The Case for Collaboration Editorial

2006 by Richard Avanzino

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

At Maddie's Fund, we think collaboration is the fastest and most effective way to build a no-kill community. Here are some of the reasons why:

Collaboration gets groups talking the same talk. If different animal welfare groups in the community use different terminology and different definitions, it's impossible to understand the status of the community's shelter animals. One agency might say, "We're saving 98% of our adoptable animals." Another might say, "We don't kill animals for space." What does any of it mean? It's like trying to compare apples to oranges! Without a common language, there's no way to know what's really happening to the animals in the community's shelters. The end result? Confusion, distrust and finger-pointing - none of which helps save lives.

Collaboration shows what's really going on in the community. Once organizations are using a common language with standard definitions for shelter animal categories, they can begin to gather meaningful statistics - statistics that can be shared and compiled to show what's really happening in the community: How many dogs and cats are entering the community's shelters? How many are adopted? How many are euthanized? Statistics provide the answers to these questions, showing how far the community has come and how far it has to go. Without these numbers, each shelter acts in a vacuum, never knowing if a no-kill policy at one shelter simply means animals end up in the euthanasia column at another.

Collaboration makes the goal clear. With community-wide statistics in hand, it's a short step to creating clear, objective goals for achieving no-kill community status. Are healthy dogs and cats still dying in the community's shelters? The numbers will tell, and they'll show how many more lives need to be saved to reduce these deaths to zero. The same holds true for treatable dogs and cats and other shelter animal categories. By showing what's really going on in the community, shared statistics reveal what the goals should be. And these goals aren't vague, subjective, or open to interpretation; they're plain numbers that everyone can understand.

Collaboration promotes effective, targeted programs. Without knowing the problems it's impossible to craft solutions. When agencies work together, they're in a better position to see where the needs and problems are, then design specific programs and procedures to resolve them. For instance, large numbers of "healthy" pet deaths may necessitate more adoption events or offsite adoption programs; large numbers of "treatable" deaths may require facility changes or more veterinarians and animal behaviorists. To save more lives immediately, animal transfer programs can be instituted within the community. Community transfer programs can also promote shared responsibility for old, ugly, sick, injured and poorly behaved pets. Spreading the workload over several organizations makes saving these lives much more do-able.

Collaboration maximizes resources. When agencies collaborate, individual organizations are not constantly duplicating efforts and reinventing the wheel. For example, by holding a joint adoption event, groups can pool volunteers, share publicity costs and save time on planning, set-up and take down. Partners can also help fill specific needs: one agency might offer to re-home three older dogs in exchange for ten free spay/neuter surgeries; others can help fill in temporary gaps - an agency with plentiful food or medicine, for example, might share it with an organization in short supply.

Collaboration keeps the focus on lifesaving, not infighting. While honest, constructive debate can prod innovation and progress, nothing positive comes from animal welfare organizations attacking each other. Conversely, working together builds trust, enhances mutual respect, and saves energy and resources that might otherwise be spent on fruitless infighting. With a common goal and a shared commitment, organizations feel they're on the same team: they look for common ground and try to minimize differences. And, as this effort pays off in more lives saved, it reinforces the sense of teamwork, helping save even more lives.

Collaboration creates a yardstick for measuring progress. Without community-wide statistics to measure progress, it's impossible to know if programs are working. That's why these statistics are so crucial to lifesaving efforts: they generate the goals to be achieved, as I talked about above, and they tell us whether the collaboration is meeting these goals. If it is, great! But if not, the collaboration needs to make some changes. The numbers don't lie, and community statistics are a critical yardstick for maintaining accountability and promoting the effective use of resources.

Collaboration helps sustain the lifesaving focus, regardless of who's in charge. When organizations commit to working together to reach a no-kill goal over time, the goal provides continuity and focus, even as Boards and Directors change. Animal control, traditional and adoption guarantee shelter leaders in all of Maddie's Projects have come and gone over the years, but because the organizations have committed to the long-term no-kill goal, new leadership maintains the no-kill community agenda.

Collaboration enhances public confidence, trust, and support. The public gets disenchanted and confused when it's forced to pick one organization over another because of interagency warfare. Conversely, shared statistics, objective goals, less infighting and more teamwork all contribute to the public's confidence in the community's shelters. When groups collaborate and speak with one voice, the lifesaving message is reinforced and public trust is enhanced. It's no secret that ordinary citizens wholeheartedly endorse collaboration - people inherently understand that collaboration brings additional efficiency and makes each shelter's efforts more effective. And, when the public feels good about the coalition, public support grows for each participating animal welfare organization, enabling each to do even more for the animals.

Collaborations that prioritize lifesaving can implement a coordinated effort to end the killing of healthy and treatable shelter dogs and cats community-wide.

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