The flat earthers of animal welfare

By Francis Battista

As a movement picks up steam, detractors and deniers seem to come out of the woodwork. Motivated by who knows what, and aided by the handy megaphone of the internet, these folks have moved off street corners and out from their sandwich boards, but their relationship to reality is as tenuous as ever. They try to pick apart anything and everything in order to invalidate the progress being made, regardless of the evidence.

Let’s call them flat earthers. Sadly, the no-kill movement isn’t immune to this kind of nonsensical negativity. With more than 200 communities saving more than 90 percent of the animals coming through the shelter system, no-kill’s viability isn’t really up for debate, any more than the spherical shape of the planet. But that doesn’t stop the detractors from digging up random exceptions to try and disprove established facts.

Much like the U.S. senator who turned up with a snowball on the Senate floor to pooh-pooh global warming, no-kill deniers salivate over failed or ill-conceived efforts at creating a no-kill community. They use this to make their case that no-kill is not viable, despite the growing list of jurisdictions that are consistently operating above the no-kill save rate threshold.

Failure to accomplish a goal that has already been achieved by hundreds of communities doesn’t reflect on the viability of the goal, any more than my inability to ski reflects on the winter Olympics!

These failed sheltering attempts often come from a good place — a genuine desire to end killing. But despite what some animal welfare pundits will tell you, it can’t be done easily or overnight. No-kill communities don’t jump out of an “action kit” and aren’t created off the pages of a book. It takes planning, work and commitment, along with a series of programs tailored to the needs of the specific community. And perhaps more than anything, it also requires leadership.

None of this is rocket science, and in that respect it is “easy.” However, ill-prepared false starts based on slogans and good intentions have cost lives and have played into the narrative of those who don’t believe that the lives of shelter animals are worth the effort or the cost.

To be sure, there are examples, such as Palm Springs, California, where success was achieved in short order. Palm Springs will be featured in our “Nationwide Strategies to Save them All” track at this year’s Best Friends National Conference.

The back story on Palm Springs includes a support group that had been in place, working side by side with the city-run shelter, for many years prior to taking over the shelter contract. That experience allowed the group to hit the ground running when taking over the shelter operations after a formal request-for-proposal process. This earlier partnership provided good understanding of what running a shelter actually means and, more important, an understanding of what not to do.

Brent Toellner, president and co-founder of the Kansas City Pet Project, led his own successful effort toward no-kill in Kansas City. Through rigorous adoption programs (that increased adoptions by more than 100 percent), along with other efforts, Brent and his colleagues were able to take that city to no-kill. At the time, Kansas City was the third largest open-admission shelter in the U.S. It is now saving more than 90 percent of the animals coming in.

Brent is also an active blogger and has covered this topic in the past. He eloquently points out that just intending to stop the killing isn’t enough. And it’s really the wrong focus. The focus should be on saving the animals by increasing positive outcomes.

Brent will also speak at this year’s Best Friends National Conference. Join us in Salt Lake City and you’ll hear directly from Brent about how to not only Save Them All, but also how to sustain that level of lifesaving in a community that takes in more than 10,000 animals a year.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society