As president and CEO of Bideawee, Leslie Granger is in charge of programs and operations that help the animals of New York City and Long Island. Under her leadership, the 120-year-old organization has expanded to include a new headquarters and community initiatives such as wellness clinics and free pet food programs. In 2021, Bideawee partnered with Dog Trust USA to give new pet owners access to affordable dog training, reducing shelter returns. The organization also has a program that takes in pets when their owners can no longer look after them.
Granger spoke with New York Nonprofit Media about how leading Bideawee through community initiatives and accessibility.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What led you to getting involved with animals and joining Bideawee.
That was a very, very long time ago. Ever since I was little, I loved animals. I was immediately drawn to any cat or dog or rabbit or anything else furry that I met as a child. But having gone to school for music and finding my way into fundraising, in the arts and a nonprofit, I eventually found myself wanting to fundraise for animals, which was always my first love. And that's how I got into working with Bideawee and fundraising for a cause that is near and dear to my heart.
Beyond your passion for animals, what constitutes being an animal welfare advocate for you?
I think, for me, being an animal welfare advocate really is working toward a world where animals are free from fear, free from abuse, free from hunger and homelessness, and where we work to support pets and the people who love them so that they can continue to have a mutually beneficial relationship.
So coming from these ideas of a world free from fear, abuse, and homelessness for animals, how did you build the idea of community initiatives at Bideawee including free pet food and wellness clinics?
Working in animal welfare in an organization that's 120 years old, as Bideawee is, you want to always keep an eye toward what the needs are in the community you serve. What are the needs of the animals and people with animals? We realized, especially during the pandemic, that food insecurity was one of the big issues. That was the idea behind the pet food pantry; providing people with the resources they needed in order to keep their pets with them. We always want to try and ensure that pets can stay with their families, by providing the necessary food or medical care that they may not be able to afford. We really felt that this fell under the categories of our three pillars of prevention, which are prevention, problem solving and human animal bond. We're preventing pet homelessness, because we're keeping pets with people, we're preventing pets from getting ill or going hungry. We're solving the problem of pets entering shelters, because people can't afford to feed them or vaccinate them to keep them healthy. The three pillars really played into us bringing on community initiative programs, because they fell within those three pillars and helped the needs of the community we were serving.
Could you explain what the feral cat initiative is? And what was the thought process behind assuming responsibility for it within Bideawee?
Sure. The feral cat initiative was a program of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals
that was working toward solving the cat overpopulation problem in the New York City area. To solve the issue in the most humane way is to take on TNR, which is trapping, neutering and returning. The idea behind it was to teach as many people as we could to work toward trapping, neutering, vaccinating and returning these cats so that they could not have more cats. It's the most humane method of controlling cat populations. We were approached by the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals to consider taking this on. This was something that really spoke to a need in the community, something that we want to be helping with, and it fell within our three pillars. We felt that we have the ability to take this on as a unique New York institution. We have morphed from just an educational program into a service-based program as well. We're doing low cost and free spay neuter for community cat caretakers, we're working with other organizations to also help them and be able to work collaboratively in the area to, hopefully, have some impact on this problem of cat overpopulation in the area.
It is extremely impressive how the organization is spearheading so many initiatives, like the feral cat initiative, so how does Bideawee provide access to these programs?
In a number of different ways. We still have a big educational component for the feral cat initiative. We're teaching thousands of people across the United States and even from other places in the world, about TNR, kitten season and rescuing, and helping with cat issues in communities. Access has come from branching out because of the world of Zoom into communities across the world and educating others about TNR programs. We also provide access to transportation for people in the New York area, the transportation to free spay neuter clinics. We also obviously have programs in our shelters for adopting so people can access our shelters. We are providing our services to people online, and we have our in-person programs, like adoptions. We have our two pet memorial parks with more than 65,000 Pets buried with us. We have pet therapy programs and our animal hospital in West Hampton. So we're trying to reach as many people as possible.
So speaking about being online and zoom and virtual programming, what were operations like throughout the harshest months of COVID-19. And how did you step up as a leader during these times?
It was a really difficult and interesting time, because in our darkest times, we realized we needed to protect our staff, but that our staff still had to work because we had animals that we needed to care for across three locations. We immediately went to work in separating our team into small groups, so that there was less exposure to each other, there could be some people at home, some in the shelter, but really, the most amazing thing that happened was in the very beginning of COVID, more than 700 people in the first week raised their hands and said, “I'll foster an animal.” We were able to get 99% of the animals out into foster homes and also protect my teams and the people that work for Bideawee, because without the people who work for Bideawee, we can't do the work we do. So it's my job to protect them first. And it's their job then to care for the animals. So I really take that very seriously. And my focus at all times in the beginning of COVID was how do I protect my teams? How do I protect their jobs? How do I care for them? So stepping in and immediately reassuring everyone, we were gonna get through this together, we were going to do everything we could to protect their health, and that we were going to do everything in our power to protect their jobs, and that they were safe. I'm very proud to say that not one person was laid off during COVID. We really were in constant communication. We had daily COVID meetings, I think that feeling of being able to communicate and having them feel that they were supported. The team knew that there was somebody looking after them, and that really got us through our darkest days.
Luckily, those days are almost all in the past. Now, looking forward, what do you hope to see in the future with Bideawee and animal services around New York City and Long Island overall?
When thinking about things like this, the focus is not just what's happening today, but also how do we solve the problems we face now and work towards a future where animals are free from fear and abuse and hunger and homelessness? We can't get there alone is what I always say. And I really believe that what I would like to see in the future is continuation of increased collaboration between the organizations in our area and beyond. Because we are all here to do good work for animals in need and the people who love them. And we can do so much more, if we do it together. Rather than looking at ourselves as competition. We need to really look at ourselves as collaborators and treat each other that way.