Dr. Mike Greenberg is Maddie’s Fund’s Director of Outreach Programs. A shelter veterinarian, he has worked clinically and as a consultant for multiple public and private animal shelters throughout the United States. He is based in Nashville, TN where he helped to start Pet Community Center, a shelter intake prevention organization.
Mike has a particular interest in helping animal welfare organizations increase their lifesaving efficiency. He created Maddie’s Shelter Compass to enable more organizations to figure out what they need to do to work smarter, not harder.
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Dr. Mike Greenberg is Maddie’s Fund’s Director of Outreach programs. A shelter veterinarian, he has worked clinically and is a consultant from multiple public and private animal shelters throughout the United States. He’s based in Nashville, Tennessee, where he helped start the Pet Community Center, a shelter intake prevention organization. Mike has a particular interest in helping animal welfare organizations increase their life-saving efficiency. He created Maddie Shelter Compass to enable more organizations to figure out what they need to do, to work smarter, not harder.
Hey, Mike, thanks for coming on. Hey, how’s it going? I’m so glad to have you. It’s been a while, I was saying before we started that it’s definitely been a while. I’ve been harassing you to come on the podcast and finally got you here. So you get to start us off, tell us about the fabulous and famous Mike Greenberg. How did you get involved in this? I serve right now as the Director of Outreach for Maddie’s Fund. And it’s not like when I was a kindergartner, you know, I want to grow up to be the director of outreach for a cool animal welfare foundation one day, that didn’t happen. The short version is my shelter veterinary, and I got into doing shelter work. Actually, when I was doing regular private practice work, I was actually working in farm animal stuff kind, always interested in the welfare side of things. And when I was doing that, I started working in animal shelters and honestly, I just really enjoyed the people. It was pretty simple, and I also always enjoyed the population and sort of system approach to all of that. I just found that fascinating that you could look at those different levels of scale, I guess, and approach of problems that way.
And so as I started doing more shelter volunteer work that became, Oh, I want to do this. And did an internship in shelter medicine, actually, Maddie’s Internship in Shelter. Okay. About 10 or 12 years ago. And then worked in different animal shelters and low-cost clinic settings. Stuff overseas, stuff around the country here, just exploring and working different environments, different people, and a couple of years ago started doing more along lines of shelter consultations. Again, going back to that systems idea and just always kind of came back to this idea. I think people probably heard me say this before, but it was Eric Davis who started RAVS, Rural Area Vet Services. And we were doing work and actually North Eastern Tennessee, Needsville, Tennessee. And I remember him saying “Those folks, folks, this is not complicated. This is an engineering problem. Ins have to equal outs. Figure it out.” Eric said to figure it out. We’ll figure it out, you know? And I guess it’s always been my way of thinking about it. And he’s like getting a little more complicated than that sometimes. And anyway, in doing the shelter consults, we’ve always had that idea in mind. And how could we help all the people who work in our field who worked really hard? Well, as they say, kind of cliche work smarter, not harder, right? I had to get those ins to equal the out’s, more efficiently. We’re effectively always with animal welfare, their well being at the very top of list. And I worked with a group called Target Zero, doing that throughout the country and then last year came aboard at Mattie’s Fund as Director of Outreach, where I work both of the shelter side of things, where we work to spread lifesaving practices, identify lifesaving practices at shelters throughout the country. And we’re also working a lot of the realm of access to veterinary care. So it’s good times.
It’s interesting. Obviously you started out as a vet, and then you realize that, Yeah, I love animals that I could do this. But you realize there’s something more. There’s a higher calling for you that you could have a bigger impact. I guess it was, ah, I wouldn’t wanna call it a higher calling, it was just a different calling, I guess, you know. And I always go back to that idea of scale because I remember that in school thinking about that a lot that their spacial on time scales and some people get really excited. On the one hand, I remember folks who did genetic research, and they might do research on a single gene, with the potential for maybe having success over the course of a 30 year career. And that’s a certain spacial and time scale that is great for some people. Then on the other side, some people are like, I need to do emergency stuff, so I can see and then that this space thing. And so for me, I guess, yeah, it’s just a matter of like, okay, this, you know, community level and then at a certain point in the national level scale is interesting and it just feels good. I think one of the reasons I got really into it is I just love being unfamiliar with stuff, a lot of the time, and learning about new things. And in doing this, because sheltering happens in the context of the whole community and now we’re looking at access to care. Obviously that happens in the context of the community and a county, an estate in the country. When we look at the problems, we’re having to look at all different things, most of which are honestly pretty unfamiliar, and so I get to learn a lot from other people. If we try to delve into these things, by the pinpoint as I think that’s what was.
At the risk of rambling, I’ll say one more thing, which is that so many people love animals, right? We all do. They transcend all these boundaries between people, and I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it’s true. It’s what this is. This is true. And so I don’t do a ton of clinical practice anymore. I still do something, I go and do spay/neuter. So I, my hands remember how to work like that and at a clinic. That I helped start, going to see my friends, things like that. I really love that. But I think about how I’m most thankful for the fact that I get to be in a profession that is at the intersection of all the different people, every animal. So I get to have this one role where I can then talk to the City Planner or the computer person or the technician, like we talked about, and I don’t know much about any of those things, but they all like dogs and cats and horses.
And you know, another thing that’s really interesting about you, that people should know, you’re big in the technology, right? Like you’re kind of a technology geek like me, and you like to apply technology in unique ways. Tell us a little bit about where that comes from? Yeah, well, I want to be a technology geek like you. Oh, I see. I honestly don’t know where that started, but I know it comes from this desire for efficiency. And if I look back, I think I’ve always been, long before doing vet stuff, right? But at some point, especially when I started running clinics and working in shelters and things like that. Obviously there’s a lot of work to do, and there’s a lot of repetitive work to do. And I don’t know much about technology, but I know computers are really awesome at doing repetitive tasks and people, it gets old after a while. And so I started getting into it, really, for that reason. Never with the idea of can a computer replace the person in animal welfare or anywhere. Much more to the point if a computer can free up the person, so maybe just to be there for my next year. I don’t think computers are really gonna have empathy, I don’t know. But people are and so and I don’t personally, if it’s Thursday or Friday, and my frustration tank is, my capacity for frustration is really low. Well, I’m probably gonna be less empathetic for people because I’m human. But, hey, if I could have had some decent tech take some of the mundane stuff off my plate, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, that tank may have been a little bit more full or usually a little bit full.
So anyway, I love using that stuff. And that’s, you know, one of the things at Maddies is that we developed and started developing before I was there. We really developed is Maddie’s Shelter Compass, our tool that we developed to help shelters build what we call their road map, their life saving roadmap. Which is we say, Hey, does your shelter come with an Instruction manual? And usually people say no. But yeah, the road map is a collection of five specific goals that are tailored to their shelter, based on some information and data that they input, and then the system puts that out as well as detailed plans as to, for example we’re not just gonna say, Hey, you know, you should do more adoptions. Okay, well, please tell me how to go and do that. Like you’re assessing, you’re having them input data and kind of assessing where their challenges are, what their focus should be. Tell me more about how you’re coming up with that.
It uses a combination of raw numbers, as well as, input that the user gives as it relates to what they identify as challenges for themselves. So it then puts all that together and says, Hey, these are the five things you should work on. What’s behind it is a series of algorithms, just like in anything. And those algorithms, they’re based on pretty large scale analysis of shelter data from across the country, where look, it’s a relative power of various activities. So say, for example, taking in owner surrenders, that’s an activity, right? Doing a return to owner, is an activity. Things like that and all of the things on our list of things that people should be doing. It’s not like we’re saying, like, you know, You shouldn’t do so many return to owners, cause that’s not a thing, right? But it ‘s more like okay, given rigor rat, would be really good to focus efforts here, because again, everyone in our industry works hard and for really good reasons, and we want to make sure that we could do whatever we can do to help people focus those efforts and reduce burnout. Yes, burnout central our industry can be at times.
So is this something that it’s almost like an annual thing that they come and they take and get it.. It is intended to be used really, like the project management tool. So it’s continually used on an ongoing basis. And so you build your initial road map, which involves this sort of initial assessment of your activities, and then what you come out with is your five goals. So let’s just take, for example, that one of the things is you wanna reduce the number of animals coming in through owner relinquishments. That might be one of the goals. Depending on the numbers and things like that. Then the system helps you develop a detailed plan for that. Just go through sort of another small set of questions, and you have a really, a checklist of these are the things that you do and give details as to what those are, why you should do them. Here are some resources to get you started. Sample protocols, YouTube videos. So on and so forth. And within the system, you can also do things like, okay, so let’s go back to the return to owner idea. You might say we should really shut down the shelter for owner relinquishments on the weekends. Really make the weekends all about live outcomes and not taking it. Okay, well, we’re gonna make sure that John, who’s in charge of operations, gets on creating these schedules and bringing it to the City Council, to make sure that they, whatever it might be, assign that task John and John is on it, and so on and so forth. So it’s intended to be used on an ongoing basis, in terms of monitoring progress. There’s two big ways that you could do that. Again, these are task lists. So task lists you check them off. You see how am I doing. The other thing is that you can, you’re encouraged to upload data from shelter animals count, to the system, and with that, this generates great charts and graphs. Sure, it really helps you see where you’re at. And in addition, that generates pretty specific targets based on past performance.
So using this example, okay, last year, we took in 2000 owner surrender animals, over the course of the year. Obviously, that’s not totally evenly distributed throughout the year. It’s more in August and fewer in December and so on and so forth. Well, this year, if we want to take in 10% fewer overall, well, then in August, we have to go from taking in 400 down to 360 and in December we should go from taking an 80 down to 72, so on. So using the data, enables the creation of a cleaner, clearer targets, and you can see those to monitor your progress.
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Now you guys launched this past summer… Well, you know that, you’re a software person. You learn so much about what you should have done. We learned a lot, and I love going out, being in the shelters and working with people in this stuff and just seeing not just the music, other compasses. One of the best things in my job, right, is I get to be in all different shelters. I used to just be in one for several years or whatever and getting to see how does this tool actually work for people? And moreover, to be honest, how does it not work for people? It’s not perfect for everyone. We need you to fix it. So that’s been great. And we’ve been able to tweak things and change things. And some cases overall, things pretty significantly because at the end of the day it said, we want to save the lives, improve the lives, of more animals and the people who take care of them, people who help him out. And this tool has gotta do that. It’s got to do it really well. And if there’s one or two things this tool needs to do, to get there, we gotta get those things to people real quick. When it, a little example, we found watching people use this thing, I looked and I said, My gosh, this registration process is killing me! It’s so long. Like I wanted to see their goals much faster. It was cool. So I got to go back and cut out a bunch of pages for the registration form they do. Do this instead and get those tools people fast. It’s fascinating.
So what’s the goal for this program? Is this something you guys are going to continue to grow and develop and add new features and functions? Yeah, The goal is to see quantitative change and lifesaving. So when people upload data, we can actually see, you know, of course, establishing, I’m going to put on my sort of academic hat. Establishing causality is really hard, but gather data and say all these people are using this thing. They are taking in fewer unnecessary it takes and they are keeping animals for a short amount of time, and they are releasing more animals through live outcome, things like that. Those are the real goals and what we are doing to get there, just trying to get more people in shelters to use it and use it regularly. Just independently. But the other thing we’re doing, process of actually building a Maddie University course around it, simpering people together and walk through it and perhaps work in a code word online or something like that. That’s part of it. Also, more broadly is just to get across the idea throughout the country, really, that going back to that Eric Davis idea. Folks, it’s simple, you know, it’s an engineering problem. Ins have to equal outs. And you know, the truth is there aren’t that many things you could do right. We have a boil down to about 15 programs or things that you should have in place. Of course, they might look a little different here or there, depending on how they need to implement. And I say this respectfully. There’s no talent. It’s like super unique because Ins have to equal outs. Or it was Mary Martin from said her motto was, “Keep them out, Get them out, make it suck a little less while they’re there.” And that was like, that’s a tattoo like, yeah, I was gonna say blunt into the point. Yeah, again, I apologize. A long winded way of answering your question. But a big part of this tool is getting those 15 things into the hands of people, who were doing this stuff and make it easier for them to implement those things so that they can, Keep them out, get them out, make it suck a little less while they’re there. No, I think it’s a really cool idea. I know it’s something you and I probably a year or so ago. You were giving me some of these initial concepts. It’s really nice to see that it’s coming to life and that Maddie’s is behind this.
And now is this the bulk of your job? Or tell us more about what your kind of average week looks like. Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, it depends on what, when we’re doing development on this thing is there. But now it’s up and running. It’s like out in the wild, and it’s doing its thing. And now I do travel to places and do shelter assessments, at times. And the other thing working on a lot is the access to veterinary care challenge and trying to come up with, what can we do? And that’s as a whole. It feels like the Wild West, you know, gender to the animal management animal sheltering side of things like we know there’s about 15 things that you could do right. And if you do them, and you do it well, your community is gonna be pretty spot on for taking care of those animals. Access to vet care. No, we did not know those things, yet. That’s the whole world. And so that’s a lot of just research. Working with identifying programs, doing this work well, identifying things that are kind of unexpected potential solutions and trying to figure those things out.
We’re in the process now, trying to put together what might those solutions be and moving forward to bring together other folks in the industry who are working on this stuff. And in a way, it feels like how sheltering was years and years ago, where people don’t talk to each other and there was no many conferences and whatnot. So it’s said this world. So my week might be if I’m traveling, I travel to shelter consuls or speaking and doing what I’ve come to call the Maddie Shelter Compass Roadmap Roadshow, where we get people in a room and work on this thing to work on their road maps together or home and working on the other thing that trying to crack these access to care problems, very often. I know that’s vague, but it is, but it’s interesting. One of the things that we look at with access to care that it’s been, I can’t take credit for this, this is one of the researchers I work with, her name is Sue. Sue Neil, phrases it as looking at both sides of the classic economics, when I want a supply and demand curve. Yes, we need to increase supply, but are there also ways we can reduce unnecessary demand, cause markets often have unnecessary demands, right? We’re not saying, Oh, don’t bring your dog to the ER. But while in that same example, well, does the dog need to go to the ER, can you wait till Monday? It’s a very simple little thing, right, but it’s all trying to figure out ways to parse out the problem, because it’s just like, well, call the olden times of sheltering, those animals are all abused by terrible people in terrible places. That was the serval sheltering narrative, right? Right. And not surprisingly, you know it’s not the reality. It’s much different than that. It’s much broader, if more nuanced and so on and so forth.
And with access to care, it’s not just like, oh, a whole lot of people have no money and they can’t pay anything and that’s that. Like, no there’s all these spectra in which people have the ability to pay or have the ability to travel or don’t have the ability to travel. And it’s trying to look at all those barriers and say what already exists, that we can bring in, to solve those problems. I’m rambling a lot, but it finally made me think about it. That I think is one of the really interesting parts of the access to care thing, is that it was Michael Blackwell report really drove this home and other people close too. You know we’ll look at sheltering in this country. Thankfully, intake has come down so much that we’re in that 6 to 8 million dog and cat numbers annually. That’s still too many, but it’s not the 40+. But when we look at the own pet population in the country, it’s 170 million. And then, you know Dr. Blackwell reports, it extrapolates out the proportion of those, you know, animals living right at or below the poverty line, around 30 million. That’s a subset, but obviously there’s just a subset in between. People still need help with poverty, and the point is that there’s this whole spectrum and that we need to figure out ways to help all of them. And because it’s so big, it doesn’t make sense to start popping up clinics and all this kind of stuff. It’s like, What can we do with existing infrastructure? Existing resources? To tie things together. And actually going back to Dr. Blackwells Align Care Program. That’s the inline part of a line kit right. It brings those things together. Yeah, I get to learn all this stuff from so many cool people. You know, he made me think about that a lot. So when we’re looking at these problems throughout the country, what can we do to bring these existing things together? Realizing that it’s another cliche. But it’s like, it’s not gonna be one thing that solves it for all swathes of the population. But if we can kind of break down, that spectrum, into some discrete groups, we can start stopping these problems. Like you talk about it. It’s really the next, the next thing, right? I mean, we’ve come so far with reducing the euthanization, but preventing the shelter and take-in, really working on all of the different problems going on, and that’s how we’re gonna continue to make progress. And I really like the fact that what you’ve talked about in your compass programming, that is, it’s not just helping animals is helping animals and people, and I’m a big believer in that as well, though you were all animal lovers, but we’ve got to be able to help the people that are helping animals to do it more efficiently. Yeah. I mean, we say at the clinic, Say what you will, but, you know, we never had, like, a dog or a horse or a cow or a chicken, walk in who wasn’t, in some form or fashion, attached to a person. Even if you’re talking about strays, again, there is that animal protection officer or whatever, and people are their moderate sized companion animals. We gotta help them out, too. I totally agree.
Well, Mike. This has been really interesting. I’m really glad that you came on the program, finally to talk with us. Is there anything you would like to mention before we wrap things up today? In a big, we’re planning a lot of stuff, especially as it relates to access to care. And so I apologize if speaking in vagaries, because it’s all on the table right now. So maybe when we have some stuff up and going in a couple of months, I can come back and we can talk about more specifics. And certainly if anyone has any awesome ideas of how to use an existing infrastructure to bring care to lots and lots of pets and their pet parents, let me know for sure. Well, Mike, it’s really great having you on the program today, and, like you said, once you’ve got some more, further down the line, definitely we’ll be glad to have you back on the program again. Awesome. Thanks, Chris.
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