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20 November 2010 Issue

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Animal Shelters - The No Kill Equation


Two decades ago, the concept of a No Kill community was little more than a dream. Today, it is a reality in many cities and counties nationwide and the numbers continue to grow. And the first step is a decision, a commitment to reject the kill-oriented failures of the past. No Kill starts as an act of will. The next step involves putting in place the infrastructure to save lives.

Following a commitment to No Kill is the need for accountability. Accountability means having clear definitions, a lifesaving plan, and protocols and procedure oriented toward preserving life. But accountability also allows, indeed requires, flexibility. Too many shelters lose sight of this principle, staying rigid with shelter protocols, believing these are engraved in stone. They are not. Protocols are important because they ensure accountability from staff. But protocols without flexibility can have the opposite effect: stifling innovation, causing lives to be needlessly lost, and allowing shelter employees who fail to save lives to hide behind a paper trail.

The decision to end an animal’s life is an extremely serious one, and should always be treated as such. No matter how many animals a shelter kills, each and every animal is an individual, and each deserves individual consideration.

And finally, to meet the challenge that No Kill entails, shelter leadership needs to get the community excited, to energize people for the task at hand. By working with people, implementing lifesaving programs, and treating each life as precious, a shelter can transform a community.

The mandatory programs and services include:

I.     Feral Cat TNR Program
II.    High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
III.   Rescue Groups
IV.   Foster Care
V.    Comprehensive Adoption Programs
VI.   Pet Retention
VII.  Medical and Behavior Rehabilitation
VIII. Public Relations/Community Involvement
IX.   Volunteers
X.    Proactive Redemptions
XI.  A Compassionate Director

I. Feral Cat TNR Program
Many communities throughout the United States are embracing Trap, Neuter, Release programs (TNR) to improve animal welfare, reduce death rates, and meet obligations to public welfare.

II. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
Low cost, high volume spay/neuter will quickly lead to fewer animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives.

III. Rescue Groups
An adoption or transfer to a rescue group frees up scarce cage and kennel space, reduces expenses for feeding, cleaning, killing, and improves a community’s rate of lifesaving. In an environment of millions of dogs and cats killed in shelters annually, rare is the circumstance in which a rescue group should be denied an animal.

IV. Foster Care
Volunteer foster care is crucial to No Kill. Without it, saving lives is compromised. It is a low cost, and often no cost, way of increasing a shelter’s capacity, improving public relations, increasing a shelter’s public image, rehabilitating sick and injured or behaviorally challenged animals, and saving lives.

V. Comprehensive Adoption Programs
Adoptions are vital to an agency’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice. In fact, studies show people get their animals from shelters only 20% of the time. If shelters better promoted their animals and had adoption programs responsive to the needs of the community, including public access hours for working people, offsite adoptions, adoption incentives, and effective marketing, they could increase the number of homes available and replace killing with adoptions. Contrary to conventional wisdom, shelters can adopt their way out of killing.

VI. Pet Retention
While some of the reasons animals are surrendered to shelters are unavoidable, others can be prevented—but only if shelters are willing to work with people to help them solve their problems. Saving animals requires communities to develop innovative strategies for keeping people and their companion animals together. And the more a community sees its shelters as a place to turn for advice and assistance, the easier this job will be.

VII. Medical and Behavior Programs
In order to meet its commitment to a lifesaving guarantee for all savable animals, shelters need to keep animals happy and healthy and keep animals moving through the system. To do this, shelters must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies before animals get sick and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, unweaned, or traumatized.

VIII. Public Relations/Community Involvement
Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to one thing: increasing the shelter’s exposure. And that means consistent marketing and public relations. Public relations and marketing are the foundation of all a shelter’s activities and their success. To do all these things well, the shelter must be in the public eye.

IX. Volunteers
Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers come in and make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.

X. Proactive Redemptions
One of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims. Sadly, besides having pet owners fill out a lost pet report, very little effort is made in this area of shelter operations. This is unfortunate because doing so—primarily shifting from passive to a more proactive approach—has proven to have a significant impact on lifesaving and allow shelters to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families.

XI. A Compassionate Director
The final element of the No Kill equation is the most important of all, without which all other elements are thwarted—a hard working, compassionate animal control or shelter director not content to regurgitate tired clichés or hide behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes.” Unfortunately, this one is also oftentimes the hardest one to demand and find.

But it is clear that No Kill is simply not achievable without rigorous implementation of each and every one of these programs and services. These programs provide the only model which has ever created No Kill communities. It is up to us in the humane movement to demand them of our local shelters, and no longer to settle for illusory excuses and smokescreens shelters often put up in order to avoid implementing them.

The Irrationality of Opposition to No Kill

October 18, 2010 byNathan J. Winograd

Over the weekend, I was the subject of an attack by a PETA hack named Mike Stark. His basic premise was that because I support ending the systematic slaughter of animals in shelters, I am for “torture” of animals. He goes on to accuse me of being in league with puppy mills. The first premise (No Kill equals torture of animals) is a rehash of the now thoroughly debunked and thoroughly discredited argument that No Kill equals hoarding.

This is the argument made by those who embrace killing of animals in order to justify their unethical beliefs and untoward actions by painting the life affirming alternative as darker. To accuse someone of being the very thing they are working to oppose is Orwellian through and through.

The second argument is that because I do not believe the myth of pet overpopulation, I must be in league with puppy mill seven though I’ve clearly and unequivocally have come out in favor of shutting them down. By that logic, Stark and his pro-killing cronies are in league with those who neglect, abuse, and kill animals and want it to continue. Who believes that pet overpopulation is real in spite of the overwhelming data and experience that it is not? Only people who want animals to be killed because it gives them the excuse to do so.

As desperate as Stark is, no lie can live forever. I’ve traveled all over the country, indeed all over the world, to speak to sold-out audiences about the future. The bright future we can have if we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to building the infrastructure necessary to create and sustain a No Kill nation. We do that, of course, by institutionalizing the No Kill Equation, the series of programs and services which replace killing and which have allowed for overnight success in the many shelters across the country that have already dedicated themselves to that end. Programs that no one, and by that, I mean no rational person can seriously take issue with: foster care, offsite adoptions, socialization and behavior rehabilitation, thorough cleaning and care standards, medical care both as prevention and for rehabilitation, working with rescue groups, TNR, pet retention, progressive field services/proactive redemption, marketing and adoptions, and of course, progressive and imaginative leadership.

That is why being “opposed to No Kill” is a non-starter. Can anyone with even a hint of compassion actually say it is better to kill baby kittens than bottle feed them? Kill animals rather than promote adoptions? Kill animals rather than work with rescue groups? Of course not.

To say you are “opposed to No Kill” means you reject foster care in favor of killing, you reject vaccinations and medical care in favor of killing, you reject knocking on doors to get lost dogs home rather than killing, and you reject adoptions in favor of killing. Of course, most of the opponents of No Kill won’t say that. They can’t say that. No one will take them seriously. So they say they are “opposed to No Kill” and hope people don’t ask probing questions. Because if you were to ask, “Are you opposed to foster care?” The answer would have to be “No.” If you were to ask “Are you opposed to adoption?” The answer would have to be “No.” The same is true of each and every program of the No Kill Equation. And when you put them all together, and you implement them comprehensively, you get No Kill.

But that would require the Nay-sayers to act in rational ways. And if you look at those who continue to defend the “catch and kill” paradigm, rationality has not been their strong suit. First, there are those who are sadistic promoters of killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. These are the Ingrid Newkirks and Ardena Perrys of the world, people with a history of personality disorders: Munchausen by Proxy, neglect, abuse, and/or alcoholism. Second, there are those who have addictive personalities, people who cling to self-destructive patterns of behavior: the Del Goss’ of the world.

Then there are those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Those who will reject the No Kill Equation because it requires them to work hard, rather than sit in their office all day with their feet up on their desk. People like the disgraced, removed former Austin shelter director, Dorinda Pulliam, who killed over 100,000 animals in her sordid career because of nothing more than uncaring and laziness. This group also includes the government bureaucrats who would rather protect underperforming shirkers, than hold them accountable. And, of course, the Wayne Pacelles of the world who climbed the ladder of personal “success” (but I would argue, historical infamy) by catering to his killing colleagues, rather than defending the animals he pledged himself to protect as the leader of a large national animal protection organization.

The third group includes the Johnny-Come-Lately nobodies who are trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the animals. These are the Mike Starks of the world, unknowns who have never actually done anything of worth themselves, but think that by attacking those of us who have and do; they can ride our coattails to personal recognition.

And the final group are those who have carved a niche for themselves in the current structure, and will defend that structure against being upended, the animals be damned. These are people like Pat Dunaway, a person who created an identity for herself by working with the San Bernardino County shelter. Not only was Dunaway a favorite volunteer because she did not publicly criticize them, she defended them even when dogs were forced to drink from algae covered water bowls, when they killed animals to punish outspoken rescuers while those rescuers were on their way to save those particular animals, when they returned a puppy that was lit on fire back to the abuser to save money pending trial, and when an officer beat a puppy with a baton, leaving a blood splattered kennel (he was not terminated). Dunaway defended them and defends them still. And she has been fighting me ever since because I was part of the group that came in on behalf of the city council to terminate the city’s animal control contract with the county shelter and, in the process, kicked Dunaway out.

But what do all of these people have in common besides being unethical, lacking personal integrity, and imbibing once too often in the killing Kool Aid? They are out of touch with the direction of history. They are out of touch with how most people really feel about animals and what they want for them. And they are nothing more than speed bumps we have to brush aside as we work to create a No Kill nation.

I don’t mean to underplay the damage that they do. They cause, defend, or legitimize the killing of millions of animals every year. They are part of a genocide. (What else could you possibly call the systematic destruction of a species?) But aside from those in the first camp (they are mentally ill) and those in the last camp (they are committed to killing), make no mistake about it; the rest—Stark included—will disown their views. Regardless of whether it takes a year, five years, or ten years, they will either issue a mea culpa or deny they ever favored killing. They will become what racists are today. At one time, people wore their racism openly and violently. Today, they would not now dare say so openly.

One only needs to look at Wayne Pacelle. Unethical as he may be, he’s not daft. Once virulently against No Kill and its many tenets including TNR, over the last couple of years, he has tested the waters, dipped a toe in by claiming he supports No Kill, changing his position on programs like TNR, and even by claiming that he is the leader of the No Kill movement. He sees the writing on the wall and he is trying to navigate himself out of the ugly corner he put himself in.

But not all of them can see past their own myopia. At last count, I have six or seven websites dedicated to attacking me. Without exception, they are all anonymous, run by Dunaway and her ilk, people who do not have the fortitude or integrity to stand openly behind their pathetic claims. But that is good news. They, too, know which way the march of history is progressing, as much as they are trying in vain to hold it back. And if history is any guide, their ever increasing, ever more absurd and desperate attacks on me are, ironically, welcome news for our movement.

It means we have entered a new phase in our struggle: violent and ugly opposition. And while it is sad and tragic that all social movements have to go through this because history seems to be constantly repeating itself, it means we are winning. It means the message is getting out. Mahatma Ghandi is credited with saying: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” We are in the midst of the fight. And if he is right, then we are also on the verge of ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters. We are on the verge of a No Kill nation.

So my fellow soldiers in our growing army of compassion, take heart. Keep your head straight, your eyes in front of you, and your focus on the prize. Millions of animals are betting their lives on us, and we will not let them down. The Mike Starks and Pat Dunaways and Ingrid Newkirks and Wayne Pacelles and Ardena Perrys are nothing more than annoying background noise, speaking a dead language that few people are listening to anymore. Let them talk amongst themselves, with websites that no one is taking seriously, and with blog posts that leave no lasting mark, as we march headlong towards a certain, and not too distant, victory.


Update: It turns out Mike Stark surrendered his “Pit Bull” at his local shelter, which just happened to be the Charlottesville SPCA, a facility I helped make No Kill and which is following the No Kill Equation model of sheltering. Stark admits his dog is doing well and most importantly, alive. Had Susanne Kogut not visited me when I was in Tompkins County, had she not taken the job at my urging, had I not done training for the staff there, had she not followed the model, Stark’s dog would be dead. His tribute to his dog? Attacking the person who played a role in keeping that dog alive. And why did Stark get rid of his dog? He was having a baby. This is the new spokesman for the anti-No Kill, pro-killing crowd. It is pathetic and shameful.


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