The folks at Pinal County (AZ) Animal Care and Control are working on a "5-year plan" to become no kill. As a part of the plan, they decided they wanted to do a test drive on the idea by declaring it "No Kill December". Shelter Director Kaye Dickson noted that December was the lowest intake month and thus, they'd try to be no kill in December to see what the struggles would be.
Unfortunately, 19 days into the month, the shelter was 120 animals above capacity. Dickson noted that "if any more dogs come in tonight, or cats, at this point, I don't know where I'm going to put them."
So now, at least 50 animals are on the euthanasia list.
The situation Pinal County is facing here is not an uncommon one -- and I continue to read about similar situations in the news reports. I wrote about a similar situation in Genesee County, MI last August. And the problems seems to be extremely consistent, and extremely avoidable.
The problem is not the intent of the organization, which is good, but in its focus. The focus in most of these cases is that the organization wants to make the decision to stop killing animals. But, after a few weeks, they start running out of places to put them, and quickly become over-crowded.
If no-kill is to work, the focus needs to shift -- away from preventing the negative and "not killing' animals -- to creating positive outcomes for them. The focus needs to be on SAVING them.
If you are an open-admission shelter, in order to go from a kill shelter to a no-kill shelter you MUST increase positive outcomes. Regardless of your shelter's capacity, if you don't increase your positive outcomes, you will eventually run out of space to warehouse them.
Any attempt to go no kill, even for a "no kill December" must be accompanied by an aggressive attempt to move more animals SAFELY OUT of the building. This can be done through adoption specials, events at the shelter, increasing off-site adoption events, increasing hours of operation, aggressive advertising for adoptions in media, social media and PR, working to move more animals into rescue groups, returning more to their original owners or calling out for foster homes.
A look at Pinal County's Facebook page, they did finally extend hours of operation this weekend, but that is really the only thing I can tell that they've done differently other than simply not killing. But without the life-saving measures, the inevitable overcrowding has happened.
How about this for an approach for a kill shelter that decides it wants to do a 'no kill December'?
- Before entering the month, have a series of off-site adoption events in high-trafficked areas set up for, at the minimum, every weekend day for the entire month.
- Each day, have a "pet of the day" that is a free, or deeply discounted adoptable
- Hold a different-themed adoption special at the shelter multiple times throughout the month: The 12 dogs Christmas, name the cats after reigndeer, Home for the Holidays -- there are dozens of ideas for this. Pick multiple ideas. Plan them out. Make flyers in advance.
- Organize a transport with a major national rescue, or, find a rescue partner that will agree to take 10 dogs and/or 10 cats per week from you. Charge no pull fee.
- Encourage the public to foster a dog or cat for the week of Christmas so it won't have to spend Christmas at the shelter. It will relieve time and stress on the staff at the shelter because there are fewer animals to care for, and, about 20% of the fosters will fall in love with the animal and adopt them from you and the animal will never come back.
-- Determine your estimated intake for the month. If that number is, say, 200, then make it your publicly stated goal to find homes for 225 pets for the holidays, and then, every single day, try to come up with something clever that will help you move at least 8 pets safely out of the shelter.
-- If you find yourself short of meeting your goals -- go to the media and ask the public to come HELP you meet your goal of 225 pets finding homes for the holidays. The public will want to support you with this.
Then, when the month is over, and you and your staff are feeling great about a successful "no kill December", decide you're going to repeat it in January, and every month thereafter. It's not easy. It's really, really hard work.
But if your shelter is going to get to "no kill", it needs to shift its focus. The focus should not be "not killing." The focus needs to be on SAVING them. Without that shift in focus, the shelter's quest will certainly fail.