Todd Rumsey, his wife Patti, and their three rescued dogs. The little one was saved from being killed by a late-term spay.
Todd Rumsey never set out to be a No Kill advocate. He never set out to be caught in PETA’s crosshairs. And he never set out to become embroiled in a controversy that challenged the County Mayor and his animal control director’s effort to silence animal lovers. But after the Williamson County, TN animal shelter needlessly put to death 11 puppies and cavalierly cost their mother her life, after PETA blindly attacked his character and the Mayor threatened to retaliate against him for exercising his constitutional rights, he became one.
Todd Rumsey is the President of No Kill Williamson County in Tennessee and he is a man on a mission. Six months ago, if you told him this is where he would end up, he wouldn’t have believed you. He would have told you he was just here to give back to his community and teach his kids the importance of volunteering by walking dogs at the local shelter.
I had a chance to speak to him about his journey from weekend dog walker to full-time No Kill advocate.
Nathan Winograd: You’ve written that you never started out to become a No Kill advocate. What did you start out to do?
Todd Rumsey: My wife and I searched for a way to give back to the No Kill rescue where we adopted our second dog. We were amazed by the sheer number of dogs that they saved and were astonished that so many dogs needed to be saved. We also encouraged our teenage daughter and sons to give back to their community by caring for animals in need. Soon walking dogs became a weekend family ritual, offering an opportunity to combine our love for dogs with an outlet for community service that we enjoyed together as a family. A year later a job change landed us in the Nashville area. We began volunteering at our county animal control.
NW: Was there a difference between walking dogs for a No Kill rescue group and animal control?
TR: The dedication and effort of the animal control volunteers was amazing. Their tireless work to socialize the animals, foster them, find rescues and forever homes astounded me. The more I worked alongside these volunteers, the more I realized how unrecognized their efforts were. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that it was their hard work that was propping up the success of the very same shelter management they were at odds with. How could these volunteers stand by and allow those who often blocked their efforts and held animals lives hostage take credit for their work? The answer was they had no choice. They put their self-interest and pride aside and endured whatever senseless decisions came their way keeping their eyes squarely focused on saving each and every animal they could.
NW: Is that when you spoke out?
TR: No. I spent my Saturday mornings walking dogs and told myself that I was there to help one dog at a time. I would not get caught up in internal politics and drama. I resisted the urge to explore areas of the facility marked as ‘no entrance allowed’ and refused to ask as dogs disappeared from one week to the next.
NW: What finally changed things?
TR: About a year into our animal control experience, my wife and I got a call from a fellow volunteer. She was frantic because she had been told by shelter management that they were over capacity and faced killing dogs to make space. We were confused because we had been told repeatedly by shelter management that they never kill for space. We volunteered to foster a beautiful King Charles Spaniel mix and she was adopted by close family friends after a weekend in our home. We were proud that our first foster experience was a success, but our suspicion that other dogs had not fared so well weighed heavy on our minds.
Shortly thereafter, my wife and I agreed to meet with a small group of fellow volunteers who were interested in starting a local No Kill advocacy group. The material that they presented from the No Kill Advocacy Center was an eye opener and as we left the meeting, we were handed a copy of ‘Irreconcilable Differences‘. We were urged to read it and consider taking an active role in moving this cause forward in our community.
NW: So you learned that the shelter claiming it did not “kill for space” wasn’t true. Did you approach the shelter and offer to help make Williamson County No Kill?
TR: Yes, the newly formed Board of Directors of No Kill Williamson County TN met with Williamson County Animal Control management. We presented our by-laws, code of conduct, goals and objectives emphasizing that we were more than a loose fit collection of well-meaning animal lovers, we were a well-organized, professional group. We presented the shelter kill rate statistics and the corresponding volunteer programs that would improve save rates and move the shelter toward No Kill status and offered to help make it happen.
NW: What did he say?
TR: The Director’s response was that the shelter would never be No Kill. So we took our concerns and offer to help to our elected officials.
NW: What did you expect? And what actually happened?
TR: Six months ago I was an unassuming Saturday morning dog walking volunteer at the local shelter. The workings of local government were the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t know who my county elected officials were, and frankly didn’t care. I was apolitical, but sure that our elected officials worked hard for the best interest of our community and would engage if I were to reach out to them. Discovering this not to be the case has been a sad realization. Their dismissal of emails, phone calls, letters, newspaper articles, radio talk show appearances and headlining on a major regional TV newscast lead to one conclusion. They simply don’t care.
Our Mayor and County Commissioners turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to us and what we thought would be such a straightforward, relatively easy cause to champion within an affluent animal loving community was about to turn into a nationally recognized animal advocacy fight over our constitutional rights. We never imagined being deliberately blocked from saving animals lives and having our integrity attacked by PETA.
NW: How did PETA get involved?
TR: Prior to our association with No Kill, we fostered a pregnant dog and cared for her and her 10 newborn puppies. After stating our No Kill affiliation, our attempts to foster a late-term pregnant dog and allow her to give birth and wean her puppies were blocked by the shelter director and the county mayor. And when a shelter employee pointed out a pregnant lab-mix and stated ‘that one there is ready to pop, she’s full of pups,’ they spayed her and killed her 11 puppies even though we were willing to foster her. Because they were full-term, they had to remove each one and give them a lethal injection. It was a very risky procedure and the mother died a few weeks later from what I believe are complications related to the late-term spay. Given that the shelter and elected officials didn’t care, we went public, to the media. That’s when PETA got involved. They wrote a letter to the Mayor thanking him for killing those puppies, urging him to kill all Pit Bulls, and attacking us.
NW: Were you aware that PETA’s mission is to fight lifesaving reform in shelters and encourage them to kill more animals?
TR: No. Prior to this incident, we knew very little about PETA. What we have learned is that PETA is an organization quick to personally attack local shelter volunteers and rescues who they know nothing about. The author of this letter has never been to our county shelter, or to our county for that matter. She knows nothing about us personally, nor does she know of the countless hours that we devote to our county shelter. But, what is even harder to accept, is our County Mayor circulating this letter as a form of praise for the good works of shelter management under his supervision.
NW: It must have felt like a punch in the stomach to have a group that claims to support ethical treatment of animals attacking those who are offering to save animals and praising those intent on killing them.
TR: Yes. All I did was give up my Saturday mornings to care for animals in my local county shelter. All I did was take in dogs from that shelter and care for them in my house on my dime so they would have a chance at a better life. All I did was encourage my teenage daughter and sons to give back to their community by caring for animals in need. All I did was ask my shelter not to kill a litter of viable puppies and put the mother in harm’s way. What do I get in return? A letter from a person at PETA who has never stepped foot in my county or our shelter or my home and has never met me or my family or my group of tireless volunteer friends. I get a letter to my community calling us “a self-professed,” and evidently misguided, “rescue” group” accusing us of intending to take custody of badly injured animals so we can use their photos for fundraising schemes. For me, for my friends and for the animals we serve this is not some philosophical abstract debate. Simply put, PETA has insulted me and blindly attacked my character. And in doing that, they have converted a Saturday morning shelter volunteer who just wanted to quietly give back to his community into a No Kill advocate on a mission.
NW: At least you know who and what you are dealing with and what you have to do to end the killing.
TR: Our resolve is unflappable and we intend to win—for the animals. And if there is a silver lining, it is that the animal control Director, the county mayor and PETA gave my wife and I the opportunity to show our children that their parents have the courage to stand up for what is right.
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Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902
And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902