Best Friends Conference ~ Guest Blogger Amy Rouse

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The 30th Best Friends National Conference took place in Las Vegas recently. I was unable to attend yet many of my friends who work in rescue were there. Naturally I was anxious to find out what was new in the world of rescue. But then I thought why should I only learn about the conference why not share that with all of you. So with that said I asked my friend Amy Rouse to guest blog for me so that she could share her findings. Amy was so impressed by the conference and I’m glad that she’ll be sharing the information with you. I want to say a heart felt thank you to Amy not only for guest blogging but her absolute dedication to animals. Each week that passes you can guarantee that she’s helping animals in need by working with shelter animals, volunteering, donating, networking, petitioning, and blogging…and still looks glam. Amy is a lovely friend and she is the epitome of modern rescue.

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The Best Friends National Conference. It’s like the Super Bowl for those in the animal rescue world. And this year it was in my home city of Las Vegas, NV! What made this conference even more special was the fact that it was Best Friends 30th Anniversary Celebration. This meant that not only would the attendees be flooded with valuable information but we would get to party as well! When animal rescue people finally get to let loose we really know how to turn up!

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Being an attendee for the first time, I really studied up to make sure I was prepared. This year they organized the workshops into “tracks”. This was great for people that wanted to follow a specific topic. The tracks included :

*Key components of creating a No-Kill Community

*Community Involvement: Making No Kill a Public Priority

*Adoptions: Finding families for Shelter animals

*Fundraising: Raising Money to save more lives

*Communicating Your Cause

*Building your team from the ground up

*Animal Health and Behavior

*Engaging and Valuing Volunteers

All great topics. Did this help me decide what workshops I would take? No. One reason was because I was interested in all the topics but also  I was ecstatic about the presenters of these workshops. Everyone from the founders of Best Friends, to Lori Weise of Downtown Dog Rescue, to Michelle Weaver the Co-Manager of Dog Town. That’s just a few! These people are like celebrities to those of us in the animal rescue world. It was also difficult for me to choose because I do not have my own rescue but I volunteer for several rescues and hope to have my own one day. So I bounced around all the different topics taking in all the info I could. I had comfort knowing that I could listen to all of these workshops in the near future by purchasing the Audio MP3. A few of my favorite workshops were Help For Wallflowers: Working with dogs to enhance their social skills, Leading the change: How to rally community change makers against puppy mills, the much needed Hearts Larger than Hands: Creating Balance in your Life to Save More Animals, and Getting to No Kill: Different Communities, Different Models. This included the cities of Los Angeles, California, Kansas City, Missouri, Portland, Oregon, Baltimore, Maryland, Rockwall County, Texas, Austin, Texas,  Jacksonville, Florida and the state of Utah. It was amazing hearing how all these cities had very high kill rates at one time and are now saving more than 80% of the animals that enter their shelter. No Kill Utah announced that the whole state of Utah will be officially No Kill for Dogs by the end of 2014 and No Kill for Cats by  2019! Absolutely Amazing! For all these cities to go No Kill, it took a lot of work. Some were able to achieve No Kill in a few months. Others it took up to five years. All of them had to begin with a new shelter director and new staff. Exactly what we are trying to do here in Las Vegas. All these other cities had the same issues we have and they achieved No Kill, so can we.

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Two of Las Vegas’ finest animal advocates, Terri and Amy.

A major highlight of the conference for me was when all attendees of the conference gathered together for Thinking outside the Box: Changing Tactics for a Changing World. We heard from a panel of innovators in animal rescue. The leaders in making a world of No More Homeless Pets. These amazing people were Jackson Galaxy host of  Animal Planet‘s “My Cat from Hell, Elizabeth Oreck National Manager of Best Friends Puppy Mill initiatives, Brent Toellner President and Cofounder of the Kansas`City Pet Project, Lori Weise Founder of Downtown Dog Rescue, Rania Alomar award winning architect who designed the NKLA Adoption center, and Jon Dunn Senior Manager of Policy for Best Friends. What really stood out for me was when they spoke of changing the face of an animal shelter. There are many people that will never enter an animal shelter. Animal Shelters are too sad and unappealing for most people. Shelters smell and the animals look sad.  Many of these “NO Kill” cities have proved that this isn’t the way it has to be. Shelters should be a destination. A place that people want to go and play with the animals and as Jackson Galaxy stated “We’re not worried whether you will take an animal home with you, because you will”. A shelter should be warm and welcoming. The animals should all be well cared for, and happy with enrichment activities. As Rania Alomar stated “When you take an animal home from this type of shelter, you are not “rescuing” the animal. The animal is already healthy and happy, you are just giving the animal a home.” Many people think “No Kill means piling cages on top of one another and “warehousing” animals just to keep them alive but that is not what No Kill is about. It’s about giving these animals nice lives in the shelter before they are adopted. Lori Weise spoke about the importance of keeping these animals out of the shelter in the first place. All shelters need an owner retention program. She finds that most people don’t want to give up their animals but they feel they have no other option. Her organization Downtown Dog Rescue helps to find them another option. DDR began in 1996 and has prevented more than 4,000 cats and dogs from entering shelters by offering alternatives to surrendering their pets. This is a huge component that we are missing in Las Vegas that is preventing us from becoming a No Kill city.

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Meeting and listening to all these well known people of the animal world was a dream come true but I have to say speaking with the lesser known people of animal rescue was just as exciting. These people are making amazing differences in animals lives everyday and most of these stories you will never hear. I met people from England, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Isreal, to tiny towns in the Midwest to big urban cities. This conference gave me the push I needed to keep going in the fight for No More Homeless Pets. You can often feel alone in animal rescue, like you are the only one that cares but there are wonderful people out there doing wonderful things just like you. We need to stick together and support each other. We ultimately all have the same goal. The movement is growing. I want all the animals to know that we are coming for them and we will not give up until we…

Save Them All!

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Take a moment to visit Amy’s personal blog Furever Friends of Las Vegas.

Amy with Ric O'Barry and myself. The Cove.

Amy with Ric O’Barry and myself. The Cove.

 

 

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