This September, I celebrated three years as Executive Director of the York County SPCA. As I reflect on that time, I would like to share a story that captures the progress we (staff, volunteers, donors, and supporters) have been working tirelessly to realize.
The York County SPCA has operated in our community since 1926. In almost 100 years, we have had just three locations. Picture 1 is a photo of our current building, which we’ve operated in since 2007. Picture 2 is a photo of our previous location. We were in that building for at least 42 years. Picture 3 is a photo of Marilyn – our Kennel Manager. Marilyn is a levelheaded, reserved person who loves the color pink. She’s worked at the York County SPCA for 28 years. Marilyn even lived in the apartment above our old shelter building in Thomasville – right above the dog kennels. Picture 4 is Marilyn sharing stories while standing inside the old kennel.
One day, several members of our team visited the old shelter location. While there, Marilyn told us stories about her time in that building. I learned from Marilyn that sheltering practices then were “like living in the Wild West” compared to today’s standards. Back then, euthanasia was the norm and live outcomes for animals were not where anyone wanted them to be. This was typical of a shelter at the time: overcrowded and unhealthy.
Back then, euthanasia was the norm and live outcomes for animals were not where anyone wanted them to be.
In 2007, the York County SPCA built a new shelter building. In fact, at the time, it was one of the largest in Pennsylvania. The goal was that this building would solve our animal capacity issues. Unfortunately, in just eight months, our new shelter filled to maximum capacity, where it remained until 2020. When I arrived in 2019, staff morale was very low for many reasons. No issue was more profound than our high euthanasia rate. When thousands of animals are being euthanized in your facility every year, compassion fatigue becomes a very real and very dangerous threat to employee mental health.
In 2019, our board of directors, leadership team, and I designed a strategic plan to address our high euthanasia rates and other organizational challenges. We called this plan “Best Practices Transformation.” We embarked on this work in November 2019 and have not looked back. By the end of 2019, we raised our save rate 11 percentage points from 53% to 64%. In 2020, our save rate grew from 64% to 79%. In 2021, our average save rate climbed from 79% to 85%. As of August 2022, our average save rate is nearly 95%. This transformation would not have been possible without the dedication of our staff, volunteers, donors, and our strong community partnerships.
Recently, Marilyn and I were talking about our progress, and she said something to me that I believe sums up this transformation. She said, “This place feels so much different. The vibe is so much healthier. When we have to euthanize an animal, it feels a lot harder emotionally because we now put everything we have into saving each individual animal that comes through our door. We get close to each pet, which means, that decision hurts more because we’ve given these pets our all.”
Marilyn is a veteran in this industry – she’s seen it all. She lived in an animal shelter for heaven’s sake! For her to tell me that NOW, euthanizing an animal is difficult for her, says something about the power of our organization’s transformation. I am so proud that we are in a place where we only euthanize an animal for irreparable health or severe behavioral reasons. Our team works collaboratively to do everything we possibly can to provide a live outcome for every animal in our care.
“This place feels so much different. The vibe is so much healthier. When we have to euthanize an animal, it feels a lot harder emotionally because we now put everything we have into saving each individual animal that comes through our door. We get close to each pet, which means, that decision hurts more because we’ve given these pets our all.”
As we approach the end of 2022, I want to thank each and every one of you for your support and dedication to the York County SPCA and our lifesaving mission. Our staff, including Marilyn, volunteers, animal fosters and our entire community of supporters work tirelessly to have the biggest impact on saving the greatest number of animals. But we cannot sustain our progress without your generous support. I hope you will consider us in your end-of-year giving. Make a life-saving gift today. Thank you for being there for us, and rest assured that we will continue to be there for all of York County’s pets.