All rise, the Honorable Rusty Newton, presiding. An interview with the Deputy County Judge.
Shelby County Deputy Judge-Executive Rusty Newton (right) with Animal Control Supervisor Bradley King (left) in front of the Shelby County Animal Shelter. Shelby County recently celebrated its third No Kill year during Judge Newton’s tenure.
When people think of the No Kill movement, they might think of me, Ryan Clinton, Bonney Brown, Mike Fry, or any of the advocates and directors across the country, and indeed across the world, including many of this year’s No Kill Conference speakers, all of whom are helping pave the way for the inevitable conquest of a No Kill nation. Few people think of Rusty Newton. But they should.
In many ways, that they don’t is how Rusty Newton likes it. He did not set out to become a role model and he does not seek the national limelight. As he says,
I really don’t think about it that way. Our intent is to do our part to help the animals within our jurisdiction. Any animals outside of that we can help is just an added benefit.
And it makes sense. Rusty Newton is not seeking glory or fame. He is not looking to make a national splash and you won’t see him making big speeches about why No Kill is the way to go. In fact, I had to keep on him for over a year just to get him to answer a few questions for me. His duty is to Shelby County, Kentucky and the many he serves there in various capacities. He’s a busy man who wears many hats. He is the Deputy Judge-Executive. He sits on Shelby County’s Fiscal Court. And he runs the “pound” as director of Shelby County Animal Control. And those are just his “official” duties.
Newton is a Southerner’s Southerner. A man who believes in law and order. Proud of his community. Glad to lend a hand to a neighbor. In some ways, he reminds me of Andy Griffith. Ever the gentleman, he is quick with a smile, has a tight gripped handshake while he looks you in the eye, he welcomes you to Kentucky with open arms and the best of what his community has to offer. And you do not go home empty-handed: In our household, we keep ourselves warm while watching television with a Shelby County, KY throw blanket. We celebrate with a drink of Maker’s Mark in a shot glass with the seal of Shelby County, KY. As we read the newspaper and plot our day in the morning over a cup of coffee, we do so with a Shelby County, KY mug. And when we reach for the keys, they are attached to a keychain emblazoned with the seal of, you guessed it, Shelby County, KY.
But it isn’t his charm or his generosity that should make Newton a household name within our movement. What defines Newton is that he and his team are responsible for the first No Kill community in Kentucky, which recently celebrated its third No Kill year. They have proved that a municipal-run shelter in the South can be No Kill. And they have rejected the excuses that continue to define not just most Southern shelters, but also their counterparts in the North, East, and West.
I recently interviewed Judge Newton about Shelby County’s success and how the rest of the country can benefit from his “can do” outlook. Here’s what he had to say.
Nathan J. Winograd: First of all, congratulations on three years as a No Kill community. Historically, shelters have claimed that No Kill could not be achieved in the South. They claimed people were more irresponsible, had more antiquated views, and more poverty and that these factors prevented shelters from saving lives. Having lived in Georgia, I knew this to be false, but it was a tough sell to some. Thankfully, you’ve proved that these are all unfair stereotypes. In fact, you’ve proved that despite whatever things may separate us as Americans, people of all walks of life want to build a better world for animals. And that it isn’t geography that matters, but hard work and perseverance. What do you say to the Naysayers who continue to think No Kill is an impossible dream? And how did you successfully achieve No Kill in Shelby County?
Judge Newton: I say, it’s time to stop thinking old school and realize that there are a lot of people out there in your community that are more than willing to put forth the effort needed to achieve No Kill. You must use the resources that are available. And the number one resource that any community has is people. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Our shelter wouldn’t have the level of success we have without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers. Once the community notices the positive changes that are being made within the shelter, more and more volunteers will jump on board to assist you in achieving your goals.
You must also have the right people in the right positions, from the Shelter Director down to the Kennel Attendants. The Shelby County Animal Shelter also works closely with other local animal advocacy groups. These groups are also a huge asset. It is the united effort of each animal advocacy group, working along with our shelter that has helped us to achieve and maintain our No Kill status.
NJW: At the No Kill Conference in Washington DC in 2010, a representative of Shelby County told people from 39 states and four countries about your success and received a thunderous applause. What advice do you have for other communities across the world about how to achieve Shelby’s level of success?
Judge Newton: To achieve and maintain No Kill status requires dedication. It also takes a tremendous amount of effort, patience, and organization in order to persevere. It’s not something you can do by yourself. In our case, we are a government-run shelter. We had to have the support of our government officials who accepted Shelby County No Kill Mission’s offer to assist the shelter in 2008 in becoming No Kill. We also had to have the support of the organizations that were willing to raise money and help with programs such as our spay/neuter program; where every animal that leaves our shelter is sterilized. The Shelby County Animal Shelter, Shelby County No Kill Mission, Operation Catsnip, Woodstock Animal Foundation, and the Shelby County Humane Society together participate in onsite as well as offsite adoption events and community awareness programs.
NJW: You yourself have to wear a hundred different hats in your official county role, tell me about the role as savior of feral cats? I’ve heard stories about you bringing sterilized feral cats to a local farmer’s association and telling people to take them home and release them in their barns. And do you ever sleep?
Judge Newton: I support Trap, Neuter, Release. TNR is essential in any county. Shelby County is a rural farm community. This allows us the opportunity to find homes for our feral cats, without altering their natural habitat. These cats are able to live freely, while the farmers get barn cats who contribute as cats do on farms. And yes, I do sleep occasionally.
NJW: When I went to Shelby County, I was greeted with open arms. In fact, I drink my coffee from a Shelby County mug, my keys have a Shelby county key ring, and when we watch T.V. on those chilly evenings, we are covered with a Shelby County throw. In fact, you introduced me to the hundreds of people who came out to hear the message of hope of the No Kill philosophy. Why did you embrace the No Kill message so openly when others continue to claim it is impossible?
Judge Newton: It was a win/win situation for the animals and the county. We had the Shelby County No Kill Mission and others who were willing to help. All we needed to do was to be open to change and let them.
NJW: Did you believe you could become a shining light to the nation so quickly? And at what point did you know that you were going to succeed?
Judge Newton: I really don’t think about it that way. Our intent is to do our part to help the animals within our jurisdiction. Any animals outside of that we can help is just an added benefit. We have a staff that works hard to see that the day to day operations are handled appropriately, so that we can maintain our status. Our staff works diligently to be a role model facility that volunteers and the community want to help, and want to adopt their family pet from. We knew we would succeed when all of the volunteers and advocate groups came forward with a willingness to work toward our ultimate goal. We also know that this is an ongoing project that we have to work at daily. We cannot become complacent.
NJW: If you could give just one piece of advice, the one thing you wish you knew a few years ago before starting this initiative, what would it be?
Judge Newton: Years ago, I wish I knew all of the people that work so hard, from the kennel attendant to the transport coordinators, the vets, the volunteers, the advocacy groups and rescuers, and all the rest. I wish I had known them and knew their abilities years ago because this would have become a No Kill county much earlier than it did. The advice I would give officials in other communities is to start looking for those people out there who can help. Embrace your community. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Without help, it can’t happen.
NJW: Any final thoughts?
Judge Newton: I would like to thank everyone who has made Shelby County the success that it is today. We couldn’t have done it without them.
Always the gentleman. The court is now adjourned.
Please note: Some of the answers were edited for space.