In Sydney twenty years ago, there was an excitement in the air.
RSPCA staff had visited the United States and seen first hand how a major organisation had reached No Kill goals. Later at the 1996 Urban Animal Management Conference, the solution to pound killing was presented to our animal management and animal welfare leaders.
It should have been a changing moment for animal pounds in our country.
The presenter was Richard Avanzino the then President of The San Francisco SPCA. In the time that he had lead their organisation he has transformed it into one of the premier No Kill shelters in the United States.
According to his speaker bio, the crowning achievement of Mr Avanzino’s administration was the Adoption Pact signed in 1994 between The SF/SPCA and the city pound. Under the terms of the pact every adoptable cat or dog in San Francisco was guaranteed a home.
In the first year - 1995 - the pact achieved a 88% live release rate.
“All cats and dogs who were healthy and of reasonably good temperament – even if they were old, blind, deaf, missing limbs or disfigured – were placed in loving homes, rather than killed.”
They intended that the following year, 1996, they would further push the boundaries of ‘treatable’ and save even more pets;
“Demonstrating that cats and dogs with treatable medical/or behavioural problems can be saved and successfully pleased if you just make the effort.”
Having the Father of the No Kill movement bring the solution to pound killing to our shores, should have been the start of an amazing transformation in our animal welfare circles. Nearly two decades ago we were given the answer which could have been summed up thusly:
If pounds want to stop killing animals – they needed to stop killing them – start treating them, and start adopting them into homes.
Now had a case study from someone who had the chops and stats to prove that killing pets in pounds was unnecessary, even in a major city. And we could take solace in the fact that it didn’t require an overnight transformation in the behaviour of the public.
Sure, desexing clinics, education and decreases in ‘irresponsible’ pet ownership behaviours would only go on to make the lives of pound staff easier – but the solution to pound killing was adoptions, adoptions, adoptions…
So how come Richard adopt his way to success back in 1996, and yet we haven’t achieved it here?
Where is the multi-channeled, multi-million dollar adoption campaign being run by our major animal groups to place pets in homes?
Where is the history of multiple agency adoption events?
Where are our adoption-lead pounds driving their adoption buses to shopping centres?
Where are our hundreds of in-store adoption promotions and dozens of shop fronts in each state?
Why are most council-run pounds in this country not offering adoptions at all?
What are pounds doing to combat the fact that just 11% of people acquiring pets are choosing to adopt dogs, and 22% of people are choosing to adopt cats?*
In 1996 we had the chance to embrace the knowledge of someone who had achieved what we were working to achieve. But we did not.
In 1997 we had the chance to do the same thing.
1998 could have been the year.
2006 could and should have been the ‘ten year’ mark where we all said to ourselves, "Actually, our approaches still haven’t taken us where we need to go. Let’s swallow our pride, follow in the footsteps of someone who has a proven model, and start saving lives." Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be.
In 2009 I was part of a PetRescue project to bring Nathan Winograd to our shores to demonstrate the now clarified steps to No Kill. These 11 programs and services now boast hundreds of communities representing about 500 cities and towns across America, including those in Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, Utah, California, New York, Texas and elsewhere, are saving roughly 90%* of all animals and as high as 99%.
2010 and we’re still killing pound pets in Australia as the primary method of population control.
And now we're in 2016 and we are still seeing pounds cling to the same beliefs, the same behaviours and the same approaches as we saw back in 1996. And we’re still killing pets, just as we did back then.
How many years more are we happy to grant our shelters and pounds permission to continue to use killing to manage our companion animals?
How many more hundreds of thousands of pets are we happy for them to kill, before we demand that they implement the same No Kill strategies that worked back in the 1990’s?
How many shelter directors are going to continue to kill 30%, 40%, 50% or up to 60% of intakes and still be held as ‘experts’ in animal sheltering in this country?
When are we going to stop following the lead of people who have no idea how to achieve success?
All of the years above, when we could have seen a new, compassionate sheltering system developed for our companion animals - our animal welfare leaders simply chose not to.
It should make you angry.
It should make your despair.
It should make you question who you get your information from and whether they are working on the side of the pets, or the side of keeping their jobs and their positions of authority.
It should make you want to act.
To face whatever opposition there is to the achievement of No Kill in your own community, and to fight it.
Because we cannot wait a moment longer for a ‘collaboration’ between groups who have failed and continued to fail pets, to suddenly and unexpectedly result in a success. Because it is never going to happen.
We need new leaders. And it can and should be you.