Late last week, Nathan Winograd posted a letter that he received from the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter in Marquette, MI (UPAWS -- this organization was formerly called the Marquette County Humane Society but recently changed their name because people thought they were associated with HSUS, which they are not).
In the letter from the director at UPAWS, (a completely open admission shelter that has several city contract), they happily reported that in 2007, the shelter made the decision to try No Kill. The shelter was in dire financial problems, and from 1999 to 2006 they had an average Kill Rate of 60%.
In 2007, the implemented many of the changes from the book Redemption, including:
* Shelter hours open to the public increased from 5 to 7 days
* The shelter was cleaned and painted to make it more inviting to the public
* Improved staff interactions with the public
* Expanded use of foster homes
* Greater efforts put on rehabilitating animals
* Pet sponsoship programs that allowed for reduced adoption fees
* Implemented feline leukemia testing
* Increased the advertising of animals
* Began spay/neutering adoptables sooner so they could go to a home sooner
* Began a transfer program with other shelters/rescue groups
* Began offsite adotpions
* Better updates of the website with photos, videos and bios -- also began crosslisting on Petfinder
* Better integration into the community
In their fiscal year, 2008/2009, the shelter saved 92.2% of all animals, and 93.8% in 2009/2010. The 6-8% that are killed are now all hopelessly ill, or too aggressive to be rehabilitated and rehomed safely.
So in one year, the shelter went from killing 60% of the animals they impounded, to killing less than 8% - because during a time of financial difficulty for the shelter, they implemented different thinking. The change was almost overnight.
This type of turnaround is far from unprecedented -- as a similar turnaround occurred in St. Louis earlier this year when the city shelter was only adoption out 300 dogs a year prior to a philosophy change, and then, just overnight, began adopting out 120 per MONTH (so about 5x the save rate as before). The same turnaround is true in Halifax Nova Scotia.
I think the great thing about their letter is that it details a lot of the thought process behind the then-scary decision to go no kill. They challenged a lot of traditional thinking, and took a leap of faith - -and they, and more importantly the animals, were rewarded for it.
The author of the letter writes about their decision to go no kill:
"Like so many shelters, we were operating with an administrator that had been with us for over 20 years who was extremely resistant to change. Outdated policies were built on myths and fallacies....We were afraid that if changes were made and not supported by the community, the result would be that animals would have nowhere to go and we were their only and final hope."
While the process was all still scary, the positive results more than kept them motivated:
"Although we were still fearful, the results spoke for themselves and we realized we could save lives and do it without condemning animals to fates 'worse than death' as we had been routinely warned. As more animals went into homes instead of garbage bags, the direction we had chosen to take was validated and many of the fears and premises we had based our policies on were proven invalid."
The end result has been more animals saved, and a community that has been more than will to provide the support necessary to keep the changes in place. Awesome.
Your shelter too can end the killing. And while no one is promising that it will be easy, maybe the hardest part of the equation is making the decision to ignore the archaic old school "this is how we've always done it" and implemented the types of changes that have proven to work. Even if you don't feel like you can become no kill, the solutions to killing fewer are still the same -- and it is your moral obligation to do everything you can to end the killing.
And the number of success stories is growing....and the first step is to ignore old thinking and make the decision to take the first step.
For more on the success of UPAWS: YesBiscuit! - UPAWS: Doing it