Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Kill is more than "noble"; it's doable!

I have heard this phrase many a time in the past months from different people: "No kill is noble, but it can't be done here because of _____." Insert one defeatist reason or another, and this is the main obstacle to reaching something doable. It is being done at this time in places like Charlottesville, VA and Reno, NV--where save rates of more than 80-90 percent have been reached in the past year alone.

The closet comparison between homeless animal intake numbers in a very high growth area such as Las Cruces is Reno. I have picked up the phone and talked to Bonney Brown myself, the director of the Nevada Humane Society, and she is very responsive and willing to share ideas and information. She came to Nevada via Best Friends Animal Society, so of course she has that positive drive. She just sent me a copy of their Animal Help Desk manual, and I plan to use it as a basis for a pet help line program being developed here by the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico. Pet retention efforts are also part of the entire no kill solution base.

Oftentimes, shelter leaders will hear of another area experiencing success, and they will automatically look for the holes in what is being done or reported or for excuses of why it isn't possible in their areas and completely dismiss/distrust the success. Instead, you'd hope they'd do something uncharacteristic--like perhaps pick up the phone and talk to another shelter leader in another area experiencing success to see what they have been doing and how they are reaching that success. After all, if euthanasia is just a reality and given, why not take some chances and try things differently? What's the worst that can happen?

The comment received from "dog lover" is much appreciated, and I agree that spay/neuter is one of the most important elements in the No Kill Equation. Education for adults and children alike; research and programs to reach high volumes of surgeries; and providing many services and opportunities for people to do this very right thing is something we need to strive toward and start working on today. I have already written about this subject more than once in this blog, and it will be a main theme throughout. We'll explore all ideas regarding spay and neuter.

However, the reason shelters need an entire equation and many kinds of efforts and programs to help solve the issue is that the problem is not simple. If it were a simple 1 minus 1 equals 0 kind of equation, then simply raising awareness and volumes of spay/neuter surgeries would be the only answer. However, any shelter professional can tell you it isn't that simple. There are issues with animal behavior that people have no idea how to deal with (hence,the need for pet help lines and Dog Whisperer episodes!); there are issues with people's expectations of animals despite more and more animals being openly welcomed into homes as family members; there are issues of people being unable to care for their pets after loss of life or health; and there are issues of finding better ways to work with animal control departments and educate them as the first responders in the field that can work with and not against people at every turn. If the issue were that simple, a 10 or more step solution would not be necessary.

I am also sure that for shelter staff, euthanasia is never an easy decision nor an enjoyable/rewarding experience. You'd have to be sadistic for that! There is nothing more tragic than the fact that humane organizations are in the business of killing the very beings they are sworn to protect. My heart goes out to people who carry out this awful work. I suspect that is what causes so much conflict--it starts internally. Most shelter workers also do not receive the kind of emotional support and counseling they need.

This struggle dates back to the founder of the first ASPCA in America in 1866, Henry Bergh. He was a powerhouse animal savior and advocate of one. Although he tried to change and modify pound practices from the outside, he refused to accept the City of New York's offers to run the pound under contract because he deeply understood the great divide between protecting animals and the business carried out at the city pound. Though things have progressed since the days pound animals were drowned or clubbed to death in mass killings and the public spectacles of these killings, things have also stagnated in this country in the area of animal sheltering since humane societies took the reigns of pounds--which happened shortly after Bergh's death.

For a stark example of the stagnation, it is only now that shelter medicine has come out as a "new, emerging" field in the world of veterinary medicine. It has taken that long for shelter animals to merit that kind of attention, which is odd. After all, it is understandable that humane organizations took the reigns of shelters to provide better care and opportunities to homeless animals and more humane deaths, but what took so long to merit good vet care? Shouldn't the main priority be care of and lifesaving for these animals? Well, that is what no kill is all about. It even adds opportunities for behavior modification to help an animal become more "adoptable".

So, back to that hero of long ago ... Henry Bergh fought until the very end to not take over pound operations.
This is from a passage of "Redemption", which offers a rich and detailed history of sheltering in our country: "He [Bergh] believed the ASPCA was a tool to champion and protect life, not to end it. He believed that its role to protect animals from people was fundamentally at odds with that of a pound. Bergh understood implicitly that animal welfare and animal control were two separate and distinct movements, each opposing the other on fundamental issues of life and death. To this day, that tension can be bridged somewhat, but never eliminated."

It is because this work is hard on the minds, hearts, and souls of shelter staff that you'd think they'd be on the path to exploring other alternatives. It is hard to explore or try other avenues, however, when leaders have accepted and completely internalized the myths of there being more homeless animals than available homes and that the best we can hope to do is save a few lucky dogs and cats and kill the rest. This is a vicious cycle for our shelters and their staff, which is why a complete change of heart and mind is required from the top down. Imagine the power of success, even in bits at a time? Imagine the power of negativity and defeatism being replaced by a resolve to accept and fight the challenges with a positive, can-do attitude?

That said, I end this post with an assurance to "dog lover" that this blog will definitely talk about the importance of spay and neuter and the various ways to raise awareness and volume of this important part of no kill. But, I also will pose challenges to our leadership to raise the bar for our shelter as I believe that despite the fact that killing may be reality for shelters, this should not stop us from trying to reach higher goals.

This reminds me of one of the monthly meetings our City and County managers were having with area animal advocates during the shelter's transition time and when they were first forming the newly-coined Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV). They kept assuring us that we'd be soon moving past the pound mentality our shelter had been operating under. At one point, they presented their mission and vision statements for the ASCMV. They said they had sat and discussed these with each other at length, and we anxiously waited to hear what they came up with, hoping for something progressive and visionary.

Instead, they repeated the same mantra ... that no kill was a noble idea of a very far, far future, but the ASCMV's mission was to adhere to state statues and laws regarding the running of an animal shelter.
That was a real letdown ... at least for myself. I wanted to stand up and say, "With all due respect, Mr. Moore and Mr. Haines, but that is not either a vision nor mission statement ... that's a given."

Of course our shelter has to adhere to state and local laws. When and if no kill does oppose laws or the way they are enforced, it does so from a legal point-of-view. If your current laws, such as ours, are in opposition to implementation of good programs for feral cats--for example--you lobby and fight for the laws and ordinances to be changed in such a way to allow for these programs. If, for another example, your current laws don't allow the shelter to fix dogs and cats found roaming at large until they are in the system the third time and the owner comes to claim them and pay their dues, you work to change that law, too, so that you can automatically spay and neuter any dog/cat coming into the facility.

One by one ... one law at a time ... one attitude at a time ... one animal at a time ... you work toward saving more lives until you start to turn the tide. You don't just shrug your shoulders and say it cannot be done.


cat hoarder said...

How do suggest the shelter handle all the animals (100+) that come from some of the hoarding cases if it was a no kill shelter.
They just don't have the room to house these animals.

hardfacts said...

great there is still 10-20% euthansia rate
when are you ever going to acknowledge that euthansia is just a hard fact of life you have deal with it

Anonymous said...

Great job Michel!!
Thanks God for people like you. One day your dream will come true. You are an amazing woman with a very beautiful heart full of love and passion for all animals. God bless you always and we need more people like you.