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Traditional Animal Shelters: You're Invited to the Party!

Updated: Jun 8, 2019



In my decades of work in the No Kill Movement, one thing has always struck me as odd: why do traditional animal shelters resist the transition to No Kill? I have sat and watched as animal shelters and national organizations that profess to be concerned with the welfare of animals have continually resisted basic reforms that would save more animals' lives. And, they have often done so in fairly hostile and aggressive ways. And, as shocking as that may be, it is even more startling to realize they have fought No Kill reforms, even as they describe the conditions in their shelters as anything but great. Often, they seem ashamed of their shelters. Many resist providing transparent outcome reports. And, in the most extreme cases, the oversight of the animal shelter is considered such an awful task that it becomes a bit of a hot potato, being passed from department to department over the years, because no one really wants to do it.

I could list many dozens of examples of this animal shelter hot potato phenomenon. But, since the Lake County Animal Shelter in Florida has been getting a lot of positive press for its transition to No Kill in 2017, I thought I would share a bit of its "hot potato" history that some people might not realize - even those who have followed the story.


Prior to achieving No Kill on January 15, 2017, the Lake County Animal Shelter was operated by the Lake County Sheriff's Office, which, by most accounts, had made some incremental improvements over the years. In spite of the improvements, the shelter was still killing a significant number of healthy and treatable animals.

Prior to the Sheriff's Office running the animal shelter, it had been managed by the Lake County Board of County Commissioners. Operation of the shelter was handed off to the Sheriff's Office following vocal complaints about killing and conditions at the shelter, which, like so many shelters, had been built next to the local landfill, in part to facilitate easy disposal of animals.

The transfer of the shelter oversight resulted in slightly fewer animals going to the landfill. But many healthy and treatable pets were still not making it out of the shelter alive. As a result, public discontent continued and the shelter remained the hot potato it had be and was passed back to the control the Board of County Commissioners on January 15, 2017. This time, however, they decided to do things differently. The most important thing they changed was their commitment to the shelter and the animals that were being taken there. The County Board fully embraced the No Kill model, including all of the 11 programs that make it possible. When they did that, the killing stopped, virtually overnight.

When Lake County Animal Shelter stopped killing healthy and treatable pets, something else happened: The advocates who had been the shelter's toughest critics became some of their most vocal supporters. Morale at the shelter increased. Volunteerism increased. More people signed up to foster animals. And, more people showed up at the shelter to adopt animals. The last time I visited the Lake County Animal Shelter, the staff were smiling, giving each other high fives and celebrating every adoption. The shelter had shifted from being a source of stress and shame in the community - a hot potato that no one wanted to really hold onto for any length of time - to being a source of pride and celebration in the community.

In my years of experience seeing many communities transition from the traditional model of sheltering to the open-admission No Kill model, I can state definitively that the experience in Lake County is universally true of all of them. The reasons why are obvious: When animal shelters kill animals they could save by revamping their policies, practices and protocols it creates sadness, anger and resentment among the staff, volunteers and the general public. On the other hand, when they go out of their way to ensure every savable pet is, in fact, saved, sadness, anger and resentment get turned into happiness, pride and celebration. Everything gets better when animal shelters stop killing.

That fact is why I began this blog by questioning why animal shelters would not want to make the change. The old approaches actually serve no one, including the staff who are often demoralized by the fact that they are associated with a behavior (killing animals) that the community abhors. For the animals that would otherwise be killed, the transition to No Kill literally means saving their lives. For the staff, administrators, city council members and county commissioners the transition to No Kill means an end to constant, ongoing (and unavoidable) complaints about the killing, and all of the sadness, anger and resentment that goes with it. Compared to a traditional animal shelter, the typical No Kill animal shelter is like a party then. And, I am officially inviting all traditional animal shelters to join the party. Every year, the No Kill party is getting bigger and more fun as more and more shelters join in. Sitting on the sidelines, calling it in or staying home for it is no fun at all. So, come on. What are you waiting for? Contact No Kill Learning to get started today!


#NoKill #transitioning