For most of its 145-year history, the Michigan Humane Society was best known for sheltering abused and abandoned animals. Today, the state’s oldest animal welfare organization has adopted a shorter name — Michigan Humane — and a bigger mission: to make communities safer and healthier for pets and their owners.
Free Press editorial page editor Brian Dickerson asked Matt Pepper, president and CEO of Michigan Humane, how his organization hopes to make southeast Michigan a more pet-friendly place. and people:
Brian Dickerson: Most people assume that your organization was founded to protect animals from neglect and abuse. But that wasn’t his original mission, was it?
Matt pepper: Our mission has always been to save lives. We began our work in Detroit in 1877 to protect women and children from domestic violence – and horses, which at the time were far more urban than we realize today.
Over time, we evolved into an organization that was widely seen as a voice for animal companions, but we never lost sight of the other end of the leash. We have always been connected to the needs of pets and humans.
BD: Have you always operated as an animal adoption agency, or did you start out as an orphanage?
deputy : Pet adoption has been part of our business for nearly a century. In 1925 we bought property in Detroit and opened our first shelter. We now operate four in southeast Michigan.
BD: Many people think that any animal that leaves your shelter with a new owner is a victory, and any animal that needs to be euthanized is a loss. But you said that’s not a reasonable way to measure your success. Why not?
deputy : Every animal in our care will always receive the highest level of compassionate care and service, and unless they are in irreparable harm or truly dangerous, they all find a home.
Change is within the scope of our work. We must consider every animal in the community, whether in our shelter or not, as our responsibility. Our work should be measured by community impact, rather than just shelter results.
Historically, our story would be that a dog would come to us broken. We would provide care and rehabilitation. Then a family would adopt and that would be the happy ending of the story.
But the real impact is what happens after that moment. How has this animal changed the life of the family? How was this animal’s life enhanced by being part of a family?
BD: We’ve all seen the sticker with the paw print that asks: WHO SAVED WHO? The message is that rescued animals bring as much love and comfort to their new owners as their new owners provide. But you argue that the benefits of owning a pet go beyond that.
deputy : There is a direct correlation between pet-friendly practices and quality of life and the environment in Metro Detroit. Studies have shown that pets can play an important role in our emotional health and physical activity. Pet owners are more active, which brings people outdoors and together. Active communities are healthier and safer. The economic impact pet owners have on the local economy and what animal-friendly practices do for a workforce cannot be underestimated.
The pets we share our lives with should be part of any conversation aimed at improving people’s quality of life, and a pet is only as healthy and safe as the family it lives with and the community in which it lives. he lives. Part of the fight here is equitable access to safe and welcoming spaces for pets. We need to make sure the benefits of pet ownership and pet-friendly practices are available to everyone.
BD: How does emphasizing the benefits to the human community work for the neglected pets that have always been your focus?
deputy : The best place for a pet is at home, and keeping pets with their families is cheaper and more effective than sheltering them. We know that animals are abandoned, or rather people feel compelled to abandon their pets, due to the cost of medical care, lack of access to pet-friendly housing, behavioral issues. We believe these problems can be solved.
Working in the community, keeping pets and families together, reduces the burden on the shelter system by keeping them out of the shelter to begin with. That said, sheltering animals will always be part of who we are. This community focus allows us to expand our ability to provide essential veterinary care and other related services to those entering the shelter.
BD: Child welfare agencies are increasingly focusing on keeping abused or neglected children with their parents, on the grounds that educating and supporting imperfect parents is generally more effective — and more cost-effective — than trying to place their children with foster parents or a new “forever home”. Is that essentially the conclusion you’ve come to about neglectful pet owners and their pets?
deputy : We view every situation as an opportunity to improve an animal’s life.
It is important to note that cruelty and neglect exist. Removing an animal is always a possibility in these cases – and it is the right decision. But there is a difference between not caring and not knowing. If someone does not know, we can teach him.
If you were to ride with our cruelty investigators, you would see that the majority of their work involves education, connecting people to resources, and building relationships in the community. Most people want to do what’s right for their pet, no matter their situation, and all they need is a little help.
BD: You’re preaching to the choir when you tell me about the benefits of an animal-friendly workplace. But some of my colleagues are skeptical that my dog could bring anything valuable to the Free Press newsroom. Give me some ammo, please.
deputy : Try being stressed around a dog. It’s impossible!
Studies have shown that workplaces that allow pets are more productive and have higher overall morale. Every generation values pets more and more, and this next generation of leaders not only wants a pet-friendly environment, they demand it. And they make life choices – who to work for and where to live – based on those factors.
The past two years have been incredibly stressful, and we’re all trying to figure out the best way to navigate it. Your colleagues or staff feel the same stress, and allowing pets in the workplace is a proven way to help people feel safer and more supported.