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!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am in the dirt of the no kill scene if you understand? Why haven't I met you and what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment so far?