Brown County shows how to get it done

The 2013 No More Homeless Pets National Conference will begin next Thursday in Jacksonville, and I am excited to learn and hear more from the bold leaders of the no-kill movement.

The conference is featuring 12 speakers this year, who represent seven communities. Those communities are either already at a 90 percent save status, or are well on their way to getting there. They represent communities big and small, urban and rural. They each found themselves working through unique challenges, but the constant thread is that they each have saved thousands of lives.

Brown County, Indiana, is rarely mentioned amongst the eye-popping successes of the no-kill movement like Reno or Austin, but it should be. Brown County represents a typical challenge encountered by many activists who live in resource-poor rural areas, but Brown County’s programming is effective, aggressive and sets standards for how it can be done.

According to Wikipedia, Brown County’s population is around 15,000. Founded in 1966, the Brown County Humane Society (BCHS) is an open-admission shelter that also has the animal control contract.

The Brown County example is close to my heart because the profile and demographics of the community resemble that of so many out here in the western states.

What makes this small community unique is the intake rate of more than four times the per capita national average!

Jane Weatherford and the leadership of BCHS could have easily sat back on that one figure and blamed an irresponsible community. But instead, they implemented some key programs that helped them achieve a total live release rate in 2012 of 97.3 percent! Here are just a few key points of how they made it happen:

• Serving Pets Outreach Team (SPOT)

This creative idea focuses on spay and neuter and responsible pet ownership. This effort is aimed at bringing down that outrageously high intake. The methodology is now being shared with other local communities to help curb intake across borders.

• Dog Transport

BCHS participates in a transport program, along with other south Indiana rescue organizations. Roughly 150 BCHS dogs a year were making the trek to New England partner shelters in the early days. The program has helped, but it’s been expensive. It’s been scaled back quite a bit, but the partnerships remain and still help BCHS with some of their more difficult dogs.

• Barn Cats Program

Feral cats are not killed in Brown County, primarily as a result of the success of the barn cats program. No adoption fee is required to re-home these kitties to rodent duty – just a donation.

• Off-site Adoptions

Given that Brown County is such a small community, adoption efforts at local stores weren’t proving to be successful for adoptions (the efforts did help garner a lot of positive PR). So instead of continuing ineffective strategies, they began taking four to five adoptable cats to the Petco location in Bloomington 20 miles away. Volunteers help care for the cats, which keeps staff costs down. Each year, 85 to 100 cats find homes through the Petco relationship.

Those four things represent just a fragment of what Brown County is doing to save lives. Jane Weatherford offers a clear example of how manageable changes prioritized on no-kill principles can transform the way a community relates to its animals.

Congratulations to Jane, the rest of the BCHS staff, board and volunteers, and of course the entire community of Brown County, Indiana!

Whether your community is large or small, together we can Save Them All!