Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Fresh Start for HSNBA

Judge Judy, available for adoption!
The rain was pouring down on my drive to the rural animal shelter located in New Braunfels, Texas. A few weeks earlier, I had arranged with a volunteer, Linda to come out and offer my help in photographing a few of the pets that are available for adoption. The day wasn't looking great and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. This was the first photo shoot I have done where I was without my usual team of volunteers and would be relying solely on a small group of volunteers who I had never met beyond our few emails back and forth. When it comes to saving lives, however, an hour and a half drive seemed like a small price to pay and I was willing to give it a chance.

I arrived to the shelter nearly 30 minutes early, this gave me a few moments to step inside and take everything in before we set up for the photo shoot. I was pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness of the shelter and quickly glanced around to see kennels of well-rested cats, alongside a small greeting room, where later in the day, we would see two kittens adopted! 

Camus, adopted shortly after our
photo shot! Woohoo!
Within just a few minutes, I was greeted by the new shelter director, Sarah, who took her position in January after working within the city of Austin and helping to develop the phenomenal foster program that plays a huge part in keeping Austin a No Kill city. Sarah proudly gave me a tour of the facility, pointing out important areas of the shelter, like the intake room, which has dramatically changed the way animals are treated upon intake. Before, animals were simply brought into the shelter without any organization, which frustratingly resulted in animals being lost in the system or being put into the general population of pets without vaccinations. Now, the intake room exists with purpose and order, a room to take a moment upon arrival, vaccinate and put the animal into the shelter computer system. This ensures that each animal is documented and accounted for, a simple, but extremely important process in keeping an organized shelter. 

Our fabulous group of volunteers!
After the tour, I was introduced to Linda, the volunteer who had reached out to me last year to help with a small ad that she wanted to place in a local paper, this ad, along with her persistence with the city council ultimately resulted in the hiring of Sarah, and along with that life-saving changes that will eventually save every healthy, adoptable animal at the Humane Society of the New Braunfels Area. 

After our introductions, Linda and I decided to get set up for our photo shoot. The goal was to photograph as many dogs and cats as we could fit into a 4 hour period. Happily, the volunteers all arrived and we got started. While the volunteers took turns taking pups out of their kennels, letting them have a potty break and then jumping in line for photos, I set up shot under the front overhang of the shelter. While the rain poured down all around us, I was able to photograph dozens of dogs. (I would have loved to have a variety of backgrounds, but unfortunately, the rain kept us on the porch and we could not enjoy any of the greenery that surrounded the shelter). After only 2 hours, we had photographed every dog in the shelter that we were able to (a few dogs were not yet off of stray hold or had not yet had their vaccinations, so we were, sadly, unable to photograph those pups). 

Bellatrix, available for adoption!
After a sweet little break, where we brainstormed marketing ideas, we said goodbye to the wonderful volunteers and Linda and I took the next 30 minutes to setup a time to photograph the shelter cats. I found this shelter particularly wonderful in that they separate the male and female cat populations. In my opinion (and I work with a lot of cats) this results in happier cats, which translated into my photo shoot. The cat session breezed by and before our 4 hours were up, we had photographed a total of 70 animals for the Humane Society!

As I packed up my equipment to say goodbye, I took one last little walk through the shelter, thinking of where they currently are in their journey to No Kill. As a regular volunteer for the Williamson County Regional Shelter, I have become accustomed to success. We regularly save 95%+ of the animals that walk through our doors. It's a completely different view as a volunteer, knowing that the dog I see today will still be alive and well tomorrow, with very little risk (yes, we have bad months where we are full and in desperate need of adoptions) of being killed for space. While, New Braunfels is not yet at that point, seeing a shelter staff and volunteers full of hope is heartwarming. 

Domino, available for adoption!
Over the last few years, this shelter has had a rough reputation. In 2012, the shelter was saving less than 25% of all animals impounded (50% of the dogs and well under 10% of the cats that entered the shelter). Although things have improved over the last two years, the save rate in 2014 still lingered around 42%. Now, in just a few short months (she took her position on January 12th), Sarah along with her staff and volunteers, is already saving 59% of the animals in the shelter. While there is still a long way to go, a 17% increase in life-saving efforts in just 4.5 months is amazing!

According to Sarah, the biggest change at the shelter is simple, "The community is starting to recognize that it's a brand new day at HSNBA and they are excited to get involved!" 

With community involvement comes awareness, which is why volunteers are so important to the success of any shelter. Volunteers are the individuals that can run the programs the shelter cannot yet afford. Volunteers like Linda, who stepped up and reached out to me to help out, and who was willing to take the steps in running ads to promote a change within the shelter. 

Doug, one of the three resident free-
roaming cats. 
"I didn't volunteer at the shelter before Sarah was hired because of the resistance to the changes I was advocating. Now, we have a true leader. Sarah has an enthusiasm in leading the way to save more lives at the shelter. She has started a blog to keep the public informed and overall has created transparency at the shelter. She is very frank about the current realities and needs at the shelter, and yet she is full of optimism and plans for the future." -Linda, shelter volunteer and founder of No Kill New Braunfels.

Although I have only visited the shelter once, just meeting and getting to know the current staff and volunteers, I could already sense the positive vibes in the air. I feel like every staff member and volunteer made a point to say hello and let me know how important the photo shoot was to them. It's a small thing, but showed me that everyone was involved in the day to day activity of the shelter and wants to see the pets get their shot at a loving home. 

My biggest question - what's next for the shelter? Obviously, the long-term goal is to end the killing and become a No Kill shelter, however, the reality is that before that happens, there is a lot of work to do. Sarah shared her short-term goals with me, which first and foremost include getting a TNR and low-cost Spay/Neuter clinic running. This would ensure that all animals are spayed and neutered before leaving the shelter. At this time, they currently have adoption contracts which state the owners will have their new pet's spayed/neutered after they are adopted. 

Michele, a sweet, shy girl who was
so happy to be offered love and
attention from the volunteers. 
HSNBA is an open admission shelter and at any given time is home to approximately 100 cats and 100 dogs, they handle close to 5000 animals per year. According to Sarah, one of the biggest challenges the shelter faces is lack of Veterinary care. As is the case with most shelters, they cannot afford to hire a Veterinarian, this means that on many occasions, they are forced to make the decision between euthanasia or contracting with a local Veterinarian for care, which they may or may not be able to afford at the time. The revenue the shelter receives from the City of New Braunfels and Comal County covers approximately 3 days of care for each pet. If a pet remains in the shelter for longer than 3 days (which most do), the remainder of their care is covered by donations. 

I left the shelter feeling sad for their current battle, but happy knowing that the shelter is working to end the killing and move forward. The past is the past - they truly are making a fresh start and I feel so proud to have helped in my own small way.

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist 

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To make a donation to HSNBA - click here

To view the adoptable pets at HSNBA, keep scrolling or visit their website to see even more adorable, adoptable pets! 

Favorite shelter pet? "That's easy! Lula May is a sweet senior black lab mix. Lula May is very well behaved and loves to go for walks. She is my go-to dog when I arrive at the shelter to volunteer. I would love to see her go into a forever home where she can spend her days on a comfy couch with people who love her. She deserves that!" -Linda, shelter volunteer. 
Bayou (aka Gunner) is so stunningly handsome! 
Bob, such a sweet little one! 
Cristy, a gorgeous Maine Coon mix awaiting adoption!
Hydron, one of the cutest little guys at the shelter!
Twinkle, a gorgeous, sweet pittie mix!
Lili, a stunning pittie mix awaiting adoption!
Biscuit, a gorgeous redhead awaiting adoption!
Cuddlez, one of the cutest pups I have ever met!
Dieb, one of the stunningly handsome black cats available for adoption!
Mosquito - yes, he is just as gorgeous in person!