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  • Mike Fry

Celebrations and Lessons Learned from the First Year of No Kill in Lake County, Florida



I first walked into the Lake County Animal Shelter in Tavares, Florida a little more than a year ago. As my reports to the County clearly indicated, I found a building that was in desperate need, a staff that was exhausted and over-worked, and to a degree, demoralized. For various reasons, control of the shelter operations had been moved around from one entity to another, which is not uncommon. Animal shelters are often hot potatoes that get passed around. Running them well is really, really hard, emotionally challenging and often under appreciated. And, if the people running them have not yet learned about the current best practices in No Kill sheltering, are often killing healthy and treatable pets, putting them at odds with what citizens want from their shelters. Everywhere I go where No Kill best practices have yet to be put into place, I find angry citizens, exhausted staff, and often a shelter that has been passed from one agency to the next because who would want to deal with killing animals and people angry about it on a daily basis? Anyway, suffice it to say that when I walked into the Lake County Animal Shelter for the first time what I found was not unusual or out of the ordinary. But, to the credit of the Lake County Board of Commissioners, they had concluded that ordinary was not good enough. They were getting ready to take over the shelter operations and were committed to making it a No Kill operation. To anyone who had never done this before, the task would have seemed almost insurmountable.

Per capita nationally, the shelter had a higher than average intake rate for an animal shelter. The facility itself had been designed for a kind of sheltering they did not want to do any more. And, quite frankly, as control of the shelter had been passed from one agency to the next, none of them had really maintained it as they should. Lake County Animal Shelter took in nearly 7,000 animals a year into what was basically a glorified pole barn with no real functioning HVAC system.

As if those challenges were not enough, 2017 dealt the shelter some serious blows, including a horrific hurricane and multiple large animal hoarding cases.

In spite of all of that, they finished the year with a 92% Live Release Rate (LRR). The short version goes like this: On January 15, 2017 the keys to the animal shelter were handed over to the Lake County County Board and no healthy or treatable pets have been killed since. As I have written before, it was like a light switch was flipped on. Naturally, it was much harder than that. But, the killing that used to happen stopped that fast.

As a consultant through No Kill Learning, I have been honored to have been part of the team that helped make that happen. In 2017 more than 1,600 more happy outcomes occurred at Lake County Animal Shelter than happened the year before. The fighting in the community surrounding the killing the shelter was previously doing has been entirely absent this year. That has freed up resources to help work on life-saving.

The key things that made all of that possible were leadership at the County committed to change and a willingness to be open to rewriting policies and protocols that generated positive outcomes. Once those things were done, and staff were trained on new policies and practices, there was still hard work to do. But, I argue, what they were doing before was also really hard work. Once the protocols are written and staff trained and managed accordingly, the rest pretty much takes care of itself.

When I first walked into Lake County Animal Shelter a little over a year ago, I had little doubt they would succeed. There are too many good and passionate people there for failure to have been an option. Exactly one year ago today, the Lake County Board took the keys to the shelter and the No Kill switch got flipped to the On position. So, today, I give everyone there a special thank you for letting me be part of your remarkable year of success!

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