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Humane Society Puts Furry Friends First

It’s been said that animal people aren’t always people people, but Pasadena Humane Society President/CEO Julie Bank, who loves dogs and cats equally, is here to debunk myths.
Now nearly two years at the helm of the beloved Pasadena animal shelter, stationed at a well-known historical landmark building, Bank has made it her mission to improve the lives of all animals and of the people attached to them.
“We’re all about the relationship between people and their animals. Animals are our main audience and customer, but we believe animals are very much a part of the family, bringing a lot of positivity to a family, so we want to do everything we can to strengthen that relationship,” said Bank, who has nearly 30 years of experience in animal welfare work. “My commitment is to animal welfare and to the relationship between people and pets.”
So far, Bank is blazing a trail of happy paw, claw and pad prints of all shapes and sizes at the nonprofit.
Under her guard, the humane society has streamlined adoption services for all animals, making the process faster and more effective, and ultimately saving more lives. In 2017, adoptions increased 30% year on year. About 12,000 animals will pass through its doors in 2018, including creatures great and small. While dogs, cats and rabbits are the animals most often in need of adoption, the list also includes birds of all sorts, including chickens and roosters, critters like rats and guinea pigs, and reptiles of all sizes, including alligators.
“We’ve seen pretty much everything,” Bank noted, nodding to the eight alligators that were housed at the facility for nearly three months earlier this year. As one of the only shelters in Southern California that has a license for wildlife rehabilitation, the site often gets chosen to house exotic animals that might result from animal cruelty raids, as was the case with the alligators. The reptiles turned out to be a fun experience for the 130 employees, she said, as they got to learn about the care and habits of an unusual guest. “But we were quite happy when they left.”
The Humane Society’s growth has been in great part due to the successful $23 million capital campaign completed over multiple phases, allowing the facility to double its square footage to 2.5 acres, making space for classrooms, a low-cost public spay/neuter clinic, behavior and training center, a kitten nursery known as the “kittengarten,” a critter house, and separate facilities for grown cats and dogs. In an-old Hacienda style stucco, all the dedicated areas encircle a large outdoor patio and grassy area, giving it a park-like atmosphere. Begun in 1903 by a local Methodist group, the Humane Society was created to ensure the humane treatment of draft animals, as well as rescuing and rehoming orphaned and abused children. Companion animals gradually replaced working animals as the nonprofit’s main focus, as working horses were retired in favor of modern machines.
Today, Bank is carrying on the animal shelter’s exponential growth to save more animal lives. With a budget of about $12 million per year, the nonprofit provides animal control for 11 cities in the Greater Los Angeles area, often servicing those communities with animal wellness, education and adoption clinics. The shelter works in conjunction with numerous other shelters across Southern California, such as that of Baldwin Park, from which it takes in about 1,000 cats to help find them new homes.
“Our reach is really much broader than most people would think. We’re making an impact across the whole San Gabriel Valley,” said Bank. “Whatever we can do to save more lives, help more animals in the region, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Some of the nonprofit’s recent successes are due in great part to Bank’s laser focus and effective leadership team, said Bob Fidler, Pasadena Humane Society board member of 20 years, and now director emeritus.
He especially praised the efforts to increase volunteers, who have skyrocketed at the facility. Currently, there is also a small army of children volunteers, he noted.
“I love that about the place. They’ve really increased their efforts to work with kids for animals. They passed out nearly 175,000 pamphlets this year to get out that message, which is of animal care and welfare by children, and how they can maintain care for their animals. It’s been really successful,” he said.
Fidler, like many lifelong supporters of the shelter, has adopted his dogs from the Humane Society over the years, the latest a happy golden retriever named Molly. He has also passed his dedication to animals to his friends and family, including his grandchildren, who adopted a shiatzu from the shelter, and are also involved in its educational efforts with children.
As one of the Humane Society’s strategic goals, education is a big part of community engagement. The shelter has developed many outreach programs to children, encouraging kids and teenagers to get involved with animals through volunteer opportunities, service projects, donation drives or even making toys for shelter animals. There is a Teen Club, Animal Adventure class, Critter Camp, a Barks & Books program, and many others, held monthly for children to learn about animals in a fun and safe environment.
Bank understands the benefit of reaching out to children. Once an animal-crazy young girl herself, she sees the programming as two-fold, helping children fulfill their inherent love for animals, while also developing the future of animal welfare. As an avid foster parent, often enlisting the help of her 9-year-old son, Bank currently has two dogs, a cat and their newest addition — a bearded dragon, who arrived at the shelter in an emaciated state.
Adopting animals is a bit of a professional hazard, she noted, calling herself a “foster failure,” since she tends to keep all the animals she fosters.
Board member Beverly Marksbury also commented on that tendency among supporters.
“I was worried I would adopt everything I would come into contact with, but it’s heartwarming to know that the animals are going to get a home. They move pretty quickly,” she said, adding that Bank’s efforts to partner with other shelters are also helping to increase adoption rates. “Under her leadership, it’s much easier to adopt animals out of the shelter now. She’s gone through a lot of processes to try to improve them and streamline. That’s one of her major strong points.”
Fidler also acknowledged the use of modern technology, critical for recent success at the nonprofit.
“We’ve gained so much recognition under Julie — she leads a very public profile in her passion for animal welfare. She’s in the paper once a week with her column, she’s on TV all the time highlighting events or special pets in need, and she’s very busy with public speaking events,” he said.
Indeed, the Humane Society has learned to deftly wield social media, garnering national and international media attention through Facebook, Twitter and blog postings. Just recently, a Facebook post about a huge cat nicknamed Chubbs, a fetching blue-eyed Himalayan mix, went viral: “As millions of Americans hit the gym on the quest for the perfect summer body, a 29-lb. cat began an exercise regimen of his own. Earlier this week, the 10-year-old Himalayan mix took himself for an afternoon walk down a busy Altadena street. Luckily, he was found by a good Samaritan who lugged him to the Pasadena Humane Society,” read the post.
Trying to find the cat’s owner — part of the due diligence required before the shelter puts an animal up for adoption — Bank was soon doing interviews with scores of media and TV stations. Nearly the weight of a 2-year-old child, Chubbs suffered from deep, painful mats, and his bare belly captured the hearts of animal lovers as far away as the United Kingdom, Asia and Australia.
“We got a heartfelt letter from a woman in Wales, who wrote about why we should send him there, and that the air there would be good for him,” said Bank, chuckling, but noting that she was touched by the sheer number of emails from people who have lost their large cat, even years ago, and are still desperately looking for it.
That highlights a big part of Bank’s mission, every day.
“I feel responsible for every single animal that comes through our door; I also feel responsible to the people who are attached to them,” Bank said. “I feel a huge responsibility for changing the face and the relationship between people and their animals in this universe, and I will go down to the end in doing that because I understand the power of that relationship.”

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