A week ago today was the start of the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Conference and I feel like it's taken me a few days to sort of soak in the events of the conference so I can try to summarize my thoughts in a somewhat coherent fashion.
First off, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak at the conference on behalf of KC Pet Project and on the many changes that are taking place here in Kansas City -- and get to talk to a lot of folks about what we're doing not only in a large setting, but also to individuals and I got to hear the opportunities, and struggles, in their communities.
The group of speakers this year was once again outstanding. Experts in no kill sheltering, increasing adoptions, customer service, training and animal handling, marketing etc were all across the speaker panels. One of my big problems is that once again, with so many great speakers, I didn't get a chance to hear nearly everyone speak that I wanted to. But I did get to catch a couple of presenters that I was very much looking forward to seeing -- including hearing about the success April Harris is having in Salt Lake County, UT; hearing Susanne Kogut present (who I've seen at many conferences, and met, but have never actually heard her presentation) and Aimee Sadler -- who is very good at shelter traiing/handling for dogs to help them be more adoptable in a shelter setting.
After thinking about the conference, here are more my thoughts on the No Kill movement at this point that any highlights from speakers:
1) First off, it was great to see so many people at the conference. Numbers I've seen are about 1500 folks in attendence. When I first got into animal welfare 7 years (or so) ago, there were minimal ways for people to get access to information on best practices around the country. It's one of the reasons I started this blog. Now, there seem to be a lot of ways for people to meet others that are having success, and sharing ideas -- at conferences like this one and growing No Kill Conference, and on blogs and Facebook. Learning ideas and best practices from others is huge.
2) I'm so glad people are starting to warm up to the idea of open adoption policies. Several years ago there was a LOT of pushback about open adoption policies -- and now, more and more people are abandoning harsh requirements for adoption. There is still a ways to go here.
3) One observation I had was that the No Kill track (there were 5 "tracks" at the conference) was one of the tracks. More people seemed to be interested in more specific workshops like animal training, increasing owner retention, increasing adoptions, fundraising, marketning, etc. While the No Kill track seems to take a very global view at fixing the problems, the narrow tracks are able to go more in-depth in each of the topics. Both are very valuable. My general feeling is that it seems like a lot of the folks at the conference (and in animal welfare in general) are very focused on their individual pieces of the pie -- whether there are a rescue focusing on adoptions, or a spay/neuter clinic focusing on spay/neuter/outreach.
None of this is bad, and all of it is important, but I do get a sense from this (and from talking to people) that many of the people that are most supportive of No Kill are not necessarily in senior positions, or with organizations that allow them to focus on the more global view.
4) I think there are a lot of people who WANT the power to make their communities no kill, but right now lack the resources to do so. In some places, the city runs the animal shelter and the animals there are dying because there is a lack of caring at the city shelter. In some, the city animal intake is handled by a 3rd party not-for-profit that runs their own shelter (and is doing so poorly) -- and that shelter may be the only shelter facility in the entire city. I really think the next 3 years or so is going to be spent marrying the people who have a passion for saving lives with the power (whether it be money, the shelter, or city contracts) to impact the changes necessary to become No Kill.
5) Here's the good news -- regardless of the situation in your community, there is a path to No Kill that has been applied that works.
a) In Charlottesville, VA the city partners with a not-for-profit 501c3, the Charlottesville SPCA, to handle their animal control intake. They're path to success was changing the management at that not-for-profit organization
b) In Reno, NV, the Nevada Humane Society, (a 501c3 not-for-profit) partners with the city shelter (which is next door) in order to maximize life-saving.
c) In Austin, TX; the city shelter was for many years poorly managed, but Austin Pets Alive set up the rescue/foster/spay/neuter resources to effectively pull animals from the city shelter and save their lives until new management could be put in place.
d) In Kansas City, MO; our community was able to convince politicians to privatize the shelter operations and now we have a compassionate organization managing the city shelter facility.
I think any of these paths will work -- and depending on the circumstances in your community, each one offers a potential path to success -- depending on where the power structures are and depending on how hard or easy it is to change the power structure in the city so that we can get compassionate people who know how to make no kill work in positions where they have the money, shelter, access to make the changes happen.
What are the barriers to getting to no kill in your community? And which path gives you the best opportunity for success? Now that you know the path you need to take, let's get started.