It’s the “Can Do” Within Us that Will Save Lives
May 11, 2010 by Nathan J. Winograd
At their annual animal shelter conference, I sat listening to the welcome address by the President of the nation’s largest humane organization. He said that ending the killing of savable animals was within reach across the country, called upon all shelters to commit themselves to doing so, and he gave them the prescription to do it: the programs and services of the No Kill Equation.
“Our first step,” he said, “must be a commitment and an acceptance of the philosophy that saving lives is totally achievable. With that in place, the second step is to implement an infrastructure with each and every individual SPCA to achieve just that… The infrastructure involves ten initiatives, and the ultimate success of the program depends on the implementation of each and every of missions contained therein… by resolve and the rigorous implementation of the full program.”
He called it “Saving Lives,” a campaign to achieve a No Kill nation. He didn’t use the term “No Kill,” that wasn’t their language, but what did it matter. The underlying philosophy was the same: “Every life is precious” he said and for the animals, it was the job of the humane movement “to promote and protect their right to life and happiness.”
I heard him dismiss the different excuses: “Ringworm is not a reason to kill animals,” respiratory infection “is not a reason to kill cats,” claims of lacking space “should never be an excuse.” He described these as “cases where extra effort is made to save their lives whereas in the past death would have been the easier choice.” He called upon shelters to “steadfastly ensure that the ingredients of the Saving Lives philosophy are embraced and executed in their entirety in the honest belief that ‘we can do it!’” He was unapologetic, emphatic, and without ambiguity: “We can adopt our way out of killing,” he stated. And “we will.”
He then presented different shelter managers who had embraced this effort so that they could speak about their experiences: Like the one who came into an open admission facility with a 65% rate of killing and reduced it to under 4% in one year. And another who took over a shelter once described as “hopelessly overcrowded” but now has a 97% save rate. And still another that has seen enforcement decline 70% after going from a punitive philosophy to one that makes it easy for people to do the right thing, through a series of community based incentives such as free and low-cost spay/neuter. It was like a dream.
Up is down, down is up
But it was not Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States at the podium. It was not Ed Sayres of the ASPCA. The shelters with better than 90% save rates were not in cities with names like Charlottesville, Reno, or Tompkins County. Instead, they were in cities called Wellington, Waiheke, and Waihi. I was over 6,000 miles from the U.S., in New Zealand. The speaker was Bob Kerridge representing the Royal New Zealand SPCA, the national organization that oversees all SPCAs in the country. And he was providing that which Pacelle and Sayres, staunch proponents of shelter killing in this country, have proven themselves incapable of: leadership.