Iâ€™ve noticed something about cancer. We never stop exploring how to cure it or applauding our progress as survival rates increase.
The death of 5 million companion animals this year is a cancer. Someone stepped forward with a curative formula already applied in a variety of cities and environments, but until this year I never heard his name.
When Stanford-educated former attorney Nathan Winogradâ€™s book “Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America” appeared multiple times on the Pet Connection blog, I felt the excitement only hope can bring. Hope is not acceptance or a soundtrack of blame for an irresponsible public, but a new plan of attack.
Winogradâ€™s presentation last Saturday in Chicago cemented this hope and made it tangible. My pre-seminar thinking saw â€œno killâ€ as a label for a type of shelter and its advocates existing as protective bubble inside a high-kill environment. WRONG. The No Kill Equation (NKE) involves multiple entities and strategies operating throughout a community which shifts from discussing kill rates to celebrating â€œlive release ratesâ€ of 90 percent and higher.
True euthanasia ends suffering, and the true No Kill Revolution involves â€œreturning â€˜euthanasiaâ€™ to its dictionary definition for animals hopelessly ill, injured or irremediably suffering,â€ plus a small number of â€œirrevocably viciousâ€ dogs. (The book provides a detailed look at temperament testing, including the hallmarks of unfair or otherwise ineffective methods. If someone banged on your cage, what would you do?)
As one of many forced to choose death for a suffering friend thanks to food poisoned in the name of profit this spring, I agree certain circumstances require a kill shot.
When adopting two cats in the past four months after visiting several Petfinder participants online and in person, I noticed a wide and inconsistent range of screening statements. How often in our attempts to get an animal the best home, are we denying them a great home? Are we really saying death is better than a first-time pet owner without a vet reference? Better than someone outside the city limits because we insist on home visits? Death is not better than a little uncertainty. As Winograd notes, human life is also uncertain.
A winning opportunity for companion animals, shelter and animal control as well as taxpayers, NKE has no use for outdated, automatic, ageist or otherwise prejudiced labels like â€œunadoptableâ€ or using â€œspaceâ€ as an excuse to kill. As the book notes, â€œAdoptions bring in revenue. Killing costs money.â€ Winogradâ€™s presentation included a blind kitty whose ad created adoptions for her and her four blind brothers and sisters the same afternoon it appeared in the newspaper. He wrote response to the ad also â€œraised enough money to pay for all their veterinary care.â€
Before I unintentionally dilute Winogradâ€™s message with my own work-in-progress understanding, please realize to reject his message based on my own musings or anyoneâ€™s second-hand delivery would be a tragic mistake. You donâ€™t judge a meal after tasting only one or two ingredients and you can find the NKE recipe presented in more depth in Winogradâ€™s free presentation, his book or his blog. Even when a congested two-hour journey to Chicago turned into almost four hours thanks to construction and a Cubs game, the seminar was worth the drive.
My favorite features of the book and/or seminar:
- Take a humane history lesson, from the first SPCA in the 1800s to the current approach (Legislation, Education, Sterilization or LES) first endorsed in 1974.
- Get the other side of the story. Until this week, I too easily accepted false arguments about the No Kill Movement and anecdotes (outlined in the book) where the name was applied to perhaps deflect local criticism without correct application or results. I can call myself a duck, even legally change my name to â€œDuck.â€ I am not a duck, so please donâ€™t judge all ducks based on my behavior.
- Forget stress reduction techniques for those handling kill shots. NKE brings relief to shelter and animal control workers by dramatically reducing the burden of animal deaths.
- While acknowledging the value of education, NKE strategies work even when, inevitably, the public does not behave as trained.
- â€œHumaneâ€ laws (severely limiting pets, prohibiting feeding stray cats, etc.) can punish both responsible pet lovers and the animals such laws were designed to protect. Death isnâ€™t exactly a reward, is it? On a personal note, I just noticed the last statement of this Web page for a local humane society I continue to ask for help to legalize adoption of more than two cats per dwelling.
- My favorite seminar quote: â€œPeople select animals from shelters only 15% of the time. If we raise our market share by just a few percentage points, we can be a no-kill nation.â€
A seminar attendee told me her story about market share challenges. Rejected by phone by her townâ€™s shelter (where she later volunteered) for being a renter (though she had her landlordâ€™s approval) with an unfenced yard, she drove to another shelter roughly 100 miles away to adopt her dog (special needs because of multiple severe health issues but still thriving with her several years later). How many people would have made the shorter drive to a pet store instead?
Our shelter system saves some animals, but can we call 5 million deaths success? Acceptable? Are animal lovers ready for a new message? History teaches us the best ideas are often first ignored. We cannot afford to ignore this one.