Episode 57 – Steve Shank

Steve Shank shares with us how persistence and belief makes anything possible! No matter how many walls you encounter along the way, keep chugging along and you will make a difference in this world! Steve started his involvement in the animal rescue world back in 2012 in Lake County, FL where he wanted to focus on shelter reform when he learned his local shelter was euthanizing 1600 healthy adoptable animals per year. They are currently euthanizing less than 300 per year with the help of local leaders. Steve continues his work with shelter reform and hopes more organizations across the country will follow suit.

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, Steve Shank has an impressive record in fighting for shelter reform in Lake County, Florida, where he was instrumental in achieving the distinction of creating a no kill community in that county from over 1600 animals being euthanized in 2017 at Lake County Animal Service’s toe less than 300 year on year and those only due to severe injury or sickness. In addition, the shelter’s been able to reunite animals with their owners thanks to aggressive detective work by staff, which resulted in the shelter no longer bursting at the seams. His approach to animal advocacy is all about accountability. He firmly believes that the American public, if they knew, would be appalled at the number of animals being euthanizing county facilities using public funds. He wants to get out into the public domain that there is a better way willingness from public officials to use the funds to encourage spay, neuter and re homing and using other creative ways to keep animals out of shelters. Hey, Steve, welcome to the program. Thank you, Chris. It’s, uh, it’s nice to be here, So tell us a little bit more about you in your background, and you’ve got a really interesting background being an air traffic controller. I mean, that’s a that’s a far cry from getting into animal rescue. How did you make that leap? Well, I was, uh I was working in New Jersey in late 2011 and, uh, my wife and our six frisky dogs were back home in Central Florida. My wife started volunteering and she started doing transport, all right, at our local animal shelter, Lake County Animal Service is she would pick up dogs and, uh, drive them all around the state. She would drive as faras the Tampa area to the southwest, all the way up toward ST Augustine of the Northeast. And while she was doing this, she was interacting with volunteers and staff and was learning more about the facility, and she learned that, uh, they could do better. They were They were killing a lot of adoptable animals, and so herself. And, um, a few friends advocate friends that she had met through doing this started attending Lake County board accounting commissioner meetings, and they would speak up. They would, uh, ask the commissioners to do better, too. Implement policies that would save more lives. And she’s telling me this and phone conversations while I’m up north, and it really inspired me. And, uh, I learned that my county shelter, Lake County Animal Service, is was killing adoptable dogs and cats and a rather high rate. So, um, I began advocating for shelter reform by gathering information, and I didn’t know where to begin. So I started submitting public records request each month for detailed reports on stats on the shelters and taken outcome records, among other things. And what I found out was, uh, it was surprising. It was sad. It was depressing. There was growing concerns that I had going through all these numbers. And so the thing that the mine was, how do we cut the euthanasia rate at Lake County Animal Service? Is there has to be a better way. So I, um I started researching other communities that had transformed their animal control facility from one which was taking innocent lives in the one that no adoptable pets will be in Houston ice. And this was the beginning of my education on the no kill movement. And from that point on, where do you go next? So I thought, Well, it’s if you don’t know much about something. What better place to learn then? From people are experts in the field. So I began reaching out the shelter directors and well known advocates around the country that we’re reforming their own shelters and making a difference that one such person that I came in contact with was Aubrey Cabin, all from no kill Huntsville and her blood pause for change. I think you interviewed long ago. Um, she became a very close friend and actually a mentor of mine. Um, Bob Reed. Aubrey. She taught me a lot. She showed me the handle, how to get things done, how to approach this the right way. So one thing that I’ve learned through this path is that, uh, one person the ass asking for change, you’re not gonna accomplish much. So the key that I found out was You have to make others aware of what’s transpiring at the facility that their tax dollars air subsidizing and you have to provide them with the needed information to change or transition from a killing facility to a no kill shelter. People had to get on board, and the way I chose to tackle that was through social media and a dedicated Facebook page. Okay, so I started shelter reform for Lake County, Florida, in the early summer of 2014 and I used that as a tool to, um, transparency in showing the number and percentages of pets that were dying at our facility each month. Additionally, I would share educational information on what they call the blueprints for success that other cities and counties were using in order for them that go from taking lives to saving lives. So what I’ve learned through all the reading and research is that the vast majority of Americans, um, say they believe it should be illegal to destroy se va ble shelter animals. So I I was intent on stopping this cycle by educating people by getting the word out. It’s incredibly difficult toe to, ah, rally a community to do something better if most people don’t even know about the issue in the first place. And that’s that’s the whole idea about reforming shelters. Most people aren’t aware of what’s going on, so as more people are educated, they’ll learn. We don’t have to keep destroying these animals. So, um, along the same lines, there’s no better way to effect change quickly than two. Um, then to learn from people from those who have done this type of thing before and who have that knowledge of what works across the country. So, um, back in the late summer of 2016 uh, I got in touch with Aubrey having all and she had been following my pay, So she knew what I was up against, and we talked about Okay, I’m kind of a dead end here. I’m not getting anywhere. Do you have any suggestions? And she put me in touch with Mike Fry of no kill learning. Mike lives up in Saint Paul, and, uh so I contacted Mike, and through a series of the emails and phone calls, he learned what was transpiring in lake. And what what I had hoped to do as faras turning like into a no kill shelter in, like, county and, you know, feel community. And he was on board, and he offered to come down and, uh, given assessment on on the facility on the procedures and policies, which was it was just It inspired me even further that, uh, I’ve got help. So I contacted a county commissioner, uh, Commissioner Cappie own. And I told her she should known I had been talking to her through the last couple of years tryingto get the county to go. No kill. And so I told her about Mike and his willingness to come down and his credentials that he had done this thing around the country before with great success. And she she got excited about, and, uh, she contacted Ah, the county manager at the time, and told him about Mike’s story. He got fired up, so they both got in touch with Mike, uh, make a long story longer they can contract. Did Mike out? It’s a consultant for the county, Um, in October of 2016 and about this same time in early November, There was an election and Lake County has five commissioners. Two commissioners were up for reelection. They were incumbents who had done commissioners for years, and they were entrenched in the political system and very resistant to change. They didn’t want to change anything about the shelter. They didn’t want to listen. They didn’t want to investigate. So, um, I got in touch with people running against them and found out that they were receptive to change and they would listen and they would learn. And ah, remarkable thing happened was a perfect storm. The the two incumbents who thought they would be there forever got voted out of office. The two new people came in, uh, the county, uh, decided to take back the shelter from the sheriff’s office who had been trying to run it for several years and had not done a real stellar job of it. So the county took it back. And through this whole process, Mike is flying down periodically meeting with government officials, meeting with the public. Explain it, everybody, how this is gonna happen, that it’s gonna be successful, that we’re going to do it. Um, just a super super guy and, uh on January 15th of 2017 Lake County, the commissioner’s officially took back control of the shelter from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. And on that same day, uh, Lake County became no kill. And we’ve been the film out for about, uh, what, 18 18 months? I guess, Um, a remarkable story. It all fell into place with Mike help with the ousting of two commissioners who didn’t didn’t want to change anything. And I’m so very happy and so very proud of what happened in leg. It’s just, uh it’s just really, really been remarkable to be there along the way and and see us going from killing 40 and 50% of our animals, too. Now, er, we ended night that we ended 2017 the first year of being no kill with the 92% live release rate and to date, uh, 2018 through the end of July. Uh, it only gets better where we’re saving 96%. That’s amazing. So, yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s and they continue. They be in the staff management and a tremendous army of of volunteers that we have. They deserve all the credit. They were there every day. And, uh, the shelter is full almost all the time, yet they’re not taking any lives. They’re finding ways to remove these animals and finding homes. And and that in itself tells you about the commitment that these terrific folks that are that are working on volunteering out there have er for animals. Pretty awesome. So tell us a little bit about Lake County. I mean, I looked it up on a map, and I say it’s kind of north of Orlando. But what’s What’s the county like? What’s the community like for animals? Lake County’s about 40 45 minutes northwest of Orlando. It’s got a lot of a lot of retired people live there part of its rural, and it’s got some small towns. It’s I live in a little town called Mount Door. It’s almost like a little New England village. It’s actually hilly and has some a lot of hardwood trees. And, uh, it’s a quaint little town, and the people, the people, most people being retired, not not all but the number of people are retired. And, ah, through this change of transforming to a no kill shelter, the people that you’ve never met before. They’re, uh they’re inspired by what’s happening out there. They’re proud of the transition to become no kill where one of the few true, no kill shelters in the state. And, uh, they’re a big part of that. They support their efforts to stay no kill. There’s a lot of fundraising, charitable contributions, businesses, air involved, the sponsoring offside adoption events, which is, uh, one of the key elements to be in a no field facility. And, uh, they’ve taken it all in and supported us along the way. Yeah. No, that’s great to hear it. It sounds like you really initiated a lot of this getting this going in. And it was something you had never really been an animal rescue before, had you? Now it’s, uh it’s funny. I like I began speaking about learning what my wife was doing and then finding out, uh, the county’s dirty little secret, which is the dirty little secret and most counties and communities about, uh, having this the animal shelter. It’s usually hidden, usually tucked away next to a landfill or at the end of a rural road. It’s truly out of sight, out of mind. So most people never think about this building or the employees for the policies or what occurs on a daily basis using their tax dollars. And so when I found out that, uh, what was happening there, it just, uh it hit a nerve, and I couldn’t I could not not do something I had had to help try to change it. And, uh, it was, Is it not only a moral morally right thing to do? It was just something inside of me that I couldn’t stand thinking about all those innocent lives being taken every every month, every year. So that’s that’s what got me involved with doing it. And, uh, one thing leads to another. As you’ve probably found out. When you get on the Internet to research one thing, it takes you down about a dozen other pass. And so I spent endless hours on the Internet for the first few years, just intend, really researching and learning and e mailing people and asking questions and fighting out things. And how do you do this? Or what happens if you run across this? There’s just ah, an endless supply of information out there. If you no or contact the right people, the points in the right direction, like a lot of the folks that I. But it’s fortunate enough to come across. Did they? I couldn’t have done what I done any of this without the Aubrey and Mike and ah, nation, Dougray from Colorado. They have all provided me with a wealth of information, knowledge how to do this type of suggestions and, um, that that benefited me tremendously. And I tried to share that with with others who were trying to do the same thing. So it’s all about coming together. It’s community and working towards a common goal. Yeah, absolutely. And I think you are right to point out I mean, there’s lots of resource is and lots of people that are willing to help. They just need they need an advocate. They need somebody to take action in that particular community, somebody that lives there, that it’s their community, and we’ll give them the tools and the backing of the support. But you just need somebody to be that lightning round toe. Take the first step. That’s exactly right. And, uh, you know, it could get very discouraging because this this process doesn’t happen it happened literally overnight for Lake County. Once Mike got involved and the county took back the shelter from the sheriff’s office. Like, I don’t think my told me that’s never never been done before. Where he even wrote about it in one of his blog’s on Is a local learning Paige that literally the light was flipped on and it happened. Did happen overnight. We went from killing on the 16th too, never killing unadoptable pet again from the 17th on January. But normally this it did take me. It took me what? It took me probably five years to get to that point and and be connected with with Mike Fry and Audrey Kavanagh and, uh so it’s very discouraging it. Not only is the time portion of it, you know, day after day, month after month, you’re trying to get something accomplished. You hit dead end after dead end. And you know the county officials don’t respond to your e mails. No, no callbacks, no email replies. And it makes you thinking Is this ever gonna happen? This is is a dead end. Is am I going to do this until either I give up or I die. How long is this gonna take? So it takes a lot of perseverance. Um, it takes if you have a group to share any frustration, it probably helps some, Um, I’m more or less was doing this on my own. And I started the page, The shelter reform page on my own. Um, there was nobody else involved with with this other than Excuse me, The people that I mentioned, the the advocates Aubrey, Mike does Nathan some others. But locally I was I was sending all the e mails. I was pulling all the records. I was doing all the posting, and I’m just trying to get other people involved. If they see what’s happening on my Facebook page, they may tell a friend or a family member a neighbor, and then it it kind of explodes from there. One person telling another, and you know, within a matter of time there’s you’ve got, you know, 1000 or more people following your page and they’re telling their friends and their family and more people are becoming aware and wanna help somehow, and they want to get involved. And then when you when you become no kill, everybody wants to be involved because it’s such a positive, uplifting things. Um, it’s good for everybody. So I’m very fortunate that we reach that point already. Um, I continue to pull records every month. Just two managed to keep an eye on things to make sure that we’re still on course. And by God, we are They’re still doing a remarkable job out there. And, uh so I’m very proud of Like I said, proud of the people that work there. Proud of the volunteers that to give so generously of their time out there? Yeah. And I hear that there’s a new facility now that’s in the works. Hopefully, um, the commissioners past the funding for it, They’ve got to cite kicked out. They have. I believe they have the blueprints. At least the rafter after the blueprints. Ready? Um, I talked to Commissioner Cappio not too long ago about that. About when are we gonna break ground? She didn’t have a date for me. Um, the good thing is that they’ve agreed that we do need a new shelter because we do. What we have now is more or less a glorified pole barn. It lacks sufficient air conditioning, which in central Florida for about four or five months out of the year is just almost unbearable for the animals out there. Um, we had a couple, uh, family are not family members of the community members, people in the community that actually donated, like industrial size, um, fans for the shelter, because it’s just there’s almost too much for the for the animals. So that’s another. Another example of community pitch in and helping out the new shelter. I don’t have a date for yet. Um, it’s good to know that it’s on the horizon and we will be getting one. I just I don’t know when. Hopefully, hopefully, if not this year, they’ll be breaking ground early next year for work. Yeah, that’ll be amazing. So So you’ve come so far. What’s what’s the next for you? You’ve gotten them to know kill and I know you’re continuing to monitor, but what does the future look like for you? Um Well, like like you said, I’m keep it or not. And lake, um, I I don’t feel like I don’t want to step away. I want to make sure that they continue down the right path. and they are. But, um, there’s some advocates in adjacent county toe Sumpter County, Florida. Who, uh, it’s almost a mirror image of what lake went through in the early years when I was starting out advocating for change. They’ve, uh They’ve got their hands full over there. They’ve got a very resistant board, A county commissioners and ah, county administrator who are basically overseeing. They’re, uh they’re rural animal shelter. Um, they’ve got a lot of problems and issues over there, So I’m trying. I was asked by one of, ah, one of the advocates that run the ER. They have their own shelter reform page. Similar. What I did, they started one up to try for the same reason to try to make people aware that the word out on social media. So they asked me if I could maybe help them a little bit. So, uh, I try to assist them as much as I can, um, with sharing information. What worked for us? What works for others? Uh, tryingto trying to get people to listen, and they’re they’re bored. A county commissioners. I think a couple of them probably need to be ousted. Um, kind of like what happened in late because they they don’t listen. They don’t they don’t want to change. And it’s very frustrating for the group, which is understandable. So I tried. I tried to tell him not to get too down, that things will eventually change whether people leave office or as many people as they can get informed and put pressure on the commissioner’s toe. Listen and maybe make the necessary changes. Um, but that’s that’s what that’s basically Ally. If I have any spare time to give to the animal community, that’s kind of what I’m doing. Nice. Well, Steve, you’ve come so far, and it’s amazing the work that you’ve done and you are a prime example of somebody that just gets involved takes the position. You know, the rest of the community is there to support and to get behind you. So thanks for coming on the program today. Is there anything else you wanted to share before we wrap things up? Well, like I mentioned before the recording starter, I want to thank you, Chris and the do Bert community for having a platform two to share ideas and concepts of what works, too. Other people looking for the answers. It’s, um it’s a great resource for those that are trying to advocate for change. And, uh, that we don’t. We don’t have to kill healthy and treatable companion animals. And we shouldn’t and you have toe. You have to reject excuses. Uh, says he will be a lot of those firing back your way. You have to fight, uh, for what you believe in. You have to believe in yourself. You have to make others aware, which was something that is so vitally important. You have to make others around you and your community aware of what’s happening. People are basically good, good nature, and they mean, well, most of us and people don’t want to hear about adoptable pets being killed. So once they find out about it, they’ll more than likely jump on board with you and they’ll try to help you do what’s right and reform your community. So, um, I just I just want everybody to keep their face and, uh, try to keep the chin up. I know it’s tough, especially when you get rejected so much, but he plugging away and hopefully something that will happen. 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.

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