Tuesday, August 5, 2014

No Kill is Love... and so much more!

Saying hello to Nathan as we
arrived for the screening!
This weekend was full of great pet-related fun. The Austin Pet Expo on Saturday was a blast, but the true highlight of my weekend was catching up with my friend and leader of the No Kill movement, Nathan Winograd at the Austin screening of his new documentary, Redemption. 

For those of you that may be unfamiliar with the concept of what true No Kill really is, I encourage you to take a few minutes to visit the No Kill Advocacy Center's website to learn a little more and do some research of your own. I was first introduced to the concept of No Kill in 2008, just a few years after we moved to Austin. Like all individuals that have been involved in animal welfare, this idea intrigued me and it wasn't long before I reached out and met some of the leaders of the Austin animal welfare world. I attended my first No Kill Conference in 2010, where Nathan Winograd was scheduled to speak. Unfortunately, the night before the conference, he lost his beloved dog, Top Top and was unable to make the conference (of course, everyone in attendance was more than sympathetic). Missing Nathan, however, allowed Austin to get a little more insight and spend a few more minutes listening to our Austin officials and animal advocates speak about our progress and ways that our community could truly end the killing.

Before No Kill was introduced to our city council (and yes, it was initially met with resistance from the majority of the council members) Austin was killing around 60% of all animals that entered our city shelter (at the time called Town Lake Animal Center). With the support of one council member, Mike Martinez, information regarding No Kill finally started reaching the individuals that were able to make the needed changes within our city shelter. On March 11, 2010, the city council unanimously passed a plan to work with the Animal Advisory Commission and implemented the necessary programs to become a No Kill City. Within a year, Austin had achieved No Kill status and officially became the largest No Kill City in America, saving over 90% of the animals entering our shelter system*. 

Dropping off donations at Austin
Pets Alive for their annual No Kill
Conference earlier this year.
Another amazing leader in the Austin No Kill efforts is Ellen Jefferson. She may be soft spoken, but she is a woman that understands what it means to fight for a cause. While Mike Martinez was working hard within the government, Ellen and her team with Austin Pets Alive were literally saving lives one at a time by rescuing puppies from the kill list at Town Lake Animal Center and putting them up for adoption. Austin Pets Alive started as a small group of foster families and has now grown to an organization that has saved over 25,000 animals and raised awareness for Austin's homeless pets to a national level. In 2012, Austin City Council passed a motion to allow Austin Pets Alive to operate out of the Town Lake Animal Center facility. Just months before APA took over the older facility, Austin Animal Center, a new beautiful city shelter, had opened it's doors. These two organizations are now the staple of our city's efforts to save the pets that are unfortunate enough (or should I say fortunate enough because we save them!) to enter the shelter system. 

I am always struck at how anyone can look at Austin's progress and think that No Kill doesn't work. This weekend, however, at the Redemption Screening, I was reminded that I live in a bubble of success. I live in the midst of those life-saving efforts. My friends are all pet-loving rescue fanatics that are just as invested in saving lives as much, if not more, than I am. There is a whole nation of individuals who may not yet know about No Kill or who don't truly understand it, which is why I am thrilled to see Redemption making it's way across the country!

Mugsy, a pup pulled from the
Austin City Shelter and saved by
Austin Pets Alive.
One city in particular that the documentary focused on was San Francisco. Ironically, San Francisco may be my favorite place to visit, yet the city has failed those that I love the most, their pets. San Francisco was the first No Kill city in America and for nearly 20 years, the city was the safest place in America for homeless pets. Unfortunately, San Francisco no longer upholds those same standards and has taken a drastic fall from leader in the No Kill movement to an example for those that oppose No Kill programs. 

While San Francisco may not be the model city that it once was, their many years of success proved that with work, No Kill is more than an idea and now hundreds of cities and counties in America are now saving 90% or more of their homeless pets. 

After the documentary, we were lucky enough to have a Q & A session with an amazing panel of No Kill leaders, including Nathan Winograd, Ryan Clinton, Ellen Jefferson, Mike Martinez and Larry Tucker.

Mike Martinez, the next Mayor of Austin as we lovingly refer to him (and he is in the running, so if you are an Austin local, be sure to vote for an inspirational, pet loving, former firefighter) began the discussion with a simple statement: "It wasn't easy, but no matter who you are or where you are from, it [No Kill] can be done!"
Nathan Winograd, Mike Martinez, Larry Tucker,
Ellen Jefferson & Ryan Clinton take the stage for a
Q & A after the screening of Redemption.
After a quiet start (as with all big rooms of individuals that are invited to ask questions) the questions started rolling in. A few of those questions really stood out to me and I think the issues that the general audience (a.k.a. the community of individuals that are working to make changes within their own municipalities) brought up are important and reflect the concerns that most individuals have as they start their own efforts to make changes. 

A citizen of the small town of New Braunfels, Tx, bravely stood up to ask about influencing her shelter director to give insight into those animals that are at risk of being killed. Her personal efforts with her new local organization, No Kill New Braunfels, had not proved effective and her concerns for the animals were growing. Happily, Ryan Clinton was present and if there is anyone that has advice regarding influencing a government, it is Ryan. When Austin's No Kill efforts first began, Ryan (a lawyer by day, animal rescuer by night - or evening?) was a voice to the government and regularly attended council meetings to express his concerns, ideas and was a 'behind the scenes' (his words) leader in Austin. His advice, although he admits there is no truly easy answer, is to get the public involved in creative ways. When Austin Pets Alive first began, they took large ads out in local newspapers and magazines. APA encouraged the community members to speak at city council meetings and voice their concerns. He gave a reminder that the public is what influences the government and for changes to be made at the shelter, going over the shelter director to the community leaders is a very effective way of bringing about those changes. Having others beside you expressing the same concerns will bring about even more change. As Ryan finished his response, Mike Martinez quickly jumped in and offered to personally call the New Braunfels officials to offer his insight, to which the entire audience applauded. 

Sherman, another silly pooch
rescued by Austin Pets Alive.
On the topic of government, another audience member directed a question to Mike Martinez and Larry Tucker (of the Austin Animal Advisory Commission), "Regarding making those changes within the shelter, should we focus on changing minds or just getting rid of the shelter director/leaders altogether." Larry offered his insight and noted that the city of Austin, while we did eventually fire the former shelter director and hire our current, No Kill supporting director, Abigail Smith, they also focused on simple changes. Some of these changes included a rewrite of the Animal Control's mission statement, another was changing the term 'Animal Control' to 'Animal Care'. Simple changes made a huge difference and were easier to implement within the government because they were no or low-cost to the city. Mike offered his experience as a council member and shared some of the changes he personally worked to influence, such as closing the night drop box at the shelter. Despite concerns from the council that the city would soon start seeing more stray animals, the council agreed and the shelter is better because of it. Mike also shared that he offered to take the blame if certain changes didn't work, which seemed to be a relief to other council members, and opened the discussion up regarding animal issues. Within the council, Mike stopped taking 'No' for an answer and pressed harder for those issues that were truly important for the animals within the Austin shelter system and because of his perseverance, those animals now have laws and policies in place to keep them protected.

As the panel discussion ended, Nathan Winograd left us with a simple, but thought-provoking statement; "Take heart in your city and use San Francisco as an example. Don't ever forget that you are the voice for your government and they should reflect your values as a community." 

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist

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A huge Thank You to Nathan Winograd for all of the amazing work and efforts he has put not only into raising awareness for shelter pets but for offering resources to end the killing. Together, we really can become a No Kill Nation - even better, a No Kill World.

For those of you that were unable to attend the screening, you can see more info on the Redemption documentary and find a screening near you right here: Redemption Screenings!

Or, if there is not a screening near you, I highly recommend purchasing Nathan's book, Redemption. The book offers even more insight into the sheltering system and is a wonderful tool to use in your own fight to end the killing: Buy Redemption!

*I believe it is worth noting that another question came from an audience member regarding the 90% rule. She asked if "that number should be modified as our knowledge of animal behavior and our progress as a No Kill city moves forward." Nathan stated that he wished he had "put it into place as a guideline rather than a goal" because of course we should always strive to do better for those animals that are in the last 10%, even going as far as suggesting solutions such as sanctuaries for dogs with behavior issues that may take longer to rehabilitate than a shelter can provide.