A Promising Start in Fremont Co Delivers Hope: An Interview with Douglas Rae

When we last checked in with the Humane Society of Fremont Co in Colorado, the place was a hot mess.  State inspections revealed that the facility was killing animals before their legal holding period expired using inhumane methods, including heartstick, performed by untrained staff, leaving sick and injured animals to suffer without immediate vet care, housing cats in cages that were too small and had mesh flooring, and using the surgery room as a cat intake/holding area as well as an isolation area for sick cats.  Local advocates were calling for a new director to bring reform.

Douglas Rae, director of the Humane Society of Fremont Co, with friend. (Photo courtesy Douglas Rae)
Douglas Rae, director of the Humane Society of Fremont Co, with friend. (Photo courtesy Douglas Rae)

On September 24, 2014, advocates’ efforts paid off when newly hired director Douglas Rae started on the job.  I recently interviewed Doug and learned that under his leadership, the HSFC is now saving nearly every animal in its care.  And it’s not being done at the expense of cats either since HSFC isn’t a participant in the War on Cats, choosing instead to reunite lost, friendly, outdoor cats with their owners or find them new ones if needed.  Feral cats are neutered and returned to their place in the community.  And the only time HSFC performs owner requested euthanasia now is when an animal is medically hopeless and suffering.

I asked Doug to describe his first day at the Humane Society of Fremont Co:

I was greeted with a large sign on the front door that said, “Welcome Douglas Rae To Our Shelter.” A volunteer was at the front counter when I walked in, he recognized me, and he greeted me straight away before I could introduce myself. I talked with this volunteer at the front counter for almost 30 minutes. This volunteer (and his wife) took me and Lynn (my wife) out to lunch on my first day.

After speaking with the volunteer that greeted me, I immediately went into the cat adoption room and introduced myself to every cat. “Hi my name is Doug, I’m getting you out of here.” After the cats, I had the same talk with every dog in the building. And then the rabbits. And then the cats in intake. It’s a ritual I do in every shelter on day one.

When the Board flew me out for in Interview in August, I spotted several changes that needed to be made. So I had noted many things I would address on day one if I were selected as the new director.

We had signage seemingly on every wall inside of the shelter. I took every sign on the walls down but one, the pricing structure, which I relocated to a better area.

In the front lobby, we sold urns, lots of them. To me, it looked like death with all of the urns on display. I understand why the urns were out for display, I simply didn’t want others to think what I did when they walked in the shelter for the first time. The last thing I want people to think is about is “death.”

So we moved the urns out of immediate eyesight, put nice pictures on the wall in the front lobby and the hallways, moved a couch with pillows into the lobby, added a giant and soothing waterfall in the front window. and made the front area look nice and homey We also started playing soft music and piped aromatherapy through the ventilation system in week one.

In fact, as I write this, over one hour after everyone has gone home for the night, not one dog is making a sound. Not one dog is howling or crying. Not one dog is barking. If dogs were barking tonight, the aromatherapy was not changed out from the previous day. Silence is golden in an animal shelter.

I have a volunteer willing to help us with easy yet potent protocols utilizing homeopathy, essential oils, flower essences, herbs, etc. There are several, easy-to-use remedies that can help calm, ease anxiety, and relieve stress for animals in a shelter. Diffusing oils in both the front area and the kennel area would be very easy and helpful as well.

Individual dogs will also receive homeopathy and other remedies that are good for them specifically – post surgery, digestive support, skin support, URI, UTI, lameness, wound healing, eye issues, arthritis, etc… and guess what, volunteers are all over this making it happen for the animals.

We made a lot of changes straight away because I have high expectations for how a shelter should look. But especially in Canon City, where the shelter had been under such scrutiny. Getting the building to where the community needed it was a priority on day one/week one.

I want the lobby to be warm and inviting. Heck, I want the entire building to be warm and inviting. For the month of October the shelter was decorated for Halloween. It was scary spooky in here. The day after Thanksgiving, Christmas decorations went up throughout the entire building. Including dog and cat cages. It was quite something to see.

Animal shelters need not look and smell like an animal shelter.

I filled a notebook on day one with things we needed to address. But I always do this in new jobs. A lot of notes were written that day.

Since no kill deniers often falsely claim that shelters can not be open admission without killing animals for population control, I asked Doug if HSFC was still contracted to provide animal control services:

Yes. We are contracted through Fremont County, CO and the cities of Canon City, Florence, Coal Creek, Williamsburg, Rockvale and Westcliffe, CO.

There were months of discussion of pulling the contract. Once my appointment was announced online, and after several people who wanted the contract canceled but were now advocating that the contract remain in place (after my announcement and one month before I started), the council decided to not pull the contract.

I also asked about the facility’s budget:

The combined per capita number for all cities and the county we are serving when I started was $1.07. We are still at $1.07. Though I desperately need more money to manage this shelter, I have not received more contract dollars.

Our donations decreased a good deal due to the shelter’s recent history and the medical expenses increased after my start, as we treat all animals requiring treatment, no matter how big or how small the bill (we do not have a vet on staff).

Although much ado is made by some animal groups about length of stay for shelter pets, Doug is not overly concerned with that number at HSFC and doesn’t track it:

Some people think an animal living in a shelter for longer than 7 days (or whatever that magic number is) should be moved out; I guess through the back door, but I don’t. Nor will I ever.

If we have to keep an animal for 30, 60 or 90 days to find that animal a home and ensure life, then we will. We kept two dogs for over 30 days because they needed to be kept together. They were adopted and are now alive in a loving family. Other shelters might have split up a bonded pair of dogs and adopted each individually, or worse, killed the animals if they couldn’t be placed within a designated time frame. Not here, ever. We treat all animals as individuals.

HSFC has been returning lost pets to owners at an impressive rate since Doug started:

We have a 37% Return to Owner rate in my 3 months.

We have a detailed list of lost animals at the front counter, we have a lost and found bulletin board in the shelter, we have a “lost animal found” Facebook page where strays are “immediately” posted online at intake, we scan for micro-chips on intake, we check the Colorado lost pets Facebook page to see if animals match any in our shelter.

We literally have had ACOs bring in a dog and the owner and dog were reunited in less than 30 minutes.

Adoption promotions run continuously:

October, National Shelter Dog Month: half price adoptions. Half price adoptions for rabbits. Half price adoptions for cats. November Adopt a Senior Shelter Dog month $25. Black Friday $25.00 adoptions.

Our shelter was incorporated December 26, 1950. Adoption prices this 12/26, and adoptions always on 12/26, will be $19.50.

Currently we are doing “Gas prices have dropped, and this week…so have our adoption fees for dogs!”

We are always doing something.

Doug attributes credit for saving almost every animal at HSFC to the so-called irresponsible public:

In October (my first month) we saved 93% of the animals, November 99% and December 100%, with a $1.07 per capita and close to being 300 operational hours short.

What we have accomplished over the last three months may not be noteable when compared to other shelters doing the same thing in other cities, but it is historic in this County. And not because of me. I am simply fortunate to be sitting in the drivers seat as this bus makes its way down the road to bigger and better things. My team has made everything happen and because of that teams efforts, Canon City is now on the national life-saving map.

I have never had such a committed and focused group of people saving lives before and I have had a few solid teams in the past. Volunteers from around the state of Colorado (and beyond) have reached out and asked me how they can help.

Volunteers drive two hours one-way to bring animals to a rescue. Volunteers have written a check for $900 to cover a cat’s dislocated shoulder, as quickly as they buy a cup of coffee in the morning (and without my even asking for a penny).

Volunteers raised $400 for a dog’s eye surgery in less than 24 hours (again, without my asking them to do anything). Volunteers completely manage my rescue program. Volunteers take and upload pictures of adoptable animals onto the website. Volunteers foster pregnant dogs, and bring back healthy puppies for people to adopt 8 weeks late. Volunteers save neonatal kittens when they need to be bottle fed by taking them into their foster home. And so much more.

Volunteers are the absolute foundation for what we do in Fremont County. I simply could not be prouder of this team. And really they seemingly were behind me on day one. Sure, I reached out to several people at the start, meeting everyone one-on-one, but folks that were not currently volunteering at the shelter embraced life-saving with little to no direction from me at all.

Rather than clinging to the old/failed ways, which we see so often in animal sheltering, Doug embraces change and sees it as an indication of progress:

If we are not changing, we are not getting better.

Thank you Doug for bringing hope to the lost and homeless animals of Fremont Co. Thank you to the animal advocates who campaigned for reform. And thank you to the irresponsible public for making lifesaving the priority at the Humane Society of Fremont Co. It would be hard to imagine a more impressive turnaround or a more promising start. I hope the future holds continued success.

40 thoughts on “A Promising Start in Fremont Co Delivers Hope: An Interview with Douglas Rae

  1. Have enjoyed reading this and wishing, somehow, our Mayor, could read this and follow Doug’s lead. THIS is possible at ANY shelter, when you have the right people taking charge! Thanks, Shirley,
    for sharing

    1. To be fair, this had no support from the board or local officials. This was a small group of dedicated people that forced this change over a year. You should send this to your mayor, and see if it resonates, but you gotta fight for it as the local advocates did to pressure a change in shelter management.

      1. Well said, Davyd! Thank you!! I was a very small part of a lot of people who truly CARE about the innocents….the animals that deserve the love they are meant to have. Thanks again, Debby

  2. So very nice to read such good and heartwarming things going on in a shelter of all places. Reading this, had I not known it was for a shelter, I could have easily thought this could be a facility for the elderly. Mr Ray and his ways are needed in every single shelter in the world. The worst should be first. Let’s start with MAS!

  3. Amazing what compassion and competence looks like! So glad that Fremont County got their fresh start with Doug! I’d love to see others follow where he leads…

  4. Oh holy cow. This is such a wonderful story. I wish he were looking to move to, oh, I don’t know, say….MEMPHIS? We need someone with vision like this.

  5. This story brought tears to my eyes….. but in a good way this time vs. the stories we usually read about regarding Open Admission shelters. The fact that Doug Rae manages an Open Admission facility, responsible for animal control in 6 cities and an entire county, and still transformed it from a facility Killing 50% to Saving 100% within a few months is truly amazing and awe inspiring.

    This is exactly what shelter directors are supposed to be; hard working, compassionate and dedicated to making sure that the shelter is a safe haven for homeless pets. I refuse to settle for anything less than Doug Rae’s clone in my city.

  6. God bless u Mr.Rae, I wish u could come to josephine county, Oregon you could really show the people that work there something.

  7. WOW! I am so impressed! Doug, that is so wonderful. I wish there were thousands more shelter directors like you.

  8. Thank you so much for stepping up for the animals at the shelter. We need more people like you in this world!

  9. I couldn’t be happier to have Doug here! I love his attitude and he WALKS HIS TALK!! I soon (2 days) will be starting volunteer “work”! I really don’t see it as work either and it is something I have always wanted to do; let each and every animal know that they are cared for, cared about and that each one matters…. I look forward to traveling this happy road, sometimes sad I am sure….when one gets his furever home and I have to say “See ya’ later”!! This is a wonderful article and I hope Doug decides he cannot bear to leave, ever!!

  10. We could definitely do with Doug here in our Victorian Shelters in Australia, it is so sad what is going on here. Please help us make our shelters learn there are better ways than killing our poor lost babies before owners even get a chance to find them.

  11. Open Admission and no-kill? The numbers don’t add up. Tragically there are simply not enough good homes for the dogs and cats that are born in this country. Open Admission shelters take in every animals, no matter what. No-kill shelters turn away many animals (often to suffer a fate worse than death). Let’s face the facts! We need mandatory spay/neuter laws to get to the root of the problem.
    Also “Black Friday” sales sound disastrous to me. Animals aren’t merchandise. And The day after Thanksgiving is not the most wise time to adopt.

    1. Painting with a pretty wide brush there, Holly. Before you decide what Doug must and must not be doing as a no-kill open admission shelter, how about you investigate his methodology?

      As for facing facts – mandatory s/n laws have not gotten to the root of the problem ANYWHERE they’ve ever been implemented. Instead, they tend to punish the poor and increase shelter killing.

      Sorry you don’t like black Friday sales – my local shelter had a surplus of black cats (hoarding case – 49 all inbred black cats from one household) and the black Friday sale was a great way to get some of them out of the shelter and into homes. We run “specials” all the time as a way to get the public interested in coming in to adopt!

      1. Even IF you don’t like some of his ideas…even IF…compare him to the nightmare shelter directors who are killing 75% of the animals placed in their care. I’m a huge believer in spaying and neutering, but we have mandatory spay/neuter in Memphis and it’s been a huge flop.

      2. Thank You for the previous comments to Holly. I know it is difficult to know a thing and how it works without actually seeing it. But yes, please investigate first! Thank You

  12. Hi,there.I am glad that nice people succed in saving 100%animal lives,in a shelter!Good job,Doug-ur attitude is wonderful!Maybe we need your inspiration here,in my country-Romania..
    We have a lot of people who adore animals and do more then their best to arange proper places,as shelters…But,sadly there is an animal-fobia also and a lot of the poor cats and dogs are killed by so-called takers from ecarisage-dog pounds.(The laws are interpretable and permisive for that.)THEY ARE BEASTS THAT TREAT ANIMALS AS OBJECTS …SADLY,DURING THE LAST TIME,BECAUSE OF A DRASTIC CAMPAINE OF BAD PUBLICITY ON ALL MEDIA CHANNELS,A LOT OF STRAY CATS AND DOGS WERE TAKEN FROM STREETS AND KILLED…MOTIVATION-NO ROOM ANYMORE IN SHELTERS,TO ILL,TOO OLD AND NO MORE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO ADOPT THEM(WE HAVE THE DISTANCE ADOPTION SYSTEM ALSO)!SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO FALSE..
    Well,this is it now here,in my country..But we -animal lovers are not in a small number and i hope soon we will succed changing the situatioin for the beneffit of our fur friends and for our joy,also!
    Good luck,Doug and all volunteers in your future activity and may never be in need for donation and not be able to found them to save animals!Thank you for what you do!


  14. wow we surely need so many more people with his determination and belief that No Kill is not some elusive goal… it is a reality if you choose to do it. No more excuses… just “make it so”

  15. When someone adopts an animal from your shelter, what kind of
    application do they fill out and do ya’ll check their references or anything ? Just curious if you feel like they are going to acceptable homes? In most shelters…anyone….can adopt ….it is cheap and sometimes the animal ends up in a bad situation again. What do you suggest to prevent this? I love what you are doing!! Keep up the good work!!

  16. Wow- Holly Pearson!! I think you are on the wrong thread and definitely the wrong page. PeTAs page is somewhere else… Find it and be amongst friends who like killing.

  17. It has been a remarkable transformation from beginning to end, and I am happy to have had a front row seat to witness it. This whole change would not have been possible without the dedication and conviction of a small group of people who finally got fed up with the old shelter management and an absent board of directors; anyone looking to make a change in your local shelter needs to understand it is YOU that makes these things happen! The pressure applied to local government officials and the shelter board was non-stop and constant, and got quite ugly at times. But to have ended up with Mr. Rae has made it all worthwhile!

  18. So happy that you have come to rescue these animals. Wish that we could have more people like you all over the world. We have so many people in our area that abuse animals Wish we had leaders like you to help educate these crazy people that animals have feelings also.

    1. I am so much more than happy that Doug decided to accept this position. Doug must have seen this as a challenge because I believe he is the kind of person that really likes to take on a challenge. This shelter fits that description, or I should say it did! Now, it is obvious that these animals here are ALL LOVED ! I truly hope Doug decides that this is the place he wants to settle down and stay! So many could benefit from Doug Rae’s love of what he does! The people that do so much there to help these animals, the Staff that works with the animals are the best.
      Fremont County’s Shelter is a place I am happy to send people to now. Thank you so much! I JUST recently began to volunteer there so I can say these things from a first hand point of view.
      In fact, I need to get ready to go in now! Thanks SO much for everything that has been done and continues!

  19. What an amazing story! Gives hope to some of us who reacue from high kill shelters. I would like to present this to the board of our local shelter but so little information is given in this article. On average, how many animals are taken in monthly or even yearly and what is the square footage of this facility? I’ve heard some about no-kill shelters but never any realistic plan to get there.

  20. It appears that the shelter featured only takes in approximately 200 animals per year. I wonder what advice he would give to a shelter that takes in 10,000 animals annually with 33 dog kennels, 23 small dog kennels, 23 cat kennels and 22 feral cat kennels. I’m not trying to belittle his work. I’m just asking for realistic advice on how to shift to a no-kill shelter when every month there are 800 – 900 animals coming in to the shelter. Last month there were over 70 puppies brought in to the shelter over a 5 day stretch and every single one of them made it to rescue but that is not the norm.

  21. Can someone explain the $1.07 per capita number he is citing? Looks like the county has some 43K residents, so the annual budget for the shelter is just $46,000? Since budget is such a big obstacle for so many shelters, I would love some clarification on how many paid staff they have, (guessing the building is already owned), and how many animals they take in. My last shelter served a similar population size, but received around 4,000 animals a year, so honestly, $46K would not have even paid minimum wage for poop scoopers, much less vet bills and outreach program costs. Any feedback would be appreciated!

    1. I received an email from Doug in which he addressed some of the comments. It reads, in part:

      I wanted to clear up any misconceptions posted on your site.

      Last year (2014) we took in 2200+ animals (stray, owner surrender, impounds), not 200, as someone claimed on your site. But I am not surprised she said “only 200”, since a faction always wants to invalidate life-saving.

      Moreover, my $1.07 per capita is based exclusively on “contract dollars” from the county and the cities & towns we serve. Per capita #’s, as you know, are not based on total budget dollars as someone else is claiming. Which means that we need to generate dollars from other revenue streams to fund our operations.

      The last thing I would ever do is play with the numbers or bury the truth from getting out there. If we only save 70% of the animals in June, I’ll report 70%. Just wanted to clear this up so you knew..…

  22. First of all, I said approximately 200. I based that figure on the chart in one of the links provided since my question wasn’t directly answered. I was told to go to that link to find the information myself. Secondly, name calling, when someone is genuinely interested in finding out how to turn a high-kill shelter into a no-kill shelter, is completely uncalled for. Unfortunately that is a common response from “the no-kill coalition”. The shelter I speak of is currently operating without a director because he was terminated. Instead of trying to belittle the people who are sincerely asking for assistance and information, why not lend them a hand?

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