|MF: Mike Fry |
BN: Beth Nelson
BB: Bonney Brown
MF: Beth and I have giant smiles on our faces, because we always smile whenever we even say the name “Bonney Brown.” She is just an amazing, amazing woman. There’s no other way to say it.
Many people don’t know, but back in my history, I was a technology geek, and I was a computer programmer. I spent seven years of my life writing leadership development software for some folks from the Center for Creative Leadership. We looked at all the work of what is leadership, what are the components of it, and how do you develop it, so I have in my bones infused what is an effective leader, and I think Bonney is it.
I’m thrilled to have some time to talk to her about her new endeavor, which is helping her take the incredible success that she created in Reno, Nevada, making it one of the most successful no kill communities in the United States, and how she’s taking that show on the road to save animals all over. It’s going to be a great conversation. Welcome back to Animal Wise Radio, Bonney.
BB: Thank you for the introduction.
MF: We’re absolutely thrilled to have you. Before we get into your new endeavor and the incredible success that you’ve had in the launch of this new endeavor, I’d like to just revisit your history a little bit. You came to Reno, Nevada, as the head of the Nevada Humane Society having never actually run an animal shelter before. Is that approximately correct?
BB: That’s right. I had worked at Best Friends and ran a little no kill shelter in Massachusetts, and then worked for Alley Cat Allies and did a mass shelter for them in New Orleans, but I had never run anything like Nevada Humane Society that had a contract to serve a whole community, a $3.5 million budget, and a 75-year history. It was a unique opportunity to take an organization and a community to no kill. That was very exciting.
MF: One of the things that I found really fascinating – and I want to bring this up because I think it ties directly to the conversation about your new endeavor – while you had done some work in animal welfare for sure, you also had a very strong background in retail and marketing retail. Is that a reasonably fair statement?
BB: Yes, that’s true. I was in retailing for 10 years. I did retail management, marketing, buying, and various things along those lines when I lived in Boston, and that experience really proved to be invaluable because as much as our work is all about life-saving, but also to succeed, it really has to be run like a business as well. That experience was incredibly helpful, and continues to be now for me.
BN: Bonney, one of the things I just want to celebrate for a moment is that as Mike and I have grown to know of you and of your work, we’ve seen you step forward say at the No Kill Conference and share your story as it was just beginning to unfold. At that point in time, you had already been applying a lot of your ideas and a lot of the history that you had in animal welfare. You weren’t really sure exactly where it was going to go, though, but you had an idea of where you wanted to go.
I’m going to fast forward us to today, and I would like to celebrate the teacher that you have become. I think one of the things you’ve really taught the no kill movement is that just because we’ve always thought that maybe big dogs are harder to place, or just because we think that if a bunch of cats come in at once it’s a problem and not something we can overcome, because it’s such a big problem, you have this amazing ability to always look at some kind of marketing opportunity or how to present this in a different way, repackage it, reframe it, so that there’s a different view around the situation at hand.
BB: That’s very kind. Yes, I think that there’s all those old adages about opportunities come packaged as challenges or problems, and I think that’s true, especially in our field. I think it’s because of the day to day emotional nature of the work and the fact that we do unfortunately have the opportunity to sometimes see people at their worst, we tend to over generalize about the public and about the prospect for animals.
Taking some of the marketing experience I learned from retail and also from my time working for Michael Mountain at Best Friends, I learned a lot about how to reach out to people and simply ask, and the importance of making things fun and not lecturing people. Really, when it gets right down to it, if you can keep people engaged emotionally but in a positive way instead of just with very negative emotions, you can really motivate them to do all kinds of things. People are looking for something in life that has meaning, that makes them feel good, and helping out in whatever way that might be – if it’s giving money or becoming a foster home or adopting a pet. For a lot of people, it becomes a very satisfying experience for them.
One of my big pushes has always been that pet adoptions should be one of life’s great experiences for people.
MF: That’s a great place to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to come right back to how do you make the pet adoption experience a great experience, and how are you certifying people to take that show to their local shelters? We’ll be back with that.
MF: On the line we have Bonney Brown, who is probably one of the best known people in the no kill movement worldwide. She was the former head of the Nevada Humane Society. She was the head there when they made that one of the safest communities in the world for homeless pets. Her approach is invigorating and viral because it’s so fun and friendly.
In the first segment, she was talking about how there’s this natural tendency, because in animal shelters we oftentimes see people at their worst. We see the worst parts of human behavior. I would argue this – and this is something that I really picked up from Bonney, and I’ve seen it obviously firsthand, but to really learn to focus my attention on it, because we also see the best side of humans. We see people coming to our shelter to help out in all kinds of ways. Knitting sweaters for kittens …
BN: Scraping a broken dog off the side of the road.
MF: Doing all kinds of things to step up and help out. We have to in the face of all of that put some focus and attention and really be driven by the good side of that. That’s the message that Bonney has brought forward. Let’s focus on the good news and expand and look at the good news. Is that a fair way to talk about part of your message, Bonney?
BB: Absolutely. I’m not sure I could have said it better myself. I think as humans we constantly have to work to be sure we’re doing that.
I can remember days where a construction worker would come in with a kitten in the palm of his hands sobbing because he wanted someone to help the kitten. Or a truck driver that found a dog hit by the side of the road. I think encouraging that kind of compassion and thanking people who care is really all part of building what we all want, which is a more humane society at large, rather than just an organization.
The marketing part, too, is just such an important thing that I think we’re just beginning to understand as a movement. It’s just how I think in a positive way you need to be aggressive with your message so that you guys are top of mind when someone is thinking about adopting. That’s another one of my big areas is trying to work with people to implement the kind of marketing program that’s really going to get them the results.
BN: Bonney, I think we should talk a little bit, given some of the things you’re saying about learning that’s been taking place in this movement, and talk about how it was that you started to really deconstruct the work that you did in Reno or look at elements of what some of us call the No Kill Equation, and how you’ve taken that and condensed it into a certification program at University of the Pacific, the no kill animal shelter management certification program. I’m guessing that was a big job, and that you learned a lot in the process of putting that curriculum together.
BB: It was. It was fascinating, and we had started looking at stuff fairly early on because we were getting so many queries from other places, which again is just some more of that good news that because of the efforts of the movement and the advocacy, I think there’s a great interest in how to do this out there. Even very traditional places that may not yet fully believe they can do all of it want now to try.
I was surprised. In our class, we had two animal control directors taking the class in this first round, and a veterinarian and several other shelter directors of smaller no kills, and I was so excited. One of my goals is to see lots of great and talented candidates apply when jobs open up at some of the larger facilities, because I think it’s time for us to have more big cities that are real safe havens for the animals.
MF: That takes me back to something that I brought up and why I wanted to talk about your background in retail in the first segment.
If you look nationally, the very successful no kill shelter directors have oftentimes come to this field really pretty green. They came in as attorneys, they came in with some other completely different skill set, and oftentimes it’s the exact skill set that’s needed to bring change to the organization. Oftentimes, the boards won't look at them because they have no credential.
It seems to me that what you’re providing is an opportunity for people maybe who aren’t in animal welfare who haven’t been indoctrinated or entrenched in the existing structure, but they can get some learning so that they can come in. That to me seems to be part of the brilliance of what you’re offering.
BB: Thanks, Mike. Again, I couldn’t have said it better. Our hope is to prepare people to apply at larger no kill shelters. I think there’s lots of free information out there on how to run a modest size animal shelter that’s going to deal with select missions, but when you start talking about large shelters with contractual obligations to be open admission, there’s a lot that you need to know.
No matter how lifesaving committed you are, if you’re interviewing with a Board of Directors and you’re not using the right terminology or you don’t seem to have a real grasp, most of them are not going to have the confidence to believe what’s probably true, that a really smart person would able to figure it out. We hope that this course really helps enable that.
That’s really my goal. I’m happy when anyone at anytime is interested in the course. I feel like we’ve been successful when we get a few people placed in a large organization as the director.
BN: Bonney, I have a question about point of view, and how you chose to structure and build out the curriculum for your program. I think as a no kill advocate, we no kill advocates still are not the majority of voices in animal welfare in this country. If you look at the standard information that’s probably easiest to find, most accessible or that you’re going to get at many, many shelters if you start employment there, there’s a certain lens that you’re looking through.
I’m just wondering, as you put together this course, your lens is certainly different, but you’re very aware of what that other lens is like, because you perhaps battled it sometimes, or you were surrounded by that way of thinking at times. Did that inform how you built out this program at all? Is it something that you see among the students in your classroom as a point of discussion?
BB: Yes, totally so. The first course we undertake is leadership and shelter operations. Right now is the middle of the community programs segment, and next will be marketing promotion, and we wrap up with clinic and animal health issues. Each of these are six-week segments, so the students have a six-month certificate program.
In the first course, leadership, we really do talk a lot about philosophy. We really try to be sure people are grounded in the whole picture of the movement, because I think taking over an organization or transforming one, which I must say, I really was surprised to have two current shelter directors of large somewhat traditional animal services departments in the course with a genuine goal – from what they write, they really want to see this change and are implementing things.
Structuring the whole thing in such a way that it meets the various needs was challenging, but I think that absolutely what you said is true. I really want to be sure that people are grounded in the how-to part of running and organization. Many of the people are already well aware because of the great job the movement has done of what the basics are, and they’re only interested in the course if they already have some kind of a commitment to lifesaving.
MF: It’s so fascinating to me, and I think the work is so important, because I think if you look at running any multimillion dollar business successfully, that’s hard. Running a multimillion dollar nonprofit is harder. Running a multimillion dollar nonprofit who has animals’ lives depending on it is the hardest. I think we don’t really necessarily understand or we have not been super thoughtful about what are we really asking of shelter directors, but it’s really hard work. I think they need some support to put together all the components in a logical way from somebody who has really been there and done it.
Changing topics just a little bit – I want to make sure we get the plug in for the website, www.humanenetwork.org.
BN: Yes. Isn’t that a nice segue?
BB: Absolutely. We’re also available to help people out with their community. We’ve done everything from community and shelter assessments to really helping people to implement specific programs that they may be looking to develop. A really common one has been more traditional shelters wanting to really develop a robust foster program.
It’s really exciting to be able to be part of that and to build relationships with people out there who are already in positions of power to help them see what they can do to succeed, and thereby be encouraged to do more in the area of lifesaving. It’s an exciting and interesting thing, but we’ve worked with every size organization from very small to pretty large, and I’m always open to talking to people about it.
MF: I would say you were one of the first true leaders in shelters in the United States that actually achieved community-wide success. Reno wasn’t the first city, but you could count them on your fingers at that point, and now we’ve got hundreds. You were in that early wave. Now I think it’s so refreshing that you didn’t just rest on that and be done, you are now staying in that very far ahead of the curve leadership role to bring this new approach to making more communities happen. I’m curious – what was it that made you decide that you wanted to take on this new role?
BB: Diane and I had been talking about how we would educate people through Humane Network, and then oddly enough, we got a call from a professor at the University of the Pacific. I think she had already tried to twist Nathan Winograd’s arm into doing it, and I think he already felt just so busy that he declined. Then they came to us.
We were really excited about the opportunity to put something together. I could see why it might not be a fit for Nathan. It’s incredibly time consuming, I think more so than I expected. But it’s also really rewarding interacting with students and hopefully developing long term relationships with these folks so that we can help them even after the course to succeed in their careers. They came to us, the University of the Pacific. I thought it was fascinating that they were interested in the program. They’ve been thrilled with the response, and we have, too.
MF: I’m just absolutely thrilled. When we talked to you before you implemented this, I had this vision of people who were not in the field wanting to get trained so that they could hired. When I had the realization that people who are in the field are getting certified so that you know that the learning from the students is I guarantee you having an impact on the real world today in shelters, I was so inspired by that.
BN: I’m going to heap on. As I was processing and looking more once again at the curriculum, Bonney, I was just really thrilled that they’ve come to the course – maybe they’ve gone through it, they’ve done the work to get through that, to learn from that, but then they get plunked down in a community and find a set of challenges that feels fresh or a different kind of challenge than they may have anticipated stepping in – Humane Network is going to be a potential resource for them to draw upon again.
I thank you for being on the front and back end of that, because we really as a movement, I believe, need people like you to continue to be teaching and sharing best practices. I’m guessing there’s going to be a few folks out there making stuff up and selling it, too. I’m just making a guess about that.
So Bonney, tell people how to find both programs.
BB: As you just mentioned, we have a website at www.humanenetwork.org, and you can reach out to us through that. Also, we’re on Facebook, which is a great place. Humane Network on Facebook – you can search there. We’ll keep you in touch with what we’re doing. If you have an urgent need to talk to someone, you can call us at 858-395-3677, and you’ll talk with my associate, Diane Blankenburg, there.
MF: Thank you so much, Bonney, for all your work. You continue to be an inspiration. Keep us posted on how things are going with both of those efforts. I think they’re really the next wave of the no kill movement, and I can see it spreading far and wide.
BN: We’re cheering you and Diane along, Bonney. We thank you for your work.
BB: Thank you both so much for your wonderful work – appreciate it!