washington humane society
SHELTER OF THE MONTH
We recently spoke with Stephanie Shain, Chief Operating Officer for the organization, about their views and experiences in developing and enhancing their plant-based policy.
Has WHS always cared about farm animal issues?
We were founded in 1870, and like many organizations of that time we focused mainly on dogs and horses. Eventually, the organization came to have responsibilities for prevention of cruelty to women and children as well.
How did your animal friendly menu policy come about?
WHS had an unofficial vegan and vegetarian policy for several years. That was driven by a few key individuals, although wasn't a consistent policy and therefor wasn't always followed and really changed depending on who was making the decision related to food on a certain project or event. In 2014 we wanted to make it official by changing our Board-Approved policy related to what WHS spent donor dollars on when it came to food offerings.
How have your staff/volunteers/supporters and the Greater DC area taken to the veg menu policy?
We haven't had much of a response from anyone, which we actually consider a positive outcome. We have had some people, especially at smaller events and meetings, who pushed back against the food policy, but really only a handful. For those people, we explain the reason behind the policy and ask that they understand the perspective, and they do. The key is to ensure you aren’t making people feel that they are being judged. It also gives us an opportunity to talk about the wide variety of species we provide care for – many people think only of companion animals, but Washington Humane Society cares for species of all kinds.
Why do you feel it’s important for shelters and rescue groups to adopt such a policy?
At WHS, we provide comfort and care to any animal who comes through our doors or is in need in our community. That includes a regular flow of chickens, but has also included goats and pigs. For us, it really comes down to consistency.
We feel it is ethically inconsistent to work to save and care for animals of a certain species who come through our door but eating other animals of those same species who weren't so lucky.
It’s an important message that shelters can share with their supporters, without making anyone feel that they are being lectured.
We have several major events each year: Sugar & Champagne, Fashion for Paws, the Bark Ball, and our Walk for Animals.
Your 28th annual Bark Ball, a significant donor event, is quickly approaching. What can attendees expect?
Lots of fun, great food, and dogs! We are in the middle of tastings right now for our sit down dinner. Last year we went Italian with vegan sausage and pasta with delicate vegetables. Dessert was a poached pear, which was delicious, but I’m hoping for chocolate this year!
Many shelters are reticent about changing to a plant-based menu, fearing that donors may not continue to support the organization if meat isn’t on their dinner plate. What’s been your experience?
That has not been our experience. Some people feel they haven't had a meal if they aren't eating some sort of animal or animal product, and that can be tricky when that is a donor paying to come to an event.
We are careful to explain why our policy is what it is without making someone feel judged.
We are grateful to them for their support, and we want them to feel happy (and full!) with their experience with us. We work hard to ensure our supporters are getting a great, filling meal at our dinner-style events, and that the hors deourves are heavy and delicious at our other events.
We have found that the vast majority of people understand why we made the change.
Is it more commonplace to find animal welfare organizations interested in this topic of green or animal-friendly food policies?
Animal welfare may be leading the charge not to serve animals or animal-derived food products at events, but there has absolutely been a shift towards having great plant-based food at events of all kinds. I've seen great changes coming at events that are focused on green space in cities, at water-quality and river focused non-profits, and even at human welfare focused events.
I imagine that change is a mix of being mission-driven decisions - that groups who are working on anything related to the environment see how positively plant-based foods support that work - but also simply demand. Delicious food isn't enough anymore - people want delicious AND good for them.
Any advice for shelter directors or event planners that may be on the fence about adopting an animal friendly menu policy?
Do it! Make your change, explain it clearly, and make sure you are being uber-respectful to your donors for whatever choice they make in their own lives. Being judgmental only hurts your effort.
Animal Place has a strong adoption program of our own, particularly with the massive hen rescues we do. We'd love to showcase one animal that you’re looking to foster or adopt out and hope our supporters might be able to help find a forever home. Can you tell us about one companion animal you’re trying to place?
Hi! My name is Duncan and I am a three-year-old bundle of sweetness. My owner could no longer care for me, so I really need a new home and family, and the sooner the better. You will find that I am friendly, well behaved and very easy to handle. And, I have many years of love and friendship to give you. It would be great if you would come to visit me. And then, you can see, up close and personal, what a handsome and charming young fellow I am and maybe even take me home with you.
As a Hidden Gem, I get my very own volunteers who spend extra time with me and work with me on basic training needs. That way, I’ll be extra ready to settle into my new home! And, because I’ve been here a little bit longer than my friends, staff have had the opportunity to get to know me really well, and they will gladly answer any questions you may have about me. As an extra “thank you” for considering taking me home, my adoption fee has been waived*!
*Standard adoption procedures apply. Learn more about the adoption process here.