In case you haven’t already met her, we’re thrilled to introduce you to a long-time leader in the animal sheltering field, the ASPCA’s own Julie Morris, Senior Vice President, Community Outreach. Here, Julie talks about her early days as a kennel tech, the hallmarks of a great shelter, what the future looks like for the field, and a dog who changed her life.
Shelters’ Edge: What was your first job in animal sheltering?
Julie Morris: I started working in the shelter as a kennel tech at the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) in Ann Arbor, MI. My plan was to take a year off from graduate school, where I was enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Psychobiology, and I got a job at the shelter sight unseen over the phone—I’d never even been to an animal shelter! My plan was to re-apply to a different graduate school and bide my time at the shelter until the following fall semester.
Shelters’ Edge: What’s one thing about this work that you weren’t expecting?
JM: I had no idea my life would change drastically and I would be “sucked” into animal protection and be forever involved in the mission of saving lives. I wasn’t expecting that it would be so fulfilling and all-consuming. After almost ten years at HSHV, including several as Executive Director, I moved on to Michigan Humane Society in Detroit and then to the ASPCA in 1990.
Julie with Ed Sayres, ASPCA President and CEO
Shelters’ Edge: Tell us about your current role at the ASPCA.
JM: I’m the Senior Vice President of Community Outreach (CO). There are five departments under CO – the common denominator being “providing positive outcomes for animals at risk.” The departments are: ASPCA Adoption Center, Community Initiatives (works in the ASPCA Partnership communities, assists shelters around the country and administers shelter and equine grants), ProLearning (responsible for ASPCApro, ASPCA $100K Challenge, Shelter Research & Development), and the Community Outreach Program Office (affectionately known as COP) – the administrative arm.
Shelters’ Edge: Over the span of your career, what’s changed most for the animals?
JM: While many animals, primarily bully breeds and cats, are still in jeopardy, the numbers of animals euthanized has decreased dramatically. When I started, we had litter after litter of puppies (including purebreds) coming into the shelter and now, at least in some pockets of the country, puppies at shelters are a rare commodity. Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest for the trees, but we are making progress!
Shelters’ Edge: What’s changed most for the public?
JM: The public has become more educated and aware of animal issues including animal sheltering, spaying and neutering, vegetarianism, etc. This doesn’t mean there aren’t problems, but there is most definitely greater awareness.
Shelters’ Edge: And what’s changed most for shelter workers?
JM: I think shelter workers of today are wearing more hats—including using new technology and software, different cleaning procedures, emphasizing both mental and physical health, customer service (in past this was largely ignored), providing behavioral enrichment, and most importantly, being more flexible with the public and adoptions.
Shelters’ Edge: You’ve met—and helped to save—so many animals throughout your career! Are there any whose stories still stick with you?
JM: Countless animals have made an impact on my life and kept me going over the years. One was, of course, my first dog, Keisa, who was adopted during my first year at the Humane Society of Huron Valley. Her story began in the winter of 1978, when a garbage collector on his early-morning rounds heard a strange noise from inside a trash dumpster on Ann Arbor’s northwest side. Opening the dumpster to investigate, he found a cardboard box containing a litter of half-frozen, terrified, whimpering husky-mix puppies. Outraged, he brought the puppies into HSHV after his rounds were completed. We christened the puppies the “Fluffer Nutters” because after being bathed and brushed, they were the softest balls of fur imaginable. Every day, I found myself making several trips to the Fluffers’ corner of the shelter to spend time with them. One, a particularly outgoing female, I adopted!
She eventually outgrew her fluffiness and lived for runs in the woods and swimming anywhere at any time of the year. She found water almost anywhere we went and would gallop in and swim furiously, barking at the bubbles her movement created. She moved cross country with me when I came to work for the ASPCA and lived to 14 years of age until she died of bone cancer.
Shelters’ Edge: What are the hallmarks of a great shelter?
JM: Number one is having both passion and a sense of urgency for the important job they are doing. Never be satisfied with the status quo and continue to strive to do better and save more lives.
The basics, of course: clean and inviting facility, friendly, welcoming staff, active volunteer program, comprehensive medical program with vaccination on intake, behavioral enrichment for shelter animals.
Active programs should include comprehensive adoption program, affordable and accessible HQHVSN (High Quality High Volume Spay Neuter), foster care, feral cat TNR and work with rescue groups.
Shelters’ Edge: It’s no secret that burn-out and compassion fatigue are issues for those who work in animal sheltering. What’s the secret to your success in the field—and at the ASPCA?
JM: It’s an issue of balance. You need to care enough to put your heart and soul into the work you do, which leaves you vulnerable to compassion fatigue. But you also need to have a personal life, hobbies and interests (outside of animal protection) and be able to keep a balance. Of course, this is easier said than done and something I continually struggle with.
Shelters’ Edge: Now a silly one—what’s your theme song for the ASPCA Community Outreach department?
JM: This one is tough. I’d have to say the Addams Family theme song and “Shiny Happy People” by REM. They will probably offend everyone in Community Outreach, but it makes sense to me. ;-D
[Editor’s note: LOL. And we at Shelters’ Edge think that’s a compliment!]
Shiny, happy -- and kooky? -- with colleague Sam in New Orleans
Shelters’ Edge: What advice do you have for folks want to make a difference in animal sheltering and rescue?
JM: Get involved to the best of your time and ability and decide in advance what your limits are. Can you donate to your local shelter, volunteer your time, foster animals, or do you want a full-time career in animal protection?
Shelters’ Edge: What does the future look like for the ASPCA’s work in the animal sheltering field?
JM: The future is really exciting. I have seen lots of positive changes in my 30-plus years, and know there are still positive changes to come. I’m particularly excited that dogs and puppies in shelters are increasingly less and less at risk (with the exception of bully breeds). The ASPCA is leading the way in shelter research and development, exploring new methodologies that save lives and increase adoptions, RTOs, feral cat programs and spay/neuter efficiencies.
Please type any questions or thoughts you have for Julie in the comment box.