No Kill Huntsville formed in January of 2012. The original group was a couple dozen nonprofit shelter leaders, nonprofit leaders, rescue group leaders and animal advocates. The mission of the organization is, and has always been, to encourage the City of Huntsville to adopt progressive animal shelter programs and to end the archaic practice of destroying healthy and treatable pets using tax dollars. We had no idea if we would succeed when we first met, but we knew we had to try. A number of us had been working independently of each other to seek change and we felt we would do better by combining our efforts. There were numerous places across the country where the lives of shelter animals were being saved and we knew Huntsville could do the same.
Prior to the formation of No Kill Huntsville, the live release rate at Huntsville Animal Services had been incredibly low for a very long time. Although most city officials and members of the pubic presumed the shelter would not needlessly destroy animals, that is (unfortunately) exactly what happened for many years. The animals being destroyed were not just those who were suffering or irremediably ill, but animals who were perfect healthy and treatable.
We spent approximately a year preparing to make our pitch to the City of Huntsville to adopt the programs and services of the No Kill Equation which we still promote to this day. We had contacts across the country who had used the equation to reform their own communities and we knew the same methods would work here. The equation is a series of programs which work in concert with each other to both reduce shelter intake (what we call “keep them out” programs), to increase shelter output (what we call “get them out” programs) and which both reduce intake and increase output. The genius of the equation is that it can be adopted in any community regardless of resources and bring about change not in years but very fast. Some places have become No Kill Communities literally overnight by using the equation. We realized it would take some more time in Huntsville simply due to the number of animals who had been destroyed over a period of years and due to prior resistance on the part of city officials to embrace the programs themselves and without the need for our political advocacy.
We hit some high walls and some big speed bumps along the way. In early 2013, the shelter leadership was offered free help by subject matter experts which we would have paid for. This would have been confidential, hands on help inside the shelter to examine policies, procedures and programs in order to determine how to implement the equation quickly by building on current operations. This help was refused. It was only when we hit that wall that we had no alternative but to take the subject to the public and began our public information campaign which continues to this day. We held a free public workshop, we used the media to reach people, we paid for Lamar billboard space around town to introduce people to the concept of No Kill, we showed a documentary film at Lee High School, we used social media and our fully developed website to reach more people and we engaged in a series of meetings with city officials.
Our group became smaller over the years; a core group of 6 members remain to this day. We had a lot of opposition and much of it came from a surprising source: people in the rescue community. It was not easy and we lost friends along the way, something we were told would happen. At one point a shelter employee set up a hate page on Facebook which was encouraged by people in the rescue community as well as members of the shelter staff. The page was ultimately removed with the help of the city. Things began to change quickly in 2014 when we met with newly appointed City Administrator John Hamilton. He was on board with the No Kill Equation from our first meeting with him in March of 2014 and for that we remain incredibly grateful.
Due to a combination of animal welfare advocacy, city leadership and public participation, the live release rate at the shelter began to improve over a period of time. It reached the 90% benchmark in 2015 and has remained essentially at that level for the last three years.
In April of 2016, we began promoting a CAPA – a Companion Animal Protection Act – which we later called the Huntsville Animal Protection Act. We promoted the HAPA in earnest during 2018 in meetings with city council members and candidates for city council. For us, the HAPA is about maintaining legacy to ensure that the shelter does not go back to the old ways of functioning no matter who leads the city or who runs the shelter. The HAPA would have set measurable standards for the shelter to achieve and would have required certain standards for animal housing, care and placement and prior to euthanizing animals. Because work was already taking place to revise the entire animal code for the city, the city chose to not implement the HAPA and to instead incorporate much of the spirit of the HAPA into the revisions to Chapter 5 of the City Code. This was not the outcome we had hoped for, but it is the outcome chosen by the city. We are left with no alternative to accept the city’s decisions and celebrate the aspects of the ordinance used to change the city code which reflect the intent of the city moving forward and expectations regarding the operation of Huntsville Animal Services. The City's statements of intent are here. The City's expectations of the shelter policies are here.
In light of the revisions to the city code, we have suspended our promotion of the HAPA for the foreseeable future. Should a time come when we feel the city is open to codifying more of the aspects of the shelter operation, we will consider promoting the HAPA again.
We will continue to maintain our website and obtain copies of the shelter statistics and euthanasia reports from the City Attorney’s Office each month to ensure the city does not back slide and to continue our work monitoring the number of dogs destroyed for behavior and kennel stress. We will also promote Chipathon events twice a year (in March and July) to encourage people to have their pets microchipped to prevent them from entering the shelter (or to get them back home quickly). We will no longer maintain our Facebook page; it is a 7-day a week platform. It will go dormant unless a time comes when we see the need to use it to reach people. Any questions or comments about our group, the No Kill Equation or the state of animal welfare in Huntsville and Madison County can be addressed to us using our website and our email account.
There is still much work to be done in Huntsville and city officials are the first to acknowledge that fact. We hope you will join us in congratulating city leaders on the progress made to date. We also hope you will join us as we continue to hold the city accountable while stepping back into the shadows for now. We are told that the shelter will continue to develop policies and programs which promote life-saving in our community and that we are not limited by the 90% benchmark which ordinarily is an indication of progressive programs. We hope a time comes when the city decides that it can call itself a No Kill community and will do so with pride.
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No Kill Huntsville
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image courtesy of Terrah Johnson