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Don't Call them Animal Shelters

After listening to Mike Arms, president of Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Sante Fe, CA, I am looking at animal shelters in a new light. We all agree that many shelters need to change.

Mike Arms, president of Helen Woodward Animal Center, poses with a friend.

I’ve been reluctant to enter many because I hate seeing dogs and cats caged. I hate hearing about animal abuse, and I hate feeling helpless about their plight. The good news is that change is coming. Many people in the animal world are starting a revolution.

A number of shelters, which are now being called Centers, are presenting the dogs and cats that are up for adoption in a whole new light. Thank goodness for the no-kill shelters and the energized crews at places like Helen Woodward Animal Center (HWAC) and Animal Haven Center in New York. These are actually fun places to visit. Thanks to programs for kids that educate and have kids take part in the rehabilitation process, shelters are becoming a thing of the past.

And that’s where Mike comes in. He no longer uses the word shelter. It’s Animal Center. “Shelters are cold places,” he says. “Just think of the words orphanage and old folks’ home. We don’t use them any more. I want to see the same thing happen with animal shelters.”

“When I think of an orphanage, I think Oliver Twist. Old folks’ homes conjure up images of seniors sitting in antiseptic rooms starring out in space. No one wants to go there, and no one wants to go to an animal shelter.”

“When people adopt from Helen Woodward,” says Mike, “we stay with them for life. Everything is here from veterinarians and vet techs who care for your pets to boarding facilities, a kids’ camp, and so much more.”

Mike talked to a crowd at BlogPaws, a conference for pet bloggers. He knows that there is a lot of work to do. “We have to change the mindset of many people in this industry,” he explained.

In addition to making animal centers more welcome for the pets and for us, HWAC is changing the way marketing is done. For instance, when he got a call saying that a nine-year old Rottweiler just gave birth to 6 puppies, he sent someone from Helen Woodward to bring in the dog and her pups. He immediately jumped on the marketing campaign to put this dog and her pups up for adoption.

While his marketing manager looked at him and said, “Who is going to want a nine-year old Rottweiler and 6 puppies?” Mike said, “Well if you say it that way, no one. But if you say, ’63 year old gives birth to sextuplets, we will get media coverage.'”

And coverage they did. According to Mike, the mom and all of her puppies went to good homes. “We are in the business of saving lives,” says Mike.

So Mike, who used to work at the ASPCA in New York City, is now working to change our language, our way of thinking and the way we treat dogs and cats. “We too often devalue animals,” he says. “I have the highest prices for dogs and cats in the area, and yet, we have the highest numbers of adoptions with low return rates. We can’t devalue animals. We have to treat them well, and that means not giving them away for free. Animal centers that do that have a high return rate.”

Running an animal center as a business makes a lot of sense. “I’m with the times,” jokes Mike. “I’ve learned a lot from Starbucks. We don’t have mutts; we have blends.”

All joking aside, HWAC is looking at the whole picture. For instance, a lot of shut-in people who get Meals-on-Wheels were giving up their pets because if they can’t afford to feed themselves, they can’t afford to feed a pet. So HWAC launched AniMeals, which means that people who are enrolled in the Meals-on-Wheels program that have pets, get food for their pets.

That’s just one of many programs at HWAC. This is just an overview of HWAC and my talk with Mike. I plan on blogging about the changes in the movement and the goings on at HWAC. Stay tuned.

27 comments to Don’t Call them Animal Shelters

  • Using the word “center” instead of “shelter” is quite clever. When the word shelter comes to mind I think of cold cement places, but the word center conjures up more plesant images. Kudos to Mike for the Rottie headline! It is quite the attention grabber:)

  • […] the article here: Don't Call them Animal Shelters « Pet News and Views Share and […]

  • beka

    Like new term Center.Dislike word mutts.Congratulation for AniMeals-great idea.

  • Another well written post, Michelle. When I volunteered at the Humane Society of NY for 6 years, there were so many cats that were just not marketed appropriately because they had behavioral challenges, one of which I took home when the timing was right. The adoption counselor, when asked about any of these cats, would say, “oh, no, you don’t want him/her, he is…” Terrible! How can you say that without even qualifying the applicant’s situation at home, his animal experience, etc? This happened time and time again. She even asked me why I wanted to take Tom home and I responded by saying that he had been there too long and she remarked that that wasn’t a good enough reason! We still have a long way to go, but these centers are wonderful, and so much of this is in the mindset, right?

  • Thanks Leslie,
    Language has a lot of power. Now, we all need to act on this and put it into action.

  • Great article Michele. I met Mike some years ago when I made a visit out to the Helen Woodward Center. It is strongly supported by passionate donors (something many rescue groups are sadly not familiar with) and Mike and his staff have certainly played a role in trying to get the public to understand the immense value of the animals waiting for adoption.

  • I think these so-called “Shelters” should be called facilities. The do not give “shelter” many are only a death-house!! “Shelter” implies safety, very misleading!! I would hate to have my precious pet get lost then found by Animal Control( Many of which are trigger-happy jerks with a God-Complex.) If they live through that, death is only 4 or 5 days away,most don’t have time to be adopted or found by devistated owners!!!!

  • Sharon Dricken

    I agree the new terminology brings us into the 21st century. So, is your fund-raising in the 21st century?

  • I love the use of “blend” instead of mutt/mix! What a creative idea!

  • Clever marketing is one of the things missing from most animal controls/shelters and pet rescues too. Learning to market the pets right leads to saving so many more. Well written sales copy and good photos of the homeless pets do wonders in finding them new homes. Wonderful article. Thank you!

  • I am proud to be involved with the Animal Refuge Center (ARC) of Fort Myers, FL. The largest facility of its kind in the state, we are a no-kill shelter housing over 400 cats and dogs across approximately 22 acres of property. Each one of our animals is treated with the kindness and decency they deserve! Since the 1980’s, this organization has worked tirelessly under the mission to “shelter, adopt and educate”. We educate the population on the humane treatment of animals through our schools, empower people through education on the importance of spaying and neutering, shelter our animals in free-roaming, open space facilities and adopt our animals vigorously through our promotional efforts both offline and online. We have an on-site vet clinic with a vet-tech on staff! We even have special buildings dedicated to the care of special needs residents – those that have FIV and Feline Leukemia. Please visit our site and take a “virtual tour” of our facilities and you’ll see what I mean! http://animalrefugecenter.com/about-arc/virtually-tour-our-facilities/ It’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen and I only hope it will inspire anyone reading this post to replicate ones like it all over the united states!

  • Arlene

    Yes, language and names do have a lot of power. However the word “center” is becoming overused too. many vets are now calling their practices “animal care centers” There is one of those here in my home town.

    As a pet owner, I would hate not knowing if I was going into an adoption place or into a veterinary office.

    The word “shelter” can be rehabilitated with the right descriptive adjectives–like “no-kill” animal shelter, “safe haven” animal shelter, “animal care shelter”, etc.

    Or maybe there is a better word altogether, like “home”. You could think of visiting an “animal home” for animals to take home. “Animal foster home” or “animal adoption home” could also work.

    I am a namer by profession, so I think about things like this much of the time.

  • Good points Arlene. I think a lot of animal care centers are starting with language to change our perceptions, and they are following that–more importantly–with actions.–Michele

  • Cassandra, that is one of my dreams–animal centers learning from other animal centers. We are all in this together. The goal is to help dogs and cats in the most humane way possible. Thank you for your work. Michele

  • This is a very good point and I am happy to hear this. Our words are powerful. I will share this article to the local pet community here in Indianapolis and help start the movement!

  • Michele,

    Thank you so much for spreading the word about changing animal welfare. We appreciate your commitment and passion for animals! We look forward to partnering with you to “Be The Change” together.

    Marcie Grube

    P.S. And you are cordially invited to visit us!

  • HI Marcie, I would love to visit. I’m just on the east coast. If an opportunity arises, I will be there.

  • Thanks Barley’s Mom! Please do spread the word. Michele

  • Kathy

    Language is important, especially if it’s followed by action. And the folks at HWAC seem to back up their words with action. Good article.

  • Tom

    I wish every shelter or center would follow the example of Helen Woodward Animal Center. We need this here in GA.

  • Doug

    We need this concept everywhere. I’m in southern Louisiana, and we desperately need caring people to teach the public about animal care. It’s not just about adoption. It’s a life long commitment.

  • […] For more information about Helen Woodward Animal Center, read my story here. […]

  • […] first learned about AniMeals, from Mike Arms, executive director of the Helen Woodward Animal Center (HWAC) in CA. Mike shared a story about a volunteer who divided her time between HWAC and her local Meals […]

  • […] Helen Woodward Animal Center, would say, “please replace the word shelter with center.” Click here to see what I’m referring […]

  • I blog frequently and I really thank you for your information. This great article has really peaked my interest. I am going to take a note of your blog and keep checking for new information about once per week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.

  • JohnBourdeaux

    I just subscribed to your site. I look forward to reading it. I’m a pets/wildlife lover too. Thanks Michele! You are an angel to the animals.

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