Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Road to No Kill has it's detractors

No Kill sheltering has been supported in a battle for public opinion long before no kill sheltering existed in any significant way. While the battle and "war of words" with entrenched animal shelter management is still underway, increasingly it is irrelevant to tens of thousands of volunteer rescuers, donors, and upstart shelter founders, who have taken the work of saving animals into their own hands.

With decades of blaming “irresponsible” pet-owners for problems, animal control agencies and humane societies are facing activists who are now claiming responsible roles and questioning the irresponsible decision making that the animal sheltering industry uses to support what has become a contentious high kill reality.

While established organizations continue to clash over the term “No-Kill,” the most urgent challenge to the entire sheltering community is making effective use of increasing public involvement. The amateurs and newcomers have ideas and energy, and if recruited into shelter work, expect to have a voice in how the shelters are run.

Those shelters who are so firmly entrenched in killing resist, impede or oppose opening up shelter operations to this new wave of volunteers fearful of the oversight that would follow.

As long as shelters can continue to mislead the public on the role that high kill shelters provide by "killing with kindness" because those animals who only face a lifetime of future abuse, then the killing can continue.

However, more and more the public is questioning whether the real abuse or cruelty is at the hands of shelter management who finds it too easy and more convenient to implement mass killing as a solution rather then implementing programs that would save lives.

The decision to end a healthy pet's life has always been a flashpoint for conflict, more than ever this decision making process is being contested––and the disputes are increasingly often taken to the outside world.
The media, in it's role, has found a receptive audience that cheers on the underdog's - our community's homeless pets - and is increasingly beginning to question why we kill when there are successful programs that greatly reduce the killing that aren't being implemented or even talked about in the sheltering community at large.

Opposition to No Kill has it's supporters in surprising animal rights arena's as well. The large and powerful animal rights groups like HSUS, PETA and the ASPCA are skeptical of the successes and have yet to publicly acknowledge No Kill as the future for America's homeless pets.

Part of the philosophy driving the political distancing from the No Kill Movement is the huge financial rewards these groups bring in under the current system of "catch, kill and blame".  High kill sheltering has become extremely profitable for these groups, many might suggest there existence depends on the images of killing shelter pets as well..

This author might suggest that there is a "fear factor" that the millions in donations would dry up, or be diverted towards No Kill, if the public becomes aware of programs that actually save lives replacing years of sheltering policies that only use killing as a solution.

Some groups, like Best Friends, have grown more than 600% in 10 years, with more programs, personnel, and annual revenue than PETA. While PETA, the fastest-growing national animal advocacy group during the preceding 15 years, has seen much slower growth, partly because it is the last major national organization to overtly oppose no-kill sheltering, supports BSL, the killing of Pit Bulls and opposes trap/neuter/return for community's seeking solutions for feral cats.

Yet, the public is not forgiving when it comes to groups like Best Friends, who recently opposed a law in New York that would have standardized care and policies for publicly funded shelters including a provision requiring shelters to release dogs and cats to request groups upon request.

The Tide is Turning..... pet advocates come full circle

No-kill came of age in 1998, when PeopleSoft founders David and Cheryl Duffield put Richard Avanzino in charge of Maddie’s Fund, endowed with more grant-giving clout than all other foundations serving the humane community combined.

Maddie’s Fund introduced an ambitious attempt to encourage the entire U.S. to follow the San Francisco model. To apply for funding, a community must assemble a coalition including all of the shelters serving it, of whatever mission.

Community's that refuse to acknowledge the role of No Kill sheltering also refuse the funding available for implementing spay/neuter programs for the poor and a number of other programs that have been successful in turning the tide against increased income numbers which drive up shelter kill rates as well.

Avanzino in 2004 presided over drafting the Asilomar Accords, a pact meant to help attract cooperation from conventional shelters and animal control agencies by standardizing statistical reporting methods.

Although the Maddie’s Fund mission statement explicitly embraces “creation of a No-Kill nation,” the Asilomar Accords do not use the term “No-Kill,” and were widely viewed as an agreement to abandon potentially divisive language.

To be successful No Kill proponents had to find an effective way to stop pit bull terrier proliferation, confronted at every turn by aggressive alliances of fanciers, breeders, and rescuers opposed to any breed-specific response.

The Michael Vick case opened up new wounds with the positions taken by large animal rights groups like who supported a position that pit bulls seized in dog fighting raids had to be killed because of the danger these dogs placed on the community.

History would write an entirely different chapter when animal rescue groups like "Bad Rap" and Best Friends instead were able to retrain and socialize even the "worst of the worst" cases of Vick's abuse. The Vick dogs revitalized the No Kill movement by pointing out to the public how the perceptions formulated by the media and large animal rights groups couldn’t have been more wrong.

Groups like HSUS, PETA and the ASPCA, who all used Vick’s dogs in fundraising schemes, now faced the wrath of advocates who demanded a change in posturing on pit bulls seized in dog fighting raids. Advocates demanded an end to the stereotyping that leads many high kill shelters from simply killing off pit bulls to a position where each dog be treated individually with training and re socialization replacing what was a certain death sentence instead.

Groups like HSUS are being forced to re-evaluate their position on pit bulls out of fear of alienating members and donors for their organization. PETA has remained steadfast in it’s mission to eradicate pit bulls from society and will be judged accordingly.

As in any social movement that our country has taken on, the No Kill movement has had it's obstacles and vocal opponents as well. Part of this opposition comes from those seeking to protect the status quo, not much different then those who opposed eliminating slavery because they had slaves themselves.

Those who truly advocate for our homeless pets must be willing to plow the fields of dissent. Only by planting the seeds of No Kill can we reap the harvest it will produce. We plow those fields by speaking out in our community against those who seek only to kill – the anti thesis of No Kill.

Expecting support from a shelter industry hooked on killing is irrelevant to the movement itself. The movement has had to confront many of the problems associated with plowing a new frontier in sheltering philosophy.

Many of the newly founded "No Kill" agencies were expected to save every healthy animal before the numbers of incoming healthy animals were reduced to anywhere near the numbers that their communities could absorb through adoption. Successful No Kill communities were able to define these new found problems with solutions that included an increased use of volunteers to support shelter operations, do off site adoptions and commit to off site fostering of special needs cases.

Partnerships were formed and foundation of support were built with an established rescue community as well.  Reminiscent of the days of transformation from slavery an increased number of "Rescue Railroads" spouting up in across the country, where volunteers moved homeless pets from areas were there weren't enough adoption possibilties to areas screaming for dogs and cats to adopt.  Flexibilty became the standrard determining life saving viability.

True to America’s love affair with our pets, families were all too willing to support rescuing a pet in distress.

The pet industry cashed in on this love affair as well when pet food suppliers like Petsmart and Petco started providing space and support for rescue groups to display and adopt out these homeless pets. Even manufactures like Pedigree have focused their company missions on supporting “adopt a shelter pet” in their advertising campaigns.

Adopting and providing a loving home has become the “politically correct” mantra for pet owners across the land. Not only has the social conscience recognized the importance of adopting homeless pets but more importantly the relevance of how immoral it has become to kill healthy pets is emerging as well. We are now witnessing a social change that questions why we kill healthy pets under any pretext, especially when there are other progressive communities who are not.

Because No-Kill shelters and rescues have typically been founded in reaction against high-volume killing, those involved in running these operations tend to mistrust and resist inclusion in any system that might be controlled by the conventionals.

Likewise, many directors of conventional shelters are on record as skeptics and critics of no-kill approaches. Many frankly resent the no-kill challenge. Thus the seeds of a culture clash sown.

Some see no-kills as rivals for funding, though the economic data demonstrates that the growth of public financial support for No-Kill sheltering has actually brought new money into the cause, while funding for conventional sheltering has also steadily increased.

Some just don’t like the implication that No-Kill shelters exist opposite to “Kill” shelters, and that conventional shelter staff are therefore “animal killers.”

That conflict is not going to go away. Despite the Asilomar Accords, and other efforts by national humane organizations to get no-kill shelters to quit using the term “No-Kill,” it's use will remain because the public likes it, understands it and demads it.  It has and will continue to replace the use of “euthanasia” when it involves shelters that continue to kill healthy animals.

Shelter managers can expect to face increasing pressure to make use of low cost “spay/neuter” programs as opposed to supporting any attempt to mandate and punish those who do not.  Promoting adoption techniques advanced by the No-Kill Movement will become the norm   A generation of animal lovers raised with the expectation that shelters should aspire to go No-Kill is not about to abandon the belief that every healthy animal can be saved.

The major gain in the last decade has been the increased “market share” of those who adopt as opposed to a declining market for those who acquire pets through breeders and pet stores. The adoption “market share” of pet acquisition has increased by half, the longevity of pets in homes has increased by half or more, and more than 70% of pet-keepers sterilize their dogs and cats in most parts of the U.S., with more than 90% of all pet dogs and cats sterilized in some cities. This data refutes the shelter industry mantra that seeks to blame killing on the “phantom” irresponsible pet owner.

There will always be a small number of pet owners who are irresponsible, even cruel with their pets but that number is less then 4% of the number of pets entering our shelters. The fact remains that for many pets the first time they are neglected or even abused is when they find themselves in the very shelters that are supposed to protect them.

Of course, the ultimate act of cruelty is committed everyday when a shelter manager decides to end a pets life simply because they lack the moral conscience to implement programs that protect lives.

Still, the stereotyping image of no-kill sheltering remains tainted by hoarders. The national organizations most involved in sheltering perpetuate the hoarder stereotype, partly because many senior staff have had experience with hoarding cases and have become jaded by their own experience.

The number of rescuers in trouble increased by almost the same percentage as the number of breeders declined, possibly reflecting the migration of ex-breeders into rescue.  Possibly reflecting an increased number of new people getting into rescue without supporting infrastructures to assist them.  Either of which can’t be blamed on the growing No Kill movement that has evolved.  All are issues which must be addressed regardless what sheltering philosophy emerges.

Since the proportionality of “rescuer” hoarders to all others does not appear to have increased by more than can be explained by other factors, the No-Kill movement can not be not responsible for the increase in hoarding cases.

Rather, hoarders appear to be raided and prosecuted more often because of increased awareness of the hoarding problem.

Yet that does not mean hoarding is representative of the No-Kill cause. No Kill recognizes the needs for standards of care not only for those who own, rescue or run a No Kill facility but more importantly for publicly funded shelters as well.  It is simply not part of the No Kill Movement to move animals from an abusing public shelter to an abusive setting in either a No Kill facility or in rescue.

As No Kill gains in popularity, so will the need for standardizing care and developing suitable standards for high volume adoptions, care for life hospice care and non sheltering rescue groups.

There will always be irresponsible people to deal with, but that spectrum of irresponsibility exists in all areas of pet ownership, the rescue community and more importantly in our outdated sheltering system that screams out for reform.

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