Dr. Saskia Boisot is a human physician who practices pathology in Orange County, CA, and specializes in the diagnosis of leukemias and lymphomas. Although her primary vocation deals with human disease, she has long been an ardent animal advocate — in fact, her first real foray into animal activism occurred at the very beginning of her medical career, when she realized that her medical school expected students to participate in two live dog vivisection labs for no apparent need, culminating in the dogs being killed. In collaboration with one of her professors, Saskia launched an aggressive campaign against the school establishment to end this practice, and despite threating her good academic standing at the university, she and her colleague successfully shut it down after 3 years.
Despite being thought of as one of the most progressive states in the country, the state of animal sheltering in Southern California is not commensurate with this reputation, and there is no shortage of poorly run, relatively high-kill animal shelters. In 2015, Saskia serendipitously discovered that one such shelter, Orange County Animal Care, was located right around the corner from where she worked, and was in fact functioning more like a pound from the “dog-catcher” days of old, killing-its-resident-animals-with-reckless-abandon methodology. After coming to this realization, Saskia decided to take action, and formed the animal advocacy group No Kill Shelter Alliance.
No Kill Shelter Alliance's initial focus was, and is, Orange County, but it's become devoted to shelter reform in all of Southern California. With an intake of over 32,000 animals each year at the time, what made Orange County uniquely stand out was the state of disrepair of its dilapidated 74-year-old facility despite an alarmingly high annual budget (coupled with the relative wealth of the community it served). After initial attempts to seek positive change through collaboration with shelter administration failed, it became clear that the only path to reform at OCAC was going to require a change in leadership. Through regimented documentation of individual infractions and in-depth data analysis, Saskia and her group meticulously and systematically exposed the pervasive culture of apathy and intransigence at OCAC, while simultaneously educating decision-makers about progressive programs elsewhere and the possibilities that existed with the right people in charge. With the advent of a brand new shelter facility in early 2018, and new, progressive leadership in the form of Mike Kaviani from Austin Pets Alive!, Saskia and her group have refocused their efforts towards ensuring the success of new management at OCAC in the hopes that it can become the model for shelter reform in Southern California – and perhaps even lead to a positive ripple effect among its neighbors.
More recently, as part of her endeavors both to demonstrate poor prior management and to assist with ensuring the success of the new vision for OCAC, Saskia has formed a new 501c3, Underdog Alliance, with her rescue partner, Summer Parker, and dog trainer, Steffen Baldwin. This new organization is specifically focused on providing solutions for large breed dogs experiencing behavior challenges in the shelter environment, since this represents a group of animals that is often misunderstood and overlooked. The organization focuses on low cost training for local rescue groups to encourage them to take on more of these types of dogs, assisting smaller shelters and rescue groups with their own facilities to implement playgroups, and occasionally providing sanctuary to intractable behavior cases who would otherwise not be afforded the chance at a live outcome.
Negotiation is an important part of any change. Know when to stand your ground, when to compromise, and most importantly, how to communicate effectively so that people want to help you achieve your goals.