It may feel a little like stealing. But when it comes to saving the lives of animals, borrowing ideas from other organizations is a great way to achieve your mission.
“We are always stealing and polishing,” says Sharon Harmon, CEO of the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) and Maddie Hero Award recipient. “We can all learn from each other, big or small.”
Maddie’s Fund recently spoke with Harmon, who has been at OHS for 29 years, about volunteers, change and barriers to adoption.
Harmon says one of the best learning experiences is to send shelter employees to another successful shelter to shadow their staff. It will be invaluable for them to listen to an adoption counselor conduct an interview, or sit in on an intake. “They will come back with ideas beyond what you send them for,” Harmon said.
As for resources, Harmon says you may have more at your disposal than you think. “Your volunteer base could be a talented pool of dedicated workers that cost you nothing except for an ‘atta boy’ and ‘thank you’.” OHS has volunteers in every part of their shelter. Volunteers do all the pack and prep for the surgical center. One volunteer did a workplace giving presentation which ultimately resulted in a $150,000 gift.
OHS has a group of 35 volunteers that do their second chance intake. They created the procedures, offload the dogs, photograph them, take them to exams and clean crates. You name it, they do it.
Harmon respects and trusts volunteers — and suggests letting them know it. “They’re going to bring extraordinary skills to the table. I always tell the staff you better be throwing rose petals at the feet of the volunteers that work here because they are angels,” she said.
When it comes to implementing change at a shelter, Harmon says one of the hardest things about change is coming to the realization that you were doing something wrong. Accepting that there was a better way to do something can sometimes get in the way of progress.
OHS likes change and they’re always looking to do better. For example: ringworm. “We created this big phobia about ringworm, and it’s not an issue to the public,” she says. Transparency is key and the client needs to know, but it’s treatable. She laughs and says, “everybody still has hair.”
Whether you’re a volunteer, manager or pet caregiver, the secret to change is finding someone at the organization who likes it, and coming armed with data. It’s always easier when someone else has done it.
When asked about barriers to adoption, Harmon says, “We have to look at everyone who walks in the shelter as a hero, until they give you a reason to think they’re not a hero. Staff needs to check their judgment at the door.”
An adoption interview needs to be, “How can we help you be successful?” Not just the checking of boxes. Find out if they have experience with housetraining. If not, how will you help them? Someone can be home all day and still have a dog that isn’t housebroken. “That application is the last step of a process. We’ve already approved the people from the interactions we’ve had,” Harmon said.
Her last piece of advice? Give pets easy, fun names that makes potential adopters smile.