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Cartel (noun): An association of independent businesses organized to control prices and production, eliminate competition, and reduce the cost of doing business (1). Also called a trust (2).

(1) Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. US Department of Defense 2005. (2) Collins English Dictionary, 2003.

When we think of cartels, we tend to think of OPEC, the organization of oil producing countries that sets the price of oil.  Or we think of Mexican drug cartels, which control the supply of imported drugs to the US.  Or we think of Teddy Roosevelt’s Trust busting of robber barons controlling the market access to beef, sugar and the railroads.

But there is a good chance you have been subject to a cartel system personally once or twice this year.  You’ve willingly paid the market rates which are not set by competition but by cartel control.

That cartel is the one owned and operated by your neighborhood veterinarian.

SnidelyDid you know that there are states in which a veterinary hospital may not be owned by anyone but a veterinarian?  That if a vet dies, his or her surviving spouse is forced to sell the practice to another licensed vet at fire sale rates because he or she is prohibited by law from owning a practice?  Did you know that Alabama recently tried to make it illegal for an animal shelter to employ veterinarian by trying to pass a regulatory requirement that no veterinarian could have her work schedule set by anyone but another vet?  Do you know who generally makes and enforces these clearly anti-competitive rules?  That’s right, the veterinarians themselves.

Across the nation, Boards of Veterinary Medicine set rules and advocate for regulations and laws, either directly or through their State and National Veterinary Medical Associations, that have nothing to do with the quality of veterinary medicine being delivered.  They have to do with keeping control of the veterinary market.  Yes, there is great insistence that it’s about quality of care, but these protests ring hollow.  After all, who is the corporate owner of a practice or whether it is filed as a Limited Liability Corporation or a Professional Corporation or a 501c3 Charitable Corporation wouldn’t seem to have any bearing on what sort of treatment Fluffy gets in an emergency.  No matter who pays the electric bill at a practice, it is still a licensed veterinarian who is practicing medicine.

Medical doctors are regulated under state law to ensure delivery of quality medical care.  Yet no one claims that a medical practice or hospital must be wholly owned by a doctor.  If you live in Berks I’ll bet you money that there is a better than even chance your doctor works for either St. Joseph’s Hospital or Reading Hospital, both charities.  Do you think you got bad care because of the corporate entity which paid the electric bill or bought the medical supplies used at the practice? Or paid the doctor or set her work schedule?

There are regulatory controls for hair stylists, auto repair shops, and television stations.  Do these businesses have to be owned by stylist, mechanics, or news anchors?  Of course not.

For decades veterinarians have been moaning about non-profits having an unfair competitive market advantage.  They have tried to put up barriers to animal shelters even providing sterilization services and vaccination clinics, let alone full public veterinary services.  Never mind that these generally service a clientele that would not otherwise seek service at a “real” vet practice.  But what is the unfair competitive advantage a non-profit animal hospital has?  At most, it’s that there is no property tax burden.  In Reading, that “burden” for HSBC would be about $5,000.  Do vets really think charitable organizations are not providing more than $5,000 in reduced care to balance that out?  What if non-profits offered to pay property taxes on their hospitals?  Would they stop complaining then?  No, because this is about controlling competition under the guise of “quality of care” concerns, nothing more.

What is comical is that the real death knell for the standard model veterinary practice came decades ago in the form of major corporate veterinary companies such as VCA, a publicly traded company, and Banfield, which operates out of PetSmart stores and is privately owned by the Mars candy corporation.  Why don’t vet boards go after these interlopers to their old, doctor owned vet practice model?  Maybe the billion dollar revenues and fleets of lawyers all that money can buy.  We don’t hear about vets going after the ASPCA or San Francisco SPCA, which have major public veterinary hospitals.  They only have about a hundred million dollars, but that’s still enough to hire plenty of lawyers.

Instead, they go after animal shelters in Alabama who are just trying to stop the never ending death in shelters because of a lack of access to sterilization and vaccination services.  Or they try to get shelters with practices audited by the IRS, like recently happened in Idaho.  That non-profit hospital passed with flying colors.  It turns out the federal government doesn’t seem to have a problem with non-profit hospitals.  They certainly pay enough out to humane ones via Medicare and Medicaid.  And I’m guessing it is only a matter of time before someone decides to go after the non-profit veterinary which are springing up across Pennsylvania right now.  A wild guess is they’ll start with the one with the biggest mouth.

It’s important to point out that all is not lost.  Most of the vets sitting on State Veterinary Medical and Veterinary Medical Association Boards likely went to school and earned their degrees not just before there were Shelter Veterinary Medicine tracks at vet schools, but they did so before it was common for animal shelters to even have a vet on staff, let alone operate a non-profit vet hospital.  There are waves of vets leaving vet school seeking to work for non-profit hospitals and animal shelters, with no aspiration to work for or buy a private vet practice.  There are more and older vets who have chosen to leave the production driven world of the private or for-profit veterinary practice.  How do I know?   Because we have hired them at Humane Society of Berks County and we get resumes from others like them weekly.

It is time for the veterinary cartel to wake up to reality.  Their business model has been slowly dying for years.  If it’s not the non-profit practice killing the model they’ve clung to for decades, it will be the bigger interstate corporate practices.  And if it’s not that, it’ll just be the economics of the marketplace and the expectations of their clients.  As Michael Corleone said, it’s not personal, it’s just business.

I have some sympathy for them.  Just like I’d have some sympathy for OPEC when someone invents viable solar cars or the next fuel source which makes petroleum obsolete.  But just like that will be good for consumers and the environment, a new market driven veterinary service delivery model will be good for consumers and their animals.

They shouldn’t worry.  There will be an animal shelter or mega-corporate practice nearby looking to hire.

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As easy as it is to offer a “rapid response” for every little slight, lie, or inaccuracy said or written these days thanks to technology, we’ve learned that less is more.  A short lie requires a very long rebuttal and it starts to sound like a he said/she said which imparts a sense that there may be validity to both sides when there is not.  Often, one side is lying, the other is not.  Plus, what a waste of time which could be used doing something constructive.

Occasionally, however, something comes to your attention that is so full of-…what’s the best word?…hmmmmm.  Wait, I know: bulls***- that a detailed reply is called for.  Such a time is now.

A friend of Humane Society of Berks County forwarded this little love diddy posted on Facebook by someone who really, really does not like HSBC.  The fact that the person is a disgruntled former employee has nothing to do with it, I’m sure (that, kiddies, is what we call a “full disclosure”).  Since this screed is simultaneously so wrong and lets the cat out of the bag about really big upcoming news, I thought I’d take the time to defenestrate the “errors” and share some details.  In one fell swoop we will address the fallacies and impart some closely held and very exciting news!

Here is the post, in toto, with the name of another organization omitted since this post was not written on their behalf :[All sic] “TIME TO VENT AGAIN!!! I just read an article in the Reading Eagle, 2/28/13, Section B10, which states the Humane Society at 1801 N 11th St in the City of Reading, is planning a 7,900 square foot expansion to include expanding the kennels???? and adding 14 off street parking spaces. As I always educate everyone, the Humane Society of Berks County does not hold any contracts with the County at all including the City contract. The *** takes in 99% of all the animals in the County. The Humane Society takes in NO stray dogs or cats and they pick and choose what owner dogs & cats they take in. They have been bringing dogs in from other counties!!!! while the *** stays packed with dogs and cats. The *** needs funds to fix their kennels and the Humane Society is adding them????? Give me a break, PLEASE IF YOUR GOING TO DONATE, GIVE TO THE THE ***. PEOPLE IN THE COUNTY NEEDS TO KNOW!!! AND CROSS POST PLEASE.”  Yawn.

OK, here goes, one lie, sorry, line, one line at a time at a time.  Grab a cup of coffee, this is going to take a while.   TIME TO VENT AGAIN!!! I just read an article in the Reading Eagle, 2/28/13, Section B10, which states the Humane Society at 1801 N 11th St in the City of Reading, is planning a 7,900 square foot expansion to include expanding the kennels???? and adding 14 off street parking spaces.”  I will not dispute this person’s incessant need to vent, ability to read, the section of the paper, or that we are building a 7,900 foot expansion, including kennels.  And, yes, off street parking.  My response:  Isn’t that totally awesome?!

Humane Society of Berks County will soon- soon, as in ground breaking this spring if we stay on schedule- be finishing the renovations of our Lindy Scholar Center which started in 2006 with the Cat Adoption Center, followed by the LaVigna Dog Adoption Center, both of which were groundbreaking examples of how a small shelter like ours could deliver mega-shelter quality and vision for its animals and adopters.  We had hoped to do it sooner but a little recession intervened.  I will save the real nitty gritty for future announcements but the basics include new kennels, cattery, a nationally accredited community veterinary hospital, and more.  Stay tuned, kids, more to come.

“As I always educate everyone [Author’s note: insert big eye roll here], the Humane Society of Berks County does not hold any contracts with the County at all including the City contract.”  Again, no dispute.  And I appreciate the restatement of this fact which appears all over our website and in every press release we put out five years ago when we very publicly ended our contracts with local municipalities to provide dog catcher and euthanasia services for them.  Actually, I have a small clarification.  We do have contracts with several municipalities in Lancaster and Lehigh Counties to accept strays following their stray holding period, we are listed with the Department of Agriculture as a kennel authorized to accept strays, and we hold a contract via our management services company with another shelter in an adjacent county though which we oversee countywide animal control service delivery for that organization.

The *** takes in 99% of all the animals in the County.”  Finally, chance for a meaty rebuttal!  OK, so HSBC directly housed about 2,744 animals last year (in addition to the 12,000 vet patient visits and surgeries, Ani-Meals on Wheels, emergency deployments to other counties and states, and managing more than that number for another entire county, but these apparently don’t count).  Let’s take maybe 248 off the top which came in as emergency or adoption transfers from other counties and states- or even other shelters from within Berks County, including ***- and get it down to just a Berks intake number 2,468 animals.  If another group is taking in 99% and we are taking in 1%, someone else must be taking in 246,114 animals a year!  That doesn’t seem right.

OK, maybe this person means someone else takes in 99% of strays.  Let’s look at that.  Last year HSBC took in 648 strays from Berks County alone or about 23.6% of our total intake.  That would mean that some other place took in 64,152 strays alone.  Well that seems pretty wrong, too, given that the total number of animals, strays and surrenders, entering the two largest shelters in Berks has historically fallen in the 10,000 to 13,000 range combined.  While I can’t say that I know for sure how many animals came into other Berks shelters last year since we are the only organization in Berks which openly posts its intake numbers, I’m guessing we’d have heard the news if the total had jumped to 65,000 or 250,000.  To be clear, I’ve never heard the unnamed other organization cited making this claim so our friend appears to be wrong for both our organizations.  A two-fer!

“The Humane Society takes in NO stray dogs or cats and they pick and choose what owner dogs & cats they take in.”  We’ve already established that nearly one in four of the animals we take in are strays, and that doesn’t include adoption transfers from other organizations, including those in Berks, so Part A is a fabrication.  Part B is equally wrong.  HSBC takes in any animal presented to us, as is stated prominently on our website.  However, we do require a couple things and we offer a couple options.  First, we require that the person presenting an animal make a $25 donation since we do not receive any municipal or state funds for the service as other shelters do.  If the person does not have the money, we allow payment within 30 days.  Spoiler alert!  The worst kept secret in the world is that we don’t ever collect on that promised money.  We just hope the fact that the person ripped off a charity makes him lose sleep.  The third option is that the person may volunteer three hours at our shelter or any other charity, church or government organization.  Surprising to some, lots of people choose to do that, even if they have the $25.  We like these options.  They share the cost with the public and they give a community service alternative to just handing over some cash.

We also try to help people not have to give up a pet so everyone is offered other services.  Would free food, behavior classes, vet care, foster care, or any other assistance help keep that pet at home?  If so, we try to provide it and that effort keeps a lot of animals from entering our shelter.  The real bug of our friend’s butt, however, is that we also tell anyone with a stray that there is another organization which gets paid take in strays from Berks County.  If they’d prefer to avoid our intake requirements, they may seek services elsewhere.  Guess what? Lots of people choose to bring strays to us anyway.  But the fundamental thing is we do not gate keep based on breed, health, age, or anything else.  Our intake rules are across the board.  We are not a restricted access or No Kill shelter.  And the fact that we do not have a 100% live release rate is a shameful testament to that fact.

“They have been bringing dogs in from other counties!!!! while the *** stays packed with dogs and cats.”  Yes.  Other counties, even other states.  And even from other shelters right here in Berks County.

“The *** needs funds to fix their kennels and the Humane Society is adding them????”  The needs in the animal welfare community are as long as my arm.  And HSBC has needs, too.  Our older kennels and cattery are frankly an embarrassment to me and have been for the eight years I have served as executive director.  It is long overdue that we finish the renovation we started in several years ago, and fulfill the dreams of the executive director who served before me, Lindy Scholar.  My only apology is to the animals for not having an economy which allowed me to do it sooner.  HSBC helps lots of other organizations as much as we possibly can and not as much as we’d like to.  To be fair though, we are not responsible for the state of any organization but our own.  That’s a big enough job.  I don’t think it’s fair to also put the well-being of another organization on us, too.

Also, we aren’t “adding” kennels.  We are blessedly demolishing the old ones and replacing them with awesome new ones.

Give me a break, PLEASE IF YOUR GOING TO DONATE, GIVE TO THE THE ***. PEOPLE IN THE COUNTY NEEDS TO KNOW!!!” As mean spirited, and grammatically incorrect, as this is, I won’t even argue this point.  All charities need support.  We encourage everyone to give as much money and time as they can to every charity which they feel is doing work they believe in.  We don’t feel the need to encourage people to pick us over others when we hope you’ll support all.  But we also know that some people just prefer one charity and its vision over another’s.  If that’s the case, any support in our common mission to improve animal welfare is better than no support at all.  We don’t begrudge anyone else’s success.

And finally, “AND CROSS POST PLEASE.”  I guess if you really feel you need to, go ahead.  I’ll be happy just knowing that you now know how vapid and meaningless this person’s post was.

The cat is out of the bag.  At long last the facility the animals and people of Reading and Berks County deserve is on the way.  We are proud to bring it to you and proud that you have helped to make it possible.  I’d like to have announced it publicly in a different way and we will do a proper job of it later.

Oh, yeah, one last thing.  Name calling and propaganda don’t do anyone much good.  They detract from public discourse and confuse the conversation.  Occasionally, though, a little name calling can have a certain curative effect so I understand why this unhappy person might choose to tear down one in an effort to build up another.  That being said, the person who made this post is a poopyhead.  In my opinion, of course.

What do you know?  I do feel better!

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If Necessity is the mother of Invention, Unwarranted Self-Congratulation is its drunken uncle.

As someone who has been known to take a self-congratulatory turn himself on occasion, I perhaps take too much enjoyment in seeing others do it.  Especially when the self- congratulation is totally absurd.  Fortunately, working in the animal welfare world, I get to feed my guilty pleasure regularly.  It is an industry where pinning a ribbon on yourself is common and much of the self-adulation is along the lines of the proverbial politician proudly proclaiming he hasn’t beaten his wife in weeks. [And if you want some self-congratulation, how was that for some alliteration?]

“Did we voluntarily create a problem and then solve it by paying twice as much as before? You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.”

Recently we got a doozy of a self-love fest from our friends in Delaware County who entered into a five year contract with the Chester County SPCA to accept stray animals from Delaware County municipalities for a fee of $250 a head.  This is actually a great deal for CCSPCA and a great deal for Delaware County, which doesn’t need to build and operate the animal control shelter it had planned and announced and even had pictures taken of them pushing dirt around at the selected site.  Having another organization which is already up and running and operates as a charity take your animals is much more cost effective.  I wish I had thought of that. The plan sounds so familiar.

The original plan of having the County build its own animal control shelter sounded really, really familiar, too.  But that might be because it’s the plan that HSBC forwarded to County officials in April of 2011.  They even got back to us as said they intended to contact us; alas, a contact which never occurred (but I keep all my emails…).  Then they announced that they had developed a great new original plan that was, coincidentally I’m sure, strikingly similar to the plan we sent them.  Oh, well, the other cliché is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.But while they were implementing their clever original plan, they needed a place to send strays since the Delaware County SPCA had dropped its animal control contracts with DelCo municipalities.  Chester County SPCA was able to help and even got a damn good price for the service: $250 an animal, delivered.  That’s when most of us wondered, “If CCPSPCA will take them, why would they build and staff a shelter in Delaware County at all?”  The smart answer is they shouldn’t and they didn’t, and here I congratulate DelCo for doing the smart thing.  And the best thing for animals since a high quality animal welfare agency like CCSPCA is going to do a vastly better job than a startup quasi-municipal/non-profit shelter could.

Better yet, by finally nailing down a real price they helped establish a price floor- not ceiling, but floor- for animal control services in Pennsylvania.  They have helped drive up prices in Counties throughout the region, to the benefit of shelters and animals.  Heck, I can’t help but reflect that when I started at Berks eight years ago and we took in 4,000 strays alone under contracts that provided merely $25 an animal, we would have brought in one million dollars on strays alone under this contract.  That was more than our entire operating budget.

So I say good for you CCSPCA, good for the animals, and probably good for the residents of Delaware County, who now have at least five years of reliable animal control assistance.

And Delaware County animal control officials have been so gracious about it all, too.  Delaware County Animal Control Czar, Tom Judge Jr., had the…OK, it’s a family blog so I’ll say “guts”, to utter, “It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t work with the organizations here in the county.”  Yes, so unfortunate that they didn’t have a local organization to work with which was closer, perhaps even one which would have done the job for less money.  Say it with me: Oh, wait, they did! As the entire world knows, the recipient of Judge’s snide jab was the Delaware County SPCA, which provided precisely that service to them for decades, for vastly less money.

Then, when the DCSPCA finally asked for more money, the municipalities balked, fought, screamed, and ultimately helped DCSPCA reach the conclusion that if they didn’t have the resources to take in the strays and save them too, they would make the decision to go no kill and not take in strays at all.  A principled decision helped along by fiscal reality- and no small heaping of abuse by their supposed partners among the municipalities.  What was this outrageous, onerous, usurious fee they were asking for?  Was it $1,000 an animal, or even $500?  It must have been ginormous compared to this great new deal of $250 an animal.

How much was Delaware County SPCA asking for? $116 per animal.

That’s right.  Delaware County’s animal control Armageddon was over a fee increase to $116 an animal, less than half what it pays now for less convenient service since animals need to be driven to another county for housing.  And it’s unfortunate, to quote Judge, that DelCo SPCA wouldn’t work with them?  What, they weren’t charging enough?

And this is where I nearly fall on the floor, laughing my butt off each time I reread what is perhaps the finest bit of unwarranted self-congratulation in the history of animal welfare.  DelCo Animal Control Vice-Czar, Mario Civera, dropped this gem on the world.  “What we did here in Delaware County, that was a first.”

I must beg to differ.  I think there is a reason that politicians rank with used car salesmen (with apologies to used car salesmen) in polls showing levels of respect by citizens.  It’s because only a politician can claim a victory for paying twice as much as what they used to pay for something.  Wasting tax payer money is nothing to be proud of.  And it’s hardly a first.

But, boys, from one self-congratulator to another, I like your moxy!

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When the last session of the Pennsylvania Legislature came to a close, it was with a whimper for the “Cost of Care” bill.  The bill, which requires pet owners charged in cruelty cases where a judge has allowed for seizure of the animal to pay a paltry amount to care for the pet while in custody, never made it out of Senate committee for a vote before the clock ran out.

Please take a few minutes to thank the Representatives who voted for HB 82. Then, if you live in one of the Berks Five’s district, take a few minutes more to share your disappointment regarding their vote on this important issue.

It was a split decision, however, because it had been sent over to the Senate for consideration after being passed nearly unanimously by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. That’s right, 97.4% percent of Representatives in both parties voted for the Cost of Care bill, the truest of bi-partisan landslides.  Even the overwhelmingly passed Puppy Mill bill of 2008 only received 96.2% of the vote and that was a historic landslide.  With a nearly 100% vote margin, surely there should be no issue with passing an identical bill again this session, and early enough to get it to the Senate for a vote and on to Governor Corbett’s desk to be signed into law.  Well, it passed on January 23, 2013, with a pretty good margin of 163 to 34, or 79.2% margin.  What left many of us scratching our heads are the 34 Nay votes.  After all, this year’s bill is identical to last year’s bill, which only five Representatives voted against it.  OK, in full disclosure, I didn’t put the two bills side by side but by all accounts it’s identical.  And even by the account of the AKC which has been working feverishly to block the bill in its now legendarily heroic attempts to shield bad breeders from stronger laws across the nation.  Identical.  Why then would 34 Representatives, including five Representatives- and I swoon with pride- from right here in Berks County, vote against a bill four of them they voted for mere months ago (one of the Berks Five, Tobash, was absent)?

Were they for it before they were against it?  Did they vote for it last time in error because they didn’t read it?  Or perhaps because it was the end of the term and they knew the Senate wouldn’t get a chance to vote so they thought they’d have a safe “dog friendly” vote to cast before the end of session?  Or did they have a genuine change of heart, perhaps thanks to the lobbying of those who want to place the woes of perpetrators of animal cruelty against the best interests of animals and the animal shelters which enforce Pennsylvania cruelty laws at our own cost under the direction supervision of County DA’s and judges?

Sometimes these votes can go up or down on party lines, for strictly political reasons, and we all understand that.  But while all the Berks no votes were among GOP Representatives, the overwhelming majority of Republicans, including the majority leadership who brought this up for a vote, supported the bill.  Sometimes votes can demonstrate the rural/urban /suburban divide.  But the five in Berks who voted against HB 82 represented a span of rural, semi-rural, and suburban districts, as did the four Representatives in both parties who supported the bill.

Why would these five Representatives- Gillen, Maloney, Cox, Tobash, and Day- vote against a bill which as law would still require DA approval of warrants and seizures and judiciary approval of the same warrants and seizures, and models laws on the books already, get the thumbs down from the Berks Five?  One could think it might have something to do with the five’s less than stellar voting record on animal welfare issues.  One is one of the only a tiny handful to vote against the overwhelmingly supported 2008 Puppy Mill bill every step of the way.  Another is an unabashed pigeon shoot supporter.  The others are at the very least out of step with vast majority their own party who brought this bill up for a vote and passed it.

But it still doesn’t explain why they voted for the bill last year and voted against it this year.  Four of their fellow Berks Representatives voted for it last time and this time, from both parties: Caltagirone (D), Knowles (R), Rozzi (D), and Mackenzie (R), and we thank them for their support.  Why the flip flop from the others?

Don’t they know that dogs and animal lovers may love waffles but we hate wafflers?

Find out how your Representative voted on HB 82 by clicking here.

Find your representative by clicking here.

 

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Charles Caleb Colton had that right.  I’m happy and bemused to see that another animal control plan involving a municipal/non-profit partnership suspiciously similar to the one we suggested a couple years back has cropped up in PA.  The post, The Animal Control Mess: A Modest Proposal, continues to be one of the most consistantly hit posts on our blog.  Everyone is welcome to it- that’s why we posted it- but a little nod our way every once in a while would be lovely.  If we could just get a royalty…

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Wowee, have we been busy!  Too busy for any of my snarky rants in a while, so I thought I should check in to let everyone know we are all alive and well.  And working on “The Next Big Thing”.  Us and everyone else in animal welfare.  There is so much going on right now both in Pennsylvania and across the nation.  It seems like organizations have been throwing off the shackles of the last few years of dogma- the two party “Open Access”/”No Kill” system that replaced the original one party rule of “All open access, all the time” shelters.  It’s like everyone suddenly discovered Jazz sheltering and is trying to groove on their riffs and take thier tune where they want to go, not where The Man tells them they need to, dig?  Snap, snap, snap!

I couldn’t be happier since I’m a fan of the Big Thing and I’ve been of the opinion that our entire “industry” was a little like a zombie who thought walking around meant it was alive.  We’ve been trying to see around the corner for years and think we’ve had a pretty good track record- ranging from the slow demise of the Animal Control Industrial Complex (consider that term copyrighted!) to the rise of the non-profit, shelter based, public veterinary practice- coming to a shelter near you soon.  We’ve got a couple more in the bag; both refinements on a few themes and entirely new melodies.  And I’m looking forward to seeing what else is quietly brewing in shelters around the United States.  So, keep on the look out as we start letting everyone know what we’ve got planned for the next year.  Busy, busy, busy!

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It strikes me that there are usually two mindsets when it comes to doing something and they spring from the level of resources available.  When an organization is rich and doesn’t remember being otherwise, it can do pretty much any damn thing it wants, any damn way it wants.  When it is poor and doesn’t remember otherwise, it does what it can and jettisons everything else in an attempt to stay afloat.

But there is a third approach I think comes when an organization either clearly remembers being poorer than it is now or richer than it is now and that memory is combined with both hope and need.  There is an interchangeability in the question that gets asked depending on which side of the resource trend one is, but it is framed as: “How can we do more/as much as we have done/did do in the past with what we have now?”  Note the lack of despair in the assumption progress is not possible of the chronic poor and the lack of assumption that falling backward is impossible of the perpetual rich.  The question is aspirational and focused on the future with an eye to the past.

We’ll Take Door Number Two, Monty!

Disasters are one way in which even a rich organization can face this altered reality.  What is rich and effective on a good day is not the same thing as rich and effective after a massive tornado, earthquake, or hurricane.  The need suddenly dwarfs the resources and simply throwing bodies and money and “bigness” at the problem won’t work.  The last few years of economic turmoil and string of natural disasters has been demonstrating this on large and small alike.

In the case of Humane Society of Berks County, we had some bad financial years and had a couple lucky years which we used to grow ourselves in a seemingly sustainable way, only to see the bottom drop out for everyone and see our advances stopped in their tracks and even reversed.  We had a choice.  One option was to contract, cut, limit, and wait.  But we had been through a tough time before and come out of it.  We did not want to give up on what we were doing and where we were going just because the trend lines had changed.  So we chose Door Number 2: Cut where and what we had to but try to figure out new ways, ways which had not been required in better days and therefore were not even imagined, to do as much or more than we ever had.  And, yes, wait.

For us it meant that during the course of the Great Recession we changed our approaches.  Instead of trying to be everything to everybody on our terms and theirs, an unsustainable approach in the best of times, we focus on what our real goals were and how we might achieve them differently.  We had to release dogma and the grip of the past.   If our goal was to get more animals out of our shelter, maybe we should find ways to have fewer animals coming in to our shelters?  Programs like PetNet, Ani-Meals on Wheels, Berks County Animal Response Team (CART), specialized adoption programs, our free dog park, and most importantly our public veterinary services all took on increasing importance.  These programs helped keep animals out of our shelters and that meant they helped keep animals from being euthanized.

Guess what? They also cost less money while being more effective.  Simply being the place anyone could dump an animal because we had the resources to accept it didn’t help animals, people, or HSBC.  Being a place where animals could go if there was a true need for a place to go but offered alternative solutions when the need was actually something else- medical care, short term fostering, behavior support- helped animals and people and HSBC’s financial stability.  This approach led us to other approaches intended to get more bang for the buck, more help for the time, more animals saved for the resources.

Berks CART, which is the only County Animal Response Team in Pennsylvania coordinated by an animal welfare organization, is not as large in active volunteers as some and certainly doesn’t have the dedicated resources that some have.  But our approach of using available people, resources, and ideas as multipliers of one another has been extremely effective.  Co-sheltering, where disaster victims could be sheltered along with their pets, is now increasingly common and was very much pioneered by the PA State Animal Response Team (another organization which should be recognized for outperforming its size and apparent resources).  But Berks CART, by necessity and with the confidence that people can be trusted to care for their own animals, even in an emergency shelter, pushed to have non-staffed co-shelters.

We provided all the crates, food, litter and guidance needed by co-sheltered pet owners to care for their pet and we arranged to transfer any pets which couldn’t be housed at the shelter to a central facility.  But we did not put a CART volunteer in every shelter 24 hours a day.  That meant we could set up one two, three, five shelters with just one or two people, rather than two, five, ten, people.  We did it originally because we had to.  We do it now because it works better and lets us do more with the same resources.  So much more that in recent disasters we have been asked to set up shelters in other counties which did not have functioning CART’s.  We did it while also serving Berks County because we had created a smart, effective model for service delivery.  And it was scalable- not in a “double the impact requires double the resources” way.  We could, in a pinch, double the impact with no new resources.

This mindset permeates all our work now, even as we have, through hard work, smart decisions, and a return of a little luck, not only returned to the path of stability and resource growth but are now stronger than ever before.  We now aspire to do more with what we have constantly, ask how we can achieve more than the sum of our resources should allow in everything we do.

It’s why we did and could say yes when the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a big and rich organization, called this week and asked our team to assist them in piloting an experimental Pet Retention Response Team in the Sandy recovery zone.  A team which will try to keep animals from having to enter emergency shelters, maybe to be separated from their human family forever, by helping caretakers to obtain the resources, guidance and assistance they need, even while the caretakers are being sheltered, too.  Sound familiar?

I am very pleased to see that HSUS, no relation to us, is the perhaps rarer breed.  They are a rich organization which recognizes that they are dwarfed by the need and aren’t simply pigeon holing the need to what they have done in the past.  Instead they are asking the same question, “How can we do more with what we have by doing things differently than we have done?”  Just think of what an impact that will have when it’s being asked by an organization as big as HSUS.  And when they are getting a helping hand from an organization as big in ideas and effectiveness as little old Humane Society of Berks County.

Of course, as the Executive Director for an organization that has to pay the bills, I do spend a lot of time wondering how I can turn all these good ideas and free helping hands given to other counties and bigger organizations into a few more resources and a little more money for us (and, Wayne, when that appointment with me pops up on your schedule in December, take this as fair warning that I’ve got a couple ideas to share with you on how to do just that).

It’s not that I want more to do what we do now.  It’s that I can’t help but wonder about all the BIG things we can do in the future with just a little more now.

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On Wednesday I found myself wanting to hum The Circle of Life from The Lion King.  I was watching the attorney (Lawyer 1) representing a Humane Society Police Officer (not our organization) attempting to get an emergency injunction to stop an upcoming pigeon shoot at Wing Pointe arguing with the attorney (Lawyer 2) for the “sportsmen’s” club in front of a Judge.  The circular argument was worthy of a Disney cartoon.

Lawyer 1: “We seek an injunction to stop illegal pigeon shoots.”

Lawyer 2: “Then why aren’t you charging us instead of asking for an injunction?”

Lawyer 1: “Because the DA refuses to let anyone file charges.”

Lawyer 2: “That’s because shoots are legal.”

Lawyer 1: “No, they aren’t and we could prove it in court.”

Lawyer 2: “Sorry, the DA won’t let you file charges.”

Lawyer 1: “That’s why we are seeking an injunction.”

Lawyer 2: “Then why aren’t you charging us with cruelty?….”

And so the circle of life in the court over pigeon shoots go ever on and on.  Meanwhile, District Attorney John Adams, who has forced the withdrawal of strong cases which have a very good chance of demonstrating why pigeons shoots are a violation of Cruelty Law and/or Game code per se and that prior decisions were in error, is somewhere singing Hakuna Matata to himself, without a worry in the world.  You can decide if he plays the part of Simba, the Lion King, or Pumbaa, the wart hog.

One major deviation in the perfect circle was that for the second time in a couple months, the case was before a judge who didn’t spout off NRA talking points about the great tradition of pigeon shoots and how America would decline as a great nation should even one shooter ever be charged with cruelty for shooting- let alone stomping, kicking, or ripping the wings off- a pigeon.  Both the Judge in the case Wednesday and the Justices in the recent ruling that found a DA could ignore a crime if he chose, expressed disgust for shoots as being poor sportsmanship if nothing else.

But they were all bound by the pesky law.  Judges can’t find guilt before the fact, they need to have a charge to weigh before them.  They can’t compel a DA to file charges.  The DA can choose not to file any charge if he wants.  Since only a judge can interpret law, this keeps the charge from being judged on its merit.  And another circle goes on.

I don’t blame the lawyers or even the pigeon shooters for making their case in court.  That’s what they are supposed to do.  I can’t blame a judge for not finding guilt when no case has been made or not filing an injunction when it is not legally appropriate.  I can’t even fault, on legal ground, since it’s entirely legal, a DA refusing to allow charges to be filed.  I can certainly fault that DA on ethical grounds.

Here’s the deal.  Humane Society of Berks County believes there is solid legal reasoning to prosecute pigeon shoots as per se cruelty.  We tried to do so once and were ordered to withdraw the charges by the DA, which we did.  We still believe we can demonstrate in court why shoots are a violation of law since the laws the violation spans are really, really explicit.  When recent video evidence was released showing that shooters were violating not only the law as HSBC believes it to apply but the law as the DA publicly stated he believes it to apply, we offered to prosecute the case on his behalf, under his direction.  We’re still waiting for a response.

But there is a DA who is exercising the law which allows him to ignore the law.  He ignores the law, he ignores offers by HSBC and others to enforce the law, and he’s ignoring courts which might like a chance to do their jobs and actually judge the merits of the case.  When he said it was because his interpretation was that the shoots are legal, it was a difference of opinion.  When he ignores the video evidence which shows shooters doing the exact things he himself said would be a violation, one can only wonder if now there is bad faith.

But, hey, he won his election and can do what he wants for the next couple of years.  Everyone, now, sing! “It means no worries for the rest of his days (or at least until the next election); it’s his problem-free philosophy- Hakuna Matata!”

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Recently a video was released reportedly showing a pigeon shoot hosted at Wing Pointe.  It showed participants not merely engaging in a shoot, about which there is heated disagreement as to legality, but violating the restrictions set forth in the Lash opinion.  Berks County District Attorney John Adams has expressed his opinion that pigeon shoots are permitted under Pennsylvania law, citing the Lash judgement.  He has also been quoted affirming the restrictions on behavior at shoots laid out in the Lash opinion.  Since this footage appears to show a clear violation of the law as DA Adams has defined it and recognizing that DA Adams has many other priorities on his plate, the Humane Society of Berks County extended an offer to prosecute the violation of Pennsylvania law, under any guidelines he thought appropriate.  Although forwarded to his office via email on October 12, 2012, HSBC has not received a reply to our offer of assistance in this clear violation of law and the restrictions reportedly affirmed by DA Adams.  We are publishing the offer in the form of an open letter in order to make it clear that our organization attempted to enforce the law as written and as put forward in the Lash opinion and affirmed by DA Adams.

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October 12, 2012

Dear District Attorney Adams,

The Humane Society of Berks County was forwarded a video purported to be footage of a pigeon shoot held at Wing Pointe on September 30, 2012 (link below).  The video shows participants stomping, swinging birds into their feet and the ground, and kicking wounded birds on the ground.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=o994K5oJ_EA

Although I am aware of your belief that pigeon shoots are permitted in Pennsylvania, I have also recently seen that you have been quoted in the press  saying that you believe that legality is grounded in the Lash decision and that the prohibitions on behavior laid out in the 2002 decision (no stomping, swinging, and kicking, etc.) provide “certain requirements that the shoots must comply with to stay within the confines of the law.”  The participants shown on this video clearly violate the Lash requirements.

Since I understand that your office may have more pressing cases to attend to, I am offering the resources of the Humane Society of Berks County and its sworn Humane Society Police Officers (HSPO) to you and your Office.  If you choose to prosecute this clear new evidence of cruelty to animals as defined by the Lash decision which you feel applies to pigeon shoots and the actions taken during their conduct, we will pursue the charges on your Office’s behalf, under your direction, and within the guidelines you choose to set for our officers.  This deferred responsibility was the intent of the HSPO law. In light of the brazen and jovial manner in which the filmed shooters opted to violate and mock the clear limits you have cited publicly while upholding your belief that these shoots are legal under the Lash decision, I feel it is only appropriate to offer our support and resources.

Please let me know if you would like to speak further about this offer to assist you.

Sincerely,

Karel I. Minor

Executive Director

Humane Society of Berks County

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Despite a last minute poison pill added to HB 2630, the Gas Chamber Ban, which seemed intended to either kill the bill or punish good animal shelters, the bill was passed in the Senate, concurred in the House, and is on its way to Governor Corbett, who has indicated he will sign it.  We are all still reading the 23 ¾ hour language changes but one thing appears certain:  Gas chambers for pets are soon to be a thing of the dark past in Pennsylvania.  Well, mostly.  There were exemptions for vet schools and a few other places.

There were reportedly only four remaining in the state anyway, but these must be disabled under the new, soon to be law.  The animal welfare community is very happy about that, as are we happy with the new direct licensing provision which will allow shelters to obtain a license directly from the state to purchase the humane drugs required for proper euthanasia by injection techniques.

Not so happy are shelters which now face a new unfunded mandate for training.  Although all but four shelters in the state followed the old rules, which required that a veterinarian provide a license for the facility and supervise the euthanasia program, the new law will require that every shelter train every euthanasia tech under undetermined regulations to be promulgated by the State Vet Board- which was inserted at the last minute in place of the State Pharmacy Board- at the shelter’s own cost.  A whopping 14 hours training.

That’s right, every shelter, not just the ones seeking a special license.  So shelters like Humane Society of Berks County, which employ multiple staff vets who supervise the euthanasia program directly, and which provide a training program that takes six weeks, will now have to pay to get staff trained for a mere 14 hours, in addition.  And we don’t even know what rules the State Vet Board- no conflict of interest there, do you imagine- will put on shelters like ours.

Anyone who thinks there is no conflict should just look to recent events in Alabama, where the State Vet Board, in a clear attempt to crush competition from non-profit vet practices, such as the one at HSBC and an increasing number of other shelters in PA, tried to ban any vet from working for a non-profit.  It would seem drugs would be controlled by the pharmacists, yet somehow at the last minute the very vets who have complained about competition from shelters are put directly in charge of a major regulation impacting shelters at the very time that shelters are opening public practices.  A mere coincidence, I am sure.

Do you know who else is probably very worried right now about this bill?  The State Office of Dog Law Enforcement.  If euthanasia training becomes expensive and harder to provide, euthanasia is going to be scrutinized much more closely by organizations which will need to ensure that they comply with the law, lest they be shut down by the Department of Agriculture or the State Vet Board.  The simplest way to decrease euthanasia at shelters is to start dropping animal control contracts with municipalities and the State since strays account for the vast majority of euthanasia at increasingly crowded animal control shelters.  What will the wardens do then?  Better sign up for that State Vet Board training program fast, because shelters have been doing the State’s dirty work, already at a loss, for years.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the number of shelters opting out of dog catching and killing contracts is about to sky rocket.  I predict Pennsylvania is on its way to a wave of No Kill shelters.  But you know those animals are going to get killed somewhere and it’s soon going to be Dog Law’s new Director’s job to figure out where.  Maybe the vets of the PVMA will volunteer.

Finally, there is lots of praise going around Harrisburg for those who got this bill passed.  I am certainly glad it passed.  But it should have passed long ago and it certainly should have passed without the Vet Board and Department of Ag shenanigans.  Congratulating the House, Senate and Governor for passing this law is like thanking someone for not kicking you each time they walk past you anymore.  And with the unfunded mandates- and isn’t Governor Corbett and his party leadership supposed to hate unfunded government mandates?- they’ve stopped kicking us but poured their cold coffee on our leg when they walked by this time.  That’s not bravery or leadership, it’s doing the very least they should do.

A victory to end the suffering of animals in gas chambers, to be sure.  But another blow to Pennsylvania’s shelters, which pay millions in payroll taxes and employ thousands across the state and were hit like everyone else during the recession.  I guess we needed another reminder of who holds the reins of power when it comes to lobbying in Harrisburg.  It damn sure ain’t us.

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