Compassionate Director is often listed last of the eleven programs but it really is the most important element of the NKE. If the shelter does not have a Compassionate Director – a hard-working, compassionate animal control, shelter or executive director that is disconcerted when a dog or cat that is healthy or treatable is killed in their facility, – the other 10 programs simply will not be successful. Efforts are reduced to going through the motions but results – saving lives – will either not improve or will only slightly improve. This is where one person makes all the difference in the world.
There are signs that a director lacks compassion – but you need to look beyond a person that might appear to be professional, nice or polite. One employee who worked outside the office of the Executive Director (ED) of a large shelter organization tells this story “the shelter manager and photographer would arrive to take a photo of the Executive Director for the newsletter. They would pose the ED and he would gingerly take the dog or cat for the pose. There was no interaction between the ED and the animal. Often the photographer would need to say – hold the animal closer. When the photo session was over the ED would stretch out his hands with the animal and demand that someone ‘take this’ and get me the lint brush”. Does this describe a Compassionate Director? If he can’t stand to hold them – he certainly doesn’t have the passion to save them.
Directors lacking compassion are content in placing the blame for killing on EVERYTHING but themselves – their abilities or lack of ability. They will say things like … there are simply too many animals for the available homes (“pet overpopulation”), the shelter is not given adequate funding by local government or charitable contributions to get the job done without killing, or they have public safety obligations and the animals are in too bad of a condition to do anything else but kill them. A big sign of a director lacking compassion is that their save rates are not improving from one year to the next. Since compassion is not a skill that can be learned – the director that lacks this quality needs to be replaced. Bottom line – this person cannot do their job of saving lives with the skill sets they possess. Others in top management may need to go too because they have learned to be ineffective. No real progress will be made as long as they remain.
Livingston County is an excellent example of what a difference a Compassionate Director makes. The prior director gave every cat and dog 14 days to be adopted and then killed them even though there were empty cages. She justified the actions insisting it was necessary to control disease. She explained liability concerns as to why volunteers should not be used and she could find every excuse under the sun as to why it was necessary to keep things status quo. October 2010 the new director of animal control and the shelter started at Livingston County – Debbie Oberle. She wasn’t given any more funding but she walked in the door with a life-saving mission and has accomplished saving lives in just the first year. Debbie instituted a volunteer program, the shelter has adoption events, public friendly hours, they offer low-cost spay/neuter to low income residents. Often the cages are full but now the shelter’s atmosphere is friendly and caring. When she needs to make space in the shelter they have different discounts or promotions to get the animals into a good home. All the things her predecessor said were impossible. Debbie had to institute process changes at the county to allow her to undertake various programs – she just did it – no excuses. She provided leadership. Some staff followed her leadership some were replaced. Livingston County residents and their County Board of Commissioners are proud of their shelter now.
A telling characteristic of a Compassionate Director – they are NEVER satisfied with their results. They want to do more and be better. They want more than anything to see every animal in their care alive and happy in a new home.