A new Community Outreach program is building connections in Frogtown, changing perceptions about Animal Humane Society and delivering essential services to pets in one of the Twin Cities' most diverse neighborhoods.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, AHS continued to focus on reducing the number of animals coming into our shelters, increasing the number of animals placed in the community, and reducing the rate of humane euthanasia.
About Animal Tracks Animal Tracks, Animal Humane Society's magazine, is published twice a year in April and November. It is mailed to donors and individuals enrolled in our Training School and educational programs.
Visitors to Animal Humane Society are experiencing some big changes that affect both people and pets.
After extensive research and planning, AHS has rolled out an improved adoption process designed to better meet the needs of our customers.
The new process debuted in August alongside renovations to our Golden Valley adoption center. The updated space provides improved housing for adoptable cats and a more home-like and cheerful atmosphere that encourages people to interact with animals.
The renovation was funded in part by a grant from the Purina Cat Chow "Building Better Lives" program, which is committed to improving the lives of cats across the U.S.
New technology gives staff and volunteers instant access to each animal's electronic records from anywhere in the adoption center. As a result, customers complete much of the adoption in new comfortable seating areas before finishing the final transaction in a new area in the main lobby.
The goal is to provide a personalized adoption experience that feels both celebratory and fun. We are committed to providing our adoptors with a hands-on experience that is organized, timely and delivers pertinent information about the adopter's new pet and how to be successful in the future.
While the new adoption process and renovation began at our Golden Valley location, our goal is to make the same kinds of changes at our four other locations.
Animals who don't thrive in the shelter atmosphere have another option in our Hidden Gems program.
Animal Humane Society's adoption centers can be overwhelming for some animals, and while we do our best to get them into homes as quickly as possible, the stress of being in a shelter can be too much for them to handle. Our new Hidden Gems program allows for those special animals to be housed away from our public adoption centers in the calm and quiet environment they need.
Bhaji came to AHS from a home with three other cats that he did not get along with. While in our adoption center, he continued to be very reactive and growled at other cats. As part of the Hidden Gems program, he was moved to a staff member's office where he could have time to be alone. Within hours, he was a completely different cat! He quickly found the highest perch and spent his time playing with feather toys and sitting with staff members.
Relaxed and at ease in his quiet space, Bhaji met his new family and was adopted just four days after his photo was posted on our website and Facebook page.
Bhaji is one of more than a dozen Hidden Gems placed in homes through this program in the past year.
In June, 49 Labrador Retriever dogs and puppies arrived at Animal Humane Society after being surrendered by a breeder in rural Carlton County.
AHS Humane Investigations Senior Agent Wade Hanson and Carlton County sheriff's deputies went to the breeder's farmhouse in response to complaints about the health of a dog purchased from the owner of the property. They discovered a breeding operation where they observed substandard animal living conditions and dogs that showed signs of neglect. The owner agreed to surrender the animals, which included several litters of puppies.
The dogs and puppies were brought to AHS in Golden Valley where they were examined and given medical care. While one puppy was old enough to be put in the adoption center almost immediately, the other puppies were too young and were placed with foster volunteers for temporary care. Most of the adult dogs went through our Adoption Preparation program for additional one-on-one confidence building and behavior help before being made available to the public.
Forty-five dogs and puppies from this case were adopted into new homes. Additionally, two of the puppies died from complications due to Parvovirus, and two dogs were transferred to our rescue partners for placement.
A long-awaited change to Minnesota law protects animals in breeding facilities.
In May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill that at long last establishes a dog and cat breeder regulation program in Minnesota. AHS and other animal welfare advocates worked for seven years to win approval for the legislation, which aims to protect the health and well-being of cats and dogs in commercial breeding facilities.
The law became effective July 1, when the Minnesota Board of Animal Health began registering commercial dog and cat breeders. Within one year, those breeders must be licensed and inspected annually to ensure they meet the law's requirements. Those who violate the law may face civil, administrative, and criminal penalties.
Under the new law:
Breeders must keep identifying and medical records on each animal.
Breeders must develop and maintain a written veterinary protocol for disease control and prevention, veterinary care and euthanasia.
Animals must be provided daily enrichment and must be provided positive physical contact with human beings and compatible animals at least twice daily.
Breeders must provide adequate staff to maintain the facility and observe each animal daily to monitor its health and well-being and to properly care for the animals.
All animals sold must be accompanied by a veterinary health certificate completed by a vet no more than 30 days prior to sale or distribution.
Puppies and kittens may not be sold, traded or given away prior to 8 weeks of age.
AHS worked to pass the breeder bill as part of the Speak Up for Minnesota Dogs and Cats coalition, which included A Rotta Love Plus, Animal Folks MN, Animal Humane Society, Minnesota Animal Control Association, Minnesota Humane Society, Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection, Minnkota Persian Rescue, Pause 4 Paws, Pet Haven Inc. of Minnesota, Retrieve A Golden of Minnesota, Second Chance Animal Rescue, and Tri-County Humane Society.
PHOTO: Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton conducted a ceremonial signing of the breeder bill in July, surrounded by many of those who worked to enact the law that will regulate commercial dog and cat breeders in the state. AHS was represented by President & CEO Janelle Dixon (second from left), Chief Government Affairs and Community Engagement Officer Kathy Mock (fifth from left) and Humane Investigations Senior Agent Keith Streff (right). The bill was passed by the 2014 Minnesota Legislature.
Bottle Babies program provides crucial services to fragile animals.
Animal Humane Society's new Bottle Babies program took off in 2014, providing critical care services to nearly 140 neonatal kittens.
Of the 139 kittens that qualified for the program this year, 127 found placement with our foster volunteers. Twelve more were transferred to Angel of Hope Animal Rescue, a rescue partner that was our only resource for these fragile kittens prior to the Bottle Babies program.
This inspiring program relies on a cadre of volunteers who are willing to foster the kittens in their homes, a significant commitment of time and effort as they must be fed as often as every two hours. This year, 28 volunteers fostered neonatal kittens in their homes, and the number of volunteers who attended the Bottle Babies training increased 53 percent.
"The volunteers are fantastic; they love helping these kittens and really enjoy seeing them develop from little creatures that need so much time, attention and care, to rambunctious active kittens ready to find their new homes," said Kelly Anderson, AHS foster coordinator.
On a warm spring day, clusters of colorful flowers speckle the otherwise lush green field of Memorial Pet Cemetery in Roseville, Minn. Bouquets rest against headstones, old stone pots display blooming hues, and weathered statues are adorned with bright new life. Perched above one headstone every spring for the past 23 years is an arrangement of beautiful geraniums.
Mr. Dog, an 11-year-old Schnauzer, passed away in 1992 and his owner faithfully visited each spring with flowers to fill the large stone pot above his final resting place. "She came every year with the nicest geraniums for her dog, but I suspect she's had health issues and now it's been a couple years since she's come," explains Jim Westby, caretaker of the cemetery. "The first year there were no geraniums, I waited in case she was just late. But by June there was nothing there, so I put the geraniums in place for her. For whatever reason she can't make it here anymore, so I'll continue to bring them."
Jim Westby is a thoughtful man with an infectious laugh and a genuine smile that spreads ear-to-ear. He's a retired police officer, husband for 50 years, father of four children, and animal lover. You'd never guess he's 77 years old, especially when you learn he spends two days a week playing hockey. Perhaps what keeps him looking and feeling so young is his desire to stay active and busy, both on the ice, and in his role as caretaker of Memorial Pet Cemetery.
As the oldest pet cemetery in the Twin Cities, Memorial Pet Cemetery has been in existence since the early 1920s and was formerly known as the Feist Pet Cemetery. In the late 1980s, the cemetery was donated to Animal Humane Society.
Jim's father-in-law, Ken Fabyanske, began working as the cemetery's caretaker in 1970 when the original caretaker retired. Ken worked until 1982 and after a few caretakers came and went, Jim took over responsibility of the cemetery in late 1986.
Thousands of headstones dating as far back as 90 years dot the roughly two acre plot of land that rests between a highway and a quiet neighborhood. Jim pauses to do the math in his head and estimates around 8,000 pets are buried there. The very first headstone, he points out, belongs to Zelo, a Boston terrier buried in 1924. While most of the animals buried are dogs, there are several cats as well as a few critters including guinea pigs, birds, a turtle, and even a hedgehog. Records indicate a horse was buried on the land in 1928.
For 28 years Jim has turned caring for the cemetery into a labor of love. He takes great pride in maintaining the beauty of this hallowed land, and has helped hundreds of people through the final stage of their pets' lives. "I've met some good people doing this work," says Jim. "It's very sad when you've had a pet for so many years. But when they come here and their pet is buried, they feel happier having them in a nice spot. And they can come back and visit in a beautiful surrounding. I'm happy to do that for them."
Each animal Jim helps deliver to its final resting place is treated with the utmost respect, and he makes sure the families' needs are always met. "When a pet dies, people want closure as soon as possible, so it's important to take care of it quickly and Jim always accommodates," says Anne Ahiers, customer service supervisor at AHS. "Jim is amazing. He's super helpful, kind and caring. He helps when people are grieving and we always receive notes from people saying how nice Jim is."
In his first full year as caretaker in 1987, Jim completed 153 burials at the cemetery. That number has slowly declined over the years, and in the early 2000s, the cemetery closed to new clients due to space constraints. Existing clients who purchased plots prior to that time are still able to use those plots as their pets pass away, resulting in 15-20 new burials each year.
Over the years Jim has met hundreds of people and heard just as many stories about their pets. He's watched people grieve for animals in the same way we grieve for deceased friends and family. He's witnessed the joy that having a pet has brought to people, and even a few comical moments.
"One time I was burying a dog, and the family brought their other dog along to say goodbye," explains Jim. "The ground was covered up and the grass put back on top, and the lady says to the dog, 'go say goodbye to your brother.' The dog goes over, lifts his leg up, and pees on it! We all had a good laugh."
In addition to providing memorable burials, Jim meticulously maintains the grounds of the cemetery, everything from mowing grass and planting and watering flowers to trimming, cutting down, and planting trees. He's grateful to have help from his son, Joe, whose time in the cemetery goes all the way back to when he was a little boy and would help his grandfather when he was the caretaker.
Jim adds his own personal touches to the cemetery, like the recent garden of dahlia bushes that he planted as a special place for cremated pet remains. Many of the fresh flowers found around the cemetery are placed there by Jim. "I don't run into a lot of visitors here. For some it's too far to travel, or life just gets busy; I suspect many people bury their pets and don't come back," says Jim. "But I am a visitor. And I want to see nice flowers when I come, so I bring them."
When Jim retired from his job as a police officer in 2000, he wanted to make sure he had plenty of things to do and look forward to. Between spending time with his family, his love of hockey, and maintaining Memorial Pet Cemetery, he's satisfied with how he spends his time. "I'm thankful that the Humane Society lets me continue because I really do enjoy spending time out here," says Jim. "My wife gets tired of me saying 'let's go look at the cemetery,' so I'll swing by when I'm out on my own and just drive through and check it out. I like coming here; I like making it look good."
When Jim is no longer able to maintain the cemetery, he's confident that his son, Joe, will be able to take over. But that's not even something Jim is thinking about right now. "My dad lived to be 100 years old, so I expect to live to 100 as well," says Jim. "Who knows what's going to happen, but I plan on being around a long time. And Joe knows what he's doing. It will be alright."
Memorial Pet Cemetary
Animals have always played an important role in our society, but our relationship with them and their role in the family structure have transformed over time. In this new age of pet ownership, animals have become integrated members of the family. People do not view themselves as pet owners, but rather pet parents.
Though pets may now experience an elevated household status, a strong human-animal bond has always existed and a walk through Memorial Pet Cemetery in Roseville, Minn. reveals 90 years of relationships with beloved family pets.
Memorial Pet Cemetery traces its history back to the 1920s when a few acres of farmland were sold to a veterinarian named Dr. Arnold Feist, who then split off an area of the land to be used as a new pet cemetery. The cemetery was privately owned and known as the Feist Pet Cemetery until it was donated to Animal Humane Society in the 1980s. The name was changed to Memorial Pet Cemetery and is one of two pet cemeteries in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Tattered three ring binders tucked away at Animal Humane Society hold the original type-written records from the cemetery's first few decades. The aging and discolored pages divulge the types of breeds most popular during the 1920s and 30s. Boston Terriers, Poodles, Bull Terriers, Airedales, Fox Terriers, Collies, and German Shepherds dominate the pages.
The thousands of headstones in Memorial Pet Cemetery illustrate the evolution of pet names that people have chosen for their faithful companions. Names like Teddy, Ginger, Joker, King, and Mitzi from the 1920s. And more recently Puddy Tat, Oreo Cookie, Big Foot, Bitsy Buttons, and Sir Marco III from the 1990s.
Many of the tombstones are inscribed with loving epitaphs honoring the deceased pets, with reoccurring words like beloved, protector, loyal, sweet, devoted, companion and best friend. Versions of the message "until we meet again" adorn several of the stones. Some are engraved with images of various breeds while others have actual photographs which have weathered over time. There are statues scattered throughout, both of domestic pets and of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals.
Memorial Pet Cemetery offers a unique opportunity for animal lovers to take a historical stroll through several decades of furry companionship in a peaceful setting. Due to space constraints, new burials are no longer offered, but the site is open daily for visitors. Memorial Pet Cemetery is located at 694 Cope Avenue, Roseville, MN, near the intersection of Highway 36 and Dale Street.
A new Community Outreach program is building connections in Frogtown, changing perceptions about Animal Humane Society and delivering essential services to pets in one of the Twin Cities' most diverse neighborhoods.
BY ROSE MILLER
On an overcast Saturday in early August, Danielle Sanders stands at the entrance to Ryan Park in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul holding her 3-month-old terrier mix puppy, Duchess. Though it's only 7:15 a.m, the area is beginning to come alive with activity. The two watch, Duchess' small black ears alert, as Animal Humane Society volunteers and staff carry tables past the quiet swing sets, and assemble small tents on sun-scorched grass that will later host more than 300 pets and their owners.
Sanders and Duchess are the first in line for a wellness event that AHS is hosting in Frogtown. Sanders saw a flyer about free vaccinations and veterinary exams being offered to the pets of area residents, and came hours early to take advantage of this opportunity for her puppy to receive care. Later in the day, Duchess would also be registered for a free spay surgery by Kindest Cut at Melrose Animal Clinic.
In the past few months, AHS has hosted two community wellness clinics in Frogtown. Residents can bring their animals for free wellness exams, rabies shots, and other basic vaccinations, and sign them up for free spay/neuter surgery. More than 100 AHS employees and volunteers have staffed each clinic, vaccinating about 600 dogs and cats and signing up more than 90 pets for sterilization.
These events are just a small part of the work that a new Community Outreach team has been doing in the neighborhood and in other Twin Cities communities over the past two years.
Community Outreach became an organizational priority in 2011, when Animal Humane Society set out to determine which areas of the Twin Cities weren't using its services and why. "We decided it was important to go out into communities that historically haven't engaged with us to hear directly from them what they want and need from AHS," says Kathy Mock, chief government affairs and community engagement officer.
By analyzing organizational data and speaking with local animal welfare organizations such as St. Paul Animal Control, AHS identified three urban neighborhoods in the metro area under-utilizing AHS services: North Minneapolis, Frogtown, and East St. Paul. All three of these communities are low-income in comparison to the rest of the Twin Cities, with many residents born outside of the United States, high rates of foreclosures, and youth comprising the highest percentage of the population.
Outreach Coordinator Brianna Darling held focus groups and conducted interviews with neighborhood residents and leaders. She found that, while animal welfare problems differed slightly in each area, some of the most common were limited access to affordable pet care, aggressive dogs, cultural differences in animal care, and dogs and feral cats allowed to run loose.
According to Corrie Schueller, director of community engagement, Darling's research also shed light on the reasons community members weren't using AHS services. Most simply didn't know about AHS or the services offered, or thought AHS was the same as animal control. Residents also didn't realize that there were options at AHS available for those with low incomes. Another barrier was location, with residents unable to find bus routes to AHS shelters and unsure which taxi services accommodated animals. Many residents in these communities also had a perception of AHS that excluded them. "They had misconceptions of what Animal Humane Society was. They saw it as a place where only middle-class white people were welcome," says Schueller.
But Darling also witnessed the true love and compassion residents had for animals. "There is a deep bond between people and their pets. I heard many stories from community members about the commitment they have both for their pets as well as for dogs and cats that are living in the community without an identified owner," she says.
With all of this knowledge in hand, AHS began building a Community Outreach Program to deliver community-based services and provide resources for pet owners in the target communities. The Outreach team adapted strategies from Pets for Life, a successful model developed by the Humane Society of the United States that incorporates ongoing neighborhood outreach, community-wide events, and free or very low cost services for pets such as dog training, humane education, spay/neuter surgeries, and wellness care.
Grassroots outreach and direct connections with neighborhood residents became a main tenet of the team's strategy. Outreach staff and volunteers distribute free dog and cat food, work to connect people to resources they need for their pets, and talk about spay/neuter, providing information on low-cost sterilization and wellness services available through Kindest Cut.
The Outreach team's philosophy is that big change comes slowly through genuine connections with others. "Our outreach work is driven by a soft, gentle and nonjudgmental approach," says Darling. Starting with something small, such as giving people free pet food or supplies and showing genuine care for their pets, helps relationships begin to form. "Once the relationships are in place, the spay/neuter surgeries – and everything else – will follow," Darling adds.
Focus on Frogtown
The Outreach effort got a significant boost in 2013, when AHS received a PetSmart Charities grant to fund 1,175 free spay/neuter surgeries in the Frogtown neighborhood. AHS donors stepped in to fund free vaccinations with every surgery, and the AHS Outreach team now provides door-to-door transportation to and from Kindest Cut for Frogtown residents.
Bordered by University Avenue on the south, the Pierce Butler Railroad Tracks on the north, Lexington Parkway on the west and Rice Street on the east, Frogtown is among the most diverse communities in St. Paul. For more than 150 years, the neighborhood has been one of the first places immigrants settle in the city, in part because of the relatively inexpensive housing prices. In the 19th century, that mostly meant newcomers of German, Irish, or Scandinavian descent. But over the last three decades, the neighborhood has been strongly influenced by new waves of immigrants, particularly of Hmong, Latino and Somali heritage.
According to data collected by the American Community Survey, 33 percent of Frogtown residents are of Asian descent and 33 percent are African American. Over a quarter of residents were born outside the United States and almost half speak a language other than English at home. The area is economically and educationally varied as well.
Though they love their pets, the significant financial, social, and healthcare hardships that Frogtown residents face mean that animal care can't always be their first priority. "The reality is that 50 percent of the households in Frogtown have an annual household income of under $35,000. People are struggling to feed themselves, let alone their pets," says Schueller.
With the new grant, AHS expanded its outreach team and began canvassing more intensely in Frogtown. Developing relationships with social service agencies and community groups in the area has also helped AHS establish trust and create referral relationships, as well as build acceptance in the community.
Darling began staffing a table at Sharing Korner food shelf in 2012 and built a strong relationship with owner Mary Brent, who now lets her clients know about AHS services whenever possible.
Outreach volunteers also table at Loaves and Fishes, a meal program housed in the basement of Frogtown's Faith Lutheran Church. Beyond just a place for a warm meal, Loaves and Fishes is somewhere people come to learn about jobs and other resources available to them through Ramsey County and private organizations.
Before AHS' presence, site coordinator Diane Heitzinger had no resources to provide to pet owners struggling financially. "It was very nice when Animal Humane Society contacted us about coming down here because they can talk to the guests and see what their problems are and help them if they can," she says. Residents have come to rely on AHS for their animal care needs, Heitzinger adds.
Meeting residents through intensive boots-on-the-ground efforts, the team has formed relationships with residents who in turn have become some of AHS's greatest community ambassadors.
Francis Marvala has lived in Frogtown for two years with her daughter Sophia. A self-proclaimed animal lover, she has become a resource to neighbors and family alike, temporarily caring for friends' pets and then often taking them in permanently. Marvala has told many of her family and friends about the free spay/neuter surgeries available through AHS and Kindest Cut, and uses AHS services regularly herself in caring for her pets. "Sometimes feeding them is hard," she says. 'But Brianna has helped with fixing them and giving them their shots so they don't reproduce. And she's given me advice."
Another resident, Patricia Ohmans, was instrumental in connecting AHS with a local organization offering rescue and relief to homeless and endangered cats. Kindest Cut now sterilizes feral cats trapped by this organization every week, helping to control the feral cat population in Frogtown.
Relationships with community organizations and community members will be crucial in continuing the work in Frogtown and future target communities for the long term. "We want to make this work sustainable in each community," says Schueller. "Our goal is to work with community organizations, leaders, volunteers, and members to be able to keep this work going as we put our resources into other communities."
As of October 1, more than 600 Frogtown animals had been spayed or neutered at Kindest Cut, and between the surgeries and the wellness events, close to 1,000 had been vaccinated. By mid-November, the team hopes to be doing 47 surgeries per week in Frogtown and East St. Paul.
The team has found that a persistent presence in the community over time gets people thinking more about how they care for their animals. Their goal is to make several small changes in the lives of animals, which eventually will create a large, community change for animals.
Darling stresses that the work is about empowerment and information-sharing for neighborhoods that otherwise lack a place to turn to for affordable pet supplies, training, and healthcare. "The point of our work isn't to take care of their animals ourselves. Right now as we are just trying to make it as easy as possible. Over time, we see the community carrying the torch. Access to resources and information will become embedded in the culture," she says.
The team already refers community members to AHS' humane education programs, behavior helpline, and Melrose Animal Clinic. In the future, they will be integrating community-based dog training classes and adoption events in Frogtown, and adding a dog trainer and veterinary technician to the canvassing team. They plan to visit more Pets for Life cities in 2015 to see the work others are doing and share their experiences implementing the program.
Work in Frogtown will continue, but the team's focus will eventually transition to East St. Paul and beyond. "We're excited to go out into more communities. There is a lot of need out there," says Mock.
The Community Outreach Program is a clear extension of the values that AHS embodies, from partnering with people, to leading responsibly with compassion, to being good to animals. Mock says, "We really have an opportunity to make a big difference on the whole continuum of an animal's life."
Frances Marvala adopted Pooah, a 5-week-old American Bulldog mix with a shiny white and grey coat, from a friend. "He was the only one that survived out of his litter."
A social butterfly, the puppy has a special bond with Marvala's 13-year-old daughter Sophia in particular. Sophia is a natural at obedience training, working with Pooah on sit, mouthy behavior, and crate-training. The two are obviously attached, and he follows her every move with rapt attention.
Marvala has been one of Animal Humane Society's biggest advocates in Frogtown and believes in the importance of spay/neuter, but her son had other ideas when it came to having Pooah fixed. "He wanted to mate Pooah with a female he had in mind to make money off of the puppies," she says. Marvala scheduled Pooah for a free neuter surgery at Kindest Cut anyway.
"It's good there's these types of events going on that the Humane Society can help with vaccinations and with preventing unwanted litters. To us people [of limited means], it helps us a lot," Marvala says.
If you looked up the word "energetic" in the dictionary, you might find a photo of a little Chihuahua mix named Duchess. The 1-year-old dog loves to play. Melissa Vaughn surprised her son Alijah with Duchess for his eleventh birthday, and she has been a welcome addition to the household.
Alijah has ADHD, and having Duchess helps him and the family to get outside and stay active, Melissa explains. "It's nice for our whole family to be outside and moving with her. We walk around Como Lake and go to Crosby Farm Park when we want to be in nature," she says.
A Frogtown resident for nearly two years, Melissa attends Century College and works part-time at a call center. The financial responsibility of caring for Duchess can be difficult at times. "Getting her shots and routine stuff can be expensive, and sterilization surgeries can cost hundreds of dollars," Melissa says.
After hearing about the free spay/neuter surgeries available to Frogtown residents, Melissa called and made an appointment for Duchess to be spayed. Though the idea of trusting Duchess with strangers was scary at first, Melissa is thankful that AHS could provide this option, because otherwise Duchess' surgery would have had to be delayed while the family saved enough to cover it. "The grant really helped us financially lift that burden. It's really just a blessing. She's like a kid to us."
Monthly giving (or “sustainer”) programs are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. as supporters of non-profit organizations recognize their advantages – most notably the convenience of making automatic contributions.
It’s not summer in Minnesota yet (we just hope spring has come by the time this magazine arrives in your mailbox), but we’re already thinking about our big plans for Youth SAVE – our Summer Animal Volunteer Experience.