Our battle for a No Kill nation is not against the public. It is against the cowards of our movement who refuse to stand up to their colleagues and friends running shelters that are mired in the failed and defunct philosophies that allow (indeed, cause) killing. Our battle is against those who claim to be part of our movement but fail to recognize the killing of millions of animals every year as an unnecessary and cruel slaughter and to call it what it is. It is against those who will not do for the animals that thing which is their solemn duty to do: to change themselves and to demand that their colleagues change, when that is what the situation calls for.
– Nathan Winograd
When animal advocates start to lobby about conditions and kill rates at their local council pound, the first obstacle they will often face is local (and non-local) rescue groups defending that same pound. Which would seem strange to anyone new to animal welfare; surely rescuers would be advocating loudly for the rights of pets in a pound which plans to kill them? Surely they’d appreciate support in lobbying for improved outcomes?
Though they don’t like to admit it, the relationship between between pounds and the rescue groups who save pets from them is often built on a foundation of complicity and enabling.
Rescues can access some pets - some of the time - all the while they remain loyal to the pound. They must turn a blind eye to neglect or abuse. They must not speak out if pet owners are cruelty kept from reclaiming their pets. They must remain silent about the needless killing of animals. They must ignore the disease, illness, suffering and death.They must never criticise or denigrate the processes of the pound, no matter how brutal, fatal or unnecessary.
Some rescuers are scared for the lives of the pets they save. They’ve seen other rescuers get banned from the pound. They’ve seen pets killed in retaliation for rescuers speaking out. They’ve seen the entire rescue-adoption program shut down and every unclaimed pet slaughtered when someone rocked the boat too far.
While other rescuers might simply not see it as their ‘job’ to advocate for pounds to change their processes and policies; that their only role is to save the pets they can. Stay out of the politics and just do the rescuing.
Enablers make the continued practice of killing possible. No pound can go it alone. They count on the support of those working around them to be sympathetic and complicit. They need rescuers to be happy to keep quiet - in return they will be granted permission to be able to save pets. Even better if those rescuers will step in and defend the pound with excuses for why the killing must continue. If you find yourself defending the killing of shelter animals, you have become complacent about the failure at your pound. Complacency is the enemy of reform.
The rescuer who will not stand up for his or her values is bound to continue to live the life of going from crisis to crisis, from saving x dog to y cat, forever lamenting the death, and behaving as if they are powerless to do anything about it. Keeping your mouth shut in order to save the few you are allowed to save perpetuates the institutionalised killing we see in pounds across the nation.
We know that pound reform and positive change doesn’t just ‘happen’. There has to be someone to speak up and demand this reform.
We can, to a degree, excuse the general public for their failure to demand this change. Many simply do not know what takes place in pounds using their tax dollars, or they presume that there are no alternatives to the killing. Rescuers know better. They know when healthy animals die it is because the pound has failed to do what it should have done to save that animal. When rescuers fail to speak up, or defend a pound's right to kill, that’s a betrayal of the worst kind.
While I can sympathise with the idea that saving a few is better than saving none, ultimately we must be working to remove the known, institutionalised harms committed against pets. I say, speak up for no kill policies. If it is their choice, let council ban every last rescuer from the place. That is your signal to speak up louder. Organise and go to the people, to the media, and to the public. Go to the council meetings. Go to the Mayor. Shine a light on the needless killing going on at the pound and council's efforts to prevent rescuers from saving pets.
Only you can do this. Because as a rescuer you are the one who sees the wrongs first hand. Who understands the failings and the processes and programs which could, practically overnight, eliminate the brutality and killing. And you can take these issues to the wider community to gain support and drive for meaningful reform.
If we shut up and play nice, nothing happens. If no one stands up and says unequivocally that killing is wrong and it needs to stop immediately, no one will hear it. And if no one hears it, those people you are working with, making excuses for, enabling - they will maintain the status quo. They will keep killing animals while you keep silent. Business will continue as usual.
There is no doubt - there will be an end to needless killing of healthy and treatable pound pets. When that happens, which side will history put you on? Will you have been an advocate for no kill or will you have remained a loyal enabler to those who needlessly killed untold millions of pets in pounds?
Each of us must make a choice. We can't have it both ways. We can't claim to be advocates for pets, rescuing a few, while at the same time participating in the concealment of the needless killing tens of thousands of others each year. I work to enable others who oppose killing. I am a no kill advocate.