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Expo 2011: Celebrating 20 Years of Progress

And a career spent making the world better for animals


This year The HSUS’s Animal Care Expo in Orlando celebrated 20 years of helping people in animal care do their jobs better, learn from each other, and change the world for animals.

Some people might also see Expo 2011 as the culmination of HSUS Vice President for Companion Animals John Snyder’s remarkable career—though Snyder wouldn’t have much patience for that kind of reverent talk.

Snyder spent 24 years in the front lines of animal control and shelter work before joining The HSUS in 1998. During this year’s Expo, Snyder was recognized for his tremendous leadership by Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS, during the Welcome Session where Wayne said, “"John has devoted his adult life to helping animals and to helping this community of animal activists....[John,] you are just a fabulous human being, and we have been so lucky to have worked with you. Our cause has been lucky."

“We’re talking the 20th annual HSUS Animal Care Expo—yup, the Big Kahuna of conferences for animal sheltering professionals.”—ASPCA PRO blog

It’s fitting that Snyder announced his retirement at this landmark Expo. He was at the first one, after all, and every one since. Snyder recalls the first Expo in 1992: “I was Director of Animal Services in Alachua County, Florida, and the local humane society had to help pay for me to go. Back then it was a mostly a show for the equipment that was available for animal care and control folks.”

Today, Expo is so much more. Expo 2011 broke all records: More than 1,700 people from 45 countries attended, and they had the choice of 78 workshops.

It’s now the largest event of its kind. So, yes, Expo’s pretty much become the Big Kahuna.

None of this would be possible, Snyder points out, without the generous support of sponsors and exhibitors such as the ASPCA, Banfield Pet Hospital, Petfinder.com, Petsmart Charities, Petco Foundation, and PetPoint.

“People come into Expo with one perspective, and they leave with a different one.”—John Snyder

When he took over Expo, Snyder wanted to make it “An open forum for considering all issues and ways of improving animal welfare. Anyone and everyone is welcome.”

That approach is part of what makes Expo essential to its attendees. “For me, the biggest gain from this event is hearing about others’ ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and using that as inspiration for innovation back home,” shares Stephanie McDonald, executive director of the Edmonton Humane Society in Canada.

“I enjoy watching people come to Expo and see them excited, feeling like they’re part of a movement that they didn’t know existed. And they leave Expo thinking, ‘Well, I’m not fighting the world alone.’”—John Snyder

The tone of shared accomplishment was set by the welcome session, whose theme was “Celebrating Twenty Years of Progress.”

“It was inspiring to join together and see how far we’ve come,” recalls Betsy McFarland, Senior Director of Companion Animals. “Look at euthanasia statistics: In 1991, it’s estimated that the U.S. was euthanizing 8 million dogs and cats in shelters. In 2007, that number dropped to 3.6. That’s half.” McFarland smiles: “While there is still a lot of work to be done, we ARE making progress.”

“The people who leave Expo are different than the people who got there—they’re pumped and excited and ready to go back and use everything they’ve learned.”John Snyder

This year, nobody could have left Expo without feeling victorious and hopeful. Welcome Session speaker Barbara Carr, Executive Director at Erie County SPCA, pointed to progress the animal care community has made in the last 20 years.

“I wish I could be here in 20 years,” she told the audience. “The speaker on that day will say “Remember the days when we had overpopulation? Remember just 20 years ago when animal fighting was a great concern? When you sit here 20 years from today, cheer--cheer for me, cheer for us, and cheer for yourselves for taking on the next 20 years, like we took on the last 20.”

"This is the only business I know, and it’s a hard one. But it's been great—great staff, great people, an opportunity to do things that have made a difference"—John Snyder

Next year Snyder and his wife, Janet (a former animal control officer who is now the Director of Outreach and Training in The HSUS’s Urban Wildlife Program) will be at Expo in Las Vegas. Only this time, he’ll enjoy it as an attendee. He’s already looking forward to it.

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