Elena Battles, Shelterluv
In getting. You turned into the community cats podcast ready. Let's cal. Welcome to the community cats podcast. I am your host. Stacey lebaron. I have been involved helping homeless cats for over twenty years with the Merrimack river feline rescue society. The goal of this podcast is to expose you to amazing people who are improving the lives of cats. I hope these interviews will help you learn how you can turn your passion for cats into action today. We're speaking with Elena battles Elena has been working for animals since nineteen ninety nine the year. She found Trini the wonder beagle. Her shelter and rescue work has taken her from rescue volunteer adoptions manager in Texas to shelter manager. And Florida to chief operating officer of humane society Silicon Valley in California, she received her MBA from Stanford graduate school of business in two thousand and four now she works at shelter love, which allows her to provide the technology. She wishes she had access to when she was working in shelter operate. She especially loves the opportunity to be a no-nonsense source of advice for her colleagues today. She lives with her two legged family and Nora. The cattle dog shepherd who is the most well mannered and best looking of the group Elena. Welcome to the show. Thanks so much as it's great to be here. So you gave us a little bit of background in your bio here. But what was it that really tipped you to work with animals and to really be passionate and focus your career around animals. Gosh, it really was trendy. You know, I've found a stray dog, and she changed everything for me. It's I'm sure that's something that a lot of your listeners have experienced as well in. How many of us got into animal welfare was one animal. I was a physical therapist at that time. I had been doing physical therapy for about eight years and came home from work, and there was a stray dog in the parking lot of my apartment complex. And so I went through that process with her trying to find her owners taking her to the local animal services to make sure. That if someone was looking for her that they could find her and then learning that they didn't want her back in the docking her as I went through that I was real wakened to the problems of animal overpopulation at that time in the late nineties, what was happening in our shelters, and I thought well, I can really help here and I wanna help. And that's what started the journey. I started volunteering to make sure that I really wanted to do the work. And I did I loved it more every day felt like being of service every day that I went in and training with me for fifteen years after that every step of the way shoes pretty special shoes responsible for a lot of change in my life. I'm really grateful for that. So tells like you have a passion for animals, but you also have a passion for technology. Did you develop that passion when you were at Stanford getting your MBA? I think my passion around technology comes from generation X person who is who's getting used to the way the world is changing so quickly. You're not being a native to phones and apps and all these things. And having been in a position in my work life to not have access to the data that I wanted and being not quite sure how to use it to drive my decisions. So that's really what made me excited about the tools that are available to people today working in operations in animal author because that work is so complex. It's not just about taking care of animals, right? As many people think when they're thinking about sheltering in rescue. It's so many complex nudity issues that you're dealing with and complex medical issues with animals and all sorts of things and the tools don't really have to be that complex. It's just the work. That is so now I'm excited to help people make the work easier get out from behind the computer, and and be able to get in front of people and animals more. I'm gonna wear the hat of an old school rescuer of it who has had the system that has worked for years. Sure. And if it ain't broke don't fix it. Why would I want to change my system? I guess I'll give. A step up. There are some organizations that still do everything just with pen and paper organizations as well as individuals. And then there's also the group that love excel spreadsheets just stay with those excel spreadsheets or maybe go into Google docs, a little bit. But why should I take that? Next step. I will say that. I agree with that question. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Because if it's something that truly works for the organization in for the folks that are doing the work than don't change just because there are shining new tools out there. However, what I've learned is that people do often start looking for something more, and they are sort of feeling uncomfortable with the way that they are tracking things, and that's really what starts them on this journey of should I look for software. I like to give folks chance to think of things in the three questions is sort of where to start because often we think about all the features that software has, but really when we're thinking about change or potentially making that change really starts with some questions about our own organization number one. Asking what's the most important thing to us as an organization that sounds obvious. But it's not always right? So this is the date broke part. Are we at steady state? Are we fine? Do we have the information that we need now to make decisions? Or is there more that we wanna do more that we wish we could do or more tracking wish we could do. And I've learned along the way that we will always do more work, and we value our time at the bottom of the pile. Right. The animals come first the people that were serving our right there. Also are volunteers our staff. Everybody else comes first in value, the time it takes us to do something at the bottom about pile. And I really encourage folks to as they're thinking about that. What do we do? We wanna grow. Can we keep doing things the way that we're doing them and also reach our goals? And then I'd like to ask people to think about this assistant that we're looking at fit armies today or today and tomorrow as we grow, and that's another important consideration. Because sometimes we wanna add new programs. We know we're going. Adnew pieces as we as we get bigger and have more resources than we wanna make sure that that a tool could accommodate that. Whether it's a tool that we're using that we've built through excel or Google docs, or at our own homegrown system or something that we get from a provider. And then the third question is something that we all think about which is what the cost right? The suction is everyone has a tight budget that is a given. So it's really important for us to think about what the setup costs are for any software that we bring were thinking about what are the ongoing costs. And how does that compare to what we are? What's what's it costing us? Now, even if it's a free tool or something that we've already built in our staff time or volunteer time great question, so three just very small questions. Right. One thing that I used to always worry about in taking steps with new technology was how long is this going to stay with us. Are we gonna lose her data at the macrey feeling rescue society? So we did paper than we were. Into XL for awhile. Then we went into file maker for awhile yester-, a long long time. And that was a period where we skipped all the upgrades. So we stayed with the same thing for a long time. And that was because I was bound and determined to have one software package for everything. So I wanted my donors adopters surrenders eilly wanted to type one name once was my thing. I was in charge of data entry as well as being in charge of fundraising an operations, and everything, you know, who's in those early days when you're in charge of everything if you do it all you don't wanna type stand Smith ten times lives wanna do it once. And so that's why I had gotten into foam acre, and I felt like, oh, well, I can design something that works for everything. And then we moved into other systems that tied in with microchips, and in that kind of thing, and then we went to another sort of homegrown system with quick base back on my determination to be an all in one system. Because we were cat group to when we found a lot of the software packages, really weren't very friendly to kenley organizations. There were so many fields. We had to get rid of that only pertained to dogs and also like animal control services in all of that stuff. So maybe using shelter love as an example. You know, how does the software work with our various niche type organizations in is it flexible, or what would you recommend as an adviser technology advisor to group that may not be more of your traditional organization, but more Nici or unique doing ten our foster air fundraising small organization hundred thousand dollars a year. What would you what would you recommend just sort of thinking outside of the box there? So that's a great question. Because like you said as we grow we have so many organizations now there are able to focus on one type of animal or one piece of animal welfare and not have to do everything necessarily. And so one of the things that I've learned as I've learned more about. Software. Specifically is that there's this concept of configure ability versus customisation, I'm going to get into the weeds a little bit. But I think it'll be helpful. So configure ability means that you can change something to fit your needs it will flex but the data structure stays the same with. That means is we're gonna put something in you can trust. What you get out. Right. We probably all heard that garbage in garbage out. Right. When it comes to software. And so we don't want that. Because you're gonna take the time to put information in. You wanna get usable information out and customisation is something that does allow folks to change that structure that underlying data structure and can unless you have a really sophisticated data engineer or someone that's really great data on your team. It can be a little more challenging to trust. What gets spit out on the other end of the reporting. And so on that love, we do take the configure ability route. And that's what allows us to serve a wide variety of customer. So we have organizations using that are. TR focused or transfer focused. Right. Not adoptions. They're they're really moving animals out to transfer all the way to the other end of the spectrum where there's folks that are doing eight to ten thousand adoptions a year. So that configure -bility really allows for that range of customers. And what that means really goes back to that. First question that we started with in our three questions, which is what is most important to us as an organization. So if I'm talking to someone like you who really knows what you need from any sort of product like I need to be able to get information out if we switch or do something in the future. How would that happen or I have donors? I wanna be able to track them has that work in your system. Or does it work in your system? Then we have all those conversations up front. So we know what your priorities are. I think that in the bigger picture of we kinda go up to that thirty thousand feet and look at technology as a industry as animal welfare that there is a ton of room for improvement there. Right. I think of it in a similar vein to healthcare. Where there's so many specialties, and you have to have system that allows for those specialties, but also a patient is moving from one place to another to another, and they don't want to write their name down twenty seven times when they have different appointments that here there everywhere. Right. The challenge without of course, is that it's really hard to be good at everything. So their specialties in fundraising specialties in accounting specialties, in in medical tracking what I've seen happening as an industry is that animal welfare readers are getting together and talking about how we manage data as big groups, and how information can be shared more quickly and in the right way to protect privacy in portent ways that we need to protect privacy for both organizations and their customers in their donors. But also be able to share information when needed for transfers and other things that that can be seamless in digital. And so what we're trying to figure out now or trying to do is replicate look at some of these industries like healthcare and how they've done it and make that happen. So. Oh that there are two different systems. They can speak to each other, quote, unquote, speak to each other in the right way. Which makes it easier for you as the person using software and also all the back end stuff works. There's the magic that happens there. I call it the magic it's actually really smart engineers if you're all that out. But that's where I see us going as an industry, we can get there. It'll take some time, of course. But you're right. It's very important because the groups and our consumers need it customers don't care about the back end stuff. They just wanna be able to adopt an interact with shelters and rescues in have it easy for them. Today's episode is sponsored by space. Kitty express your one stop shop for exotic cat drugs. Everyone's heard of catnip, but what about Valerian root -tarian honeysuckle or silver vine space. Kitty express specializes in offering these hard to find catnip alternatives. Both in their herbal form and stuffed into a variety of usable toys, their herbs are one hundred percent pure, not like those quote, unquote, catnip blends you might find in a pet store. There are -tarian honeysuckle would is cut fresh and kept frozen to lock in citrusy sent their silver vine exudes a menace that tingles nostrils their organic Larry route is so Muskie that they've had to blend it with organic lemongrass. So that human noses can tolerate it. Cats can definitely tell the difference between these quality herbs and that stale catnip from the big box store, visit space kitty, express dot com and watch videos from satisfied feline customers use coupon code community. Cats all one word at checkout to receive ten percents off your purchase that. Space. Kitty expressed dot com with coupon code community. Cats doesn't your cat deserve the best spoil them today at space kitty, express dot com. Pro vet logic based in Scots, bro, Alabama provides educational support and product solutions to professional pet care providers and pet parents throughout the country as a licensed veterinary medical continuing education provider, pro vet logic provides a variety of educational tools designed to help care providers. Create a cleaner and safer environment for both the cats in their care and the care providers to learn more about pro vet logic. Please visit WWW dot pro vet logic dot com or call eight hundred eight six nine four seven eight nine. Another question that always will come up to is expense. I can't consider software because it's going to be just incredibly expensive. Is that true? No, not true. So one of the good things about there being a lot of options available that there's a wide range of choices for folks. And so I feel confident that if someone wants to find the right software, they're gonna find something that fits their budget. And that's where when I'm talking with folks giving advice when I talk about cost. It's it's about the mechanics of the cost. I is it per user per station is it in the cloud is annually or by month, or how what are those charges are there setup charges sometime softwares free. And then there's a maybe a requirement to purchase certain products or something from that software provider to make up for that free cost. So it's just looking at the whole picture. So that the consumer can be really informed on what their total cost is. And also balancing that against any time saved by using software versus doing things by hand or in their own system. And so that's the the first piece of. Of like to think about it. You have to go level deeper, right? Just direct costs. But it's also what the indirect costs might be. And what and what you're paying? Now. That's the good news. Again, shelters rescues of all sizes all budgets be able to make it work. We always say here. We don't wanna let cost in a way of people using a tool that they think will promote their life saving programs. So we're going to find a way to make it work. And and I think that's something that folks should have in mind when they start looking that there's going to be an action there for them about a month ago. We had the online cat conference in. We had Chris ROY do presentation on transplant. This is great yet do Bert dot com. And he was very clear to mention that shelter love against we say what speaks to the site. So I think that's great that there's compatibility. I don't know if you have anything more share on that. But it sounded pretty cool. I love what Chris doing. And I think it's incredible. What he's been able to build as a human being at his house creating this tool and building it to what it is today. It's saved a lot of lies and made transport in life. A lot easier for the folks on the ground, and that's really his incredible guy. Been so impressed with him. You're right at shelter. We really try to get we're not gonna try to be experts in transport because we haven't expert out there in that's Chris in. So the ability to make this connection with Dubar allows folks that use those services to make the logistics easier. So they can focus on the people in the animals in frost, really what it's all about does shelter love interact with any other software packages. We do we wanna give people choice around things like microchips. So we have auto uploads to the big microchip companies to make. Things easier. So that don't have to always do that manually to our big adoption aggregated pet finder. Adopt a pet rescue groups and as well as bird. It's really our customers that drive that that will tell us. Hey, we really use x and we would love to see you connect with them. That's how we get our product feature upgrades. It's really customer driven which is one thing that I love about shelter loved one of the benefits of just being a software company in quotation marks. Because as I said it takes enough work to make rates off winter. That's our sole focus is a really hard job in. We love doing it. But we then are able to connect with other software that our customers recommend to make things easier for them rather than built at ourselves or trying to run a separate companies. Are there any specific features of shelter love that you would like to share with our listeners today will I'll tell you what our customers love is. They're the ones out there using every day and number one they love our medical tracking built by. Shelter veterinarian trained at Cornell who actually has fulltime shelter vet she's gone back. Tebas took a little time to to build this module in design it for with the shelter rescue environment in mind, but is still living the operations of being a high volume clinic, which people tell us they can really see in how easy it is to to us. And I would say that's the other. The second piece is that ease of use that we get great feedback from our customers on we recognize that we have a wide variety of volunteers and staff that use systems and track animals and help us out during the day. And so we want shelter love to be as intuitive and easy to use as any of the apps that we use on our own our own home, use right? Nobody has to come and train us how to use Email. Although I kind of sometimes wish that somebody would come train meals some of these things, but I think that it's something that's intuitive. And we get great feedback about that that all types of people with all types. Of comfort level, not in technology are successful to use it. And then the third piece that folks love that's relevant for people who use do adoptions is that we allow we have a process where customers can check out while they're at the shelter or the adoption events or wherever they can check out and do all their adoption contract on the mobile phone and customers love this adoption counters love it because we're no longer having to print out forty seven pieces of paper and having people sign them. And instead it can be all digital. And then when the person gets home, and they can finally remember it now what that person tell me I was supposed to do. Or when that vaccine was was do. I don't remember because I was at my kitty cat in the carrier in my kids were running in four different directions. It's Ogle easily accessible to them. I so that's been in addition to those other two pieces the mobile Dopp Shen feature we get great feedback on. So folks were just in finding out more about shelter love or reaching out to you with any questions that they might have about making that critical leap into the. Rome of software. How would they find you? I'd love to talk to people, and I should give them with the caveat that they should feel totally comfortable. I'm really fortunate. I've been given a lot of freedom here. Sometimes I recommend shelter love. And sometimes not if it's not the right fit. Then that's absolutely, okay. It's important to have a resource to go to and just get real advice. And that's what I'm here for Elena at shelter. Love dot com. Shelter. Love is L U. These that's important to know. We can find me on our website to WWW shelter, love dot com. And usually at conferences as well. Still will have a table at the HFS US expo this year will be at conferences well summer lane. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners today? Just thank you. I know how hard it is when you're grinding every day at no hard. The folks listening are working, and I'm so appreciative of that work at any way that I can help I want to excellent I have to say this show, probably dovetails quite nicely with the show that I did previously couple. Months ago with Sarah can't when we were talking about shelter animals count where she's talking about the data on the what's getting spit out. And we're talking here about through the architecture that prepares that data. So that then you can also review your performance every year or even every quarter, you're able to hopefully with the push of a button, yet a snapshot of some of the work that you're doing and help us really understand what your organization is doing. And so I know that she's a fan of having software. Capture information some words that I've used also have been data hygiene, making sure you get your information in at a high quality level because then the information that comes out is going to be high quality. But try not to feel overwhelmed by it. I have definitely felt overwhelmed by this whole and just really try to persevere ask questions reach out to Elena. She'll help you feel not quite as overwhelmed in deaf. The technology is growing expanding quickly. I also think that Maddie's pet forum may have some technology groups in there too. So that's another resource to reach out to for ideas. But just don't be shy feel free to ask a lot of questions where all starting to do things on our mobile phones now. So I think we are going to have to make shift. I dunno lane. A few alas fought on that. No. You said it perfectly there, so many great resources. I agreed start small. You can always start small and grow from there. So just reach out in ask for help as needed for. Sure. Elena. Thank you again for green to be a guest on my show. And I hope we'll have you on again in the future. I'd love that. Thank stacy. Join us for webinar on March. Twenty third two thousand nineteen at two pm eastern standard time for trapping tips. And tricks presented by neighborhood cats drawing from almost twenty years of experience working with feral cats. The folks that neighborhood cats have gathered together their favorite ways of catching the wiliest felines. Whether it's putting in a clear rear door using spam? As bait wrapping your trap with green garden netting or training, a cat to enter a trap. You're bound to learn something new that will improve your trapping success. Come prepared to share your secret tips and tricks to after registering you'll receive a confirmation Email containing information about joining the webinar, please check it out at WWW dot community cats, podcast dot com and sign up today.