Thursday, 30 October 2008

ICAWC 2008 Presentation: Animal Welfare: The Business of Saving Lives - Mike Arms

Previous presentation: Population Dynamics: Problem Solving by Adding a bit of Science - Ray Butcher

Mike Arms introduces us to the idea of change. He "saves lives for a living". He believes what we have been doing for the last 100 years is now broken, and has to change. It's not enough to love animals; "they need our lives, our brilliance", he says, not our hearts.

10:10: Just introducing himself and his history (training as an accountant, moving from Kentucky to New York), it's obvious how charismatic a speaker Mike is. His dedication is evident in every sentence.

Mike tells of his early experiences - often tragic and harrowing - in animal welfare, and the horror of being beaten and stabbed trying to save a dying animal, who returned that effort to him by comforting him as he lay injured. That experience informed his life from then on, which has been devoted to saving lives.

10:15: We talk about money, shelters, needs in animal welfare. "We're in the business of saving lives, but we don't run it like a business". Mikes talks of his experiences in the US, Canada and New Zealand - the places he has been working recently. Only 5% of Americans will step into a shelter, because "we don't market our products!".

10:20: If we do not market what we do, we are literally loving animals to death. When marketing a 9-year-old Rottweiler who had six puppies, the headline said "63-year-old gives birth to sextuplets!". The media fell over themselves to help get these dogs rehomed, because of the inventive marketing. Shelters frequently close at weekends, but pet shops and puppy mills don't. We need to recognise that people treat obtaining an animal as shopping - retail is open at weekends, so should we be.

"We can't be afraid of the media - we have to work with the media!"

10:25: It's all about working together to share best practices. "Wishes and dreams don't come true. Business ethics do... I work for a living and the living that I do is saving lives."

Mike is talking with great pride about working animals such as those who struggled tirelessly at Ground Zero on September 11th, including one guide dog who kept her nose at her owners knee down eighty-four flights of stairs. "They give us all they have... when will we give that back?".

10:30: It's easier to win the battle against animal cruelty and destruction when you realise that you have to use your mind, not your heart. There's nothing to prove when it comes to our hearts. "There is no other industry in the world that's tougher than ours. Show me one other business that is as physical and emotional as the work that we do." For many workers, their love of animals brings them into the industry, but then they are forced to destroy that which they love. For no-kill to be effective, we have to market the product and ensure that the animals are successfully rehomed so more can be cared for. Mike tells of how he even doesn't have enough animals to meet demand thanks to good marketing and local strategies (leash laws, etc) that have reduced population.

When you go in the Yellow Pages, people only look for you under Animal Shelters when they want to relinquish an animal. To get an animal, they look under Pet Shops - that's where shelters need to be.

10:35: Even the way animals are presented can help increase adoptions hugely. If you place two cats in a kennel and name them carefully, visitors cannot resist adopting both Peanut Butter and Jelly, because adopting just one leaves the other looking so alone. Putting the puppies and kittens at the front can make other dogs and cats be overlooked, so put them at the back (just as supermarkets put milk at the back to drag you through the store). [Ed's note: Only those who have been invited can see the puppies in Dogs Trust's Harefield centre for the precise reason that other dogs can get overlooked, and puppies often need more experienced owners]

10:40: We have to change fallacies. We can't refuse to rehome black cats on Hallowe'en (unless the potential owner "parks their broom in the parking lot"). We have to think logically - naming a dog "Killer" might seem funny, but mum and dad aren't going to take that animal home.

The best way to take a bite out of the puppy mills, is to reduce their sales. People can think that buying the pups is the best way to 'rescue' them, but that just increases the suffering. We need to be more appealling than buying from a puppy mill, because when it's no longer profitable to exploit the breeding of dogs and cats in this way, those terrible places close down.

10:45: Where is the breed book that says "shelter dog" or "shelter cat"? They're not low-class animals, they're just cats and dogs. When we reduce our adoption fees, we're making our animals sound like 'bargain basement' options. All the animals that go through our shelters are quality - and we don't need to explain where the money goes. When we say that the medical procedures have this and that value, we are devaluing the animal. Variable values can also be used. Of course, every single community and country is different, but if we don't start change today, we will still be having this conversation in 100 years.

You can also educate people who relinquish animals. Mike's staff suggest a substantial fee for relinquishing an animal because the services the shelter carries out have value. For animals over seven years old, they suggest a higher one. These fees can be waived if there are good reasons to do so (because the animal will be abandoned otherwise) but it's important that people are educated in the value of what we do. Loving and caring for animal, screening potential adopters, carrying out health checks and medical procedures: these are all expensive, and the public needs to know that.

10:50: Do you have a business plan? Do you know where you want to be and how to get there? Don't our animals deserve the best that we can be? Mike is offering help from himself and his team to ICAWC delegates to help effect the change that he is talking about.

It's so inspiring to hear Mike speak. I can't recommend enough taking the chance to hear him wherever and whenever you can, if only to reaffirm your enthusiasm in what you do and why you do it.


Next presentation: Raising the Status of Companion Animals (The Canine Charter) - Clarissa Baldwin

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