The Start of a New Chapter
It’s hard to believe that it has been almost five years since the first time I visited Humane Society Silicon Valley. I distinctly remember the warm February afternoon when I arrived at the Animal Community Center to kick off a volunteer consulting project. I was surprised by the welcoming campus and the beautiful building, which were not at all what I expected to see at an animal shelter. Over the next few months, I discovered that the people inside were even more impressive and inspiring. All of the staff and volunteers I met were incredibly capable, enthusiastic, and focused on a clear mission. Having worked with many other for-profit and nonprofit organizations, I recognized a rare combination at HSSV–passion and purpose coexisting with excellence and impact. Little did I know at the time that these capabilities would be critical to navigating a global pandemic while finding new ways to support the people and animals in our community. But more on that later.
Not long after wrapping up that first project, I got involved with other programs at HSSV and joined the Board of Directors. My wife Charu and I became huge fans of Doggy Day Out, where volunteers get to take high-energy dogs on trips for much-needed exercise and time outside the shelter. We also got to know several people from the behavior, foster, and adoptions teams when a shy little pittie mix named Cooper became our first foster fail. These personal experiences gave me even deeper appreciation of the expertise of our staff and the impact of our programs.
Charu and I have been “fostering” Cooper for just over four years.
Over the next few years it was an incredible privilege to serve as Board Chair and work closely with Carol Novello, a visionary leader and truly exceptional human. Her nine years as President were transformational for the organization, making it possible for HSSV to become the first model shelter meeting all guidelines set forth by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. This laid the foundation for an ambitious strategic plan, and when Carol handed me the baton this past January, I was eager to continue building on our momentum to further expand our lifesaving impact. And then, just a few months into my new role, HSSV and the rest of the world came to a screeching halt with the onset of COVID-19.
A Twist in the Plot
After the sudden announcement of shelter-in-place, we had to temporarily suspend our programs and come up with a plan for the animals in our care. Capacity was an immediate concern, and we knew our partner shelters would need us to transfer animals to help them make space. When we put out a call for help, we were ecstatic but not surprised to see thousands of people raise their hands to be foster volunteers. A few days later, our rescue team was once again headed out to the Central Valley to bring back at-risk animals to receive critical medical treatment and find loving homes.
Axel and Diva were excited to help me share an update on Facebook Live.
As guidelines for essential businesses evolved, we went through countless iterations of our operations to keep everyone safe and remain open to the community. This required an enormous amount of effort, cooperation, and creativity from our team who redesigned programs for a contact free, socially distanced, and often virtual new world. Despite all of the uncertainty in the outside world, they focused on doing whatever was necessary for the animals and people who needed our help – and necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Over the past several months our team came up with all sorts of innovative ways to continue our lifesaving work, from virtual adoptions appointments to telemedicine consultations for foster families to disaster support for communities impacted by catastrophic fires. Once again, I have been blown away by the flexibility and dedication of everyone at HSSV.
After this virtual adoption appointment, Byx went home with someone that is not me.
New Challenges = New Opportunities
HSSV has been able to continue operating through the pandemic, but others have not been so fortunate. The economic impact of COVID has been especially devastating to people who were already struggling to make ends meet, and many have lost jobs, homes, and the ability to care for their pets. Animals are an important lifeline in times of crisis, and keeping bonded families together is an opportunity for HSSV to directly and meaningfully help both pets and people.
Awesome volunteers delivering supplies to homebound Pet Pantry clients.
The team jumped into action and started by expanding our Pet Pantry program, which provides food and supplies for pet owners facing hardship. We increased our staff and resources to quickly enroll dozens of new clients, including families experiencing homelessness, homebound seniors, and others who were afraid they would have to give up their pets. HSSV also opened our emergency boarding program to anyone impacted by the pandemic (and then by the wildfires) to help first responders, people who were hospitalized, and anyone forced to leave their home. I am so appreciative for the tremendous of support we have received, and our team is excited to tackle the next goal of ensuring that everyone in our community has access to veterinary care.
I think it’s safe to say that 2020 has not been what any of us expected. I knew there would be a steep learning curve as I transitioned into animal welfare and stepped into a new role, but the onset of a global pandemic definitely took it to the next level. Fortunately, the same things that drew me to HSSV have made it possible to overcome the unexpected challenges that have been thrown my way. Our lifesaving mission is one of the few things that remains unchanged, and it is a clear beacon to navigate through the unknown. The passion, strength, adaptability, and resilience of the organization have been on full display throughout the year. While none of this has been easy, I am so grateful to be part of this incredible team and I could not imagine being anywhere else.
Two lucky guys.
This year has also given me a crash course in just how amazing our community can be and a renewed hope for what we can accomplish in the future. The outpouring of support–from those wanting to take animals into their homes, to those who donated supplies for struggling pet owners, to those who provided financial support to allow us to reach out and help shelters all over the state–has been overwhelming in the best possible way.
HSSV still has ambitious plans to expand our lifesaving impact, support people and animals in our community, and advance the cause of animal welfare. After everything that’s happened this year, I am even more excited about these opportunities knowing we have such extraordinary support from our volunteers, donors, and community.
To everyone who has made this crazy journey so memorable and heartwarming–thank you. We have come a long way already. I am sure there are still plenty of surprises on the road ahead, and I am confident that we will work through them together.