Louisiana SPCA

Louisiana SPCA (LA/SPCA) is the oldest and most comprehensive animal welfare organization in Louisiana, and one of the largest in the South. It primarily serves New Orleans, caring for thousands of homeless animals each year. Following Hurricane Katrina, LA/SPCA expanded its protocols for emergency preparedness for animals, leading the way nationally on the issue. LA/SPCA was able to use its recovery as an opportunity to upgrade its facilities, improve the quality of its programs, and expand its services to address the new landscape facing animal welfare in the wake of one of the country’s largest disasters.

For many years, LA/SPCA has provided both animal control and animal welfare services in Orleans Parish, but struggled to reconcile these two roles. In 2011, the organization engaged in a strategy development process that helped it to affirm its priorities, clarify its decision-making criteria, and take confident action.

A debate in the field

Animal welfare services nationally have approached the relationship between animal control and animal welfare with caution because of the fundamental differences of these two approaches – animal control being reactive and animal welfare being proactive. The goal of animal welfare is to improve the quality of life for animals and reduce overpopulation through humane education programming, adoptions, high-volume and low cost spay/neuter programs, and other community outreach designed to foster a positive approach to enhancing the human-animal bond. Animal control, on the other hand, serves as a law enforcement function, which can translate to an antagonistic relationship with the community. Nevertheless, many animal welfare nonprofits like LA/SPCA do engage in animal control services because they are best suited to carrying out these important responsibilities in the most humane way possible. For the LA/SPCA, wearing both hats forces the organization into a dual role.

A question of strategy

LA/SPCA found itself grappling with this debate over several years. It maintained its contract with the Parish, even through a contentious contract re-negotiation – but always with some uncertainty about the centrality of animal control to its mission.

At the same time, La Piana Consulting was working with other animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA, The Humane Society of the United States, San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, and Sacramento SPCA. Knowing about our experience in this area, LA/SPCA reached out to ask us to help sort through this strategic question.

Clarifying decision making

Having provided animal control and welfare services for decades, LA/SPCA was well versed in the issues at hand, but needed clarity around how to make strategic choices, and the criteria it should use. This is one of the strengths of our Real-Time Strategic Planning process, which helps organizations identify and use their competitive advantages as a lens to focus strategic decision making. Using this methodology, LA/SPCA identified two key competitive advantages:

  • It has a positive reputation due to the professional and skilled services it provides
  • It offers a comprehensive scope of services

The organization’s leadership committed to make decisions consistent with sustaining and leveraging these competitive advantages. Additional decision-making criteria – related to mission, capacity, and finances – were also identified and approved by the board of directors.

With this foundation in place, LA/SPCA management worked with a board committee to make explicit the interplay between the animal control issue and the newly established decision-making criteria. For example, they noted that providing animal control services enhanced LA/SPCA’s competitive advantage of offering comprehensive services, including proactive programs like spay/neuter and microchipping as well as reactive services such as investigating reports of abuse or retrieving abandoned animals. After the committee completed its analysis of how animal control either did or did not meet the decision-making criteria, the strategic answer emerged naturally. After many years of uncertainty, the board of directors easily adopted the committee’s recommendation to reaffirm its commitment to animal control.

Turning Strategy into Action

What this decision has meant for the organization is that a lingering doubt around its central services has been lifted. This clarity has allowed LA/SPCA to move forward with plans for a new building, certain of its need for the space and the types of services that will be carried out in that facility. The organization’s leadership is now moving on to next steps, free to consider how its various programs can be prioritized and resources can be focused in coming years – so that LA/SPCA can be ever more effective.

Buster's Story

Because LA/SPCA leadership has greater clarity around how best to use its resources, the local community of humans and animals wins. Consider a classic animal control scenario. Officers at LA/SPCA seize several pitbulls from a property with evidence of dog fighting. Among the animals retrieved is a pitbull puppy the shelter names Buster. He is so young upon his arrival that he literally grows up in the shelter environment while the court case drags on for over two years, a timeline that typifies the bureaucracy of the law enforcement driven process. But within that process, LA/SPCA inserts its progressive actions; front line staff work with Buster to develop him socially and recognize the positive signs that Buster is displaying. When the court process finally concludes (nearly two and a half years later), Buster is readily adopted, resulting in an outcome that leads to these words from his new owner:

“Buster is gaining confidence every day! He’s even been swimming! Everything is going well, and Maggie (our current dog) and Buster are best friends! We love him so much and are so happy we could provide him a great home!”

(This client profile was first published in the La Piana Consulting blog in August 2012.)