Creating a Culture of Collaboration in Animal Welfare
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Lisa LaFontaine

HUMANE RESCUE ALLIANCE

LISA LAFONTAINE

Creating a Culture of Collaboration in Animal Welfare

Like many who work in animal welfare, I started in a different industry. I began my career as the Director of Communications for a small insurance company in New Hampshire. Through a series of strategic alliances and mergers, that small insurance company grew into a national company with eight subsidiaries in 47 states. With every merger, we took the best elements of each of the companies, invested in their growth, and left the underperforming parts of each organization behind. The result was a stronger, more efficient organization that provided exceptional customer service.

When I made the leap to animal welfare, I was welcomed into a collaborative network of shelters facilitated by the New England Federation of Humane Societies. I was impressed with how organizations in the region shared resources and supported one another through challenges. In 2007, I accepted the CEO position at Washington Humane Society and I brought with me a nimble, entrepreneurial spirit along with a desire to build a collaborative, supportive culture among organizations in the National Capital Region.

Three years ago, I oversaw the merger of two very distinct organizations, the Washington Humane Society (WHS) and the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL). The result was the formation of the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA), the first unified organization in a major urban area to provide all the animal welfare programs and services to the community. Although the two legacy organizations had worked well together, during the process of merging we discovered we were duplicating efforts and there were gaps in critical services.

The merger allowed us to be more strategic by increasing efficiencies, reducing costs, and providing more comprehensive service to our community. Most importantly, as a larger organization with more resources at our disposal, we significantly increased the number of animals we were able to help. Now, as one organization serving the D.C. community, we have a much more intimate and holistic understanding of our community’s needs.

One of the first questions I received when we announced the name of our new organization in 2016 is why “Washington” was no longer part of our name. For us, the WARL/WHS merger was never a final-destination, it was the beginning of working more intentionally toward building a collaborative culture in animal welfare. At HRA, we believe that connecting areas in need with places of opportunity through animal transport and sharing of resources is the future of animal welfare. This guiding principle has taken on many forms for us, from welcoming animals from shelters around the country to providing support to under-resourced organizations that are striving to serve their communities despite limitations.

When I heard that Heather Cammisa, the CEO of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey, was planning to leave, my first thought was about how we could help preserve St. Hubert’s lifesaving work. Through spay/neuter, adoptions, keeping families together in their communities, and the WayStation program, St. Hubert’s is a nationally recognized leader in animal welfare. The WayStation program facilitates the transfer of animals from overburdened shelters in the U.S. to a network of destination shelters that have achieved great success. In just two years, the Waystation has grown to a network of 83 organizations in the U.S. and Canada that work together to save animals’ lives and invest in source communities.

One conversation with St. Hubert’s led to another, and we quickly realized that our organizations shared a very similar vision of building an alliance that includes transporting animals from overburdened shelters, but also providing support and resources to those shelters. A merger between HRA and St. Hubert’s seemed like a natural next step.

I have had the unique experience of serving as a CEO of both a source and a destination shelter and with this merger, we are committed to growing and expanding the WayStation program to strategically utilize our multiple campuses in the Mid-Atlantic to transfer more animals. This merger also presents the unique opportunity to bring together two very talented teams of professionals to further support source shelters and provide the resources they need to improve their operations. Just as the merger of two D.C. organizations facilitated better service to our community, we are confident that the merger of HRA and St. Hubert’s will allow us to consolidate our strengths to better serve all the communities we work in.

As with all major decisions, there is a bit of vulnerability in venturing into the unknown, but there are always small signs that show us we are on the right path. When I learned that St. Hubert’s custom-built transport vehicle was named “The Zephyr” I knew that was a sign. My beloved grandfather was named Zephyr—named after Zephuros, Greek God of the western wind-a wind that carries us into new destinations.