Monday, August 18, 2008

What holds us back from joining the no kill revolution?

First, thanks to the person who made the anonymous comment ...

... about getting turned off at our shelter's door just by a sign that started exhibiting a negative, distrusting atmosphere before this person entered to look for a dog to adopt. And, I hope more people in the public will start to speak up about their experiences. I say this not because I encourage mean-spiritedness with no purpose, but because I honestly believe that in order to improve and get to no kill, the first step is for our shelter to take a self-critical, sobering look at itself through the eyes of the many good people they turn off and away, which does directly tie into the numbers of animals that get killed.

Let's not let the no kill phrase get in the way of working toward lifesaving

No kill as a term seems to send everyone on different loops—from a person off the streets who is not familiar with shelter lingo to animal-welfare advocates and shelter professionals who work regularly in this world and especially for leaders in our communities who don’t think animal welfare warrants the time, money, and staff necessary to do the kind of heavy research it takes to muddle through the world of no kill much less lead the efforts toward a change in philosophy and the way shelters do business.

Some people I know prefer to use the term low kill, and Maddie’s Fund started shying away from the term no kill—probably because success has been slow for this program despite the hundreds of millions dedicated to it—and started calling shelters “adoption guarantee” when they reach their goals of adopting out all “healthy” animals. To me, we spend too much time worrying about and arguing about terminology. Even terms like healthy, adoptable, treatable (medically/behaviorally), and all the other terms that are used in shelters are relative to the way they are either equitably and thoroughly applied--or, as is the case in most shelters, not applied fairly. Furthermore, statistics from one shelter to another are not easily comparable because these numbers are not collected and reported on in the same ways at all shelters. Only programs like Maddie’s Fund and the matrix suggested by the No Kill Advocacy Center are starting to standardize statistics across the board, but anyone can skew their own statistics with the way they categorize the incoming animals. Confusing is just the tip of the iceberg.

No kill from the No Kill Advocacy Center’s point of view is simple. It means not killing any healthy and treatable animals that can and should be saved and reserving euthanasia only for the dictionary definition of the word—giving a humane death to those who are irremediably suffering because of illness or injury, to those with a poor prognosis for recovery from an illness, and to those seriously vicious dogs that pose a threat to our community. In this sense of no kill, one can see what they mean ... if you reach the goal of only performing euthanasia in the true sense of the word, then you are no longer killing ... hence, you have reached no kill.

Determining which animals fall in which categories takes trained medical and behavioral professionals and a commitment to assess and route animals on an individual basis. Otherwise, animals are assessed less fairly and thoroughly, such as deciding to kill one dog over another for simply being of a certain breed or color or age or just not as “cute” as some others (the fate of most pit bulls, for example) or because the dog is behaving in a shy, fearful manner (understandable behavior in a shelter setting).

People in the general public are understandably confused. Recently, our shelter’s new leadership announced a no kill goal and said it would take five to seven years to get there. All people saw and registered in the headlines and news bites were the words no kill. To regular people, this means we are there NOW. All those animals they are having issues with—the ones that escape and jump out, the ones that dig too many holes in the yard, the ones that bark all night out of sheer boredom, the cats that spray the house, the ones who were toylike and cute as puppies and kittens but grew up to be annoying without leadership and attention to the animals’ needs—well, all those animals are ending up at our shelter even more so than in the past.

This is where the community needs to understand that things aren’t that simple that someone snaps their fingers and the shelter suddenly grows in its capacity and the services and programs it offers. That does take time. Whether it takes a year to make strides or a few years to completely reach the goal are also arguments that take our focus away from what matters most—which is action and taking it now. Even discussions that say increased funding is needed first can make it so no one acts until that happens, and all we are doing is wasting more time and more lives.

This is where Richard Avanzino and Maddie’s Fund are teaching us some lessons. When Avanzino took over the San Francisco ASPCA in the early 1990s, he had zero experience running shelters and the non-profit was three months away from bankruptcy. He didn’t wait for funding; he started acting. He is the grandfather of comprehensive adoption programs, one of the necessary elements leading to no kill. That’s why Maddie’s Fund focuses so much on this aspect, but what this is showing is that if you throw millions toward that aspect alone, your success will be marginal. All of the comprehensive no kill programs and services need to be happening at the same time. When that started working in San Francisco, Avanzino not only pulled that SPCA out of bankruptcy but grew it into one of the richest shelter non-profits at that time and by 1994, San Francisco was the safest community for homeless animals.

So, let it take as long as it takes, and don’t worry about that in the beginning, but start working toward implementing all the programs and services that help bring it about TODAY, especially beginning with the sheer willpower to stop the needless killing—whatever it takes. This set of To Dos for shelters is simple (see my last blog for the high-level list), and though each can be tailored for each community and tweaked or added to, that should not stop us from moving forward now. For too long, our leaders here have been talking about our shelter being in transition since the city and county took over operations of it in January. That has gone on for about eight months now.

It’s time for all of us—advocates like myself and those in the general public that are responsible pet owners and anyone who cares at all about animal welfare—whether we all can agree on the terminology or not, to ask that this time of transition come to an end and some real talk and action begin toward the various programs and services that are going to get us there.

Start asking the tough questions and demand answers. Our animal services are made possible by either our tax dollars or charitable contributions, so we are all stakeholders in reaching the no kill goal and for the welfare of the animals in our system. For example, Dona Ana County recently purchased a van that could be out in the South part of the county today providing volume spay/neuter services, and this is where 60% of the strays brought into the shelter by animal control come from. So, what are they waiting for? More questions to ask that can lead to action: How can we get more funding to the spay/neuter programs that do exist to launch an aggressive PR campaign using radio and print media and billboards? Who can go start knocking on doors to ask people what is preventing them from fixing their pets, and how can we overcome these obstacles in proactive, positive ways?

Lastly, the entire community needs to be allowed and welcomed to support the shelter in tackling and implementing each and every service and program that needs to be in place. Starting work on these programs does not take years' worth of time. Maybe the full benefits may take years to materialize, but there should be measurable progress made year-by-year to show you are headed in the right direction. Then, maybe the funding and other opportunities will present themselves when we prove that we deserve them.


dog lover said...

there is going to be a time when there just isnt enough homes for all these animals
face reality, euthansia is just a hard fact of life.and i am sure the folks at the shelter have a hard time choosing the animals that may have to be euthanized.
and until you really focus your efforts to educating spay and neuter issues to the public you are always going to have more animals
i think it is more important right know than a NO KILL facility
again dont get me wrong no kill is noble but i think the effort and priority now is spay and neuter and you should write more about it

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute! I thought the city/county takeover of the now ASCMV with 1.1 million of our tax dollars was going to be the perfect solution to end euthanasia. What happened?

Anonymous said...

Finding it hard to believe that you really care when you don't believe in truth and freedom of speech. A moderated blog that must be approved by the author is censorship and I for one will never have anything to do with contributing to an organization that denies me that freedom. Shame on you, this group should know better.

Anonymous said...

Your continuing and obvious critique of our local shelter is something that definitely is not helping right now.

I suggest that you should walk in the new director's shoes for about two weeks. Once you have had to make the hard decisions regarding which animal lives and which animal dies, mainly due to the fact that our elected city and county fathers have not had that reality check with regard to our local shelter not being big enough to handle the runaway dog and cat population, then perhaps you actually do have a "real" concept instead of your "La La Land" visions of what and how it should be.

Finally, in agreeing with dog lover's comment, there aren't enough homes for all of these animals already. It is not a myth, but a very sad fact!