Monday, February 23, 2009

Advances and Hope in Nation's No Kill Sheltering

I received a comment from an anonymous person regarding No Kill and saying you are in the think of things in this struggle. That's how I feel as well, and I am not sure why we have not met if you are in this area. I'd love to hear from you directly; feel free to e-mail me at

You ask what I feel my greatest accomplishment is so far. Well, though there are days I feel like I'm living in the Twilight Zone in trying to advance the ideas and philosophies of No Kill to not only the general public but also other animal-welfare activists and volunteers, I can honestly say that now many people I work with do "get it" and understand there is another way to deal with the animals left behind by the irresponsible public. It's a start for our community, though the progress is slow.

Just two years ago

When I sometimes start going down the road of defeatism, I think to the nationwide accomplishments of this No Kill revolution, and I draw strength from that. I also remind myself that any and all revolutions, even peaceful ones, do not see complete success overnight.

I think back to myself two years ago, and I was much like many animal-welfare people I work with today. I used to think that shelters did the best they could with the enormous job they face and the numbers of animals they deal with. I made excuses for our system and didn't see any alternatives to the mass killing, though I was saddened by it and also understood why that love-hate relationship exists between the shelter and the general public. I didn't think that a paradigm shift could change things for the better for all involved.

My path toward progressive thinking came from a great amount of research I did for my own education and benefit and because this subject, for some reason, touched a deep chord in me. I was drawn to the story of sheltering and the strides of progress with each and every resource I got my hands on, and my eyes were opened to the possibilities of change. It made perfect sense to me that standard sheltering was geared toward killing in the face of alternatives, and sadly, most shelter leaders at this time are still stuck in that insane loop of doing things the same way but expecting different results and lashing against the very animal-loving public they should be embracing.

My transformation started with reading Nathan J. Winograd's "Redemption" as well as many hours of online research. If I could convince all people who care about companion animals to read one thing, it would be this book. But, No Kill information is also widely available online via the links I provide at right. It's all there for anyone to read and learn from ... information from The No Kill Advocacy Center, The No Kill Nation, Best Friends Animal Society, Maddie's Fund, etc.

I am reminded, too, that it was in April 2007 that "Redemption" was first published and released, and in two short years, more than a handful of communities in the United States have dramatically turned their shelters around by following this model of sheltering. As those stories are shared and success spreads, more communities will follow. I agree with Winograd that nationwide change is inevitable ... the question is will our community be in on the transformation sooner or later. Any community can ask itself the same question, and there are No Kill advocates nationwide fighting for these changes in their neck of the woods.

For current success stories, look to the online community of The No Kill Nation. A shelter near Shreveport, LA, is the current story posted here. This community (Caddo Parish), smack dab in the region of the country that saw the worst of Katrina, was progressive enough to ask Winograd's No Kill Solutions for a review of their operations in 2006, and they were wise enough to follow through with the recommendations. In just a few short years, they are seeing dramatic improvements; read about it here:

Caddo Parish No Kill Success

In Virginia Beach, VA, a shelter director job has been announced from within a police/AC department that clearly calls for a No Kill director to lead efforts to save every healthy and treatable animal in their system. Looking at what led to this change are reports out of that local government that are refreshing and inspiring. It stared with a City Council resolution, which was then supported by community-wide input from all animal-welfare stakeholders and a report that looked to other success stories in the nation to develop a plan of action, and the decision was made that this community would follow this model of sheltering. Those reports and documents can be found via this website:

Virginia Beach's Road Toward No Kill

Lastly, inspiration in this struggle comes most from Winograd himself, the revolution's tireless leader. In a recent blog posting where he talks about a shelter in Minnesota putting healthy and treatable cats to death from a hoarding case in spite of offers from area no kill shelters and others to take the cats, Winograd said of this tragedy:

"It is a time of anger and great despair for cat lovers in Minnesota. But it should not be a time of losing hope. We must never say, "What's the point? They will never change." Because quitting ends hope. Quitting fails the animals. And we must focus on the progress that has been made. There was a time in our history and not so long ago, when there would have been no controversy over AHS' decision. But there is now because we have found our voice. And we have discovered that we speak for the masses when we speak out against such atrocities because the public supports our cause. As one Minnesotan wrote,

[I]n my state of anguish I forgot to consider how the tragedy is compounded by wasting the public's good will. As many animal advocates are aware, when the public learns of a specific need they do rise to the occasion. If the AHS refuses to change their philosophy concerning this group of homeless cats and they choose not accept the help that is offered to them, the blood of these cats and kittens will be on their hands."

Winograd continues:

"Voices like this prove that our work is not as burdensome as we once believed, when we blamed the public and thought our challenge was to make the multitudes care as we do. In reality, we know they share our cause. And our goal, therefore, while at times seemingly insurmountable is, in reality, inevitable. Today, there are only a few thousand shelter directors like the one in Minnesota holding back the will of over 100 million dog and cat lovers in the United States. And we only need to point out—loudly and with conviction—the hypocrisy of organizations which claim with their rhetoric that they champion animals, but demonstrate, time and time again through their actions, how little concern they truly have for our animal friends. In short, we need to bring public scrutiny to them and place their actions in the open light for all to see and judge for what it truly is. To quote the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with its ugliness exposed to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

We will win because, regardless of the social cause, those who champion compassion always do. Gandhi once said, When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants … and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall. Always. And so there can be no doubt: If we continue to demand it, those who ordered the killing at AHS will be forced to change or they will be swept aside. So speak up loud and strong Minnesotans. Make your voices heard. You will carry the day."

Change will come when more speak out

There is a distaste these days, even in these great United States of ours, against those that speak up against the status quo. I see it here when we are at supposed public-input meetings regarding animal welfare. Anyone who gets up to say anything critical, even if factually-based and well-founded and constructive, almost gets their heads cut off. Any shelter volunteer that dare ask questions or try to address issues is either fired or made so uncomfortable that they fear sharing their views and the truth. Personalities trump logical conversations or exchanges of ideas and solutions, etc.

It is also true that many in animal welfare are also still mired in the philosophies and views of the past or cannot themselves see around or past their blaming of the irresponsible public. Many smart and dedicated people that I greatly admire still say and think that our shelter is doing the best it can--despite the continued level of killing, despite the spending that has exponentially increased, despite news or stories to the contrary, etc.

Until more speak out and until more are outraged into speaking up and demanding better for our shelter and animals, we will still be administering the status quo of animal sheltering and killing the majority. I challenge each and every person who cares and wishes our community did not kill 70%+ of our homeless animals each year to open your minds up and take some time to learn about the No Kill revolution. I know it is time-consuming; it has become my passion, and I have spent countless hours learning about it. I would not trade those hours for anything now that I have seen the light. We need your help and voices so that we can collectively push for these changes in our community.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Putting No Kill Into Action

Leadership Is Key

The last part of the entire No Kill Equation is the need for a compassionate director/shelter leader. I think often people misread what this means ... that it refers to more than a person who genuinely cares about animals, and that the compassion has to extend to people as well.

Overall, it speaks of a person who is not satisfied with repeating the failed missives of the past, such as "too many animals and not enough homes", and someone who does not hide behind the irresponsible public for the act of killing the majority of animals in the facility. It also speaks of a person with a proven track record of saving lives and working hard in order to get a plan into place and get the community organized around all the programs and services needed to fully implement the entire No Kill Equation at the lifesaving levels it calls for.

Leadership like this is hard to come by. First of all, few shelter directors with extensive sheltering experience fit this mold. Most directors come at sheltering from a very old-fashioned viewpoint. Conversely, those people that might do a good job as a progressive shelter director may not have direct shelter experience nor a proven record in saving shelter animals' lives. So, finding the right person is definitely a challenge.

Our own shelter has gone through several shelter directors in the past 10 years alone, some with a lot of experience and some with very little. However, the bottom line--to this day--has remained the same. We are still taking in 17,000+ homeless animals each year and still killing/euthanizing about 12,000+ of these, to a tune of about 55 animals killed per 1000 people or 70%+ of all the animals that come into the system. This is very much above the national average of approximately 50%, and at this point, our shelter is finally being funded at the recommended $6 per capita (at $1.2 million a year for a population of about 200,000 people).

If that funding is raised to more than $2 million, our per capita rate will be more than $10, which is above what many successful shelters in the U.S. get in funding. For example, the San Francisco SPCA's annual funding is about $7 per capita, and they are still saving 80%+ of both cats and dogs entering their system.

Nevertheless, some things have changed under the current leadership at our shelter. More animals are being housed under one roof, and it is clear the shelter's staff works hard to try to take care of these animals. No one can say they are not hardworking. But, the question is, are they working smart?

We have to work both hard and smart, and we have to engage the community and network within and outside of the area to get to the point where we are running programs such as rescue, foster, pet retention, behavior rehabilitation, comprehensive adoption programs, PR, etc., at the level required to save the most lives possible and keep animals moving through the system instead of stagnating and becoming diseased and depressed and ultimately killed as a result of this. Because we are still not working at the problem in an organized or cohesive way, our end result is still the same as years past. If this doesn't show that money alone is not the answer, I don't know what does.

It is no wonder, too, that we are having issues with disease. We have overcrowded conditions, animals living in a poorly ventilated building, and we are lacking the disease management mandated by shelter medicine protocols and procedures, such as vaccination at intake, isolation/zoned areas, and stress reduction for animals. Without enough outlets via multiple programs and services, animals end up with longer stays at the shelter, and a stressed animal has a depressed immune system. It is a vicious cycle.

With the newly-formed shelter oversight board, it is my hope that many of the areas where we lack leadership will be addressed. As in any industry, leadership is the key to change and success. I hope our oversight board members will become well-versed and well-informed about all areas of animal sheltering and will look to those in the community with this expertise. Our shelter still suffers from a lack of focus; it also lacks a vision, a mission, and a detailed plan of how it aims to succeed.

Lastly, two top concerns for our shelter at this time are to finally fix the ventilation system and bring it up to standard. This one issue has been vexing us for many years. In 2006/2007, there were capital outlay funds available to start fixing the system, but those funds were never utilized for this purpose. This should be a top priority because it alone will help cut down on disease transmission throughout the facility.

The second top concern is to come up with a shelter medicine plan. We have a newly-hired veterinarian on staff, and last year at about this time, the Albuquerque municipal shelter vet and team came to our shelter to share the review they got from the UC Davis Shelter Medicine group. The information and ideas this group shared with our shelter must be put into action if they have not started to do so already.

Without Leadership, Look to This Law

The No Kill Advocacy Center speaks to the challenge of finding the right leader for the job of saving lives in shelters. Because they recognize not every community will be able to find a progressive leader, they have written a Companion Animal Protection Act that communities can adopt to basically put the programs and philosophy of No Kill into law and hopefully into action. This alone could force regressive shelter directors into a more progressive approach.

To read this act, follow this link:
Companion Animal Protection Act

When No Kill is Not No Kill

No Kill is also made into a confusing, murky place when shelter directors who are geared toward high killing in either their philosophies or actions use the term to describe their work. Our own shelter has been bold enough to claim they are administering most of the No Kill Equation at this time. Yet, if that were truly the case, our kill rates for both dogs and cats would have dropped drastically in the last year alone.

No Kill is not about dabbling in the various programs and services needed to save lives; it is about fully and aggressively implementing these programs. It is about doing so for each and every one of them as well.

To do so usually involves all of the stakeholders in the community, hundreds of organized volunteers, and a community collaborative approach. It means not rudely closing doors in the general public's face nor in the faces of any individuals or groups who work in the realm of animal welfare. It means making the animal shelter a truly open, transparent, welcoming place. And, when legitimate issues are brought to light, it means not only admitting the issue is real, but allowing those who can offer support the professional respect and courtesy they deserve.

Lastly, it is nearly impossible to say you are working toward No Kill when all of your policies and philosophies speak to the opposite being true and show that you are administering standard sheltering services. If that is what you are doing yet claiming to be working toward No Kill, you are not only giving No Kill a bad name, you are misleading the public which you serve.

Thanks for comments

I appreciate all comments on this blog--even those I don't agree with. And, if VR or anyone else is interested in forming a chat area about this topic or any other animal-welfare topic, you are welcome to start it and invite others via a comment on this blog. You may also want to check out The Paw Post, a community pet forum available at and

Although I cannot address each and every comment via my blog postings, you are always welcome to e-mail me at if you want a personal response. I am working on a comprehensive animal resources guide at this time that will identify pet-friendly rentals among many other resources in our area. It will be available to the general public very soon.

It is part of the ACTion Programs for Animals coalition. The next meeting for this group is the first Wednesday in March, at 6:30 p.m., in the Branigan Library's Dresp Room. Join us if you can!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

No Kill Misconception & Future Challenges

About Public Irresponsibility

One accusation lodged against No Kill advocates is that we don't believe in public irresponsibility. That could not be further from the truth. The fact that many in the public are irresponsible at best and neglectful/abusive to companion animals at worst is the very reason why shelters exist in the first place. Just because we lodge some tough love at shelter management for doing more killing of lives than saving of lives does not mean we don't acknowledge why animals got there in the first place. What we are saying is that to hide behind that public irresponsibility instead of look closely at the way you do business is irresponsible in turn.

We also think that irresponsible pet owners are FAR outnumbered by those that are responsible and that the vast majority of those in the public respect animal life in the least and downright love animals at most. We say that because those of us who do love animals outnumber those who do not, we have a vast and great ability to save more lives if we put our minds to that task and if we let go of the way things have always been done to explore new ways they could be done, and if we work together and communicate better as well.

Nathan Winograd answered this accusation in better words than I can muster in a recent blog posting off his website; he wrote the following:

"I have long stated that while irresponsibility sends animals to the shelters, what happens when they get there depends on the shelter. The fact that someone allows a pet to give birth to a litter doesn’t mean a shelter doesn’t have to put in place a foster care program to avoid killing those little ones. It doesn’t give the shelter the moral absolution to order their killing because they refuse to put in place a targeted program to stop it. Shelters exist to be a safety net for animals who are victims of irresponsible people, for homeless animals, and for animals when people have no where else to turn. But too many kill, rather than save animals. In fact, too many shelter directors refuse to implement alternatives to killing, acting irresponsibly themselves. And that is what I am critical of. While people surrender animals to shelters, it is shelters that kill them and one does not necessarily follow or excuse the other."

In my years of volunteering for shelters, I have noticed how stifling it can be to assume nothing can be done except kill most of the animals that enter the door. If you operate from that mode, what efforts will you make to look for or implement other options? Will you look at your operations with a critical eye to see what you could be doing to save more lives? If you assume that most people in the public represent irresponsible owners--even those who are going to your facility to adopt a new pet or look for a lost one--what impact does it have when you start each conversation from that point-of-view?

What hurts regressive shelters even more is their bunker mentality of "it is us against the world". This cuts all attempts to communicate with the public and with those who could offer assistance, such as other animal groups and even animal advocates who can sometimes be critical but who usually do so from a genuine interest in finding improvements when issues are discovered. Very few people who love animals operate from a malicious standpoint, yet shelters and their staff put up a wall that is hard to penetrate or get around in any form or fashion, and this hiding from the rest of the world makes it so that the networking needed to save more lives is not happening.

Lastly, the fact that public irresponsibility is to blame for all the animals under one roof should not provide political cover for shelters that are not following basic standards of care, are not administering modern sheltering medicine practices to mitigate disease, are not providing the kind of social interactions animals need to be healthy and happy while they are in the shelter, and are not being transparent and welcoming with the public. Many times, even those with legitimate complaints or observations are shot down without even a dignified nor intelligent conversation about the actual issue.

Ultimately, operating a shelter the same old-fashioned way hurts those whose welfare shelters are supposed to be putting first. Instead, it seems like human selfishness and pride always win out.

Long Road Ahead For Us All

After attending all of the public meetings last week, I realize that we have a long, tough road ahead to get to a time when we start to reduce our community's kill rate. The City Council working meeting where SNAP funding was discussed turned into a strange, melodramatic spectacle about choosing to help poor, downtrodden people vs. helping animals. This came about because a mistake was made last year, it seems, when the SNAP funding came out of an incorrect pool of monies (those designated for health and human services). So, in a nutshell, the council decided to cut SNAP's funding from this source, and now it is up to the City to see if it can provide even a meager amount to SNAP from another fund. They may not realize that low-cost spay/neuter non-profits must be supported by local government to be eligible for big, national grants.

Then the new oversight board for the shelter met for the first time. It consists of three voting members from the County (Sheriff Garrison, Commissioner Krahling, and Commissioner Vasquez-Butler) and three from the City (Councillors Silva, Small, and Connor) as well as two non-voting members, the city and county managers (Mrs. Moore and Haines).

They have a long way to go to learn more about the details behind every animal sheltering practice and the industry in general, and I hope they come up to speed very quickly. Some of the financial information presented at that meeting was alarming ... in the past year, our shelter has spent more money than ever before and is already over its allotted budget. The most spending seems to be from costly contract vet care and salaries for personnel. Yet, we are still in the same boat concerning the bottom line of how many animals were taken in and many were killed/euthanized. We are still killing about 1,000 a month, sometimes more, and about 200 of these are feral cats. An average of 200 are being adopted per month, and a recent try at reducing adoption rates had little effect--which goes to show that price alone is not what helps increase adoptions.

These statistics are averages from reports I have gotten verbally; I have yet to get ahold of the actual statistics for April 2008 to December 2008, though I have asked for them many times and re-submitted a formal request via the City Clerk's office. This information should be public information, and besides being a barometer for how the shelter is doing, it is an indication for many of us who volunteer countless hours a month trying to save lives to see if we are even making a small dent in the overall numbers--and I never forget that each and every number represents one dog or cat (or sometimes another kind of animal)--not a simple number.

Lastly, the kick-off meeting for ACTion Programs for Animals was the last meeting in a whirlwind week, and there were not too many people in attendance. So, I can see it is going to take more PR and more effort to attract people to this coalition and to explain its intent. We need a large group of people willing to lend their skills and some time and effort in order to start helping the sad situation in meaningful ways.

Needless to say, we have our work cut out for us as a community. Still, I for one am not giving up. There are many challenges ahead, and the smartest thing to do at this time is face one thing at a time and work collectively so that our efforts do start to make a difference on the bottom line.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Important meetings this week

There are some important public meetings this week for animal advocates and anyone in the general public concerned about animal welfare to attend if you have the time. They are listed below with a brief explanation of each. You can also refer to the Animal Events Calendar on the website for similar meetings in the future. I try to input those that I know of on a regular basis.

City Council Working Meeting
Feb. 3rd, 1 p.m., in the City Council Chambers at City Hall (on Church St.)
The council will be making a decision that affects future City funding for the Spay Neuter Action Program (SNAP)

First Meeting of the Newly-Appointed Shelter Oversight Board
Feb. 5th, 9 a.m., at the Dona Ana County Government Center (on Motel Blvd.)


Agenda for meeting

The following agenda will be considered at a Special Meeting of the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley Board of Directors to be held in the Commission Chambers:

I. Call to Order

II. Election of Officers

III. Establish Meeting Dates, Times, Venue and Notification Requirements

IV. Action Item(s)

1. Formal Appointment and Employment Contract Authorization for Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock, Executive Director.

2. Adoption of the Fiscal year 2009 Budget.

3. Direction to Establish Applicable Ad Hoc Committee and Membership.

V. Board Input

VI. Public Input (Three Minutes)

VII. Adjournment

Contact: Carolyn Horner
Phone: 541-2067

Kick-off meeting for the Action Programs for Animals (APA) coalition
Feb. 5, 6:30 p.m., Branigan Library's Dresp Room (on corner of Main and Picacho)

The following text is from the press release send out about this coalition. I am one of the people leading this charge, so I will be busy at work the rest of this week in preparation for it. I hope to see alot of people there, even if I do faint at the sight of all of you!

A few local animal-welfare advocates are kicking off a new action-oriented coalition to try to bring everyone interested in bettering the lives of our community’s companion animals together to take positive action and work toward implementing new programs and services. We will be focusing on proactive steps we can take to save/enrich lives—for companion animals and their guardians. This group grew out of the former Las Cruces No Kill Study Group, which after some meetings where research and discussions took place, it became very evident that what our community needs most at this point in time is program modeling and active inspiration—not another written report about successes in other areas of our nation that would probably go unnoticed.

After a short period of introductions and idea-sharing, we will start rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on progressive program and service implementation as individuals and networks of individuals. We want to form partnerships between all area non-profits, civic leaders, business owners, educators, and the animal shelter/control departments, etc. We will be starting with small projects first and then growing into larger ones. All are welcome to attend and become part of the action.

The goal and mission of this group is to bring all community stakeholders together for idea and resource sharing and forming working committees around shared goals and programs. It is our hope this sparks the formation of more non-profits and the growth of existing ones as well as partnerships in specific programs with our animal-welfare agencies. The ultimate goal is to work together as an entire community to reduce—year by year—the number of healthy/treatable companion animals that are killed for a lack of space at our shelter and a lack of alternatives.

The APA kick-off meeting is set for February 5th, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the Branigan Library’s Dresp Room. For more information, e-mail Come join this working coalition to share ideas/resources and implement programs for saving more companion animals’ lives and helping to enrich the lives of animals and their guardians. We will have monthly progress meetings the first Thursday of each month at the same time and location.

Next Blog Posting

The topic of my next post, which I will write this coming weekend, will be the debunking of the myths/misconceptions surrounding No Kill's philosophy. I'll also discuss and highlight (with examples) the faulty logic that is often used by those who are entrenched in the status quo to attack No Kill's progressive ideas and deflect genuine conversation and problem-solving of issues that are raised.