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Lollypop Farm's first 150 years reflect massive improvements in the lives of animals

A dog kisses a man.
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Tim McMahon gets a kiss from Midnight. Tim and his wife Lyss dopted Midnight after meeting her at Lollypop Farm. Midnight was highly aggressive when humane officers found her abandoned in a city apartment. Lollypop Farm has adapted their approach to dogs with "behavior problems" and other factors that led to reduced authorizations and more adoptions.(photo by Max Schulte)

When Alyssa and Tim McMahon of Rochester spotted Midnight on Lollypop Farm's website about a year ago, they knew right away they were interested in adopting her.

 Even before they met her, the sturdy, black, bulldog mix with a prominent underbite captured their hearts.

 "Her tongue was out, and she looked so sweet, and then, when we found out about her story, we knew we had to take her home," Alyssa said.

Alyssa McMahon sits on her couch with Midnight. The bulldog mix was highly aggressive when humane officers found her abandoned in a city apartment last year. Lollypop Farm has significantly improved outcomes for dogs with "behavioral problems", thanks to science, one-on-one care through it's Champion program, volunteers, and more. (photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Lyss McMahon and her husband Tim adopted Midnight after meeting her at Lollypop Farm. Midnight was highly aggressive when humane officers found her abandoned in a city apartment. Lollypop Farm has adapted their approach to dogs with "behavior problems" and other factors that led to reduced authorizations and more adoptions.(photo by Max Schulte)

Midnight's story is hard to hear. It's also, sadly, not uncommon.

 The dog was abandoned in a city apartment with no food or water. When humane law enforcement officers found her, she was emaciated and terrified. Another dog was found dead inside the apartment.

“(Midnight) actually had to be brought into Lollypop Farm on a catch pole," said Lindsay Brewer, a communications specialist with the shelter. "She was so upset in the whole interaction that she punctured her own jowls with her teeth and had to have stitches."

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 But thanks to the Humane Society of Greater Rochester’s Champion program, Midnight got a second chance. The program pairs an employee with a pet who needs extra attention before they can be offered for adoption.

Brewer became Midnight’s champion.

For several months, she spent time with Midnight in her office and took her to local parks and on other outings. The timid, fearful, reactive dog quickly began to trust Brewer.

"In probably one week, she was snuggling on my lap," she said.

Lindsay Brewer from Lollypop Farm visits Midnight at her Rochester home. Brewer, a communications specialist, was assigned as Midnight's "person" at the shelter, working to modify her behavior. Midnight was highly aggressive and fearful when humane officers found her abandoned in a city apartment in 2022.  She was adopted by Tim and Alyssa McMahon about a year ago. (photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Lindsay Brewer from Lollypop Farm visits Midnight at her home with Tim and Lyss McMahon. Brewer a communications specialist, was assigned as Midnight's "person" at the shelter, working to modify her behavior. Midnight was highly aggressive when humane officers found her abandoned in a city apartment. Lollypop Farm has adapted their approach to dogs with "behavior problems" and other factors that led to reduced authorizations and more adoptions.(photo by Max Schulte)

There was a time, not too long ago, when Midnight's story could have ended very differently.

 As recently as 10 years ago, the Humane Society might not have had enough staff or resources to save a dog like her.

"It is hard to say, but she may have been a candidate for euthanasia," Brewer admitted.

Midnight’s rescue reflects a paradigm shift at Lollypop Farm and among animal welfare organizations across the U.S. in recent years.

Twenty years ago, up to half of the animals that were taken in by the Humane Society of Greater Rochester were euthanized, said Adrienne McHargue, vice president and chief operating officer.

"There were just decisions that ate at us," said McHargue, who has worked with the organization since 2007. "We were all animal lovers, and we don't want to have to make a decision for a healthy animal who just otherwise doesn't have anywhere else to go."

But at the time, McHargue said, the alternative was often equally or even more heartbreaking.

 "The alternative was overcrowding; the alternative was saying no to someone who couldn't care for their pet anymore, and maybe that pet got left outside on the road or let go in the woods, or worse,” she said.

Two decades later, McHargue and her colleagues no longer have to make those gut-wrenching decisions. The choice to humanely end an animal's life is now based solely on the animal's health.

This graph shows the yearly save rate of all animals in the care of Lollypop Farm. The save rate indicates the percentage of animals who enter the shelter and survive.  The current save rate is 98.15% for cats and 91.39% for dogs.  Neuter/Spay and behavioral programs, rehoming services, and foster care are a few of the factors contributing to the significant increase in positive outcomes in the past decade.
Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester
This graph shows the yearly save rate of all animals in the care of Lollypop Farm. The save rate indicates the percentage of animals who enter the shelter and survive.

Since 2020, Lollypop Farm's save rate - the percentage of animals who enter the shelter in a given year and survive - has been close to 90%

That would allow the Humane Society to declare itself a "no-kill" shelter, but the organization has made a deliberate decision to not use the term.

They believe it can be misleading and confusing because the save rate can decline. When that happens — as it did in 2022, when it fell to 81.34% — it is likely due to the admittance of a large number of animals that are in such poor health, they die naturally or must be euthanized. That year, over 1,000 small mammals and mice were seized after a criminal investigation in Wayne County.

Some of the surviving animals were adopted after Lollypop appointed a young "rat ambassador" to extoll the virtues of the pocket pets.

 The fact that Lollypop Farm has the resources to revamp the image of rodents is emblematic of the organization’s evolution from its humble beginning in 1873. That year, a few local citizens concerned about the plight of animals working on the Erie Canal joined forces to open a Rochester chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

A May 9, 1873, editorial in the Democrat and Chronicle read:

"Every day we see horses on the streets overloaded and needlessly beaten. When the canal opens, there will be hundreds of miserable beasts crawling along the towpath — the 'galled jades' wincing under the collar at every step."

This Nov. 20 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Rochester SPCA's first official meeting. The group occupied a succession of spaces in the city from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century.

In 1957, the nonprofit took the name "Lollypop Farm" when it moved to a renovated apartment house on seven acres of land on West Henrietta Road across from what is now The Marketplace Mall.

Local businessman Hiram Marks' donation of 140 acres of land brought Lollypop Farm to its current site in Perinton in 1966.

The main campus of Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester is located in Fairport. The campus underwent a major expansion in the late 1990s and plans are underway for the next expansion.
Beth Adams/WXXI News
The main campus of Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester is located in Fairport. The campus underwent a major expansion in the late 1990s and plans are underway for the next expansion.

Now known as Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester, the shelter was expanded in 2000 with the opening of a new, state-of-the-art animal care facility, including a surgery clinic, climate-controlled barn, and education facilities.

Along with the growth of the Humane Society's physical presence, recent decades have signaled another significant shift: Societal attitudes toward pets.

"Seventy to 80% of people see their pets as family, and they are looking for help that you would expect for any family member out there," McHargue said.

The kind of help that the Humane Society offers today is based on the main reasons people surrender animals to shelters: They're moving and can't take the pet with them; they can't afford a pet; or the pet is experiencing behavioral problems.

For pet owners facing economic hardship, Lollypop donates foodand offers discounted spay-neuter servicesand vaccines.

An army of volunteers, which has tripled in size in the last five years, stands ready to take in animals displaced by divorce or other life circumstances, so some don't even have to spend time in the shelter.

A dog sits in the kennel at Lollypop Farm's main shelter in Fairport. A little less than a third of Lollypop's sheltered animals are dogs and two-thirds are cats. The remaining animal population at the shelter consists of farm animals, and small animals, including birds, reptiles, and rodents.
Beth Adams/WXXI News
A dog sits in the kennel at Lollypop Farm's main shelter in Fairport. A little less than a third of Lollypop's sheltered animals are dogs and two-thirds are cats. The remaining animal population at the shelter consists of farm animals, and small animals, including birds, reptiles, and rodents.

Animal behavioral science is used to help more pets remain in their current homes. People with concerns can make free calls to the Pet Peeves Behavioral Help Lineat 585-295-2999. Messages can be left on the help line 24 hours a day. A return call is made later by a trained volunteer.

Vicky Pape, Lollypop's director of animal placement, said there is usually a solution to most problems if people are willing to work through them.

For example: cats who don't use their litter boxes.

 "What we've discovered over the years is that through changing the environment, looking at (cats’) medical needs, we're usually able to overcome that," Pape explained. "That's just one category of animal that used to be considered unplaceable, but now we are able to find that the vast, vast majority of them are placeable."

A volunteer feeds a cat canned food at Lollypop Farm's main shelter in Fairport.
Beth Adams/WXXI News
A volunteer feeds a cat canned food at Lollypop Farm's main shelter in Fairport.

This year, the Humane Society embarked on a $20 million fundraising campaign with the goal of becoming one of the foremost community-based animal welfare and education centers in the U.S.

The major expansion includes plans for renovated kennels and veterinary clinics, classrooms, and guest centers.

As Lollypop Farm prepares for this next milestone, what drives McHargue, Pape, and their colleagues doesn’t seem all that different from the motivations of their predecessors in the 19th century who wanted to spare horses and mules the pain and indignity of grueling work.

They want animals to live their best lives.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.