Hear from animal relocation expert, Karen Walsh, as she describes her journey in animal welfare. What began as a love for animals has evolved into a career focused on reducing overpopulation and increasing the quality of life for animals through developing and implementing best transport practices. Learn how to manage transport programs, develop staying power in the animal welfare industry and grow your career in animal welfare.
Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll Podcast is proudly 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 Relate Transport. Now on with our show. Karyn Walsh has been in the animal welfare industry for 30 years and is served with various organizations in different roles. Karen is a licensed veterinary medical technician, a certified compassion fatigue educator and a certified animal welfare administrator. As a recognised subject matter expert in the animal well for industry, she has overseen internal and external learning and development programs, focused on promoting and transferring best practices, tracking data and developing clear and measurable outcomes with analysis designed to enhance programs. She is currently serving in the mission of the S P C. A. As director of animal relocation and the shelter outreach department, where she was focused on saving lives through relocation and transportation. Hey, Karen, welcome to the program. Hi, Chris. How are you? Great. Well, thanks so much for coming on and tell us a little bit about you and kind of your background. Well, I’m not Carin Walls, and I am the director of animal relocation for the A s P c. A. Now, but I have been an animal lover all my life. Um, as a child, I grew up in a household where my father was a World Bank executive. And so we grew up traveling all over the world, and I had times where I would leave friends behind. I would make new friends, have new friends and school new school a couple of years, and then we move again. And so I think that pets became so important to me because wherever I went, my pets went with me when my friends couldn’t. And so I think I really developed bonds at that point with animals. Well, so now you took that love of animals and then you ended up turning this into a career. Yes. It wasn’t intended that when I initially I loved horses, first horses were my guest, lots of girls. I was a cliche that was completely alone with horses. And that’s all I wanted to do and was everywhere in my room where horses and, uh, when I was 19. Well, actually, before that, I was training horses and I just my career plan and my parents said, No, no, no, you can’t just work with horses. You got to go to college and a college that has horses. It’s fine, but in college, So I went to college and actually broke my back in a car accident. At the end of the first year, my all my dreams of working with horses disappeared. Um, they told me at the time that I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 30 that I never have Children, that I could never ride horses again and tell you imagine a 19. That’s a pretty devastating anything to be. Unfortunately, they were wrong. I’m now in my fifties and I have kids and my forces and all those things didn’t happen. But at the time, it was a pretty devastating blow, and I had to figure out a different path. So what? After multiple surgeries and several years of struggling my way through that, I decided to go to vet tech school. Um, some people trying to get me to go to that school, and I just thought it was too late. I missed that window, and being a veterinarian just wasn’t like what I was most interested in. So what’s become of attack and with that degree went to work with veterinary Hospital and was approached by a shelter in a community where they needed a director. And I have never run a shelter before, worked in sheltering and I had you management interest. And so that’s how I started was in a very small, very high euthanasia county shelter that must been really hard to go from this love of having animals and and then to, as you said, Ah, high euthanasia shelter headed that. How did that play out for you? It was very hard. Um, back then, it was a long time ago. Filtering has changed tremendously since I started, but back then you had a strange old and at the end of the straight hold, the animals that had had gone through there straight hold that weren’t adopted, re euthanized. So there weren’t a lot of adoption programs that wasn’t a lot of ways to promote animals. Um, there was just a lot of euthanasia and that Actually, I left animal out there for a while because of that, because I was the person who was making this decisions. I was the person who had to actually perform euthanasia. And although I understood that this was something that was part of sheltering, I really wanted something different and something better. And at that time it didn’t really seem like those things were on the horizon. So, uh, I left and, uh, when it should own open my own restaurant for five years, which was course a lot less pressure. Look, it’s OK. It was just completely away from, you know, my family history by my relatives have had restaurants, so I went in that direction for a short while. But I animals draw me back. Yes. So then you gave up on the restaurant business and then came back to sheltering again, right? I was actually teaching at a vet. Tech university teaching students and locals filter here in Tennessee, approached me as a consultant and asked if I would come in and do some consulting on their shelter. Andi, I did that, and the night very much got sucked into their mission of helping that shelter improve and hiring a new staff. It was a very young shelter, and it just opened and they needed a lot of help. And it pulled me right back into animal welfare. And I haven’t left since. Yeah, I was gonna say when I was reading your introduction. I mean, you’ve been involved for more than 30 years now. Yes. And a Zavala tear staff as its lots of different ways. My work to PetSmart charities on the rescue wagon transport program. And now I’m very fortunate to also be on the SBCs transport program, and I just I love what I dio. Yeah, no, tell us about that. Like how? Because, obviously, and will relocation. I was become your thing. And you’re definitely the expert in the field. I mean, tell us about what happened at PetSmart charities and kind of how you got involved and and why this has become such a passion for you. Yeah, I was. Ah. Well, the shelter that I was was running the shelter that I worked at was a source shelter on the rescue wagon. And so this time being in a shelter that had more resource is and more ability to help was great. But one of the things that we were constantly experiencing was just being overwhelmed by population. The number that was coming through the door and tryingto manage that through adoption, um, is far in a community. And when rescue having came along, they brought training. They brought help. And they hope it was amazing that for us all the things that happens because a truck would roll up on a regular basis and take some of our population where they could be adopted, where they actually needed animals. So by relieving ourselves of that piece of the population, it allowed us to do more training. It allowed us to focus on their staff, to focus on our own programs, to start, to try to do things better, to go and get more education, toe, learn from others, all things we couldn’t do when we were overwhelmed with taking care of the animals that we were trying to care for ourselves. Um, so that program made such a difference to me in my life and for all the shelter and and for this community that when I had the opportunity to go and work for them. It was a fantastic opportunity, and I learned so much from the shelters that were part of that program. And then when that program ended in the A S P. C. A. Picked up this program, I was very fortunate to be able to move from one program to the other and keep this work going. Yeah, and I know one of things I always talk about with people is the transport is not the solution, but it’s It’s a tool. It’s a it’s a piece of the puzzle that’s exactly right. It’s a tool, and there’s lots of tools in your toolbox. And as transport becomes when that you need less because you can control your population better and manage that have managed intake programs and work with your community, then transport could move on to another community that needs it and be there. Tool. It’s not a tool that should last forever should be ah goal for people at the supply end or at the demand end, Um, transport won’t happen for ever hopefully and will come up with other solutions and other programs that we do to help animals. So tell us a little bit about how it works. I mean now with at the SPC and kind of what your role is and how do you make all this happen? So I run the Nancy Silverman Rusty Ride program, which is our East Coast leg of transport, and then the Watershed Animal Fund rescue ride is in the center of the country and then also in Los Angeles. There’s another program, but that’s not one that I run. I’m just part of their team. So we have shelters in Southern states, in Midwestern states, where they just have the same problem that I was having in the Tennessee shelter. It’s just being overwhelmed with population just to mitt animals that are adoptable but not enough doctors for those animals and some animals that have special needs that they don’t have the resources to meet that destination. Shelters in the upper half of the country have more resource is and can help. Sometimes animals with heart rooms go there to be treated, or there may be an animal that he’s an amputation or something like that that can’t be provided at the source. The destinations are willing to take on. So dogs that would have been historically Ethan Ice for problem. The source couldn’t handle bacon partner with that destination and get that help for that animal. And so it’s a It’s very much a part of give and take, um, and destinations and sources supporting each other. Destinations don’t have enough adoptable animals. They’re able to bring them in through sources. Oftentimes, their communities are better resourced than the communities where the sources are. And the people in those communities are much more willing to be able to adopt a dog that might need that little bit extra, a cat that might need a little bit extra that the people in the source community might not be able to do. Yeah, so put it in perspective for us. I mean, how many transports? How many animals? How often is this happening? Oh, every day we have transports on the road, going somewhere every day. Last year we transported 40,413 with animals, and this big number of it it’s just us. When there’s so many other people doing transport as well. And the national number, how many animals are actually relocated is still a mystery, Um, one that technology like like Duterte might be able to eventually one day tell us what’s what’s true out there about about transport. But so many people are transporting animals from one in the back of your car. Teoh us with 40,000 that it’s it’s hard to know how many animals are actually would be across the country. Now, have you seen a change in transport? Is that still just dogs, or are there other animals that are being transported as well? So when I started in this industry, if you had told me that cats would be being transported in any number, great number in my lifetime, I would have laughed. I didn’t think that that was really gonna be a thing, but we moved over 10,000 cats last year. Um well, yeah, that was a while for me, Teoh, Uh, it’s Ah, we do designated cat transports of your entire vehicles of cats that transported and and sometimes they they work as a support mechanism. If your community has ah lot of adoption centers available, like places where animals can get adopted out of a storefront or another type of building our business, you have to keep those locations filled with cats for adoption or you might lose them. The people that are supporting them really want cats in there. They often help sell products or whatever it is that those cats are doing. But if you have a lot of sick cats in your community, you have a really hard time keeping those places full. So if we can take you some healthy cats and you could put those healthy cats straight into your centers, and while you’re getting your community cats healthy, when your community that has healthy cats to three weeks later we could put those cats in the centre spread option, and then we bring you some more. And so it’s like a rotational system that keeps cats available for adoption to the public. All the time helps those stores support adoption as their option for having pets and stores and help save more lives. Yeah, that’s a really unique program. That’s really cool. So how do you guys go about matching up the source and destination? I mean, how do these organizations find different partners and kind of walk us through that process? So usually at the A S P. C. A were approached with people wanting to be a partner, wanting some turn sport, not really knowing how to have transport, not having the funding for it, not wanting to start driving animals themselves or get into learning about how to do that. But get a resource little help. So we get applications requests for applications through our relocation email. Um, and then a lot of it’s about distance. If we have people that are helping us with an airplane than animals could go farther than they can if we’re driving a truck, so we do both of those things. Our best practices is 650 miles before we need to stop. So our programs a little unique in that we have what we call way stations across the country, which are basically hotels for the animals that are on transport. We leave our source. We drive 650 miles and we stop at one of our way stations. Animals are unloaded and locked and cared for, fed and watered and bedded down for the night in our drivers go and they sleep in a hotel and then they come back the next morning, get the animals and go the rest of the way. So a lot of matching is about distance. Some matching is about resource problems like heart worms are needing special surgeries. Those kind of things, some destinations, air are very generous and have a lot of resource is to help with those sorts of things. And we might match them with the source that has very low resource is of no ability to help those animals. Yeah, that’s really eat Now. How Maney Way stations are you guys up to now? Across the country? We have Virginia, Tennessee. Uh, we just added one in Kansas, Kentucky, and then we have several in California’s well, 77 we are. We’re at now. Yeah, that’s a really It’s a really smart idea because obviously with animals that I was tell people it’s not like Amazon prime. You can’t just have it delivered in two days we gotta think about. I mean, there’s a lot of regulations and the care of the animals. I mean, it’s it’s a stressful time for them as well, right? And it’s also dangerous. I mean, volunteers that really want to help, sometimes getting vehicles and you there on one side of the country and they’re gonna drive to the other. They’re gonna drive from New Mexico, New York without stopping, and they trade off driving and talking to each other. And it’s very dangerous to drive that far. And and it’s also very stressful for the animals to be in a kennel in a vehicle for all that time. So we really tried to have people think about you. What is the best way to do this? How can we put resources in place and help each other so that we aren’t doing things that are gonna endanger people or pets? How can we do relocation and don’t do it very well so that our animals benefit from that? And I think that when we’re looking at grant funding when we’re looking at discussing relocation, we really are thinking about those best practices, and that were, um, not saying that anything is that Anything that happens that gets an animal saved is the best thing to do, because sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you know, there’s tragedies that happen because people are trying too hard without really understanding. The resource is that might be available to them if they ask for help. Yeah, no, I know, one of the things that you’re obviously very familiar with is during disasters and hurricanes wildfires and oftentimes I see people jumping in trying to help on D. Sometimes that ends up causing mawr were problems that it’s worth. I mean, how do you guys get involved when there are disasters like hurricanes and wildfires and flooding and other things? So a lot of states have agreements with organizations like ours where you know, will be in the wings and then they call us in when they’re ready for us when they need us in. Some states have done that for the exact reason, because there’s so many people that want to help that want Teoh run down there and help those people. They’re in terrible situations, but it’s really a very coordinated project and it takes a lot of knowledge to do those sorts of things. We work with our disaster response teams, so relocation is a backup team for them that we move animals, but they’re the actual people that are doing swift water rescue and those kind of things, cause that’s not what my team would be trained in. So we work in coordination and I think that’s the key is being in coordination with someone who is the very skilled people that know what’s going on when you just are jumping in your van that you normally used Teoh Teik animals to the local adoption center. It’s very different when you get down into a hurricane zone or Ah, flooding or fires you can get yourself trapped had become somebody that needs to be rescued instead of somebody that’s doing the rescue. Or you might take animals that belong to someone that were intended to leave or ah, we cross over. Resource is, too. We’ve, um we’ve had calls where we’ve been asked to go and rescue some animals there in a flood area. And by the time we get there, they’re already gone because someone unknown in a van, you know, already showed up and took them. And then we’re trying to figure out where did they go? And you know who has those animals? And they just left. So they didn’t catalogue anything properly, and you can buy being very well intentioned and, uh, creating more problems than you intended, you know? Now one of the things I know that you developed I would say at PetSmart Charities and you’ve carried for today’s PC is a very specific way to build out the vans, right, based upon the learnings and things and disease prevention. Can you talk a little bit about kind of some of the lessons you learned over the years and and how you’ve applied it to your if I can call it a methodology, I guess, for doing this now, Yeah, I learned a lot of the PetSmart charities. They had gone through several different iterations of vehicles that were used by them to move animals. And then in my job here, when I came on board, I was charged with figuring out these things. And I actually went to ah refrigeration company because when you think about it, there’s a lot of animals inside there, and all of them have a temperature of about 102. So you put all of that heat within the vehicle as well as I’m going down the road and sun beating on the outside. You need a big enough air condition unit on there to keep them cool. Do you fighting against that? Keep its in the vehicle as well as try to insulate the cool in. So we’re now doing a system where we use foam insulated foam inside the vehicles that’s uncovered with a bed lining material like you use on trucks, those bed liners in the back that makes it hard like a rock. My best descriptions of like a yeti cooler inside. But it’s also like one of those caves that you would go into a Disney World or somewhere like that where it’s all phoned in around you. We also, uh, have cameras in there so we could see what’s going on in the back with the animals. We have carbon monoxide detectors, and we have detectors to tell what temperature it is in the back at all times. We have a system with bars that’s going back to the theme park if you’re sitting in one of those seats on the roller coaster and they pull that bar in front of you and hold you in place, that’s the kind of thing that we used to keep our rights in place. And ventilation is really important in the vehicle. When you put animals in, you should never stack them where the middle is full of animals because even if they’re not overheated because the cook temperatures cool back there, that can really have an issue with right. It was like You gotta think about ventilation going through there and all those animals being able to to breathe and be comfortable. So there’s a lot that goes into design and try to make decisions about what’s best and, uh, also cost effective. Yeah, I bet you never thought that this would become your passion and your expertise when you were never having conversations with mechanics and all these different people that were doing the design and getting them excited about our mission. You know, now, now that they’ve designed these vehicles and they build them out for us, they’re all refrigeration guys, everything that never thought they’d be involved in animal rescue. And they know, see, these fans leave and know that they’re gonna move thousands of animals and save their lives, and they enjoy being a part of the mission as well. Yeah, that’s a really cool way for them to to be engaged in and like you said to be a part of the mission. And if they love animals and now they know they’re making a difference. Yes, they’ve actually adopted some animals because of being involved with us. So it’s pretty exciting. Yeah. So what does a typical week look like for you these days? I am doing so many different things now. I do a lot of the site visits with one of our shelter, medicine veterinarians and mother, one of our operations experts. We go out and do shelter site visits. If you want to be in our program, you have to go through a phone interview. And then if you qualify through the phone interview, your sense of application, Um, you do that online application. And once we got you through that stuff, if you meet all the criteria were gonna come out and take a visit. See, you actually look at that facility and see how we can best help you if you don’t qualify. For some reason, if there’s something that’s missing, then we do some mentoring with you and some suggestions and ideas of things that you could do so that we can get you qualified because the purpose is to move healthy animals. In order to get them healthy, you have to follow process and so we try to get you in that process so that the animals that we move are healthy. Um, I also do things like this. I do interviews with people talking about the programs I worked with our team about how to get the animals move, problems that come up really freezing temperatures we’ve had recently those sorts of things. But it stopped to transport, and we have to figure out who’s where and how transfer gets affected and which shelters. We could move from quickly when we when the temperatures get back to where it’s safe to transport. So lots of different work going on all the time. You know, planning for the future, trying to figure out where we can roll in more more airplanes than those sorts of things as you spread farther down into the country and meet new people’s need. Yeah, so what does the future look like from your perspective? I mean, what’s next for you guys? I think what’s next for us will be trying to dig a little deeper into areas that historically haven’t had a lot of help. Areas that are hard to reach with the van that might be able to be better reached with the plane areas where they haven’t been able to handle their disease control problems in their community. And they need some support and that sort of help so that their animals could be healthy enough to transport and then just still continuing to move the big number that we’re moving at the moment on. We anticipate that we should be able to do that again this year, just based on the need that we have right now. But the SEC is very committed to relocation as a tool at the moment and that it’s a tool that’s really helpful right now. So we’re proud toe to support all those shelters out there they’re doing. They’re wonderful work if you are a little piece of it to help relieve that pressure so that bacon grow is a shelter. Yeah, so for somebody listening to this saying, Hey, I really want to get involved any any recommendations on where they could start? Absolutely. I mean, fostering a pet is a really huge way to start. There’s a lot of shelters that they the main way that they can get animals healthy to transport its by having somebody step up to foster. And we always say the best thing about being a relocation Foster is you know, when that Pettus leaving. So you have a deadline. You know you’re going on vacation on the fifth of the transport leaves on the third year. Good. You can foster that pet and then no, you can still go on vacation on the bed. There’s puppies that need fostering. There’s mothers with puppies, There’s cats and kittens and there’s older dogs. There’s so many different animals surgeries that might need recovery. I would say that if you’ve never done any of this work before, becoming a foster parent just for a short period of time for relocation is a really great way to to get involved. Yeah, well, it’s a really great suggestion because, like you said, there’s so many different reasons and I know when I think people are always worried about with fostering as the long term. But in this case, like you said, you know it’s you know when that transfer date is coming, that it’s a it’s a temporary foster situation, so it’s a great way toe different toe in the water and see if this appeals to you, right? And when you know that that animal has a place to go and that they’re safe and that that’s a good thing you aren’t as likely to become a failed foster and want to adopt it yourself because you know that. Then you got a place for the next one that’s gonna come along and you can hear so many transports happening you can foster a couple of times a year, or you could foster, you know, for every transport if he wanted to do it just depends on your situation. But that’s a really great place to start until learn about sheltering in your community and to just like you said, tiptoe in and decided that something that you like that jump in like the rest of us. Yeah, exactly, right. That’s like yourself have been at this for 30 years now. I mean, this is it really is addictive. That kind of becomes your passion and your purpose. It does Absolutely. It’s that it was not my intention to make this my career. I had never really thought of it, But now that I’m really in it, I’m so glad I did, because I have seen such progress over my lifetime, and I’m really excited to see what animal lover will look like. You know what? I’m long retired and looking back, and I really other people doing this. Good work. Yeah, definitely. Well, Karen, it’s been great having you on. Is there anything else you want to show their listeners before we wrap things up? I really think that using transport is a tool in your community. Is is very helpful in lots of communities and going to your shelter if transports not what they need, finding out what they need and what you could do to help. I’m working with your local rescue, your educating yourself about the needs in your community. It takes all of us together to make these types of programs work and to improve the welfare for animals and and people in our community. Yeah, definitely agree. Well, thank Karen for coming on. It’s been great to talk to you. Thanks, Chris. Nice talking to you too. 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.