Alan Rosenberg has volunteered at local animal shelters for years, helping those animals in need. With Alan’s background in accounting and finance he uses his skills to focus on animal advocacy and shelter reform. When Alan is not busy with his day job, he’s pulling public records to research various topics and he shares his findings through his blog to shed light on what is going on in shelters today across the state of New Jersey. Looking specifically at New Jersey, the kill rate has decreased by half and the rate of decrease is 2 to 3 times faster than four previous years since Alan has been involved.
Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where a goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This podcast is probably sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now on with our show. Alan Rosenberg is a staunch animal advocate promoting the welfare of animals in the state of New Jersey. He crunches the numbers and researching what happens to the animals in the shelters in that state and beyond. He details the results of his research on his blogged, the New Jersey Animal Observer, his mission promoting innovative and progressive animal welfare policies, and New Jersey and beyond. Hey, Alan, welcome to the program. Hi, Chris. Thanks for having it. So tell us a little bit about you. I mean, you’ve not always been involved in animal welfare, but give us your story, okay? I think like problem most of your guests I have had pets as a child growing up. Um, probably the most noteworthy thing about that and how it’s influenced me. today is, um the three dogs that we had at that time probably would have been killed in almost every animal control shelter at that time. And probably many today for behavioral reasons. And, um, you know, thing to note Waas our family wasn’t day, particularly dogs, savvy family or particularly common household with three Children. But we made it work, and that’s kind of guided me on how I think about things in terms of animals that shelters and whether they could be saved or not. But more directly to your question. When when I got involved in animal welfare was about eight years ago, my wife and I, um, went down to the local county shelter was like a suburban area, and we weren’t really intending to adopt. But we saw all these pit bulls and we just fell in love, and we ended up adopting a pit bull that had been at the shelter for a year and had some issues. Um, but we just fell in love with the dog and we took her home. And then I got to thinking. A few months later, I said, if they have all these great people like dogs, at this county shelter in a suburban area. What kind of dogs would they have at this much larger shelter in the inner city, which was about 20 minutes away? So my wife and I went down there in September 2010 on a Sunday afternoon, which typically is a time when shelters of bustling with volunteers that diners and we came in there and we saw all these wonderful dogs young, vibrant, beautiful, amazing dispositions. And then we were struck. But the fact that the shelter was essentially a ghost town, they didn’t allow volunteers except for a couple of people friendly with the shelter director. And they’re really basically no adopters. And we knew at that point that all these wonderful dogs and cats were waiting to die. So the next day, my wife called me up at my work and said, I want to talk Started Facebook page. At that time, Facebook wasn’t that popular for animal rescue. So what we ended up doing is we go to the shelter on a regular basis, and since they didn’t have a volunteer program, we’d actually have to pretend that we wanted to adopt a dog to get it out of its cage so we could exercise and take pictures. And as we did this, all these people came flocking to us and the shelter wanting to volunteer, adopt, donate and shelter essentially effectively was forced to allow Ah, informal volunteer program. And while we were there, we did all sorts of things, like evaluating dogs, taking pictures, running Petfinder profiles, running adoption events, doing supply drives, networking with rescue, who’s adopting adoption counseling, you know, you name it, and we were saving a lot of lives. But after a few years we realized that we hit a plateau. There was only so many animals we could save because animals were being killed, do the actions that the shelter was taking or not taking, that that was causing the animals to lose their lives. So when we expressed their concerns to management, our relationship, which was really good, soured significantly, and one day I went on to our finder admin account. Where would be posting the dogs that I had evaluated that week and I was blocked, and at that point we knew we were banned, and that was the end of my time at that shelter, though um, after that, I went to a whole bunch of other local shelters to see if they could use our help. And almost all of them basically didn’t allow volunteers Or if they had volunteers. They didn’t really want to do anything different and eventually found another shelter that someone was going for a surgery. So they said, Oh, you can do the, you know, the pet finder and all that stuff. So that shelter, which basically was, um, it was basically found that was very slim, it of the first shelter. It was a no kill shelter in name, but basically name on Lee because what they were doing waas they’d have a small animal control contract, will take not many dogs and cats in a year. And they transport a lot of dogs from the South, mostly puppies and what they were doing. Waas um they were just putting the puppies in the front and charging really high adoption fees and leaving the local adult dogs and the mothers of those puppies in the back of the shelter in tiny cages and creates that were just horrific. And we were just determined to try to get those animals out of there and long story short After I did that for awhile, I even had a very short stint on the board. We found out that the board was controlled by the founder of the organization and they didn’t want to do anything to change their ways. And ultimately, I left the board because it was kind of a pointless exercise. And after that they said, Well, if you put the board then you know we don’t want you volunteering either. And ultimately, several months later, people were calling me, saying The conditions have gotten worse and myself and a lot of other people asked the state Health Department to inspect the shelter. And when they did, they found just atrocious problems and shelter with ultimately shut down. So at that point, I said, OK, I think I’ve done everything I can in volunteering. Um, there’s a systemic problem here that I think needs to be addressed. So I said, Well, you know what? I’m gonna start this, uh, NJ Animal Observer Block and Facebook page and trying to educate the public about what’s going on in our shelters. Yeah, Now your background is so interesting to me because You haven’t always been an animal welfare advocates, have you? No. I mean, I got involved in this at the age of 35 in terms of volunteering in a shelter and then reform, you know, four years, three or four years later. But before that, you know, just like an average known average person. You know, I was you know, I worked and large corporate jobs. Um, still d’oh. Um and, you know, I didn’t know my everyday thing. I didn’t, You know, I would want to adopt animals, but I never, ever envisioned myself, you know, volunteered at a shelter, let alone basically spending all my free time advocating for shelter reform. Sure. So now tell us how now you’re using those skills and kind of what you’re finding as you started to go about doing this blaugrana on a regular basis. Okay? I mean, so basically, my background, I work. I work in accounting and finance. Um, So, um, I have always had a scare us a knack for, like, gathering evidence and analyzing things quantitatively. So, you know, when I started my block, I initially kind of wrote it like a lot of similar blog’s that no kill blog’s that you’ve seen out there. I know you interviewed Catholic Pavlovsky from Lost Daughters of America. She has or had a wonderful no kill blogged that that was very good and some other people that initially with doing blog’s like like those which were very kind of like an opinion oriented. And then ultimately, I kind of found my way into doing data blocks, data heavy bloods. And when I did that, I started seeing some really telling trends. So what I noticed in New Jersey, um, is, as you may know, the Northeast tends to have very low animal intake. It’s very much the case in New Jersey as well. And what I found Waas that our shelters have a lot of excess capacity, which people can’t believe it to take in animals. And what was happening was a lot of shelters were either just being lazy where they were not, you know, they were basically killing animals when the shelters weren’t full or they weren’t really adopting the progressive practices of what I call the no kill equation. We people notice the no kill equation to move animals out and to live out comes quickly because if the quicker you moving animal out of the shelter, that means you can rescue another animal from another place that may lose its life quicker. So that was kind of like the big thing I noticed was that New Jersey animal shelters weren’t adopting up nearly enough animals and weren’t saving enough nearly nearly enough animals, and they were killing too many animals as well. So when I started doing deeper dives into the data, um, I really saw this very clearly. Interesting. So I mean, and you started doing this analysis and then how do you How do you I guess, go about Alan getting some of this data it even and start this process. So, uh, in New Jersey and I’m sure most states we have, ah, public records open called Open Public Records Act. It’s freedom of information. Act in some other places or it goes by other names, and basically, you’re loud. You basically can request public records from records from any governmental entity, so that basically covers all the government run shelters. There’s a bit of a legal question of whether you can get information from private animal shelters that have government contracts That’s kind of open legal issue. But any government run shelter you could basically contact the municipal clerk where the shelter is located and say, Hey, I want this record in that record and they will usually give it to you for free unless the record, unless the request is extremely voluminous And, um, you know, they may charge a fee, but typically you should avoid that by just doing multiple small requests. But that’s kind of how I get the information. There are certain cases where people will contact me and say, Hey, um, I have some records I obtained, you know? Oh, on I look at those, but almost all the time It’s records I requested from the fiscal governments. Okay, so then you get these records, and now you’re using your skills from your professional life to try and analyze and really, you know, bring the data toe life. I know a lot of times people use statistics to hide behind things like that, but you then want to make it much more objective. And I’m buying. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I do a number of analyses, and if you look through my blog’s, they tend to be very similar. Like I try to keep the analyses as objective as possible because I don’t want to, you know, have any biases, including mine. Everyone has biases involved. So what I try to do is I have objective quantitative measures in many cases where I evaluate shelters and almost always value in those shelters off benchmark good shelters. So you know, I find, say, a shelter should have a live release rate of X percent. You know that Target will be based off the performance of a shelter that’s already achieving that. So I’m not coming up with standards that are unrealistic. I’m coming up with standards that other good shelters were doing. So it’s very important to me that the standards, like come up with are realistic and can be achieved. Yeah, no. And I think it’s a really interesting point because as you and I were talking before the recording, I mean the philosophies on what defines no kill. There’s a couple of different things out there. I mean, maybe maybe give me your perspective and kind of the balanced side of what other perspectives on no kill out there. Yes. So a lot of people have confusion. What no kill is so no kill basically means we’re returning euthanasia to the dictionary definition, which is essentially mercy killing. So, um, typically eso when we say no kill means we’re just not killing. But we can still be doing euthanasia, and we should probably doing you the nation. So typically, a lot of people throw around this 90% live release rate, a za indicator of no kill. So 90% That means 90% of the animals coming to the shelter leave alive. Um, what were fun? And that was based off analysis done by Nathan Winogrand, who’s like the leader of no killer, one of the wings and no count about 15 years ago. And since then, um, our, um, abilities in shelter, medicine and behavioral rehabilitation has really improved. So I would say no. Killed does not always mean 90% I release rate. Typically, it will be higher, meaning that to stop killing healthy, untreatable animals, you will usually have a live release rate well over 90%. But what I would say is any live release rate under 90% is certainly not no kill, but but the key is to not kill healthy, untreatable animals, and it typically means elaborately sprayed somewhere north of 90%. Okay, Yeah, And I think that’s an important distinction. Because sometimes people interpret the words to mean something else. Yeah, I think a lot of people think no kill means no euthanasia. That’s certainly not the case. In fact, the no kill movement is our strong proponents of immediately conducting mercy killing. So fine animal comes into a shelter and it’s truly in hopelessly suffering and it’s in pain and pain can’t be alleviated then. Then we advocate immediate, humane euthanasia. So I think that’s kind of ah ah, myth that no kill is no no youth in a nation which is not the case at all. Yeah. Now I’m guessing that when you started diving into the statistics and really bringing toe light the truth of what’s going on in the New Jersey shelters, it probably wasn’t all that well received. And people probably thought you were being unnecessarily tough. Can you can you share with us? Maybe some of the things you’ve experienced? Well, yeah. I mean, it’s certainly, um uh, yeah, I’ve heard the tough critic, uh, comment a lot and Umm, I see where shelters would say that because most of the shelters that I’ve seen have never been evaluated, let alone evaluated in an objective, quantifiable manner. So I think that’s part of it. But I do think, you know, I’m really not that tough because like when you look at good shelters across the country and you apply my methodology to them, they scored off the charts. So when I evaluate shelters, it’s usually off a good shelter, but not the best animal shelters. So that’s why a lot of people, I think a lot of people are just not used to being evaluated. And, um, what I do find it? A lot of people who work at shelters or friends off or related to people who work at shelters, you know, they will lash out. You visit my Facebook page, you will see, you know, frequently people just coming out and just, um, you know, attacking You know what I say, or even myself personally, Um, just because I’m critiquing and it’s just par for the course, and I’m used to it at this point. But I’m sure every shelter reform advocate has has experienced something similar Yeah, No. And I think I’m somebody that believes in drama free, right? I mean, there’s there’s definitely a lot of work that we have to do. And there’s a lot of methods and disagreement, I think, even in terms of the approach. But I always look at people’s intent to say, Are they intending to do the right thing? And then can we build on that? Can we educate? Can we share, coming, collaborate and really try and move the needle? Absolutely. And the great thing today is there’s so many. There’s so much information freely available on the Web. But also there’s consultant organizations. Now that’ll come in and and can really help guide a shelter step by step to doing the right thing, t becoming success. You know, you jerk, the animal shelters have a luxury that say shelters in the South don’t have in that our intake is so low that they really just have to be performed adequately to basically achieve a really highlight release rate, because the intake is so low. So, um, you know, I think it’s really achievable in our state, and, you know, and I think to your point that you know when we sit there and we put aside, um, our own, you know, initial negative reactions to to a criticism. And we and we say, Well, maybe we can do things better. And I think when they do come to that point, you realize that, you know, we could do a lot of things and wait, Let’s let’s see what other successful organizations are doing and let’s incorporate what we’re doing. It will be a much better organization for doing that. Yeah, No, I’m in a CZ. You know, communities were different around the country, defending with the challenges they have. And as you said, one of the things that technology is really done and Social Media’s done is allowed us to collaborate better and share best practices. And hey, we tried this and we’re facing this situation and and here’s the outcome. And so there’s really no excuse to kind of claim ignorance that you don’t know the path to get there. The programs. The idea is because there’s just a wealth of information readily available in free that can help any organization down that path. Absolutely, absolutely. It really is. I mean, every year I’m just amazed that like these, the innovation that’s happening across the country, it just amazes, amazes, may I mean, it’s so exciting to see what you know, shelters like in Austin and another place that they’re doing that every year. They’re just not saying OK way. We’re at where we’re at and we’re happy with that. They’re always trying to to innovate and do things even better, because you know, what I always say to people is, you know, you may have a highlight release rate, but they’re animals dying in the country and even outside the country. So to the extent that we perform better and we either responsibly reduce intake basically to keep animals that don’t need a home in their existing home and more quickly achieved live live outcomes that creates space in our shelters to save animals from other places. So maybe there’s cats on the street that we can take it now. Or maybe our neighboring jurisdiction has a really bad high kill shelter that our shelter could then bid on that contract with the extra space in our shelter. Or maybe we’ll just rescue more animals from another shelter. The point is, the more the better you perform, the more animals you say it and that that should always be the goal. Yeah, and I think it’s a really interesting point that you bring up is that you’re not just saving one animal. You’re freeing up a space which can have a compounding effect and in protecting certain areas of the country that just have a huge supply of animals coming in. Sometimes even just by providing that capacity allows them to lower the the pressure points just enough that they can get on top of it. And they can actually start implementing the programs than things that they’re looking to do versus just keeping up with what’s coming in the door. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think certainly, you know, you’re the animal shelters, one of the key findings of my research. We could easily take in, you know, 10,000 additional dogs in a year from outside the state, and that’s assuming we’re taking the toughest. All it’s like 80% of that number is pimples. If it was, other breeds would be a higher number and cats, we could probably take in 25,000 people. When people hear that, they say that’s no way. It’s not possible island. But when you look at the objective data and the capacity of our shelters in our state and the performance of other good shelters, you know that absolutely is achievable. So there’s just a lot, a lot. So, you know, is it always excited to me? Because I always see there’s a lot of upside that shelters can d’oh that, meaning that there’s a lot of improvement that they could make. And when they make that improvement, they can save a lot more lives. Yeah, no, And that’s really interesting from somebody like yourself that’s got that background analysis and data. The data doesn’t lie right. And just like you said as you can, you can show them No, it actually is reasonable, Impossible. Even though it may not equate to the way that we view things and we’re thinking, No way, that’s not possible. The data actually shows that it is, Yeah, I think people are often and I think a lot of people are, you know, you know, day to day they’re like engulfed in the crisis to crisis and animal welfare, and I get it. I mean, I was doing that for a long time. I know when you’re like have animals, lives on the lines and you’re desperately trying to find a place for them. You know, you’re not thinking about this other stuff, but when you take a step back and you realize what the big picture is, you know there’s a lot of improvement we can make. And that improvement should be something viewed. It’s like a bad thing, like Oh, I’m a bad I’m bad at what I do know. It should be viewed as an opportunity that if I do things in a new way, I’m able to save a lot more lives. So let’s do that. There’s nothing wrong with, you know, having done something that you didn’t know was the best way. And now when you learn there’s a different way, that’s better and you take that on, you know, you know, I think that’s a great thing. I think that’s a great trait of any person to see what they’re doing and say, Well, there’s a better way of doing things So let me do that And there’s a lot of successful shelter directors in this country, you know, started out that way they were they weren’t doing. They were doing things the wrong way. But when they learned about a new way of doing things and did them, they became wildly successful. And and I’m sure they’re much happier about it, cause I don’t think anyone wants to come to work at a shelter and kill animals. It’s not good for the one psyche and certainly not good for the animals. So, um, so I think it should be viewed as an opportunity. Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s a good point in in that sharing these best practices and sharing these possibilities with each other again. I see it as a tool kit within your community is every program is they’re gonna work in every community. But the more that we can share information and what worked and unique things that we tried, I think we’re We’re arming people with better, you know, tools to be able to make the impact that they’re hoping to make. So that’s what I was keeps me excited, is that I see a lot more potential in what we’re doing. Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And you look at all the successful shelters, you’ll see that some of those successful shelters while they’re applying the 11 no kill equation programs which, you know, people can look up on online. But a lot of those shelters will kind of emphasize some of those programs Maur and do them and really rely on those particular problem programs to be successful. So you could write it. Definitely from shelter to shelter. There’ll be more emphasis on certain programs and others. So, Alan, you’ve been at this now for 4.5 years or so. What’s next for you? Where do you see this going? Well, I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing, but more and more I’m doing this. Um, I’m realizing that there is a need, at least in the state of New Jersey for a a progressive, animal sheltering reform group. Um, and that’s what I am I’m looking forward to doing. I mean, we already have shelter reform group, so I don’t want to say that we don’t have them, but I’m looking to start a ah, no kill reform group where we’re not just gonna, you know, look at the bad practices shelters. We’re just gonna be looking out, trying to advocate for what practices we want shelters to dio, whether it’s legislatively or whether it’s dealing with local shelters and helping guide them to do what we want them to. D’oh! So there is. You know, I have met with a number of people in the state that I developed relationships over time and certainly were We’re now in touch. And I think that’s kind of the next step where we move into a kind of, ah action oriented realm where we act is kind of like a statewide no kill group advocating for adoption and no kill equation. Very nice. Well, island, thank you so much. This is this is great information and thank you for what you’re doing. Is there anything else that you want to share with our listeners before we wrap things up? No. I would just say to everyone who’s listening that, um, everyone has a skill set. They can use your mind. Is this quantitative analysis, But you may have different skill sets. Maybe it’s public. Maybe your greater public relations, Or maybe you have artistic talents or whatnot. Whatever skill set you do you have, you should always, you know, think how can I use that to help animals because you’d be surprised. Most skill sets have a place in animal welfare, and people should use them, whether it’s for shelter reform or just saving animals directly. I think it’s it’s a very important thing to do, and I think, you know, people should explore using skills. They already have to help animals very well, stated Ellen. And I and I definitely appreciate that and wholeheartedly agree. So thank you for coming on the program today. We appreciate it. I appreciate it. Tim. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast if you’re not already a member, joined the Air P A. To take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do bert dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.