The first step to building a No Kill community is rebuilding your relationship with the community. And that is done by showing them that you are true to your mission. Two years ago, in January 2007, as part of a top-down assessment of the agency, I did a series of Town Hall-type meetings and surveys to determine how the Washoe County (Reno) NV community felt about its shelter, the Nevada Humane Society.

Those efforts revealed deep dissatisfaction in the community, especially among animal welfare stakeholders (rescue groups, feral cat caretakers, No Kill shelters, and others) with the job being done. The vast majority did not believe the humane society was doing enough to save lives.

Rather than circle the wagons as too many shelters do, the Board of Directors promised the community they would do better, and they idealized that promise by embracing and launching an ambitious No Kill initiative despite a combined intake rate of 16,000 dogs and cats per year; three times the per capita rate of Los Angeles, five times the per capita rate of San Francisco, and over twice the national average. In other words, they didn’t just point the finger of blame at the “irresponsible public,” they said they would save the animals despite whatever irresponsibility existed in the community.

The following two years were marked by significant and substantial efforts in that regard. A new executive director committed to and passionate about saving lives was hired. The entire management team was replaced. And of nearly seventy employees, only three of the original group was allowed to remain. In other words, they got the right people on the bus. And then they took that bus in a whole new direction. That meant launching a series of programs and services in line with the No Kill Equation model of sheltering. And the results have been dramatic.

In 2007,

  • The Washoe County adoption rate increased 53% for dogs and 84% for cats (compared to 2006), a higher increase than any other community in the nation.
  • The Washoe County killing rate decreased by 51% for dogs and 52% for cats.
  • The countywide save rate was 92% for dogs and 78% for cats despite a per capita intake rate that is twice the national average.

In 2008, the agency increased dog and cat adoptions an additional 9% over 2007, decreased the number of dogs and cats killed in Washoe County by an additional 10%, and increased the save rate for cats to 83%. So far this year, 86% of cats are being saved. Nine out of ten dogs also continue to be saved.

Not surprisingly, public perception today stands in sharp contrast to what it was. With the help of the Reno Gazette Journal, a community survey in January 2009 revealed that:

  • 93% support the No Kill initiative;
  • 95% gave the humane society positive ratings on adoption efforts and results; and,
  • 93% say 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.”
  • “NHS does a great job of taking care of the animals in its care.”

That success can be every community’s success. And the only thing standing in the way of it is the vision, commitment, and follow-through of its leadership.

Read “How We Did It” by the Nevada Humane Society by clicking here. And make their success yours.

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