08 June 2015

Interview with Kelsey Birtch - Emerging Leader Scholarship Nominee

Do you believe that dreams come true?

Kelsey was born in New Westminster, British Columbia in 1986. Animals formed a big part of her life until she graduated from New Westminster High School in 2004. Around this time, she volunteered with the New Westminster Police Department in their Crime Prevention Unit and started working at a doggie daycare in Burnaby where she was responsible for upwards of 40 dogs a day. Concurrently, she attended Simon Fraser University from 2004-2010 and received her Bachelors of Arts Degree in Criminology. From there she moved onto the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as an Auxiliary Animal Care Attendant for the City of Vancouver and Maple Ridge respectively. In October 2014, Kelsey was recruited by the City of Vancouver as the first full-time Animal Services Licensing Liaison in British Columbia. Kelsey’s nomination may be found here.

InfoStream (IS): Your passion for animals is evident; tell us about how this came to be.

Kelsey Birtch (KB): I realized my passion for animals at the age of 11, when my mom gave me a Maltipoo/Shih-Tzu cross puppy for my birthday. Since then, I have continuously had at least 1 dog in the house and persistently begged my parents for more. I dreamed of owning a large piece of land where I could rescue surrendered, lost and neglected dogs. I used to tell my parents that I needed one dog of each breed and would always list out all my favorites. Dogs get my attention, I am the type of person who will stop their car and ask a complete stranger if I can pet their dog.  

IS: What in your history has taken you to where you are now?

KB: I became aware of animal welfare issues and the role the SPCA had in protecting vulnerable animals in high school. It was at that time that I combined my passion for animals with legal studies, believing I could make a difference. Through my past work and current Licensing Liaison position, many of my career goals have been fulfilled with more opportunities developing every day. I have been recognized by my manager as an emerging leader. Through his mentorship, I have been offered challenging assignments that continue to offer developmental opportunities. I believe the Jerry Aschenbrenner Scholarship would offer more opportunities to network and collaborate with industry leaders, which will further advance my career goals and skill-set. For the first time in my career, I am proud of the work I’m accomplishing and looking forward to the future.

IS: Can you tell us about your position as a Licensing Liaison?

KB: There are estimated to be over 150,000 dogs in Vancouver; however, the City only has 20,000 dogs licensed. The Licensing Liaison position is a new role with endless opportunities to leverage these licensing numbers. I am given the opportunity to be creative on finding ways to encourage licensing, and make it more accessible to the public. I assist with social media, marketing and community engagement. I am responsible for maintaining the data entry system to be sure all licensing records are accurate and in good standing.

IS: What is the current public perception of Vancouver Animal Services?

KB: Animal Services is mindful of the conflicting views on the management of animals within the City of Vancouver. With polarized views on the level of enforcement needed, we are attempting to accommodate both pet owners and everyone else in the city.  Animal Services is creating an Animal Management Strategy that will encompass specific guidelines and protocols to balance the needs of pet owners and non-pet owners in Vancouver. The goal is to promote responsible pet ownership and create public awareness of what the City of Vancouver’s Animal Services role and future priorities entail, including education, enforcement and rebranding. The goal of Animal Services is to break down the barriers associated with a “dog pound” and focus on the benefits of licensing and the ways in which we can ameliorate the public perception of what services we offer.

IS: What are the most critical barriers to dog licensing in Vancouver?

KB: Animal Services is in the process of creating a Citizen Survey to determine what citizens see as barriers to compliance. Currently, the most common response for not wanting to comply is that the public believes that licensing is a “pet tax”. Unfortunately, the main barrier for the City is a lack of education on how licenses are being allocated (including the shelter animals, educational programs and community engagement). If the City could increase our licensing numbers, then we can in turn generate more funds to provide these and many more programs. Dog owners want to see tangible benefits, and until the licensing numbers increase and more programs are created, this will be a hard feat to accomplish. Many dog owners just wait until they are approached by an Animal Control Officer before licensing their pet, unaware that if they are lost and unlicensed it makes it much more difficult to track down the owner.  If licensed, we could pick them up and deliver them straight to their front door for free.  97% of licensed dogs are returned quickly to their home.

IS: What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it all worthwhile?

KB: Every day is a different experience. It’s amazing to see the tears of joy when a lost dog is reunited with their worried owner or to see a shelter dog adopted out to their forever home. I have been given the opportunity to work alongside some amazing people in the industry; including my manager who is my mentor and allowing me every opportunity to increase my skill-set. I have been given a chance to create some powerful relationships to enhance the way in which we manage pets.

IS: What are your short and long term goals in changing the dog licensing landscape?

KB: My goal is to have the City of Vancouver dog licensing numbers and public response to our services be something other cities strive for, we want to be industry leaders in animal management. We want dog owners to get a licence because they know the benefits for them, their dog, and other dog owners. Once we have a social media page we will have a greater opportunity to reach out to the public as social media is a vital aspect when it comes to rehoming animals. Reaching out to property and strata managers to build a rapport is another goal of mine to start incorporating licensing into the high-rises in the downtown Vancouver area. Ultimately I would like to have licensing included in the owner and renter agreements so we can better track animals in buildings as this is where we believe licensing is lacking.

From the education aspect, we are looking at approaching the local community colleges and getting involved with the school board to start educating children on responsible pet ownership; we are looking at teaming up with other animal service groups to teach children how to choose the right pet, how to be a responsible pet owner and the commitments of owning a pet.

IS: What methods have you used to promote dog licensing?

  • Social Media via the City of Vancouver Facebook page
  • Updates to the Vancouver.ca/pets website to be more user-friendly
  • Bus poster advertisements
  • Updating brochures and handouts to be more educational than enforcement based
  • Building relationships with building/strata/property managers to licence and manage pets in buildings
  • Creating relationships with the canine facilities including the doggie daycares, groomers, dog walkers, dog trainers, rescue groups and veterinarians
  • Collaborate with Park Rangers to better manage the needs of off-leash dog parks
  • Collaborate with Recreation Centre Leaders to set up community engagement events to hand out promotional items such as leashes and waste bag dispensers that reward positive behavior

IS: You are involved in “re-branding” Vancouver’s Animal Services; how are you doing this and what is the goal?

KB: We are in the process of rebranding from Animal “Control” to Animal “Services” and hoping that by educating and rewarding good behavior rather than punishing we can encourage compliance. Our goal is to increase our licensing compliance rate through education and any other opportunity to spread the word of what animal services offers to the public to ameliorate the public perception that we are a service and information provider. We have already changed our brochures, website, and approach to focus and move forward providing education above all else prior to enforcement to give the public the benefit the doubt.

IS: Is there anything else we should know?

KB: Keep an eye out for a Vancouver Animal Services Facebook page as we are hoping to have one this year with lots of adorable adoptable dogs and small animals.

No comments:

Post a Comment