Aug 12 2012

Liveblogging No Kill Conference 2012: Advocacy Blogging

Valerie Hayes

Speaker John Sibley has been blogging since 2004, starting as a humor blogger, but his blogging has evolved into more writing and advocacy on behalf of New York animals.  His writing was instrumental in killing the ‘Quick Kill’ Bill in New York.

First, tech stuff–Blogger (from Google) is quick and easy and you don’t need to know tech to use it.  If you know something about HTML, self-hosting WordPress [this blog is self-hosted with WordPress] is a great way to go.  It is versatile and powerful.  Avoid, a blogging network disguised as a newspaper.  I know others may disagree.  Don’t take ads.  You won’t make any money and some ad services will give you ads you don’t want, like puppy mills!

Content and style–write what you know best.  Explain what you are an expert on and give it to someone with no knowledge of the subject and ask if they understand your point.  Be clear and engaging.

Always be gathering new information.  You  must use Google Alerts!  You can get a lot of info from watching Facebook, especially other advocates,  and following up on it.  RSS Readers draw together multiple blogs that you subscribe to.  It is an old technology compared to FB, but very useful.

Be active in your chosen community, constantly on the search for new information.  Attend meetings, lectures, protests.  Personal contact means a lot!  Use 3rd party sources when necessary (ie when shelters won’t let you in).  make sure your readers can contact you directly–email, FB , twitter, etc.  You will get spam.  A different attitude to privacy.  FB feed is public, but comments are restricted to those he knows due to time constraints.

FOIA requests:  you have the right to view many government documents.  Christie Keith   and Yesbiscuit! know a lot about this subject.

Screenshots of important data that is likely to disappear.  Collect puzzle pieces over time to make a complete picture.  Rarely will you get something actionable all at once.

Calling someone out publicly depends on whether they are a public figure and the degree of their wrongdoing.  Use personal ethical guidelines, and protect sources that do not want to be identified.

Blogging is not journalism!  It has an overt opinion, it presents a point of view.  It is dishonest to present opinion as fact.

Think about your style.  The must-read Yesbiscuit! mixes news and sarcasm and does her own investigations (sometimes of distant shelters) using FOIA requests, emails and contacts with her dedicated fan base.  Read what other people are writing–Christie Keith, this blog, Kathy Pobloskie, Brent Toellner (best at analyzing stats that we have).

Avoid common pitfalls:

“Spewing”/ constant negativity.  Getting very emotional, can be a turn off for many, including me–show, don’t tell.

Don’t rely on shocking or very graphic photos or techniques.  But before/after pics of Patrick are an example of effective pictures.

pay attention to grammar and spelling–use Word if necessary.

Avoid unnecessary detail.  Only include details that further the story.  Short and to the point.

Anonymity–you need people to trust you.  This is hard if they don’t knwo who you are.  Understandably, you may be afraid of losing access, but people cant build a relationship with you if they don’t know who you are.

If you have a blog and you are the head of a  nonprofit, your blog will be associated with that organization.  People should find out your associations from you or it will look like you are hiding something.

Check the bylaws.  You can disclose your association in  a disclaimer.  If you are an employee of an organization, and you are writing about a topic related to what they do, you need to let them know.  There should be a policy.

Know your target audience!

Posts should stand on their own and be free of excessive jargon.  Include links to backstory, for further exploration.

Comment policy:  if you are writing about controversial topics, you need to think about and possibly post a comments policy so that people know what is/is not appropriate.  Personally I advocate an open but moderated discussion.  You are not obligated to provide a forum for crazy.  Know how to block people/IP addresses but don’t do it often.

Expect pressure–it is a sign of success.  In 2009, HSUS tried to get me fired for a piece of commentary on a video that was unflattering to HSUS.  They called my boss who told me to take the post down. Now I work in a different industry,  HSUS could not exert that kind of influence.  I didn’t take it down and kept my job.  Today a similar incident would simply provide me with tons of material.

Get the word out.  People need to find it to read it–use social media.  FB is king. Also RSS, twitter.  twitter attracts power users.  Things can go viral very quickly on FB. FB great for reaching people directly.

PARTICIPATE in FB and twitter communities, not just for self-promotion.  Be a regular part of the community.  Submit your posts to No Kill Nation and No Kill Revolution.  If they pick it up, you can get a lot of readers.  Some posts have only local interest, though.

Many people are annoyed by email.  Google+ has much lower traffic.

Christie Keith–we should all get G+ accounts and post to it at least one a month to keep it active.  It improve Google ranking.

Are your posts FB friendly?  You get a thumbnail, title, a couple of lines (unless mobile) and it must be compelling or it won’t get shared.  You need to control your metadata.

Use pics as much as possible.  When you publish your blog matters less than when you announce it on FB and twitter.  9am-6pm M-F is best for social media.  If you publish at 3 am, announce during peak hours.  Don’t announce on Sunday.

Make it easy for people to share your posts.  Sociable makes plugins for sharing on social media.

Post titles–be the New York post, Not the Wall Street Journal.

Example–Anthony Weiner’s image rehab in People

WSJ: Weiner won’t rule out a run

NYP:  Weiner shows off his little one

Other Networking:

Have a relationship with your readers, but also other writers/bloggers/power users.  They can help you with stories, technical issues, sources, tips, etc.  Read them, link to them, comment and participate.   ALWAYS make time for reporters.  Be a source.  Give them independently verifiable data.  Be a reliable source of information.

I have had 3 reporters come along on rescue pulls with me.

Case Studies:

1. Gloria and the ASPCA–story started with photo of cage card “Left at ASPCA Mobil clinic” Why was the wealthy ASPCA bringing animals to NYCACC?  They are where lost animals are taken, but a welfare group should have a hard time taking animals there.

Wrote about Gloria and another cat Benny (rescued by ECC) posing question of why she was taken to ACC by ASPCA..  Thought that was the end.  Then she was put on kill list.  Sent to pull her.  Cool to meet her.  It was clear something was wrong with her, not just URI, really wrong with her.

X-Ray revealed severe leg fracture.  ASPCA knew about this and brought her to NYCACC and told them about fracture.  NYCACC did nothing in 3 weeks.  2 medical exams failed to note the fracture.  The break was a month old.  We had the records to prove it.  Continued to write about the case as it unfolded (with permission of Pets Alive, the rescue he pulled her for).

Usually the ASPCA ignores you and never apologizes.  Kerry Clair of Pets Alive called her contacts in ASPCA.  They were horrified.  Uncharacteristically, the ASPCA quickly apologized and said they’d reexamine their policy.

Gloria had to have the leg amputated and was adopted by a friend.

If the ASPCA would apologize and fix things more often, they would get more respect.

Key factors:

  • rock solid information
  • great pictures
  • the involvement of the ASPCA, publicly documenting what local rescuers already know

2.  NYCACC New Computer Rescue System–costly and flawed, leading to animal deaths

An example of needing to protect source–redacted identifying info from screenshots supplied by NYCACC employee

Screenshots showed failure of the system.  Picked up by the NY Post and Daily Mail, which needed photos of the animals in question in 45 minutes. Also News 4.  A very successful story.

NY has been very dysfunctional for a very long time.  Reporters and editors feel the story has been done to death.

This story started with a reader tip, then the employy sent 15 screenshots.

3. Killing the Quick Kill Bill

The ASPCA’s attempt to derail shelter access law in NY

Who reads legislation?

2/10/12 Nathan published a piece detailing the A’s plan to introduce a trojan horse bill in partnership with the Mayor’s Alliance and the Animal Law Coalition

2/11/12 The Quick Kill Bill, promoted by Amy “Quick Kill” Bill is born, complete with cheeky graphic after the Kill Bill movie poster–went viral quickly.

Her FB page was innundated with opposition.  2000:1 opposed.  She dug in her heels and would not respond to reason.

Mounted campaign.  Loosely organized coalition of people doing their own thing–no one was particularly in charge.  There were online and offline components.

In Dog We Trust served as info clearinghouse.  Nathan took out newspaper ads which got a huge response.  A sticker ended up on Paulin’s office door (with photographic documentation).

Sent postcard mailers to all of her constituents in wealthy Scarsdale–targeting her financial base.  This got a big reaction.  Cost of postcards $2200.  Raised money quickly online.

This was a great example of changing the terms of the debate–reporters, legislators and staff referred to it as the Quick Kill Bill.

Petitions are often useless.  People often not targeted correctly.  Easy to ignore.   Best way to stop something is to flood their office with angry phone calls–must be overwhelming.

Nathan wrote a post about Paulin’s love of pen certificates, urging readers to send her a pen.

Got custom syringe pens with her name on them, and gave them out at an adoption event in her district.  She came to the event in an effort to rehab her image.

Met with Kerry Clair and dropped the bill.

Key factors:

  • grassroots faster and more agile than big orgs, know right from wrong,
  • legwork–scouring NYS Assembly site for updates,
  • crossover to mass media
  • persistence
  • branding, repetition, good visuals

Contact info:  John Sibley

twitter: @jbsibley

Nov 5 2011

Posts of Note: As thinking changes, so does the world

Valerie Hayes
Owney the postal dog.

Owney was a USPS mascot in the late 19th century.

The Southeast Pet Rescue Railroad has this handy guide to making effective use of twitter for animal rescuers and advocates.  Learn how to use twitter to get the word out about adoptions, events, fundraisers, advocacy campaigns and more.  There’s more on social media in general in this older post by Mike Fry.  Getting the word out with social media increases the pace of change exponentially.

A biological anthropologist writes about grief in animals for NPR.  That animals such as cats can experience grief is not news to animal lovers, but for a scientist to write about it in the media is a sign of changing times.  And the more you think about it, the more tragic our broken “sheltering” system looks.

Not exactly breaking news, but the US Post Office has issued commemorative stamps of Owney the postal dog.  The story of Owney illustrates how attitudes towards dogs have and have not changed over the past 100+ years.

The Christian Science Monitor profiled Ryan Clinton in its People Making a Difference feature.  This terrific piece is further evidence that the No Kill movement is arriving at its tipping point.  There’s a lot to love about this article.  I particularly liked how Dr. Ellen Jefferson talked about how participating in the No Kill movement changed her thinking about how to prevent shelter deaths.  In a short piece the article manages to show what happens when you act on a simple principle:

“Everyone needs an advocate,” he says of his animal welfare work, in a modest and lawyerly way. “And this was a solvable problem.”

This post from the New York Times makes me think of how the plight of shelter animals has long been an orphaned issue, an embarrassment to be defensive about, in animal welfare.  I’d like to juxtapose it with this classic by Ed Duvin.  Are elements of the attitudes described in the Times article part of why groups like PeTA are anti-pet (or part of their internal self-justification process)?

And there’s this exciting news from Florida.

And a court ruling in Texas allows for ‘sentimental damages’ in the case of a dog wrongfully killed by a “shelter”.

Classic Posts

Not new, but worth reading (or re-reading):

“The Butterfly Effect” is a wonderful story of an amazing encounter between a Washington Post reporter and a Red Admiral.  There is more to the universe than we know.


Ryan Clinton holds a rescued dog, photo from the Christian Science Monitor.

All pets would grin like this if they lived in No Kill communities. Photo from the Christian Science Monitor.


UPDATE:  It turns out that Owney, despite  being dead for over 100 years, has a very active twitter feed.

This is the first in a weekly series in which I will highlight blog posts, articles and such in keeping with the theme of this blog.


Aug 13 2011

What they said: notable quotes from day 2 of No Kill Conference 2011

Valerie Hayes
No Kill Conference 2011 logo.

"Fight the Power!"

Day 2 continued the whirlwind begun in day 1 of No Kill Conference 2011.  There were many more talks than any one person could possibly–so many more that two people could attend every session and have no overlap in content.  Brent Toellner, one of the presenters from yesterday, has a collection of links to blog posts on the conference overall and on particular presentations.

Attorney Kate Neiswender on ‘Legislating No Kill‘:

Politicians have a long memory for the people who help them.

Legislators love numbers.

You will find help in strange places.

An editorial in support of your bill in the local paper is legislative gold.

Diane Blankenberg of Nevada Humane Society on ‘Harnessing Community Compassion’:

 “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”  –Sun Tzu

Volunteers are ambassadors in the community.  They will tell other people about their experiences.

The average volunteer is with the organization for 90 days.  That is a lot of turnover.  make it easy and flexible to be a volunteer.

Get rid of patronizing rules.  They are unwelcoming.

The focus is on fun.  Match people with what they want to do.  Challenge them to name a skill that they have that can’t be used by the shelter.

Reach out to the media.  Be responsive to them and they will be responsive to you.

Keeping volunteers is a challenge.  People need to feel like they are using their talents.

“Enthusiasm is contagious.  Start an epidemic.”  –Don Ward

Create positive experiences.

Example of a car decal given to volunteers at a recognition event:  “I’m a Nevada Humane Society foster parent.  I save lives.”

Your program doesn’t have to be perfect.  It is a work in progress.

We make it easy for rescue groups–they can have any animal they want at no charge, and we help with spay-neuter.  We don’t complain about ‘cherry-picking’–we’re glad to let them have animals.

“The combined force of a thousand sparks makes a powerful bolt of lightning.” –Arlo Guthrie

During lunch Nathan Winograd spoke about leadership:

For so long, the bar has been set so low that we get excited about crumbs, but we deserve more.

What is the most important characteristic of a leader?  I would argue that it is imagination.

Directors of kill ‘shelters’ need to ask themselves:  “What do you want your legacy to be?”

It is never too late to do the right thing.

Excuses will be proven false.

Imagination = Lifesaving²

Robyn Kippenberger of the RNZSPCA spoke about “Leadership” (do you see a theme here?):

Proverbs 29:18–”Where there is no vision, the people [and animals] perish.”

You need to re-sensitize  people, many of them have killed for a long time. You have to come forward and let yourself feel in this work.  If you don’t, your heart is not in it, the passion isn’t there.

Imagine that the animal before you is your animal.  If you do not, then you are not doing the best for that animal.

Save one life at a time, with the intention of saving them all.

“When placed in command, take charge.”  –General Norman Schwarzkopf

With leadership comes responsibility.  When you know this stuff [the stuff in Redemption], you can’t un-know it.

We bring joy–and so much more.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  –Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s the “Can do!” that will save lives.

My philosophy is, if we’ve got money in the bank, we should be spending it on saving  lives.

“Neuter is cuter.”

Storytelling is part of bringing people into the circle, into the tribe, and people will remember and tell the stories.

“To the world, you may be just one person, but to one life, you may be the world.” –Anonymous

Christie Keith spoke about “Getting Your Paws on More Media”:

Many media figures have pets, but few really understand your issues.

Your best media contacts may be weather guys, sportscasters, movie reviewers, etc.  They have pets or their audience does.  Their audience is unexploited territory for you!

Think of it as courtship, relationship-building.  Don’t ask for something right away.  For 20 you reach out to, you will be lucky to get one.

Journalists are used to being reached out to, so get over your shyness and be more professional.

Cute animals are the greatest PR tool ever.

Before you send a press release, put it on your website, or at least as a Facebook note.  Journalists must be able to link to you.

Bloggers have more influence than their readership numbers may indicate.  When you have a cause, you want to target influencers.

Reporters may have relationships with regressive shelter directors.  Never target them or tell them that they are wrong, reach out to them on a human level.

Be professional and brief.

It takes an enormous army of people, of the dogs themselves, an enormous wave, to combat the propaganda against pit bulls that’s out there.

Journalists get frustrated when people want to tell them what the story is, especially if it’s controversial.  Your goal is to get attention.

Remember the difference between advertising and news.

Investigative journalists are few and far between.  Bloggers are filling this niche.

Is it a story?  Does it have a hook?  is it interesting?

Set out to be newsworthy (like Bonney Brown).

From the closing remarks by Nathan Winograd:

Lifesaving is the only criteria of success.

The status quo will call you crazy.  But No Kill is far from crazy.  Every new idea has been called “crazy”.

“‘We’ve always done it this way’ never justifies anything.” –Mitch Schneider

Most resistance to change is laziness.

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”  –Goethe

No Kill represents nothing short of a paradigm shift in animal sheltering, a completely new, rigorously positive, forward-thinking way, and that is perhaps the hardest part, especially if you have been steeped in the old ways, especially if you have killed animals.  The rest is just work.

The public–those people you’ve been led to believe were the enemy, the ones that criticize shelter killing–they’re the key to saving lives.  If you stop punishing them and yourself, and ask them for help, sincerely ask them, and if you commit yourself to laying down the needle, you will be amazed at what can happen.  There is a groundswell of change in the world of animal sheltering.  You can choose to be a part of this lifesaving adventure, or you can fight it bitterly for a time, kill some more animals, make some human lives that much more miserable, and then be swept away.  We’re past the point of no return.

Spaying and neutering and humane education are not “the only way”, they put off success until some vague time in the future.  They will do nothing to stop the rampant gratuitous killing and abuse in shelters today That is the task before us.  People want to save lives now, and we have a proven model for doing so.  Join the growing list of No Kill communities by following the No Kill Equation.

It has worked everywhere that it has been wholeheartedly implemented–Shelby County, Kentucky, Marquette, Michigan, Tompkins County, New York, Austin, Texas, Reno, Nevada, and in communities in Australia and New Zealand.  It doesn’t matter if the community is urban or rural, in the desert or in the mountains, on an island or on the mainland, in a politically liberal or conservative area.  It doesn’t even matter if you drive on the left side of the road.

It works.  No excuses.


Aug 11 2011

Notable Quotes From Day 1 of No Kill Conference 2011

Valerie Hayes
No Kill Conference 2011 logo.

"Fight the Power!"

The following are from my notes taken at No Kill Conference 2011 in Washington, DC July 30-31, 2011.  I have tried to get these quotes as exact as possible.  I’ll be posting more extensive write-ups of some of the talks I attended.  The conference was a heady and exciting experience.  Despite being at the same venue as last year, it seemed bigger, almost overwhelming, even.  Last year’s theme was “A new day dawns”, and this year, we are seeing the results.  I used to have the list of No Kill communities and those closing in on joining the ‘90% Club‘ memorized.  I can’t keep track of them anymore.  No Kill initiatives are popping up everywhere, testament to the theme of this year’s conference–the power of individual No Kill advocates to lead and to make a difference in their community and beyond.  The refrain throughout Winograd’s keynote address set the tone: ” One person. One moment. One decision.”

Nathan Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center,  from his opening remarks:

Killing an animal is never an act of kindness, especially if the animal is not suffering…We have recognized the value of the full expression of our values…One person can change the status quo.

It took a fight in Austin, Texas.

Whether Austin’s emerging story is your story depends on: one person, one moment, one decision.

We want to leave the darkness.  Our love for animals is not unique as we have been led to believe…History will vindicate us.

Our battle is against the few, not the many–the vested interests.  Millions of lives could be saved if you find the courage.  They will fight you.  They will attack you.  They will ridicule you.  You have support.  We have your back.

The No Kill revolution starts with you.  Go give ‘em Hell!

From ‘Advocacy Blogging’ with Brent Toellner of the KC Dog Blog and Shirley Thistlethwaite of the Yesbiscuit! blog:

Opinions are fine, facts are better.

[crickets] ~On how to win friends through advocacy blogging (i.e. you won’t).

From ‘Shelter Medicine for Non-Veterinarians’ with Dr. Diana Lucree of the Nevada Humane Society:

Every place has different challenges, and many excuses.

Feral cats–for those who like a little spunk in their cats.

Every animal is unique, and a potential source of infection.

Your intake protocols will make or break the health of the animals in your shelter.

Plan for days of high intake so that your intake protocols do not suffer–July 5 or days after high winds.

There’s somebody out there for everybody.

Most diseases are benign, but can be deadly in the shelter environment.

The take home lesson:  follow your intake protocol, never deviate from it!

From Seth Godin’s talk ‘Be the Tribe Leader’:

You don’t have to reach everyone.  Give people something to believe in and talk about.

People are waiting for someone to organize them, but nobody joins a boring movement.

We are all weird.

Bring humanity to a problem, not a manual.

People want you to fit in so they can ignore you.

There is no map.  You have to figure it out.  Report what works.  Make the map.

We need people who can solve interesting problems.

Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.

Emotional labor–doing what scares you.

How was your day?  Leaders are never ‘fine’.

To stay put, argue about minutiae.

From ‘Overcoming Internal Obstacles to Success’, with Michael Linke, CEO of the Royal SPCA in the Australian Capital Territory and the State of Tasmania in Australia:

We’re in the business of saving lives.

Temperament testing as a tool for euthanasia is rubbish.

Staff turnover is not a bad thing.  Cemeteries are full of people who thought they were indispensable.

It is better to lose poor staff than to compromise animals.

Why bother?  We can fall into the trap of not bothering, but this is life or death.  Remove obstacles.  Remove excuses.  If there is still a problem, remove staff.

You need to micromanage at the start, need to do something immediately.

From Alan Rosenblatt’s talk ‘Here Comes Social Advocacy’:

Social media is about reciprocal relationships, not just two-way communication–your audience talks to each other while you talk to them.

Audience size doesn’t necessarily matter–quality is more important.  Size is good if it includes the right people–influencers.

Now consumers of content, not producers, determine distribution.

Tumblr is great for animal pictures (one of the best marketing tools in the world) and can be linked to twitter and Facebook.

Manage your social media–tweet 2-3 times per day.  Ten minutes per day can be very effective.

‘How to’ is still being figured out.

Just a sampling of snippets from day one.  I’ll cover day two in my next post.  The ideas were flying fast both in the sessions and during the ‘downtime’, and I got to meet many interesting people.  Some you’ve heard of, others you haven’t heard of yet. To be in a room with hundreds of people who ‘get it’ and are generous with their expertise regarding how to ‘get it done’ is a powerful thing, and something to keep in mind when you are in a room full of people who don’t yet and some who may never.

“Fight the power!”