This is the second of a three-part series examining practical and reasonable approaches to becoming a No-Kill community. The first part looked at ways education can be used to build a foundation of empathy and sensitivity towards companion animals and how proper knowledge can help them lead long, happy, healthy lives rather than dieing needlessly, alone and unwanted, in a shelter.
In this part, we’ll look at the crucial role that shelters can play in moving a community toward becoming No-Kill.
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The road to becoming a No-Kill community is paved with the sweat and tears of shelter workers. They are the ones who do the hard work of saving, caring for and finding homes for the community’s abandoned, abused and unwanted animals.
There are some who want to lay to blame for the relentless killing of animals squarely at the feet of shelter directors. It’s difficult to agree with that line of thinking.
To be sure, there’ll always be those shelter directors who will abuse their power, and there will be those who cling to the status quo because it’s all they know. There will also be those who are simply afraid to try a different approach. But, shelter directors who fit those descriptions are in the minority. The vast majority of shelter directors take no pleasure in ending the life of an otherwise adoptable animal. They simply face too many roadblocks and obstacles to overcome.
There are some shelters that already claim a no-kill status. However, in many cases, those are shelters that are “limited admission”. You’ll rarely find a pit bull, rottweiler, doberman or other “bully breed” at one of those shelters. If you were to try and surrender one of those breeds to a limited admission shelter, you’d be politely directed down the road to that other place, where humane euthanasia is employed to maintain a stable population of sheltered animals.
This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with a limited-admission shelter adhering to a no-kill policy. As far as it goes, that is to be admired. However, unless it is “open admission” meaning they take all animals, or operate in a no-kill community, then no one is innocent. Everyone bears some responsibility for the parade of deaths that occur every week.
There are some who claim that humane euthanasia is preferable to animals being left to fend for themselves. It is also preferable to animals being warehoused at shelters for the remainder of their lifetime. However, those claims ignore the intent of the no-kill philosophy. The ultimate aim of no-kill is that there no longer be animals living and dying in shelters -- each and every animal born will ultimately find its way into a home.
One thing that could change fairly rapidly is the century-old model of a shelter as a glorified pet store, with animals on display for “shoppers”, or as an animal warehouse. The shelter facility could become a temporary holding place for strays and owner-surrenders, where the time would be spent evaluating the animal both behaviorally and medically, then determining the appropriate foster home where the animal will live until adopted.
This “holding period” would also serve to provide time for the animal’s owner to reclaim the pet, in stray animal situations.
Obviously, this new model calls for each shelter to develop a robust and responsive network of foster homes and rescue organizations. Many shelters and rescues already make extensive use of foster homes. However, in order to become a no-kill community, the practice must be expanded and become the principle method of housing homeless animals.
For two reasons:
One, a foster home network can expand and retract to fit the ebb and flow of unwanted animals.
Two, companion animals are not suited to a shelter environment. They are meant to be in homes with people. There they can get the attention, exercise and training needed for them to become or remain adoptable.
Will becoming a No-Kill community eventually make shelters unnecessary? Unfortunately, no. There will always be circumstances that will result in a companion animal needing a new home. Job loss, home loss, natural disasters, illness and death can leave even the most-loved pet without a home. Shelters will always be needed to fill that gap between what was and what will be.
Shelters can use their capabilities to reach and serve members of the population who, due to lifestyle, job, housing or economics, are not able to have a pet. Shelters can offer alternatives to traditional adoption such as virtual adoptions, sponsorship and “pro tempore” adoptions. Shelters could use their available space to allow people to help an animal in need, without the demands and responsibilities of ownership.
Plus, the sad reality is that there will always be a segment of our society that will plague the rest with its actions. Criminal activity, abuse and neglect will continue to leave behind messes for the rest of us to clean up and broken lives to be put back together again. This is just as true for pets as it is for humans and where shelters will continue to play a valuable role, because shelters and their foster home networks will be the safe havens for companion animals until the right home is found.
Because shelters interact with the public in a variety of situations and venues, from fund-raising events, adoption events all the way to the ubiquitous “owner surrender”, shelter staff must understand their role as educators. In addition to the more formal education process discussed in part one of this series, there is an on-going need to find “teaching moments” in every encounter with pet owners and, especially, soon-to-be pet owners.
And, it’s not just a matter of a series of do’s and don’ts. Explanations and reasons must be given so that there’s a thorough understanding of the knowledge and experience that has led to “why an animal needs appropriate containment” or “why a vet reference is needed” or “why an animal that’s dedicated its life to a family should stay with that family until the end”, and so on.
Shelters must also participate with, contribute to and religiously reference whatever Do Not Adopt database is in use in their area of operation.
Without question, every animal that leaves the shelter must be spayed or neutered and microchipped.
Because of their unique position in the community, shelters are the bridge between those animals that need a home and those people looking for a family or personal pet. That means shelters are as much a people “business” as they are an animal “business”. Professionalism, people skills, leadership, use of best practices and customer service will lend credibility and weight to the organization’s mission and purpose. Gone are the days where the public can be treated with contempt and disdain, especially those who come to the shelter looking for an animal to join their family.
Because, the very fact they have come to the shelter demonstrates that they believe in adoption as the best option. They are on the side of those who envision their community becoming No-Kill.
This becomes even more important when you have situations when an interested adopter is denied for one valid reason or another. In many cases, this can be used as a teaching moment for the shelter staff. Instead of a phone call or sending an impersonal letter or email announcing the denial, empathize with the disappointment and invite the applicant back to the shelter to explain the reasons for the decision and to develop a plan that will result in them becoming an accepted applicant. Too many times someone is denied an adoption and made to feel unworthy of a shelter animal leading them to become less likely to ever consider adoption again.
The end result? Those people often turn to a backyard breeder or a puppy mill to fulfill their desire for a pet and, in this way, shelters are often contributing to the same problems they want to solve.
These can also be situations where having alternative adoption programs, as mentioned above, can help salvage a situation to the benefit of the shelter, the adopter and, of course, the animal.
It is imperative that shelters use every opportunity to build those relationships throughout the community that will help create the momentum necessary to become part of a No-Kill community. Customer-friend open hours, attractive web sites and Petfinder listings, extensive use of adoption events, where the animals are taken to where the people are, are but a handful of the many ways that shelters will continue to play a central role in moving towards becoming a No-Kill community.
In the end, in order to succeed at becoming a No-Kill community, it will take the leadership and determination of everyone associated with the community’s shelters. That success will be based on their efforts in educating and providing education resources to schools and the public in general. Success will come through abandoning the old paradigm of shelter purpose and continuing to build bridges between the public and those animals whose well-being and future are dependent.
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