Interview with Charleen Engberg, Capital Humane Society

What is known today as the Capital Humane Society began in 1902 as the Lancaster County Humane Society. The first shelter was located in a shed near the West ‘O’ Street viaduct. The Society’s mission focused on the prevention of cruelty to children and horses.

Around 1907, the services expanded to include a variety of animals. Other expansions have included: in spring of 2004, renovation was completed on the new Spay/Neuter Vet clinic at the shelter, allowing the Capital Humane Society to spay and neuter all dogs and cats going into the adoption program; and in 2013, the Pieloch Pet Adoption Center opened it’s doors at 6500 S. 70th Street to handle adoptions and humane education. The Capital Humane Society’s original location on Park Boulevard now functions as an Admissions & Assessment Center.

The Capital Humane Society has the goals of serving the community by offering shelter to homeless animals, acting as an advocate for animal welfare, and educating the public about responsible pet care. A huge thanks to Charleen Engberg, Volunteer and Education Director, for taking time for an interview. This interview is part of LAA Pet Talk’s Animal Welfare Takes A Village series.

ALLISON: How did you become a Volunteer and Education Director? Why?

CHARLEEN: I have been involved with animal welfare as a volunteer or employee for more than 25 years. I started as a volunteer at Capital Humane Society in the 1990s. I also worked in the office and then transitioned into the Director of Volunteer and Education Director position. When my family moved out of the state, I wanted to stay involved, so made it a priority to find a job or volunteer at an animal welfare organization in the various other communities where we lived. I was very fortunate to be hired by Capital Humane Society again about 5 years ago when we moved back to Lincoln.

The work is challenging and very rewarding. I am inspired by the many caring people I meet who also work hard and put their love of animals into meaningful action. There has been a lot of progress in the field of animal welfare yet there is still much work to be done. I am very grateful to have a job that has a positive impact for animals in our community.

Photo by Nastasia Lai
Photo by Nastasia Lai

ALLISON: What are the most common reasons an animal is relinquished to the Capital Humane Society?

CHARLEEN: The majority of pets arrive at Capital Humane Society as lost animals brought in by Animal Control, other law enforcement and Good Samaritans. Many lost dogs are reclaimed by their owners. However, most lost cats are not reclaimed. In 2016, the most common reasons that owners told us they needed to surrender their pet is that they had too many animals already, they were moving or they did not have time.

ALLISON: Why did the foster care program get started and what is its success rate?

CHARLEEN: The foster program got started so we could help more animals. In 2016, more than 90 foster volunteers provided care for 515 animals in need. These often are kittens that are too young to be spayed or neutered, and pets that need to recover from surgery or illness. Capital Humane Society provides the food, medicine, and supplies the volunteers need. The volunteers provide a safe environment and care until the pet is ready to be returned and placed in adoption.

ALLISON: What kind of educational support is provided to fosters/adopters? What are common questions do you get from fosters/adopters?

CHARLEEN: Our animal behaviorist is Shelby Backhus. I asked her about these questions. She said we offer training handouts to adopters and they are also on our website, so people can get a better understanding of certain behaviors and ways to work through them.

She said the most common question she gets from owners is something like, ‘My pet is doing this naughty behavior. How do I stop it?” It may have to do with house-training, aggression, or the pet may just need some basic obedience training. There are behaviors that are misunderstood and people may take the wrong approach when working to solve them. For example, what is thought to be a house-training problem may actually be fear or excitement urination. Shelby can provide direction and the handouts on our website are very thorough and useful.

Our foster coordinator does a home visit for foster care volunteers to explain the program. She provides support and information as needed based on the individual animal. Each case is so unique. Volunteers will be trained on how to give medication, for example. As questions come up, the foster coordinator works to find and share answers.

ALLISON: What is the Capital Humane Society’s live release rate?

CHARLEEN: Capital Humane Society is an open admissions facility. We do not refuse pets or put them on waiting lists. The animals that arrive at our door need shelter, food, and care. If an animal is not claimed by their owner, we will evaluate the pet for our adoption program. Each pet is evaluated as an individual and decisions are based primarily on temperament and health. Medical and behavioral evaluations are done to assess their needs. We do not have breed or age restrictions. There is no time limit once an animal is placed in the adoption program. We can place animals in our volunteer foster homes when space is an issue and if we anticipate an issue, we may run adoption specials to increase adoptions. We also work with and place animals with rescue and other animal welfare organizations. While a question about live release rates can seem straightforward, sometimes responses vary based on if an organization uses terms such as treatable, adoptable, etc. Based on raw data alone, and not using definitions that might be unclear or misinterpreted, our current live release rate is 90% for dogs and 67% for cats.

ALLISON: How is the environment enriched for cats that are brought to the Capital Humane Society?

CHARLEEN: Along with food, water, and a litter box, the cats are provided with bedding and a shoe box (to give them comfort and a place to hide). Additionally, they are given an enrichment toy each day which includes items such as a Kitty Kong. We also have aromatherapy and different scents, such as vanilla or jasmine, are sprayed each day. Products to calm cats such as Feliway may also be sprayed or used in a diffuser.

The colonies at the adoption center have more space and items such as cat trees and towers are placed in them to provide the cats with extra enrichment. Our volunteers play a very important role in giving the cats a good quality of life. We are fortunate to be able to schedule individuals to ensure the cats get plenty of attention each day.

ALLISON: What kind of programs do you have in place/plan to put in place for cats?

CHARLEEN: Current programs to benefit cats include the Working Cat Program, Foster Program, Low Cost Feline Spay/Neuter Program, Humane Education Program and the Adoption Program. In 2016, 446 felines benefited from a stay with a foster family and more than 1,650 cats were adopted from Capital Humane Society.

In 2016, the majority of cats that arrived at our organization were not altered. Nearly 1,400 were spayed or neutered at Capital Humane Society before they were placed in the adoption program. The Low-Cost Feline Spay/Neuter Program is for cats owned by people who fall under federal poverty guidelines. The program provides low-income families the opportunity to have their cats sterilized so their pets are not adding to the overpopulation problem. Capital Humane Society has also provided TNR assistance to farm owners in Lancaster County with cats on their property.

Our Humane Education program also benefits cats. Each year, we provide tours and presentations to hundreds of children of all ages. Topics discussed include responsible pet care and the role of the humane society. We utilize educational books such as “The True or False Book of Cats.” By teaching them facts about cats, they can be more informed and respectful caretakers of their own pets.

ALLISON: Do you provide behavioral support for cats? Why or why not?

CHARLEEN: Shelby noted that adopters and citizens who are having concerns with their cat can call our behavior department. She’ll talk through the issue and provide useful resources that can help resolve a number of common concerns, such as litter box problems.

ALLISON: Do you provide training for cats? Why or why not?

CHARLEEN: Shelby explained that due to limited resources, we do not currently offer training classes for cats. However, the handouts on our website provide information on topics such as leash training your cat. Adoption counselors regularly refer adopters to this information, which is presented in a user-friendly way.

ALLISON: Why did the barn program get started and what is its success rate?

CHARLEEN: The Working Cat program started in April 2016 and to date 25 cats have been placed. It is an alternate placement program for cats unsuitable for the traditional adoption program due to behavior issues or temperament. These cats still need proper care and there is a process for acclimating them to a new home. Details and an application can be found on our website at: Working Cat Program

ALLISON: Not everyone can commit to regular hours or has the ability to foster. In light of this, what are some of the unique ways that people have helped?

CHARLEEN: We understand not everyone can make the commitment necessary to volunteer on a regular basis or help with foster care. Other ways that individuals can assist is by making items for the animals in our adoption program, such as toys or beds. We have instructions on our website. Having fundraisers to support our programs is also appreciated. For example, a local business recently let us know we were chosen for their Jeans Day event. Their employees get to wear jeans in exchange for a donation to Capital Humane Society. As a non-profit agency, we rely on a generous community to support our programs and provide resources and care for thousands of pet in need each year. Donations are always needed and are an important way that people help.

ALLISON: What are the best ways people can help the homeless pet population?

CHARLEEN: We strive to educate people of all ages that the solution to pet overpopulation is spaying and neutering. This starts with people having their own pets spayed and neutered. We offer a low cost spay/neuter program for low-income cat owners to provide them with an opportunity to have their cat sterilized so they are not reproducing and adding to the feline overpopulation problem. The program started in March 2016 and so far 205 cats and kittens have been spayed/neutered.

And, of course, another way people can help is by choosing to adopt a homeless animal when they are ready to provide a loving, life-long home to a pet.

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