There are shelters in need of reform all around our country – that is, shelters that do not reflect the values of the vast majority of people who oppose the needless killing of pets and support the rights of shelter pets to be cared for compassionately. And there are cities and counties all over the country where individuals and groups of concerned citizens want to reform their local shelters. Some have been at it a long time and have already achieved great success. Others are just starting out and wondering what to do next. In collaboration with Nathan Winograd, I wanted to provide a suggested road map to reform for advocates who want to bring change to their local animal shelters.
Step One: Establish a Group
It doesn’t matter if you are a group of one at the outset – get organized. Choose a name that reflects your group’s purpose, e.g. Fix Pueblo. Set up a professional looking Facebook page, website and e-mail account for the group. Invite people to join. Write up a brief (less than one page) press release announcing the formation of the group.
Determine where each person in the group can be most effective. For example, your group will need someone who can address lawmakers in a professional and concise manner and someone with good written communication skills for writing press releases.
Keep in mind that anytime you speak for your group – whether online, via paper communication or in public – you are making an impression. Make that impression positive and respectable. Professional or business casual attire is important as is an adherence to the rules of netiquette while representing your group online. Get some professional looking letterhead made and use it for all your paper correspondence. If you have personal issues with people at the shelters you are aiming to reform, leave those in the past. Direct your focus toward reform efforts.
Step Two: Take Action
Once you have the nuts and bolts in place, develop a plan of action. Gather your documentation regarding items needing reform at your shelters. These may include shelter statistics, newspaper articles, and statements/photographs from whistleblowers. Condense this information to a one page summary to accompany the complete package. Contact the media. Investigate the proper procedure for getting your name added to the list of speakers at the next city or county council meeting. Request a hearing on shelter reform.
Bear in mind, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Learn from others so you can emulate their successes and avoid their failures. Groups like Fix Austin have succeeded in getting shelter reform legislation passed, removing the regressive director, and orienting their communities toward compassion and lifesaving. They’ve also created a website with resources for others. Visit www.fixunitedstates.org
Compare and contrast. Are there communities doing a better job? Let the media and public officials know. Reno, NV, for example, takes in roughly 35 animals for every 1,000 human residents. That is over twice the national average. Last year, they saved 91% of all animals. How does your community measure up? Marquette, MI, went from a 64% rate of killing to a 7% rate in one year. Is your community suggesting it will take five or ten years? Is your local opposition to no kill claiming that “it could never work here” because our situation is unique and the people who live here are too irresponsible?
Be comprehensive. You want to save lives. You want to make sure animals are provided quality care. That is why you do what you do. But public officials will have broader interests. Be prepared to address fiscal issues, public health and safety, and liability. Check out the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Reforming Animal Control page for how to respond effectively.
Nothing succeeds like success. You want the shelter to stop killing? You want them to provide quality care? Don’t get sidetracked with failed models like mandatory spay/neuter, pet limit laws, and other punitive schemes to punish the public. Focus on changing how the shelter operates. How did Tompkins County, Charlottesville, Reno, Marquette, and increasingly other communities such as Austin turn their shelters around? The programs and services of the No Kill Equation.
Significant contributions to this post made by Nathan Winograd. Thank you!