No Kill Conference 2011

October 29, 2010 by  

Save the Date! July 30-31, 2011 in Washington D.C.

From the No Kill Advocacy Center:

Last year’s No Kill Conference was the sold-out, must-attend event of the year! And we are doing it again. Join the nation’s top shelter directors, animal law attorneys, and shelter reform advocates for an inspiring and empowering conference that will help you end the systematic killing of animals in your community. The only national conference that says we can end the killing and we can do it today.

Read last year’s keynote speech and see a video montage set to music by clicking here.

No Kill Conference 2011 is brought to you by the No Kill Advocacy Center, the Animal Law Program at George Washington University Law School, and the No Kill Nation.

Thinking Out Loud About Prop. B

October 26, 2010 by  

Normally, I do not like to write a blog without sufficient time to consider all the parameters, but time is something I do not have as Election Day is fast approaching. And here is my dilemma.

Last week, I released a blog entitled, “Puppy Mills, Pet Overpopulation, and Lessons from Proposition B.” In order to write that blog, I read Proposition B and Missouri’s existing statute (the Animal Care Facilities Act), I spoke to both anti-puppy mill crusaders and Missouri dog advocates, I considered my own experience in other states and as a shelter director, and I read the materials provided by attorneys from a panel on Litigating an End to Puppy Mills held at the No Kill Conference in 2009. In addition to offering a step-by-step guide to shutting down puppy mills, I included a subsection on “Lessons Learned from Proposition B” that argued that despite its problems, Proposition B deserved a reluctant “yes” vote.

The reluctance came from three primary reasons: 1. HSUS should have been stronger right out the gate, perhaps even with a law banning puppy mills altogether, 2. HSUS wrote a poorly crafted initiative with sufficient loopholes that will allow circumvention of its precepts, and 3. HSUS, Best Friends, and the ASPCA, the primary supporters of Proposition B, have not committed to using their immense resources (almost $300 million in combined annual revenues) to prevent dogs over the numerical limit of 50 from being killed, although they have the financial wherewithal to do so. I wrote that, as a result, dog lovers were left with a Hobbesian choice.

After I posted the blog, I received an e-mail suggesting that, in some cases, Prop. B weakens existing law. And so I read Missouri’s Department of Agriculture implementing regulations for the 1992 Animal Care Facilities Act line by line. After doing so, it appears to me that this is true. For example, ACFA applies to facilities with 3 or more intact dogs, while Prop. B applies to those with 10 or more. Both require veterinary care, though Prop. B has a minimum of once a year for the latter, while ACFA requires “an attending veterinarian” and “regular visits.” Prop. B requires dogs to be fed once per day (24 hours), while ACFA requires it two times per day (every 12 hours).

On the other side, however, Prop B is stronger than ACFA by limiting the amount of litters a dog can have in a given time frame and by imposing a numerical limit of 50 dogs (ACFA is silent on both of these). It also makes all violations a misdemeanor, instead of an administrative penalty (a low fine similar to a parking ticket), which most provisions of ACFA are in Missouri with the exception of violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act.

In short, while I loathe puppy mills and I would vote to shut them down today, that is not what Prop. B does. And I very much doubt that Tony La Russa and other celebrity supporters of Prop. B spent time reading the existing regulations, thinking about loopholes, or the unintended but foreseeable initial killing the law will result in. HSUS, no doubt, painted the picture for Tony La Russa and other celebrities in clear-cut bright-lines: you are either for puppy mills or against them. Who could possibly be for them?

But there are nagging questions keeping me up at night: Why weaken any provision of existing law? What will happen to the dogs over the 50-dog limit? And was Prop. B a cookie-cutter solution that didn’t take into account existing law? When your strategy for preventing the killing of dogs over the 50-dog limit is to suggest you will convince abusive puppy millers to voluntarily sterilize the dogs and turn them into cherished house pets as HSUS has stated, yes, it is very possible HSUS didn’t do their homework.

HSUS, however, says that, “The problem is not just a lack of enforcement, but the lack of good, clear legal standards that facilitate enforcement. Prop B … not only provides new, easily understandable criminal penalties for mistreatment, it does so without wiping out or eliminating the existing laws and penalties.” And while Prop. B specifically says its provisions “are in addition to, and not in lieu of, any other state and federal laws protecting animal welfare,” it is a fundamental canon of statutory construction that a newer law trumps an older one that covers the same conduct, so this statement as to state law, appears to be untrue.

I e-mailed HSUS to ask for clarification on these issues and I received a reply as follows:

Existing laws are pretty vague and riddled with loopholes, and the problems at mills persist in spite of the regs on the books.  For example, existing regs appear to prevent dogs at these facilities from being exposed to extreme temperatures (above 85 and below 50 or, in some cases, 45).  However, this reg is consistently ignored by some facilities and it is so ineffective that many facilities don’t even know it’s on the books.  Prop B will take this standard and make it enforceable, basically for the first time.  There are similar problems with the existing regulations governing exercise and veterinary care. It is way too common to see dogs at these facilities who’ve never been outside their tiny cages and suffer without treatment of illness or injury. Proposition B simplifies these issues, and makes them enforceable.

On the one hand, HSUS makes a valid point. ACFA does, for example, hedge on some of the requirements, while Prop. B does not.  While ACFA gives the “attending veterinarian” discretion on the issue of what constitutes sufficient exercise, Prop. B requires “constant and unfettered access to an outdoor exercise area.” As to HSUS’ specific example, the regulations have a temperature requirement identical to Prop. B, but they add a caveat that they don’t apply if the dogs are “acclimated” to higher or lower temperatures. How do you enforce that before the harm occurs? And how do you acclimate a dog to those temperatures without violating the law in the first place?

On the other, in many cases it does seem this is largely an enforcement issue, as much of the neglect and abuse found in puppy mills is already illegal in Missouri, but the laws against them are not being enforced. HSUS says they are just “consistently being ignored” and “many facilities don’t even know it’s on the books.” I don’t doubt it. Enforcement falls to the state Agriculture Department and like any Ag department, enforcement is weak to non-existent and this same department will also “enforce” Prop. B’s provision preventing dogs from being outside when the temperature falls below or rises above the same temperature thresholds.

But there is a significant difference in Prop. B from ACFA, and here is where enforcement is more likely to occur under Prop. B. ACFA makes a violation an administrative penalty and it can only be enforced by the Department of Agriculture. That is a recipe for non-compliance. While violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act are made a misdemeanor by ACFA, they also could only be enforced by the Department of Agriculture since the Act specifically gives sole jurisdiction to the Department. Prop. B, by contrast, makes all violations a misdemeanor. If that means that police and animal control officers can also enforce the law, it is much more likely they will be enforced. And, if that is true, the fact that Prop. B weakens some of the protections under existing law is sloppy and unconscionable, but if the existing regulations aren’t being enforced (mostly), what good are they anyway?  If the new, in some ways weaker and in other ways stronger protections, are more likely to get enforced, then on balance it makes sense to have them, right? But it still does not answer the questions: why weaken any provision of ACFA? Why not write the strongest possible bill? And what will happen to the dogs over the numerical limit of 50?

Prop. B will be voted on in a few days and it is likely to pass, as 69% of Missourians in a recent poll were in favor of it, and it has broad support across party lines. So in that sense, the only real issue for this election is what will happen to the dogs? HSUS could and should have put prohibitions against killing them into the law. They didn’t, and they put Missouri dog lovers in the very ugly position of choosing between two evils: continued puppy mill abuse on the one hand; and, on the other, the killing of those dogs. And despite what HSUS should have done but didn’t, what HSUS should always do, but doesn’t, there is at least some opportunity for redemption as it is not too late to put a safety net in place.

Whether one is created is up to HSUS, the ASPCA, and Best Friends, organizations which do not have a good track record on standing up for the animals when that is what the situation calls for. Even as I write these words, I fear I already know the answer because it requires them to actually spend the money they raise. But since Prop. B does not go into effect for one full year after passage, I am going to reiterate my calls to HSUS, ASPCA, and Best Friends to do what is right. They are ethically and duty bound to use their combined nearly $300 million in annual income to save the dogs over the 50-dog limit.

A Hurricane Katrina Response Effort

If Proposition B passes, HSUS, the ASPCA, and Best Friends must come together in a massive, Hurricane Katrina-type rescue effort* to save and find homes for the victims of Missouri puppy mills who will face almost certain death in facilities which are over the 50-dog limit when they are sent to Missouri’s killing shelters, are killed by puppy mills themselves, or when they are sold at auction only to be killed later.

That means HSUS, ASPCA, and Best Friends must set up kennels, building or renting space for them if they have to. It means they must put together a network of foster homes, a plan for provision of needed veterinary care, a nationwide adoption campaign, even a 1-800 number for puppy millers to call to surrender the dogs (at no cost and with no questions asked to encourage relinquishment), as well as a system to save them at the auctions and kill shelters. It means they must call on animal lovers and rescuers from all over the country to join them in their Missouri base camps to help provide care for and assistance in adopting out the dogs. In times of dire risk for animals, the vibrant network of individuals and small organizations doing rescue across this country have risen to the occasion and the challenge. We’ve done it before, we can do it again, especially given the abundant resources available (assuming HSUS, Best Friends, and the ASPCA don’t continue to hoard that money) to make it happen.

Given that they have the power to prevent mass killing, given that they have the immense and unlimited resources to do so, and given that they are actively fundraising on this issue, they are ethically obligated to spend the money donated to them for the care of animals which, now, they simply stick in their bank accounts. HSUS, for example, only spends ½ of one percent on direct animal care. Best Friends rescues only 600 animals a year despite $40 million in annual support, while many rescue groups and shelters save several times that number of animals despite taking in roughly one to two percent of what Best Friends does. And the ASPCA takes in over $120,000,000 per year but sends cats with URI to the local pound (that kills them) because they don’t want to spend the money treating them. That has to stop.

They have the power to save not one, not ten, not 100, not even 1,000 puppy mill dogs. But as many dogs as need protection after years of neglect, isolation, and abuse, and who face death as a result of Prop. B. But right now, the HSUS plan is simply to try and convince abusive puppy millers to turn the dogs into cherished pets. In other words, HSUS does not care that Prop. B will result in initial killing. Killing the victims, which occurs in shelters every day with their blessing and killing victims of cruelty, is standard operating procedure for HSUS. Rescuing an animal from cruelty only to put the poor creature to death is unconscionable and completely avoidable. When we put in place plans to rescue dogs from abuse, we must also put in place a safety net to actually save any lives that are at risk as a result of our actions.

The $300,000,000 dollar question is this: Will dogs be killed because of Prop. B? And the answer is only if HSUS, the ASPCA, and Best Friends fail to act. In other words, only if they allow it to happen. The country is watching.

To be continued…

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* After Hurricane Katrina, both HSUS and the ASPCA raised tens of millions of dollars, but ended up hoarding the money and abandoning the animals who needed help, which resulted in investigations of both by the Attorneys General of Louisiana and Mississippi. When I speak of a Hurricane Katrina response, I am not suggesting they commit the same kind of fraud. I am suggesting that they do what other groups, like Muttshack Rescue did, and that is actually rescue and save the animals.

The Irrationality of Opposition to No Kill

October 18, 2010 by  

Over the weekend, I was the subject of an attack by a PETA hack named Mike Stark. His basic premise was that because I support ending the systematic slaughter of animals in shelters, I am for “torture” of animals. He goes on to accuse me of being in league with puppy mills. The first premise (No Kill equals torture of animals) is a rehash of the now thoroughly debunked and thoroughly discredited argument that No Kill equals hoarding.

This is the argument made by those who embrace killing of animals in order to justify their unethical beliefs and untoward actions by painting the life affirming alternative as darker. To accuse someone of being the very thing they are working to oppose is Orwellian through and through.

The second argument is that because I do not believe the myth of pet overpopulation, I must be in league with puppy mills even though I’ve clearly and unequivocally have come out in favor of shutting them down. By that logic, Stark and his pro-killing cronies are in league with those who neglect, abuse, and kill animals and want it to continue. Who believes that pet overpopulation is real in spite of the overwhelming data and experience that it is not? Only people who want animals to be killed because it gives them the excuse to do so.

As desperate as Stark is, no lie can live forever. I’ve traveled all over the country, indeed all over the world, to speak to sold-out audiences about the future. The bright future we can have if we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to building the infrastructure necessary to create and sustain a No Kill nation. We do that, of course, by institutionalizing the No Kill Equation, the series of programs and services which replace killing and which have allowed for overnight success in the many shelters across the country that have already dedicated themselves to that end. Programs that no one, and by that, I mean no rational person can seriously take issue with: foster care, offsite adoptions, socialization and behavior rehabilitation, thorough cleaning and care standards, medical care both as prevention and for rehabilitation, working with rescue groups, TNR, pet retention, progressive field services/proactive redemption, marketing and adoptions, and of course, progressive and imaginative leadership.

That is why being “opposed to No Kill” is a non-starter. Can anyone with even a hint of compassion actually say it is better to kill baby kittens than bottle feed them? Kill animals rather than promote adoptions? Kill animals rather than work with rescue groups? Of course not.

To say you are “opposed to No Kill” means you reject foster care in favor of killing, you reject vaccinations and medical care in favor of killing, you reject knocking on doors to get lost dogs home rather than killing, and you reject adoptions in favor of killing. Of course, most of the opponents of No Kill won’t say that. They can’t say that. No one will take them seriously. So they say they are “opposed to No Kill” and hope people don’t ask probing questions. Because if you were to ask, “Are you opposed to foster care?” The answer would have to be “No.” If you were to ask “Are you opposed to adoption?” The answer would have to be “No.” The same is true of each and every program of the No Kill Equation. And when you put them all together, and you implement them comprehensively, you get No Kill.

But that would require the Naysayers to act in rational ways. And if you look at those who continue to defend the “catch and kill” paradigm, rationality has not been their strong suit. First, there are those who are sadistic promoters of killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. These are the Ingrid Newkirks and Ardena Perrys of the world, people with a history of personality disorders: Munchausen by Proxy, neglect, abuse, and/or alcoholism. Second, there are those who have addictive personalities, people who cling to self-destructive patterns of behavior: the Del Goss’ of the world.

Then there are those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Those who will reject the No Kill Equation because it requires them to work hard, rather than sit in their office all day with their feet up on their desk. People like the disgraced, removed former Austin shelter director, Dorinda Pulliam, who killed over 100,000 animals in her sordid career because of nothing more than uncaring and laziness. This group also includes the government bureaucrats who would rather protect underperforming shirkers, than hold them accountable. And, of course, the Wayne Pacelles of the world who climbed the ladder of personal “success” (but I would argue, historical infamy) by catering to his killing colleagues, rather than defending the animals he pledged himself to protect as the leader of a large national animal protection organization.

The third group includes the Johnny-Come-Lately nobodies who are trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the animals. These are the Mike Starks of the world, unknowns who have never actually done anything of worth themselves, but think that by attacking those of us who have and do; they can ride our coattails to personal recognition.

And the final group are those who have carved a niche for themselves in the current structure, and will defend that structure against being upended, the animals be damned. These are people like Pat Dunaway, a person who created an identity for herself by working with the San Bernardino County shelter. Not only was Dunaway a favorite volunteer because she did not publicly criticize them, she defended them even when dogs were forced to drink from algae covered water bowls, when they killed animals to punish outspoken rescuers while those rescuers were on their way to save those particular animals, when they returned a puppy that was lit on fire back to the abuser to save money pending trial, and when an officer beat a puppy with a baton, leaving a blood splattered kennel (he was not terminated). Dunaway defended them and defends them still. And she has been fighting me ever since because I was part of the group that came in on behalf of the city council to terminate the city’s animal control contract with the county shelter and, in the process, kicked Dunaway out.

But what do all of these people have in common besides being unethical, lacking personal integrity, and imbibing once too often in the killing Kool Aid? They are out of touch with the direction of history. They are out of touch with how most people really feel about animals and what they want for them. And they are nothing more than speed bumps we have to brush aside as we work to create a No Kill nation.

I don’t mean to underplay the damage that they do. They cause, defend, or legitimize the killing of millions of animals every year. They are part of a genocide. (What else could you possibly call the systematic destruction of a species?) But aside from those in the first camp (they are mentally ill) and those in the last camp (they are committed to killing), make no mistake about it; the rest—Stark included—will disown their views. Regardless of whether it takes a year, five years, or ten years, they will either issue a mea culpa or deny they ever favored killing. They will become what racists are today. At one time, people wore their racism openly and violently. Today, they would not now dare say so openly.

One only needs to look at Wayne Pacelle. Unethical as he may be, he’s not daft. Once virulently against No Kill and its many tenets including TNR, over the last couple of years, he has tested the waters, dipped a toe in by claiming he supports No Kill, changing his position on programs like TNR, and even by claiming that he is the leader of the No Kill movement. He sees the writing on the wall and he is trying to navigate himself out of the ugly corner he put himself in.

But not all of them can see past their own myopia. At last count, I have six or seven websites dedicated to attacking me. Without exception, they are all anonymous, run by Dunaway and her ilk, people who do not have the fortitude or integrity to stand openly behind their pathetic claims. But that is good news. They, too, know which way the march of history is progressing, as much as they are trying in vain to hold it back. And if history is any guide, their ever increasing, ever more absurd and desperate attacks on me are, ironically, welcome news for our movement.

It means we have entered a new phase in our struggle: violent and ugly opposition. And while it is sad and tragic that all social movements have to go through this because history seems to be constantly repeating itself, it means we are winning. It means the message is getting out. Mahatma Ghandi is credited with saying: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” We are in the midst of the fight. And if he is right, then we are also on the verge of ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters. We are on the verge of a No Kill nation.

So my fellow soldiers in our growing army of compassion, take heart. Keep your head straight, your eyes in front of you, and your focus on the prize. Millions of animals are betting their lives on us, and we will not let them down. The Mike Starks and Pat Dunaways and Ingrid Newkirks and Wayne Pacelles and Ardena Perrys are nothing more than annoying background noise, speaking a dead language that few people are listening to anymore. Let them talk amongst themselves, with websites that no one is taking seriously, and with blog posts that leave no lasting mark, as we march headlong towards a certain, and not too distant, victory.

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Update: It turns out Mike Stark surrendered his “Pit Bull” at his local shelter, which just happened to be the Charlottesville SPCA, a facility I helped make No Kill and which is following the No Kill Equation model of sheltering. Stark admits his dog is doing well and most importantly, alive. Had Susanne Kogut not visited me when I was in Tompkins County, had she not taken the job at my urging, had I not done training for the staff there, had she not followed the model, Stark’s dog would be dead. His tribute to his dog? Attacking the person who played a role in keeping that dog alive. And why did Stark get rid of his dog? He was having a baby. This is the new spokesman for the anti-No Kill, pro-killing crowd. It is pathetic and shameful.

Further Update: I posted a comment on his community blog that I would not be responding to Stark because I read online that he had been arrested. Mike Stark subsequently e-mailed me and threatened me with a lawsuit because he says the information I found on the internet that he was arrested at Bill O’Reilly’s home following incidents at his speaking engagements is not accurate. And he demands a retraction. Really? For a guy who tries to make his reputation defaming me based on inaccurate information he gets on the internet, this is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Will Stark be retracting his crossing of the line by accusing me of being in league with puppy mills? Will he stop the Nathan Winograd “is for torture” attacks? Because that, also, as he says “tests the boundaries of New York Times vs. Sullivan.” Will Stark play by the same rules? Or will he continue to play the Karl Rovian-game of slander?

According to information online, including Wikipedia, Stark confronted O’Reilly at his home. He also went to O’Reilly’s neighbors telling them that O’Reilly could not be trusted with their daughters. [Do not read this as support for O’Reilly’s politics. I’ve posted extensively about my politics: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=2153.]

But I was scared when I read online that Stark actually targeted his home with those kinds of attacks. Did I want my kids being similarly confronted by Stark because he now targets me? Did I want my neighbors being told I am for torture or in league with puppy mills who torture dogs? What else was Mike Stark capable of? I also received two e-mails from people telling me to be careful.

According to Wikipedia, even liberal commentator Keith Olbermann named Stark one of his worst persons in the world. But Stark says he was not arrested for that conduct and says that this doesn’t amount to stalking. I was using it in the colloquial sense, but fine, it has legal connotations and I fully retract the statement.

But this does not mean I am not scared of what Stark is capable of. And it does not mean I think he is acting responsibly by attacking me also based on lies. Apparently for Stark, the rules only run one way. Mike Stark claims he is a liberal commentator, but he has more in common with the Karl Rove politics of personal destruction than he cares to admit.

Pet Overpopulation, Puppy Mills, and Lessons from Proposition B

October 15, 2010 by  

I was sitting on a panel discussion during the Building a No Kill South Florida conference this past weekend in Ft. Lauderdale when the panel was asked the following question: “Given that pet overpopulation is a myth, should we still fight to stop pet stores from selling puppies?”

My answer was “Yes.” Because even if every shelter embraced the No Kill philosophy and the programs and services that make it possible, even if no dog or puppy was killed in a shelter again, we’d still want to close down puppy mills. You don’t have to believe in or perpetuate the lie of pet overpopulation to work on efforts to curtail harm to dogs in puppy mills. Puppy mills fuel inbreeding, provide minimal to no veterinary care, lack of adequate food and shelter, lack of human socialization, overcrowded cages, and cause neglect, abuse, and the killing of animals when they are no longer profitable. That is a distinct and separate harm from the fact that shelters are needlessly killing them.

The animal protection movement is a wide and varied field. While some of us are focused on stopping “shelter” abuse/killing, others of us are focused on stopping puppy mill abuse/killing, and still others are working in other areas, we are all working to prevent harm to dogs (and other animals).

True dog lovers embrace the No Kill philosophy because they want to prevent harm to dogs, such as their systematic slaughter in shelters. True dog lovers also want to shut down the puppy mill trade because they want to prevent harm to dogs, such as their systematic abuse. That is ethically consistent. To claim to want to shut down puppy mills, but to ignore or fight reform efforts to stop shelter neglect, abuse, and killing (as groups like HSUS and PETA do) is not only ethically inconsistent, it is morally bankrupt. Neglect is neglect, abuse is abuse, killing is killing regardless of by whose hand that neglect, abuse, and killing is done. To look the other way at one because that neglect, abuse, and killing is done by “friends,” “colleagues,” or simply because the perpetrators call themselves a “humane society” is indefensible.

So my answer was not only “Yes,” it was a resounding “Yes.”  We must close down puppy mills. And we must do so, even though pet overpopulation is a myth and we could—and should—be a No Kill nation today. So, how do we do that?

If you go to the websites of the large national organizations, they’ll tell you what they are doing, but to find out what you can do, it wouldn’t be obvious beyond not buying from a pet store, signing a pledge, and sending them money. These organizations have built a dependency model where you give them money and they promise to take care of things, rather than empowering the grassroots to actually go out and solve the problem. But if signing a pledge that does nothing but earn you future solicitations for money from these groups isn’t your idea of effective activism, how do you wage a campaign to shut down puppy mills in your community or state?

First, we must engage in community education and protest, a simple but powerful exercise of our constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. People love dogs and want to do right by them.  Tell them the truth at the point of sale, in front of the pet stores, and give them alternatives. This is the underlying philosophy behind the No Kill movement and it applies here as well: make it easy for people to do the right thing, and they will.

Second, we must expose these organizations for what they really are. U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports of these facilities are available through public disclosure laws. The USDA now has a searchable database where you can download the inspection reports as PDF documents and post them to your website. When people do searches for breeders in your area, they will find the reports and see the kinds of neglect and cruelty that go on there.

Third, we can close down markets through legislation that prohibits puppy mill dogs from being sold either at pet stores or online, with incentives such as tax breaks for pet stores which open their facilities to the adoption of rescue and shelter animals. Several cities, such as West Hollywood and Austin, have already done that. While we hope this will increase local adoptions, we should do this to shut down the puppy mill trade even if it doesn’t. Because let’s be absolutely clear about this: even if a city bans the sale of puppy mill dogs from pet stores, there is no guarantee that shelter deaths will be reduced if shelters are still run by lazy and inept directors whose underperforming staff continue to neglect, abuse, and needlessly kill dogs and puppies. To adopt more animals, shelter directors have to want to do so and all the evidence clearly demonstrates that far too few of them actually do. They have to work with volunteers and rescue groups, they have to have public access hours, good customer service, and a proactive marketing campaign—simple common sense alternatives to killing too many shelter directors simply refuse to implement.

Fourth, when we work to reform local shelters, we are also working to impact the puppy mill trade. When shelters turn away good homes because of poor customer service or arbitrary rules, we fuel the pet shop trade. Moreover, when shelters go head to head with the competition, they win. During the 1990s, at the height of its adoption success and popularity, the San Francisco SPCA had seven offsite adoption locations throughout the city seven days a week. Consequently, the number of pet stores which sold puppies was reduced to zero. They simply could not effectively compete. As I write in Redemption,

[T]he more animals dying in a given community (which traditionalists claim means lack of homes), the greater number of pet stores that sell dogs and cats (which shows homes readily available). Generally, pet stores succeed when a shelter is not meeting market demand or competing effectively, and because animal lovers do not want to go into a shelter that kills the vast majority of the animals…

Fifth, we can file civil lawsuits and push for criminal prosecution. A panel on “Litigating an End to Puppy Mills” at No Kill Conference 2009 in Washington DC showed that there are several potential causes of legal action against puppy mills including land use, environmental impact, and fraud, among other civil (and criminal) statutes.

And sixth, we can attempt to regulate and/or eliminate puppy mills directly through legislation, as several states have done. But we also need to follow up with enforcement of whatever laws are passed, as that has proven to be a challenge because government agriculture agencies responsible for oversight are often in league with those they are suppose to regulate and fail to follow through on enforcement. According to Missouri dog advocate Brent Toellner,

According to the US Department of Agriculture, there are 1,525 licensed commercial breeders in the state—nearly [three times] more than any other state.  The rest… are unlicensed.  In other words, Missouri could cut in half the number of ‘puppy mills’ just by closing down all of the unlicensed operations in the state.

Unfortunately, one of the big reasons we are unable to close down these operations is due to a severe lack of state inspectors.  As of right now, the state only has 13 licensed inspectors—who not only have to inspect all of the licensed operations, but also are charged with identifying and closing down unlicensed operations.  There are 120 unlicensed operations per state official assigned to close them down—and another 120 that they have to actually inspect each year.

Protest, educate, litigate, legislate, push for enforcement, and reform the shelter. And oh yeah, don’t buy from a pet store, sign my pledge, and send me money. (Just kidding.)

Enter Proposition B: The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act

On November 2, Missourians will go to the polls to determine the fate of Proposition B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, a voter initiative supported by a whole host of organizations, but primarily spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States. Among other things, the bill will require commercial breeders to provide each dog with sufficient food and clean water, necessary veterinary care, housing, sufficient space, regular exercise, and limits on how many times per year a dog can be bred.

If I lived in Missouri, I would vote “Yes.” If you live in Missouri, you should vote “Yes.” But Proposition B is not without its problems, and we need to heed those lessons as there is still time to mitigate the initial unintended harm and so that, going forward, anti-puppy mill crusaders do not make the same mistakes.

The Politics

The average dog lover would be shocked and appalled that the provisions of Proposition B are necessary and not already being enforced. Nonetheless, the opposition is using the support of groups like the Humane Society of the United States to claim this is part of a radical animal rights agenda. For example, the Tea Party has seized on this claim to urge a “No” vote. But Proposition B is not “radical animal rights” legislation.

From an animal rights standpoint, the bill leaves much to be desired. It continues the breeding, buying, and selling of dogs. It specifically excludes dogs in animal research labs. It excludes breeding operations who sell “hunting dogs.” And it excludes animal shelters, even though dogs in shelters are often also kept in deplorable conditions by equally unsavory individuals. I don’t mention these realities to attack the bill. This is the nature of political reform. And it is the nature of joining coalitions where members agree on the puppy mill issue, but disagree on others. Moreover, HSUS and its coalition partners may not, and in some cases do not, agree with those other animal rights issues, but even if they did, it could impact Proposition B’s prospects for passing at this time in history.*

In other words, even if you agree with these animal rights principles, Proposition B is still worthy of support as all or nothing often means nothing for the animals. Compromises must often be made to achieve piecemeal success which can be built on over time. Or, as Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist once said, the state can tackle evil one at a time. For example, I would support laws banning the killing of animals in shelters altogether. But given tremendous opposition from the shelter killing industry, and the support of that industry by powerful groups like (ironically) the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and Best Friends, local and state governments are not willing to do that at this time in history, so I work on legislation like the Hayden Law and Assembly Member Micah Kellner’s rescue access bill in New York State to reduce the number killed. That is the nature of the political process. I only mention it because it shows how mischaracterized the law has been by Joe the Plumber and his band of misguided, mean-spirited, uneducated wing nuts.

Some dog advocates in Missouri are, however, rightfully concerned that the proposition is poorly written (e.g., can more than one “business” be under the same roof, each with their own maximum number of dogs?) and argue that the bill could have been made much stronger without reducing its chance of being approved. Given that the law was part of an initiative process and not legislative compromise, there was little reason to give up so much from the very beginning. And given that the opposition was going to label this as radical and extreme no matter what it actually did, why not write the strongest possible law? HSUS initiatives in other states banning battery cages for chickens, ending bear baiting, and banning gestation crates for pigs (all of which I support) have been tremendously successful and people do not have personal relationships with chickens, bears, and pigs. Why wouldn’t people support stronger dog protection laws when they consider dogs to be cherished members of their families? Why compromise right out of the gate?

The Initial Effects

Whenever you impose a limit on the number of dogs a facility can have, as Proposition B does and should, the question becomes “What will happen to the dogs above the limit?” This is very foreseeable and begs the question of what contingencies are in place to make sure those dogs do not suffer further abuse or death?

Tragically, there is a very disturbing lack of interest on the part of HSUS to save dogs who may end up in kill shelters and pounds, sold at auction, or simply killed outright throughout Missouri as puppy millers reduce their numbers to comply with the 50-dog limit when Proposition B passes. If you really care about dogs, if you really want to protect them from harm and from killing, wouldn’t you also put some resources and thought into mitigating the killing that will arise?

According to Kansas City Dog Advocates, HSUS has not prepared for and does not appear willing to set money aside for that scenario. In an e-mail to HSUS’ Proposition B campaign manager, KCDA asks,

If this passes how much money has been set aside … to re-home the potentially thousands of dogs due to the 50 dog limit being imposed? What plans are being made to make sure they’re not merely killed as there isn’t anything in the ballot language to keep people from just killing the extra dogs?

According to HSUS’ Proposition B campaign manager, HSUS

Will try to convince puppy millers to: a) spay or neuter some of the breeding dogs as that would help to bring the facilities into compliance with the breeding dog cap in Prop B, or b) relinquish the dogs to a humane organization rather than killing them or auctioning them off as is often done now.

Spit take!

HSUS will try and convince people who exploit and neglect dogs for profit to spay them and turn them into pets?

In other words, there is no plan. On the one hand, HSUS admits we need a law to get them to stop abusing animals in order to maximize profits. On the other, they claim that puppy millers are going to voluntarily spay/neuter dogs and spend money on their lifetime care without any profit in it. That is an exercise in sheer self-delusion at best, and an intentional misrepresentation at worst. Plan B, according to HSUS, means the dogs will go to “a humane organization” which simply means a Missouri kill shelter. Either way, the dogs are dead.

The real answer: not HSUS’ problem. Historically, HSUS has a disturbing pattern of raising money on an issue, and immediately moving on, just as they did when they raised $30 million on Hurricane Katrina rescue, spent $4 million, shipped the animals off to kill shelters, announced “Mission: Accomplished,” and went  home $26 million richer with two criminal investigations on their fundraising practices in their wake.

KCDA’s effort to mitigate any adverse impact is crucial to reducing harm even while efforts to pass laws like Proposition B are supported. Because if you truly love dogs, you plan on voting for Proposition B, even as you wish a group that was fully committed to the dogs wrote it, made it as strong as possible, closed the loopholes, made it illegal for puppy mills to simply kill dogs, auction them off, or dump them in kill shelters, and were prepared to spend the millions they raise on it on dealing with any unintended consequences, such as an initial upsurge in killing. (Wayne, are you listening?)

Going Forward

In the end, there is no possibility of amendment now that Proposition B has been certified for the ballot, and it will face either an up or down vote. And Proposition B deserves a “yes” vote. But let’s be absolutely clear. Going forward, we need groups which are more committed to the best interests of animals than HSUS (or a more committed HSUS) taking the lead on issues like this. And we need local and other national groups to act less like simpleton cheerleaders of HSUS and more like what they should be—groups whose mission is to advocate for dogs. Surely, they could have demanded more from HSUS. Surely, they could have tightened up the language. Surely, local groups could have insisted on a share of HSUS’ fundraising on this issue and their assistance to mitigate the unintended but very real and immediate danger this Proposition B creates for dogs over the maximum limit of 50.

How about HSUS taking some of its $110 million annual budget (of which only ½ of one percent goes to shelters), ASPCA taking some of its $120 million in annual revenues, and Best Friends taking some of its $40 million per year it takes in to rescue only 600 animals per year (at a whopping $70,000 each) and actually use that money to help these dogs? How about they combine resources to rescue the dogs at risk for being killed?

In fact, that is exactly what could have been done from the beginning, what (other than changes to the proposition language) could still be done, and what should be done. If HSUS and others fully commit resources and energy into creating a safety net for dogs currently in puppy mills who will be discarded when Proposition B passes, any potential downsides resulting from this legislation would be eliminated. And when Missourian dog lovers vote “Yes,” as they should, they could do so with a clear conscience.

Join the discussion this Sunday at 12 pm PST on the Animal Wise Radio network: www.animalarkshelter.org/AWRListen.html

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* In truth, I believe people are ready for laws banning puppy mills altogether and that would make sense, so long as we do not inadvertently open up markets to puppy mills from places like China, where medieval levels of barbarity would likely be the norm and they would remain out of regulatory reach.

Standing Tall in Washoe County

October 14, 2010 by  

Washoe County Regional Animal Services is responsible for running the municipal shelter for all towns and municipalities of Washoe County, Nevada including Reno. As a tourism-based economy, Reno and its surrounding communities have been very hard hit by the economic downturn. Loss of jobs and loss of homes are at all-time highs. In fact, the state of Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. As a result, WCRAS takes in four times the per capita intake rate of Los Angeles, five times the rate of San Francisco, seven times the rate of New York City, and over two times the national average.

If there was ever an agency which should have a high rate of killing according to traditional sheltering dogma, indeed if there was ever a community where No Kill could not work, it is Washoe County. But it is working. Year-to-date, WCRAS has a stunning 95% rate of lifesaving.

Mitch Schneider, the WCRAS director, is one of the “few and proud” heads of a municipal facility with a better than 90% save rate. He is proud of his staff, proud of his relationship with community groups, and proud of his community. But “few and proud” are not surprising for Schneider, an ex-marine, who likes to remind you that “once a marine, always a marine.”

This past weekend, both Schneider and I were presenting at the Building a No Kill South Florida conference put on by No Kill Nation. I caught up with him in Ft. Lauderdale and sat down to talk to him about his conversion from skeptic to No Kill advocate.

What was Washoe County like when you first started?

We euthanized [killed] thousands of animals each year. In fact, we had two full-time staff members doing that most of the day. That meant a freezer full of dead pets—fifteen barrels full. Every day, a renderer came to empty the freezer, and every day we filled it up again. As terrible as that was for the animals, it was also very hard on the staff. We had tremendous staff burnout.

When the Nevada Humane Society Board of Directors first brought me in as a consultant, and before we recruited Bonney Brown to run the shelter, you and I had a conversation where I told you that the Nevada Humane Society wanted to make Washoe County a No Kill community. What did you think?

I didn’t believe it could work, at least not in Reno. I did the math and remember thinking that maybe it would work in a more affluent community but we had a more transient population and a high intake rate.

I remember your skepticism well, but I also remember you said “if you think there is a better way of doing things than we are doing in Washoe County, I am willing to consider it.” Why were you willing to try something new when you didn’t believe it was possible?

No matter what any of us believes, we ultimately won’t know if we don’t try. On top of that, if in fact No Kill failed, I didn’t want it to be because our agency refused to think outside the box or because I didn’t like the term. Even if we didn’t achieve the ultimate goal, I knew it could still be better than now. We could save more animals. And that would make thousands of animals pretty happy, and it would make thousands of animal lovers pretty happy. It would also make the taxpayers happier. It would reduce staff burnout and turnover, which would reduce costs for human resources for hiring and training new staff, and it would increase our image in the community.

Were you open to all the changes after making the decision to at least give it a try?

I’ve always been committed to process improvement, but I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I found myself having to check my traditional thinking and responses a lot. But I also knew that many people go their whole lives never making a difference, but we can, if we choose too. And I wanted to make a difference in the lives of animals, a difference in the lives of people who care about them, a difference in how our community sees itself.

I love Washoe County and if we could achieve No Kill here, it could become a source of collective pride. So while I might dislike the term No Kill, I hate the term dog catcher even more and you are what you act like. Act like a dog catcher, then you are a dog catcher.

Given the high rate of intakes, conventional wisdom would say people in Washoe County are especially irresponsible and that should also translate into a low percentage of lost animals being reclaimed by their families. But you reclaim about 65% of dogs, three times the national average. You also reclaim about seven times the national average for cats. How did you make that happen and prove conventional wisdom wrong?

Some animal control agencies will pick up a stray dog and even if they pick up the dog in front of the dog’s home and they know it, they’ll still take the dog to the shelter. That’s how a dog catcher acts. But we stopped doing that. If we know where that dog lives, we’ll drive the dog home. It’s good business practice, it is good public relations, and it is the right thing to do.

By returning the dog home, we don’t stress the dog, we don’t stress the dog’s owner, we don’t stress the staff at the shelter, and we don’t stress the other dogs in the shelter. Everyone wins. Even the taxpayers win: we spend less of their money. It may be a little more work in the field, scanning for microchips, calling the number on tags, knocking on doors in the neighborhood to see if anyone knows where the dog lives, but it reduces a lot of work back at the shelter. Plus it makes two parties very, very happy: the dog and the person that dog belongs to.

Some animal control agencies think they have to punish people whose dogs are found at large. Why do you not share that view?

We have a public safety mandate and we would never do anything to compromise that, but that doesn’t mean we abandon common sense or compassion. Accidents happen, so we treat the dogs and their owners the way we would want our pets and ourselves to be treated. If the person is truly irresponsible, we’re going to issue citations, but we aren’t going to threaten to kill their dogs or make it more likely that their dogs will be killed. If the dog is not dangerous, you don’t have to do that to protect public safety.

What do you have to say to other animal control directors who refuse to embrace this kind of innovation?

When I hear people in other communities refuse to embrace change because they say “We’ve always done it this way,” I can’t help but be disappointed. That doesn’t justify anything. If you aren’t saving animals doing things a certain way, if you have a poor public image doing things a certain way, if you are wasting taxpayer money doing things a certain way, it means it is time to embrace change. Most resistance to change is just laziness. People want to go through the motions without having to really think about why and what they are doing and how to make it better.

What are some of the changes that have helped increase the save rate at WCRAS?

As I said, we work very hard to return animals to their owners in the field. One day one of my officers said to me, “I had a good day today, I impounded six dogs.” And I said to her, “How is that a good day for the dogs and the dog’s owners?” And she said, “I took five of the dogs home in the field.” I said, “that is a good day.” When we actually bring five of six wandering dogs home, rather than bringing them into the shelter, I know we are doing the job entrusted to us by the people of Washoe County. We’ve also embraced TNR for feral cats, have a great relationship with the Nevada Humane Society, and work with lots of different rescue groups. In other words, we work well with others, even if we aren’t in agreement with each other on everything. In some ways, I see part of my job as getting out of the way of people who want to save lives.

How has your staff responded to all the changes and especially to the results?

When I hire someone, I look for the kind of employee that is not averse to continuous process improvement. That is why we have a good team. Our staff morale is high. But we’re also people, so we have good days and bad days. And when we change a policy to better serve the people and animals of our community, sometimes one of our staff members may complain that “every day I come in, something’s changed.” But all I have to remind them is that it takes a desire to be better today than we were yesterday to get them over that hump. Plus, if we do things better, they get lots of positive feedback from the community. People write our officers and thank them for bringing their pet home. How can that not make an officer feel good?

Is there one thing that you would credit with your tremendous lifesaving success?

Our success is a result of a willingness to embrace continuous process improvement, which requires not fearing change. That, in turn, requires understanding that you can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created the problem. You can’t get a different outcome if you keep doing the same thing.

Learn more:

The King of Redemptions

Reno Leads the Pack

How Can We Help?

Building a No Kill Community

October 11, 2010 by  

The Irreconcilable Differences book tour has taken me to Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey/New York, New Zealand, Florida, and elsewhere. There is only one date left. Join me Saturday, November 20,  in Farmington, New Mexico, for an inspirational two-hour multi-media presentation followed by a book signing.

The seminar has been called,

A prerequisite for rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.

Sponsored by Four Corners No Kill. Free and open to the public. For more information or to register, click here.

Join me this Friday, April 16,  in Douglasville, Georgia, for an inspirational two-hour multi-media presentation followed by a book signing for Irreconcilable Differences.
The seminar has been called, A prerequisite for rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill. Sales of books benefit local No Kill initiatives. Sponsored by Carroll County Humane Society.
For more information or to register, click here.

Now on Facebook

October 6, 2010 by  

I’ve joined Facebook. Go to my page by clicking here.

Four Million Shelter Animals Want You!

October 3, 2010 by  

Wanted:

Shelter directors with imagination. No experience necessary.

What are important characteristics of an effective animal shelter director? A love of animals? A passion for saving lives? Someone who demands excellence? Yes, yes, and yes. They must also be hard working, effective, determined, willing to take risks, solution oriented, accountable, someone who leads by example, and someone who can do a lot of things with limited resources. I’ve heard a No Kill shelter director quip that a good leader is someone with “the ability to hide their panic”—to appear in control even in the face of the chaos swirling around you.

In the end, all of these characteristics are important. And they include everything you want in a leader. They include everything you and the animals in your community deserve and have a right to expect from someone running your animal shelter—the shelter that is supposed to reflect your values, paid for with your tax and philanthropic dollars.

But I would argue that the most important factor, the one that trumps all the others, the one that determines whether the shelter director—and therefore the No Kill mission—succeeds or fails in a particular community is imagination.

When I left San Francisco to take over an open admission animal control shelter in upstate New York, I wasn’t sure what I was in for. My experience was limited to the San Francisco SPCA, sitting on the Board of Directors for a No Kill humane society in Palo Alto, and rescue. I talked to shelters in other communities and I believed in the model created in San Francisco, but as to how long it would take to end the killing at an animal control shelter? I wasn’t sure. But I also knew that I had to try.

And now that the way has been paved, now that we know the answer is “overnight,” the time is ripe for wholesale regime change. Because today, roughly 3,000 or so “shelter” directors refuse to comprehensively implement the No Kill Equation. They are killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. And, in so doing, they are holding back the will of millions of Americans who love animals and want to see their needless killing come to an end.

But we can change that. We can reclaim these shelters. And you can help: By taking on positions of leadership at shelters across the country. Running a shelter no longer has to mean rampant and endless killing, followed by excuse-making and mind-numbing, patently-false justifications for doing so.

To create a No Kill nation, we need two things. We need laws that remove the discretion shelter directors have to avoid doing what is in the best interests of animals and kill them needlessly. And we need regime change.

In Redemption, I write that:

Anyone with a deep and abiding love for animals and a “can do” attitude can take on positions of leadership at SPCAs, humane societies, and animal control shelters across the nation, and quickly achieve the kind of lifesaving results that were once dismissed as nothing more than “hoaxes” or “smoke and mirrors” by the leaders of the past.

With no allegiance to the status quo or faith in conventional “wisdom,” new leaders can cause dog and cat deaths to plummet in cities and counties by rejecting the “adopt some and kill the rest” inertia of the past one hundred years…

Do you have what it takes?

A Thought Experiment

Imagine you run an open admission shelter. Your per capita intake is higher than the national average. Like many communities, you have pockets of affluence, but there are also incredible amounts of poverty. You are getting your daily influx of animals. And then you get the call. The state has requested assistance in closing down a puppy mill. They are asking other shelters for help, but you would take the lead. On day one, you would get three times the number of dogs than available kennel space. You already have dogs in many of your kennels and you get dogs in every day already. And on top of that, you are not just getting any dogs. You are getting dogs with the most serious conditions: dogs who are blind, with untreated tumors, rotten teeth, dogs with neurological problems, none of them housetrained, under-socialized dogs, heavily traumatized dogs, dogs who lived inside pet carriers their whole lives.

If this shelter killed the dogs, some people would not criticize it. They would believe that the fault lies with the puppy mill. And there is truth there: Fault does lie with the puppy mill for exploiting, neglecting, and abusing those poor dogs. But once the dogs are in the care of the shelter, the calculus changes. Whether those dogs live or die is now up to the shelter. At that point, as I write in Irreconcilable Differences,

The choice is not … a choice between continued suffering and death at the pound. This is not what the animals face. Once they are rescued from abuse, more suffering should no longer be an option.

The only choice left is whether the shelter will perpetuate the harm by killing them or whether it won’t. In sheltering, we like to fall back on the cliché that killing is a last resort. But many of us know firsthand that while shelter directors give lip service to that, it often is a first resort: The thing that is routinely and casually done when the cages get full. The thing that is done even when they aren’t full. Because that is just what we’ve done in shelters for 100 years and collectively, we stopped imagining a different outcome. But in reality, this “solution” is the most inhumane, violent, and extreme of all possible responses.

If you can imagine a different outcome than the status quo; a different outcome than killing; if when faced with adversity, you can imagine how you might do things differently; and you give yourself permission to try it even when conventional wisdom says you should not; you’re already more prepared than the vast majority of shelter directors in this country.

If we had never started killing, the suggestion that we should would be shocking and preposterous. Yet custom has reconciled those in the animal sheltering industry to it to the point that too many shelter directors often see it as inevitable. By contrast, it is impossible to imagine Child Protective Services taking in abused, abandoned, or just homeless children and then killing them. And as No Kill advocates, we should no more tolerate it for animals. In our society, killing needy animals should be equally unthinkable. So what would happen if you threw out the calculus? What would you do if instead of debating whether killing was a first vs. a last resort, it was no resort? What if you simply took killing off of the table?

The pro-killing Naysayers claim you’d be a hoarder. That the animals would pile up and get sick. But the Naysayers are wrong. The data proves it. While about four million dogs and cats will lose their lives in shelters this year, about three million will lose their lives but for a home. The rest are a combination of unsocialized community cats who need TNR, animals who can be reclaimed if shelters did a better job of matching lost with found animals, irremediably suffering and hopeless ill or injured animals, and vicious dogs with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation.

By contrast, there are over 23 million people who are going to get an animal next year. Some are already committed to adopting from a shelter. Some are already committed to getting one from a breeder or other commercial source. But 17 million have not decided where that animal will come from and research shows they can be influenced to adopt from a shelter. That’s 17 million people vying for roughly 3 million animals. So even if 80% of those people got their animal from somewhere other than a shelter, we could still zero out the killing and be a No Kill nation.

Experience proves it too. There are communities with extremely high per capita intake rates who have done it. There are now No Kill communities across the U.S. and abroad: in New York and in California, in Colorado and Virginia, in Utah, Indiana, Kansas, and Kentucky, in Nevada, and across the globe. And the one thing that all of them have in common are leaders with a “can do” attitude—leaders with imagination.

Where will you house the dogs? Who will provide the immediate care? How will you pay for it? Who will treat the rotten teeth, the tumors, and the matted fur? Who will adopt them? We know what would happen in most communities. After killing the dogs, the Executive Director would be talking about “public irresponsibility,” saying the dogs were “unadoptable,” and how “euthanasia” relieved them of their suffering. “Public irresponsibility,” “unadoptable,” “euthanasia.” All code words showing a profound lack of imagination. What would you do?

Would you call in all the volunteers? Would you call in all the staff who had a day off? Would you call out all the rescue groups? Would you call the media? Would you announce extended adoption hours and adoption promotions? All the staff, all the volunteers are looking to you. If you are confident, so are they. If you believe, they believe.

This is the scenario I faced a number of years ago. And I want to share with you what happened. First, I employed the “appear in control despite the chaos” strategy: I hid my panic. Then I employed a bit of imagination: What if we put up a big tent in the backyard to house the dogs? So I called up a local party rental store and asked them to donate a wedding tent in exchange for promotion. Whatever the circumstances, it was my job to imagine a solution. If it didn’t work, it was my job to imagine another solution. Leaders do not throw up their hands and say, if we can’t do this one thing (in this case, kill); there isn’t anything else we can do. If a door is closed, you open it. If it is locked, you kick it down. If it is reinforced, you smash a window.  Not enough veterinarians? What if I called my kids orthodontist to come in and look at some teeth? How different could teeth be?

And when the vans arrived and the dogs were carried off, it was an awesome sight to behold. Volunteers had established an assembly line bathing the dogs, delicately cutting the mats, cutting toe nails. A local veterinarian cancelled her appointments and spent the day doing triage, with staff and volunteers acting as assistants, and then spent the evening doing surgeries. A local dentist came in to clean, fix, and pull teeth.

We had already created the infrastructure necessary to save lives. We had the No Kill Equation in place. Programs such as foster care, comprehensive adoption programs, socialization and behavior rehabilitation, medical care, working with rescue groups, marketing and promotions, a robust volunteer base, and more. Programs that allow a shelter to save lives not just in ordinary circumstances; but that could be called upon to give more during extraordinary ones.

All I needed to do as the shelter’s director was to give people permission to help. All I had to do was to create the environment that allowed people to help; to give them the tools they needed to be able to do so. When you make it easy for people to do the right thing, they will. And within 48 hours, we had emptied the shelter without a single dog losing his life, without even unfurling the tent.

Of course we owe it to the animals to do these things. That goes without saying. But we also owe it to people: The people clamoring for change in their communities. The people who are fighting shelters that refuse to do these things, but who would be a shelters’ biggest cheerleaders and fiercest allies if shelter directors stopped viewing them as enemies and partnered with them to save lives. Killing those dogs would have been unfair to the volunteers who gladly spent the day caring for them, unfair to the orthodontist who still talked about that day years later. They had so much to give and would have felt so much anguish had our “solution” been simply to kill. As much as it was my responsibility to save those dogs, it was also my duty to allow those who wanted to help them to do so. It is a leaders’ job to give people that opportunity, not to turn them away with platitudes about public irresponsibility and the inevitability of killing.

The Buck Stops Here

One shelter director who runs a No Kill open admission shelter talks about turning challenges into opportunities. Another says his job is to get out of the way of people who want to save lives. And a third says that patience is not a virtue when lives are at stake. Those who are successful at saving lives will tell you the same thing. When you take killing off the table; when you give people permission to help; when you create the environment that allows them to do so; when you give them the tools they need to succeed; great things happen, and you succeed.

You don’t succeed in five years. You don’t succeed in ten years. You succeed right away. You empty the shelter of animals the good way. The key to success is the No Kill Equation, programs that include TNR for unsocialized community cats, foster care, behavior rehabilitation, and good medical care. But there is one more element of the No Kill Equation. The most important one. And that is leadership.

Reno, Nevada (Washoe County) takes in more animals per capita than many communities. It takes in roughly four times the per capita rate of dogs and cats than Los Angeles, five times the rate of San Francisco, seven times the rate of New York City, and over two times the national average. As a tourism-based economy, it was especially hard hit by the Great Recession: foreclosures were at an all-time high, it had the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, and on top of that, it has education funding among the lowest in the nation, and a national study that looked at driving while intoxicated arrest and liver disease rates named it the second drunkest city in the nation.

If there is anywhere that No Kill could not work according to traditional sheltering dogma, it is Washoe County. But it is working. In one year, they lowered the death rate by over 50%. In one year, they increased the adoption rate as much as 84%. They are saving nine out of ten animals despite taking in over 15,000 per year. Why?

The technical answer: They are implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation. But the more immediate one, the one that explains how they did it so quickly, is leadership. Leadership that imagined a different outcome. This past year, the roads department decided it was going to do road work right in front of the shelter. So as not to disturb work traffic, they were going to do it on the weekend, impacting the shelter’s adoptions by limiting the public’s access to the shelter.

Saturday is the shelter’s biggest adoption day of the week and it was packed with animals. If you were  the shelter director, what would you do? If the road department told you there was nothing they could do, would you leave it at that? Would you take the animals outside if need be? Would you bring in the media to get their attention? Would you force them to make sure there was access to the shelter even amidst the construction chaos? Would you have volunteers in costumes directing traffic for adoptions? Would you have the roads department and the construction company pay for an advertisement in the newspaper asking people to come down and adopt even during construction? How about waiving adoption fees by having a “Pardon Our Dust” adoption event?

If you can imagine doing that, then imagine this. That weekend, the shelter adopted more than twice the number of animals than a typical weekend. Roadwork turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It increased the adoption rate by 130% and raised $2,000 in donations.

A couple of years ago, I was brought in by the Nevada Humane Society Board of Directors to help them reform their shelter. It was a shelter with ineffective, uncaring managers, a hostile relationship with rescue groups, and was reliant on killing. I did a staff and community survey. NHS was given a “poor” rating over a wide range of issues. Comments were mostly negative and coalesced around several themes such as a failure to respond to calls for service, killing animals needlessly, and poor customer service. The public isn’t making those claims anymore.

When I was called back to assess the changes two years later after helping replace management, having recruited their new director, and assisting in the implementation of policy, a community survey found that 93% support the No Kill initiative; 95% gave the humane society positive ratings on adoption efforts and results; and 93% said NHS has a good or great public image. Open-ended public comments were overwhelmingly positive and coalesced around two major themes:  “We believe NHS does an excellent job for the citizens of Washoe County” and “NHS does a great job of taking care of the animals in its care.” That success can be every community’s success. That admiration can be every shelter director’s.

In 1999, San Francisco had the highest save rate of any major urban area in the U.S. In fact, San Francisco was the then-safest community for homeless dogs and cats in the U.S. We were told that this required a unique set of geographical circumstances. We were told that lifesaving success of that magnitude required a unique set of demographics. A bureaucrat at L.A. County’s Department of Animal Care & Control, a shelter with a history of neglect and abuse of animals, said that the only reason San Francisco was successful was because dogs and cats from other communities couldn’t enter because the city was surrounded by water. It was, he said, an island. The late Roger Caras, the then-President of the ASPCA, once said San Francisco’s lifesaving success was due to the City’s large gay population “and the gay community is traditionally the most animal-friendly.” Silly and desperate arguments to be sure. The real reason? Imagination.

Imagination allowed a shelter which has a “capacity” of 375 but found itself with 750 animals due to a hoarding bust (including a bust of 300 dogs) to empty its shelter without killing. Imagination allowed an open admission shelter in Australia to save every baby kitten this year. It allowed an open admission shelter in New Zealand to triple its adoption rate overnight. And yet another open admission shelter in New Zealand to put itself on pace for a stunning 99% save rate this year.

All They Need is You

I have received a lot of very kind and supportive letters from all over the world because of my work reforming our broken animal shelter system. But the ones from shelter managers and shelter directors who ran kill shelters and then subsequently embraced the No Kill philosophy are some of the most meaningful to me. Letters like this one:

Nathan,

I spent four years working at a humane society… I was a caregiver and euthanasia [sic] technician. Sixty-four animals have died at the end of my needle. When I was killing animals, I stepped outside of myself and was a different person. I held it together all but one time.

While killing a mother and her five two-day old children, I broke down. At the time I did not know what set me off. I had always been in control of my emotions and remained focused. Now I can look back and realize I lost it because I let myself feel what I was doing… I never blamed myself for what I did. I played it off as doing what my manager had told me to do and it was how I played my part in animal welfare. I believed that these animals martyred themselves for the movement. That their deaths were not in vain because it would… lead to the end of suffering. How very wrong I was…

As a shelter director now, did some of your comments piss me off? Absolutely… But I got what you were saying… I want to believe I am this progressive person, but my life’s passion was based on an old model that did nothing but fail. Will I ever go back to being the person I was at [my old humane society]? No, I just cannot. I want to let you know you opened me up to a new train of thought. One I am dedicated to sharing with my community. Thank you.

It is never too late to do the right thing. But where shelter directors do not willingly change, we owe it to the animals to replace them with those who truly care.

The Tipping Point

What are the hallmarks of leadership? A love of animals. A passion for saving lives. Hard working. Effective. Determined. Willing to take risks. Solution oriented. Accountable. Someone who demands excellence. Who leads by example. Doing a lot of things with limited resources. But more than all of that: Imagination.

If you have it, if you are willing to act on it, you are more qualified to run a shelter than the ones currently in those positions. And, for the sake of the animals, I hope you consider doing so. Because not only will you save the animals in your community, but you will help us achieve a No Kill nation.

Today, every killing director is protected by every other killing director. They provide the justification, they provide the legitimacy, and they provide the comparison. As long as we are killing roughly half of all animals in U.S. “shelters,” there is a built-in excuse and failure is seen as success. But the more No Kill communities that are achieved, the closer we come to a tipping point. And the more we can say, if they can do it here, and here, and here, and here, and here, ad infinitum, the more isolated and out-of-step killing directors will become. And when that happens, the quicker and more easily we can get rid of those who fail to keep pace. Until Tompkins County became the first No Kill community in U.S. history, No Kill was said to be impossible. When other communities followed suit, it became probable. When we cross the tipping point, it will become inevitable.

Four million shelters animals are looking for imaginative people to take their community shelters out of the dark ages and into the light. They are looking for someone just like you.

“When faced with seemingly impossible tasks, we ask the question, ‘What can we do to achieve results without sacrificing our principles?’ as we pursue solutions with gusto. Then it doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.” – Mike Fry, Animal Ark

“When we are faced with a challenge we work to find a solution that will not sacrifice the lives of animals. That may require being unconventional.” – Bonney Brown, Nevada Humane Society

“As a leader you need to be willing to take risks and challenge accepted thinking.” – Michael Linke, Royal SPCA Australian Capital Territory

“Our success began first and foremost with a change in attitude, that was then reflected by a change in our conversation, resulting in a change in our actions.” - Susanne Kogut, Charlottesville SPCA

“When I hear someone deny that No Kill communities are possible, I think of a shelter in upstate New York, a place where one day it looked sickeningly hopeless, and the next day everything changed… It got out of the habit of killing. Its former incarnation was a place that killed animals and abused people… It was typical of what the American animal sheltering system has been allowed to become. But that place has been dead and gone for almost nine years, and, in its place, an example and an inspiration for others to follow. We live in a cruel, crazy world, one in which shelter killing is a habit… We live in a beautiful world, because we can make the killing stop. I believe in miracles. They happen every day.” -Valerie Hayes, Atlanta Animal Welfare Examiner.

For a PDF copy of this blog, click here.

Listen to the discussion on leadership at Animal Wise Radio Network (Sunday, October 3, at 3 pm EST) by clicking here.

For a further discussion on leadership, see:

Lessons from the 90% Club at O is for Onward by clicking here.

For a discussion on lack of leadership, see:

The Needle & the Damage Done at YesBiscuit! by clicking here.

Octoberfest

October 1, 2010 by  

For now, just some calendar items and a photo of a beautiful boy.

Free Copies of Irreconcilable Differences

Every day in October starting today, October 1

Starting today and every day for the month of October, No Kill Houston is giving away a free copy of Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters.

Learn more and enter to win by clicking here.

Nathan Winograd UNLEASHED

Every Sunday starting October 3

Animal Wise Radio is now Animal Wise Radio Network, streaming 24/7 to your computer or mobile phone, including a brand new segment “Nathan Winograd UNLEASHED.”

From Animal Wise Radio Network:

Every Sunday, Nathan Winograd will be UNLEASHED on Animal Wise Radio Network. Immediately following the LIVE Animal Wise Radio broadcast, Nathan with join us on the new 24/7 Animal Wise Radio Network for 30 minutes of uninterrupted, commercial-free and unrestrained conversation. This week, Nathan will discuss leadership in the animal welfare movement. What does real leadership look like and why is it so lacking in many shelters?

What are the hallmarks of leadership? Why are they in critically short supply in shelter directors across the country? Why has sheltering resulted in survival of the meanest? And why do YOU hold the key to a No Kill nation?

Tune into the conversation LIVE Sundays at 2:00 PM Central by clicking here.

A No Kill NYC?

October 3

What would it take for NYC and other communities to become No Kill? I’ll be the guest for the full hour this Sunday afternoon at 1 pm PST on The Talk of New York AM 970. It is the Dogs in Danger Radio Hour.

Learn more and/or listen live by clicking here.

Building a No Kill Community

Ft. Lauderdale, FL on October 9

I am taking time off the road in 2011. These are the last two opportunities to join me for an inspirational multi-media presentation on Building a No Kill Community, followed by a book signing:

  • Ft. Lauderdale, FL. October 9, 2010. (Joined by Mike Fry, Bonney Brown, and more…)
  • Farmington, NM. November 20, 2010.

For more information or to register, click here.

Bringing the Revolution to Your Home

One Friday every month starting October 22

Animal Ark, Minnesota’s premier No Kill shelter, and the No Kill Advocacy Center will be teaming up to offer a monthly series of low-cost webinars to help shelters, rescue organizations, private citizens, and municipalities learn more about and begin implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation.

To learn more and/or to register for an upcoming webinar, click here.

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful Boy

Top-Top as a puppy after I adopted him from the San Francisco SPCA back in 1999. He was my sidekick for over 11 years.