I don’t believe in this but I’m willing to give it a try

I don’t believe in this but I’m willing to give it a try

I don’t believe in this but I’m willing to give it a try - it was something along those lines that was said by Constable Tim Holifield who oversaw the Montgomery County Animal Shelter in Montgomery County, Texas after meeting with Nathan Winograd just three years ago. 

When staff members first brought the idea of No Kill sheltering to Holifield, it was hard for him to imagine that they could have much success. The odds seemed overwhelming as about 80% of the animals entering the shelter were killed at the time.

“I didn’t think it was feasible,” he said. “I asked (nationally recognized no-kill expert) Nathan Winograd if he thought we could do it, and he said, ‘It’ll take five years.’” The Courier of Montgomery County

Despite his doubts, Tim Holifield’s ability to take a leap of faith on behalf of the animals just three years ago has paid off beyond the organization’s wildest dreams. They’ve flipped the numbers. Where once 80% of animals entering the shelter lost their lives, now 80% are leaving alive.

It’s an amazing success story but they won’t be satisfied until they’ve improved their lifesaving even further. 

What was the shelter like three years ago? Notes from Nathan Winograd’s visit are telling and typical. From his notes:

pix-099(litter box that in a cage that had just been “cleaned”)

Five of the empty and “clean” kennels had old food in the bins, evidencing laxity of procedures. The cat cages were worse. Even after “cleaning,” the litterboxes were overflowing with fecal material, and caked on bodily fluids were evident. In addition, the cats had to bear the constant barking of dogs. The more sensitive cats could be seen cowering in their cages.

pix-043

Where once dogs were inhumanely hosed down inside of cages (pictured above is a photo - from the Montgomery Shelter of the past - of a dog, wet and shivering, who was left in a cage as it was hosed down and sanitzied), the shelter now boasts a spectacular lifesaving adoption program and a high volume spay and neuter clinic sterilizing more than 100 animals a week.

“If you think about how many animals I’ve prevented, it probably goes into the hundreds of thousands, taking a typical litter size. I see the no-kill policy as a great thing for everyone here,” he said. “It will also help those who work here feel better about what they do knowing that an animal won’t be euthanized.”  Shelter Veterinarian Dr. Darrell Dudczak, The Courier of Montgomery County

How did they achieve their success? Through hard work and determination of both the staff and the community who volunteer to save lives:

“The volunteers are the true heroes,” Holifield said. “They magnify what the staff is able to do by a hundredfold.” The Courier of Montgomery County

It takes a lot of bravery to hear an honest appraisal of your operations. Winograd’s reports are brutally honest and the reactions they receive run the gamut from eager acceptance to hiding the report in the lowest of the bottom drawers and pretending it never existed. Again from Winograd’s notes: 

Adult dogs are housed next to puppies, and adult cats are housed not only next to kittens (young animals are at high risk for illness in a shelter and should be segregated), but cats are housed with dogs, increasing their stress levels and making them more susceptible to disease. Most disturbing of all, sick animals are housed right next to healthy animals, including puppies and kittens. Combined with poor cleaning protocols, a poor vaccination protocol, and lack of thoroughness, all of which were evident, this is a recipe for disease epidemics.

***

In addition, dogs and cats were picked up throughout the day but only brought to the shelter at pre-appointed times, with some exceptions. As a result, they can sit on hot trucks in stifling heat and humidity with no food or water. Once in the shelter, they faire little better. A “feral” kitten was dropped off in receiving. I first saw her in the trap with no water very early in the morning (before 9 am). She was still there, unmoved, untouched, uncared for without water at 2:30 pm. This is not only unacceptable, it is potentially cruel.

To accept this criticism of operations and recognize it for it’s intended purpose, to help improve the organization and its work with animals, takes bravery and the ability to set aside one’s ego. To admit that you can make changes is to - on some level - admit that you have been wrong.

That is a major stumbling block for many organizations - we are doing the best that we can… - they say and feel the sting of an objective evaluation as condemnation rather than a roadmap for change. 

For the sake of shelter animals, let’s hope there are many more people out there like Tim Holifield.

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4 Responses to “I don’t believe in this but I’m willing to give it a try”

  1. Lynn Orbison says:

    So how do you get a shelter manager to be willing to listen? Or to be willing to allow an “outside” evaluator to even look?!

  2. I once worked at a technology start-up that brought in a world-renowned consultant. He said that his view of organizational learning curves is that an organization should always be near the bottom of the grade - at the point where you have reached the top of one curve, you should be at the bottom of a new, more ambitious one.

    This could be taken as a crazy case for endless growth. In the context of animal sheltering, though, I think that the articulation of the programs of the No Kill Equation is the pinnacle of one learning curve - cracking the code on “how to do it” - and the beginning of others: how to spread the model, how to institutionalize the changes, and so on.

    The Constable Tims of the world, those who look squarely at that hard learning curve and lace up the hiking boots, are the next wave of heroes.

  3. Does anyone else deal with both a shelter director and municipal leadership that think they are working toward no kill yet are really still administering sheltering in an old-guard way? For example, though our shelter dabbles in some areas of the No Kill equation, such as sending some animals to rescues and fosters, we are still killing 50-70% of the ones that come in. Granted, our intake is high for a population of 200,000; it’s about 1000-1400 animals a month! But, in the face of this influx, our new director thinks that by taking either leaders or individuals through walk-throughs, it will “guilt” them into helping. She did that to me and basically told me that if I didn’t take a dog home that day to foster, it would be on me that that dog died. I explained I work long hours and cannot foster and wanted to help in other ways, but there is no real dialogue to that affect. Worse yet, there is little effort to get organized and administer programs that will save lives.

    Yet, they think they are on the right path. I don’t know how to put into words that we are not even close yet.

    I was heartened to hear our director will be going to the No Kill Conference in May in D.C. Maybe then we can close the gap between the high-level list in the No Kill Equation and actually putting each part of it into action. I sure hope she gets some lightbulb moments, and the minute she does, I’ll be back there to help in ways that I can.

  4. Openness, willingness, and actually caring enough to listen, have to be there before change for the better has a chance.

    The people of the area can press for change - stand up and demand that their leaders listen to what they want. When the top leaders see that they are surrounded by enough people that will not let up, then they will start to consider change.

    Then these city leaders will ask the shelter directors to be open to change or leave.

    There is power in numbers - make these numbers grow.

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