Why Legislating No Kill Matters
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
At one time, the San Francisco SPCA (SFSPCA) was considered one of the top-performing shelters in the nation. Under the direction of Richard Avanzino in the mid 1990's that agency led that city to within an inch of being the first No Kill community in the USA. That community was saving every healthy pet from every shelter in the City. Additionally, they were saving most - but not all - treatable or manageable pets as well. And, if that agency had stayed on the path they were on, they certainly would have made San Francisco the first No Kill community. But, something went wrong. Avanzino left the SPCA and a new director, wanting to make a name for himself, began dismantling the programs that had created the success. He diverted the funds into projects of personal interest to him. The results were disastrous. The SFSPCA deteriorated and has never fully recovered. Many animal advocates to this day continue to refer to it as a "shell of its former self." The problem, it turned out, was that, as we all too often see, too much discretion is provided to animal shelters to, in effect, do whatever they want. A leadership change can bring tragedy to a shelter and its community. One of the goals of No Kill legislation is to dramatically reduce the likelihood of that happening, by establishing a minimum set of standards to which shelters must comply. Naturally, shelter directors need a great deal of discretion with regard to how they operate. However, it is widely believed there are some choices a shelter should not be allowed to make. For example, it is widely believed that animal shelters should not kill healthy pets when they have housing, food and other resources available for their care. Similarly, there is a general consensus with the American public, that an animal shelter should not kill a healthy or treatable pet if there is a reputable rescue group willing to take that pet. Too often, shelters do not follow these basic guidelines. That results in unnecessary killing. The most common No Kill legislation known is called the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA), which sets bare-bones, minimum guidelines for animal shelter operation. Passing it has saved countless lives in the communities where it is now in place. But, there is an even bigger impact that introducing CAPA legislation has. Let me explain... During a typical discussion about No Kill, resistant shelters can (and often do) deflect from the substantive issues by arguing about semantics, or by claiming No Kill advocates are "being divisive". In short, they do almost anything but talk about the actual policies and issues. A discussion about a CAPA ordinance at the local level, or a law at the state level, changes that dynamic and forces shelters to focus on policy rather than personalities or politics. And, isn't policy really what we should all be talking about? Perhaps more importantly, when a new law is proposed, the conversation automatically broadens to include the people who are supporting animal shelters, either with their donations or via their tax dollars. By engaging that broader audience, and by focusing the discussion on policy rather than superficial distractions, introducing No Kill legislation can have a profound impact on shelter operations, whether or not the legislation passes. If you are interested in introducing CAPA in your community, please feel free to contact No Kill Learning. We are here to help. You can also listen to Shep Harris from the Government Relations Department of the Fredrikson & Byron law firm talks about the basics of lobbying on behalf of animals. Listen here.