The No Kill Advocacy Center has announced this year’s recipients of the Henry Bergh Leadership Award. The award, named after the founder of the first animal welfare organization in the United States, recognizes outstanding leadership in the quest to end the killing of healthy and treatable shelter pets. There are five recipients this year and I will be interviewing each of them—one per week for five weeks. Each has approached the problem of animal shelter reform from a different angle and so brings a different perspective to the issue at hand—how do we stop this needless killing?
Last week, I spoke with Robyn Kippenberger of the RNZSPCA about the quest to make new Zealand the first No Kill nation. This week, we hear from the leader of a grassroots volunteer effort a bit closer to home—Kelly Jedlicki of the Shelby County No Kill Mission in Kentucky.
Many people claim that No Kill communities can’t happen in the South, that it is impossible because of poverty or because Southerners have an antiquated attitude towards animals—that they just don’t care. But there are communities in the South disproving these claims on a daily basis. Charlottesville, Virginia has been No kill since 2005, and other communities in Virginia have followed suit or are well on their way to saving all healthy or treatable shelter pets. Usually, the way to a No Kill community has been led by an open-admission shelter in that community. In Shelby County, Kentucky, the way to No Kill has been led by a group of volunteers, which has implemented the programs of the No Kill Equation. The volunteers have done this on top of their ‘day jobs’, saving 90% or more of the animals coming to the shelter for two years now. It has been a tough road, but they have proved beyond a doubt that it can be done. If a group of volunteers could do this, then the shelters themselves can do it, and must do it.
Now, imagine if shelters implemented the No Kill Equation programs themselves, rather than relying on volunteers to do it all for them. Not only would they be successful, it wouldn't be nearly as hard. If volunteers can make a community No Kill, it can be done by a shelter that much more easily.
How did you become involved in animal welfare and the No Kill movement?
I volunteered and served on the Board of Directors of the Shelby County Humane Society, which is a no-kill limited admission rescue. I was getting inundated with the death row animal pleas, and in my role I was limited in what I could do. I couldn’t stand opening these ‘euthanasia impending’ emails and couldn’t understand why the same shelters were sending the same pleas week after week without any reprieve. I visited a few of the county-run shelters to get a better understanding of what was going on. I read Nathan Winograd’s book Redemption and it all made sense--there was a way to stop the killing.
What are some of your accomplishments from this past year that led to your being chosen for this honor?
The Shelby County No Kill Mission assisted the Shelby County Animal Shelter, which is an open-admission county-run shelter, in achieving its second year of no adoptable animal being [killed] for space and this included that no feral cats were killed for the second year!
The SCNKM hosted a one day conference with Nathan Winograd in hopes of spreading the No Kill Mission in this region. It was attended by over 200 people from seven states! It was amazing to see how many people want to make a change and save animals.
The SCNKM left the “umbrella” branch of the Humane Society and became its own entity. We incorporated at the beginning of 2010.
We co-hosted our first free cat spay-neuter clinic for the community and altered almost 140 animals at two sites. We are currently working on offering this to the community on a regular schedule.
The SCNKM started its own foster program and orchestrated or participated in many community events and adoption opportunities. More community involvement and engagement was seen as a direct result of these actions.
I received the Furball Volunteer of the Year Award from Pets Group United.
What was the smartest thing you did?
I read Nathan’s book and never accepted the status quo.
What would you do differently?
Mandate that the book be read by all shelter employees, volunteers and government officials. And if reading the book is not an option, then have the book on audio playing 24/7 in public places, government offices and on the radio
I wish that I had read the book and started the movement sooner so more animals could have been saved.
What was your biggest disappointment?
Not being able to save aggressive dogs.
What was your biggest success?
Playing a vital part in saving the lives of those that were discarded due to age, breed, and illness or injury, and saving all feral cats!
When did you realize you were succeeding?
For the first six to eight months, the thought crossed our minds that we were succeeding, but we were afraid and didn’t want to “jinx” anything so neither I nor the co-founder, James Collins, would say anything. When we were almost a month away from the one-year mark, the shelter filled up and people were not ‘pulling’ animals for rescue because they thought “our animals were safe” and they opted to save an animal from a high-kill shelter instead. With a greater, more intensive push and creative alternatives to move animals to safety and an enhanced involvement of the community, we made the year mark. It was truly a joyous day.
But it has not been smooth sailing since then. Unfortunately it has been a struggle every day since because people take it for granted that the animals are safe and many non-Shelby County animals have been abandoned with the assumption that they will be picked up and saved. Many rescues will ‘pull’ from other shelters because they assume “our animals are safe” and aren’t at risk.
What advice do you have for someone embarking on a similar venture?
Read the book. Engage the community and government officials for support and opportunities. The No Kill “club” is growing and these members are a valuable source of wisdom, guidance and a dose of “reality and practicality”. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Open communication is key!
And most importantly, never give up.
What does this award mean to you?
When I opened the award, I was overcome with emotion. I have never liked recognition. I prefer to be in the background doing the work. I am a behind-the-scenes person--a worker bee--and I never want to be in the limelight, so this award is somewhat overwhelming for me. I feel that I should share this award with all of the volunteers in the SCNKM who help the animals on a daily basis because it is truly a team effort!
What are your plans and goals for the future?
My goals would include more free spay-neuter clinics, as well as more help for pet owners who have suffered a loss and can’t afford to feed or provide medical care for their animals – i.e. food assistance and low-cost medical care programs.
Another future goal is the implementation of an education and training program that would provide basic care and training of animals to both prevent and address behavioral issues which could lead to the relinquishing of an animal.
My long-term goal would be to develop programs for hospice care and for aggressive or behaviorally-challenged animals that enter shelters.
What was the most difficult part of your accomplishment, your biggest challenge?
Actually more than one challenge has been and continues to be encountered:
- Getting people on board and to “buy in to the program”. Getting people to welcome and embrace change.
- The ongoing excuses that “we are a county shelter” and “this is all that is required” by the law and job description.
- Not looking outside of the box for creative alternatives--the “this is the way it has been done” rationalization.
- The misconception that the animals are safe and therefore do not need rescuing.
- As long as the shelter is a county-run shelter and there are no laws mandating No Kill for the shelter, the potential for [killing] exists and our fight for no-kill continues.
- There is the ongoing challenge of remaining No Kill due to the fear of future political or government and staff changes and the inability to have the final “say” on animals.
What was the most surprising thing you learned along the way?
If you give, you will receive. Give people a chance --not all people are bad and if you live in the fear of the small minority that are, opportunities to save animals will be missed.
Is there something outside of animal welfare that informs your work and advocacy?
I am a pediatric nurse practitioner with years of expertise in critical care, surgery and anesthesia. I have always gravitated towards the special-needs kids and this “overflows” into my work in the animal community.
Tell us a bit about the Shelby County No Kill mission. How did it come about?
Shelby County has about 40,000 residents. The shelter is rather isolated in a rural community--off of the ‘beaten path’. The shelter takes in over 2100 animals a year. This includes dogs, cats, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, horses, birds, donkeys and pigs. At the present, there are two full-time paid employees.
The SCNKM was formally started in August 2008 by James Collins, Shelby County Animal Control Officer, and me.
It began with Tyson, a pit-hound mix that had an approved adoption in the East coast. The dog was not altered and we needed to get him altered prior to sending him on transport. People were willing to donate money to help Tyson but the shelter is not a 501(c)(3) nor are they set up to accept donations and provide vetting.
At the time, I was a Board member of the SCHS. James and I came up with the idea of starting the NKM “under the umbrella” of SCHS. Barbara Zekauksy, the Director of SCHS who is a Nathan Winograd and No Kill Mission supporter welcomed the idea and the NKM was formed. Rusty Newton, who is the acting animal control director was approached with the idea and he too welcomed this wonderful opportunity for the animals at the shelter. The NKM was established to help provide vetting and medical care for all adoptable animals at the shelter.
After 16 months, the decision to make the NKM a separate entity was made. In Jan 2010, No Kill Mission became Shelby County No Kill Mission of Kentucky, Inc.
The SCNKM provides all cat vaccinations, all FeLV and heartworm testing as well as all medical care, surgeries and medications for the animals at the shelter. We run a spay-neuter clinic for the animals at the shelter as well as for the Trap-Neuter-Return programs, and for rescue groups. In the last year, we provided over 1000 spay-neuter surgeries. We also provided life saving surgeries or medical treatments to over two dozen animals as well as provided heartworm and parvo treatment for 8 dogs.
We help provide food, l-lysine supplements for the cats and joint supplements for the senior arthritic animals, as well as leashes, collars and crates for the animals.
All of this is done through donations and volunteers! We are always in need of funds (hint hint).
What do you have to say to those who claim that No Kill cannot be achieved in the South?
It can be done but all programs of the No Kill Equation have to be followed. Not doing so is comparable to trying to make an edible cake but eliminating an ingredient like flour.
Animals have to be adopted, rescued or reclaimed but they also have to be prevented from entering the shelter through education, spay-neuter programs, TNR programs, food assistance, and military deployment programs for pets – just to name a few. An active foster program as well as weekly adoption events and community support are keys to saving animals.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It can be done. For those who say, “I’ve read the book but it can’t be done here” or who cite excuses or reasons why this is not reality already in their community: stop wasting this time refusing to acknowledge the fact that it has worked and can work. This time could have been spent taking pictures of a shelter animal and posting it on the web.
Shelby County and its animals were “lucky” as it did happen quickly--quicker than what was expected.
One has to keep the faith and turn negative energy and anger into something positive for the animals. It is a team effort!
Thank you to all of my Board of Directors – Amanda Fowler-Brown, DVM, Stephanie Pollett, DVM, Shelia Collins, Robin Kenyon, Louis Philpott, Denise Jones and Richele Wilson who are the reason this mission succeeds! We are a small volunteer based group but a very dedicated compassionate group. These animals are truly blessed to have this group behind them.
A big Thanks to James Collins who co-founded the mission and was my “right hand” for many months and to Barb Zekausky for embracing this No Kill Mission program.
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