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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

2016 — A Banner Year for No Kill

Many of the general retrospectives on 2016 that have appeared in the media in the last few days have branded the year as a disaster. It’s easy to see why, given the political uproar of our recent election season and the uncertain future we face. But for No Kill, 2016 had few flaws. In fact, 2016 may go down in history as the best year yet for No Kill, a year when landmark progress was made.

Here is a short list of some trends and events that made 2016 such a noteworthy year for No Kill:

  1. Citizen complaints about large numbers of stray dogs in Dallas, Texas, have been frequent for the last several years, and the media has carried on a steady drumbeat about the problem. In May 2016 a tragedy occurred when a woman was attacked and killed in South Dallas by a pack of dogs. City leaders decided they had to act, and hired the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to analyze animal control and sheltering in the city. In August BCG released a report analyzing the shelter system and recommending changes. BCG is a highly prestigious, mainstream consulting firm, and No Kill advocates feared that the BCG recommendation would be to simply round up and kill all the stray dogs. Instead, the report provided a beautiful summary of how cities get to No Kill today while not shirking public safety and not busting the budget. The BCG report was proof that No Kill is now the new industry standard, as it placed shelter lifesaving on a par with public safety in a truly stunning statement of modern priorities. In the future it will no longer be possible for any city or town or county to plan a state-of-the-art overhaul of its shelter system without taking lifesaving into account. Links to the BCG report are here and here.

  2. The Pets for Life concept came into its own in 2016. Pets for Life does not just provide services to underserved neighborhoods — it moves in to zip codes where people are having trouble caring for their pets. Distrust between residents and animal control has been a major problem in poor communities dating back to the 1800s, and that distrust is the underlying reason why many pets wind up in the shelter today. Residents who may not have the resources to vaccinate, license, sterilize, and confine their pets have had good reason in the past to fear punitive enforcement and high fines from animal control. This has led them to avoid any contact with pet services, including services designed to help pets. Pets for Life staff members get at this problem by going door-to-door to build relationships with residents in neighborhoods that have the highest numbers of strays and owner surrenders. They provide whatever people need, including driving a person’s dog or cat to the vet when the owner does not have a car and the nearest vet is miles away. Or free dog training. Or free collars and tags, including licenses. When they do a big vaccination or spay-neuter event in the neighborhood people line up to participate because they trust Pets for Life. The result is that people and pets are happier and shelter intake is lower.

  3. Neighbors helping neighbors broke out all over in 2016. We’ve had No Kill communities that reached out to neighbors before 2016, of course, but 2016 saw an explosion in this trend. An especially exciting example is happening in South Carolina, where No Kill proponents have divided the state into five regions, each of which will have a “key resource center” for No Kill. The resource centers are shelters that can help smaller shelters around them with things like grant-writing, adoption events, acquiring donors, and best practices. The Charleston Animal Society, which achieved No Kill in 2015, is heading up the South Carolina initiative with help from the Petco Foundation, which provided $200,000 to get the effort started. Petco also made a grant to Greenville, SC, one of the regional hubs. It wasn’t long ago that “South Carolina” and “No Kill” were hardly mentioned in the same sentence. Now, the entire state may soon be No Kill.

  4. If South Carolina does get to No Kill in 2017 it will join a growing number of states that have that distinction. Colorado has been running at or near 90% for a couple of years now. And this year, when the final numbers are in, Colorado will probably be joined by Delaware. Delaware started an innovative program on January 1, 2016, when a new state agency took over animal control, anti-cruelty enforcement, and lost-and-found. The agency, Delaware Animal Services, is part of the Office of Animal Welfare within Delaware’s public health division. The state contracted out animal sheltering to the Brandywine Valley SPCA, where statistics through September showed a 92% live release rate. This structure for animal control and sheltering may be a viable approach for other small states. It’s inspiring to see how well it has worked so far in Delaware.

  5. And speaking of No Kill states, Arizona has become a surprise No Kill leader in the southwest. The southwest has been a problem area for No Kill, and in my January 2016 “State of No Kill: Western U.S.” post I rated the lower southwest (Arizona and New Mexico) as the worst area in the U.S. for No Kill, with a D-minus grade. Not anymore! Arizona has 15 counties, including 5 large counties — Coconino, Yavapai, Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima — that run down the middle of the state and contain the large population areas. Coconino and Yavapai are reporting over 90% live release rates, and No Kill efforts are underway in the other three counties as well. Is it too much to hope that Arizona will be a No Kill state in 2017? We will see.

  6. In 2016 the idea that it is ethically and morally wrong to deliberately breed dogs that have the genetic defect of brachycephalism really took hold, as evidenced by an August Washington Post article on the problem. Brachycephalism is a defining characteristic of several dog breeds, including English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The genetic defect produces flat faces and protruding eyes, which many people think is cute, but which causes a lifetime of suffering and disability to the affected dogs. Dog breeding is not usually thought of as a No Kill issue, but it becomes a No Kill issue when it implicates the right of dogs to live a normal, happy life free of pain. It’s hard to believe that people would deliberately breed dogs with the goal of carrying on a horrible genetic defect, but the practice is very entrenched. This shocking form of animal cruelty has gone on far too long, but as 2016 draws to an end we have hope that dog breeders (and cat breeders) will finally be shamed into stopping the breeding of brachycephalic animals. If not, then the new public awareness about this issue may help advocates pass laws that will compel them to stop by identifying what they are doing as a crime.

  7. Last but very far from least is the Million Cat Challenge (MCC), which had another fabulous year in 2016. Shelters that have signed up to participate in the MCC are using the MCC’s five key initiatives to save the lives of 1,000,000 shelter cats in the five-year period from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2018. When that goal was announced it sounded incredibly ambitious. Now, at the end of 2016, the effort is on track to succeed — we are 60% through the time period and 66% of the way to the goal, with participating shelters reporting 657,000 cats saved so far even before the year-end update. The MCC is particularly noteworthy because so many traditional shelters have chosen to participate. If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, a great one would be to make sure your local shelter is signed up with the MCC.

There were so many other areas of progress in No Kill in 2016 that this list could be twice as long if I wrote them all up. They include the increasing success of turnkey events like Clear the Shelters and Strut Your Mutt that draw in traditional shelters, the rapid spread of Open Adoptions, the increasing importance of shelter consultants, tremendous progress in Michigan (particularly in reducing shelter intake through spay-neuter programs), the growing expectation that every shelter will have one or more veterinarians on staff trained in shelter medicine, and the creation of No Kill campuses that show how far we’ve come from the days of the concrete-block shelter building next to the town dump.

Each year in No Kill brings surprises, and awe at how fast progress is being made. I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring.

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