Redemption for Henry Bergh

August 29, 2012 by  

“I hate to think what will befall this Society when I am gone.” — Henry Bergh.

Henry Bergh, the great founder of the humane movement in North America, once said,

The chief obstacle to success of movements like this [is] that they almost invariably gravitate into questions of money or politics. Such questions are repudiated here completely… If I were paid a large salary… I should lose that enthusiasm which has been my strength and my safeguard.

In 2010, the ASPCA paid its president over half a million dollars—$555,824—in salary and other compensation. It raised nearly $150 million dollars, but only found homes for 3,389 animals at its one and only shelter located in New York City—roughly $41,000 per animal adopted. And it sent the neediest of animals to the NYC pound to be killed. It is no surprise that it also has spent the better part of the last 50 years defending killing and fighting reform efforts. By contrast, when Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA, he fitted it with what he called “the very plainest kind” of furniture. When the Governor of New York visited the ASPCA, he stumbled over a hole in the old carpet and said: “Mr. Bergh, buy yourself a better carpet and send the bill to me.” To which Bergh replied, “No, thank you, Governor. But send me the money, and I will put it to better use for the animals.”

Near the end of his life, Bergh often worried about the future of the ASPCA, stating, “I hate to think what will befall this Society when I am gone.” It didn’t take long for Bergh’s worst fears to come true. Shortly after his death, and against his express instructions, the ASPCA traded in its mission of protecting animals from harm for the role of killing them by agreeing to run the dog pound—something that Bergh rejected during his lifetime: “This Society,” he once wrote, “could not stultify its principles so far as to encourage the tortures which the proposed give rise to.” He would not allow his ASPCA to do the city’s bidding in killing dogs they deemed “unwanted.” In fact, Bergh’s answer was the opposite: “Let us abolish the pound!” he proclaimed. But after his death, the ASPCA capitulated and took over the pound, becoming New York City’s leading killer of dogs (and later cats). It was a terrible mistake, one emulated by humane societies and SPCAs nationwide, with devastating results.

Unwilling to harm the animals they were supposed to be protecting, animal lovers fled from these organizations, and bureaucrats and opportunists with no passion for animals or for saving their lives took them over, paving the way for the crisis of uncaring and killing we have inherited today. What began as a nationwide network of animal protection organizations devolved into dog and cat shelters whose primary purpose became, and in too many communities remains, killing animals, even when those animals are not suffering. And the mighty ASPCA, once a stalwart defender of animals, became a stalwart defender of killing them, beholden not to animals or furthering their best interest, but to a ruthless fundraising machine enriching itself and its leadership at the expense of its founding mission.

But there is hope: With no allegiance to the status quo or faith in conventional “wisdom,” new leaders are causing dog and cat deaths to plummet in cities and counties across the country by rejecting the “adopt some and kill the rest” inertia of the past one hundred years. There is renewed hope for the future. A No Kill nation is now within our reach. We have the power to build a new consensus, which rejects killing as a method for achieving results. And we can look forward to a time when the wholesale slaughter of animals in shelters is viewed as a cruel aberration of the past. To get to that point, we must learn from history and reject our failures.

When the early founders of the animal protection movement died and their organizations took over the job of killing those they had been formed to protect, a fiery zeal was replaced with a smoldering ember that gave little light or warmth and the humane movement went to sleep. People like the tirelessly devoted ASPCA founder, Henry Bergh, were replaced with individuals who care so little for animals as to allow tremendous cruelty and killing to continue unabated, even when they could use the power their positions afford to stop it. After over 100 years of this antiquated and deadly paradigm, the grassroots of the animal protection movement is finally waking up.

Today is Henry Bergh’s birthday. Next year, we will celebrate the bicentennial of his birth. In honor of the great Mr. Bergh’s 200th birthday, on behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center, in partnership with No Kill Nation and Sagacity Productions, I am happy to announce that we will release a feature-length documentary that will tell his story—and ours. Watch the trailer:

The No Kill Revolution in America from No Kill Advocacy Center on Vimeo.

To be notified of its release in early 2013 and for more information, click here.


Have a comment? Join the discussion on my Facebook page by clicking here.

Reaching Higher

August 20, 2012 by  

The national No Kill Conference in Washington, D.C. brought together over 800 attendees from 44 states and 10 countries. The most successful shelter directors, animal lawyers, shelter veterinarians and shelter reformers nationwide shared insights and strategies to end the systematic killing of animals in our nations pounds and shelters. The attendees heard from directors of open admission shelters with save rates of better than 98%. They heard from lawyers who have passed laws making it illegal for shelters to kill animals in a wide variety of contexts and who have successfully saved the lives of animals who shelters were determined to kill. They heard from shelter veterinarians who are saving animals who would have been deemed non-rehabilitatable just a few short years ago. And they heard from reformers who have succeeded in ending the needless killing of animals in their community.

There were a lot of important lessons from No Kill Conference 2012. It was a lesson on how far our movement has come. In 2005, when the No Kill Advocacy Center held its first conference, less than two dozen people attended. In 2012, the event sold out at 860. In 2005, there was one No Kill community. In 2012, upwards of 50 shelters representing about 200 cities and towns across America have save rates better than 90%. In 2005, I talked about the goal of saving at least 90%. In 2012, we weren’t satisfied with 98% as we explored what’s possible when we reach higher.

There was also an important lesson for groups like the Humane Society of the United States and ASPCA that see their role as defending poorly performing kill shelters. Almost half of all attendees at the No Kill Conference (46%) came from shelters, including many municipal facilities subject to public acrimony over high rates of killing. They are increasingly looking to the No Kill movement, not them, because while we offer condemnation when it is deserved, we also offer solutions and assistance. By contrast, they offer sycophants and “yes men” who rush to the defense of those who neglect, abuse and kill animals, but fight reformers who want to protect those animals. If shelters want to save lives, they do not want antiquated dogmas which represent the past. And that can only mean good things as we collectively move toward our inevitable No Kill future.

If you did not attend the No Kill Conference this year, you can:

In addition, there are three more conferences occurring around the country this year in which I will be speaking:

I’m also speaking in Bloomington, IL on October 16


Have a comment? Join the discussion on Facebook by clicking here.

NKLA Sweeps Feral Cats Under the Rug

August 16, 2012 by  

Best Friends recently announced a “coalition” which promises to create a No Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) in five years. Like previous coalitions and five year plans, the promises are bold. But with a requirement that the City shelter not be criticized or held accountable despite its intransigence and with vital programs being deferred until future years or not being implemented at all, Best Friends is once again elevating rhetoric above substance. And once again, animal lovers are being asked to dig deep into their pockets to support a roadmap to No Kill that allows too many animals to continue being killed for too long. Among other animals (such as neonatal kittens), it is the feral cats who are paying the ultimate price.

In 2009, several bird groups filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles in a bid to prevent free-living (“feral”) cats from being saved through TNR. They claimed that under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the City had to do an environmental assessment before supporting TNR. They succeeded. On December 4, 2009, a Superior Court Judge ruled that City shelters were not to have any involvement with TNR, including the provision of spay/neuter vouchers, until they conducted an environmental review to determine how those actions impacted the environment, particularly bird populations. The ruling was followed by a court-ordered injunction that currently prevents the City from supporting TNR in any way until that review is done. The end result is that any cat deemed feral is systematically put to death, the City cannot even refer people to TNR groups, nor can it provide trap rentals or spay/neuter vouchers for feral cats.

Knowing that CEQA did not apply, when the No Kill Advocacy Center found out about the lawsuit, it tried to intervene, fearing that the City Attorney would not defend the cats rigorously. The City did not support our effort to do so, and neither did Best Friends Animal Society. The judge agreed and would not allow the No Kill Advocacy Center to join the lawsuit. When the City lost and refused to appeal, the No Kill Advocacy Center again tried to intervene in order to appeal on the cats’ behalf. That effort was also opposed by both the City and Best Friends. Following a long pattern of Best Friends failing to stand up for the animals against powerful, entrenched interests they consider their partners, they sat on the sidelines. Moreover, they supported the City’s disastrous decision not to appeal the clearly erroneous ruling. Why? According to Best Friends in L.A. (specifically, Francis Battista), they “hired an attorney who specializes in CEQA, and they agree with the City Attorney’s decision not to appeal.” But like most Best Friends spin, this isn’t the truth. Best Friends was primed to support the City no matter what they did.

When the City was mulling whether or not to appeal, Battista himself wrote two mutually contradictory statements at the same time—one supporting the City’s decision to appeal and the other supporting the City’s decision not to appeal, depending on whichever course of conduct the City chose. If the City chose to appeal, Best Friends planned on releasing the following statement:

Attorneys for the [Best Friends] coalition, including a CEQA specialist, have reviewed the court record and Judge McKnew’s ruling, and they agree with the City Attorney on the probability of success of and, more importantly, the urgency of the situation given the impact that the ban is having on community cats across Los Angeles.

When the City chose not to appeal, the statement with the contradictory message was released instead:

Attorneys for the coalition, including a CEQA specialist, have reviewed the court record and Judge McKnew’s ruling, and they agree with the City Attorney on the likelihood of success of an appeal and, more importantly, the potential adverse statewide implications of a failed appeal.

Best Friends was going to support the City no matter what they did, regardless of the facts, the law and more importantly, the impact on feral cats. Given that the City chose not to appeal, and the shelter cannot discuss TNR, promote TNR, offer spay/neuter for feral cats, lend traps for TNR, or release feral cats, how is L.A. going end their killing as promised by Best Friends’ latest five year plan for a “No Kill L.A.”? And while the City is now promising a limited environmental impact report, it is not looking to enact a TNR program. Instead, the City wants to go back to the pre-lawsuit status quo, which is certainly better than now, but nothing more than limited support for spay/neuter, renting a few traps, and releasing feral cats to other groups if they ask for them. That alone will not end the killing of healthy and treatable feral cats and Best Friends knows this. And the City isn’t in a particular hurry to even do that. After years of delay, they want to delay even more, asking for money for a further study which isn’t even required. This is especially disturbing since the situation could have been resolved in a few hours. According to No Kill Advocacy Center attorneys,

[The Department of Enginerring] determined back in March 2012 that these proposed activities do not constitute a “program” subject to CEQA, and offered to provide the “few hours of labor” necessary “to prepare a Notice of Exemption and file it with the County Clerk.” One would think that [this] conclusion and offer would have brought an end to this needlessly protracted process, which has been ongoing for more than two years. One would think that that the City would finally take the position that it has complied with the injunction’s requirements, and that the Department of Animal Services would implement its proposed Cat Program. This seems particularly logical given our understanding that the Department has determined that, since the injunction issued and the City was forced to discontinue its prior policy of supporting the spay/neutering of all cats without regard to their status as owned or un-owned, tame or feral, indoor or outdoor, thousands more cats have been killed annually in the City’s shelters than in the years before the injunction issued, at great taxpayer expense and against the statewide policy adopted by the California Legislature in 1998 in favor of reducing shelter killing. In fact, we understand that the Department has determined that there has been “almost a straight-line increase in neonate intake and killing coinciding with the injunction,” and that the “outdated theory of killing animals to curtail population growth is not working in Los Angeles for cats.”

In his blog promoting Best Friends’ latest five-year plan to No Kill (every prior one failed to succeed), Gregory Castle wrote:

In any calculus of no-kill, trap/neuter/return (TNR) is a critical piece. In Los Angeles, this common practice is complicated by the fact that a state court ruled in favor of several bird conservancy groups and issued an injunction stating that L.A. Animal Services could not support or promote TNR until the city had complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regarding the alleged negative impact of TNR on the environment and completed an environmental impact study. Although TNR is still legal and is broadly practiced throughout the city, the TNR injunction has had a very negative effect on shelter cat numbers as well as the number of those roaming at large because under its terms the city shelters cannot offer any advice, references or resources regarding TNR to members of the public who contact them with community cat problems or questions.

But he never said what Best Friends was planning on doing about it. How are they going to get to zero without sweeping feral cats under the rug? Admitting a problem exists is not the same as explaining how they intend to overcome it. As long as the City continues to refuse doing TNR, they can’t. And Best Friends knows it. But like other needed programs, the can is being kicked down the road: a pet retention program is not on tap this year at the shelters, nor is a foster care program, all of which can be implemented today given that they are low-cost and/or free, and also given Best Friends’ enormous resources of over $40,000,000 per year in revenues, millions of which simply go in the bank. Instead, programs that are the backbone of No Kill are being “considered” for future years (foster care and pet retention) or not at all (reforming the shelter). (Best Friends claimed it did not have the resources for a pet retention program. They need to look in their bank accounts.) Add TNR to the list.

Los Angeles has a per capita intake rate that is one-fourth that of Washoe County, Nevada, which achieved No Kill within a year of its initiative. Unlike Los Angeles, Washoe County is not known for great wealth. It does not have Best Friends taking in tens of millions of dollars per year. But Los Angeles does. And with 9,452 dogs killed and 13,467 cats killed in 2011 in a city of 3.8 million people, the achievement of a No Kill Los Angeles should be achieved this year. In fact, comparing adoption rates with Reno and adjusting for population, Los Angeles City shelters should be adopting out 87,000 animals a year, more than total impounds. But to get there, NKLA has to rigorously implement all the programs and services of the No Kill Equation and it needs to hold the City and the City shelter accountable to reform. That is something Best Friends is unwilling to do. In fact, just like every other “coalition” which has failed, participation is predicated on being silent even in the face of betrayal to the animals—even if that means feral cats, bottle babies and other animals continue to be needlessly killed. So when the City proposed further studying the issue, rather than spending the “the ‘few hours of labor’ necessary” to begin once again immediately referring people to TNR groups, lending traps to feral cat advocates, and offering spay/neuter vouchers, the No Kill Advocacy Center objected, but Best Friends remained silent. How do you reform a system that does not appear to want to be reformed when your own “coalition” policies say you are not allowed to criticize them? In fact, when a feral cat caretaker asked for help with a neighbor complaint, Best Friends told her they couldn’t “because of the lawsuit.” But since the injunction only applies to the City and not to Best Friends, why couldn’t they help? They could, they just knew it would pit the cats against their partners in the city bureaucraucy and they chose the latter.

It is time for Best Friends to stop just talking about No Kill, stop just fundraising about No Kill and start fighting for it by fighting for the animals, even if it means pointing the finger of blame directly where it now belongs: On a city bureaucracy that includes the City Council, on the leadership of the shelter which proposes even more needless study for feral cats, and on Mary Decker, the Deputy City Attorney who makes up “what the law requires” as she goes because that is so much easier than actually figuring out what the law actually requires.

The disastrous court ruling was the result of bird groups who want cats dead, rather than fed. But after more than two years, they are now dying because those involved refuse to do their jobs. And a slick website, a lot of rhetoric, a five-year promise and contradictory statements designed to obscure rather than illuminate will not change that fact.

Meet the new plan, same as the old plan. Here’s hoping Angelenos won’t get fooled again…

For further reading about NKLA and five-year No Kill plans, click here.

For more information on the L.A. feral cat lawsuit, click here.

The Adjacent Possible

August 14, 2012 by  

No Kill Conference 2012 brought about 800 animal lovers from 44 states and 10 countries to the George Washington School of Law in Washington D.C. The most successful shelter directors, animal lawyers, shelter veterinarians and shelter reformers nationwide shared insights and strategies to end the systematic killing of animals in our nation’s pounds and shelters. The attendees heard from directors of open admission shelters with save rates of better than 98%. They heard from lawyers who have passed laws making it illegal for shelters to kill animals in a wide variety of contexts and who have successfully saved the lives of animals who shelters were determined to kill. They heard from veterinarians who are pushing the envelope and saving animals who would have been considered non-rehabilitatable just a few short years ago. And they heard from reformers who have succeeded in passing laws to end the needless killing of animals in their community. In the keynote address, I welcomed attendees, shared our movement’s successes, described the increase in No Kill communities throughout the United States and indeed the world, and laid out the vision of the conference: reaching higher.

Welcome. You are among friends here. And they are all available to you to share in this great revolution that is taking place in communities across the country. Here, you will find shelter directors who are saving nine out of ten animals entering the open admission, animal control shelters they oversee. They have heard and rejected the excuses of why every community can’t do the same.

Here, you will find animal lawyers who are pushing the vanguard of litigation and legislation to give sheltered animals the right to live. Here, you will find animal activists who are challenging the killing in their communities through campaigns for reform that harness the power of the internet, the media, by promoting No Kill candidates for elective office, and even by taking over animal control commissions to set shelter policies themselves. Here, you will find shelter veterinarians who are redefining the concept of “humane euthanasia,” saving animals who would have been labeled “non-rehabilitatable” just a few, short years ago.

A little more than a decade ago, No Kill was a dream. There was not a single No Kill community. Today, animals in roughly 200 cities and towns across America are cared for by shelters saving over 90% of all intakes and as high as 98%. And we are poised to make it a reality across the country. This weekend, we will celebrate that achievement together because here, you will also find a reflection of yourself. People who share your values, who believe—as you do—that killing animals is never an act of kindness, especially when those animals are not suffering. Beyond celebration, our goal is to give you the tools to create similar success in your own hometown. And to inspire you to believe it is well within your reach even if it is hard to see the goal from where your community is today.

For those of you who are advocates living in communities where the local shelter is still killing; who are rescuers and animal lovers that find the door to the shelter closed to you despite their claim of an open door philosophy; who work at shelters that still have a long way to go, it can be very easy to get cynical and discouraged—to hear from some of the speakers and hear about their 90%, 95% even 98% save rates; to see your situation as not hopeful by comparison; to see the road as too difficult or even impossible to climb. Take heart.

Every community that has achieved success was once steeped in killing, was controlled by a “good ole boys” network, had a media and city council that appeared indifferent. In short, a situation that seemed impossible to overcome. But they did it—individuals just like you because they refused to give in to cynicism and defeatism. Cynicism breeds inaction because it creates the illusion that the problem is insurmountable. It allows the status quo to continue: “They are too powerful.” “Our City Council ignores us.” “No one cares in the South.”

Moreover, cynicism fails to recognize progress. Working/volunteering in shelters and rescuing animals puts us in the trenches. And in the trenches, we can become myopic. It is difficult to see the big picture; to see the tremendous progress we’ve made. In 2005, the No Kill Advocacy Center held its first No Kill Conference. Two dozen people attended. Today, we have over 800 from 44 states and 10 nations. In 2000, there wasn’t a single No Kill community in the U.S. Today, they dot the American landscape.

Those of us who have seen a community turn around quickly and dramatically have seen with our own eyes what is possible. But 12 years ago, before the creation of the first No Kill community, it was impossible to see how we could ever get out of the quagmire of killing. Our perception was wrong. With the creation of the first No Kill community, our perception also changed. Ellen Jefferson of Austin Pets Alive explains…

“Unless you have a roadmap or you have someone else you can look to and say, ‘Well, they did it, this is how they did it,’ it is hard to imagine what it could be like.”

And even though there was a time when we didn’t know how to stop the killing, we knew it was wrong. And we broke off from the pack and set about to do something about it. Because when we turned to the large national groups for advice on how to end the killing, we got nothing. We were told by men like Roger Caras, the former Vice-President of HSUS and CEO of the ASPCA that: No Kill is so impossible, “it is not worthy of a passing daydream.” And so we set about to do it ourselves. And we did.

We created a No Kill community. We created the model to achieve it. And now we are sharing it with the world. And now we have No Kill success in urban communities and rural ones, in large cities and small ones, in public shelters as well as private shelters, in politically liberal areas and the reddest parts of the reddest states. We have a half dozen in Texas, more than that in Viginia, and still more than that in Michigan. We have No Kill communities in California and Nevada, in Kentucky and Wisconsin, in Indiana and New York, in New Jersey and Minnesota, in Iowa and elsewhere.

Once we discovered and put that solution into play and we achieved No Kill success, other opportunities became possible. It was no longer hard to imagine what it could be like. And from that new vantage point, we saw other opportunities to push the envelope even further. And we started asking, if we can save these animals because they are healthy or treatable, why can’t we save others? Like dogs with severe behavior problems, animals with cancer, cats with panleukopenia, and more.

We opened one door, we liked what we saw, and that opened up all sorts of other attendant possibilities—a term sociologists call the Adjacent Possible. Think about it this way. There was a time before the invention of the wheel. In this world, there was no cart. There was no bicycle. No car. And no roller skates. But once the wheel was discovered, these pathways became clear: the door to the cart, the bicycle, the car, and the all-important roller skate appeared right in front of us.

The “strange and beautiful truth” about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them, each new innovation leading to more innovations. Think of it as a house that expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with a door. Once you open that door, two new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point, each of those rooms have new doors of their own, too. Keep entering the new rooms. Keep opening the new doors. And eventually you’ll have built a palace.*

Before the Declaration of Independence, there could be no emancipation. Before emancipation, there could be no pushing at barriers. Before barriers were pushed, there could be no civil rights. Before civil rights, there could be no Barack Obama. Each success, each milestone opens up new doors; doors that didn’t appear before because we had yet to open the doors that led to them. But once we did, the next logical step became inevitabile.

What are the possibilities now that the keys to ending the killing have been discovered? Now that we can imagine what “it could be like,” now that we have brought that into fruition, what else can we do that would have been impossible to conceive of? What other doors can we open? Let’s ask Ellen Jefferson again.

Once Ellen Jefferson saw what it could be like, she not only recreated it in Austin, Texas; helping to save 91% citywide, she pressed further—opening new doors that appeared before her. In other words, she explored the Adjacent Possible by doing things no one had done before, such as setting out to save all shelter puppies with parvovirus. With a parvo puppy save rate of 85%, they are close. And while they are doing that, they are opening other doors, too. Jefferson also asked, “What if we allowed people to adopt out sick animals?” Why treat them in the shelter when they could be treated at home with their new adopters? They even take them to offsite adoption events and that includes animals with ringworm by putting the “fun in fungus.”

Meet Bonney Brown of the Nevada Humane Society, a shelter once steeped in killing. Under her leadership, she ended the killing of healthy and treatable animals. She is now exploring the Adjacent Possible also. Forget everything you ever thought you knew about hoarding and hoarders. Forget everything you ever thought you knew about whether the animals can be saved. Why? Because when life gave Bonney oranges, she opened new doors.

The Nevada Humane Society took in 54 orange cats from an alleged hoarder. At a traditional shelter, animals from such households are often killed, while the shelter director claims that there is simply no choice because they don’t have the space for such a large influx and the animals are often traumatized and sick. But under Bonney, the Nevada Humane Society is not a traditional shelter. They turned the challenge into an opportunity. Bonney Brown explains,

“Once you eliminate killing as an option, humans—we are incredibly creative. Creative thought and bringing creative solutions and not looking at anything as too far out to try has been a big part of our success.”

As with the 11 other hoarding cases the shelter has handled since it embraced the No Kill philosophy, creative outreach to the public resulted in loving, new homes for all the animals. None were killed. They also have a new system for hoarding cases that is unlike any other. And the shelter reaps the rewards from a grateful public, too. The people of Reno were so touched by “The Great Orange Cat Rescue” that the shelter quickly raised all the money it needed to cover medical care for the cats—and most of it from individuals who had never donated to the shelter before. One man who loved orange cats was so moved by their response that he sent them a $5,000 donation just to say, “Thank you.”

And so while this conference will celebrate and teach what our speakers did, what they are doing, and how you can do it, too. It will also explore other adjacent possibilities. It will open new doors. Like Aimee Sadler, the dog behaviorist who reached 90% and then decided to push on 98%. Or Kerry Clair at Pets Alive of New York who pushes even further to use hospice care for hopelessly ill animals rather than kill them, lifetime sanctuary care for those animals who need it, and has even adopted out dogs with bite histories successfully and safely. Or like the groups which are working to save and adopt not only dogs and cats, but all animals in shelters – regardless of whether they are classified as domestic or wild.

Ideas that the “experts” will tell you are impossible. The same thing they said about creating No Kill communities. The experts said it could not be done. They criticized. They engaged in character assassination. They even tried to stop us. But we did it anyway despite the “experts.” So if you are going after grand challenges, as we are in the No Kill movement, “experts” may not be your best co-conspirators. Henry Ford once said,

“None of our men are ‘experts.’ We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert. Because no one ever really considers himself an expert if he knows his job. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, is a state of mind in which nothing is impossible.”

Remember this: The large groups are large, not necessarily more talented. They aren’t built to be nimble. Nor are they willing to take large risks. They aren’t willing to place the big bets that breakthroughs require. That is not true of small groups. With no bureaucracy and a passion for saving lives, small groups consistently outperform larger organizations when it comes to innovation and lifesaving.

Compare: In 2010, the ASPCA took in roughly 140 million dollars and adopted out only 3,389 animals. That is a stunning $41,000 per animal saved. During the same time period, a New York No Kill shelter and sanctuary took in $635,000 and saved 2,932 animals. That is $216 per animal—or the equivalent of the ASPCA saving 645,040 animals. A No Kill animal control shelter in New York took in $356,000 and saved 2,315 animals. That is $154 per animal—or the equivalent of the ASPCA saving 910,353 animals—almost 1 million animals.

Innovation requires significant tolerance for risk, for failure, and for ideas that come from what at the time seem outrageous. “What if I ran an animal control shelter and saved all the animals?” Twelve years ago, every one of us in this room would have dismissed it as a pipe dream. Today, it is within reach across this great nation if we fight for it. “If an idea is truly a breakthrough, then the day before it was discovered, it must have been considered crazy—otherwise it wouldn’t be a breakthrough.”

You need to be a little crazy to change the world. If you don’t believe in the possibility of changing the world, then you’ll never give it the effort required. One thing that makes this conference unique is not only how much the speakers know, but how much they are still learning and experimenting. Several of the speakers at this conference were once sitting where you are. They took the ideas they heard and ran with them, improving, challenging, pushing forward. Remember Henry Ford: “Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible.”

Welcome to Washoe County, NV. A community where two animal control officers killed animals every day—15 barrels full a day. Every day they would be emptied. And every day they would be filled up again. Meet Mitch Schneider, the recently retired director of Washoe County Regional Animal Services. He was approached about making Washoe County, NV a No Kill community. Listen to what he had to say…

“They asked me point blank, do you think it will work here? And I told them quite honestly, I did not. I really believed that it was only something that could exist in a very affluent community where the impounding and abandonment rates were much lower.”

But he was willing to try as he explains: “So it took a little bit of work. I had to check some of my traditional thinking. And surprise, surprise, here we are.” Despite a per capita intake rate that is four times higher than Los Angeles, five times higher than San Francisco, and 10 times higher than NYC, by taking risks, by keeping traditional thinking in check, here we are: In 2011, Washoe County finished with a 94% rate of lifesaving.

You need to take risks and to buck traditional thinking. That doesn’t mean there aren’t solid roads and good protocols to guide your way. There is only one model that has achieved No Kill success: the programs model of the No Kill Equation—foster care, offsite adoptions, socialization and behavior rehabilitation, medical care, working with rescue groups, TNR, pet retention, progressive field services, marketing and adoptions, high-volume neutering, and leadership. If you want No Kill success, that’s the way to go. That doesn’t change. And while there is no point recreating the wheel, there is a lot of room for innovation.

Meet Ryan Clinton of FixAustin. In Austin, TX, Ryan decided to make No Kill a reality in his home town—a city that took in 23,000 animals and was only saving 45%. Using the No Kill Equation and working with Ellen Jefferson and others, Austin saved 91% in 2011. Ryan also explored the Adjacent Possible. In other words, he created something that did not exist, could not exist until No Kill became a reality. Ryan created a replicable model of smart, political advocacy that can break through the gridlock and do for your community what he did in Austin, Texas: taking a shelter that was killing six out of 10 animals to one saving nine out of 10 by taking a Mayor and City Council that voted 5 to 0 against No Kill to one that voted unanimously for it. If you want success, use it. It works.

If you want to double adoptions from 5,000 to 10,000 a year as Bonney Brown did, listen to her. But when it comes to pushing the lifesaving envelope even further, when it comes to reaching higher, when it comes to redefining what an SPCA or humane society can and ought to be, explore the Adjacent Possible. Give yourself permission to fail. Stomach the criticism and prove the Naysayers wrong. And be willing to take risks.

Without risk, without learning from failures, there is no progress. A bit of wisdom which comes from Nicolas Cage talking about Thomas Edison in the film National Treasure:

“You know, Thomas Edison tried and failed nearly 2000 times to develop the carbonized cotton filament for the incandescent light bulb. And when asked about it he said, ‘I didn’t fail. I found out 2000 ways how not to make a light bulb,’ but he only needed to find one way to make it work.”

Like Thomas Edison, you’ll create light, where there is darkness. Like the animal lover who became informed about the No Kill movement and walked into the lobby of his local shelter and even though he did not work there and boldly announced: “There will be no more killing in the shelter!” And then proceeded to make it come true. Meet Peter Masloch. In Allegany County, Maryland, the shelter in Peter Masloch’s community had an 85% death rate in 2010 when he made his bold announcement. In 2011, Allegany finish with a 94% rate of lifesaving.

Meet Kelly Jedlicki. In Shelbyville, Kentucky, Kelly made a decision to fight for a No Kill community. Today, Shelby County celebrates its fourth No Kill year. Last year, they saved 98% of cats and 94% of dogs.

Meet Mike Fry. In 2012, Mike wanted to erase one day’s worth of killing across the U.S. and asked shelters to help him do so—to create a No Kill nation for Just One Day. Almost 800 shelters and rescue groups answered the call including Kern County Animal Control, a shelter with a history of fighting No Kill. They stayed open for 11 hours and saved 100 animals—one every seven minutes. So did Houston’s BARC, the city shelter. Normally closed on Monday, they stayed open and placed 231 animals. In Amarillo, Texas, the director of animal control reported that the computer system could not keep up with the number of adoptions: “The parking lot has been full since 10:00 this morning, it continues to be full. I’ve never seen so many people come out here all at one time, in one day.” Seventy-eight animals went home from a South Carolina shelter. Another shelter adopted out 94 dogs and 37 cats. In an Arizona shelter, 88 out of 100 dogs and 28 out of 30 cats were adopted by 11 am. In still another community, they ran out of animals. Yet another reported staff crying: they had never seen so many animals going out the front door in the loving arms of families. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Upwards of 9,000 animals were saved that day; many of whom would not have been saved in years past—erasing one entire day’s worth of U.S. killing.

Meet Pam & Mike Kitkoski. They have a lot to be smiling about. In Rockwall, Texas, the husband-and-wife team began marketing and adopting out shelter animals because the shelter itself refused to do so. The result? Adoption rates of over 95 percent in their community.

Meet Karl Bailey. In Seagoville, Texas, Sgt. Karl Bailey, a police officer, took over an animal control shelter. He had no formal experience. He was not familiar with the No Kill movement. He started as the new boss of Seagoville Animal Services in January 2011. One minute later, he abolished the gas chamber. His second minute on the job: he ordered the killing to come to an end. Minutes 3 through 525,949 made up his first full year. He spent those saving lives. Fewer animals lost their lives the whole year than they used to be killed in just one week. He finished with a 98% rate of lifesaving. When someone asks you how long it should take to achieve No Kill, tell them about Sgt. Bailey. And then tell them: 120 seconds.

No Kill advocates come from all walks of life. In Seagoville, a police officer led the charge. In California, it’s a college professor. In one Kentucky community, a nurse spearheaded the effort. In Nevada, it’s a marine working with a corporate retail buyer. Though they have different backgrounds, different skills and a different focus, these activists shared a commitment to end the killing in their community and the determination, creativity and flexibility to see it through.

The 33 speakers you have access to this weekend also come from all walks of life and all took different paths to breaking new ground for animals. Their story can be your story. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish if you give yourself permission to try in this, or any other field. You can quite literally change the world.

Meet Lewis Hine, a mild mannered man with a camera. He ended child labor in the U.S.

Meet Thomas Clarkson, a college student. He ended the British slave trade.

Meet a preacher plagued with self-doubt.

Meet a diplomat who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.

Meet a former slave.

Meet a small business owner.

The future is what we make it.

Whether you are an attorney, an animal control director, a veterinarian, a rescuer, a volunteer, a shelter employee, an activist, or someone who just loves animals and wants to do their part, you are part of a larger army of compassion that is sweeping across this nation in the noble battle for the heart and soul of our nation’s animal shelters.

Keep defying conventional wisdom. Keep pursuing your dreams. Keep refusing to take “No” for an answer. Keep taking risks. Keep opening new doors. Keep entering new rooms. Keep exploring the Adjacent Possible. And together we will build a palace.

Reach for the stars.


* The concept, ideas and some of the metaphors about the Adjacent Possible are from the book, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. They also come from Steven Johnson.

Have a comment? Join the discussion on my Facebook page by clicking here.

To learn more about the No Kill Conference, click here.

To learn more about the No Kill Advocacy Center, click here.

No Kill Conference 2012

August 2, 2012 by  

I’m going offline for as I get ready for the No Kill Conference on August 11-12 in Washington, D.C. I look forward to meeting over 800 No Kill advocates from 44 states and eight countries. I look forward to hearing the speakers who come from shelters with save rates as high as 98%. I look forward to the shelter veterinarians who are pushing the envelope even further. I look forward to the animal law attorneys who are protecting the rights of animals and the rights of those who love them: volunteers and rescuers. And I look forward to the advocates who have succeeded in reforming their local shelters, even when those shelters initially refused to do what was right.

Learn more and/or register by clicking here. (Registration closes August 8.)

Just One Day

On June 11, 2012, we asked shelters across the country to end the killing of animals for Just One Day by putting down their “euthanasia needles” and picking up cameras instead: to photograph and market animals. 800 organizations answered the call, finding homes for roughly 9,000 animals, erasing one day’s worth of killing healthy and treatable animals. It may have been the safest day for companion animals in shelters ever.

Those participating included some of the largest animal control shelters in the nation. In Kern County, roughly 100 animals found homes. Houston’s shelter, normally closed on Monday, opened for the day and placed 231 animals. Miami-Dade Animal Services also participated and placed 116 animals. In Amarillo, Texas, the director of animal control reported, “The parking lot has been full since 10:00 this morning, it continues to be full. I’ve never seen so many people come out here all at one time, in one day.” Seventy-eight animals went home from a South Carolina shelter. Another shelter adopted out 94 dogs and 37 cats. Florence, Alabama had “amazing results.” Morristown, Tennessee did “huge” numbers of adoptions. Indianapolis did 83. At Williamson County in Texas, “[A]doption numbers reached well over three times the norm.” Boone County Animal Shelter in Kentucky saved 57 animals. Roanoke in Virginia reported 36 adoptions by mid-day and a shelter full of potential adopters. In an Arizona shelter, 88 out of 100 dogs and 28 out of 30 cats were adopted by 11 am. In another community, they ran out of animals.

On June 11, 2013, we’re doing it again and hope to do even better. Join the Just One Day campaign by pledging your shelter or rescue group. Registration will start for Just One Day 2013 on August 10. Pledge your shelter or rescue group.

Learn more:

A Day To Remember

Take the pledge:

Happy Birthday to the No Kill Advocacy Center

This month, the No Kill Advocacy Center turns eight. From the No Kill Advocacy Center:

We’re celebrating a birthday… Ours! And we are asking our supporters to celebrate with us by sending us just eight dollars. In many ways, we are still a young organization. But we have accomplished a lot in a very short period of time. Despite a fraction of the budget of the large national organizations, we have done what they have not: ended the killing in communities across the country. Help us build an alternative consensus to traditional sheltering models—one which is oriented toward promoting and preserving life; an alternative which seeks to create a future where every animal will be respected and cherished, and where every individual life will be protected and revered. Please consider a birthday gift to the No Kill Advocacy Center today. In celebration of our eighth birthday, we are asking for just eight dollars. To make a donation in any amount, click here.

Friendly Fire 

When animal lovers learn about the cruelty and killing that are endemic in U.S. shelters, and that national animal protection organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) defend the killing and thwart efforts at shelter reform, the first and the most logical question they ask is: Why? Why are organizations which are supposed to protect animals the biggest defenders of animal abuse and killing which occurs daily in our nation’s so-called shelters?

Exploring the historical, sociological and financial motivations behind the unlikely support these shelters receive from HSUS, the ASPCA and PETA, among others, Friendly Fire answers this confounding question while telling the stories of animals who have become catalysts for change: Oreo, Ace, Patrick, Kapone, Zephyr, Hope, Scruffy, Murray and many others.

My fourth book will be released later this month.

And Then There’s Kenny

Found on the streets of Oakland at just a few days old:

This little man stole his way into our hearts:

On Friday, August 3, he turns two!

When you live with a little cat, every box is a toy. When you live with a little boy, the boxes become a village and take over your living room. The Mayor of Kenny Town welcomes you.