Saturday, February 23, 2013

No Kill is Love.

"We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart." - Martin Luther King, 1963

Ryan Clinton speaks about political advocacy. 
Ryan Clinton, a lawyer and animal welfare advocate ended his first seminar of the day at the American Pets Alive No Kill Conference with the above quote. As the words resonated through the room, I could almost feel the excitement of so many animal friendly individuals, some are new to the No Kill Movement, some I have seen many times over the last four years. One thing we all have in common, however, is our love for companion animals and our desire to see an end to shelter killing. 

The day started out as most conferences do, a room filled with individuals and a blank projector screen in front. However, this conference differs from most in that when it ends on Monday, the 160 individuals that came from all corners of the country to hear these speakers will leave. When they leave, each of these people will be taking with them knowledge that can save lives. They will be setting goals and recruiting volunteers to help them reach higher than they have before. They will begin to implement programs within their own communities that will literally save lives. 

In 2010, I attended my first of these conferences. You can scroll back to one of my very first blog posts where I wrote about the No Kill Conference then. Austin was, at the time, not yet a no-kill city. In fact,  at the conference in 2010, Austin's city council had only mandated No Kill programs a few months prior. Town Lake Animal Center, TLAC (as it was known at the time, the shelter has since been moved and renamed Austin Animal Center) sadly until 2008 had a pathetic 50% save rate for all pets entering the shelter, a pathetic number that is (also sadly) common across the country.

Today, Austin holds a 90%+ save rate for all pets entering the city shelter - a number that is rivaled by the nearby Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter. This number is by no means an accident. Two key individuals, Ryan Clinton and Dr. Ellen Jefferson (Executive Director of Austin Pets Alive - APA) joined forces to implement changes to our city. By setting very specific goals, both long-term and short, this duo was able to start reducing the kill rate at TLAC. 

The ultimate goal "Make Austin a No Kill City" was of course the main focus. Of course a goal of this magnitude is huge and overwhelming, which is where the smaller, short term goals came in. After researching the animals that were being killed, it was noticed that animals were bring killed in groups; puppies and kittens that were too young/sick when they entered the shelter, animals with behavioral issues, sick animals, etc. After looking at these statistics, Dr. Jefferson made the decision that she was going to save every puppy that entered the shelter. 

So, what did she do? Well, she saved every puppy that entered the shelter. Since she made that decision in 2008, every puppy entering our city shelter has been saved.

It was Ryan Clinton who shared a sweet story of the first of these puppies. S
hortly after the decision had been made that APA would save all puppies entering the shelter, Town Lake Animal Center had posted it's nightly 'euthanasia' list . A litter of little red puppies was slated to be killed the following morning, so Ellen had scooped them up. Austin Pets Alive was new to the scene, but decided to set up an off-site adoption space in hopes of finding this litter homes. The next day, Ellen and Ryan found a location less than 1 mile from the city shelter to set up their off-site adoptions. By the end of the day, each of these red puppies that the shelter claimed would not be able to be adopted had gone home.

Using this tactic, in only 3 months, Austin Pets Alive, Ellen and Ryan had reduced the city shelter killing by 9%. Today, with the joined efforts of the entire Austin community, the Austin Animal Center has a save rate 90% or more each month. 

This story is one of 18,000 stories that Austin Pets Alive could share. Since that litter of red puppies, Austin Pets Alive has saved the lives of 18,000 animals, nearly all of which have been pulled from shelters that otherwise would have killed them.

Had Town Lake Animal Center been willing to set up off-site adoptions at the time, could they have saved the little red litter? Absolutely. Had the shelter implemented programs to save more lives, could they have improved the sad 50% live outcome rate? Absolutely.

Ending shelter killing starts with the shelter. Sadly, before 2010, when the City Council mandated No Kill, the shelter had no goals. Our shelter director at the time had no vision, no compassion for the 12,000+ animals that left the shelter in bags. The shelter didn't hesitate killing animals even when anywhere from 50 - 100 cages sat empty. The shelter didn't want to bring in a foster program out of fear of the public and 'liability issues'. The shelter continually blamed everyone else but themselves for the killing. Yet, when change was mandated, and that original shelter director was moved out of her position and replaced with a compassionate director, things suddenly changed.

No Kill was no accident. It was an effective implementation of programs that had proven successful in other communities.

Austin is currently the largest No Kill City in America. Are we special? Yes and No. No, we aren't special in how we run, Austin is a city just as any other. We have our strengths and our weaknesses. We have those that love animals and we have others that hate them. We are not the 'exception' when it comes to getting things done, because any city can become a No Kill City. However, we are special in the fact that we have already done it. We are special in the fact that we can share our mistakes and that we can be a guide for those that want to make change in their own cities. We are special in the fact that we have people like Ryan and Ellen who are eager to host conferences like this one and share their successes (and failures) with us. 

My favorite quote from today was simply this: "No Kill is Love." 

Share the love. Save a life. 

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist

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