Rising from the Betrayal of Animals: A Phoenix from the Ashes

Rising from the Betrayal of Animals: A Phoenix from the Ashes

“A new and larger vision is needed, a vision in which shelters hold themselves accountable for meeting demanding performance standards that preserve life — not destroy it.” ~ Ed Duvin

Humane organizations and SPCA’s sometimes find themselves with a responsibility above and beyond their mission and capacity when they perform animal control.

There are definitely some cases where the humane society or SPCA may be the “only game in town”. And in many cases they can perform animal control better than underfunded municipal services. On the other hand if they take on that responsibility, or “open door to all” policies when an animal control structure is already in place … they may take on that responsibility to the detriment of their mission, they may sacrifice their good name, betraying their supporters, and they may harm and even kill the animals they have pledged to protect.

While humane societies and SPCA’s have previously entered (and continue to enter) the animal control business with good intentions, killing became routine and systematic.  Once routine and systematic, it was status quo and ultimately defended vehemently. I can vouch for that because I have defended it in my earlier life. Phrases like too many animals, not enough homes … terms like unadoptable actually came out of my mouth.

Nathan Winograd was not the first, and will not be the last to recognize this. Ed Duvin (Unfinished Business) eloquently explained my party line recitations with quotes from Craig Brestup’s Disposable Animals:

“Given this kind of reinforcement to the “killing them kindly” mentality by prominent animal rights figures, it is hardly realistic to expect shelters to serve as — using the business vernacular — change agents. Quoting from the aforementioned Disposable Animals: “Self-congratulatory for accomplishment, self-exculpatory for failure, [shelter leaders] present it all as operating under inexorable and probably eternal necessity. That same voice has been heard for decades. Meanwhile, perhaps 30,000 dogs and cats are killed in shelters every day, seven days a week.” Companion animals have been waiting in vain for a war to be waged by activists on their behalf — not the tiptoeing-through the-tulips that characterizes our current efforts, but hard-hitting and relentless campaigns to thoroughly stigmatize the culprits.”

Some call it “Adoption Guarantee”, others call it “No Kill” and still others have made up even more descriptives to differentiate themselves and their shelters from traditional animal shelters.

Isn’t that sad?

Animal shelters, humane societies and SPCA’s should conjure up images of safety and rescue for companion animals in all of us yet too often they are known in their communities as the places that kill animals.

So one might then ask, can a humane society or SPCA reasonably take on the responsibility of animal control?

Absolutely, yes.

But that organization must commit to dedicate the utmost resources to saving savable lives and educating the public of their work. If they aren’t working their hardest to achieve a community where killing is unacceptable and the definition of ‘euthanasia’ is returned to it’s dictionary standard, they aren’t being true to their mission, supporters and most importantly - the animals.

I’ve learned a lot since those times when I recited the mantras.

I’ve learned that there is no magic to achieving a No Kill community. The single defining factor that I can pinpoint is the appearance of someone, even just one individual who is willing to take the lead.  That person must withstand negative pressure from within the animal welfare community, challenge historical mythology and routine, aim for excellence in animal care, and not accept the idea that killing is the answer. It’s a pretty difficult position to be in which might be why there are so few willing to do it.  

But the capacity for improvement exists in all organizations.

Someone just needs to tap into it.

To give one concrete example of the innate power within an organization to change I’ll talk about the shelter where I work. 

Our shelter gave up animal control contracts to become “No Kill” somewhere around ten years ago. That took incredible will. Politically correctness renamed the change “limited admission”. While once revolutionary, eventually the shelter settled into a status quo similar to any other shelter just with different activities and a new label.

As a limited admission shelter we often turned away stray kittens, dooming many of them to death at the animal control shelters. (General note: the animal control shelters were also limited admission as they restricted entry based on the location where the animal was found due to their contract structures. Often animal control shelters are labeled open admission giving the false impression that they take all comers even though they actually may have entry qualifications. For those of you who don’t like the term No Kill because it is misunderstood, we could easily argue that no simplistic label is easily understood by all.)

I had been previously a part of that process of turning them away. We were full. We really were full. The foster homes we had were full. I didn’t know what else to do and from the top to the bottom of our organization the mantra was - we are full, we can’t save them all.

Fast forward a few years and a revolutionary change occurs in my thinking. I return to the same organization after working in far more challenging conditions, knowing we can do better. I believed we could do better and I challenged the staff to focus on reducing shelter killing within our community by not turning away any kitten brought to our doors that came from within our county. We also offered to take any healthy kitten from animal control and as many kittens with treatable conditions as we could manage.

In 2007 we adopted out 2275 animals. If you take out the 190 birds we adopted out as a special case that brings the number down to a more realistic picture of 2,085 with 1,116 being cats.

In 2008 we adopted out 2,851 animals with 1,669 being cats. In the months when our relationship with animal control went the smoothest we were transferring or taking direct referrals for about 100 kittens a month in addition to taking any from within our county that came directly to our door. I think that there was only one or two weeks that we were unable to accept kittens immediately during the entire year.  To accomplish this we utilized foster care.

In 2007 we handled 700 foster care animals. 

In 2008 we handled 1,636 foster care animals.

With these numbers you might think we are a large, fancy shelter but we aren’t. Built in 1966 (and it shows) we have 24 runs in our main dog kennel adoption area and about 41 cat cages plus some kitten pens in our main cat adoption room. We have one open housing cat room that holds about 10+/- cats and a puppy and small dog room that has four runs. We have isolation for three dogs and we have a small isolation area for cats as well as an exam room for incoming animals that has cages as well. 

The changes we have achieved did not come from anything other than a change in what we believed we could do. It wasn’t easy but we will do it again this year and do it even better. 

Examine your mission. Why does your organization exist? Are you doing damage to the animals you have pledged to save? Like a Phoenix from the ashes of so many deceased, innocent animals sent to the crematorium, your organization can rise again:

“All we are asking, however, is merely that they shed their shortsightedness long enough to embrace the full range of creative possibilities, for when it comes to precious lives, today’s reality cannot serve as tomorrows excuse.” ~Ed Duvin

Author’s Note: I took some time off from blogging and boy was it hard to come back … I’ll write more about that in upcoming post but … I’m back!

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2 Responses to “Rising from the Betrayal of Animals: A Phoenix from the Ashes”

  1. Lynn Orbison says:

    Welcome back!
    I, for one, missed you.
    Where can I find more by Ed Duvin?

  2. What an inspiration you are, Sue! I welcome you back as well and have linked to this entry from my blog … it is hopeful and inspiring that all shelter directors can one day see things differently and embrace the No Kill way of running their shelters. What is the hurt in trying if you are killing 70%+ of the animals that enter your systems? Trying the No Kill Equation and approaching issues more positively and proactively cannot do more harm … it can only help you improve.

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