No Polite Way
We hear from a lot of advocates that their efforts to encourage shelter reform in their communities are viewed as “attacks,” as if the subject of animal shelter reform is personal and not about accountability. We realize that there are some communities in which a change in shelter leadership is likely the best way to reform a poorly performing shelter. We also realize that any form of constructive criticism, no matter how diplomatic, can be viewed as a personal attack. For example, we know that in one community, simply sending a public records act request to the shelter director, a city department head, seeking shelter statistics was labeled by the shelter director as a “personal attack.” It was not. Because many shelter directors are municipal employees, it is unlikely in most cases that the person who manages the shelter will be reassigned to another department or simply agree to walk away. Even if that one person did change jobs or walk away, we have to ask ourselves how much that would accomplish. Every shelter is bigger than one person. Every shelter has individuals who oversee the operation. For municipal shelters, those individuals are most often mayors and city councils, county commission chairman and commissioners, county supervisors and boards of supervisors and county sheriffs (who are answerable to county officials regarding how money is spent). It is because of this oversight of shelters that we focus not so much on individual people as much as on shelter leadership as a whole. When we were first introduced to the No Kill Equation more than 10 years ago, the 11th element of the equation was a “compassionate shelter director.” That element has since evolved to more accurately be described as “compassionate leadership.” The requirement is the same: without compassionate leadership which fully embraces and supports not just some elements of the No Kill equation, but all of the elements, the rest of the equation can prove to be of little value. Embracing the equation is truly an “all in” way of functioning. Because our attachments to animals are emotional, there is just no polite way for advocates to say "too many animals are killed in our shelter." Advocates must still say those words because they are at the heart of shelter reform. We encourage people to also say, “we can do better" and “we can do what other communities have done before us.” Inherent in the history of any animal shelter which does embrace change is the reality that we must acknowledge what happened in the past. Some shelters do not want to change out of fear of being judged for the lives lost prior to reform taking hold. Shelter reform has at its core a forward thinking focus. Yes, we must acknowledge that lives (sometimes thousands of them) were lost before. But we do that while turning a page, starting a new chapter and making a commitment that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past and we will learn from them. The No Kill Movement as a social movement is not focused on blame, fault or guilt. Those concepts do not help us or help animals. We are focused on hope, ideas and possibilities. We encourage everyone who is working to reform shelters in their own communities to focus on municipal accountability and to be forward thinking. We can speak out for the animals we value as we seek better in our communities without resorting to personal attacks at all, realizing that in some places any form of advocacy may be viewed as an “attack.” Be passionate. Be educated. Check your emotions and focus on how results are obtained logically while being diplomatic in how you behave. Try very hard to always take the high road even when that diplomacy is not reciprocated. Animals' lives may depend on how you conduct yourself.