Even Great is Not Enough

To Josh Cromer, good enough is not good enough. In fact, to Josh, a great job is not good enough because he believes that if you are not improving, no matter what, you’re stagnant. And for the animals, that attitude is not just a good thing, it’s great. When he was hired by the Humane Society of Henderson, Kentucky, he inherited a staff reliant on killing and an agency which killed roughly half of all animals. He was told that was just the way it had to be. After all, the Humane Society of Henderson, Kentucky runs animal control for the county.

But that answer didn’t satisfy Josh, who believed the shelter could be better and set out to prove it. Today, the county has a 95% save rate, very near tops in the nation, making Henderson County the third No Kill community in Kentucky. If you think Josh is resting on his laurels, you’d be wrong. As he says, he wants “to take it to the next level.”

Nathan J. Winograd: What was the shelter like when you got there?

Josh Cromer: I was hired in October of last year, and came into a shelter that everyone had told me was riddled with controversy. When I got here, about half of the animals were being killed.

NW: Were the staff supportive of what you wanted to do?

JC: No. Anytime I tried to come up with solutions, I was told “but we’re full” or “We don’t have room.” For me, space shouldn’t be a factor on whether to save an animal or treat a sick or injured animal. The only thing that should matter is whether the animal can be saved. In short, they were “old thinking” and I wanted “new thinking.” So I had to start over and I had to do it fast, because any delay meant animals were going to die unnecessarily. I replaced every employee except one.

NW: When I ran the shelter in Tompkins County, I had to replace most of the staff and in Reno, only three of the original 60 staff members were allowed to remain. That seems to be a pattern.

JC: Yes. We can change the number of animals dying in the shelter by getting them to rescue and getting them out to adoptive home, but that requires getting a team of people together who have the same goals and the same view of the shelter as we do. So far, we’ve increased the number of animals going to rescue by twofold—and threefold if you look at 2010. We’ve also increased adoptions. It just takes a little work—not that much.

NW: You say it isn’t that much work saving 95% and most shelter directors claim it is too hard to save half of them. In some communities, they are killing 99% of them. I take it you rarely throw up your hands and say “there’s nothing we can do.”

JC: I refuse. At one point we had seized over 30 dogs and we had them in wire cages so we didn’t have to kill them and continued to do the daily task of saving them one at a time. I have a diverse background. I have a degree in Business Management and a Master’s in Emergency Management/Homeland Security. I spent seven years as a police officer. If you gave up in business or during an emergency or as an officer, you’d lose money, you’d lose people’s lives. Why should it be any different with the lives of animals?

NW: So if getting the right people is the most important thing, what comes next?

JC: Working with the community. We send animals to rescue, we hold offsite adoptions, we contact the news almost every single week to let them know about the things we’re doing. And the community supports what we’re doing. People don’t want to see animals die.

NW: I read that local Boy Scouts are helping improve the cat room, including adding shelving, building elevated walkways and installing a window. I also read that Home Depot is planning to send workers to provide new landscaping and do other work on the shelter. How else has the community stepped up?

JC: Adopting for one. We’ve increased the number of animals adopted. People need to see that shelter animals are beautiful animals; they just come from bad beginnings and it’s not their fault. We’ve also increased the number of animals going to rescue groups. We have a few core volunteers who are very dedicated and always ready to go [and] lots of others who help in other ways. One of our volunteers, Karen Wilson, painted the rooms in the front part of the shelter. She completely remodeled the front half of the shelter.

NW: What is the shelter itself like?

JC: The shelter was built in the 1960s so it is pretty outdated, but we’ve made some improvements with the help of the boy scouts, Home Depot, volunteers and others. We added a new free-roaming cat room with cat trees, scratching posts, tables, beds, and lots of toys. The cats are way less stressed because they’re not in cages. They get to socialize and be around other cats. It’s very ambitious but I’d like to have either a completely remodeled or new building.

NW: You’ve proved saving 95% of the animals doesn’t require a beautiful new building, but I agree that improving it will make it better for the animals and better for the people and easier. More runs are always good. But given that you do not have that and you’ve been so successful, you should feel pretty proud.

JC: We’re rocking, but I want to do better. I’d like to establish a more active relationship with all of the veterinarians in town. It would be nice to get all of them on board to help us out and be another option for us to work with. I just want to save more animals.

NW: A 95-96% save rate puts you at the top of the nation and the third No Kill community in Kentucky. What’s left?

JC: I want to take it to the next level. I want the shelter—if animals do have to come here—to be a stop on their journey to a better home. For all of them. I don’t think the shelter should be a place where animals come to die.

NW: Amen.

Learn more about Josh by clicking here.


Support the Humane Society of Henderson (KY) by clicking here.


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