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.
Huntsville is getting a lot of attention these days across the country as a result of the progress made at our municipal animal shelter. People who live and work here are thrilled with the progress, as they well should be. Shelter animals are now safer here than they have ever been in the history of the community as save rates have reached and then exceeded 90% of all shelter intake. Huntsville is being referred to as an example of what can happen “in the south” with a shift in focus and using the compassion which exists in an animal loving community. We are not yet a true no kill community, but we are incredibly close to a time when the city can (and should) make a public declaration of intent that healthy and treatable animals are no longer at risk here moving forward, regardless of the circumstances we may face.
It has been said that if we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat it. It has also been said that in order to learn from history, it must be factually accurate. When we modify the sequence of events which transpired to get from Point A to Point B, we more often than not will learn the wrong lesson.
For all of our applause of the city for the progress which has been made, the reality in our community is that this process has been a struggle and did not come easily. If you have been told or have heard a version of the history which led to this progress and the story begins with the city voluntarily making sweeping changes, you have been told a history which is devoid of facts and which has been sanitized. This rewriting of history has occurred related to other locations like Reno and Austin and it is not uncommon in this social movement. Perhaps it just makes a lot of people uncomfortable to think about some of the more unpleasant parts of those stories.
Huntsville city officials were first introduced to the no kill philosophies we promote in late 2008 at a time when three out of every four animals entering the shelter were destroyed. By early 2013, when the city was offered free help from subject matter experts in order to do better and refused that help, more than half of the animals in the shelter were still being destroyed each year. The city's position at that time was that the shelter was doing a beautiful job and doing all it could to save lives - even when the save rate was just over 40 percent.
We first took this issue to the public in the spring of 2013, having reached the conclusion that city officials were satisfied with how the animal shelter was operating. We felt it would take public pressure and demand to force the city to reconsider spending our money on death rather than on life. There will always be a degree of dispute about exactly what led to the progress we now see. There have been many factors involved in this process, not the least of which is the arrival on the scene of a new city administrator who told us in early 2014 that he supported change and that he too wanted the city to save the lives of all healthy and treatable shelter animals. We know we have had a role in the history here and firmly believe that but for our advocacy, little would have changed.
The path taken to get to this point, and the particular struggles faced along the way, are not directly relevant to us here in Huntsville now that we have “arrived” for the most part. But those facts are entirely relevant to communities outside of our own which may look to our progress and wish to replicate it themselves. We do a disservice to those places if we behave as if our progress here was achieved by reaching across differences, finding common ground and all working together to seek a newer and better future. Yes, our community has achieved tremendous success. But it took years longer than it would have taken had the city simply decided to act on its own many years ago and without the necessity of a group like ours to demand accountability from the city, a process which has taken a great toll on everyone involved.
Make no mistake - this is not about credit. We have always said that we seek to become irrelevant as a coalition not because we are being ignored, but because we are no longer needed to be boat rockers for community change. We have sat silently on the sidelines while others have taken credit for the changes which have been made here and we plan to continue to do just that. Why? Because this is not at all about people and patting each other on the back and it is very much about saving lives. But this is also about being honest about our history here so that others can learn from it and perhaps avoid some of the conflict we endured. Much of what took place here was unproductive and led to a higher body count.
A time will come in the history of our country when all municipal shelters are no kill shelters and all communities are no kill communities because that is what the public wants and will demand. We encourage any community outside of our own which is looking at our progress to take proactive steps to get ahead of this issue and make change voluntarily. Listen to the advocates and animal lovers who come to you with ideas, enthusiasm, research and help. They often know much more about the subject than you may imagine and it is likely they are networked with subject matter experts who can guide and help your community to achieve change not in years but in weeks or months. Invest your time and focus into doing what is right so that energy is spent not on struggle and conflict, but on saving the lives of the animals we say we love and value.
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.
When our coalition first formed in January of 2012, we had one goal in mind: to speak with one voice toward making ours a no kill community - a place where healthy and treatable shelter animals are not at risk and are not destroyed using our tax dollars. We developed a Facebook presence in April of 2012 in order to reach more people in the community and share our vision of Huntsville as a no kill community. We have always sought to become irrelevant not because of lack of interest, but because we simply are no longer needed in this particular advocacy role.
The City of Huntsville is nearing the end of the most successful year of animal sheltering in the history of the city. The numbers for the entire year have yet to be calculated; we presume that the live release rate will be near 90% and may even exceed that percentage. The city has openly stated that it hopes to do even better in the coming year and city leaders are clearly energized about the public’s response to calls for community involvement in saving shelter pets. As we begin the new year, we have moved away from Facebook and reverted to our primary means of communication which is our fully developed website. We will be blogging from our website periodically in order to keep supporters posted on news of interest and the latest local developments.
We remain hopeful that the progress achieved by city officials to date can be sustained. We look forward to a time when the city makes a public declaration that it plans to become a genuine no kill community and that healthy and treatable shelter animals are no longer at risk in our municipal shelter under any circumstances. We still have some concerns about program development, but we can envision no circumstances under which the city would revert back to the old ways of functioning.
We hope you will stay tuned as we begin a new and exciting chapter in the history of Huntsville and Madison County and as this community demonstrates to the entire region what can happen when we have faith in the compassion of the animal-loving public. The next logical step following a public declaration of intent is for the city to codify the manner in which the municipal shelter operates so that progress can be sustained not just for the short-term, but for years to come by enacting a Companion Animal Protection Act. More information on this and other programs that sustain the progress and can better serve the animals and the public can be found on our website.
Will 2016 be "the" year we become a no kill community? We have faith in those who lead us and in our community to do just that.
When city officials were first introduced to the no kill programs we promote in equation form in late 2008, the live release rate at our municipal shelter was 25%. Three out of every 4 animals were destroyed regardless of health or disposition. When we formed our coalition in early 2012, the live release rate had risen to 34%. We consider this a dismal number and are truly glad it is now just part of the past
The live release rate at the municipal shelter was over 96% in the month of October and we suspect the November numbers will be similar, This is a stellar achievement and one which should be a great source of pride for local elected and appointed officials, city employees, rescuers, volunteers and the animal-loving public. Just a few short years ago, many in our community felt we just could not do better for whatever reason. Time has proven that position to be wrong. As has been the case in many communities brave enough to try something new, time has proven that we are, in fact, capable of change and that our community is, in fact, compassionate enough to make better choices. More than 100 shelter animals were adopted out in a single day on November 30th. When a bed drive was launched to help shelter dogs, the goal of 80 beds was met in less than 4 business days. Those facts alone say a lot about our community and the capacity for greatness.
The road to change is never easy. It comes with conflict, lost sleep, hurt feelings and in the case of the no kill movement, it often results in a great deal of opposition. This may seem illogical to many of you. As we were asked at our no kill workshop in the summer of 2013 at the downtown library, "who could possibly object to saving the lives of homeless pets?" Exactly.
If someone had told the members of our group in January of 2012 that Huntsville would achieve live release rates above 95% but that it would take us being made out to be the bad guys in the process, each and every one of us would have signed on for those terms. Because, you see, this has never, ever been about us as individuals and has always been about pushing for better for our homeless pets and our community. Whether you think our coalition has had anything to do with change here or not, the reality is that we are now a much different community than we were four years ago in terms of how many shelter pets are saved.
As we near the end of 2015, we remain hopeful the shelter progress achieved to date can be sustained. We challenge city officials not only to keep the live release rates close to those achieved in recent months, but also to make that final push and commitment to make ours a no kill community by publicly declaring that healthy and treatable shelter pets are no longer at risk under any circumstances.
We invite all of you to learn more about what is taking place in our community related to the municipal animal shelter, about your your own behavior affects what happens in the community and about what you can do personally to be part of making ours the no kill community we know we can be.
No Kill Huntsville
Keep up with our updates and latest news regarding Huntsville becoming a no kill community.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson