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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

Building the Infrastructure for No Kill

We sometimes hear that No Kill can happen overnight. That has been true in a handful of communities where shelter intake is small. In many big cities, though, getting to No Kill has taken years of painstaking building of institutions to make it happen. Even in cases where it seems as though No Kill has happened in a few months, if you look closely you often see that the infrastructure that allowed No Kill to happen took time to build. Following are some examples.

  1. Austin, Texas

The city of Austin had one of the earliest No Kill efforts of any major American city, starting way back in 1997 when it launched its No Kill Millennium plan. This was just one year after Richard Avanzino had presented his report on the success of San Francisco’s Adoption Pact at an American Humane Association conference. Austin’s No Kill Millennium plan was drafted by the fledgling Austin Pets Alive! (APA) non-profit, and was passed unanimously by the city and county. The goal was to end the killing of “adoptable” animals at the shelter by 2002. The plan did not receive government funding and it was seen by many as a failure. It actually had a good deal of success, though, because reported shelter killing went from close to 90% in 1997 down to roughly 50% in the early and mid-2000’s. At that point, a revitalized APA under the leadership of Dr. Ellen Jefferson, and a new advocacy organization called Fix Austin, headed by Ryan Clinton, renewed the movement for No Kill in Austin. Eventually, in 2011, with APA providing crucial help to the city shelter, the city achieved a live release rate of over 90%. It took many years to build the institutions necessary to Austin’s success, but advocates did not give up after the initial setback.

  1. Jacksonville, Florida

In 2001 the mayor of Jacksonville established a task force to suggest a plan to improve the city shelter. One of the members of the task force, Rick DuCharme, was familiar with the No Kill movement because he had studied No Kill and had attended Lynda Foro’s 1997 No Kill conference. He brought copies of Craig Brestrup’s 1997 book “Disposable Animals: Ending the Tragedy of Throwaway Pets” to the first task force meeting and gave a copy to each member of the committee, along with a binder of information about No Kill. As a result of the task force, and with the help and inspiration of Best Friends, Rick formed First Coast No More Homeless Pets (FCNMHP) in 2001. SpayJax, a program of FCNMHP, started a low-income spay-neuter initiative that correlated with a steady decline in intake at the city shelter. Rick was able to build FCNMHP up over the years and add more programs, including mega-adoption events. The No Kill movement in Jacksonville got a boost when the city hired Scott Trebatoski to run the shelter in 2008, and another boost in 2011 when Denise Deisler took over the Jacksonville Humane Society. In 2014 the live release rate for the combined agencies was 92%. It was a step-by-step process, starting small and gradually gathering steam as more and more people saw the progress and jumped in to help.

  1. Atlanta, Georgia

Rebecca Guinn attended the Best Friends national conference in 2002 because she wanted to do something to improve things at the two county shelters that served Atlanta. She came away from the conference thinking change was possible, and was inspired to form LifeLine Animal Project. LifeLine concentrated for years on spay-neuter efforts, including TNR for feral cats. Guinn built up the organization until she felt confident enough to bid on the contracts to run both of the county shelters, starting in 2013. Today LifeLine is zeroing in on a live release rate of over 90%. Unlike the situations in Jacksonville and Austin, LifeLine has not had a large rescue partner and has had to go it mostly alone.

  1. New York City

What happened in New York City is a complicated story, but here is the short version. After the ASPCA gave up the contract for animal control and sheltering in 1994, the city set up an organization to run the shelter. That organization did not do well. In 2002, Jane Hoffman founded the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals for the purpose of bringing together a coalition of organizations to help the shelter. Hoffman was an attorney who had been involved in animal law for many years. In 1990 she had helped to found an animal law committee for the New York City bar association, one of the first such committees in the nation. The bar association committee held a conference in 2000 where Hoffman met Rich Avanzino, the former head of the San Francisco SPCA who by that time was the head of Maddie’s Fund. Hoffman and others on the committee were inspired by what the partnership in San Francisco between the San Francisco SPCA and the city shelter had accomplished. They were also inspired by the successful partnership between the Richmond SPCA, led by Robin Starr, and the Richmond city shelter. The Mayor’s Alliance applied for and received a Maddie’s grant, which helped propel the effort. It took many years of slowly building up the Mayor’s Alliance, but in 2015 New York City had an 86% live release rate.

At this point you may be thinking that the idea of a No Kill effort that takes a decade or more to build an infrastructure is pretty discouraging. But the process can go much faster today now that pioneers have shown the way. Today there are mentors available to help people, conferences and other sources of information, and much more direct help from grants and neighboring No Kill shelters.

San Antonio is an example. In 2006 San Antonio put forward a plan to get to No Kill that failed. In 2011, though, they put forward another No Kill plan, and this one succeeded in four years. The difference was that in 2011 they received a lot of help and advice and inspiration from their neighbor, Austin. Similarly, the city of Stockton is well on its way to No Kill because of direct help from the San Francisco SPCA. The Jacksonville coalition hosts gigantic adoption galas where shelters from all the surrounding counties are invited to bring their animals. Another example is the no-kill Brandywine Humane Society (formerly Chester County SPCA) in Pennsylvania, which just took over animal sheltering for the state of Delaware next door.

Even if a city does not have a neighboring No Kill jurisdiction that can help, there are ways to speed up the process. Advocates can attend conferences to find mentors from across the United States. The Best Friends national conference, for example, each year offers numerous “how we did it” presentations by directors of shelters in the most successful No Kill communities. (A detailed brochure is created for each presentation and those are made available online for people who cannot attend.) And the networking that can happen at conferences may be even more valuable than the presentations. It is worth noting that in 3 of the 4 cities profiled above, a conference was an important inspiration in kicking off the No Kill movement.

No Kill consultants are another source of mentoring and direct help that is available today that was not available in the 1990s. There are several people who offer consulting, including some veterinarians who specialize in shelter medicine. And we have new techniques that have gone mainstream in just the last few years, including the new community cat paradigms and the professionalization of dog transports.

Today there is still a need in many cities to build private infrastructure to assist (or ultimately take over) the city shelter. Even in communities where the local government is willing to make an effort to hire a director who believes in No Kill, that director will need community help to get to the goal. The most successful model for No Kill in mid-size and larger cities has proven to be the public-private partnership. Both the city and the private sector have to do their part.


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