Nathan Winograd, the leading proponent of the no-kill movement, was in Toronto on Saturday giving a talk about the history of animal welfare in the United States starting with the formation of the first ASPCA and leading up to and including the philosophy and practices of modern day no-kill. This event was organized by the Organization for the Rescue of Animals (ORA), the group who also brought Bill Bruce, the much lauded head of Calgary Animal Services, to town a few months ago.

The no-kill strategy is a methodology by which a shelter or pound can achieve a save rate of greater than 90% of behaviourally sound and healthy animals and the bar for being behaviorally sound or healthy is set humanely low meaning that just because an animal may have resource guarding issues, for example, or is blind doesn't automatically make it a candidate for termination.

No-kill is the most compassionate of all the animal welfare strategies out there and it may also be the most divisive and most difficult to achieve. It's divisive because nobody in animal welfare likes to be told they're wrong and Winograd has no problem telling people they're wrong and he advocates removing those people from their positions whom he considers to be standing in the way of reforming the front lines of animal welfare. And no-kill is the most difficult to achieve because, let's face it, it's easier to kill an animal in the name of overpopulation, disease control, lack of resources, compassion, etc. than it is to find homes for them all.

Whether you think you agree or disagree with the idea of no-kill, it's always good to read about the principles, successes and failures behind it before forming too much of a judgment because after more than ten years of talking the talk and walking the walk, there are a lot of other people's experiences to draw upon. Some have resulted in happy endings, some not so much and in all cases, it's hard work.

Here's an excellent article from The Austin Chronicle, "Walking the No-Kill Tightrope", which talks about the challenges behind achieving and maintaining a no-kill shelter in Austin (they've maintained their no-kill status for a year now). Some quotes:

As for Smith, she's aware of just how precarious a shelter director's job security is these days and just how tenuous Austin's hold on no-kill may be. Yet she says she's not worried about her job or her standing. In the age of no-kill, she says, controversy and conflict are just part of the shelter director's job.

"I do what I think is right, and I think the numbers show that we're doing something right," Smith says. "I stand by every decision. I can't worry about the protests and the possibility of angry people. I'm not in this to get elected one day."


Which is a success story but then there's also:

Hinze ... accepted a job running the Companion Animal Alliance, a nonprofit charged with making the East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control & Rescue Center in Louisiana a no-kill facility. In 2010, the facility had euthanized more than 6,000 animals.

Not two months after arriving in Louisiana, Hinze resigned from the nonprofit under a cloud of controversy. After CAA announced its arrival at the shelter with a vow to end euthanasia, the number of animals being dropped off at the shelter skyrocketed. Hinze had neither the money nor the infrastructure to respond with a viable adoption or fostering strategy. Complaints of overcrowded cages, unsanitary and unsafe conditions, and animal-on-animal bullying – confirmed by a law enforcement investigation – followed, plaguing Hinze's short tenure. CAA started doing emergency euthanasia by the end of August, and by Sept. 27, Hinze was gone, the casualty of a policy decision built around good intentions and little else.


It can be a thin line between no-kill and hoarding just as it can be a thin line between euthanasia and killing for expediency.

Winograd believes the success of a no-kill shelter depends on leadership. We may want no-kill but we need people who are willing to put in the time and the sweat equity to make it work. We need outliers who are willing to stick their necks out not just demanding change but actually creating change.

Here's an example from the No-Kill Communities blog, "Manatee County Implementing the No Kill Equation":

The news out of Manatee County just gets better and better. Manatee is the Florida county where shelter director Kris Weiskopf decided to make the county no-kill after attending one of Nathan Winograd’s seminars. He had a lot of community support and backing, and the county government even officially signed on to the no-kill plan. The result has been a great turnaround and some inspiring progress.

The county has gone from a live release rate of 45% before the No Kill Equation was implemented last summer up to a 77% live release rate currently. Weiskopf believes that they will meet their goal of 91% by the end of the year.

...

Manatee County has served as an inspiration to the surrounding communities as well. Sarasota County is interested in the program, and Hillsborough County (which includes Tampa) recently honored the Manatee County workers at their own no-kill seminar, where Weiskopf introduced Winograd. If Manatee County can get to no-kill, then any county in the United States can. It just takes leadership and the No Kill Equation.


None of this is easy, though, and perhaps the hardest challenge in making no-kill successful is getting the major stakeholders on side. No-kill has to be a community event. That's why it was heartening to see, at Saturday's talk, representatives from Toronto Animal Services, Toronto Humane Society and, from what I was told, the OSPCA. Plus, city councilor Glenn De Baeremaeker gave the opening remarks, encouraging the audience to flex their political muscle for animal welfare. Even Winograd was surprised at the make up of the audience, commenting at the beginning of his speech that he almost never sees people from animal control or even the main charitable animal shelters at his talks because usually they are convinced his no-kill ideas are borderline crazy if not outright evil and will never work.

In the decade plus long crusade for no-kill, however, Winograd has proven his detractors wrong in more than thirty communities ranging from large urban centers like Reno to small rural towns like Tompkins County, from liberal enclaves like San Francisco to more conservative ones in the south. It's interesting that along every step of the way, the main critics of the no-kill movement have been other animal welfare organizations.

Here's an excerpt from the Lynchburg Humane Society blog:

I had the pleasure of having an interesting conversation with a member of another humane organization this past weekend. They are an SPCA that takes in animals for a number of localities and operates as the pound for their area. She asked how we were doing in Lynchburg and I, of course, was excited to tell her about our recent success about our save rate being 84% and having no healthy animal lose their life in our shelter in 2010 and how much the community has embraced the changes as we move toward becoming No Kill. She immediately went to defense mode and asked me loaded questions to prove I was wrong and of course explain to me how our programs wouldn’t work for them.

Winograd doesn't take any of this criticism lying down. He seems to do constant battle with the other major animal welfare organizations, especially the HSUS, the ASPCA and PETA (which is arguably the worst practitioner of the "better dead than fed" school of animal rights).

From "My Disturbing Encounter with the Mind of PETA":

He [a PETA employee] then explained that he has the right to round up and kill cats, even if they are not suffering, simply because he “believes” they might suffer. In fact, he said that no matter the circumstances, killing is not unethical — even convenience killing — because it is just like being put under anesthesia for spay/neuter, with the only difference being that the animal never wakes up.

As a responsible citizen, I would never propose that the only response to someone like that is a one-two punch to his nutsack.

Nathan's total talk was two and a half hours long with an additional leadership session afterward (which I unfortunately didn't have time to attend) and while I'd already heard or read pretty well everything Winograd had to say - via the almighty internet - the event was enjoyable and reinforced my convictions concerning animal welfare.

No-kill requires strong leaders for their organizational and inspirational skills.

No-kill requires cooperation between stakeholders for their access to resources, their expertise and their volunteers.

No-kill requires community support because that's where all the animals get rehomed and it's the source of all funding.

No-kill requires sound strategy and planning and Winograd's no-kill equation is a good place to start.



If you are at all interested in the no-kill philosophy, I highly recommend you read as much about it as you can, if you haven't already done so, to learn the steps and effort it takes to achieve it and also about the cautionary tales of good intentions gone wrong due to inadequate planning and organization.

Start here for some quick inspiration and then here for the nitty gritty and type "no kill failures" into Google for cautionary tales (though some of the cautionary tales were written by idiots so sift through them with a critical eye).



4 Comments to “Nathan Winograd in Toronto”

  1. Darlene says:

    I was there, too, and was inspired by Winograd, as he is very passionate, engaging and positive. I find it very easy to say, "People suck" and to believe that anyone outside of rescues are untrustworthy and just assume the worst. But he won't let us get away with that kind of simplistic thinking, and it really opened my eyes. I was also heartened (and very surprised) to see De Baeremaeker and the TAS there. It gave me hope. And if the OSPCA was there--holy crap.

  2. Anne says:

    this was a really balanced overview- thanks for that

  3. As a new employee to Toronto Humane Society, I was proud and delighted to see that many top administrators from THS attended as well. Our CEO, Dr. Messier, also had a private meeting with Mr. Winograd, which I hope is indicative of the kind of leadership that every shelter and rescue should emulate.

  4. Anonymous says:

    There are so many reasons to support the No Kill Advocacy Center's No Kill Equation. Reforming Animal Control by putting CAPA (the Companion Animal Protection Act) in place guarantees that rescue groups will be given access to animals in order to save lives, and provides employees, volunteers and rescues with whistleblower protection. It was shocking when I spoke with rescue groups where I live and found out that they had been abused and bullied by city staff, and the pound had killed animals the rescue had agreed to pull. Rescue groups and whistleblowers elsewhere said they've also been subject to retaliatory killing and abuse.

    If cities and groups want to save money and set am example that companion animals are not disposable, they really need to put CAPA-type legislation in place to make a commitment to no-kill.

    A few people have complained that we should look to the Calgary model because it's a Canadian solution. Rejecting a proven no-kill model because of country of origin is as silly. When you look at the Calgary community as a whole, they appear to implement most or all of Winograd's No Kill Equation. Several communities see merit in having both work together. Both Bill Bruce of Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services and Nathan Winograd believe that ineffective, arbitrary laws should be eliminated and that excellent leadership and community involvement and transparency are key.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.
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