Mike Arms Teaches The Business of Saving Lives

This post is in honor of Blog the Change for Animals. Amy Burkert and I, as your BTC4Animals.com co-founders, took specific action on behalf of animals this month to inspire our readers to do the same. This is my story…


If the Helen Woodward Animal Center (HWAC) sounds like just another animal rescue, think again.

The Center spans 12 acres and boasts an animal adoption facility with record adoption numbers, Club Pet Boarding, the Rancho Santa Fe Equine Hospital, children’s camps and education programs, therapeutic riding, pet encounter therapy, and more.

ACES LogoHow on Earth do they do all this?

Mike Arms, President of HWAC, will tell you.
He’s giving away his secrets for free!


The Animal Center Education Services (ACES) workshop in Santa Fe, California shares how to best design, build, fund raise, and run an animal rescue. People come from all over the world to learn about, in the words of Mr. Arms, “The Business of Saving Lives.”

I flew from New York and met folks from as far as Newfoundland, Canada and Sydney, Australia in the March session. I can’t recommend this course highly enough and, if you sign up, this is just a smidge of what you’ll get …


Mike doesn’t believe that animals need our hearts. They have those already and still we kill nearly 4 million in the US each year. What the animals need are our minds, minds actively thinking on their behalf, marketing them in direct competition with those pet stores fueling the root of animal overpopulation.

Proving the “mind over heart matters” theory, Mike pulled a letter from his pocket and handed it to my fellow student, Sherri Franklin from Muttville.org. He asked her to read it. The letter was written from the point of view of a confused and lonely animal being put down after being surrendered by his family. (The other letter I’ve seen him use is worse.) There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when she finished.

Mike turned to us and said, “I told you. I knew I already had your hearts,” and from that moment on, we were eager to make the difference – with our minds as engaged as our emotions.


Where would you list an adoption center in the Yellow Pages? No, don’t call it a shelter! According to Mike, shelters are where people surrender pets more often than look for them. That said, you list yourself under pet shops. There you’ll be seen by that family ready to get their son a dog for his birthday.

And don’t devalue your animals with giveaways or discounts. Charge an adoption fee on par with market value, otherwise, you’re just telling people you have cheap, bargain basement animals. Who wants that?

Here’s a bit more of Mike’s wisdom from a subsequent conference…


Rescue BibleBeing met with a 3-inch thick binder was both daunting and reassuring. While we had a lot to learn, I breathed a sigh of relief the moment I realized that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It was being handed directly to us (and it was about as heavy as one too).


In order to ween us from our traditional rescue ideas, ideas that simply do not work, a parade of friendly and knowledgeable staffers imparted upon us their wisdom in the following areas:

  • Creating a Board of Directors
  • Managing Volunteers
  • Education Programs
  • Pet Encounter Therapy
  • AniMeals
  • Human Resources
  • Accounting
  • Adoptions
  • Hosting Special Events
  • Sponsorships
  • Development
  • and Public Relations/Social Media

By the end of the program, we were cured of habitual thinking. We were inspired, exuberant and – with graduation plaques in hand – we returned to our lives with a new enthusiasm. We are now prepared to transform the world of animal adoption. And if we ever need help or have a question, every single staff member said to call any time. (Good thing. I couldn’t fit them  in my suitcase with that binder.)


I hope this post inspires you to learn about animal rescue from the best – for free. (I’ll continue writing about several of the programs, if you’d like to know more.)

I know I said Mike makes you cry, but don’t let that dissuade you. He makes you cry happy tears too.

It was difficult to part from the fire which burns so brightly within the entire staff at the Helen Woodward Animal Center.  But, as students, if we don’t move on and carry that flame forward, we do a great disservice to those who so graciously showed us the way.

You will always be in my heart and your love for animals now reaches farther than you will ever know. Thank you for all you have shared.

Kim Clune

Mike Arms and Kim Clune


  1. Each post I read, in this wonderful event you have hosted, teaches me something new. Thanks for this great info. The details are inspiring.

    • Carrie,

      Thanks for your support of Blog the Change. Hosting the event is easy. Those doing all the work are the bloggers and commenters sharing animal rescue needs, accomplishments and organizations. That's where the real work is, and you're just as much a part of making that happen as I am. So, thank you!

  2. Wow… this sounds like it was an amazing experience! Thanks for sharing this resource!! Don't you just love when someone can light your fire again? I feel like I become stagnant sometimes with the work i'm doing …but it feels so good to be inspired again!

  3. It was an absolute pleasure to have you all join us for March ACES. Thank you for the beautiful blog and video. We want anyone and everyone who is interested in changing animal welfare to come and learn, ask questions, and think creatively for the animals! If anyone has questions about anything you learned, you can ask on Facebook or our Twitter (@HWAC) and I will make sure it gets to the right person.

    We appreciate you all so much! I hope we get to meet soon!



    • Marcie, You were missed for the social media preso, to be sure. Sumrall had wonderful things to say about the work you do – that you're the SM expert there. At least we have that mode of communication for now. So nice to finally "meet" you!

  4. What a fantastic opportunity! Mike Arms is amazing – not only has he reformed HWAC, he's spreading his wisdom. Think of all the pets he'll be responsible for saving – directly and indirectly. I'm so excited to see where this takes you!!

  5. Wow, I would love to get my hands on their binder! Do you know if they make it available for sale? My organization could do some great things with it.

    • Hey Vicki,

      The book is not a self-explanatory guide. It contains millions of valuable resources based on presentations but how they all fit together is unclear without explanation. The difference between the book and having attended the workshop is that I have the book for reminders and notes, but I have hours of HWAC staff discussions in my head and contacts to call when I need information. That's what ACES is truly about. The rest is a guideline, what works for them, there for the taking and tweaking.

      If you can attend an ACES workshop, that's the best solution. There's one coming up in Ohio shortly! Mikes taking a number of his staff on the road for the first time. 🙂

      • Thanks! After digging deeper, I found they are not that far away from me. I'll grab a couple of other board members and see if we can attend a session there!

  6. First of all, thank you for dropping by and your encouragement. I only hope that we can stop Romania's stray dogs from being killed blindly.

    Your post was very interesting, I haven't looked at promoting an animal rescue like that. It would do a lot of good and give people a whole new perspective on rescue animals. People need to learn that these are not "inferior pets" and that the shelters would be nice places to visit and bond with animals.

    • Sadly, the myth of care centers yielding inferior pets rings true for too many people. It's hard to believe how many folks have no clue that great animals are adopted every single day and that you not only get a best friend in doing so, but you also save a life. We have a long way to go in the US and I know you feel the same about Romania. Sending gobs of positive energy your way…

  7. Thanks for spreading the word on such a wonderful educational and inspirational opportunity!

    -Chandra at Daley's Dog Years

  8. Great, great, great post Kim! I was so inspired by Mike when he spoke at BlogPaws West. Now I really want to visit and see their program in action. Thanks for sharing!

    Vicki Cook

    Bunny's Blog


    • I hope you get to go, Vicki! I can't imagine a more inspiring experience in a rescue world traditionally known for sad, dark stories.

  9. Kim, as always – you've presented an important subject in a detailed, complete and impressive way! I'm still jealous of your having met The Man in person! lol This is inarguably the best program on earth for the benefit of animals – best wishes in your future endeavors (although there's no doubt you'll now for sure be extremely successful)! Thank you for sharing all this information, too!

  10. At blogpaws last year Mike Arms had a member of the audience read a letter from a worker whos job was to put the animals in the shelter to "sleep" it made everyone cry because it spoke of how trusting and loving the dogs were evwn though the man was about to kill them. Mike Arms said this is the only industry that kills what it loves most . The man is beyond inspirational

    • I was there for that too, Maria. I subtly linked to that "other" letter in my post above and that's the one I was expecting.

      Mike knows how to melt a heart and prove that offering love is not enough. I read a tweet recently, not sure who it quotes, but it was along the lines of "Two hands working accomplishes far more than two hands folded in prayer." The same holds true here. Hoping, wishing and loving will not change a thing. We've got to work to make the difference.

  11. What a great video…thank you for all you do. I have in the back of mind that one day if we purchase land, I would love to do a Siberian Husky rescue as there is none in my nearby area. I will be sure keep your information bookmarked for possible future use. Thank you again, great post and great information!

    • We're in the same boat, trying to secure a space for our rescue. We have land options but the facility still needs to be planned and built after a constant and significant fundraising effort. But hey, you have to start somewhere! I hope you (and I) get to realize that dream one day soon!

  12. I would love, love, love to attend this some day! Time for me to start saving up, I think.

  13. Really enjoyed your post!

  14. I am such a HUGE Mike Arms fan (and I only just discovered him a little over a year ago!). I love the way he thinks outside the box to help animals find homes. I mean, how many other rescues have thought about advertising pets in with the pet shops? Or, how to write up a description of a pet so they don't seem sad, but happy. His approach is so refreshing and inspiring.

    Thanks for sharing info on his workshop. I had not heard about this before. I have no doubt your rescue will be amazing after what you learned Kim!

    • It seems so foreign and yet it's so simple. Bottom line: apply business and marketing principles to rescue in order to beat the competition of puppy mills and pet stores. Why hasn't this been adopted elsewhere yet, or the world over for that matter? Revolutionary. Indeed!

  15. This One Wild Life says:

    Tagging my fellow ACES attendees: Dawn Niebuhr, Tee Nichols and Kathy Brown Weatherman in this story!

  16. Helen Woodward Animal Center says:

    Hooray, thank you all for coming! It was a pleasure having all you out here with us. Thank you for your willing, your passion, and your creative ideas that are saving animals!

  17. I tend not to drop many remarks, however I looked at a bunch of remarks on this page Revolutionizing Animal
    Rescue through ACES. I do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind.
    Is it simply me or does it give the impression like a few
    of these responses appear like they are coming from brain dead
    visitors? 😛 And, if you are posting at other online sites, I would like to keep up with anything new you
    have to post. Would you post a list of every one of all your social community
    sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed,
    or linkedin profile?

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