By Anne Reed Special to Published Feb 25, 2013 at 10:27 AM

"Boy, I hate people."

I hear that all the time from people who work in animal welfare. I disagree.

I understand why they feel that way. When you do this work, you hear stories all the time that make you angry. Abuse and neglect. Domestic violence. Well-meaning stupidity. Even the simple failure to stick with commitments: "I’m moving out of town, so I need to surrender my 12-year-old dog."

These stories would make anyone mad, let alone someone who cares enough about animals to have chosen shelter work over other, almost certainly better-paying, options.

But here’s the catch, and it’s a big one. The only way you can save homeless animals is by liking people. By trusting people, welcoming people, inspiring people, and helping people keep their own animals and adopt more.

This insight is the core of a fundamental shift in animal welfare work in recent years. Like most powerful insights, it grabs you the minute you get it. Think about it: can you save the lives of more animals ...

  • By screening adopters strictly and allowing only the most qualified, or by believing that most people can give an animal a loving home?
  • By creating obstacles to adopting an animal that only the most dedicated family can surmount (long waits, home inspections, special requirements) or by making it easy to bring a homeless animal into one’s life?
  • By assuming every animal is better off in the shelter than staying with someone who is thinking about giving them up, or by working with families to find ways they can keep their animals?

Our shelter helped develop this approach, and now we are among many who follow it. We still get criticism sometimes from those who think we should make it more difficult to adopt an animal – but our low return rates, the great stories we hear from our adopters, the follow-up we provide for them, and the number of times we do decline to adopt all make us confident that the approach works. Liking people has saved hundreds of thousands of animals’ lives across the country.

Here’s one more thing that happens when an animal shelter decides to like people: we find compassion for some of the things that made us angry in the first place. Not all, but many. The family whose dog’s behavior problems got worse after they used an electric shock collar; they had the wrong information, and they didn’t know. The couple who doesn’t think they’re giving their dog enough attention now that they’ve had a baby; they’re exhausted, and worried. The family who is moving; they’ve both lost their jobs, and don’t know what lies ahead.

From this place of compassion, we find that we often can actually help them, and help their animals. When we’re not judging people, we can find ways to open their minds to possibilities and ideas.

The only way to help animals is to like people.

(Our pro-people approach is especially helpful when we need to find a home for an animal with special challenges, like adorable Shelby, in the picture. She’s unbelievably cute, but easily stressed, so we have her in a foster home, instead of in the shelter, and it will take longer for her to find an adoptive family there. Our pro-adoption philosophy is one of the key tools that allows us to give her, and every animal in our adoption program, as long as it takes.)

Anne Reed Special to

Anne Reed became the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Humane Society in January of 2010. Before joining WHS, Anne spent almost three decades as a corporate litigator at the Milwaukee law firm of Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren SC.

At the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS), Anne stepped into the leadership of Wisconsin's oldest, largest and most recognized animal welfare organization. For more than 130 years, WHS has been saving the lives of animals in need, and carrying out its mission to build a community where people value animals and treat them with respect and kindness. WHS helped to pioneer the idea that every animal available for adoption in a shelter could be free of time limits, taking as long as needed to be adopted. WHS operates shelters in Milwaukee, Saukville and Racine.

Anne serves on the board of directors of the National Federation of Humane Societies (NFHS), Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies, and Shelter Animals Count, a national database initiative. She also chairs NFHS's 2020 Vision Initiative. Anne also served as president of Meta House's board of directors from 2005 to 2007 and served on the board from 2001 to 2010. As a lawyer, she was named one of the Wisconsin Law Journal's "Women In The Law;" was named to the list of "Wisconsin Superlawyers," and authored a law blog which was twice named one of the 100 best in the country by the American Bar Association's ABA Journal.