Saving Lives 2.0

January 6, 2010

How Technology is Revolutionizing the No Kill Movement


By the spring of 2009, there were almost 600 million users of online social networks, like Facebook, MySpace, Bibo, Hi5 and Twitter—roughly 70% of the total Internet users worldwide. In spite of the massive market share already enjoyed by this growing media, all indications are that usage is rising fast, and, according to some, accelerating.

Some industry analysts predict that growth of social networks will not taper off significantly for better than a decade, at which time somewhere in the range of 80% of Internet users will be connecting through social networking sites. Others suggest that as these networks evolve to offer more functionality, their growth could expand beyond projections.

While users of social networking platforms do so for several reasons, including connecting with family and friends and re-connecting with old friends, their members want more: they want to actively share with family and friends. In fact, they want to create value through media. Why should animal shelters care? How can animal protection organizations leverage social networks to expand our cause? The answers are many, but more importantly, the possibilities are limitless.

Social networking will affect every aspect of the animal welfare field in ways we have only begun to think about. Imagine, for example, a shared lost and found pet recovery system implemented communitywide. Not only could people who have lost pets post photos and descriptions of their animals, the system itself could send this information via social networks to cell phones of followers of the system. In this scenario, someone could be out looking for their lost pet, hanging posters, or visiting impound centers, and receive an automated text message on their cell if the animal is found. This is not some fantasy scenario. A system like this has started operating in Minnesota.

Because of the ability of social networking to reach masses of people nearly instantaneously, social networking is changing the way emergency response or rapid response teams communicate, especially given the fact that these networks have both public and private sharing options. Teams of response personnel can enjoy confidential instant communication from anywhere, then share selected public information to followers of their efforts.

Recognition for volunteers, published memorials and honoraria for special people and pets, and calls to action on social issues are just a few areas where social media is already having an impact on animal welfare issues. During the current legislative session, for example, we will be using Facebook and Twitter in our efforts to pass legislation to ensure enforcement of existing animal cruelty laws in Minnesota at puppy mills. Even though there is widespread public support for proposed legislation, some very large and powerful national special interest groups, including the American Kennel Club and the National Rifle Association, have joined in opposition.

The challenge associated in going head-to-head with large, national special interests can seem daunting. That challenge is made more difficult given the idiosyncrasies of the legislature. For example, prior to a committee hearing on a bill, there is generally very short notice. During that time, supporters like Animal Ark must arrange for expert testimony, rally supporters to contact committee members asking them to support the bill, and encourage people to attend the hearing. Social networking provides the ideal solution to this challenge.

From nearly anywhere, using a cell phone, we will be able to send a simple text message or “tweet” that will alert all of our friends and followers on multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts. Additionally this one, simple “tweet” can simultaneously update web pages that are not directly within those networks. Thousands of recipients of these calls to action will receive them any way they choose, via text message, email, or message notification in their favorite social networking sites.

Unlike broadcast email blasts, which are often perceived as spam even when the messages carry important, friendly content, messages distributed via social networks are generally received in a more open way. This is because the recipients of the messages are, by the very nature of these networks, receiving the message from someone they have said is a “friend.” They are also, therefore, more likely to send the messages on to their other friends.

These technologies level the playing field, allowing shelters and small grassroots organizations to challenge the status quo in other ways as well. The Humane Society of the United States, for example, is arguably the richest and most powerful animal protection organization in the country. Forbes listed it as one of the top 200 charities in the nation overall and certainly the wealthiest animal welfare organization. It has tremendous media reach and media power as a result of this enormous wealth. But it is vulnerable to social marketing. In February of last year, it lobbied a court to kill all the dogs and puppies seized from a dog fighter in North Carolina based on its outdated and regressive policy that all dogs associated with dog fighters should be killed as a matter of policy. This included friendly dogs and nursing puppies born in the shelter after the seizure. The court deferred to HSUS “experts” and all the dogs and puppies were put to death.

In the past, some local dog lovers might have complained but their concerns would not have been heard very far and wide. But in the age of social networks, condemnation of HSUS went viral, spreading around the world. It brought the largest and most powerful organization to its knees, and within weeks, HSUS rescinded the policy because of the bad “press.” All because of social marketing.

Although implementing some of these efforts can require technical expertise, most are incredibly simple. But simple does not mean less powerful. In fact, some of the easiest to implement could have the greatest impact in terms of lives saved. Adding a “share” button to every pet page on a shelter’s website for example is very easy to do. But its reach is enormous: it quickly connects animals available for adoption to a network of millions of users. (Not all “share” buttons are created equally. To learn how to implement this feature on your site, click here.)

Animal Ark, Minnesota’s largest No Kill animal welfare organization implemented a share button last month. Immediately, Animal Ark pets began popping up on social networks. Here is a portion of a Twitter feed as an example:

On Facebook, discussions on specific animals have resulted in dozens of comments on various networks. But more importantly, since this feature has been implemented, the total number of unique daily visitors to the animal pages on Animal Ark’s website has increased significantly. Each of these visitors is, on average, looking at several pets, resulting in thousands of increased “hits” daily to the pages of animals available for adoption on our website. This surge in web traffic has coincided with more visitors to the shelter, quicker adoptions, and even online sponsorships of animals, generating revenue.

How does this work? The average Facebook user, for example, has roughly 130 friends on the network. When a shelter allows for the sharing of a pet’s link, and asks their friends and followers to share the pet with their friends and followers, the animals’ pictures and profiles spread across the social networks rapidly. The acceleration of the spread can be exponential, especially if followers and friends are actively encouraged to continue spreading the word (i.e., sharing the animals).

The sharing of adoptable animals via social networking sites is viral marketing in its truest, purest and best form. It costs virtually nothing to get started, and the payoffs are tremendous: more and quicker adoptions, donations, and other support. Furthermore, it is just one of countless uses of social media that animal welfare advocates will be able to leverage to save the lives of homeless animals.

Animal Ark, for example, has gone one step further by integrating our shelter management software with Twitter and Facebook. When an animal is adopted at the shelter, an automated message is sent to these networks announcing the adoption. Other automated “tweets” have been built into Animal Ark computer systems, resulting in what is, in effect, an automated, real-time news feed from the Animal Ark shelter. This feed is then featured and updated in real-time on our various web pages.

All of these examples are just the beginning. There are unlimited uses of technology and social networking in the animal welfare field. Given the built-in capabilities of many of these networks to deliver text messages to users’ cell phones, and given the fact that people who have lost their pets are often away from home posting lost pet postersand looking for their pets, the functional utility of these networks clearly has an enormous reach. They will touch every component of our work, from volunteer recruitment and recognition to capital campaigning. And millions of animals can be saved in the process.

Guest blog by Mike Fry.

Mike Fry is the Executive Director of Animal Ark, Minnesota’s largest no kill animal welfare organization. He is also one of the hosts of Animal Wise Radio, a weekly, syndicated radio show dedicated to animals. Fry is the former Director of Internet Computing for Pentair and former VP of Internet Technologies for Worthington Software. He is credited with assisting in the development of commercial Internet technologies that are now in use worldwide.

Join Mike’s online community where technology-savvy animal welfare advocates can share ideas about using technology to advance animal welfare causes by clicking here.


Mike will give a workshop on using technology to save animals at No Kill Conference 2010. To learn more and/or register, click here.

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Building a No Kill Kentucky

January 5, 2010

Join me on Saturday, March 6, for an inspirational two-hour multi-media presentation followed by a book signing for Irreconcilable Differences. The seminar has been called “a prerequisite for rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.”

The seminar is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. Sales of books benefit Shelby County’s No Kill mission.

For more information or to register, click here.

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The Decade That Changed Everything

January 1, 2010

On December 30, I did a month by month review of 2009. Yesterday, I posted my predictions for 2010. Today, I review the last ten years, and what is in store for the next decade.

Part III: The Best Decade Ever*

Most pundits have said “good riddance” to the last decade, proclaiming it one of the worst in recent history. From the standpoint of the No Kill movement, however, the last ten years were unparalleled in terms of success. The first decade of the 21st Century not only saw No Kill go from the theoretical to the real, it saw its meteoric rise. Largely ignored and ridiculed in the 1990s and early part of the decade by the large national organizations like HSUS, ASPCA, the American Humane Association, the National Animal Control Association and the Society for Animal Welfare Administrators, No Kill proved itself the paradigm of the future. In 2004, threatened by its success, these organizations unsuccessfully tried to hijack the movement through the “Asilomar Accords,” but fell victim to the U.S. No Kill Declaration, the success of No Kill communities, the 2007 release of Redemption, and the will of a companion animal loving nation.

Winner: Tompkins County’s No Kill Achievement

No Kill comes into its own as Tompkins County, NY becomes the first No Kill community in U.S. history in 2001/2002. The success of the open admission shelter in Tompkins County dispelled the falsehood that an open admission shelter could not be No Kill and ignited the movement. By the end of the decade, No Kill communities could be found in all parts of the country, and in the process, all the programs of the No Kill Equation—from offsite adoptions to Trap-Neuter-Release—become mainstream.

Winner: Trap-Neuter-Release


At the end of the 1990s, only a small handful of shelters embraced TNR as an alternative to killing of feral cats. With HSUS urging prosecutors to arrest feral cat caretakers for “abandonment,” and calling TNR “abhorrent” and “inhumane,” and Invasion Biologists calling for the round up and killing of feral cats, the prospects for widespread acceptance of TNR in the humane movement seemed doubtful.

But cat lovers across the country rallied on behalf of the cats, and with communities like San Francisco using TNR to reduce the feral cat death rate by over 80%, with Tompkins County becoming the first open admission shelter to zero out deaths of feral cats through TNR, and with the advocacy of TNR on a local, regional, and national scale by groups across the country, any question of the legitimacy and efficacy of TNR was erased. TNR took the movement by storm.

Winner: A Pet Loving Nation

The economy collapsed but spending on companion animals continued to increase as giving to animal related causes became the fastest growing segment in American philanthropy. But the most dramatic example epitomizing just how much Americans love companion animals was the overwhelming response to the animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina. People gave hundreds of millions of dollars to charities that promised to save the animals, and thousands of rescuers from all across the country descended on New Orleans and surrounding communities to save animals forcibly left behind by mass evacuations of people. In the end, they also succeeded in changing federal policy about rescuing pets.

Winner: Redemption & The No Kill Equation

Behind every revolutionary movement is an intellectual tradition. The American Revolution had Common Sense. The environmental movement had Silent Spring. The abolitionist movement had Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And the women’s rights movement had The Feminine Mystique. In 2007, the No Kill movement got “Redemption.” Released to rave reviews, winning five national book awards, hitting the top 300 at Barnes & Noble, and becoming the number 1 selling animal rights book on Amazon, Redemption redefined the debate about shelter killing nationwide, and in the process helped to spearhead No Kill communities in the U.S. and abroad.

Coining the phrase “The No Kill Equation” to describe the collective programs and services which make No Kill possible, the No Kill Equation model of sheltering quickly became the gold standard, helping communities like Reno, NV and others achieve No Kill success virtually overnight.

Loser: The San Francisco SPCA

While the No Kill movement saw tremendous growth, success, and national acceptance, the agency that sparked it goes in the other direction. The fall of the San Francisco SPCA emerges as one of the worst events of the decade, as the former crown jewel of the No Kill movement—under the disastrous leadership of Ed Sayres and his hand-picked acolytes—abandoned its No Kill mission and rejected the movement it helped spark.

Loser: Asilomar Accords

In 2004, as the No Kill movement gained momentum following Tompkins County, NY’s success and with the founding of the No Kill Advocacy Center, the architects of the status quo met in Asilomar, California to take back their hegemony over the sheltering discourse. They identified the terms “No Kill” and “killing” as hurtful and divisive and demanded that they ceased being used. They argued that the decision to save lives through TNR, offsite adoptions, and other needed programs should not be forced on shelters but left to their own determination. They also argued that killing was not their fault. Despite this, they claimed they were committed to saving healthy and treatable animals, narrowly defined to exclude whole categories of animals including feral cats. Groups like HSUS pledged to enforce the Accords and traveled the country telling groups they could not call themselves “No Kill” or use the term “killing” for animals killed in shelters. By the end of the decade, only two communities had embraced the Accords, and though it lives on for record keeping purposes among some groups, the Asilomar Accords were challenged by the U.S. No Kill Declaration, and found themselves essentially, “Dead On Arrival.”

Loser: Humane Society of the United States

As a companion animal loving nation committed itself to doing whatever it took to save the animals of Hurricane Katrina, HSUS squandered their compassion and donations. Wayne Pacelle announced “mission: accomplished” in New Orleans, abandoning the victims in the face of tremendous suffering and departing with tens of millions of dollars raised for Hurricane Katrina victims still unspent. Pacelle could have leveraged the goodwill and money he was given to lead animal lovers toward a No Kill nation. Instead, his actions sparked fraud investigations by both the Louisiana and Mississippi Attorneys General, and showed that the HSUS CEO and HSUS as an organization are both uncaring and incapable of true leadership.

Loser: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

But one agency topped (bottomed?) them all as the worst of the last decade. While No Kill was coming into its own and shelters across the country were saving better than 90% of all animals on a fraction of their budget, PETA continued to move sharply in the other direction. PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk spent the decade not only attacking No Kill, but actively sought out animals to kill (roughly 90% of them). The total body count from 2000 – 2008 (2009 figures not yet available): 19,326. Once the 2009 figures are released, the number will skyrocket past 20,000: that’s roughly 2,000 animals a year that PETA has killed every year for the last decade; or over five animals killed by PETA every single day of the last ten years.

The Decade to Come

We ended this past decade with a hope that did not exist at the close of the prior one—in which not a single No Kill community existed. Now, as this decade closes, No Kill communities dot the American landscape, and activists throughout the nation are working to replicate that success in their own hometowns. It is a time of great hope and promise.

As the decade opened ten years ago, the humane movement was (erroneously) united in its perception of who was to blame for the killing and the hopelessness that it would ever end. But the truth came out, and splintered the movement—dividing us into two opposing camps: those who embrace the No Kill philosophy, its achievability, and the great promise held out by the American public’s great love for companion animals; and those who cling to the old paradigm of killing and blaming, on which their hold on power is based. Today, the heads of the three largest animal protection organizations—HSUS, ASPCA, and PETA—tragically remain No Kill’s most vociferous enemies as they continue to uphold the tradition of killing, continue to defend draconian shelter directors, continue to fight reform efforts, and continue to advance deadly shelter policies. We have learned that our fight is not with the many (the public) but with the few.

Loser: The Dinosaurs and Winner: No Kill

As the new decade opens, we stand at a cross roads. There are some in the No Kill movement who want to celebrate every half-hearted and self-serving gesture by HSUS or the ASPCA as proof that they are changing, proof that they can be trusted again, proof that they are on our side after all. Many in this movement seem so anxious to declare victory—to provide praise for miserly and hard won changes begrudgingly given as evidence of a sea change. And this is a mistake.

Now is not the time to seek appeasement. Now is not the time to declare peace. There will come a day when No Kill is fully established, when we can gently agree to disagree on issues because, truly, we will all be on the same page—and the big question relating to whether animals should live or die will be put to bed once and for all, and the systematic killing of four million animals a year will be viewed as the cruel practice it always was; a national shame that is inconceivable to us as a people.

When that day comes, as it invariably will, and the voices of killing are finally silenced, when the practices they condone are unequivocally rejected, when killing innocent animals is unthinkable, and when those who staff our nation’s humane societies, SPCAs, animal shelters, and large, national groups are truly committed to the best interests of animals; then we can shake hands across the aisles over our disagreements, because the stakes will be much lower—and no animal will be killed as a result of someone’s “differing” point of view.

But to behave now as though our goals are the same—when all evidence is to the contrary—and the change we get is nowhere near approaching the vast changes that are truly needed, is to sacrifice the animals for political expediency, for the desire to be the first to “blog” about success, to raise money by falsely telling supporters of “great” victories that are, in reality, merely superficial. Right now, the “changes” some are quick to celebrate are insincere token gestures, paid out of mere self-preservation. They are parsed out begrudgingly, in a miserly fashion with the hope they will quell criticism, not because they are what justice and ethics demand. By praising these minimal actions, when it is within their power to end the killing now if they so chose, we embolden them to continue on this course, and allow animals to be killed as a result.

Today, the will of 100 million Americans is being thwarted by only 3,000 or so shelter directors and a small handful of regressive national “leaders”: Wayne Pacelle, Ed Sayres, Ingrid Newkirk, and a few others. If we had the will and desire, we could—by refusing to accept anything less—impose our vision immediately and without restraint. Indeed, our power is already being felt: Sayres is besieged, Newkirk is increasingly seen for the Butcher that she is, and Pacelle’s recent temper tantrum over No Kill shows just how vulnerable he is.

And so I predict this: As the next decade comes to a close, it will do so without the Wayne Pacelles, Ed Sayres, Ingrid Newkirks and other agents of killing still holding the power. The reign of the dinosaurs will come to an end. As will the allegiance of the agencies they hold hostage to their kill-oriented colleagues, to their antiquated philosophies, and to their failed models, which hold us all back from the success that their organizations and this movement can achieve the moment they decide to embrace it. Those who replace them will truly champion No Kill both in word and in deeds. And we will see, if not the achievement of a No Kill nation, a nation on the cusp of that seminal and revolutionary achievement.

No more compromises, no more excuses, no more killing. That is the challenge for the decade. A No Kill nation is within our reach.

——————————

*Since there was no year zero, technically, the new decade starts in 2011. But that defies our common experience and natural usage. Because of that, I am ignoring the technically accuracy for the sake of a clean comparison between what we commonly refer to as the decades of the 1990s, the 2000s, and the upcoming ten year period of the 2010s.

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Looking to 2010

December 31, 2009

Yesterday, I did a month by month review of 2009. Today, I post my predictions for 2010.

Part II: A Pivotal Year for No Kill


Back in January of 2009, I predicated success in Reno, NV and Indianapolis, IN. I was right on the first, and half right on the second, as Indianapolis came out swinging—beating BSL, ending the systematic killing of “Pit Bulls,” having a record breaking day (153) on adoptions, and seeing declines in killing under new leadership. Sadly, it was short lived. The union fought back, and with the help of a corrupt government bureaucracy and the Humane Society of Indianapolis, conspired to fire the progressive director toward the end of 2009.

As to the final prediction, I declared a coin toss:

HSUS started the year championing killing but ended it proclaiming the moral superiority of and easy attainability of No Kill. Which Wayne Pacelle will emerge in 2009?

We now know the answer to that one: His actions in 2009 showed that the head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization is a dog killer, an apologist for dog killers, an embracer of animal abusers, a thief, and a liar.

As for 2010 predictions: two winners, two losers, and two which remain a toss-up.

Winner: King County, WA

A cat goes without food, water or litter during the holiday weekend due to union protected shirkers, inept management, and a then-indifferent county executive.

It ain’t over till it’s over and the union which protects neglectful and abusive employees has fired back with a lawsuit against the county. But the writing is on the wall: King County announced it will close its cruel shelter. If a progressive organization takes over animal control services, lifesaving success will surely follow.

Winner: Animal Rescuers

Oreo’s Law would end the killing of puppies and kittens, healthy and treatable animals, and feral cats, among others when rescue groups are able to save their lives, even in shelters with draconian and uncaring shelter directors. But only if the ASPCA and its hacks don’t succeed in killing itand therefore the animals.

If animal rescuers win, so do the animals. And if Oreo’s Law—a new law introduced in New York State named after a dog killed by the ASPCA—passes, animal rescuers will win big—and thousands of animals across the state will be saved. As one reformer stated, “Where New York goes, so goes the nation.” Will rescuers finally take the power they should have always had?

Loser: Ed Sayres

Ed Sayres told USA Today that killing is the moral equivalent of not killing: “There is no room for No Kill as morally superior.”

Every time Ed Sayres of the ASPCA opens his mouth, he sticks his foot in it. He claims he supports No Kill, but his actions time and time again belie the claim. From saying killing was the moral equivalent of not killing, to opposing No Kill in San Francisco, to backing a killing oriented animal control director in Austin, TX (and then taking credit for the work of No Kill advocates there), calling dog killer Michael Vick’s reinstatement into the NFL “thoughtful,” to needlessly killing Oreo, Sayres may “talk the talk” on occasion, but he rarely “walks the walk.” A new chairman of the ASPCA board, however, is an animal lover and if she gets the information she needs, Sayres may finally be held accountable. Regardless of what happens between the two, look for the ASPCA’s No Kill-in-name-only Mission: Orange to continue its fade into oblivion.

Loser: Wayne Pacelle

The head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization is a dog killer, an apologist for dog killers, an embracer of animal abusers, a thief, and a liar.

He gave us plenty to criticize:

Need I say more?

Coin Toss: Austin, TX


They were ignored, they were attacked by reporters with axes to grind, and the ASPCA attempted to silence them, but they stuck to their principles and 2009 saw No Kill advocates spearhead a unanimous declaration by the Austin City Council to embrace the No Kill Equation model of sheltering. That achievement landed the head of Fix Austin with the Henry Bergh Leadership Award from the No Kill Advocacy Center as one of the top No Kill advocates of the year.

As 2009 closed, the pound director told the community that No Kill is “too hard” and not to expect her to achieve it. Will the Council follow through and demand accountability and new leadership who will do the job humanely? 2010 will prove a pivotal year in the fight for a No Kill Austin.

Coin Toss: Shelter Pet Project


In late 2008, Maddie’s Fund announced a partnership with the Ad Council and HSUS to launch a nationwide advertising campaigning to increase adoptions from shelters. Released to much fanfare in September of 2009, the parties promised it would be a “game changer.” The parties also promised to utilize the revolution in social media to spread the message. But the website was built on a high bandwith flash platform that made it inaccessible to smart phone users, and sacrificed function for visual appeal. And while the first ads were upbeat and entertaining, they failed to inspire. And then…silence. Will the Shelter Pet Project live up to the hype?