In the latest Founding Member Feature Interview, learn more about Susan Houser, litigator turned animal welfare blogger & author!
Chapel Hill, NC
Out The Front Door
Tell us about you and your history in animal welfare.
SH: I’m retired and live in Chapel Hill. Before retirement, I was a litigator in the Department of Justice Civil Division in D.C. My first involvement with shelter animals was some 20 years ago when I started coordinating and driving transports. A few years later a friend and I founded a non-profit for the rescue and rehoming of dogs from puppy mills. I also volunteered in animal shelters, public and private, in the three cities I’ve lived in over the last 20 years.
In 2011 I started blogging about shelter issues, with a goal of identifying No Kill success stories to prove that it could be done. At that time we didn’t have a good list of No Kill communities. I started with maybe 10 or 20 leads, and within a year or two had a list on the blog of about 100 communities that were saving 90% or more of intake, and a spreadsheet with their statistics. In 2013 I started the Out the Front Door blog to provide in-depth analysis of what worked and what didn’t, and to identify and promote new programs and positive trends.
What are you most proud of in your career?
SH: I’ve written a book called Prodigal Pets that covers the history of animal care and control in the United States from colonial times to the year 2000. Researching the book changed my outlook on animal sheltering, and I hope it will give animal-welfare professionals a broader background for decision-making. The book is finally finished, edited, and copyrighted, and it will be published on my website, outthefrontdoor.com, in late August.
Name something related to shelters and animal welfare that you are super passionate about and want others to learn about?
SH: There are a couple of concepts that underlie all my work. One is that the best way to make progress in sheltering is for the private sector to take responsibility for lifesaving. This has proven to be true historically and it makes sense conceptually since the core duties of government run to people, not animals. The second concept is that we cannot separate the welfare of pet animals from the welfare of all animals. We will never be able to make a persuasive argument that dogs and cats should have rights unless we also argue that all creatures who are “subjects of a life,” as Tom Regan put it, have rights too.
As for shelter programs, I’m very excited about some of the new modes of sheltering that have sprung up just in the last few years. Four of the most important are (1) community cat paradigms, especially Return-to-Field, (2) large-scale transport, (3) managed admission (there are so many benefits to this), and (4) creating a culture of adoption. Other extremely important recent advances are (1) shelter medicine as a veterinary specialty, (2) using fostering to save kittens and large dogs, (3) the growth of fabulous apprenticeship and hands-on training programs, (4) turnkey shelter events like Clear the Shelters, (5) a new generation of shelter buildings designed to be community centers, (6) correcting negative images of feral cats and pit bulls, (7) quality-of-life improvements for shelter animals including catios and dog play groups, and (8) micro-targeting of zip codes that send the most animals to the shelter and then offering community outreach to help people keep their pets. This has all blossomed in the last 5 years. The progress we are making is astounding.
I’m also very excited about Maddie’s Pet Forum. To get to No Kill nationwide we need to reach all the small, rural shelters that have few resources and are really out of the loop. I think MPF is going to be crucial with that. Even people who have access to a lot of resources need a way to communicate that goes beyond social media and a couple of conferences each year. We’re just beginning to see what MPF can do and I’m watching it with great interest.
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to learn.
SH: Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time playing (or trying to play) the mandolin, going to jams, and listening to the many old-time and bluegrass groups in my area. I have to be careful to leave enough time for my animal-welfare work. If someone tells you that you’ll be less busy after you retire, don’t believe them.
Who is your “animal welfare crush?"
SH: There are so many great people in the animal-welfare field that it would be easier to name two or three dozen than one. The one person in animal welfare who has been the greatest inspiration for me, though, and who I have learned the most from is @Bonney Brown. She is amazing. Two others who have been great inspirations are Ed Duvin and Richard Avanzino. All three of these people had key roles in creating our No Kill movement.
Thank you for the interview, Susan! We appreciate ALL that you do to help increase understanding about animal welfare and the No Kill movement.
Have a question for Susan? Ask them in the comments below! And be sure to subscribe to her blog at OutTheFrontDoor.com