|To start, I feel a need to confess that I can be a bit of a cry-baby. Not in the normal sense, mind you. I have an incredibly high pain threshold. And, working in animal welfare for so many years, I have developed a kind of acceptance of painful stories. Rather than causing me to tear up, stories of suffering tend to inspire me to action. Even still, it is pretty easy to get my tears flowing.|
When I think of animals Animal Ark has rescued that had previously been thought beyond hope my eyes get watery. If I contemplate the courage and tenacity of Animal Ark's founders - including my own mother - who set their own personal interests aside to save lives, I can get down-right blubbery. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I have had some weepy moments during and following the 2011 No Kill Conference from which I just returned.
Each year, the No Kill Conference is one of my top highlights. Where else can you connect with so many passionate, articulate and successful animal welfare advocates?! The networking and meet-ups alone make the event worth attending. Additionally, every year I gain insight into how the USA can become a no kill nation. But, something dramatic shifted for me this year. The fact that we can stop killing healthy and treatable animals across the USA changed from something I believed would happen to something I saw HAPPENING.
The number of people representing no kill communities grew dramatically. They came from open admission animal control centers in urban centers. They came from rural, private animal welfare organizations. They came from all flavors in between. There were lawyers and lobbyists working at the local, state and national levels. There were shelter volunteers. There were passionate foster families.
Perhaps more importantly: the commitment of people representing communities that had yet to achieve no kill also grew. They came from nearly all four corners of the globe. In their eyes, I could see the same drive and passion that I saw in Ryan Clinton and Ellen Jefferson.
A few years ago, Ryan and Ellen were newcomers to the no kill movement. Yet, they quickly went on to lead Austin, Texas to becoming the largest no kill community in the United States.
Ellen and Ryan are the Texas versions of Bonnie Brown and Mitch Schneider from Reno, Nevada, a community with one of the highest save rates in the nation, in spite of having high rates of poverty, higher than average shelter intake rates per capita. Bonnie and Mitch have made the sheltering system in their community a model every community in the world can follow. They are sharp and witty and charming. They are deeply passionate about their work. Ellen, Ryan, Bonnie and Mitch were some of the rock stars of this year's conference that have one thing in common: a few years ago, no one had hardly heard of them.
Not that long ago, Bonnie was in retail. Ryan was a law student. Mitch was more of a "traditional" animal control officer. Ellen was a veterinarian. The only thing they had in common was a fire in their heart and a light in their eyes. It was the same fire that I could see in the eyes of the new friends I met at the conference.
There was Aimee Sadler, Director of Training and Behavior at the Longmont Humane Society. She believes, and has pretty much proven, that about 98% of shelter dogs can be saved. I met Robyn Kippenberger, CEO of the Royal New Zealand SPCA. After being a member of the New Zealand Parliament who worked on animal welfare laws, Robyn took the job as the head of the RSPCA only to learn that their shelters were killing far too many animals. She created the RSPCA's Saving Lives program, and is well on her way to creating the first no kill country in the world!
I could go on and on...
For a couple of decades many shelters believed that ending the killing of healthy and treatable animals would happen when they got a big Maddie's Fund grant. Today, they are increasingly realizing that life-saving is less about dollars than it is about passion and commitment. After all, in spite of the many multi-million-dollar Maddie's Fund grants that have been dolled out over the years, none of those grants have resulted in the creation of a no kill community (the supposed purpose of the grants).
Money is a minor factor when compared with passion and commitment. The latter two were on full display at this year's no kill conference.
There were stories of soccer teams that baked cupcakes to sell to raise money for no kill shelters. There were examples of model legislation to protect animals. There were tales of heroics in animal rescue.
And, in the eyes of many of the attendees, I could see the same spark that I saw in Ellen Jefferson & Ryan Clinton. Then I thought of changes here at home in Minnesota. People who I didn't even meet at the no kill conference have launched Facebook pages to create a no kill Minnesota, or Stop the Killing at Animal Humane Society, or help adopt animals from their local animal control, and I realized that the no kill movement has officially become an unstoppable force.
No more excuses. No other options. Shelter management that wants to continue killing will be replaced.
On the plane ride home to Minnesota, I cried, mostly out of pride for my family's role in the global movement to reform animal shelters, and the belief that the needless killing in animal "shelters" will soon stop because passionate people from all walks of life are stepping up to save animals.
No Kill Advocacy Center
No Kill Nation
GWU Law School