We at Lens and Leash caught up with Kelly Barker in Las Cruces, New Mexico on what her role as an “Agent of Change” means and what she has been working on to improve adoption rates in the community along with some creating some innovative programs with the animal welfare nonprofit, UnCaged Paws and its transport/rescue division, Tails from the Shelter.
Kelly has 25 years of success as a business entrepreneur and the drive, vision and passion to create compelling initiatives that solve problems. Kelly brought that experience wrapped in the heart of a commitment to animal welfare change management. We are so excited to share with you her vision and some of the programs that she has put into place since she moved to Las Cruces two and a half years ago from Michigan.
We would love to see other communities take Kelly’s idea and adapt it to their own animal shelters and areas where animals need forever loving homes.
Her first undertaking was developing and promoting Spay and Neuter clinics to help several New Mexico communities by addressing the uncontrolled population of animals. She has successfully completed 13 clinics to date and over 750 animals received “FixNChip” services. The municipal animal shelter in Las Cruces has about 800 animals come in each month and of those 800, only about 100 are locally adopted. That is a huge number of animals at risk of losing their lives because of overcrowding. Although the shelter is working to accommodate the relentless intake, space is a never-ending dilemma. A welcomed management change took place at the shelter in the fall of 2017. In her new role, Kelly knew that to save more lives, a robust transport program was required.
She reached out to the amazing Dog Is My Co-Pilot to organize flights out of Las Cruces to other shelters in other states that had successful adoption programs. The first flight was in October of last year. The experience was thrilling, and life affirming, but also eye-opening. There were 65 dogs scheduled to go on the flight but when they were loaded on the airplane, there was only room for 60 dogs. The five dogs left on the tarmac was a huge disappointment and became a call to action to develop a solution.
Sadly, large dogs are limited on flights because the focus is to save the most animals possible and a large dog could take up the room of 4 medium dogs or in some cases, even 10 small dogs. No one wants a dog that has been freed from the shelter to have to return to a cage and oftentimes, the shelter no longer has the room because more dogs have come in to take the traveler’s place.
Since this actually occurred on the October flight, Kelly began to think about how to ensure that the large dogs would get their chance for a loving home of their own. A plan was developed to focus on 12 large, longer term dogs each month and through photographs, showcase their amazing potential as new family members. Imagery would be a key part of the success of the project and Kelly hunted for photographers that could be integral partners. When she located the husband and wife team of Melissa J Koko Photography who after listening to her pitch instantly said, “we are in!”
The plan was to focus on 12 larger dogs for each month with a theme. And, just in time for the holiday’s, and with the 5 October dogs as the leaders, the first program was the “12 Dogs of Christmas.” All the images are used in multiple mediums with Koko preparing a musical montage video. Additionally, large posters are created to showcase the dogs for the entire month. To help the dog get the maximum attention, the adoption fees are sponsored by community supporters of the program. The sponsorship pays for the adoption fees which includes the spay/neuter as well as all their vaccinations and microchip. Kelly calls this a PAW It FURward program.
Another aspect of this program is to decorate the featured dogs’ kennels in the theme of the month’s photoshoot. This decoration provides a level of attention to detail and brings the focus to those featured dogs. After the month is over an offer is extended to rescues to consider any of dogs who were not adopted. This offering provides a rescue with a ready-to-go dog that is sterilized, vaccinated, and microchipped. In the launch month of December, 12 dogs were photographed and marketed and 7 were adopted. The remaining 5 became her inspiration for January’s new theme in which they were depicted as superheroes called the “Fantastic Five”.
One of the main things that has come up is that people have unrealistic expectations of these animals. They will see a dog in the photo and get an idea of what this dog is to them and when they come into the shelter looking for them, while the images are compelling it is still important to realize that these animals have been discarded, abandoned and may have been mistreated or neglected. It takes time and trust for an animal to open their hearts and show you their true sweet personality. Just like humans, if we have been hurt in the past, we are not so quick to be hurt again. But, the images are proof that when they feel trust that they do open up and welcome love.
For their sake, please take it upon yourself to be realistic when looking for a new furry companion. Know what your lifestyle is like and how that animal would fit into it. Make sure you have the time to put into nurturing a new friendship/companionship. Does the type of dog you gravitate toward fit with your personality? The biggest question to ask yourself is if you are willing to do what it takes to give this sweet animal the great life it deserves? The best thing you can do for yourself and an animal is to be honest with yourself.
This month’s 12 dog theme was “Mother’s of May” and centered around a group of dogs that had previous litters. Everyone loves the puppies, and they are quickly adopted but oftentimes mom is left behind. Kelly wanted to highlight these adorable former mothers that deserved their own loving forever homes.
The May theme launched the program, “Last Litter.” Because there are so many puppies in the community, the program is designed to have the dog owner register their mom and litter with the rescue (Tails from the Shelter) and when the puppies are 8 weeks old, they will take the puppies and transfer them to the puppy rescue partners and they will sterilize and microchip the mom so there are no more unplanned and unwanted litters and mom stays with her family. Last Litter is a community engaging program to support animal owners being more responsible for their pets.
So far, this larger dog program has found loving forever homes for 72 dogs and hasn’t slowed its pace. With the partnership of Koko and Melissa, there are exciting themes for the months ahead. Building support in the community is critical to the success of the sponsorships, where so many businesses and patrons can take part in the ‘halo’ effect of showcasing the adoptable pets.
Thank you Kelly for the light you shine on this incredibly hard situation and for a creative solution to helping these deserving pups find loving homes. We need more Agents of Change like you!