Bringing no-kill to Iowa

This article appeared in Best Friends magazine. You can subscribe to the magazine by becoming a Best Friends member.

When Rachel Long started working as a cat caregiver in a shelter back in 2012, she didn’t expect it to be the beginning of a new career in animal welfare. The shelter was Kansas City Pet Project (KCPP), now well-known for innovative programs that propelled Kansas City, Missouri, to no-kill. During her time there, Rachel started a barn cat program (to save community cats by placing them with people who have barns and provide care for them) and then ran the shelter’s foster and rescue programs.

Rachel learned a lot at KCPP, so when she heard that Jasper County Animal Rescue League and Humane Society (JCARL), the local shelter in her hometown of Newton, Iowa, was hiring a new director, she saw it as an opportunity. It was a chance not just to move back home, but to carry forward the no-kill model she’d learned so much about in Missouri. Rachel applied for the position, got the job, and returned to Iowa ready to work.

Programs to save shelter animals

JCARL, the only shelter in the area, provides animal control services for the county. It was clear early on that some big changes were necessary. As one example, Rachel says, “I heard from the staff that if one animal got ringworm, all the animals in that room were euthanized.” This, she felt, was not OK. Rachel believes that animal sheltering is about saving pets, not disposing of them. She told the staff: “We’re not going to euthanize animals anymore unless there’s absolutely nothing we can do for them.” And she got to work on creating new programs.

To save more lives, JCARL needed more volunteers, a foster program and a barn cat program. They needed to market their pets for adoption on social media. The shelter needed excellent customer service, and the staff needed to spend enough time with the animals to get to know them, so they could better match up potential adopters with pets. All of that – and more – is what happened in Rachel’s first year as director of JCARL. In fact, she reports that in her first year, the shelter reached an overall save rate of more than 95 percent. (The benchmark for no-kill status is a save rate of at least 90 percent.)

Newtown, Iowa, goes no-kill

Sure, it would have been easier for Rachel to stay in her job in Kansas City, but easy wasn’t what she was taught to seek in her animal welfare career. She was taught to figure out how to save animals whose lives were at stake, and that’s what she wanted to do in her hometown. “I wanted my home community to know that they didn’t have to stay in the cycle of killing animals right and left, that these animals could be saved,” she says. There’s no doubt that the community knows it now, because the proof is there in every life they save together.

Today, there are more than 1,600 no-kill communities around the country. Go to bestfriends.org/nokillmap to see what communities in your state are on the map.

Photo by Jill Renee