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COVID-19 Leadership Lessons: Together We Are All One

“Our new normal should be collaboration and sharing of expertise.” 

Wise words from the one and only Katherine Shenar, who shares an incredible story of what can happen when you forget to mute yourself in a Zoom call with leadership from animal welfare organizations all across the country.

The last Friday in March, I was on a Zoom meeting, listening to Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Executive Director of both Austin Pets Alive! and American Pets Alive!, share data from the shelter and rescue survey that AmPA! conducted. 

Now, I would never have been on that Zoom meeting in the first place if Dr. Julie Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVM, DABVP, Professor of Shelter Medicine Education at the University of Florida and co-founder of Million Cat Challenge, hadn’t invited me to the Coronavirus Shelter Leadership Facebook page.  That’s where I developed a relationship with Pima Animal Care Center’s Director of Animal Care Services’ Kristen Hassen-Auerbach, who introduced me to Dr. Jefferson. (Hang in there—it’s worth it!) 

During the Zoom meeting, I received a phone call from Jessica Arnold, Petfinder’s Marketing Manager, Member/Shelter Partner Engagement. I told Jessica I was trying to help Kim Alboum, Shelter Outreach and Policy Engagement Director at HSUS, get pet food to the villages in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. These villages are accessible only by plane or boat, so you can imagine how particularly challenging it has been to get food to them during the COVID-19 outbreak, due to limited supply and dwindling transportation options. 

Well, apparently my entire conversation was heard by all the members attending the Zoom meeting—including Steve Zeidman of Pethealth Inc., Petco Foundation President Susanne Kogut, and Scott Giacoppo, Best Friends Director of National Shelter Outreach and President of the National Animal Care & Control Association. Finally, Dr. Jefferson told me that I might want to mute myself, but the damage was done: total embarrassment

But there was a silver lining. 

And the silver lining was that Karen Walsh, Director of Animal Relocation Initiatives at the ASPCA, was also on that Zoom meeting, and she, too, overheard my entire phone conversation. After the meeting, Karen reached out to me and offered to help. I then connected Karen with Kim, who was concurrently working on the issue with her colleague Amanda Arrington of Pets For Life. Amanda was in contact with Bethel Friends of Canines, her mentorship partner in Alaska and the local group that serves the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages. (Stick with me—I promise it’s about to come together!) 

Next, Pets for Life and the ASPCA’s Northern Tier Shelter Initiative cranked into high gear. The HSUS purchased 8,000 pounds of pet food from Firstfruits Feed in Redmond, WA, while the ASPCA arranged a flight from Seattle to Bethel, AK. Firstfruits’ owner delivered the food to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where it was loaded on to the ASPCA-funded flight. Friends of Canines was waiting on the other end to collect and distribute the food. You can read the ASPCA’s press release here.

Amazing, right? NONE of this would have happened if we weren’t all working together and collaborating in COVID-19 response. If I hadn’t developed new relationships with Kristen and Ellen thanks to Dr. Levy, if I hadn’t attended Dr. Jefferson’s presentation, if I HAD put myself on mute to take Jessica’s call, if Karen hadn’t reached out to me offering help, if Kim hadn’t told me there was a need, and if Amanda wasn’t helping underserved communities… the villagers wouldn’t have received the pet food they so desperately needed. Who could have helped them if not us??? 

This story is just one small example of the lifesaving power of collaboration that has been happening for the past month. Whatever happens after the COVID-19 crisis subsides, we cannot go back to silos in animal welfare. The animals and communities need us to work together to truly make this world safe for animals and people. We cannot go back to the status quo. Our new normal should be collaboration and sharing of expertise. Just imagine the possibilities. Imagine. ♥️

About Katherine M. Shenar, CAWA