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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser


A report out of Waco, Texas, states that the city shelter’s live release rate is currently “as high as” 85%, up from 25% or less in previous years. Waco is a city of 125,000 people that in 2012 had a shelter intake of 10,000. That’s about 80 pets per thousand people, which is a gigantic number. The 2013 intake was 6700, which is 54 pets per thousand people – still an enormous number. (Average shelter intake in the United States is thought to be 15 to 30 pets per thousand people.) There are a lot of moving parts to this story and not a lot of information, but if a turnaround is in fact happening in Waco then it’s very encouraging. The city has been consulting with Target Zero Institute (TZI) since December 2012. I have been skeptical about TZI because Waco adopted mandatory spay-neuter legislation (don’t know if TZI pushed for that or not) and their “pyramid” for action seems to me to underplay adoption. But if they can produce good results in Waco, including that big drop in intake, then kudos to them. The jury is still out, but this is a very interesting situation.

The report from Waco follows a recent report from Huntsville, Alabama, another city that is consulting with TZI, of a very successful adoption event. See the October 23rd News Bit for a brief report on Huntsville.

It’s still too early to know whether Waco and Huntsville are on a sustainable right track, but one thing that strikes me about the cities that TZI is consulting with is that none of them are easy. If a consultant wanted an easy win, the thing to do would be to consult with, or even take a position as director of, a non-profit contract shelter with a good endowment in a small, progressive community that already has an above-average live release rate. Then the consultant or director could push the live release rate up over 90% and dine out on that the rest of his life. What TZI has done is pretty much the opposite. They are wading into places like Baton Rouge and Indianapolis that have been the graveyards of previous No Kill attempts. Indianapolis is a horror story right now, and not  a place that anyone would go looking for resume items.

Best Friends is trying to do something similar with their efforts in Utah and in Los Angeles, where they have a boots-on-the-ground contingent. Austin Pets Alive has helped to work a near-miracle in San Antonio. Bonney Brown and Diane Blankenburg are running a consulting service, Humane Network. All this activity with people actually jumping in and helping specific communities with the nuts and bolts is encouraging.

Being a consultant or a community partner, where it’s your actions and advice that are on the line, is a risky proposition because you’re opening yourself up for possible failure. Not to mention that it can be a thankless job because you may need to challenge the orthodoxy. In No Kill in the past we’ve had quite a bit of general information that various people have put out that isn’t specific to any particular community. That’s great, but now we seem to be entering a new phase where it’s not enough to stand on the sidelines – where No Kill leaders get really involved and it’s not one-size-fits-all. I don’t know whether TZI is going to succeed or fail, but at least they are getting in there in some pretty tough communities and trying.

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