Saving Sunny Inc., a dog-based animal welfare organization in Louisville, Kentucky, has been transforming the model of the animal sheltering system since 2010. Their efforts aim to make animal services part of their community’s social service, much like the Human Animal Support Services (HASS) initiative strives to do. Co-Founders, Maureen Kennan and Kelsey Westbrook, shared their journey and the steps they took to create a more compassionate community at the 2016 Best Friends National Conference. In case you missed it, Maddie’s Fund has the recording available as the information is still very relevant, today!
When Kennan and Westbrook first started their organization, they discovered that in order to integrate animal services into the existing community’s social services, they needed to establish judgement free zones (JFZ). To do so, there are two elements that they believe are necessary to become more judgement free – respect and trust.
They found that in order to get community members to continue to use their program and resources, they needed to create an opportunity to have a conversation with them. Kennan and Westbrook’s mission was not to rescue dogs in questionable situations in the community. Their mission was to find the needs of the community to best care for their animals, which meant that no matter who you are, wherever you are, they accept you.
“In communities where folks are used to being judged, ignored and left out, we had to come in and not say, ‘We are experts’ or ‘We are here to save you,” shared Kennan. “We don’t come in to fix your lives, we are here to lend you a helping hand because we all love dogs just as much as one another.” She continued, “We get you, you’re our people, and the minute that they start feeling like we are their people and that they are our people then the trust develops, and with trust, we’re able to then grow some really essential components of our program.”
Westbrook shares that an example of their dynamic trust building and creating judgement free zones, was spay/neuter. They shared that by providing the community with a sense of support, they were able to have open and dynamic conversations to understand where they were coming from. When they asked the community why they didn’t want spay/neuter for their pet, they unveiled the true reasons why many of them opt out. Some said that they were afraid to put their dog under anesthesia, others heard common myths surrounding dog sterilization, and some didn’t want to be away from their companion pet for one night because that is how much they love their pet.
“We have to be conversational, not accusatory. We have to create a constant conversation, and if every single month they keep coming back and saying no, that is okay because we will talk to them about it again the next month,” said Westbrook.
They said that much of the success of their program was due to word of mouth. “Your community members are the best advocates,” said Westbrook.
Today, Saving Sunny assists pet owners with the ability to keep their dogs from ever entering the shelter system in the first place, through basic resources, advocacy and education. In 2014, they founded their Community Dog Resource Center (CDRC), which aims to lessen the flow of dogs into the shelter by giving a helping hand to those in need. Saving Sunny continues to help keep people and pets together, offer support to their government shelters through their CDRC, behavior, and courtesy posting programs, and provides education and advocacy through public events and campaigns.