Change is inevitable. We can run, but we cannot hide from it. Change can be a bit scary — or at least more frightening than the status quo. But change can also be pretty wonderful. In preparing for a keynote address on the evolution of our industry, I spent some time strolling down memory lane. And it occurred to me just how wonderful the changes that have taken place in our industry over the past 33 years have been.
First — have I been doing this for more than 30 years? How could that possibly be? Many of you have been doing it for even longer than that. But, many more of you are relative “newbies” when it comes to our chosen field. So, indulge me a bit. In my first shelter, we handled about 14,000 animals per year. We had sheltering contracts with two municipalities, so once their officers brought animals to us, they became our responsibility. The facility was very small and very outdated.
In the early to mid-1980s, adoption demand was pretty low, meaning the euthanasia numbers were extremely high. In the summertime we would sometimes fill up and empty our kennels twice in a single day. It was extremely difficult work, physically and emotionally. The burnout rate was high, resulting in rapid-fire staff turnover.
In historical terms, 33 years isn’t very long. But the progress that has been made in that relatively short period of time has been mind-boggling. If I could go back in time and tell the much-younger me that in the year 2017 shelters would be importing cats for adoption, the much-younger me would laugh me right back to the future! But, that is happening, along with so much more. Change has not been easy, and it hasn’t happened overnight. As has been the case with every social revolution, the improvements in animal welfare and animal care and control have taken a considerable investment of time, blood, sweat and tears. Perseverance has been the name of the game — following a dogged determination to make the world safer and better for animals and people.
But we are not done yet. There are still major issues facing animals and those of us working for their well-being. I am very excited about all the sessions at our 2017 Annual Conference (#SAWACON). But I am particularly excited about the sessions where we will discuss the evolution of our movement. We will have two SAWA members representing both sides of the equation — one whose organization has “crossed the brink” and one whose community still has some distance to go, followed by a facilitated panel discussion with audience participation on this very important issue.
How do we ensure that all of the U.S. and Canada (yes, we’re thrilled to have our Canadian friends participating!) cross that brink where all lives are saved and animals are given every opportunity. And how do we, as an industry, evolve to ensure we continue to serve the animals and people of our communities and build in “back stops” so we never go backwards?
Join us for the beginning of this exciting conversation. I hope you and I are around to see what the next 33 years will bring!