I’m doing you the favor, but it’s setting that structure of front and saying, Look, this is the type of person we want. Here’s the job description or bullets of things that you’re going to do and making them apply for it. Right, Like this is not just you shall open, you’re guaranteed a volunteer position. There’s Listen, we have specific needs. We have specific jobs that we need done, and, you know, tell me why you’re a good fit for this job. But if they’re not like you said, not being afraid to say, You know what? This is not a fit. We’ve got other positions. Or maybe you’re not a fit for organization. Exactly. Yes. And on most organizations, when I say that especially they’re already overwhelmed, say, Well, when the heck are we gonna have time to do all that? And I say. But you’re wasting so much time now with this spinning around volunteers like it’s not productive to have Ah, did not have good volunteer engagement. You’re wasting time. And I think it is an upfront investment with What I have found is that once you get that structure in place and you begin, it builds on itself. And then you’re empowering volunteers because you have strong people who are with you for it, and then they could become leaders. And so often, what organizations are struggling, I’ll have them kind of pull back a bit. You know, um, only focus on a few rolls, get that going really, really well, and then expand. Don’t try to do it all at once, and then also look at how could we build out the volunteers who are with us and great bids to be more leaders of other volunteers, right? Because they can take on a lot of that stuff that who knows better was needed. And what type of person should be engaged than a volunteer who’s already been doing that work. So, you know, I I see it as a process and a critical one in terms of, you know, really ensuring that the organization has all the support it needs to be as impactful is a top possibly could be, Yeah, Now I can really hear your psychology, background and experience coming into play. So it’s it’s kind of interesting that, you know, when you went to school and then, as you said, you kind of stumbled into this. And now, 23 years later, you’ve really managed to Mel well these things together, and it’s really fascinating to hear your experiences in your perspective because you make it sound like, really, it’s not that hard. But here, let’s walk through the very basic steps that you know you need to do to get this done. So, um, that’s he’s been really great to talk to and have you on the program today. Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up? Thank you so much for having me. I just un thrilled that you’re doing this and I hope anyone that’s listening, we’ll feel empowered themselves to recognize that you know the path is theirs to create. I mean, each of us have a different role in a different thing to bring to this work, and all of us are needed. So I’m thrilled to be with you, and I appreciate you taking the time to hear my story. Well, Betsy, thank you so much for coming on today. It was really great to talk to you. Thanks, Chris. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, joined the Air P A. To take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do birds dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue”

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