Anyone who has been involved in the No Kill Movement for any length of time has heard it repeatedly: Regressive animal shelters that refuse to implement the proven life-saving programs of the No Kill Equation accuse No Kill advocates of being "divisive."
In a way, it is easy to see how they could feel that way. Most shelters, after all, have had free-rein to do as they will with the animals in their care since animal sheltering first became a thing in the USA. It could be easily argued, in fact, that when so-called "shelters" were first started in this country, we called them "pounds" and the job of "poundmaster" was primarily to round up and kill stray dogs. For about 200 years killing healthy and treatable pets in shelters was the norm in shelters across the nation as they themselves perpetuated a culture that supported, enabled, excused and often-times hid or lied about the killing.
When the No Kill Movement began proving that killing of healthy or treatable pets was unnecessary in animal shelters, it challenged every excuse used by shelters to keep killing. It is understandable, therefore, that the leadership in shelters that have been immersed in a culture of killing would feel confronted when animal advocates told them that the killing was unnecessary and abhorrent, no matter how nicely animal lovers worded their advocacy.
Truth be told, there are arguments taking place all over the country about killing in animal shelters, with growing numbers of volunteers, donors and regular citizens insisting that shelters stop doing it. Ironically, the same shelters that refuse to implement the life-saving programs of the No Kill Equation often, in classic shoot-the-messenger-fashion, attack No Kill advocates, by saying No Kill is "divisive."
Mike Fry of No Kill Learning recently brought this topic to light. And, he did it in a very unusual way.
In preparation for Just One Day, a national day of No Kill in animal shelters all across the nation, he has been doing regular Facebook LIVE streams, counting down the days till the event. In the message he delivered on April 26, he begins by explaining that he is going to be doing something a little different than normal. He says:
"I've got a special message that is going to be a little different than our normal Just One Day message," he said.
He goes on:
You know, typically, we work very hard at Just One Day to make it an open invitation to celebrate a new way of sheltering in the United States. We have avoided any sort of negative messaging, any sort of controversy. It is all about, you know, opening our shelters up to embracing our community and inviting shelters to try something new for Just One Day.
He then says that in spite of the overwhelmingly positive message about the event, and the remarkable success it has enjoyed each year, including waiting lines for adoptions, animal shelters that literally run out of pets to adopt and the record number of large animal control shelters that are participating this year, there are some shelters who have said they will not participate (and, therefore, won't save the lives they could if they did) because, they say, "No Kill is 'divisive."
He then goes on to explain how No Kill is not divisive at all. To prove his point, he correctly states that the communities that have achieved No Kill are the most celebrated in the nation and that when they achieve No Kill, the divisiveness and disagreement taking place nearly completely disappears. That is 100% spot-on. While it is true that public struggles generally precede the transition to No Kill, they go away once No Kill is achieved. Fry explains this with the following statement:
It is actually the killing of animals in shelters that is divisive. And, decades ago, many people were unaware of what was happening in their animal shelters and so, you know, shelters could kill with immunity. And, they did, for, you know, for hundreds of years, without a lot of public outcry. But, as soon as people got informed and began exercising their Constitutional rights to advocate and be the voices for animals in those shelters, of course a struggle came about. That's natural, because social change in all of its forms requires some struggle, because there are those people in every social change movement that resist the change.
And I would argue, therefore, that what is really divisive, what is really driving the sort of angry tone and conversation in communities that have not yet achieved No Kill, is the fact that there are still people in shelters who are resisting it [No Kill] who are still killing, who are making excuses for killing.
He also says the fact that they would use "divisiveness" as an excuse to refuse to participate in Just One Day - an event that has been nothing but fun, celebration and life-saving is proof that they have no interest in reforming or changing.
They just want to put it off, say 'It's divisive. I'm not even going to try it for ONE DAY. I'm just going to put my head down and keep killing animals, because you all are divisive.'
Then, he goes on to speak directly to those people in charge of animal shelters that have yet to change.
If you are a shelter that has not yet taken the [Just One Day] pledge at JustOneDay.ws, if you are on the Board of Directors, if you are in senior leadership, if you are a city [or county] administrator somewhere that oversees a shelter in your community, and you have yet to sign up at JustOneDay.ws, to try a new way of sheltering in the United States, maybe you have not really thought about it, or maybe you are just regurgitating excuses for continuing to do what you've been doing for years... and I would argue, if that is what you are doing, the fight in your community is likely to continue, and that is on you. It is not on the public that is exercising their Constitutional right to advocate for a new way of sheltering at your facility.
He then goes on to encourage them to set all of that aside and consider signing up. It is not scary, it is not divisive and it is, after all for Just One Day. They have nothing to lose and they just might learn something. It could be their first step toward healing the division in their communities.
If you know a shelter that is still killing and that has not signed up for Just One Day (hint: a list of participating organizations is published here) then share this blog post with that shelter's leaders.
Watch the full video below: