Michigan Animal Welfare Groups Learn How to Make the No Kill Philosophy a Reality

The second annual Michigan Pet Fund Alliance “Getting to the Goal” No-kill Conference took place in September in Lansing recently. I was lucky enough to attend this year and it was definitely worth the trip from Traverse City. Individuals and groups from all over Michigan came together to network and participate in sessions to learn more about the no-kill movement and how to save more pets. I met directors of animal shelters, rescue group volunteers and people who were interested in getting started in animal rescue, including a woman who was interested in starting a meet-up group to help feral cats.

Vendor booths at the conference

Cats and Dogs Magazine vendor booth

Representative Harvey Santana

Panel discussion

Deborah Schutt (MI Pet Fund Alliance) & Nathan Winograd

Puppy Mill Awareness vendor booth

Senator Steven Bieda

All Species Kinship vendor booth

Getting ready for the next workshop

Petfinder (a sponsor) handed out free toys for pets

According to the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, Michigan can claim ten no-kill communities – leading the nation. We also have active grassroots reform groups in Barry, Saginaw and Macomb counties. The Humane Society of Midland took the reins of the county’s shelter in 2011 and overnight produced a miracle for the homeless cats and dogs of Midland county. They went from a save rate of 32% in 2009 to a save rate of 81% in 2011. UPAWS (Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter) went from a 60% save rate to 95%.

Click 2011Survival_Rate_No_Kill_Map for the Michigan save rates by county.

There is always more to be done though. Problems still exist in many counties. Gassing and puppy mills still exist. Dogfighting still exists and animals are still being neglected and abused. The return to owner numbers are also not improving – which is a very important area that we have to pay close attention to. And most importantly, a large number of pets, especially cats, are still being killed every day in shelters all across Michigan. The status quo is NOT okay. There are more and more objections to the status quo. Grassroots groups are organizing and challenging their government shelters to do better.

It was discussed that groups need to help those shelters who are improving their save rates; there needs to be job descriptions for directors; the relationships between shelters and rescue groups need to get better; there needs to be a comprehensive system for lost and found and we need an animal protection act which allows rescue groups to save shelter animals before they are killed.

Because many animal welfare workers and volunteers don’t accept the status quo, they are eager to go to conferences like this where they can network and learn more about how to improve the lives of their animals and how to save more of them.

The main conference room had many vendors who set up tables, including sponsors Petfinder and Petco Foundation. There were a lot of great sessions to attend including: Compassion Fatigue of Animal Sheltering and Rescue Workers, Innovation in Animal Welfare, TNR Networking, Building Bridges Between Veterinarians and Animal Control Agencies and there were several sessions involving Rescue Certification.

The Rescue Certification program is something that was developed for the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance by a task force which included people from the Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan, Humane Society of Huron Valley, Paws for Life Rescue and many others.

The intent of the rescue certification program is to provide standards and public assurance that the rescue organization is reputable. This puts them in a better position to deal with animal shelters and animal control agencies when they want to save animals from these shelters or want to participate in events such as hoarding cases, puppy mill cases and disasters. The program will provide model standards for rescue organizations and is completely voluntary.

During the conference, Senator Steven Bieda and Representative Harvey Santana discussed bills that have been written including the Puppy Protection Act, Puppy Lemon Law, Grant’s Bill (ends gassing), Registry Act (requiring convicted animal abusers to be registered) and Dog Fighting Penalty Act (increasing penalties for convicted individuals). Unfortunately, these bills have not been passed yet and they will most likely have be re-introduced in 2013.

The featured speaker of the event was Nathan Winograd, one of many champions of the no kill movement. From the bio on his website: Nathan J. Winograd is a graduate of Stanford Law School, a former criminal prosecutor and corporate attorney, has spoken nationally and internationally on animal sheltering issues, has written animal protection legislation at the state and national level, has created successful No Kill programs in both urban and rural communities, and has consulted with a wide range of animal protection groups including some of the largest and best known in the nation. His book, Redemption, is the most critically acclaimed book on the topic in the United States and the winner of five national book awards The book shatters the notion that killing animals in U.S. shelters is an act of kindness. He is also the author of Irreconcilable Differences, a collection of essays that follows up where Redemption left off and asks – and answers – the question of whether we can do better as a society when it comes to our stewardship of companion animals.

Nathan’s keynote speech had the theme of “imagine greatness”. He said the bar for animal shelters has been historically low. They have been killing for many years. What do we have a right to expect? A municipal open admission shelter IS able to achieve a 90%+ save rate – with same models and traits as private shelters – most importantly what’s needed is a good director who is hard working, has a passion for animals, takes risks, is determined and accountable, is solution-oriented, demands excellence, leads by example, does a lot of things with limited resources and has the ability to hide their panic well. This is what we deserve. This is what the animals deserve.

Above all of the characteristics described above, Nathan says that imagination is the most important. The shelter director (and the rest of us) must imagine a different outcome than status quo. They must ask themselves, “what if?”

He described a situation for us to imagine. He said to imagine that we ran an open admissions shelter with a very high intake of animals per capita. Imagine a big puppy mill shut down and we were going to get three or four times the number of dogs as we usually get into the shelter in addition to the regular intake. He said to imagine that because these dogs were from puppy mills, we were going to get blind dogs, dogs with bad teeth, dogs who weren’t potty trained, dogs who weren’t socialized and very scared dogs. Once these dogs were pulled out of the puppy mill, they were to become our responsibility. He said to imagine that killing was off the table. We had to deal with what was happening. We would have to figure out how to house the dogs, get them groomed and vetted, find the financial resources for food and medical care and ultimately find foster homes or people to adopt these dogs. In most shelters, these dogs would be looked at as “public irresponsibility”, considered unadoptable and killed. Nathan said that he didn’t have to imagine this because it happened to him.

What did he do? He hid his panic well and he asked himself “what if?” He had to come up with some creative solutions and he had to do it fast. He put up a big wedding tent in the backyard (donated for the promotion of the tent company), called vets in the city and surrounding areas for triage (including a dentist), called in all volunteers and staff members, called rescue groups in five states, contacted the media, extended his hours, was open all night, had adoption promotions for the dogs who were already at the shelter, volunteers formed assembly lines for bathing and cutting nails and more.

Nathan said that if you are confident and believe you will succeed, others will buy into it and believe with you. Staff and volunteers worked long hours and after a while, Nathan actually got in the way because his “machine” was working so well. He removed himself from ground zero and went into his office, letting everyone do their tasks.

An infrastructure was created during this time to save more lives in the future as well. Lasting relationships with forged with veterinarians, rescue groups and businesses. There was an environment that allowed people to help. Nathan’s leadership made it easy for people to do the right thing. In 48 hours, they emptied the shelter with no killing.

Nathan talked about how we would be the biggest cheerleaders and allies of the animal shelters if they didn’t see us as the enemy and partnered with us to save lives. He said that killing those puppy mill dogs would have been unfair to the volunteers, the staff, the vets, the businesses and the public who stepped up to help them. The same is true for the kill shelters. They are letting down the community even though the community is there to help them. Nathan started a yearly campaign called “Just One Day” where shelters agree not to have any animal killings on that day. Some of these shelters ran promotions and they were so busy that they crashed their computers and ran out of animals. To some of these shelters, it was an eye opener. It showed them that there WERE adopters out there. They just had to find them and “market” the animals better. Nathan reported that 9000 animals were saved that day due to the “Just One Day” program.

Nathan explained how no kill advocates are made up of nurses, police officers, college professors, marines and many other types of people. These are people who want to do better and save more cats and dogs.

Nathan said that we have to give ourselves permission to try new things and not to be afraid that we weren’t good enough or educated enough to try something new. Even though Nathan became a lawyer, he was not a good student in high school. He showed us his report cards and notes where teachers have written remarks about his bad performance and attendance. All it takes is one person, one moment, one decision, one shelter manager or volunteer, one rescuer or individual, to make a change.

During the conference, awards were handed out to groups, based on their save rates for 2011…

The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance took the annual shelter reports that each licensed shelter is required to submit to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development performed calculations within each report to determine the shelter’s performance in saving lives.

Based upon the performance determined by the Save Rate report the following shelters were recognized with awards for 2011:

Outstanding Michigan Large (5,000+) Open Admission Shelter: Humane Society of Huron Valley, Ann Arbor; 80 percent save rate

Outstanding Michigan Medium (1,000 – 5,000) Open Admission Shelter: Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter, Negaunee; 95 percent save rate

Outstanding Michigan Small (less than 1,000) Open Admission Shelter: Copper Country Humane Society, Houghton County; 100 percent save rate

Outstanding Michigan Limited Admission Shelter: with greatest number of adoptions Adopt–a-Pet, Fenton; 99 percent save rate with 988 adoptions

Open Admission Shelter most improved from 2010: Humane Society of Midland County, Midland; 82 percent save rate, a 39 percent increase over the shelter’s 2010 save rate. The Humane Society took over operation of the county shelter in January 1, 2011.

Honorable mention:  All Open Admission Shelters which meet the no-kill definition of a save rate of 90%:  Huron Humane Society Inc (Alpena), Help Orphaned Pets Everywhere (Gogebic), Chippewa County Animal Control (Chippewa), Southgate Animal Shelter (Wayne) AC Paws, Inc (Antrim).

In 2011 the Michigan Pet Fund recognized for the first time 10 Michigan counties which had reached the status of a No Kill Community leading the nation with the greatest number of no kill communities. The 10 communities are:  Alger, Baraga, Chippewa, Crawford, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw, Marquette, Otsego, Roscommon.

Of the 160 Michigan shelters reporting in 2011, eight were responsible for killing 50 percent of homeless dogs and cats. The shelters with the highest number of killings are: Michigan Humane Society, Macomb County Animal Shelter, Kent County Animal Shelter, Michigan Anti-Cruelty Society, Saginaw County Animal Care Center, Calhoun County Animal Center Inc., Bay County Animal Control and Jackson County Animal Control.

Some of the most important components of the no-kill movement are at our fingertips. After attending the conference, I realized more than ever three strong areas that are having a big effect on saving the lives of homeless cats and cats in Michigan and nationwide.

The first is the ability of rescue groups to take shelter animals so that they are not killed. That, combined with with shelters allowing volunteers (which is not always the case with unionized municipal shelters) frees up the time and money spent on animals through our counties. It also improves the comfort level of the pet (they are often in a home, socialized) and end up more adoptable. Does your shelter allow volunteers? What are the obstacles involved in starting a volunteer program? If volunteers aren’t allowed, what about donating food or liter, blankets and toys?

The second component that is hugely shaping the animal rescue community is social networking. With FB in particular, individuals and rescuers can be notified of an animal in immediate danger of being killed – or in need of medical help. Sometimes that help comes locally, sometimes it’s from several states away or even in a different country. Chip-in funds help shelters and rescues in need of help. Networking is an important resource for local groups. Some have private groups on FB to talk between themselves. It also cultivates a partnership of sorts and not a competitive environment. Case in point, the puppy mill bust and the help that the animal group provided. Networking has helped go beyond geographical boundaries and groups give each other creative ideas and suggestions of successful fundraisers. Photos work great – Petfinder – stories – events highlighted and needs like food posted to page.

The third component is concerned communities, forming animal “alliances” when things aren’t going right in your county. Don’t give up. We can save a lot of homeless pets by saving one at a time.

From Pet Fund Alliance:

Start with 225+ people committed to making Michigan a better place for cats and dogs…

103  Awards Banquet attendees
34 Award Winners
25 Speakers
17 Exhibitors
1 dozen volunteers
11 Scholarship Recipients
2  Sponsors: Petfinder and Petco
1 Michigan Senator
1 Michigan Representative

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One thought on “Michigan Animal Welfare Groups Learn How to Make the No Kill Philosophy a Reality

  1. Helen Taus January 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm Reply

    we should always promote the rights of animals and animal welfare at the same time.:

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