No-kill success and fiscal reality collide in Reno
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2002:
Succeeding the No-Kill Conference, after seven annual events
that transformed the ambitions of the global animal care and control
community, will be the much less provocatively named Conference on
Homeless Animal Management and Policy, convening in Reno on August
Retiring the term “no-kill” in deference to the sensitivities
of conventional shelter directors, CHAMP hopes to attract a broader
constituency to learn new approaches, and join the worldwide trend
away from accepting high-volume killing of homeless animals as an
inevitable part of animal control and humane work.
At the first No-Kill Conference, in Phoenix in 1995, dinner
speaker Richard Avanzino outlined how he had come to realize as
then-president of the San Francisco SPCA that accepting the job of
protecting humans from animals tends to inhibit a humane society from
devoting adequate effort to protecting animals from humans. Avanzino
explained how giving up animal control duties, always conducted at a
loss, enabled the SF/SPCA to sterilize enough dogs and cats to end
population control killing in San Francisco since April 1994.
Hardly anyone imagined in 1995 that many city animal control
agencies would now be well ahead of local humane societies in
promoting no-kill methods, such as high-volume adoption through the
visitor-friendly PETsMART Luv-A-Pet boutiques, neuter/return to
reduce feral cat populations, and providing low-cost sterilization
Neither was there talk of global ambition at the No-Kill
Conferences, until the first foreign delegations arrived in 1998
with things to teach as well as learn.
Today some of the most enthusiastic boosters of no-kill
tactics and goals are animal control directors like Ed Boks, of
Phoenix/Maricopa County Animal Services, who has cut the rate of
shelter killing and increased adoptions each year since he took the
Today the no-kill community extends to every continent.
CHAMP delegations are even expected this year from Pakistan and
Ethiopia, where until a few years ago no humane societies were known
to exist. Much of the most useful instruction in recent years has
come from representatives of the British-based National Canine
Defence League, which also partners with the primary sponsor, the
North Shore Animal League America, in presenting the biennial
International Companion Animal Welfare Conference in eastern Europe.
Humane agencies from the Pennsylvania SPCA to the Hong Kong
SPCA are following the San Francisco blueprint. But now there are
almost as many examples of agencies finding ways to cut shelter
killing while keeping their animal control contracts–or taking on
animal control, as the Visakha SPCA did in 1998 to introduce no-kill
to Visakhapatnam, India.
Examples of low-budget animal control agencies continuing to
shoot, club, drown, electrocute, or gas animals with car exhaust
are still common enough to suggest good reason for humane societies
to keep or seek animal control contracts, if they can do so without
jeopardizing the services and support that will keep the volume of
homeless animals going down.
Accordingly, there is good cause for the CHAMP conference to
court animal control providers. There is also good cause for no-kill
proponents to undertake significant tactical reappraisal–but the
fundamental issue is not whether conventional shelter directors like
being seen on the unpopular end of the kill/no-kill dichotomy, which
matters much more to the people involved than to the success of
Of much greater importance is whether the no-kill community
is making effective use of the momentum, goodwill, and assets
gained over the past eight years, chiefly from sources not
previously supporting humane work.
Expanding the pool of shelter donors and adopters by about
33% in 10 years, the no-kill movement enjoyed seemingly limitless
growth until September 11, 2001. Giddy hopes of quick success were
especially palpable at the 1998 No-Kill Conference, as Richard
Avanzino announced his move from the SF/SPCA to Maddie’s Fund,
formed by PeopleSoft founders Dave and Cheryl Duffield to underwrite
collaborative efforts to achieve no-kill animal control.
The 1998 No-Kill Conference also heard from Christine
Townend, trustee of the India-based sheltering organization Help In
Suffering, about the December 1997 commitment of the government of
India to achieving no-kill control of street dogs by 2005, and about
the reinforcement of that commitment when in August 1998 People for
Animals founder Maneka Gandhi was made the first cabinet-level
minister for animal welfare anywhere in the world.
No-kill had seemingly attained, almost simultaneously, both
mega-bucks financial backing and political prestige.
As anticipated, Maddie’s Fund now distributes more money
each year than all other animal welfare foundations combined–but it
has not enabled anyone to stop fundraising.
The programs Maneka Gandhi advanced met bitter resistance
from politicians used to using catch-and-kill dog control to make
patronage jobs for their supporters. In July 2002 Mrs. Gandhi lost
her cabinet post, leaving the pursuit of the Indian no-kill goal
Everywhere, no-kill proponents are now expected to do much
more, in a hurry, than just fix feral cats and street dogs and find
homes for puppies and kittens. The no-kill community is now asked to
address the reasons why animal control agencies exist in the first
place: not just to deal with dog and cat overpopulation, per se,
but to protect the public from dog attacks, all-night barking and
howling, feces in gardens, dismembered birds at the backyard
feeder, tigers in the yard next door, and alligators crawling out
of the storm sewers.
Fundamentally, achieving no-kill animal control in either
the U.S., India, or anywhere else requires successful public
education, on multiple fronts. People have to be taught about
preventing pet overpopulation, finding and adopting pets at
shelters, avoiding acquisition of exotic animals who never should
have been brought into private possession, and the need to support
life-affirming alternatives with generous cash donations.
Conventional shelters have promoted these same ideas for
decades. To successfully present an alternative, no-kill shelters
must do a better job of it.
The economic shakeout accompanying the stock market slide
that accelerated after September 11, 2001 challenges the entire
sheltering community, but challenges no-kill shelters and
sanctuaries most, because they have made the farthest-reaching
No-kill and low-kill humane societies as long established and
reputedly wealthy as the SF/SPCA and the Animal Foundation of Nevada
have had to lay off staff and cut back programs. Smaller
dog-and-cat-oriented organizations are typically struggling from day
to day. Some have already closed, or have given up their shelters
to return to fostering animals in yards, to get out from under
mortgage payments. Care-for-life sanctuaries are hardest-hit,
however, because their work tends to be most
capital-and-labor-intensive, and most reliant on big donors and
bequests, having little or no income from animal adoption.
Almost every day since spring, ANIMAL PEOPLE has received
calls and e-mails going more-or-less like this: “We are a nonprofit
sanctuary housing 12 tigers and 40 dogs. Our sponsor recently died /
went broke / fled the country / went to jail, and we cannot feed the
animals. Who can save us with an enormous grant, or take the
animals off our hands?”
Usually the answer is, “No one.” Usually the lack of
realistic planning is so obvious that a grant-giver who could save
the animals would be foolish to try to save the organization.
In one recent case, trying to help a failing sanctuary with
the fundraising advice now available at the
<www.animalpeoplenews.org> web site, ANIMAL PEOPLE learned that the
sanctuary directors had invested $31,000 in a chili cookoff that
netted just $3.41.
Providing an even more bizarre example, the Washington Post
reported on May 7 that Bill Smith of Main Line Rescue, in Wayne,
Pennsylvania, paid one-time Hollywood sex symbol Bo Derek $21,402 in
fees and expenses to attend a fundraiser, which she then skipped.
We asked Smith why an organization with total income of just $94,381
in 2000 and fundraising expenses of $31,916 would shell out that kind
of money to a former star with no known history of helping animals,
but we did not get an answer.
Moral and economic challenge
The larger, more numerous, and more dangerous the animals
in custody, the greater the cost of keeping the vow to provide
quality care for them through sickness and health, in rich times and
poor. Conversely, the fundraising opportunities tend to be more
limited, not least because sanctuaries tend to be located off
main-traveled roads, and–except for dogs and cats–sanctuary
animals are usually not easily or ethically transported anywhere that
prospective donors might see them, fall in love with them, and be
persuaded to help them.
Direct mail substitutes for direct contact in soliciting
donations to some extent, but requires investment and know-how. By
the time an animal care organization is in financial trouble, it is
typically too late for a start-up direct mail campaign to save the
day–and using lists rented from other shelters and sanctuaries just
cuts the existing donor pool more ways, as ANIMAL PEOPLE explained
in our July/August 2002 editorial, with proportionally more money
going to printers, mailing companies, and the post office, leaving
less for the animals.
Accepting the start-up cost of doing direct mail as a
high-interest loan from a fundraising company, as some do,
virtually ensures that a shelter or sanctuary will never pull
investment in fundraising back into reasonable proportion to
returns–while typically still existing on the verge of collapse,
unless bailed out by major bequests, which no shelter or sanctuary
should gamble on receiving.
Even when a shelter or sanctuary is written into numerous
wills, the authors of the wills may change their minds, their
estates may be eroded by bad investments or the cost of a terminal
illness, taxes may take much of the remainder, and relatives may
contest the soundness of mind of the deceased.
Among high operating expenses, unsuccessful and shortsighted
fundraising ventures, and ill-advised dependence upon bequests,
sanctuaries all over the world but especially in the U.S. have been
collapsing lately like so-called “fainting goats,” a fad pet of the
1980s known for falling over when stressed because of an inbred weak
As Enzo Giobe of the International Generic Horse
Association/HorseAid observed several years ago after rescuing the
horses from the failure of a nearby sanctuary, “If you can’t afford
to keep racehorses or polo ponies, you can’t afford to rescue
Similar could be said of providing care-for-life to almost
any other kind of animal.
One does not actually have to be filthy rich to get involved
and help a little, but to do sheltering or sanctuary work on a
serious level, it is absolutely essential to own the site where the
animals are kept, free and clear, and to have an outside source of
The most common mistake we see is that underemployed people
start shelters or sanctuaries on a hope and a promise, using leased
or borrowed premises. Often they have been short-time employees or
volunteers with other sanctuaries, shelters, or foster/rescue
programs, but not for long enough to discover the immense
differences between doing hands-on animal care and actually running a
successful, self-sustaining nonprofit organization. They don’t have
a prayer of being able to raise enough money, fast enough, to
secure property, pay themselves, and do effective rescue all at the
The second most common mistake we see is that would-be
sanctuarians get started because they want to spend their time alone
with animals, instead of in contact with the public. That sort of
sanctuary, besides being practically assured of economic failure,
helps relatively few animals while providing speculative breeders of
animals with a pressure relief valve–a way to pretend that someone
somewhere is looking after the surplus, even as most homeless
animals go to slaughter in one manner or another.
Unfortunately, the would-be shelter operators and
sanctuarians at greatest risk of failure will not be at the CHAMP
conference, the Pasado’s Safe Haven “Sanctuary 101” course, the
American Humane Association Training Conference, the No More
Homeless Pets conference, or the International Companion Animal
Welfare Conference, among other learning opportunities now available
to those willing to take a realistic approach.
Instead, the people who are building viable no-kill shelter
and sanctuary options, and taking them mainstream, will be obliged
to put some of their plans and programs aside in order to accommodate
animals previously “rescued” by failing shelters and sanctuaries,
but now homeless again, in large numbers.
It is a sign of the success of no-kill concepts that the
boxes of puppies and kittens who once overwhelmed the humane
community are seen less now than the much smaller but no less
problematic influx of unsocialized feral cats, unpredictable pit
bull terrier mixes, backyard-bred exotic carnivores, potbellied
pigs, ball pythons, and horses gathered by quasi-rescuers who have
The arrival of all these hard-to-handle animals in
ever-growing volume also indicates the educational work yet to be
done–and presents a challenge to the notion than every animal can be
rescued, somehow, which must be answered.