Friday, September 26, 2008

We are not alone ... yet, should that keep us from progress?

Modern sheltering is at its inception

I know that most shelters in the U.S. run about the same way as our own--entrenched in an old system of operations that leads to high rates of killing. When I am critical of our shelter, it is not driven by malicious intent with no purpose other than to hurt others; it is constructive criticism meant to inspire us to do better and for the public to be informed and demand better for our shelter as well.

Some places have multi-million dollar buildings and budgets but still kill the vast majority of animals that come through their systems (look no further than El Paso for a good example of that). Many examples such as these exist in the U.S. today; shelters operating with the best of resources--yet still killing the vast majority of their animals.

So, our shelter and entire animal-welfare system in Dona Ana County is not unique, but it is my hope that we'd want to get modern and progressive sooner than later and explore how you can allocate the resources you do have--money and hours--in ways that save more lives and enrich the lives between companion animals and their humans, with the understanding that nothing you do will ever make every person out there a good, responsible pet owner. No Kill knows this but does not operate from that mindset every day (focused on how to make bad people good or simply find new ways to punish them); No Kill organizations look to the homeless animals in their care and shift their focus to what can be done for them and how can all the good people out there be engaged to come forward to help as well. After all, which one of us would rather a person that is neglectful or cruel keep a dog or cat out of responsibility instead of us helping that dog or cat find a more appropriate and safe place to be?

I think all shelters will eventually cross the No Kill road because it is inevitable and ethically sound to do so, but the growing pains we are feeling are reminiscent of most social movements in recent history. The decision of when we join the No Kill movement definitely lies in the hands of those that are ultimately responsible, and that is our city and county leadership, not solely the director of the shelter facility. We've had directors come and go so many times in our recent past that even this points to the systemic issues further up the animal-welfare ladder of responsibility.

The question is: Do we work toward crossing that No Kill road starting now--following the lead of the brave and few in this nation that have done so already--or, do we wait? What can a shelter director do to start leading us in that direction with or without the full support of our community's leaders?

Reading the following posting on the newly-created site, The No Kill Nation, reminds me that we are not alone in the struggle. This is excellent and compares/contrasts viewpoints from the status quo vs. newer sheltering philosophies. If you have the time, please follow this link and read this entry:

A Compassionate Director

Winograd says that this is the final but most important element of the No Kill Equation because the director is No Kill's tireless leader. All other elements of the entire equation are thwarted without the "right" kind of leadership. So, what does this entail?

He says that a director needs to NOT be content or complacent in regurgitating the tired cliches and myths of the past, such as "too many animals, not enough homes." Sadly, this leader is the hardest to find. Too many seasoned shelter directors are stuck in the only way they know how to operate, which is kill driven, and most successful directors don't even have a sheltering background, so they lack the experience in sheltering that most employers look for. Most communities are out looking to hire a director with experience, which is understandable. It's one of those classic Catch-22 situations.

There is no doubt in my mind that the task for a No Kill director is mighty, and it is harder work than we can imagine because not only is the work itself harsh, you are also fighting the status quo built into all of us for decades. We have all been repeating the same supposed truisms for as long as we can remember, and that is even more true for shelter workers than anyone else. So, this director is a person who does not hide behind anyone or put up walls around them or make excuses for anything that is the matter, including lack of support from the very leaders that should be giving it. To me, this compassion that Winograd speaks of must also extend to humans; that is very lacking at this time. Maybe compassion for humans and animals alike, and treating each one equitably and individually, is the biggest key of all.

For too long, the myths that most of us (even most animal lovers) have repeated over and over have become facts in our heads -- even without much proof or validation -- or only isolated incidents of validation that are not often seen from the broad prospective in which they occur. What this has done is stagnate the way in which shelter business is conducted, and this is happening in most communities across our nation today. There is no vision, much less action, toward creative problem-solving nor engaging the public to partner with the shelter to create success more quickly.

What No Kill says is this: What we have been doing, the way we have been doing it, and the assumptions we are making, along with all the punitive laws we have instituted, are NOT working and have not worked for decades. If you are killing most of the animals that end up in your "care", something is wrong. You can't simply hide behind the banner of doing the public's dirty work anymore because other shelters are proving otherwise, and others are joining each year, so as time goes on, this success will surely catch on. Eventually, the public you are serving will be more aware and demand the same level of care for their homeless animals.

If you are killing at a high rate without exploring options or other modes of operation, especially a model that has worked elsewhere, you are accountable for not learning all you can about the trends in your industry and what successful shelters are doing in order to see what you can implement in your shelter ... after all, what is the worse that can happen? Will your kill rate climb as a result? That's highly unlikely.

In my next posting, I will answer the "personal" comment I received regarding how our shelter would look under No Kill leadership. I don't see this as a personal comment at all. It is a question I get often: how would this mythical, compassionate director approach a situation such as ours? I plan to speak to some of these directors in the near future for the no kill research I am doing, and I may ask them about our situation explicitly for their opinions, but I have my own ideas of how this would play out and am happy to share them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With all my energy fostering and supporting the shelter, I just hope the community will read all the work the volunteers do put in trying there hardest to help and support what seems like an endless path but with cooperation of ALL I do feel we can reach this goal. Will take time and a lot of support from EVERYONE in the community, not just a few good do-gooders that spend there own money helping. We as a community need to get involved and if the leadership will not support we need to releave them of there post and find some who will. I wonder how many are reading these Blogs that have adopted pets from the shelter. If you think about it, YOU just saved and animal from possible death. You are a supporter of the no kill and have a happy family member also. Think about it.