Huntsville and Huntsville Animal Services have come a long way.
When No Kill philosophies were first shared with city officials in November of 2008, the Live Release Rate at our municipal animal shelter was 25%. Three out of every four animals entering the building were destroyed. When we formed our coalition in January of 2012 and began our research phase, the rate had risen to 34%. Some progress had been made, but it was incredibly slow and thousands of animals continued to die each year. When we took our topic to the public in the summer of 2013, the rate had risen to 41% and by the end of that year it had reached 47%. Again, progress had been made but it was slow. More than half of the animals entering the shelter building continued to be destroyed not because anything was wrong with them, but because that was just what had been done for so long. Those who lead the shelter felt they were doing the best they could with limited resources, felt they were doing a great job and were happy with the progress which had been made in a few short years.
We, as a coalition, have always sought one thing: for the destruction of healthy and treatable animals in the shelter to end. We have always promoted the No Kill Equation to achieve that goal because it has been proven to work everywhere it has been fully embraced. Some elements of the Equation serve to keep animals from entering the shelter at all. Some serve to move animals through the system quickly if they do end up in the shelter. Some elements serve both purposes. The genius of the No Kill Equation is that it is a DIY type solution to changing how an animal shelter operates. It is very important to learn what has worked well (and what has failed) in other communities, but the No Kill Equation can be examined element by element and then implemented using the resources available in any community. When we first began interacting with the newly appointed City Administrator, John Hamilton, about our No Kill purpose and vision, he said, "you had me at hello." He listened to our input about use of the Equation and even took the elements of the Equation to create his own diagram which looks similar to the Parthenon in Greece. It did not matter that he viewed the elements in different ways. What mattered is that he understood how they worked together and still does to this day.
The City of Huntsville and Huntsville Animal Services is about to mark a milestone and we think it is incredibly important to share it not only with the people who live and work in Huntsville, but with those across the country who have watched our progress and who may look to our community for guidance.
No healthy and treatable animals have been destroyed in our municipal shelter strictly for space since September of 2014. That means that it has been almost 3 full years since the city engaged in population control killing.
We have written before about issues with dogs being described as aggressive and then destroyed for public safety purposes. We fully realize that dogs who may be dangerous to people cannot be adopted out into the community and risk having someone injured or, worse yet, killed by a dog. We believe that for a period of time following September of 2014, some dogs were destroyed after either having been labeled as aggressive (when they were simply scared or traumatized) or after having deteriorated behaviorally from being in the shelter too long. Having said that, we know that the shelter leadership has taken steps to better evaluate dogs in the shelter environment (by having staff and volunteers trained by subject matter experts). We also know that the shelter leadership has developed enrichment programs for dogs to prevent them from deteriorating while in the shelter environment. We have also seen social media posts which clearly state that a certain dog is not doing well in the shelter as a means to market that dog more aggressively to get him or her out of the shelter in order to save a life.
We know that there are still issues to be fine tuned at Huntsville Animal Services. We met with Mr. Hamilton on September 15th to talk about some of those issues and to offer some suggestions which may help the city. This is truly a work in progress and there is no such thing as being "done" with improving the shelter. Saving the lives of shelter animals is incredibly hard work and there are no days off. It takes committed city leaders like Mayor Tommy Battle and City Administrator John Hamilton. It takes a passionate Shelter Director like Dr. Karen Sheppard. It takes energized and educated shelter staff like Karen Buchan and Will Roberson. And it takes a huge number of volunteers, fosters, adopters, donors and supporters to help us maintain the current level of progress so that we never, ever go back to the way it was before. This is not an Us and Them solution. It is a We solution.
Congratulations to the City of Huntsville and to Huntsville Animal Services. We look forward to continued improvements in the shelter building and in program development. You have much to be proud of and we are incredibly pleased to have played a role in this process.
Stay tuned. Things just get better from this point on.
No Kill Huntsville was formed in January of 2012 when a group of local nonprofit shelter directors, rescue group leaders and animal welfare advocates decided to come together to speak with one voice with one mission: to seek a time when Huntsville becomes a No Kill Community. We had been working independently of each other on this issue for years and felt that we could accomplish more if we banded together. We felt that the City of Huntsville was not taking enough action with enough of a sense of urgency to save the lives of healthy and treatable shelter pets so we took on the responsibility of speaking out to seek better.
We have always sought to become irrelevant not because we are being ignored or have been dismissed as zealots, but because we are simply no longer needed in this capacity. Despite rumors to the contrary, we have also approached this issue as one of municipal accountability. We have taken great pains to make our communication with the city both respectful and empowering in spite of having been subjected to personal attacks against us for having the audacity to be outspoken. Change is hard and it makes people uncomfortable. We get that.
We have a page on our website called Our Vision which paints a picture of a time when Mayor Battle stands at a podium and makes a public declaration of intent that Huntsville will, in fact, become a No Kill community. Over the course of the years of our advocacy, we have done what is called “the ask” multiple times. The concept is simple: we have asked the city to draw a line in the sand and commit that from that point forward, savable animals will no longer be at risk in our municipal animal shelter. That every animal will be treated as an individual life with value and that we will not destroy healthy and treatable animals for space or convenience because doing so is just not consistent with our culture here.
The City of Huntsville has not yet committed to this standard. The city has absolutely made a lot of changes in the way our animal shelter functions and we have seen a shift in how the shelter is referred to. The mind set has gone from one being resigned to the destruction of animals to working hard to save those same animals and have the shelter be a place of hope and new beginnings. Some mistakenly believe that Huntsville is already a No Kill Community. It is not. Although the statistics for the shelter show marked improvement from a statistical standpoint, the measure of a No Kill Community is not achieving some numerical standard. It is a matter of saying “we just don’t do that any more” and ensuring animals are not at risk. That may mean that the “live release rate” for animals is 97% in one month and then 87% in the next month, provided that the decline was due to a large number of animals entering the shelter who were suffering, irremediably ill (as opposed to entering the shelter healthy and then becoming very sick due to being housed there) or genuinely aggressive to people and which constitute a public safety risk.
On June 20, 2016, we sent a letter to Mayor Battle and the members of the Huntsville City Counsel to again do “the ask.” You can read the letter in its entirety here. We also issued a press release on our challenge to the City on July 5, 2016. It is found on al.com and it was distributed to our local television stations.
As we state in our letter, we fully acknowledge the tremendous progress made by city officials to change how our shelter operates and how animals are cared for using our tax dollars. This has become a point of pride and Huntsville is being watched by people in other areas of the country who are hoping to make similar changes. We genuinely believe that the progress made to date demonstrates that the City of Huntsville is in the best possible position to make a public declaration of intent. Once it does so, this will encourage people who live and work here to become even more involved in the operation and success of the animal shelter than they are now and it will be a wonderful addition to our community resume when we talk about all the things which make this City great and make it the “Star of Alabama.:
Becoming a No Kill Community is a choice. It is an act of will. We have absolute faith that the City can do it. We just hope the City will share our opinion, draw that line in the sand and that the answer to “the ask” will be a resounding, “Yes.”
(image courtesy of Bryan Williams)
There is a lot of talk these days about the phrase "no kill" both locally and nationally. We have been asked many times if Huntsville is a no kill community and the answer is the same as it was when our coalition first formed: no. Incredible changes have been made in how our municipal animal shelter functions and we take every opportunity to applaud city officials for finally taking steps to focus on balancing public safety with animal welfare in order to save lives. In order to help people understand what the phrase means from our perspective and from a national perspective, we feel it is important to explain what this term of art is, and is not. (For a more in-depth look at the phrase, we encourage anyone to read this publication by the No Kill Advocacy Center called "Defining No Kill.")
No kill is a culture in which healthy and treatable animals are not destroyed in animal shelters for space, convenience or following some tradition using our tax dollars or donations. In this culture, the only animals destroyed are those who are suffering, are irremediably ill or dogs who are so genuinely aggressive (as opposed to scared or traumatized) that they are unsafe to have in our communities (and for which no sanctuary placement is available).
No kill is not a definition. It does not mean that no animals ever die. To keep animals alive when they are truly suffering or are so genuinely broken that they present a danger to the public would be unethical and irresponsible.
No kill is a philosophy which says the lives of all companion animals have value and that those animals must be treated as individuals, worthy of our time and attention to keep them alive. In this philosophy, homeless animals are treated as either having been someone's beloved companion or being capable of being that companion. They are essentially given the benefit of the doubt, treated as adoptable and not blamed for the fact that they need our help.
No kill is not about simply keeping animals alive, regardless of the conditions in which they live. It does not allow animals' physical, psychological or emotional well-being to be compromised just so we can say "they are alive and we did not destroy them."
No kill is about programs which function in concert with each other to both reduce shelter intake and to increase shelter output so that animals spend the least amount of time possible in an institutional setting.
When animals are boarded for undefined periods of time, that is not no kill. That is a situation which is simply not sustainable financially. It can also cause animals to become so accustomed to living in a kennel environment that they are ill-prepared for the stimulation of life outside of the kennel.
When animals are collected on rural properties out of the knowledge and view of the public and law enforcement authorities, that is not no kill. That is essentially collecting and more often than not it also involves neglect and abuse.
When animals are kept at a "sanctuary" which does not function within its financial and physical ability to properly care for and then place those animals, that is not no kill. Overwhelmed sanctuaries are little more than animal prisons where the animals and the people caring for them are under incredible amounts of stress, often leading to disaster.
No kill is about values and hope and compassion and about doing our very best for companion animals because we care about them and we want the very best for them.
Getting back to the question we are often asked, "is Huntsville a no kill community?" the answer is no, not yet. While more animals are making out of Huntsville Animal Services alive than at any time in the history of the city, this is not a matter simply of statistics and accepting that better is good enough. This is about making a choice, a decision. Huntsville will be a no kill community when those who govern us, lead us and serve us decide that healthy and treatable animals will not be destroyed in our shelter under any circumstances. It is our position that the progress shown in the last year has proven that the City of Huntsville is ready to make a public declaration of intent to save the lives of animals. Once the city does so, it will be not only a tremendous source of community pride, but a selling point to invite others to live in or work in Huntsville because it is an animal friendly community.
There have been a number of times through the course of the history of our coalition when we have done what is ordinarily called "The Ask" of city officials. We did The Ask again yesterday. If you would like to read our letter to Mayor Battle, the members of the Huntsville City Council, City Administrator John Hamilton and Animal Services Director Sheppard, you will find it here.
Huntsville can be a no kill community. This is a choice.
We are often asked if ours is a no kill community and the answer is still the same: no. Although the live release rates being reported by our shelter are higher than they have ever been in the history of the city and are commendable, simply reaching some percentage of life-saving does not make Huntsville a no kill community. A no kill community is one where all healthy and treatable animals make it out of the municipal animal shelter and non-profit shelters alive and where there is no such thing as population control killing. As long as all “savable” animals make it out of the system, an area is a no kill community whether the live release rate in any given month is 98% or 88%. It is simply a matter of having an established standard and drawing a line in the sand which will not be crossed under any circumstances, even following a puppy mill seizure, a dog fighting seizure or intake of animals from a hoarder or collector.
Based on the progress made at the municipal animal shelter, we stand firm in our position that the next logical step is for the City of Huntsville to declare, once and for all, that savable animals are no longer at risk in our shelter under any circumstances. We believe the city is now in the best possible position to make such a declaration of intent.
Also based on that same progress, the next logical step for our coalition is to begin work to seek enactment of a Companion Animal Protection Act or “CAPA.” This is local legislation that, once enacted, sets basic standards for the operation of our animal shelter which are “codified” so that those standards are maintained regardless of who runs the shelter and regardless of who leads the city. As much as everyone is thrilled at the progress at our shelter, no one would want to see us go back to the old ways and days when the majority of the animals in our shelter were destroyed.
Although some may not like the idea of location legislation which may seem unnecessary or intrusive, a look at some basic CAPA provisions shows that they are not at all controversial and are likely things we can all agree should be done now and moving forward. Some examples are:
- irremediably suffering animals must be euthanized without delay, upon a verbal or written determination made by a licensed veterinarian.
- the shelter will take action to ensure that all animals are checked for all currently acceptable methods of identification, including microchips, identification tags, and licenses.
- stray animals with significant health conditions may be transferred to a private sheltering agency or rescue group immediately after intake, subject to the same rights of redemption by the owner.
- the shelter will provide all animals with environmental enrichment to promote their psychological well-being such as socialization and regular exercise.
- the shelter will develop and follow a care protocol for animals with special needs such as nursing mothers, unweaned animals, sick or injured animals, geriatric animals, or animals needing therapeutic exercise.
- the areas in the shelter where animals are housed must be cleaned at least twice a day to ensure environments that are welcoming to the public, hygienic for both the public and animals, and to prevent disease.
- the shelter may not destroy a savable animal unless and until it has made an emergency appeal to all organizations on an established registry that the animal is at risk (with at least twenty-four hour notice) and without documenting lack of an appropriate foster home placement.
- the shelter may not destroy a savable animal as long as there is open kennel space to house that animal; this includes dogs which are socialized to people but which may not get along with all other dogs (being mindful that dogs will sometimes get along with some, but not all, other dogs).
We hope that when the time comes that we ask the City of Huntsville to consider and then enact a CAPA - as has been done in other states and cities before ours - you will support that position and you will encourage our local leaders to codify our progress so it can be sustained long-term.
We are often asked if Huntsville is a no kill community. The short answer is, "no. Not yet."
There are two schools of thought regarding recognized status as a no kill community, both of which originate from a time in this social movement when norms were being developed in terms of performance. There was a time when a community was considered a no kill community after having gone twelve full months with a "live release" or "save" rate of above 90%. The percentage benchmark was based on norms at the time which said that if a community was saving more than 90% of the shelter animals, it most likely was not destroying healthy and treatable animals.
Times have changed. There are communities where the lives of more than 95% of shelter animals are being saved. Some communities save 98% of shelter animals. This means that the 90% benchmark is no longer the consistently recognized standard for becoming a no kill community and the new benchmark is one not of math, but of method. It is our position that a community is a no kill community when healthy and treatable shelter animals are not at risk under any circumstances because a line has been drawn in the sand which will not be crossed. This may mean that the save rate is 97% in a given month. It may also mean that the save rate in another month is 87% if there were truly a number of animals entering the shelter who were suffering or so irremediably ill that euthanasia was the only responsible course of action.
Getting back to the question, ours is not yet a no kill community simply because the city has yet to make a public declaration of intent that it will no longer destroy healthy and treatable animals at Huntsville Animal Services. We are hopeful a time will come when the city does just that. We think that enough progress has been made in the last year to put the city in a good position to make a public declaration and be able to keep that commitment with the help of the public.
There is a website called Saving 90 which tracks communities where the lives of more than 90% of shelter animals are being saved. This same website tracks communities where the lives of more than 80% of shelter animals are being saved. We contacted the site last week to inquire about having Huntsville listed on the site in the Saving 80 Category. We did so in spite of our position on what the phrase "no kill community" means simply as a way of asking that Huntsville be put on the map of places making great progress. As we have said many times before, the city has come a very long way from the way things were when we first took this subject to the public in 2013 and we think it is important to acknowledge that.
We were told that Huntsville does not yet make the grade to be put on the website. In order for a community to be listed as a Saving 80 community, it must have saved more than 80% of shelter animals in the last year for both species - meaning that the numbers must be calculated separately for dogs and cats. We do not yet have the shelter statistics for the month of December of 2015. This chart shows the save rates for dogs and cats for the last 12 months.
It is very possible that Huntsville will be able to be added on the Saving 90 website as a Saving 80 community in the very near future. We will continue our requests for, an analysis of, the shelter statistics so we can keep you informed of the city's progress and so we can ask that Huntsville be added to the website once it has met the criteria to be added.
No Kill Huntsville
Keep up with our updates and latest news regarding Huntsville becoming a no kill community.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson