It Takes a Community

2001 by Nathan Winograd

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

A decade ago, the idea of finding a home for every healthy shelter dog and cat would have sounded like science fiction. Now we are poised to make it a reality. But whether you call it No More Homeless Pets, No Kill, or other things, in a nutshell, the challenge is to build a humane "society."

To meet that challenge, we need to get the community excited, to energize people for the task at hand. Everybody needs to be a part of the mission. And the measure of how much we succeed - or fail - is a function of what happens to the cat living in an alley in our community, whether the business downtown adops a ‘pets at work' policy, whether landlords will help our lifesaving goals by saying yes to renters with dogs, whether our neighbors adopt imperfect pets because they believe in our lifesaving mission. It is about the cafes, the storefronts, the squares, the neighborhoods. That is how we will be measured. And that is what it takes to save all the lives at risk - regardless of how big or how small your shelter is.

What confuses a lot of people in this movement, what stops them before they start is the completely false idea that to end the killing of healthy and sick homeless pets, you need to start with big bucks and big shelters. That helps, it helps a lot, but it is putting the cart before the horse. And that's not so great an idea when our cart and our horse have a long way to go.

To reach our goals, we must first focus our energies, not on building a shelter, but on rebuilding our relationship with the community.

If No Kill is going to become a reality in our hometowns, the ethic, the beliefs, the desire must penetrate the community. No-Kill may be defined by what happens to the animals within the halls of the shelter, but it can only be achieved by what happens outside of them. How much the lifesaving ethic is embraced in the cafes, storefronts, squares and neighborhoods. By how much we build our image by reflecting the values that people hold dear, and in turn expand the resources to save more and more lives at risk.

Let me give you one example. Jamie had never heard of feral cats. All Jamie knew was that after she fed the hungry stray in her yard, she started noticing others - all of them hungry. So she started feeding them. And she wanted to have them spayed.

She managed to catch them - one by one. And since she paid full price, over $200 for an exam, vaccinations, and spay/neuter, she could only afford one cat every two weeks.

When the local SPCA opened a feral cat spay/neuter clinic and began loaning out traps for free, Jamie went on to trap and alter over 120 cats in one year alone. And a team of 70 "Jamies" put together a neonatal foster network that reduced kitten deaths by 85% throughout the city.

Jamie exists in every community. We need to tap into that energy, that compassion, that desire to do the right thing - and harness it. We build a humane shelter within our walls. We become a humane society by embracing the landlords, merchants, and feral cat caretakers in our communities - and energizing them for the lifesaving effort ahead.

It is absolutely essential for the humane movement to embrace the community we serve. We cannot save the lives of animals without people's help.

If you reflect the community's values, if you are doing a good job for animals, if you tell them about it, and then ask for their help. They do help. They want to be a part of the effort. Jamie traps cats for spay/neuter. Landlords make their apartments "pet friendly." Others give donations.

Whether its pets in rental housing, dogs at work, cats in alleys, or finding homes for older, sick, injured or traumatized pets in our shelter, if we are going to save lives, we need four things: desire, creativity, flexibility, and most importantly, community support.

The big, beautiful shelter, the expanding resource base, the successes will all be a byproduct of that, not their cause.

Nathan Winograd

Nathan Winograd is the former Executive Director of the Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca, New York, and the former Director of Operations for the San Francisco SPCA. Nathan currently directs The No-Kill Advocacy Center and is the author of Redemption, about the no-kill movement.

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