Five Things I Learned at the 2017 SAWA Management Conference

Five Things I Learned at the 2017 SAWA Management Conference

The old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” falls completely flat for me. The gray hair on my head and the number of SAWA Conferences on my resume prove I’m an old dog, but this year’s Management Conference showed me I can still learn a new trick or two. Here are five things I learned in Long Beach:

  1. We’re pack animals.
    SAWA is about collaboration. When we get together, we share ideas and help each other solve problems. A SAWA Conference features really great content, which works well for people who like to be around other people. But because we are pack animals, we tend to stay together and continue to get a lot done during breaks, lunches, dinners and even late nights at the bar. No one is a stranger at SAWA.
  2. You don’t have to “sit” and “stay.”
    SAWA Conferences are not meant to be a sedentary activity. If you’re torn between two conference topics, divide and conquer and share notes with a new friend. If you’re in one session and wish you’d picked another, move! The SAWA Conference Committee does a great job finding speakers and creating a good breadth of topics, but savvy conference-goers know it’s okay to politely move from one talk to another.
  3. Pavlov was right … we respond to bells.
    Posting on the SAWA Conference app was at a fever pitch. Karalyn Aronow (Sacramento SPCA) and Barbara McLean, CAWA (Karmic Media Group) had a battle royale going on the leader board for conference posts. And they weren’t “posting for the sake of posting,” either. Every time the app sent a notification about someone posting, a Pavlovian thing happened and you just had to stop and look — not just to see how the race for the top spot was going, but for the awesome observations people were making.
  4. “Speak” is a cool trick.
    I found the Q&A sessions fascinating. That’s where you really heard “concepts” turn into “practices.” There wasn’t a session at the conference that did not have rich commentary from the crowd. Including this next gem….
  5. Someone is making bacon-flavored bubbles.
    BJ Andersen enlightened the crowd at the Animal Enrichment talk that Willamette Humane Society is using bacon-flavored bubbles as a visual and olfactory stimulant for their dogs. Excuse me while I take a break to bask in that thought.

I have to admit, this was a tough blog to write. Limiting myself to five takeaways from a SAWA Conference is almost impossible. Good thing old dogs can, in fact, learn new tricks. See you in Miami where we can do this all over again!


Tom Tholen

Tom Tholen is SAWA's Senior Vice President of Marketing & Development. The SAWA member has served as President of Companion Channel, a cloud-based digital screen media service that streamed into partner shelters. Tom is perhaps best known in the animal welfare industry as the former President & Chief Marketing Officer for Callahan Creek, which was the agency of record for Hill’s in the early days of their shelter program. Over the years, he has worked for several agencies, as well as major corporations including Hallmark, Sprint and General Electric. A Colorado native, Tom received his BS in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he lives with his family in the Kansas City area.


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