Why we have nothing to fear from “No Kill”

Why we have nothing to fear from “No Kill”

Written by Shel and originally published on the Saving Pets blog, February 28, 2008

Today I read an interview on the progress of ‘No Kill’ from one of my favourite animal rescue spokespeople Nathan Winograd.

The thing I like about Nathan is that someone in rescue has come out and publicly challenged the status quo, asking “are we doing it right, or are we just doing what we’ve always done?”

Now there are a suprising number of people in rescue who, when they hear the words ‘No Kill’ blackball Nathan’s ideas. But why would an initiative based on improving efficiency, having maximum effectiveness in the community and ultimately reducing the number of animals killed, be met with such resistance?

My expert is bigger than your expert

Few rescues in Australia call themselves No Kill – even though I know of many, many groups that are operating in exactly that way. Why is there such a bad reputation for something based on only doing good? Because we’ve been told by the experts that it’s only what unprofessional crazy pet rescuers do.

There’s an article in the New York Times about something social scientists call a ‘information cascade’. This is a process by which one expert’s wrong opinion spreads to other experts until they all believe it must be true because all the experts say so. This bad information then spreads until it becomes common knowledge, and any dissenting or new data is ignored. As the idea grows, skeptics are ostracized and debate quashed with everyone accepting this information without question - suddenly it’s ‘fact’.

No Kill has been accused of everything from promoting hoarding to animal abuse and these misconceptions have become accepted as facts. Despite having never actually read Redemption, or taken the time to understand what the No Kill movement have been able to achieve, there are many in the rescue industry who have strong unshakable beliefs about why it can’t work.

However consensus is not science. With the lack of studies done on rescue in Australia and No Kill groups too scared to openly announce their success (lest they be accused of hoarding) improvements largely go unannounced. The misconceptions around No Kill continue to be an impediment to celebrating the innovation and ingenuity it represents.

It’ll never work

It is human nature to reject new ideas that oppose your existing beliefs. Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get when someone challenges the beliefs you hold, with new information.

Cognitive dissonance is often associated with the tendency for people to resist information that they don’t want to think about, because if they did it would create cognitive dissonance, and perhaps require them to act in ways that depart from their comfortable habits.

The problem is that if we’re not open to innovative ideas, new research and stifle anyone with a conflicting point of view, then we remain stuck - unable to develop or improve. Modern life dictates those who don’t change fall behind. We owe it to our animals to be challenging both ourselves and our industry to constantly get better at what we do and really, that is the essence of the No Kill movement.

In the immortal words of Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”.

I’m not suggesting Nathan has all the answers – there’s absolutely no one solution to all the complex issues in rescue. However what he and the No Kill movement do have, is completely different approach and that is a very, very good thing.

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