What role does the American Society for Protection Against Animal Cruelty, (ASPCA) have in various states and regions, and what is their connection with local animal shelters?
Paws for Reflection asked David Betournay, New England Federation President and Community Initiatives Director, Community Outreach, for the ASPCA’s northern New England region, to explain just how the ASPCA functions.
Question: David, could you explain the ASPCA’s role and goal in each state? Does the ASPCA have a community initiatives director in each state, or in every few states comprising a region? How does New England stack up, one for each state?
Answer: “There are three Community Initiatives Directors in New England, one in Vermont, one in Connecticut and myself who covers Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. While each of us are assigned to cover individual states, all of the folks who work in the larger Community Outreach department, Field Investigations and Response, and Government Relations, work across the country on innumerable intersecting projects. Community Outreach is composed of Community Initiatives, Pro learning, Shelter R&D and Veterinary Outreach.”
Question: A lot of people think the animal shelter in their area is part of the ASPCA. But I’m under the impression that isn’t the case, and they are all private nonprofit individual organizations governed by the laws in that particular state. And yet, you visit shelters as part of the outreach program. Could you explain how that works, and the role of each? How independent are they? Does the ASPCA have a set of voluntary guidelines they request shelters to follow?
Answer: “You are correct, because of the similarity of many animal welfare organizations’ names and mission across the country, we are all very often confused by the public who sometimes think that some or all are related. The vast majority of animal welfare organizations across the country function as independent non-profits. To further complicate matters, many of these non-profits hold a municipal contract to serve as or run a municipal shelter.
“The ASPCA visits and works with shelters across states as part of the work that we do. The ASPCA gathers and disseminates new ideas and best practices from and to the field through direct outreach, ASPCApro.org, involvement with innumerable national and local organizations, books, blogs, webinars, trainings etc.
There is a newly published document from the Association of Shelter Veterinarians called the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. http://www.sheltervet.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=29”
Question: Is the goal of the ASPCA 100 percent no-kill shelters? Is that a doable or realistic goal?
Answer: “Yes, the ASPCA is committed to achieving no-kill communities across the country and supports actionable policies and programs to reach that goal. Yes, it is an absolutely achievable goal but far from simple. There are many factors that need to be in place for a community to become successfully and sustainably no kill.”
Question: How does Maine stack up when it comes to sheltering, and animal welfare?
Answer: “I would say that Maine stacks up quite well for a number of reasons including its anti cruelty laws and the quantity, quality and collaboration in Maine’s sheltering system.”
Question: How do other New England states compare?
Answer: “I think that it is safe to say that New England compares well to the overall country when it comes to its animal welfare system, quality of its organizations and pet overpopulation.”
Question: Why does Maine seem to fare well when it comes to pet friendly? And are there any particular people who deserve some of the credit for this? Or is it an overall lack of violence in the state that makes it this way?
Answer: “I would say that Maine has benefited from having many folks working towards good legal protection for animals and that the rest is more culture based. How we treat and care for our animals becomes as much a matter of culture as anything else. When such things as spaying and neutering your pet, not allowing it to run free, bringing it to the Veterinarian and making sure that it has proper shelter and ID are all part of our cultural expectations of ourselves, our families and our neighbors, you see a general rise in the welfare of animals.”
Question: What’s a typical day on the job like for you, an example of some of the things you would be doing?
Answer: “Two thirds of the time I am working out a home office in New Hampshire and traveling out of the area approximately one-third of the time. I provide direct and remote outreach to any animal welfare folks or organizations that request it. I contact and visit organizations across my area, meeting people, discovering what is working well and what the challenges are. I seek to share those great ideas, programs and successes with others and help bridge those who need help with the resources they need to be successful, help more people and save more lives.
When outside the area I am often working with the ASPCA Partnership community of Buncombe County, NC. The Partnership is an intensive 3-5 year community wide effort to dramatically improve the community-wide live release rate in a short amount of time.”
Question: What’s your background, education, work experience? How long have you held this position, and how did you happen to apply for it and get involved in animal welfare?
Answer: “I have a degree in Animal Science and focused on learning and behavior, after college I spent some time working with police dogs, a year at a zoo, and five years training assistance dogs before transitioning to animal welfare where I spent 12 years working for a shelter in New Hampshire before joining the ASPCA in 2009.”
Question: How do the various animal welfare organizations, the ASPCA, HSUS (Humane Society of the United States), and the National Federation of Humane Societies work together, and could you tell me how the ASPCA is different from the others. And how is your role in Maine, different from the others? Please elaborate on this as I don’t believe a lot of people outside the inner circles understand this. I, for one, was not aware that HSUS and the ASPCA had representatives in various states.
Answer: “Each of these organizations work together to varying degrees on collaborative projects that are either mutual goals, enhanced by the partnering or, as in the case of larger disasters no one organization could adequately deal with a given situation alone.
Though I am sure there is some crossover you would need the folks from the other organizations to elaborate on their roles at the state level. My role in Maine is as described above. I respond to requests for assistance through direct, indirect and grant related outreach. To stay connected to animal welfare in the state and to connect those folks to any guidance or resource that they may need, whether it be the support of another shelter, another organization or the ASPCA so that they are able to help more people, and positively impact and or save more lives.”
Question: Does the ASPCA focus on the welfare of mostly small companion animals? How do horses and other larger animals fit into the equation?
Answer: “The ASPCA was founded in 1866 by Henry Bergh as the first animal welfare organization in the United States. His mission began with the protection of horses in NYC. Since that time the organization has evolved to incorporate cats, dogs, other small animals and more recently farm animals. For more details, go to the ASPCA’s website: http://www.aspca.org/about-us/about-the-aspca.aspx”
Question: How do various animal welfare organizations work together. Do you work together to advocate for better laws and regulations affecting animal welfare. Do you ever get involved in the local level? And if so, give an example.
Answer: “There is no limit to how animal welfare organizations can and do work together across the country. From local to national there has been a tremendous shift towards more and more organizations working with others, from small local issues to large national programs. This willingness and interest in working with one another and learning from one another is a large contributing factor in animal welfare development over the last years.”
Question: How does the ASPCA get involved when there’s a hoarding case? Why do people start hoarding? What’s the best way to discourage hoarding? What should people do if they suspect a hoarding case?
Answer: “The ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement department responds to hoarding cases in NYC and the Anti Cruelty Department responds to requests for assistance in large-scale hoarding cases across the county.
Question: There’s a link between human violence and animal cruelty? Are animals usually the first victims of abuse?? Is that often the case with younger, kids??
Answer: “There is a ton of information out there on this subject. For details, visit
Question: What types of community initiatives does the ASPCA get involved with in Maine and New England? Please explain why?
Answer: “Again, I work with animal welfare organizations and individuals throughout my states and beyond on any effort that may help them save and or positively impact more people and animals. I provide direct and remote outreach to any animal welfare folks or organizations that request it. I contact and visit organizations across my area, meeting people, discovering what is working well and what the challenges are. I seek to share those great ideas, programs and successes with others and help bridge those who need help with the resources they need to be successful, help more people and save more lives.”
Thank you David for these insightful answers to how the ASPCA works with various states and shelters throughout the country. Paws found it conforting that the David pointed out the ASPCA is dedicated to no-kill.
Do you have some stories to share about how the ASPCA may have helped a shelter in your area, or helped adopt more humane laws for our pets in your state? If so, please share.