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Rebirth . . . a key to future collaboration

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It's not every day you get to start over, but that's exactly what the SPCA of Central Florida is doing. Launched in 1937, the organization is now experiencing a rebirth with ". . . a new name, a new executive team, a new mobile spay-neuter clinic, a new collaboration with the region's animal services departments and a dusted-off welcome mat for rescue groups."

Now rebranded as the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando (PAGO), their mission ". . . educates, shelters, places, and heals pets and their families with compassionate, responsible care maintained to the very highest professional standards." That's certainly a valuable mission and one which most animal sheltering organizations hope to achieve. The question here is what really is the key to the rebranding of this organization and its new name.

Rebranding is a common way to freshen up an old product and the business or organization behind that particular product. It doesn't mean the old product wasn't working, but it does allow a clean approach to the business at hand and a new look at what you're trying to accomplish. Even companies such as Disney, like when they rebranded the Wide World of Sports into the ESPN Wide World of Sports a few years ago, and countless others do it so why not companies in the non-profit world too?

Said Dil Luther, Orange County Animal Services Manager (OCAS), referring to new PAGO executive director Kerri Burns, "Kerri has brought a fresh approach to everything. I think she has done a phenomenal job, and it makes sense for us to work together. After all, we have the same mission – which is addressing the problem of too many animals and not enough good homes."

The key to this rebrand is what makes your organization resurgent or new. We believe the key term in the new name is "alliance". This would imply a willingness to play nicely with others, form a partnership, and value the knowledge and resources that collaboration allows so ultimately the animals benefit from a shared vision and respect between organizations.

Several months ago I had occasion to go to OCAS and overheard a brief conversation between a staffer and a citizen. Although the SPCA (prior to its new name) and OCAS are right across the street from each other, I got the impression that the two entities considered their existence to be an us versus them separated relationship instead of a collaborative one. According to the May 9th Orlando Sentinel article announcing the name change, "For years before Burns arrived, staff from the two agencies – whose headquarters are within yards of each other near The Mall at Millenia – did not collaborate. They rarely even ventured across the parking lot to the other's offices."

For all its volunteers, paid staff and good intentions, the animal services world is really a small circle of life. It is imperative that we work together, put behind petty jealousies and focus on saving the animals we are responsible for protecting. It is time to form a pet partnership and move forward. Said Burns, "I don't know what the issue was, but we have a hidden gem here. People don't realize that we have a low-cost veterinary clinic here, that we have a mobile unit, that we do education of animal owners and that we help seniors who can't get out to buy pet food. It is time for us to step into the spotlight."

In their new approach, ". . . the Pet Alliance wants to build a network of veterinarians, shelters, rescue groups and concerned citizens to reduce pet overpopulation and find good, permanent homes for those currently in need as quickly as possible."

As one comment to the Sentinel article declares, "I hope this works out well for all animals. It's so sad to see these wonderful dogs and kitties in cages waiting to be adopted or put down because no one wants them."

This theme of collaboration and stepping outside of your own structure is one we believe in and find to be imperative. We are stronger together because the animals need us to be. It is their lives we hold in our hands and there is nothing more important than that.
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We wanted to pass along an experience from some recent time spent in Alaska.

You know that SeaWorld is constantly wallowing about education as a justification for maintaining captive animals and putting them on display in an entertainment show. For anyone who has read this column you know we believe that SeaWorld's one and only motivation is greed. These animals are a source of entertainment dollars not classroom learning as SeaWorld would like you to believe.

The real classroom and thus a real source of education is to actually witness the fascination of seeing animals like humpback whales in the wild. We had that opportunity recently in Juneau, Alaska, and let us tell you watching a mom breach and her calf at play was truly a window to see these magnificent beings free and at peace. You garner such a respect for the beauty of these giants as they roam free in their own world and wonder how people can allow them to be chained to the string of financial greed that entities like SeaWorld perpetuate.

Speaking of wildlife, the issue of black bears in Central Florida remains constant. There are new media discussions that never seem to end, but the insight that we agree with the most was expressed in a submission to the Orlando Sentinel by Kevin Wilson on May 24th. "Black bears are native to Florida . . . There was ample room for man and bear to coexist . . . Then when Disney World opened in 1971, the population really exploded . . . So how have we in Florida dealt with this massive influx of humanity? We build. Developers have bulldozed whole forests and drained wetlands – prime bear habitat – to build houses . . . This has driven the bears into and ever-dwindling number of forests and preserves that we now surround with suburban homes. We have replaced the bears' natural food sources with human neighborhoods filled with trash-can buffets. We have effectively made it impossible for black bears not to come in contact with a human home during their lives."

Wilson concludes, "Do whatever it takes to spread the word that these bear attacks are a problem of our own design. We caused this problem and we can solve it. Humans and black bears can live together in Central Florida; it will just take effort and informed, intelligent, decisive action."

Although garbage-haulers will begin making bear-resistant trash cans available in Seminole County, Florida before the end of June, unfortunately there are still those with an antiquated response to this problem humans are responsible for creating.

After an eighty-one year old woman complained to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) about a bear that barged into her garage and snatched a bag of walnuts from her freezer, she said she had a better option to buying a "bear-resistant" can. Her response, "I've got two shotguns, and they're loaded." Really, we want to kill bears now over a bag of walnuts? How sad and trivial the human race has become.

Luckily there are others who think with more of an open mind and recognize that the bears have a right to live here too. "My thing is this: if you choose to live in an area with bears you need to adapt your behavior to ensure both the bears and your safety. You should not move into an area with bears and decide the Bears need to go." Well put.
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Let's end on a good note by thanking thirteen-year-old Jacob Hornstein.

According to a staff report in the Orlando Sentinel on May 8th, Jacob made his love for animals clear when celebrating his bar mitzvah. "Instead of seeking presents for himself, he sent cards to friends and relatives asking them to donate to Lake County Animal Services. He even took some of the money he was given as gifts and gave it to the shelter."

As a result, the county animal services operation received a $700 donation. Said Jacob, I just decided they would be a lot better off with more money and more hope." If only the county commissioners thought that way the animals would be a whole lot better off.

Thanks Jacob. Your attitude gives us hope for America's youth and the animals they share our world with.

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