Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tompkins SPCA - No Kill - No More

"If we hope to live not just from moment to moment, but in true consciousness of our existence, our greatest need and most difficult achievement is to find meaning in our lives." Bruno Bettelheim

The implications of this line of reasoning is clear; only when you get people talking about all the issues in non confrontational discussions will they come to believe in not only your vision but more importantly respect your role as a leader ultimately defining the purpose, path and goal of the movement.

In an article in the Syracuse Post Standard it is reported that Ithaca New York fell short of maintaining it's "No Kill" status for dogs. Tompkins County Animal Control, a division of the local SPCA has been awarded the county animal control contract for years and has been the focal point for Nathan Winograd's No Kill Advocacy Center as the premier and first "open admission" shelter to attain a 90 percent live save rate using the No Kill Equation.

According to the article, Ithaca, which includes Tompkins County (population 101,564) picked up 534 dogs from Ithaca and six nearby towns. Of those, 75 or 14 percent were killed. These numbers are close to the numbers reported in Albany (population 97,856) where animal control picked up 323 dogs in 2012 and delivered them to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society where 57 or 18 percent were killed.

Larger cities in upstate New York reported higher kill numbers. In comparison, Buffalo (population 261,310) had Animal Control intake numbers of 1,850 dogs picked up in 2011 of which 676 or 18 percent were killed. Rochester (population 210,310) animal control reported 3,093 dogs in 2012 went though the city animal shelter of which 1,544 or 59% were killed and Syracuse (population 145,710) delivered 910 dogs to a private contractor of which 573 or 63 percent were killed.

Not only has Tompkins slipped out of the prestigious "no kill" club but has also reported that due to constant overcrowding at its shelter intake was limited on owner surrenders by appointment only and only if the shelter has space available. In other words, Tompkins SPCA was and is a "limited admission" kill since 2011.

Dog lovers and advocates locally point the blame on the urban puppy mills and animal cruelty that are driving pet abandonment issues. At a hastily called meeting seeking solutions to that regions pet overpopulation issues close to forty residents came to a Common Council committee meeting looking for alternatives.

Rather than focusing solely on a "No Kill Equation" as a solution local animal advocate Joan Antczak, a member of the Animal Alliance of Greater Syracuse, complained that "our animal welfare system is broken". 

Much of the blame for local shelter problems focused on dog fighting, unethical and unlicensed backyard breeding and the many puppy mills that dot the landscape.

Citizens urged city leaders to ramp up efforts to stifle those activities. Among the suggestions:

-- Increase the police department’s newly created position of animal cruelty investigator to full-time from half-time. Officer Rebecca Thompson, who spends half her week on animal cruelty complaints, said after the meeting she is "completely overwhelmed’’ by the number of cases.

-- Clamp down on backyard breeding, requiring licenses for breeders.

-- Increase penalties for dog fighting and go after participants more aggressively.

-- Support education programs in the humane treatment of animals. Subsidize low-cost spaying and neutering programs.

Upstate New York suffers from the same social evils as many communities that kill our pets.

Roughly two out of every three dogs picked up were pit bulls or pit bull mixes. An even higher percentage of the dogs put to death -- three out of every four -- were pit bulls. Many had scars, abscesses or other wounds that indicate they were mistreated or used for fighting. This is NOT rocket science.

You can't simply ignore the warning signs of an irresponsible breeding problem (especially with pit bulls being bred for a dog fighting clientele) and evidence of dog fighting rings to focus on adopting your way out of killing.

According to Nicole Heath, co-founder of Cuse Pit Crew, a nonprofit group aimed at preventing the abuse of pit bulls and promoting humane treatment, backyard breeding and dog fighting are "cottage industries’’ in the Syracuse area. "Few people in the city except those who have seen the shredded bait dogs and scarred survivors of dog fighting . . . understand the depth of cruelty and violence toward both dogs and cats in this city,’’ Heath said.

Many of these same irresponsible breeders will sell puppies as young as 2 weeks old, far too young to be removed from the litter. Puppies too submissive to fight are sometimes used as "bait dogs’’ to encourage aggression in others. Pit bulls who can not be trained as "fighters" turn out to be very poor candidates for family pets and typically end up in our local shelters before reaching two years of age.

This heartbreaking scenario is repeated over and over again in shelters across the country as shelter and rescue advocates struggle to keep up. There is simply not a safe number of homes available for all the pit bulls being bred to supply a market of dog fighters who demonstrate no conscience whatsoever for the dogs who suffer and die simply to fuel a demented desire to watch dogs fight to the death

One would think that with the entire vision struggling along at a snails pace self proclaimed leaders of the "No Kill" movement would welcome solutions from the animal protection community that worked towards putting an end to a dog fighting and puppy mill community as we know it.

Common sense dictates that and denigrating the very animal protection organizations that focus on ending that abuse doesn't bring you to that solution.

As an animal owner, rescue advocate, puppy mill reform advocate and shelter reform advocate focusing solely on implementing a "no kill equation" that focuses on adopting our way out of killing is not sustainable and is simply far too costly for a vast majority of communities to implement.

A far more prudent, and sustainable solution can be found by focusing on lowering the very high intake numbers driving the pet overpopulation issues that lead to shelter killing. Simple math tells us that it is less costly saving less than it ever will be saving more.

Improving the survival numbers of impounded shelter pets is a complicated issue. It simply can not be solved by focusing on the adoption part of the equation while ignoring the obvious intake side of the equation steering the boat. Solutions require a coordinated effort between a shelter, volunteers, local rescue groups and the political factions working together towards a common solution.

Until the no kill movement comes to grips with the "mathematical realities" of shelter killing and more importantly the mathematical realities of funding a shelter reform solution that puts an end to the killing of adoptable pets we will continue to stumble along "adding a few no kill" communities here while losing a few more once "no kill" shelters there that slip back to using a little blue juice and a needle instead.

Without efforts and regulations that weed lout irresponsible owners and breeders it is only a matter of time before "no kill" efforts sink. Communities can't simply look the other way ignoring abusive owners and irresponsible breeders without a soul. Efforts to reduce the suffering are not only politically correct but these solutions become the only humane solution. Its all simple math and common sense. Two areas that seem to continue to allude the leaders of the failed no kill movement. Even no kills prize ship in Tompkins has sunk as you can't simply bale the lake with a teaspoon and expect to still float.

The no kill movement hasn't stalled and failed because the vision of building a no kill nation, it has failed because it lacks intelligent leadership with the skills needed to bring about the partnerships needed for success. The major leadership tasks, and the litany of success includes, amplifying understanding, building awareness, changing the symbols of success, legitimizing new viewpoints, making tactical shifts and testing partial solutions, broadening political support, overcoming opposition, inducing and structuring flexibility towards solutions, launching new trial programs and engaging in systematic waiting while measuring for success, creating the pockets of commitment, crystallizing focus, managing coalitions, and formalizing community commitment.

The role of leadership needed to attain the movement's "difficult achievement", then, is the role of orchestrator and labeler taking can be gotten in the way of progressive action and shaping it - generally after the fact - into lasting commitment to a new strategic goal. true leadership doesn't obsess with placing blame on the past but focuses on directed the oversight needed to maintain and build on the gains in strategy attained.

Poorer leadership, like the leadership that defines the current no kill movement, has strong cultures too, but dysfunctional ones. These leaders are typically focused on internal shelter politics and failures rather than on problem solving. These leaders, like Nathan Winograd and in some respects followers like No Kill Nation's Debi Day, cause more problems with an antagonistic approach at communicating their vision with rigid control that stifles the vision. Leaders that focus only on "the numbers" rather than the solutions set a path towards failure not success.

Even if the numbers goal is reached since practical solutions have been ignored this success becomes costly and is not sustainable. Hence, shelters like Tompkins that experienced the short term high of success are constantly positioned to fail.

Leadership is many things. It is patient, even boring in coalition building. It is altering agendas so that even new priorities get enough public attention. It is visible when things go awry and invisible when things are working well. It is building loyal teams that reach consensus with one voice. It is listening carefully most of the time, frequently speaking with encouragement, and reinforcing words with believable actions. It is being tough when necessary, and the occasional use of power = or the "subtle accumulation of nuances of a hundred things done better under their watch".

What isn't leadership but an abuse of power is too lead through angry rhetoric, to launch personal attacks directed at individuals or animal welfare entities seeking superiority when collaboration in a shared battle for reform. Poor leadership is a symptom of the disease - it will never be a solution for our nation's failed shelters. Tompkins failure to maintain proves that.

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