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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

Do It Yourself No Kill

“We’ve been begging the city to go No Kill for years and nothing has happened!”

How often have you seen a statement like that? Trying to get a city shelter to reform itself can be a challenging experience. It often leads No Kill advocates down a frustrating road of seeking to force out the current leadership on the city council or in the shelter and replace it with No Kill leadership. That approach can work (Austin, Texas and Arlington, Virginia are examples), but I’ve also seen it fail (Tallahassee, Louisville, Macon, etc., etc.). Sometimes there aren’t enough local people to support the cause, sometimes the city leadership is too entrenched to be thrown out by a single-issue campaign, sometimes city leadership does appoint a new director and that director fails. Just a few days ago, local No Kill advocates were unsuccessful in unseating a county commissioner in favor of a No Kill candidate in Manatee County, Florida. In this article I’d like to talk about a different way that I’m seeing more and more in my researches, where local advocates do not have to take to the streets in protest or beg the city council or the municipal shelter to take action.

That different way is for No Kill advocates to form a non-profit that takes on the functions that the municipal shelter is not performing properly. There are a large number of non-profits that have been formed in the last several years for the purpose of making a community No Kill, and they are succeeding at an astounding rate. I would say that far more No Kill communities are being formed by this method today than by the older method of trying to force communities to change by protest and political action. It is worth noting that even in Austin there was a combination of methods. One group worked on political support while another group formed a large non-profit – Austin Pets Alive – to partner with the city shelter.

One of the functions that this type of non-profit can perform very well is adoptions. There are few municipal shelters that will refuse to allow a reputable non-profit to pull animals from the shelter for rehoming. And if a non-profit does run into resistance from the shelter in releasing animals, that would be a concrete issue that would garner a lot of attention and sympathy from the public. Another thing that non-profits can do very well is TNR. In some places this may require the non-profit to do some work to pave the way, including checking out state laws and local ordinances to see if any of them need revision. But again, revision of cat ordinances is a concrete issue that may be much easier to change than the entire city council or leadership structure of the shelter. There are many other tasks a non-profit could take on, such as pet retention, targeted spay-neuter, microchip clinics, and running volunteer and neonatal foster programs.

In addition to the practical effect of saving animal lives quickly and effectively, a non-profit working with the city shelter can build a strong relationship over time that will gradually bring city and shelter leadership on board with the idea of No Kill. In fact, it seems like a logical approach to try formation of a non-profit to work with the city before trying political action. Political action is a bruising process, and if the people seeking change do not prevail, they can poison the well for any future collaborative process. One could argue that the route of using political action to demand change should be used only as a last resort, given that the track record of cooperation has been so much better and given the serious consequences of failed political action.

One of the beauties of non-profits is that they can start off small. For example, a non-profit could take on as its first task saving orphan neonatal kittens during kitten season and finding them adoptive homes. Once the group had some experience at adoptions, they could branch out into doing offsite adoption events for the shelter. Then perhaps they could set up a Help Desk in the shelter lobby, staffed by volunteers. Then maybe a targeted spay-neuter effort to reduce the number of pit bulls coming into the shelter. As the group grew and gained community support, they would also be gaining practical knowledge about exactly what needed to be done in their city. Perhaps they would be able to get to No Kill by working with the existing shelter leadership, but if not, at some point they would have the experience and community support to successfully bid on and run the city shelter themselves.

Getting to No Kill by starting a non-profit does not have to be a slow process. In Kansas City, Missouri, for example, a non-profit was formed, bid on and won the city contract, and then got to No Kill within six months. That’s somewhat unusual in cities I’ve studied, though. But the non-profit process should not be rejected just because it might not fix all the problems immediately. If the city leaders are recalcitrant and shelter leadership is unresponsive and there is no large groundswell of support among the citizenry, then you have nowhere to start unless you do it yourself.

Here is a list just off the top of my head of large non-profits that are currently partnering successfully with city shelters or contracting to do sheltering themselves to raise live relief rates: Austin Pets Alive, the Richmond SPCA, Kansas City Pet Project, the Nevada Humane Society, Dane County Humane Society, Humane Society for Seattle/King County, First Coast No More Homeless Pets/Jacksonville Humane Society, Lifeline Animal Project (Atlanta), and the San Francisco SPCA. This method has also been used in a great many counties and small towns where animal sheltering is done by a non-profit. A variation on this theme is where you have a consortium of non-profits. This method seems to be especially effective in large cities. It is being used with great success in San Antonio, Denver (despite their regressive pit-bull ban), Gainesville, Buffalo, New York City, and Portland.

Based on the momentum and trends of the past several years, the future of No Kill certainly seems to be in building non-profits and collaborative groups of non-profits to work with municipalities. This should be an inspiring approach for No Kill advocates who have been trying the political approach for years and getting nowhere. Instead of waiting for the municipal shelter or the city council to change, they can turn their words into actions today and create the change themselves.

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