Thursday, August 14, 2008

Old Guard vs. New Guard

Brief background of the revolution

Just a few years ago, I didn't know there was an old guard vs. a new guard in the world of animal sheltering--I learned that as I read various materials written on the subject, from archive articles of Animal Sheltering out of the Humane Society of the United States to the documentation of my favorite animal-welfare group, Best Friends Animal Society. Then, I began to see examples for myself first-hand in my volunteer work, and I started picking up the phone to talk to people, too. It's surprising how forthcoming some shelter directors are.

Some people and groups are at the forefront of this revolution -- such as the progressive, in-your-face views offered by Nathan Winograd--who challenges much in the status quo system. He's the revolutionary thinker and rebel that is never afraid to tell it like it is, and I'm sure some of the things he says do not win him fans from the status-quo community. However, even if you don't agree with every word he says or writes, his book, "Redemption", is an eye-opener and great history lesson on sheltering from the beginning (back to the late 1800s). It got me to thinking that I, too, have spent most of my life regurgitating the same views as most people ... he's the first one that made me stop and think ... is that the "truth"? Or, is that something we've all brainwashed ourselves to believe?

Here's the basic way this war is waging, as far as I can tell, and more details will be forthcoming that show more comparisons and contrasts in greater detail. I see that most of the old, rich, powerful animal groups and humane societies--such as the HSUS, ASPCA, PETA, etc.--are at odds with the new ideas being brought forth because it challenges the way they have been doing business and their platforms. Their attack of the Winograd no kill philosophy and his No Kill Advocacy Center are fighting for is veiled in their writings and not in-your-face. Yet, if you can read between the lines, you can see they are accusing many Winograd no kill facilities as being hoarders and not offering adequate care, but that's about the only argument--that and their view that one set of programs can't possibly work in every community. On the other hand, Winograd will openly talk about HSUS/PETA and their leadership, and he will be openly critical of popular personalities, such as Wayne Parcelle, HSUS's CEO.

Still, there are others working toward no kill in other ways, and even the HSUS and the ASPCA have adopted their own views and programs toward no kill (none showing much success so far, such as the ASPCA's Mission Orange). Maddie's Fund is a $250 million foundation that is trying to help communities reach no kill, but their moderate success so far points to another myth we all believe--that money and funding are the key to lifesaving. After millions given to some areas that have shown little or no increase in their "save rates" for all impounded animals, it makes one wonder.

Maddie's President, Richard Avanzino, was the first pioneer of progressive ideas and brought us such innovations as daily off-site adoptions and other pioneering strides that make up the backbone of the No Kill Equation's set of simultaneous programs that Winograd pushes for. Avanzino was also the first in the country to get a community to 90+ percent save rates (with the San Francisco SPCA), and he was Winograd's mentor at that time (early to late 1990s), and Winograd was his successor in San Francisco and went on to try the model in a rural area after it was said only an urban, rich area could reach no kill.

Since that time, Winograd and Avanzino are working on this goal in much different ways, with Avanzino advancing the ideas of everyone in animal welfare coming together to cooperate and coordinate efforts, which led to the Asilomar Accords, a document that supports the ending of killing of healthy animals in shelters and which was signed by most of the leaders of these powerful animal groups. Except Winograd ... his view is that waiting until all animal people agree on matters is a waste of time and life because you are waiting to act. The way he sees it, there is a successful model available to all shelters to try, so why aren't they doing that? It would not hurt shelters to try to implement the programs, and none of them are radical. He says cooperation between all is not key ... what is key is strong leadership and reaching goals through rigorous implementation of programs and a commitment to stop the killing.

In other words, this war is complicated and has many winding roads and charismatic characters, as all revolutions do. And at yet another forefront is Best Friends and their No More Homeless Pets campaign. Best Friends is the positive, friendly group that anyone who cares about animals knows and loves, yet their philosophies about saving animals' lives are more in line with the Winograd way of thinking and especially with the programs and policies that must be in place to start changing the tide away from the killing. They are too nice to attack anyone openly or otherwise, and they do run the biggest sanctuary in the U.S. and are probably too busy saving lives to get too deep into the trenches.

Now for a comparison

One specific comparison and contrast I can make is in the area of customer service and adoptions at shelters. No kill says that much success can be had by running a shelter more like a business than from the pound-mentality shown in most facilities. At the heart of this issue is the love/hate (mostly hate) that is felt by the public for their shelters ("they kill animals there, don't they?") and also by shelters for the general public ("all those people out there are no good and MAKE us kill animals every day, and it's hard on us doing that ugly work and we really , really hate all these people").

Both views are understandable, but getting past these views is the key to success. For, getting stuck in this endless loop is the Catch-22 situation we have been in for decades, and it is not working.

How does no kill suggest we break free of this defeatist pattern? It starts with questioning our core beliefs ... are there too many homeless animals and not enough homes, or are shelters too critical and closed-minded, and do they end up turning people away or off with the way they have come to make adopting a pet more like trying to overcome extreme obstacles, and they automatically assume that the person there to adopt a pet is just like the guy that showed up two hours ago to relinquish his cat or dog because he was moving and couldn't take the pet with him?

Looking at numbers on the national level, which are well-reported by sources such as Winograd, Maddie's Fund annual reports, etc., the truth is that there are 165 million pets in American homes today, yet people got those pets from shelters less than 20 percent of the time. That's a huge market waiting to be tapped into. If we are killing 5 million at this time, could we not save that 5 million if we worked hard to capture just 5 percent of this market in the next year nationwide? I know that's a numbers game and that it is not that simple, but it is worth exploring how we can save at least the majority of that 5 million.

Some successful shelters make the adoption process much more friendly by simply making the shelter an opening, welcoming place for all. They encourage people from the public to visit a facility that they--in all fairness--contribute to either through their tax dollars and/or charitable contributions. Instead of getting a wall of suspicion at the entrance, people get excellent customer service and thoughtful adoption counselors ready to help them make the best choice in a pet based on their lifestyle and desires--instead of filling out an outdated form on which they may circle the "wrong" answer to a question and be rudely told they are not a good enough adopter for an animal that may be put to death a few days later. Some programs try to force good matchmaking with forms, too, and they assign a "color" to animals and people. Then, people are ONLY allowed to see animals that match their color ... talk about starting to complicate matters more and limit the options for both animals and humans.

Don't get me wrong ... I am not proposing that shelters do not need to screen adopters and should do anything to get a "sale" and be careless in their business. However, being far too picky can also be the leading cause of a shelter's high kill rate. Instead of making it like taking a test an adopter has to "ace", make it so that you have a normal, open conversation with a person to get a feel for whether they would provide an acceptable (maybe not ideal) home -- one that would be much better than sure death. Maybe a shelter not killing 12,000 animals a year can be that choosy, but I don't think we have that luxury at our shelter at this time.

At the Nevada Humane Society, for example, there is a literal celebration each time an adoption is made ... a bell is rung and everyone on the staff shows gratitude and genuine well-wishes and congratulates the new "parent". Dogs are walked through the shelter wearing "adopt me" vests and allowed to meet and greet people. Cats are lounging around in designated areas and on counters instead of caged up all the time, and people can sit and interact with them in this more natural setting. And, there are ad campaigns to push adoptions for the harder-to-place, such as big black dogs and pit bulls. A "reward" is offered for anyone who brings in their pit bull to be fixed, and there's an Animal Help Desk that gets 400 hits a month via phone and e-mail.

These are all part of the philosophy, programs, and new ideas driving progressive sheltering today.


Anonymous said...

you cant have a no kill shelter without educationg people on the importance of spaying their animals first.
otherwise all you are going to create is over crowding for these animals, like at our own shelter here in LC,and that is not good for them.
dont get me wrong, i think getting to a no kill shelter status would be great, but it wont happen overnight. and i think that is what they are trying to do here in LC. The shelter condition is far worse now with the over crowding than it has ever been and i dont hear anyone complaining about it like they were before the overcrowding started

Bowser said...

Hi Michel,
first let me say that I am incredible thankful what you have done concerning the wellfare of animals in this area. I like to comment on the point about addopting out even if is not perfect. I live in the South Valley. I see many many dogs chained up, 24/7 X 365. Animal control tells me this is fine as long as there is a shelter. Since they are short staffed they cannot enforce the 8 hour only chaining law so they don't even bother to tell these dog owners about this ordinance. I am sorry to say this but if I would have to decide having a dog chained all his life or have him euthanized I would definetely go for the euthanization. Hope there will be some discussion about this at the meeting next week. said...

This is a really wonderful discussion of the no-kill movement today. I wish all animal lovers could read it. In Austin, Texas, a group called leads the no-kill movement. We thank you for this wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

This is a thoughtful, well-informed discussion of this topic. I will refer as many people as possible to read this insightful discussion.