Episode 84 – Karen Walsh

Hear from animal relocation expert, Karen Walsh, as she describes her journey in animal welfare. What began as a love for animals has evolved into a career focused on reducing overpopulation and increasing the quality of life for animals through developing and implementing best transport practices. Learn how to manage transport programs, develop staying power in the animal welfare industry and grow your career in animal welfare.

Karen Walsh - Professionals in Animal Rescue

Welcome to the professionals in animal rescue podcast where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue.  This podcast is proudly 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.  Now, on with our show! Karen Walsh has been in the animal welfare industry for 30 years and has served with various organizations in different roles. Karen is a licensed veterinary medical technician, a certified compassion fatigue educator and a certified animal welfare administrator. As a recognized subject matter expert in the animal welfare industry, she has overseen internal and external learning and development programs, focused on promoting and transferring best practices, tracking data and developing clear and measurable outcomes with analysis designed to enhance programs. She is currently serving the mission of the PC A as director of animal relocation and the shelter Outreach Department, where she’s focused on saving lives through relocation and transportation. Hey, Karen, welcome to the program. Hi, Chris. How are you? Great. Well, thanks so much for coming on and tell us a little bit about you and kind of your background. Well, I’m not Karen Walsh, and I am the director of animal relocation for the PCH now, but I have been an animal lover all my life. As a child, I grew up in a household where my father was a World Bank executive. And so we grew up traveling all over the world, and I had times where I would leave friends behind. I would make new friends and new friends and school new school couple years, and then we move again. And so I think that pets became so important to me because wherever I went, my pets went with me when my friends couldn’t. And so I think I really developed bonds at that point with animals. Well, so now you took that love of animals and then you ended up turning this into a career. Yes, it wasn’t intended that when I initially I loved horses, first horses were my biggest lots of girls. I was a cliche that was completely in love with horses, and that’s all I wanted to do and was everywhere in my room where horses and when I was 19 Well, actually, before that, I was training horses and I almost my career plan and my parents said, No, no, no, you can’t just work with horses. You’ve got to go to college and in college that has forces is fine, but college. So I went to college and I actually broke my back in a car accident at the end of the first year, my all my dreams of working with horses disappeared. They told me at the time that I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 30 that I’ve never have children, that I could never ride horses again and tell you imagine a 19. That’s a pretty devastating thing to be. Unfortunately, they were wrong. I’m now in my fifties and I have kids of my own forces, and all those things didn’t happen. But at the time, it was a pretty devastating blow, and I had to figure out a different path. So what? After multiple surgeries and several years of struggling my wife, you’re that I decided Tio go to vet tech school, some people trying to get me to go to that school, and I just thought it was too late. I’d missed that window. Sure, and in a veterinarian just wasn’t like what I was most interested in. So I want to become a vet tech and with that degree, went to work with veterinary hospital and that was approached by a shelter in a community where they needed to. Director and I have never run a shelter before, worked in sheltering, and I had your management interests. And so that’s how I started was in a very small, very high euthanasia county shelter. That must be really hard to go from this love of having animals. And and then, too, as you said, a high euthanasia shelter headed that How did that play out for you? It was very hard back then. You know, it’s a long time ago. Children has changed tremendously since I started, but back then you had to strangle them at the end of the straight hold. The animals that had gone through there straight hold that weren’t adopted reorganized, so there weren’t a lot of adoption programs. There wasn’t a lot of ways to promote animals. There was just a lot of euthanasia and that actually I left animal welfare for awhile because of that because I was the person who was making those decisions. I was the person who had to actually perform euthanasia. And although I understood that this was something that was part of sheltering, it really wanted something different and something better. And at that time it didn’t really seem like those things were on the horizon. So, uh, I left and when it should open my own restaurant for five years, which was coarse, a lot less pressure well, through the different it was just completely away from, you know, my family history by my relatives have had restaurants, so I went in that direction for a short while. But I animals draw me back. Yeah. Yeah. So then you gave up on the restaurant business and then came back to sheltering again. I came back to the welfare right. I was actually teaching at a vet Tech University, teaching students and the local shelter here in Tennessee approached me as a consultant and asked if I would come in and do some consulting on their shelter. Andi, I did that and the night very much get sucked into their mission off helping that shelter improve and hiring a new staff. It was a very young sheltered. It just opened and they needed a lot of help. And it pulled me right back into animal welfare. And I haven’t left since. Yeah, I was going to say when I was reading your introduction. I mean, you’ve been involved for more than 30 years now. Yes, and a CZ volunteer staff as it’s lots of different ways. My work to PetSmart Charities on the rescue wagon transport program on DH. Now, I’m very fortunate to also be on the transport program, and I just I love what I do. Yeah. No. Tell us about that. Like how? Because obviously and, well, relocation, I was become your thing and you’re definitely the expert in the field. I mean, tell us about what happened at PetSmart charities and kind of how you got involved and why this has become such a passion for you. Yeah, I was. Well, the shelter that I was was running The shelter that I worked at was a source shelter on the rescue wagon. And so this time, being in a shelter that had more resource is and more ability to help was great, but one of the things that we were constantly experiencing was just being overwhelmed by population. The number that was coming through the door and tryingto manage that through adoption is hard in a community. And when rescue haven’t came along, they brought training. They brought help. And they hope it was amazing that for us all the things that happens because a truck would roll up on a regular basis and take some of our population where they could be adopted, where they actually needed animals. So by relieving ourselves of that piece of the population, it allowed us to do more training. It allowed us to focus on her staff to focus on our own programs, to start, to try to do things better, to go and get more education, tto learn from others, all things we couldn’t do. And we were overwhelmed with taking care of the animals that we were trying to care for ourselves. Um, so that program made such a difference to me in my life and for all the shelter and for this community. But when I had the opportunity to go and work for them, it was a fantastic opportunity, and I learned so much from the shelters that were part of that program. And then when the program ended on the PCH, picked up this program, I was very fortunate to be able to move from one program to the other and keep this work going. Yeah, and I know one of things I always talk about with people is the transport is not the solution, but it’s It’s a tool. It’s a it’s a piece of the puzzle. No, that’s exactly right. It’s a tool, and there’s lots of tools in your toolbox. And as transport becomes one that you need less because you, Khun, control your population better and manage that and have managed intake programs and work with your community, then transport could move on to another community that needs it and be their tool. It’s not a tool that should last forever should be a goal for people. A tte, the supply and Dorothy Demand and transport won’t happen forever. Hopefully, and we’ll come up with other solutions and other programs that we do to help animals. So tell us a little bit about how it works. I mean, now we’re at the peace and kind of what your role is, and how do you make all this happen? So I run the Nancy Silverman Rescue Ride program, which is our East Coast leg of transport, and then the Watershed Animal Fund rescue ride is in the center of the country, and then and then also in Los Angeles. There’s another program, but that’s not one that I run. I’m just part of their team. So we have shelters in Southern states and Midwestern states where they just have the same problem that I was having in a Tennessee shelter. It’s just being overwhelmed with population, just too many animals that are adoptable but not enough of doctors for those animals and some animals that have special needs that they don’t have the resources to meet that destination. Shelters in the upper half of the country have more resource is and can help. Sometimes animals with heartworms go there to be treated, or there may be an animal that he’s an amputation or something like that that can’t be provided at the source. The destinations are willing to take on. So dogs that would have been historically Ethan Ice for problem the source couldn’t handle. They can partner with that destination and get that help for that animal. And so it’s a It’s very much a part about give and take, Um, and destinations and sources supporting each other. Destinations don’t have enough adoptable animals. They’re able to bring him in through sources. Oftentimes, their communities are better resource than the communities where the sources are. And the people in those communities are much more willing to be able to adopt a dog that might need that well, a bit extra cat that might need a little bit extra that the people in the source community might not be able to do. Yeah, so put it in perspective for us. I mean, how many transports have any animals? How often is this happening? Oh, every day we have transport’s on the road, going somewhere every day. Last year we transported 40,413 with animals, and it’s a big number, but it’s just us. And there’s so many other people doing transport as well. And the national number. How many animals are actually relocated is still a mystery, Um, one that technology like like Duterte, might be able to eventually won. They tell us what’s what’s true out there about about transport. But so many people are transporting animals from one in the back of your car. Teo us with 40,000 that it’s it’s hard to know how many animals are actually would be across the country. Now, have you seen a change in transport? Is that still just dogs or are there other animals are being transported as well. So when I started in this industry, if you had told me that cats would be being transported in any number, great number in my lifetime, I would have left. I didn’t think that that was really going to be a thing, but we moved over 10,000 cast last year. Well, yeah, that was That was a well for me, Teo. Uh, it’s way do designated cat transports of the entire vehicles of cats that transported. And and sometimes they work as a support mechanism that if your community has ah lot of adoption centers available, like places where animals can get adopted, but out of a storefront or in another type of building our business, you have to keep those locations filled with cats for adoption, or you might lose them. The people there supporting them. Really? What cats in there? They often help tell products or whatever it is that those cats are doing. But if you have a lot of sick cats in your community, you have a really hard time keeping those places full. So if we can take you some healthy cats and you could put those healthy cat straight into your centres while you’re getting your community cats healthy, when your community that has helped me cats 23 weeks later we could put those cats in the centers for adoption. And then we bring you some more. And so it’s like a rotational system that keeps cats available for adoption to the public. All the time helps those stores support adoption as their option for having pets and stores and helped save more lives. Yeah, that’s a really unique program. That’s really cool. So how do you guys go about matching up the source and destination? I mean, how do these organizations find different partners and kind of walk us through that process? So usually at the PC were approached with people wanting to be a partner, wanting some turn it sport, not really knowing how did have transport, not having the funding for it, not wanting to start driving animals themselves or get into learning about how to do that, but get a resource little help. So we get applications requests for applications through our relocation email. Um, and then a lot of it’s about distance. If we have people that are helping us with an airplane, that animal’s going to go farther than they can if we’re driving a truck, so we do both of those things. Our best practices is 650 miles before we need to stop. So our program’s a little unique in that we have what we call weigh stations across the country, which are basically hotels for the animals that are on transport. We leave our source. We drive 650 miles, and we stopped at one of our way stations. Animals are unloaded and locked and cared for men and watered and bedded down for the night in our drivers so and they sleep in a hotel and then they come back the next morning, get the animals and go the rest of the way. So a lot of matching is about distance. Some matching is about resource problems like Heartworms are meeting special surgeries. Those kind of things. Some destinations, air are very generous and have a lot of resources to help with those sorts of things. And we might match them with the source that has very low resource is of no ability. You help those animals. Yeah, that’s really now, How many way stations are you guys up to now? Across the country, we have Virginia Tennessee way just added one in Kansas, Kentucky and then we have several in California’s well, 77 we are. We’re at now. Yeah, that’s a really It’s a really smart idea because obviously with animals that I always tell people it’s not like Amazon prime. You can’t just have it delivered in two days I got to think about I mean, there’s a lot of regulations and the care of the animals. I mean, it’s it’s a stressful time for them as well, right? And it’s also dangerous. I mean, volunteers that I really want to help sometimes get in vehicles and you they’re on one side of the country and they’re going to drive to the other. They’re gonna drive from New Mexico and New York without stopping and they trade off driving and talking to each other. And it’s very dangerous to drive that far. And it’s also very stressful for the animals to be in a kennel in a vehicle for all that time. So we really try to have people think about you. What is the best way to do this? How can we put resource is in place and help each other so that we aren’t doing things that are going to endanger people or pets? How can we do relocation and don’t do it very well so that our animals benefit from that? And I think that when we’re looking at Grant funding, when we’re looking at discussing relocation, we really our thinking about those best practices and that we’re not saying that anything is anything that happens that gets an animal saved is the best thing to do because sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you know, there’s the tragedies that happened because people are trying to hard without really understanding the resources that might be available to them if they ask for help. Yeah, no, I know one of the things that you’re obviously very familiar with his during disasters and hurricanes wildfires. And oftentimes I see people jumping in trying to help on DH. Sometimes that ends up causing Mohr were problems that it’s worth. I mean, how do you guys get involved when there are disasters like hurricanes and wildfires and flooding and other things? So a lot of states have agreements with organizations like ours where you know, will be in the wings, and then they call us in when they’re ready for us when they need us in. Some states have done that for that exact reason, because there’s so many people that want to help that want Teo run down there and help those people. They’re in terrible situations, but it’s really a very coordinated project and it takes a lot of knowledge to do those sorts of things. We work with our disaster response teams, so relocation is a backup team for them that we move animals. But they’re the actual people that are doing swift water rescue and those kind of things. Does that sound what my team would be trained in? So we work in coordination and I think that’s the key is being in coordination with someone who is the very skilled people that know what’s going on when you just are jumping in your van that you normally used. Tio take animals to the local adoption center. It’s very different when you get down into a hurricane zone or Ah, flooding or fires you, Khun, get yourself trapped and become somebody that needs to be rescued instead of somebody that’s doing the rescue. Or you might take animals that belong to someone that were intended to leave or we cross over. Resource is Tio. We’ve we’ve had calls where we’ve been asked to go and rescue some animals there in a flood area, and by the time we get there, they’re already gone because someone alone in a van, you know, already showed up and took them. And then we’re trying to figure out where did they go? And you know who has those animals and they just left. So they didn’t catalog anything properly, and you know you can, by being very well intentioned and creating more problems than you intended. One of the things I know that you developed, I would say, at PetSmart tradition you’ve carried for today’s PC is a very specific way to build out the vans right, based upon the learnings and things and disease prevention. Can you talk a little bit about kind of some of the lessons you’ve learned over the years and how you’d applied it to your If I can call the methodology, I guess, for for doing this now, Yeah. I learned a lot of past March charities. They had gone through several different generations of vehicles that were used by them to move animals. And then in my job here, when I came on board, I was charged with figuring out these things. And I actually went to AA refrigeration company. Because when you think about it, there’s a lot of animals inside there, and all of them have a temperature of about 102. So you put all of that heat within the vehicle as well as going down the road and a sun beating on the outside. You need a big enough air conditioning unit on there to keep them cool. So you fighting against that? He puts in the vehicle as well as trying to insulate the cool in. So we’re now doing a system where we use phone insulated foam inside the vehicles that sudden covered with abed lining material like you’s on trucks, those bed liners in the back that makes it hard like a rock. Ah, my best descriptions of like a yeti cooler inside. But it’s also like one of those caves that you would go into a Disney World or somewhere like that where it’s all fold in around you way. Also, uh, have cameras in there so we could see what’s going on in the back with the animals. We have carbon monoxide detectors and Wei have detectors to tell what temperature it is in the back at all times way. Have a system with bars that’s going back to the theme park if you’re sitting in one of those seats on the roller coaster and they pull that bar in front of you and hold you in place, that’s the kind of thing that we used to keep our rights in place. And ventilation is really important in the vehicle. When you put animals in, you should never stop them where the middle is full of animals because even if they’re not overheated because the quote temperatures cool back there, they can really have an issue with right It was like You gotta think about ventilation going through there and all those animals being able tio to breathe and be comfortable. So there’s a lot that goes into design and trying to make decisions about what’s best and also cost effective. Yeah, bet you never thought that this would become your passion and your expertise when you were never having conversations with mechanics and all these different people that were doing the design and getting them excited about our mission. You know, now, now that they’ve designed these vehicles and they build them out for us, they’re all refrigeration guys, everything that I never thought they’d be involved in animal rescue. And they know you see these fans we and know that they’re going to move, you know, thousands of animals and save their lives. And they enjoyed being a part of the mission as well. Yeah, that’s a really cool way for them to to be engaged and, like he said to be a part of the mission. And if they love animals and now they know they’re making a difference. Yes, they’ve actually adopted some animals because of being involved with us, so it’s pretty exciting Yeah. So what does a typical week look like for you these days? I am doing so many different things Now. I do a lot of the site visits with one of our shelter, medicine veterinarians and whether one of our operations experts, we go out and do shelter site visits. If you want to be in our program, you have to go through a phone interview. And then if you qualify through the phone interview, your sense of application, we do that online application. And once we got you through that step, if you meet all the criteria, we’re going to come out and take a visit. See, you actually look at that facility and see how we can best help you if you don’t qualify. For some reason, if there’s something that’s missing, then we do some mentoring with you and some suggestions and ideas of things that you could do so that we can get you qualified because the purpose is to move healthy animals. In order to get them healthy, you have to follow process, and so we try to get you in that process so that the animals don’t remove healthy. I also do things like this. I do interviews with people talking about the programs I worked with our team about how to get the animals move, problems that come up really freezing temperatures we’ve had recently those sorts of things but a stop to transport. And we have to figure out who’s where and how transfer gets affected and which shelters We could move from quickly when we when the temperatures get back, towards safe to transport. So lots of different work going on all the time. You know, planning for the future, trying to figure out where we can roll in more more airplanes and those sorts of things as you spread farther down into the country and meet new peoples need. Yeah. So what does the future look like from your perspective? I mean, what’s next for you guys? I think what’s next for us will be trying to dig a little deeper into areas that historically haven’t had a lot of help. Areas that are hard to reach with a van that might be able to be better reached with the plain areas where they haven’t been able to handle their disease control problems in their community, and they need some support and that sort of help so that their animals could be healthy enough to transport on DH, then just still continuing to move the big number that we’re moving at the moment. We anticipate that we should be able to do that again this year, just based on the need that we have right now. But the SGC is very committed to relocation as a tool at the moment and that it’s a tool that’s really helpful right now. So we’re proud Tio to support all those shelters out there. They’re doing their wonderful work. You give our little piece of it to help relieve that pressure so that they can grow is a shelter. Yeah, so for somebody listening to this saying, Hey, I really want to get involved any any recommendations on where they could start? Absolutely. I mean, fostering a pet is a really huge way to start. There’s a lot of shelters that they the main way that they could get animals healthy to transport it by having somebody step up to foster. And we always say the best thing about being a relocation foster is you know, when that fat is leaving so you have a deadline, you know you’re going on vacation on the fifth and the transport leaves on the third. You’re good. You can foster that Pat and I know you can still go on vacation. On the bed, there’s puppies that need fostering. There’s mothers with puppies. There’s cats, a pittance. And there’s older dogs. There’s so many different animals surgeries that might need recovery. I would say that if you’ve never done any of this work before, becoming a foster parent just for a short period of time for relocation is a really great way Teo to get involved. Yeah, well, it’s a really great suggestion because, like you said, there’s so many different reasons and I know what I think that people are always worried about with fostering is the long term. But in this case, like you said, you know it’s you know, when that transferred Data’s coming, that it’s it’s a temporary foster situation, so it’s a great way to a different toll in the water and see if this appeals to you, right, And when you know that that animal has a place to go and that they’re safe and that that’s a good thing you’re on is likely to become a failed foster and want to adopt it yourself because you know that. Then you got a place for the next one that’s going to come along and you can hear so many transports happening you can foster a couple of times a year you could foster, you know, for every transport, if you wanted Teo itjust defense on your situation. But that’s a really great place to start until learn about sheltering in your community and to just like you said, dip your toe in and decided that something that you like that jump in like the rest of us. Yeah, exactly. Write things like yourself has been at this for 30 years now. I mean, this is it really is addictive. It kind of becomes your passion and your purpose. It does. Absolutely. It’s that it was not my intention to make this my career. I had never really thought of it, But now that I’m really in it, I’m so glad I did, because I have seen such progress over my lifetime. And I’m really excited to see what animal welfare will look like. You know what? I’m long retired and looking back and only other people doing this. Good work. Yeah, definitely. Well, Karen has been great having you on. Is there anything else you want to share their listeners before we wrap things up? I really think that using transport is a tool in your community. Is is very helpful in lots of communities and going to your shelter. If transport’s not what they need, finding out what they need and what you could do to help Working with your local rescue, you’re educating yourself about the needs in your community. It takes all of us together to make these types of programs work and to improve the welfare for animals and people in our community. Yeah, definitely agree. Well, think, Karen, for coming on. It’s been great to talk to you. Thanks, Chris. Nice talking to you, too. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast.  If you’re not already a member, join the ARPA to take advantage of all of the resources we have to offer.  And don’t forget to sign-up with Doobert.com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.

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