So near, yet so far apart

Valerie Hayes
No Kill Communities in North America as of 12-19-11

A map showing the locations of communities saving at least 90% of the homeless pets entering their shelters. Click to enlarge.

Remember the wonderful positive energy and message expressed in the “Take a Chance on Me” video form the SPCA of Wake County a while back? Although it has since been pulled due to objections from the record company, it showed that an animal shelter could be a place of joy if it was committed to lifesaving. By contrast, a ‘shelter’ that squanders the lives of animals squanders the hearts and goodwill of volunteers. It’s either win-win or lose-lose. Two shelters in the same county, worlds apart.

Back in August, Mike Fry of Animal Ark in Minnesota wrote an article entitled “A Tale of Four Cities” that began:

Geographically, they are widely distributed. Demographically, they have little in common. Yet this strange collection of communities have something very much in common: The old-school “catch and kill” style animal shelters in them are experiencing tremendous upheaval, brought about by a growing and passionate group of no kill advocates.

Perhaps more important is the fact that the dramatic shifts currently underway in Miami-Dade County, Florida; Harris County (Houston), Texas and the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota come on the heels of seismic shifts that have occurred in other communities, like Austin, Texas; Washoe County (Reno), Nevada and others. Collectively, the tales unfolding in these communities prove that the no kill movement is continuing to gain in strength and momentum, and could likely bring about the most important shift within the animal welfare movement ever.

Four “shelters,” far apart, yet with much in common.

Almost ten years ago, when it finally began to sink in that we were really saving all the healthy and treatable pets in Tompkins County, really, actually doing it, I began to think that the logical next thing would be that Tompkins would send ripples locally, that adjacent counties would see what we were accomplishing and would do it too, and that pebble tossed in the water, that Big Bang,  would send out ever-widening circles, extending compassion and continued life to homeless pets as it went.  I was wrong, and there is still only one No Kill community in the state of New York.*

It seemed to make logical sense, so why didn’t it happen?   Why didn’t the spread of No Kill communities follow Waldo Tobler’s First Law of Geography?

Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.

I’ve been wondering about this for a while.  Early in the movement, the No Kill philosophy didn’t travel to nearby communities so much as it leapfrogged across great distances.  It spread, not by diffusion, but by jump dispersal, to put it in the terms of biogeography.  Like windblown seeds, like birds caught in a storm, this extraordinary idea—that we could save them all, that we could leave killing in the dark and distant past—floated hundreds or even thousands of miles, to be taken up by one extraordinary person after another who would work for it, who would fight for it.  It’s a tough little idea with the ability to fly.  It has to be to survive the onslaught it still faces wherever it goes.  Like life itself, it is not easy, but full of inspiration.

It is people, not proximity.  People who are at once ordinary and extraordinary.

No Kill is an idea, and thanks to the internet, ideas can leap across continents in an instant.  More and more people are ‘getting it’.  It is as simple as the Golden Rule–even young children can understand it, yet the current killing paradigm is ensconced in such a morass of excuses, lies and obfuscations that it persists, at least for now.  No Kill communities aren’t correlated with economics—why are wealthy communities not already No Kill whereas less well-to-do ones are? It takes a decision and hard work, often in the form of a fight.

Every No Kill community was once a killing one.  Every single one looked impossible until it was done.  They didn’t “try” for years, they made a decision, and they carried it out immediately.

The No Kill movement has recently begun getting some of the national-level, mainstream press coverage that it deserves, and I expect we’ll see more and more of it in 2012 as we continue to gain traction.  That little document-leaking episode last month was the sputtering of a faltering regime.  I just hope that they read the writing on the wall–that Extremist Agenda graffiti that says we can save 90+% of all animals entering open-admission municipal animal control facilities—and get with the program sooner, rather than later.

Last week, Forbes magazine gave it this mention:

Most people assume that the ASPCA, one of the largest and most well-funded animal-rights groups in the world, who profess to prevent cruelty to animals, would be all for advocating that homeless cats and dogs not be killed at animal shelters. Not so. A big eye opener: The ASPCA has actively fought to prevent cities from establishing no-kill shelters and aggressively fights bills proposed in local city councils that aim to reduce the number of innocent animals being killed. Another shocker? PETA, does too. The true protectors of animals are not the bureaucracy-rich animal rights organizations, but smaller groups and individuals. Nathan Winograd, author of Redemption, and Stanford-law-educated ex-criminal prosecutor and corporate attorney, is the founder of a growing no-kill-shelter movement—and gets my vote for most important intellectual this year. His no-kill actions challenge the status quo by thinking beyond the box. He’s developed a creative and realistic plan that many cities are successfully using to save most of their homeless animals. New York City’s ACC, who murders hundreds of cats and dogs each week needs to reform and implement his ideas.

And, presumably, the checkbooks of a wealthy animal-lover or two accustomed to donating to the ASPCA or PETA, were slammed shut.   Money talks.

A couple of months ago, the Christian Science Monitor profiled Ryan Clinton and the work of Fix Austin and Austin Pets Alive! in making Austin the nation’s largest No Kill community.  It mentioned how they recently formed American Pets Alive! to support grassroots No Kill efforts elsewhere and quoted Clinton, “I really think we are at the tipping point nationally and this is going to happen all over the country very quickly.”

We’ve gone from exactly one No Kill community ten years ago to over 25 now, with several communities poised to join the “90% Club” and many more reform efforts underway.  Still, that amounts to less than 1% of the estimated 3500 animal shelters in the country.  It may not seem like much, but the number is increasing at an increasing rate–most of these were announced within the past year or so.  No Kill Houston and the No Kill Communities blog have been keeping lists of these communities as they pop up, but a visual representation helps to put things in a spatial context.  Cathy Habas of No Kill Louisville put No Kill communities on the map –literally, a Google Map, and that gives us another way of looking at where we are and where we’re going.    There’s a lot of blank space in the Southwest, Southeast, New England, Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands, but there’s a nice cluster developing in and around Virginia and some interesting things happening in Texas.   How impossible can it be if it is all over the map?

If we’re at the tipping point, and it looks like we may well be, then this map and the landscape of animal sheltering in this country will be looking very different very soon, but this isn’t a passive process–it doesn’t just happen by diffusion.  Not yet, and maybe not ever.  It happens by jump dispersal.

A determined leap.

A decision.

A marker is something to celebrate.  A blank space is an opportunity.


*New York City has been “trying” to go No Kill for years, missing deadline after deadline.  If the ASPCA were to throw its considerable heft behind making New York City No Kill and ending the rampant abuses at NYCACC, rather than blocking No Kill efforts there and elsewhere, the Big Apple would be the biggest No Kill community in the country tomorrow.


UPDATE  12/20/11 From Cathy Habas:  “The “Map of No Kill” just got more impressive. Because it was shared extensively yesterday (600 views in a day! Wow!) I’ve gotten some feedback regarding even more No Kill communities! Seagoville, TX; Brown County, IN; Chippewa County, MI; Allegany County, MD; Ivins, UT; and Vancouver, BC all joined the map.”

UPDATE 12/21/11 Healdsburg, CA joins the map with a 93% save rate in 2010 and a 95% save rate in 2011, bringing the current number of No Kill communities in North America to 34!  Still think it’s impossible?

Click here to see the updated map.

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