Community//

“Adopt don’t shop.” With Penny Bauder & David Horth

You hear a lot about “adopt don’t shop”, and of course adoption is an important piece of the puzzle. But we cannot adopt our way out of pet overpopulation. We need to stop the cycle of accidental, unplanned, and irresponsible breeding before it begins. Low-cost, accessible spay/neuter is probably the single most effective way to […]

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You hear a lot about “adopt don’t shop”, and of course adoption is an important piece of the puzzle. But we cannot adopt our way out of pet overpopulation. We need to stop the cycle of accidental, unplanned, and irresponsible breeding before it begins. Low-cost, accessible spay/neuter is probably the single most effective way to do that. Animal welfare, care, and enforcement is woefully underfunded by cities, counties, and at the federal level. It’s an afterthought in most city or state budgets, and pets as well as people suffer because of it.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Horth.

David Horth is the CEO of IndyHumane (the Humane Society of Indianapolis). A successful Indianapolis business owner, David was most recently employed as Principal and Founder of Quest Commercial Real Estate LLC, a real estate brokerage and investment firm he founded in 2001. David previously founded and led several businesses focused on industrial construction services.

Professionally, David has served on several corporate boards, including DAMAR Homes and the Monon Corridor Development. David previously served as chairman of the National Railroad Contractors Association, and he was appointed by President Clinton to the National Railroad Review Commission. He also served as an AFL-CIO National Health and Welfare Trustee.

David has also held volunteer leadership positions in numerous Indianapolis civic organizations. He is past advisory board member for Indianapolis Animal Care Services (the municipal shelter for Indianapolis/Marion County), and a past President of the Penrod Society, and has served on several committees for the Indy Chamber. David also served on the boards of Hendricks County Economic Development Partnership, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, the Indianapolis Arts Council, the Indianapolis Opera, and the Domestic Violence Network.

For 17 years, David Horth has provided dedicated service to IndyHumane in various leadership capacities, reflecting his commitment to our city’s animals. Over an eight-year period, David served as Board Member, Board Treasurer, Finance Chair, and Vice Chair of the Board, culminating in service as Board Chair from 2007–2009. With his longstanding dedication and service to the organization, David then became a Life Board Member of IndyHumane. David also has had the unique experience of serving the organization twice as its interim CEO, for a period in 2008 and then again in 2018.

David possesses in-depth knowledge of and dedication to IndyHumane, thanks to his years spent in service to the organization, which he uses daily to bring IndyHumane forward into an exciting future. Under David’s leadership, IndyHumane increased its capacity to care for homeless dogs and cats in central Indiana by supporting to fellow animal welfare agencies, expanding animal welfare services in low-income communities and increasing animal welfare education.


Thank you so much for doing this with us David! You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

IndyHumane is an independent, Indianapolis-based non-profit animal shelter. So, we take in stray and found animals, surrendered pets, and animals from other shelters, give them the care they need, and find homes for them. We also have public programs like low-cost vaccine and spay/neuter clinics which help keep owned animals happy and healthy in the homes they have, and work toward breaking the cycle of pet overpopulation and abandonment.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I am a businessman by trade and worked in the for-profit sector for 37 years. I’ve always been an animal lover, so I joined the board of IndyHumane in 2002. After getting involved, I learned so much about animal welfare and gained tremendous respect for the folks on the ground, caring for these animals every day and making their second chances possible. I came to realize that by serving animals we also serve humanity. The vast majority of animal welfare issues emanate from urban low-income neighborhoods. The services we provide by serving animal welfare directly enhance and improve the quality of life for the residents of these areas.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

IndyHumane found itself in need of a CEO mid-2018, and the Board of Directors appointed me to lead as the interim CEO. I had served as interim before, in 2008, but this time felt different. One night, I came home and was talking to my wife about my day, as I had so many nights before. I was splitting my time between IndyHumane and my business, but I was finding it harder and harder to stay away from the shelter and I was certainly not treating it like a part time or temporary post. My heart was at IndyHumane. I decided then, that IndyHumane was where I wanted to be until I retire — and that’s not in cards for some time yet.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

IndyHumane was founded in 1905, so I was fortunate enough to enter this organization with almost 115 years of history, trust, and support in our community. The first major change, which took place while I was still interim, was to increase staff salaries across the organization to move everyone closer to a living wage. In Indiana, the minimum wage is $7.50. I’m proud to say that we did pay everyone, even the most “entry-level” positions more than minimum wage, but not nearly enough for the hard work these folks do on behalf of the animals. An actual living wage in Indiana is close to $13. It took lots of pleading to the board, many hours of research, and major shifts to our budget, but it was important to me and the leadership team that everyone, from kennel staff to veterinarians, be able to financially support themselves. You can’t expect to attract or retain talented, passionate staff if they can’t pay their bills or feed their own pets.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I would say the most interesting experience has been adjusting my skill sets and management style away from a profit to the not for profit frame of mind. There are some similarities but the application and the approach is vastly different.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

Indy Humane has a hodge podge of technology and software that drives me nuts. It vexes me. I could laugh or cry so I choose to laugh. I frequently request assistance from my much younger and more adept colleagues.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have been fortunate to have a variety of mentors in my life the greatest of which was my late father. I apply the lessons he taught me almost daily.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

You hear a lot about “adopt don’t shop”, and of course adoption is an important piece of the puzzle. But we cannot adopt our way out of pet overpopulation. We need to stop the cycle of accidental, unplanned, and irresponsible breeding before it begins. Low-cost, accessible spay/neuter is probably the single most effective way to do that. Animal welfare, care, and enforcement is woefully underfunded by cities, counties, and at the federal level. It’s an afterthought in most city or state budgets, and pets as well as people suffer because of it.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

We remain substantially dependent on philanthropy and fees to operate our agency. There is a national trend amongst non-profits to create services and functions that produce “profit” so those funds can be used to support our mission. This strategy enhances sustainability. We are environmentally conscious by being good stewards of the land we own, having an agency recycling program and using environmentally friendly products to the extent possible.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Having 18 years of in-depth experience with the agency allowed me to arrive with my eyes wide open. Despite being no stranger to the agency, it was important to me that, while I was interim CEO in 2018 and for several months after becoming CEO in 2019, I took time to observe and understand the organization inside out. Day-to-day operations, workplace and team dynamics, what was working and what needed improvement. I certainly don’t know the minutiae of what it takes to run IndyHumane from top to bottom, but I humbly try. My door is, metaphorically, always, and typically physically, open. I welcome staff concerns and feedback about how to make the agency better for everyone involved.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Especially in these days of pandemic and civil unrest, serving the greater good is more important than ever. We must engage and communicate. A life without service isn’t much of a life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never, never, never give up” — Winston Churchill

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 😊

Bill Gates. By redeploying a portion of his vast fortune through philanthropy he is changing the world for the better. I admire him.

How can our readers follow you online?

IndyHumane.org; our website is very thorough in walking folks through all our programs and services. We also have an active presence on social media, our handle is @indyhumane on all channels.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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