This is the first of a three-part series examining reasonable and practical efforts to turn your community into a No-Kill safe haven for companion animals. This is not a How-To manual. It is meant to suggest methods that can be put in place, either in part or in its entirety and, in most cases utilizing existing resources, that will help move you towards becoming a No-Kill community. If nothing else, it can help you start or further the conversation.
A lot has been written about the No-Kill movement and several resources are listed at the end of the article. However, only you know your community and the specific challenges you will face and the personalities and attitudes that will present obstacles to your goal. Use the information in these articles as a place to start and see where the path leads you. It will be difficult, challenging and frustrating but, the goal is worth every unit of time and effort. Besides, nobody said it would be easy.
You are invited, in fact urged, to add your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section that follows this article. Your voice is important. It is the voice of those countless animals whose lives must not be wasted.
It’s a dream, if not a goal, possessed by everyone involved with animal rescue. For most, however, it remains a dream because of the daunting nature of the task. Yet, becoming a No-Kill community is doable and within reach, once the community accepts that it will take a commitment of time and energy and the results won’t be achieved overnight.
Like any important task in our lives, becoming a No-Kill community takes people with the desire, focus and determination to fuel a relentless pursuit of the goal; except, in this case, it is not our lives that concern us. It’s the lives of those hundreds of companion animals in our community each year whose lives are cut short because there never seems to be enough good homes available to take them in. It can be one person or an army of like-minded individuals with a shared vision and with a willingness to work towards changing the minds and attitudes that prevent that vision from becoming a reality.
Becoming a No-Kill community is a large task and, like any large task, project or problem, it helps to break it down into more manageable parts. In the case of becoming a No-Kill community, the logical parts would be education, shelters and regulations. We’ll start at the beginning.
Becoming a No-Kill community begins with education, because this is the only practical means of breaking the cycle of myth and mis-information that gets handed down from one generation to another. Whether it’s the idea that a female should bear a litter before spaying, it’s cruel to neuter a male, there’s something wrong with shelter animals, or pets are “property”, the problems of pet homelessness and overpopulation won’t be solved by simply preaching spay-neuter-adopt. Only by providing reasonable, credible and supportable information about the causes of overpopulation and homelessness, are communities able to change perceptions and beliefs about pets that many people still hold onto.
While continuing to preach the spay-neuter-adopt gospel at every opportunity is important, the most effective means of changing minds should occur within the school systems. Every major shelter, rescue or collaboration, as in the Lakeshore Pet Alliance, should have one person whose primary responsibility is to engage the local schools. Their efforts should be towards conducting programs that teach our youth about being responsible pet “parents” and care-givers. They can conduct field trips to local shelters and pet sanctuaries. They can teach the causes and solutions as they relate to pet overpopulation, neglect, abuse and homelessness.
They can guide kids in finding ways to get involved in helping their community become No-Kill by, for example, forming a Kid’s Club in their school or classroom. Such a club could conduct a “virtual adoption” of a specific shelter pet. The club could do fund-raisers, crafts and other useful activities that would provide a special level of care for their club pet, until it finds its forever home.
These programs should include teaching kids how to recognize signs of neglect and helping them become sensitive to abuse and mistreatment of pets, whether it be by adults or other schoolchildren, and where to report it.
Other important areas of focus would be showing the evil results of puppy-mills and dog-fighting, where a little shock therapy can go a long way towards thwarting the possibility of perpetuating those particular stains on our communities.
Kids should also be taught issues of safety around animals, both for their sake and for the sake of the animals. Teaching the proper way to approach or avoid a strange dog, or the appropriate ways to pick up a puppy or kitten are but the tip of the topic iceberg. Kids can also be taught the basics of dog training and using positive reinforcement as effective alternatives to the rolled-up newspaper method some adults still prefer.
Adults have a natural tendency towards shielding children from the stark realities of the world in which they live. Yet, understanding how their actions affect that reality is key to helping kids become well-rounded, functional adults. Educating children about the intrinsic value of companion animals as valued family members, and the responsibilities and lifelong commitment that are incumbent upon anyone who chooses to bring a pet into their home, will be a big step towards changing the cycle of life and death in shelters and move the community forward along the road of becoming No-Kill.
Kids can learn these concepts, even if their parents have yet to.
In addition to collaboration with the primary school systems, there are also opportunities to work with secondary and higher education systems. Internships and community service activities can expose students to new career opportunities in animal welfare and a sense of “giving back” to the community. It will also engage these “leaders of tomorrow” and make them more aware of the societal impact of neglect, cruelty and abandonment of companion animals.
Changing minds, one at a time, is still measurable progress.
Where available, some shelters have collaborated with local colleges and universities to provide real-world settings for pre-veterinarian and veterinary school students. Not only does this benefit the students but, it helps relieve budgetary pressures on the shelter. Whether it’s basic examinations, inoculations or primary treatment under the guidance of a licensed veterinarian, the schools, students and shelter can achieve better results at a lower cost. This, in turn, makes for happier, healthier and more adoptable animals.
Whether or not these students go on to fulfilling their dream of becoming animal healthcare professionals, they will have earned a greater appreciation for the sanctity of all life and be valuable proponents for the goal of becoming a No-Kill community.
Engaging and educating our youth about pets are key steps towards becoming a No-Kill community because this is how minds are changed, ideas are born and progress is stimulated. Waiting until they become adults, when bias has formed, misconceptions have hardened and minds are set, makes the task of re-educating progressively more difficult.
It is never too early to begin because, education is the tool with which we combat the ignorance, apathy, indifference and insensitivity that leads to the deaths of so many who did nothing wrong.
There will always be those who’ll throw up their hands in despair and say, “It’s pointless. Nothing will change.” Then there are those who’ll make a half-hearted, token effort and, when they do not see immediate results, will say, “See? I told you so.”
To those who do not have the will or the vision to pursue becoming a No-Kill community, remember the words of former Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee Iaccoca: “Lead. Follow. Or, Get out of the way.”
In our next installment, we’ll look at the role shelters and rescues play in becoming No-Kill communities.
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