Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Breakthrough Thinking - A No Kill Gwinnett

Shelter's killing dogs and cats by the thousands... the rest of the story

To get a community on track requires a spark – sometimes borne of anger, other times of compassion, most of the time from a combination of the two – Nathan Winograd

Breakthrough Thinking - A No Kill Gwinnett

The key to any effective solution lies in the approach to the specific problem at hand. The essential, straightforward process of “Breakthrough Thinking” involves a meaningful organization of the purposes you seek to achieve.

If the shelter’s purpose is to efficiently kill homeless dogs and cats as a standard operating procedure then it could be determined that there is no problem that needs corrected for they are already quite efficient in that operation.

One question that remains unanswered is “what are the metrics or standard operating procedures that the police department uses to evaluate the shelter’s performance? 

If the SOP calls for efficient use of killing to control costs then the leadership is performing there jobs admirably.

Breakthrough Thinking would seek to identify the purpose of animal services in the broadest possible purpose level, to not kill any healthy treatable dogs or cats, with development of a feasible target solution from a variety of alternatives.

Under breakthrough thinking the goal, not killing any healthy, treatable animals would always remain the same with only the targeted solutions changing. By working backward to develop a creative change (from killing over 60% of healthy, treatable animals) in the problem situation, you can evolve toward your solution goal.

Breakthrough thinking offers an exceptionally productive approach to problem solving and problem prevention. Its basic premise is that anyone can break out of self-defeating, traditional modes of reasoning (kill traditionalists) and break through to find revitalizing, consistent positive “No Kill” solutions to the problems he or she confronts.

What breakthrough thinking does require is a willingness to admit that there is a problem. If we want to stop killing healthy pets then we must first admit that killing healthy pets is wrong.

Once identified as a problem (killing) a solution or need for change becomes the dream or goal. At this moment, we face several problems – nine out of ten cats being killed, owner surrender’s being killed, dogs with socialization issues being killed, puppies and kittens being killed – that are not at all unusual nor daunting in complexity.

Life is an ongoing struggle. The purpose of solving problems and accomplishing legitimate dreams isn’t to remove them, but to give meaning and direction to the struggle.

Ours is a struggle for No Kill. It’s a struggle much too important not to succeed.

Yet simply talking about change, the future and emerging dreams does not ensure results. Everyone agrees that change is constant, that today’s choices create tomorrow’s future, and that we have many options in developing solutions to fulfill that dream. One thing is certain, if we continue using the same failed practices we can predict a future of only killing as well.

We have compelling reasons for following in the footsteps of other progressive communities that have successfully implemented No Kill parameters. We have seen the depths of frustration that our current shelter model delivers. Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic about the immensely productive changes that lie ahead.

Successfully implementing life saving procedures will make us feel good about ourselves – both as a community of compassionate pet owners and as people who respect all life as sacred.

The importance of “Breakthrough Thinking” cannot be overestimated. We will not solve the complex problems that have been allowed to accumulate through the years by attempting to fix blame. Every day we chase down these phantom causes we miss another opportunity in addressing the real problems instead. .

Our shelter has a duty to one thing only; the homeless animals being killed there.

It will be your voice, silenced no more, and your heart that will march our community into this promise land where the killing of the innocent will end.

Steps for No Kill Success

I. Feral Cat TNR Program – TNR refers to “Trap-Neuter-Release” or “Trap-Neuter-Return.” Gwinnett Animal Control is killing close to 100 cats a week – establishing a working trap/neuter/release program with the rescue community is crucial to establishing No Kill Success.

TNR is the only proven method for lowering the numbers of feral cats living in an area. Using TNR effectively sterilizes the cat colony.

The current policy on feral cats, “catch and kill”, is not only ineffective in lowering the feral cat population but is extremely expensive to implement. Shelter resources are squandered in a futile attempt to kill off the “ownerless” cats in our community.

What a “catch and kill” policy doesn’t do is answer the moral question of why “wild” cats are singled out for eradication while other wild animals such as squirrels and raccoons are not. Obviously with the number of cats being killed approaching 5000 a year this dismally unmoral policy has failed.

While feral cats by definition are not “adoptable”, that fact alone doesn’t translate into ferals as not having meaningful, healthy lives if they are maintained as a feral cat colony.

A compassionate community believes that even though these cats are not adoptable they do have a right to live. A responsible TNR program serves the community by lowering the colony’s population over time.

II. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter – Quality of Life Issue - Low cost, high volume spay/neuter will lead to fewer animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives. Current animal welfare policies do little or nothing to promote low cost spay/neuter resources in our community.

One is left to wonder whether we would have been better served by building a number of spay/neuter clinics with the several million that went into building what has in effect turned out to be our new state of the art kill shelter.

III. Rescue Groups – An adoption or transfer to a rescue group frees up cage and kennel space, reduces expenses for feeding, cleaning and while improving the rate of lifesaving. With the rampant rate of cats and dogs being killed at our new shelter there is no practical excuse for not working with licensed rescue groups.

Killing a dog or cat that otherwise would have a safe haven in rescue is a judgmental, vindictive form of animal cruelty at the hands of shelter management.

Our shelter must reach out to the rescue community and form a partnership that currently does not exist. The first step in reaching out must include naming a new rescue coordinator who will works towards nurturing and developing this partnership.

IV. Foster Care – Volunteer foster care is crucial to No Kill. This fact has been proven by the success of the “Jail House Second Chance Program”. Dogs that would have been killed at the shelter are being socialized and placed through this fostering program at the jail. This same program, if ramped up through volunteer foster homes, would all but eliminate killing at our shelter while reducing the costs associated with providing longer term care for dogs and cats with specialized issues.

Shelter management refuses to discuss any type of outside volunteer fostering program, instead preferring to hang on to the failed policy of killing for “space” animals that would be highly adoptable if only they had a little more time.

Saving lives becomes compromised by the tunnel vision policy of controlling an animal’s destiny inside a malfunctioning shelter that implements the expediency of killing instead.

Fostering programs are a low cost, often times no cost, method of increasing a shelter’s capacity, improving public relations while improving the shelter’s image, rehabilitating sick and injured or behaviorally challenged animals and saving more lives.

Our shelter must reach out into the community for volunteers to foster dogs and cats who simply need more time to blossom.

V. Comprehensive Adoption Programs – Quality of Life Issue - Adoptions are vital to a shelter’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice.

In practice, rescue groups are better prepared to conduct home inspections, hold off site adoptions, evaluate application options and matching up pets to new owners then public shelters because of volunteer resources available.

Our shelter would increase adoptions by merely making the shelter more assessable to working families and through off site adoptions that promotes shelter pets needing adoption.

VI. Pet Retention –Quality of Life Issue - Saving animals requires communities to develop innovative strategies for keeping people and their companion animals together. The more a community sees its shelter as a place to turn for advice and assistance, the easier this job will be.

Changing our focus from “Gwinnett Animal Control and Enforcement” to “Gwinnett Animal Services Unit” is more then mere semantics. It’s a cultural shift and enhancement of value structure our animal welfare policies have on those citizens who responsibly own pets.

VII. Medical and Behavior Programs – Quality of Life Issue - The shelter must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies before animals get sick and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, unweaned, or traumatized.

Our compassionate community will support efforts to rehabilitate, rather then kill, our homeless pets. We witness this all the time with news stories – the public leads the cheers for those pets that are saved and mourns those who are not.

VIII. Public Relations/Community Involvement – Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to one thing: increasing the shelter’s exposure.

New ordinances and a focus on enforcement won’t solve animal related problems in our community – our people will – the very people who are being exploited by these draconian laws that often times include threats of impounding the family pet and sending owners to jail..

Public relations and marketing are the foundation of all a shelter’s activities and their success. To go No-Kill, the shelter must be in the public eye.

IX. Volunteers – Quality of Life Issue - Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers come in and make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.

With only 31 approved volunteers our current volunteer program is a failure.

Our shelter must proactively recruit more volunteers to help staff the shelter – walking dogs and promoting adoptions.

X. Proactive Redemptions – Quality of Life Issue - One of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims. Sadly, besides having pet owners fill out a lost pet report, very little effort is made in this area of shelter operation.

This is unfortunate because doing so—primarily shifting from passive to a more proactive approach—has proven to have a significant impact on lifesaving and allow shelters to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families as well as garner more public support and backing for the shelter.

XI. A Compassionate Director – A hard working, compassionate animal control or shelter director not content to regurgitate tired clichés or hide behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes.”

In the end, there may be an overpopulation problem but not the one traditionally linked to animal control. What we are suffering from that is actually killing a higher number of animals, it is an overpopulation of unqualified, jaded or simply worn out individuals entrusted in caring for our shelter pets, who fail at doing so.

It is the contention of this author that management’s “incorrect thinking” entrenched in killing is the single most cause of our shelter’s failure. With our leadership mired in negativity, implementing only the failed policies of the past, we have become complacent with the status quo of killing.

Those who are intoxicated with punishing the public while killing their pets magically dance through the fog of misrepresentations and deceit only to emerge as the irresponsible death seekers themselves.

Our shelter must put an end to the bureaucracy that needlessly administers lethal “blue juice” injections as an only solution for our homeless animals. They’ve become lost in this low hanging fog of the shelter’s deceit.

Killing Defined: Animals are only euthanized if they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be suitable for adoption. No-kill shelters reject euthanasia as a means of population control; all "adoptable" and "treatable" animals are saved.

This conversation on No Kill alternatives cuts through that fog for all pet owners to see that killing healthy pets as wrong because it will always be wrong to kill any healthy pet. It’s morally wrong and for pet owners to kill healthy pets and it’s morally wrong for the shelter’s management and their subordinates to kill healthy pets as well.

Our lack of life saving focus comes from the years of mismanagement of a shelter run by the Gwinnett Police Department. They alone have squandered the opportunity to change and save lives with repeated rhetoric of misplaced blame.

Effectiveness of any movement in reaching shelter goals and operations begins with competent leadership that holds it’s staff accountable for developing proven life saving programs and one that fosters good relationships in the community, none of which exists now.

We face a moment in history where on one side we have “Kill-Oriented” traditionalists and on the other “No Kill Advocates”. This “culture clash” has taken on new life as word spreads across the country off other community’s success in implementing “No Kill” alternatives.

The Blame Game

“I think of all the good things we have left undone
Suffer premonitions, confirm suspicions of the holocaust to come”
 “Finally I understand the feelings of a few
Ashes and diamonds, foe and friend
We are all equal in the end” - Pink Floyd - The Final Cut

It’s not the public who is to blame when adoptions are low because the shelter makes it impossible for working families to visit. It’s not the public who is to blame when the shelter refuses to do “off site” adoptions. It’s not the public who is to blame when the shelter denigrates or downplays working with rescue groups in placing at risk animals.

It’s not the public who is to blame for rounding up and killing stay cats despite there not being a leash law for cats. It’s not the public who is to blame when our shelter kills feral cats because a Trap-Neuter-Release program is not being utilized.

It’s not the public who is to blame when pet owners are denied services to help overcome behavioral, medical or environmental conditions that cause them to relinquish animals because no pet retention programs are in place.

It’s not the public who is to blame when the shelter focuses on threats and intimidation enforcing the draconian animal ordinance passed in 2007.

It’s not the public who is to blame when animal control works closely with the courts enforcing a draconian animal ordinance with threats and intimidation that leads many responsible pet owners to surrender their cherished pets to avoid jail terms and exorbitant fines from the county solicitors office.

In the end it will be public support that will create No Kill – the same outraged public that will cry out for change that shifts the focus from animal enforcement to an era of providing top notch life saving services instead.

To reach that culture shift it only takes one shelter manager – one leader – who is committed to simply saying NO to KILLING while choosing to aggressively promote life saving alternatives instead.

How can we expect pet owners to act “responsibly” when our own animal control unit commits the ultimate act of cruelty ending a healthy pets life with a myriad of excuses seeking to justify their own incompetence.

This is a failure of leadership, nothing more – nothing less. A leadership addicted to the failed policies of “killing for expedience”.

It will be our voices that will be heard over the silent screams of death coming from our shelter.

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends = Martin Luther King


  1. You, know just getting shelter personel to SCAN dogs for microchips as they come in could help a little bit to return more lost pets to owners, or owner-surrenders to their breeders, or breed rescue organizations and shelters who microchip adopted pets.

  2. Leigh and Vicki,

    Animal Control has scanners in the trucks that were donated. They don't use them - even if they did they wouldn't return the pet to the owner but instead would bring it to the shelter were it would risk being killed.

    I have even heard of a dog who was adopted and the vet found the chip while he was performing spay surgery. At that point who owns the dog? The law would say the original owner who invested in chipping his dog - AC determined the dog went to the new family who adopted him.