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  • Mike Fry

What We've Learned Since Boots on the Ground Release

Updated: Dec 25, 2021

In January of 2019 we released the first in a series of short documentary films about successful transitions to No Kill in communities around the USA. That first film featured Lake County, Florida, where the open-admission animal control shelter went from killing 50% of the animals they took in to killing zero. As remarkable as that was, it was an even more amazing story because the transition took place - literally - over night. One day the shelter was killing as usual. The very next day, the killing stopped. The Lake County story was even more inspiring because the shelter maintained an intake rate that was significantly higher than the national average, operated in an old, dilapidated and poorly maintained animal shelter and the transition to No Kill didn't cost the community any more money. It was a story that true animal advocates everywhere celebrated. However, among the celebrations of Lake County's stunning accomplishment, some voices were notably silent.

Though the Lake County story could be used to prove that ending the needless and senseless killing of animals in shelters, wealthy organizations, like Best Friends Animal Society, who have built massive bank accounts claiming to be working toward ending killing in animal shelters looked the other way and pretended like it never even happened. In the years since, when the success has been maintained and even improved upon, they have remained silent.

The second film in the Boots on the Ground series featured Huntsville, Alabama, where advocates pressured the City to make changes to its shelter operation that resulted in the saving of more than 6,000 pets annually. In that case, these so-called No Kill organizations were mostly silent. They certainly said nothing good about the advocates who made the changes happen. Instead, Maddie's Fund decided to give a "leadership" award to the primary opponent of reforms in that City.

The third film documented the decades-long struggle advocates had trying to end the killing in a large and complex sheltering system in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, where more than 20,000 animals used to be put to death every year. When the killing there stopped, all we have heard from Best Friends, Maddie's Fund and their enablers again has been silence. Rather than celebrating these well-documented success stories, they have, instead, been promoting and defending animal shelters that still kill, including those committing animal cruelty and neglect.

One of the lessons we have learned from successful transitions to No Kill is that the bulk of the work needing to be done is political in nature. Advocates need to apply political pressure to force change in the sheltering system. In Lake County, County Commissioners needed to be replaced with those willing to champion No Kill efforts. In Huntsville a new City Administrator was hired who was open to meeting and working with No Kill advocates to force reform at the shelter. And, in the Twin Cities, a new law and new leadership was needed in the sheltering system. The real work of advocating for No Kill is all about making the status quo politically untenable for those in control. It is hard and difficult work, made even more so by mega-wealthy No Kill pretenders, like Best Friends and Maddie's Fund.

For those who have yet to watch the Boots on the Ground series, we have just released a long-form version, a compilation of all three short films, titled Boots on the Ground: Animal Advocacy Stories. (Also available here.) Please watch and share.

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