Cover Story: A New Day Dawns At Hope

A New Day Dawns At Hope

Story by Claire Sheridan | Photos by Julius Schlosberg

“Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all” – Emily Dickinson

Although you won’t find any feathered residents at Hope, you will find plenty to make your soul sing. Established in 2006, Hope Animal Shelter is Pima County’s first shelter to totally commit its operations to the No Kill philosophy. As of September, the shelter’s 2017 annual percentage of animals saved was 97.9%. They currently have capacity for approximately 100 cats and 20 dogs in the converted residence, which is situated on 4 acres at 8950 North Joplin Road.

Upon entering Hope, you won’t find kennels or crates. Instead, the shelter “co-houses” their animals, separating cats from dogs, and dogs by size and temperament. The rooms are open; animals are free to roam and interact with one another (or not) as they choose. Surprisingly, even with 75 cats and 20 dogs in residence, everyone figures out how to get along, and skirmishes are rare. The lobby is used for food preparation, medication and food storage. Many of the cats have special needs: they are geriatric or require medication. All are available for adoption; they are only waiting for humans who are the right fit.

Hope’s Executive Director, Susan Scherl, has always loved animals. She has a special fondness for cats. The former New York advertising executive took a trip to Africa that changed everything. Upon returning stateside, Scherl “knew she would work with animals.” Shortly after that fateful trip, Scherl moved to Santa Fe, where she became a volunteer at an animal shelter, then worked with a veterinarian, and eventually became the shelter’s manager. It was a pattern she repeated when she moved to Tucson: Scherl first worked for a veterinarian, then became the administrative assistant to the Director at the Humane Society, and finally ended up working at Bernarda Veterinary Clinic, where she joined forces with veterinarian Dr. Kayomee Daroowalla, and the pair opened Hope.

Originally located on Broadway and Campbell, Hope Animal Shelter operated out of a veterinary office. The goal was to provide a home-like environment for the animals. Coming from the Humane Society, Scherl wanted to “know the animals and get them out of cages.” Within the confines of Hope’s original space, cats lived in 12-foot by 6-foot enclosures; the enclosure’s open wire walls were the only things that separated the cats from the space they shared with dogs. Prompted by unfavorable feedback from the landlord of their building, the search for a new location began in 2014. Scherl recalled that she and another staffer found the real estate listing for their current home on the same day. Hope and fate intertwined as the owner of the building agreed to carry a mortgage for the shelter at a low interest rate, and the down payment was donated.

Scherl stated, “We have always been small and underfunded. We struggle month-to-month. Donations are down a lot.” One of the challenges faced by organizations that make up greater Tucson’s animal welfare community is “fighting for the same money.” Locally, Scherl would like to see increased communication, collaboration, and “glue” between and among the rescues and shelters. Her philosophy is, “Why reinvent the wheel? Let’s work together.” In addition to financial assistance, Hope has a great need for more hands on deck in the form of volunteers, and they are actively recruiting foster homes so that they can help save more animals.

A recent positive development at Hope was the hiring of Shelter Director, Rory Adams, in August. Scherl said, “Rory is a godsend. More animals have been adopted out since he’s been here than in any of the months prior. He was at the top of my wish list.” With Adams in this newly created position, Scherl plans to focus her energy on fundraising to keep the doors open.

Adams is self-professed “total dork about animal welfare,” which he admits to reading about constantly. His love of working with animals began early; his mother, a physical anthropologist, “Let me keep all the animals I found as a child.” His first rescues were daddy long legs spiders, which he hid in his closet. He began working at a veterinary clinic at age 13, first as a volunteer, then as an employee until he turned 18 and went to college.

As a student at Antioch University, Adams found his passion for social justice, which he combined with his love of animals by working at a nearby animal sanctuary. Upon graduation, Adams worked as director of a dog daycare, which cared for 150-200 dogs daily. While managing the daycare, he became fascinated with dog behavior and positive training methods, and he utilized the daycare center’s extra space to start a dog foster care program.

When he decided it was time to graduate from doggy daycare, Adams went to work as a foster care coordinator at Maddie’s Fund (www.maddiesfund.org). He soon moved into the organization’s education department, where, among his many achievements, he was responsible for creating an apprenticeship program. The program developed funding and sites to enable shelter staff from around the country to study at 12 different shelters that were identified as having best practices in 24 distinct programmatic areas. The goal was to give staff exposure to these shelters, so that those staff could implement the best practices when they returned to their own shelters. In its first year, the program educated over 600 people.

Adams said that, while working at Maddie’s Fund, he learned that, “all solutions to problems are out there.” Truly a HOPE- filled outlook! He has many goals for his new shelter home. Among them are replicating the model of the No Kill group, Austin Pets Alive, here in Tucson. Adams’ first orders of business at Hope include performing a gap analysis to determine the characteristics of animals that are currently being killed in the local shelters and starting a program for Valley Fever afflicted dogs. He is committed to increasing Hope’s capacity through an active foster care program, which he envisions will at least double the number of animals the shelter can serve. He also hopes to quicken the turnaround for new animals, reducing the time they spend at the shelter by getting them placed in foster care or adopted.

Scherl and Adams have quickly developed what they dubbed a “work-husband-wife” relationship; she’s a cat lady, while he is a dog guy. Smiling, both talked about how they “bicker constantly, like an old married couple, but it is always from the heart.” Adams said of Scherl, “One of the things that’s amazing about Susan is that she handles these cats and dogs. She knows every single animal. No other Executive Director does that; she has a total love of, and compassion for, the animals.” Between the two, playing to the complementary strengths of one another, Hope’s future looks very bright.

As a proponent of positive behaviorism, the philosophical underpinnings Adams brings are in perfect keeping with Hope— he believes all animals deserve love and kindness. To achieve that level of care, Adams has implemented the use of positive behavioral training methods by all of Hope’s staff and volunteers.

This caring and com-passion extends to inter-actions with humans as well. Drawing upon his passion for social justice, Adams uses what he calls a “conversation-based adoption” method. As opposed to strictly adhering to a yes/no checklist when speaking with potential adopters, Adams works diligently to match pets with people by asking questions about the prospective adopter’s lifestyle, and providing information about the individual animals. He is an animal matchmaker! For Adams, “the best part of my job is teaching people different ways to care for their pets.”

One of the happier occurrences at any shelter is the return of a lost pet to its human. Jake, a friendly and outgoing dog was fortunate to call Hope his home for only a brief time before being reunited with his person.

The leadership of Hope Animal Shelter believes in the importance of transparency and maintaining accurate records. The shelter participates in the growing nonprofit initiative called Shelter Animals Count, to which Hope reports monthly statistics. These numbers are included in the aggregate data of US animal shelters. According to their website, Shelter Animals Count’s goal is “[through] standardized reporting and definitions for shelter statistics including intake, adoptions, return-to-owner, transfers, euthanasia and shelter deaths, we will increase live outcomes.” By sharing their numbers, Hope contributes to the betterment of the animal welfare community locally and across the country.

Nobel Prize winner biologist Francois Jacob once said, “It is hope that gives life meaning. And hope is based on the prospect of being able one day to turn the actual world into a possible one that looks better.” For the animals that call Hope Animal Shelter home, however briefly, the world definitely looks better and lives are given a safe place to have meaning.

For information on how you can become a foster pet parent, volunteer, and/or make a tax-deductible donation to Pima County’s oldest No Kill animal shelter, check out Hope’s website at: www.hopeanimalshelter.net, call 520-792-9200, or visit them at: 8950 N. Joplin Lane, Tucson, AZ 85742.

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