Ending the Nightmare

Creating an animal shelter we can trust

A “no-kill” shelter is run by staff that consistently demonstrates passion for saving the lives of all adoptable and treatable animals. “Kill” shelter managers save some animals, and try to justify to their employees and community why they can’t save them all. In fact, they can.

All kill shelters, including Greenhill Humane Society, demonstrate the same tragic patterns of behavior. Managers determine which animals are saved, and then they emotionally disconnect from pets they believe they can’t help. They kill adoptable animals. They fail to medically treat suffering animals. They lie about what happens behind closed doors, and employees risk losing their jobs if they tell anyone.

Kill shelter employees are understandably traumatized. No one has the right to ask this of them. NoKillLaneCounty.org has posted testimonies of multiple recent Greenhill employees and volunteers. They didn’t know one another, yet they reported the same horrific practices. Greenhill administrators cannot dispute this because they initially received these written accounts. The courageous whistleblowers were reluctant to expose their testimonies publicly, but they want the atrocities to stop.

Courage is contagious. One brave certified veterinary technician (CVT) was reportedly fired because she refused to be party to the needless suffering and killing of pets she witnessed. She filed a lawsuit against Greenhill because she wants the nightmare to end.

It can end, but the key is effective leadership—something current Greenhill administrators fail to provide. They have alienated most local animal welfare advocates and rescues. They chastise employees and volunteers for wanting to network for donations and homes for needy animals. They refuse records requests. And worst of all, the response from Greenhill’s Board of Directors is to ignore ongoing witness testimonies regarding abuse of animals and staff, and consequently this continues unabated.

Worn out excuses have been used for generations to justify failure. But a growing number of innovative shelter directors are applying an effective business model to shelter management. While it’s true that not all no-kill shelters succeed, we need to focus on determining how the ones that have succeeded did so.

In the early 1990s, pioneer shelter director Richard Avanzino tried a bold new business plan and ultimately took the community of San Francisco no-kill, meaning this open-intake shelter was able to find homes for all adoptable and treatable animals in the city. The no-kill equation is simply good business practices applied to running an animal shelter. This includes great expansion of spay/neuter programs.

But the real key to Avanzino’s success, and that of other no-kill directors since, is this: Communities are filled with animal lovers who will overwhelmingly support an animal shelter they trust.

When Rick Hammel recently managed Lane County Animal Services (LCAS), he had the passion to save as many lives as possible, coupled with the personnel management and community networking skills needed to be able to do so. Local animal welfare advocates united to help the shelter and there was a huge increase in community donations and volunteer support.

The CVT Greenhill fired stated: “Rick Hammel is one of the most compassionate managers at LCAS. He never told us we couldn’t have certain procedures performed for animals in medical need due to lack of funding. He allowed us to fundraise on Facebook and he did it himself, too, in media interviews and whenever he could. He did this because he trusted us to find a solution, and ultimately get the animals adopted… This is the kind of manager I wanted to work for. He motivated us every day to do what we could for all of them.”

The Nevada Humane Society, under the leadership of dynamo no-kill Director Bonney Brown, accomplished (in part) the following in 2011: 93 percent save rate; 9,340 pet adoptions; 7,541 volunteers; 2,456 foster homes; 8,824 spay/neuter surgeries; over $50,000 of veterinary services given to low income pet owners; geriatric care for senior pets; free vet services for pets of homeless people; emergency pet food for over 2,500 people; and two holiday offsite adoption centers.

Can you imagine the effect of all the above locally? A huge network of volunteers and donations is built only upon a foundation of public trust. This could be accomplished locally by a skilled director able to rally our community to unprecedented heights of enthusiastic generosity — supporting a shelter we trust. — Debi McNamara

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