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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

Notable Trends in 2014

There have been two very important trends in No Kill in 2014. First is the expansion of the movement to include a lot more leaders with a variety of approaches, and second is the creativity demonstrated by brand new techniques and programs for lifesaving. These new trends mean that the movement expanded both in breadth and depth in 2014.

The increase in the number of leaders has resulted in No Kill progressing beyond an earlier stage as a rather monolithic movement. As interest in the movement has grown, it has branched out in many different directions. We now have several different theories of how to approach No Kill, each one with its adherents. This has led to some splitting of the movement. I see this as healthy, because it means that ideas can be tested against each other and that No Kill can be adapted to different circumstances.

One of the differences in approach is a growing distinction between top-down and bottom-up reform. Top-down reform involves trying to get a city or county to do the heavy lifting of shelter reform, and uses pressure from citizens to force or persuade the local government to replace shelter management with No Kill management and commit whatever resources are needed. Bottom-up involves citizens improving the shelter themselves, by methods ranging from volunteer involvement to formation of one or more non-profits to take over specific tasks or even bid on the shelter contract.

The top down approach seems to work well in places where local government is disposed to be, or can be persuaded to be, engaged and sympathetic. Bottom up seems to work well where local government is disinterested or hostile, or where top down has been tried and failed for some reason. Bottom up can gradually bring about a change for the better in the attitude of the local government as citizens prove that No Kill ideas can work and be cost-effective.

2014 has been the year of the No Kill consultant. More and more, cities and counties are turning to consultants to help them with the many choices to make in finding No Kill techniques to fit their particular circumstances. This is a trend with a lot of potential, and it illustrates the fact that No Kill can be somewhat daunting for local governments. The steps a city or county needs to take depend on where the community is starting from and the local circumstances. Good consultants can help local governments sort all that out. Consultants are a new leadership class in No Kill. As time goes on their experience in many different communities can be invaluable for helping No Kill chart its future course.

There is no substitute for recent, boots-on-the-ground experience in a wide variety of circumstances.

No Kill consultants can serve as a bridge or compromise between the top down and bottom up approaches. Consultants often seem to be brought in where local governments want to make some changes but they do not want to be on the hook for doing something radical, or they are simply uncertain who to listen to. Consultants might, depending on the circumstances, suggest leadership, operational, or program changes. Consultants can also uncover problems that no one realized were there, as with the recent Manatee County, Florida, report which found that very few shelter employees supported No Kill. Perhaps that was due to very poor previous implementation of No Kill, but whatever the cause it is a problem that must be addressed.

The demand for consultants is part of a growing recognition and acceptance of the fact that No Kill is not just a simple matter of plugging in modular programs. In the past, sometimes No Kill advocates seem to have felt like they had to present No Kill as a cheap, one-size-fits-all set of programs that gave immediate results when properly implemented. This simplistic approach was perhaps motivated by a fear that acknowledging that No Kill could be complicated might lead to resistance on the part of government officials. Today, as cultural ideas about the value of pets have continued to change and improve, citizens do not have to be so defensive in asking for shelters to do better.

Large national organizations like HSUS and the ASPCA have been assuming more and more of a leadership role in No Kill. Both HSUS and the ASPCA have signed on to some radical new ideas for how shelters should handle cats, and this has helped greatly with the acceptance and rapid spread of those new ideas. Large mainstream national organizations can serve a similar function to consultants in making it palatable for local officials to implement No Kill ideas. By giving No Kill ideas their imprimatur, the large national organizations can take the weight of decision-making off the shoulders of local officials who may know little about sheltering.

In the past there has been some degree of mistrust and separation between No Kill and the large national organizations, HSUS and the ASPCA. Some elements of No Kill have viewed HSUS and the ASPCA as enemies of No Kill, and in the past there have been some pretty hard words said on both sides. To the extent that this was ever appropriate, it no longer is. Unfortunately, there is one exception to this new era of cooperation and respect between the large national organizations and No Kill, and that is PETA. PETA appears to still be stuck in a mode of implacable opposition to No Kill.

Another trend in No Kill in 2014 is that it is now big business. When I first started documenting No Kill communities about four years ago, the great majority of the communities I researched were small, and many of them were tiny. Today I don’t even bother trying to keep track of all the new small communities that are popping up with No Kill efforts, because I’m too busy trying to keep up with the bigger cities.

Along with the increasing diversity of No Kill leadership, we have had broad acceptance of some groundbreaking new ideas in 2014. These are brand new No Kill programs for how to reduce intake and increase live releases. One really important thing about these new programs is that they are user-friendly because they make a shelter’s job easier, not harder. For example, a program of leaving community cats in place or offering shelter-neuter-return can be easier than picking up stray cats, holding them for several days, and then killing them. And a managed admissions program makes a shelter’s workload easier to handle than random drop-offs.

Marketing has been a linchpin of No Kill for some time, but it continues to grow and change. 2014 was the year the mega-adoption event went mainstream, with many communities having one or more giant adoption events in venues that get a lot of foot traffic. Mega-adoption events are becoming community festivals that go far beyond the traditional shelter adoption special. They fit in very well with the idea that the local shelter should be an integral part of the community. Shelter marketing is spreading into more and more venues. A couple of the more striking new marketing ideas in 2014 were cut-outs of available pets lounging on sofas and chairs at furniture stores, and shelter pets being integrated into a traditional production of the Nutcracker.

One way to look at this explosion of new leaders and new ideas in 2014 is that it represents No Kill getting back to its roots. When No Kill was developing in the 1980s and 1990s, it was very creative and new leaders and new ideas were welcomed. Then No Kill went through a period of regimentation where many advocates believed that there was only one right way to get to No Kill, and any deviation from that one right way had to be summarily rejected and fiercely criticized. In 2014 it has become unmistakable that we are now in an era where once again new leaders and ideas are welcomed. That may be the most important takeaway from 2014.

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