From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1996:

Your organization is in desperate
trouble. Inspired by the success
elsewhere of low-cost neutering,
neuter/release, or no-kill high-volume
adoption, you started such a program––
but now, just a year to three years later,
instead of seeing a dramatic drop in
your workload, you’re asked to handle
more cats than you ever imagined could
exist. Your volunteers are exhausted
and demoralized. You’re broke.
It’s time for a serious pep
talk. Your problems are––ironically––a
predictable indication of your success
and bright prospects. You are well
embarked on a journey that enough others
have made that the mileposts are
marked. Believe it or not, you are at
the breaking edge of perhaps the most
rapidly successful grassroots transformation
of public policy in global history,
and it’s not surprising that you
sometimes feel as if you’ve stepped
through the Looking Glass into chaos.

Sociologist Bill Moyer of the
Movement Empowerment Project in
Berkeley, California, has identified ten
stages of movements for social change,
discernible in the history of every
movement––both successful and unsuccessful––that
he has ever studied,
beginning with recognition of a problem
by a handful of critics. Activists
then begin to draw attention to the problem.
The public and power-holders
begin to recognize the problem but
resist the solution. Activism increases.
The cause takes off like a rocket, then
either succeeds or fails depending upon
how well the longtime critics and
activists handle the transition from
obscurity to popularity, when changeoriented
momentum must be converted
into creating a self-sustaining institution
to secure the gains in public opinion.
Neutering and adopting out
homeless cats follows the movement
pattern, from the slow rise of the concept
right to where you are today, up to
your ears in cages and caterwauling
from your most unappreciative wards.
The American Veterinary Medical
Association approved the feline spaying
procedure in 1923, but no organization
formed to promote low-cost spaying
until Friends of Animals emerged in
1957. Another 17 years elapsed before
Mercy Crusade and Los Angeles
Animal Control formed the first partnership
of a low-cost neutering organization
and a public animal control
agency. Ellen Perry Berkeley published
Maverick Cats, the first serious book
about feral cats, seven years after that,
in 1981. The Universities Federation
for Animal Welfare began promoting
neuter/release in England and South
Africa circa 1983. At about the same
time, Leo Lieberman, DVM, began
demonstrating the efficacy of early neutering.
Yet it wasn’t until 1987, when
U.S. animal shelter euthanasias (dogs
and cats) peaked at an all-time high of
17.8 million that ANIMAL PEOPLE
publisher, Kim Bartlett, then editor of
Animals’ Agneda, persuaded much of
the animal rights movement, over the
hostility of many leaders, that ending
pet overpopulation should become a
cause priority, and it wasn’t until 1991
that we joined Andrew Rowan of the
Tufts Center for Animals and Public
Policy and Louise Holton and Rebecca
Robinson of Alley Cat Allies, who
undertook similar publicity efforts at
about the same time, to introduce
neuter/release to the U.S. in a big way.
That’s when the takeoff phase
of this cause began: just five years ago.
At that time, the national rate
of cat intakes at animal shelters and
shelter euthanasias had never showed a
decline in as long as statistics had been
kept. Dog intakes and euthanasias had
only begun declining––slightly––since
1987. Today, the best available data
shows that barely five million dogs and
cats were euthanized in animal shelters
last year, the eighth year in a row of
demonstrable decline, and cat numbers
are finally following dog numbers in a
steady downward curve.
Can you think of any other
public policy situation that has
improved by more than two-thirds in
less than 10 years? Have we enjoyed
such success against crime, poverty,
illiteracy, the national debt, starvation,
or any other problem you can think of?
Most of the hundreds of small
community-based projects––like
yours––that are most responsible for
this extraordinarily rapid progress are
just beginning to reach the point
Moyers describes as Stage Six, the critical
transition point, for which Moyers
cites several “symptoms”:
• Increasing recognition of
the movement results in increasing public
demands upon the people presenting
the alternative approach to the problem.
• Public institutions still
haven’t put resources behind the alternative
• The people offering the
alternative approach are mostly volunteers.
Their resources are exhausted by
the long struggle, they are tired, and
between growing public expectations
and lack of institutional support, many
feel an overwhelming sense of failure.
Signs of burnout appear, including
blame-throwing, dropping out, and
declining volunteer participation.
Ironically, at this very point
the alternative organizations are in the
best possible position to begin largescale
direct mail fundraising, a method
which can only succeed if a cause has
generated a large base of passive public
support. Increasing public awareness of
your organization, bringing ever more
demands for help, are indicators that
the support base exists: you need only
to tap it, by shifting emphasis upon
raising funds from a limited pool of
very committed backers to raising funds
from the larger community.
Direct mail is a low-input,
high-return fundraising method which,
despite inherent inefficiency––a return
rate of 1% is excellent when using a
“cold” mailing list––also has substantial
potential for increasing your political
clout. In effect, you’ll be persuading
much of the public to pay a voluntary
tax to support your service. Your success
will show the power-holders that
youhave a genuine constituency. Thus
the likelihood of your receiving direct
support as well as donated support
What you need to do––and
should have done even before getting
this issue of ANIMAL PEOPLE– – i s
ask for money with a holiday season
direct mail appeal to your community.
Keep asking on a regular basis. With
enough cash flow, you can hire the
staff you need to take enough strain off
your volunteers to keep them. You can
all do the job you must without risking
exhausted collapse.
The money is available, but
you must go ask for it in order to get it.
Economics are only one
aspect of the transition ahead of you.
Politics, internal and external, are
another aspect. The internal politics
need to be resolved before you can
make real headway in the outside community.
Emotions drive the take-off
phase of causes, and the early leaders
tend to be charismatic movers and shakers,
who can motivate volunteers to
extraordinary sacrifice.
However, the inspirational
and confrontational type of leader must
give way to the nurturing and administrating
type during and after the transition
phase, who can keep an organization
going by keeping everyone active
at a sustainable level, while building
links to the power-holders that will
institutionalize and permanently establish
Baseball fans will recognize
this as the transition from Leo Durocher
(“Nice guys finish last”) to Walter
Alston (“The quiet man”) in the creation
of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles
Dodger dynasty. There are countless
other examples, and sometimes the
leader of the first phase matures into the
leader of the second phase as well.
Other times, the leader of the first
phase remains as a public figurehead
while a good administrator takes over
the actual running of the organization.
In still other situations, the leader of
the start-up phase departs amid fractious
bitterness, and the organization is
at severe risk of falling apart until and
unless the good administrator emerges
to save it.
Externally, the transition of
leadership takes you from being “negative
rebels” to being “citizens,” who
can become “power-holders” by exercising
inside influence. Once your
group is known to the community, you
are somebody. You’ve proved you
have something positive to contribute.
You are now in a position to go to the
power-holders and say, “Here’s what
we’ve done for you. Here’s what we
need from you to keep doing it.”
Make a realistic request, with
a businesslike presentation, and you
have a good chance of getting some of
what you want. Bear in mind that
another part of the transition is bringing
the power-holders onto your own team.
Get them involved first, before seeking
funds and legislation, by obtaining
such limited commitments as endorsements
and specific project partnerships.
Remember that enfranchisement is an
incremental process. It starts with getting
your feet in the door.
Real examples
Richard Avanzino, president
of the San Francisco SPCA, was the
first head of a major humane society to
pull his organization out of doing animal
control work, cease doing population
control euthanasias, and instead
emphasize low-cost neutering and
adopting out pets. He did this just
about 12 years ago, after doing math
that convinced him the SF/SPCA could
end population control euthanasia in
San Francisco if it achieved a particular
level of neutering––which could be
done only if the SF/SPCA quit euthanizing
animals first, so as to use the
funds spent thusly on preventing surplus
pet births instead.
Avanzino expected animal
shelter intakes and euthanasias to fall
like a rock once the SF/SPCA was performing
X-number of neutering surgeries.
Instead, each year for the first
few years, the newly formed San
Francisco Animal Care and Control
agency took in about the same number
of animals that the SF/SPCA had
been receiving––while SF/SPCA
intake of owner-surrendered animals
skyrocketed. Local animal activists
and media lambasted Avanzino for
what many wrongly presumed was a
catastrophic misjudgement.
Avanzino, however, recognized
that the influx of owner-surrenders
reflected rising public confidence
in the ability of the SF/SPCA
to help animals––not just provide a
quick death. People who formerly
gave away litters “free to good
home,” unneutered, or abandoned
them to “give them a chance” now
brought them to the SF/SPCA.
In effect, the SF/SPCA
was paying off the interest on a big
debt. It would take years to neuter
enough animals to halt the growth of
the San Francisco dog and cat population.
Meanwhile, Avanzino
understood the need and the opportunity
to fundraise. He kept his job
and kept the SF/SPCA on course,
under intensive attack, by increasing
the SF/SPCA donor base from
1,700 people to 64,000––giving the
SF/SPCA the financial ability to deal
with the increased demand for services
until the interest was paid off
and the principle could be addressed.
That was clearly happening
by 1990. In April 1994, the
SF/SPCA and SF/ACC signed the
Adoption Pact, by which San
Francisco became the first city in the
world to end all pet population control
euthanasia, because there was
no longer a need for it. A year later,
San Francisco also quit euthanizing
recoverable animals.
The San Francisco model
has since been copied in St. Louis,
New York City, and Milwaukee. In
each case, after the humane society
announced intention to quit pet population
control killing, shelter traffic
actually grew––because public confidence
in the humane society grew
enough that most of the public, not
just an enlightened few, at long last
began coming in the doors.
St. Louis is now far
enough along to see the decline in
intakes developing. New York is at
the leveling-off point, as is
Milwaukee. Activists and media in
each city remain concerned, but animal
care and control professionals
are beginning to recognize a familiar
trajectory. The biggest single factor
keeping other humane societies from
trying to follow the San Francisco
model is the apprehension of many
humane society directors that the
public won’t understand why animal
shelter intakes rise for a while
instead of dropping, after the
humane society makes low-cost neutering
priority #1.
There are other models
producing positive results with similar
start-up curves. Mary Herro of
Animal Foundation International
pioneered high-volume low-cost
neutering in Las Vegas beginning
about ten years ago. After AFI had
neutered more than 50,000 pets, and
had pioneered the PetsMart adoption
program too, whereby the PetsMart
stores collectively place more than
35,000 animals a year for humane
societies instead of selling animals
bred in commercial puppy mills and
catteries, Herro bid on the Las
Vegas animal control contract. Her
theory was that AFI could now
neuter and adopt enough animals to
end pet populaton control killing in
Las Vegas. But five months into the
effort, she was experiencing a disheartening
rise in shelter intakes,
and was getting ripped up, as frequently
happens, by some local
activists and media.
We asked her to fax her
statistics, and found the expected:
she had increased adoptions from
656 to 2,534 over the same five
months of the preceding year, and
had increased returns of lost pets to
owners as well, but owner surrenders
of animals were up from 179 to
1,650, and public turn-ins of found
strays were up from 487 to 1,463.
Despite the influx, AFI
had euthanized only 70 more animals
than the former Las Vegas animal
control contractor. In effect,
AFI is “paying off the interest” and
cutting into the principle of the pet
overpopulation debt––and has won
the public confidence to raise the
funds needed to retire it, perhaps as
quickly as by the turn of the century.
Real numbers
Some beleaguered local
groups may be contemplating shutting
down, giving up, or at least
restricting their services. That’s the
wrong approach. You do not, under
any circumstances, want to discourage
the public from bringing cats to
you. That’s what you’ve been working
to achieve: to gain public cooperation
in getting homeless cats out
of alleys, forests, fields and dumpsters,
and getting every cat fixed
before he or she goes into a home.
Tell people you now can’t help, and
you’ll squander the years of momentum
and good will you’ve built up.
Instead, fundraise. Use
direct mail, go door-to-door, and
set out donor cans on counters. The
holiday season, right now, is the
very best time to appeal for money.
Nationally, one household in four
donates to animal protection––the
broadest fundraising base in all of
charity. Though the average household
donation is low, just $10 plus
change, amounting to under 1% of
total U.S. charity fundraising, it
adds up to enough that 76 people on
the 1996 ANIMAL PEOPLE roster
of top-paid animal protection executives
(pages 13-14) take home more
pay per year than the whole budget
of the typical hands-on organization.
Do the math. The odds are
very good that your organization is
getting only a tiny fraction of the
funds donated to help animals even
in your own community.
Compete for that money!
The national groups currently grabbing
most of it aren’t likely to give it
back. They have their own projects
to finance, and your competition,
far from undercutting them, will
only encourage them to become
more efficient. Meanwhile, you
won’t get what you need if you don’t
go after it. If you do go after it, you
should be able to get enough to
accomplish everything you must.
What do you need?
• A mailing list. If you
lack one, list everyone you can
think of within your service radius
who has pets. If you can afford
$1,000 or more to rent names, commercial
list brokers will assemble a
selection of pet owners and/or animal
protection donors in your community
from among the millions of
names they have on file.
• A good fundraising
appeal. You have at least one great
story to tell (a single-animal story
does best), and a great cause to seek
help for. Tell how you helped that
animal. Ask for money to help more
animals just like that one.
• The cost up front of
doing the job. Contracting out a
quality direct mailing, including
printing, professional envelopestuffing,
and postage, currently
runs around 65¢ per addressee.
Doing mailings yourself to
pinch pennies is false economy, if it
can be avoided: your labor is worth
more to the animals than you’ll be
paying for the outside service. And
your time spent on fundraising is
more productively spent in face-toface
contact than in envelope-stuffing––not
so much as a matter of paying
begging calls, as in simply
handing out a donation envelope
with each contact during your work.
Carry self-addressed, postage-paid
donation envelopes, with a miniappeal
printed inside the flap, and
hand them out the way a salesperson
hands out business cards.
Go for the green and gold!
And think of yourselves as winners,
the undefeated homeless animal
champions of wherever you are,
because that’s who you are, and you
deserve the help you’re seeking.

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