Road Map to Reform

There are shelters in need of reform all around our country – that is, shelters that do not reflect the values of the vast majority of people who oppose the needless killing of pets and support the rights of shelter pets to be cared for compassionately.  And there are cities and counties all over the country where individuals and groups of concerned citizens want to reform their local shelters.  Some have been at it a long time and have already achieved great success.  Others are just starting out and wondering what to do next.  In collaboration with Nathan Winograd, I wanted to provide a suggested road map to reform for advocates who want to bring change to their local animal shelters.

Step One:  Establish a Group

It doesn’t matter if you are a group of one at the outset – get organized.  Choose a name that reflects your group’s purpose, e.g. Fix Pueblo.  Set up a professional looking Facebook page, website and e-mail account for the group.  Invite people to join.  Write up a brief (less than one page) press release announcing the formation of the group.

Determine where each person in the group can be most effective.  For example, your group will need someone who can address lawmakers in a professional and concise manner and someone with good written communication skills for writing press releases.

Keep in mind that anytime you speak for your group – whether online, via paper communication or in public – you are making an impression.  Make that impression positive and respectable.  Professional or business casual attire is important as is an adherence to the rules of netiquette while representing your group online.  Get some professional looking letterhead made and use it for all your paper correspondence.  If you have personal issues with people at the shelters you are aiming to reform, leave those in the past.  Direct your focus toward reform efforts.

Step Two:  Take Action

Once you have the nuts and bolts in place, develop a plan of action.  Gather your documentation regarding items needing reform at your shelters.  These may include shelter statistics, newspaper articles, and statements/photographs from whistleblowers.  Condense this information to a one page summary to accompany the complete package.  Contact the media.  Investigate the proper procedure for getting your name added to the list of speakers at the next city or county council meeting.  Request a hearing on shelter reform.

Bear in mind, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Learn from others so you can emulate their successes and avoid their failures. Groups like Fix Austin have succeeded in getting shelter reform legislation passed, removing the regressive director, and orienting their communities toward compassion and lifesaving. They’ve also created a website with resources for others. Visit

Compare and contrast. Are there communities doing a better job? Let the media and public officials know. Reno, NV, for example, takes in roughly 35 animals for every 1,000 human residents. That is over twice the national average. Last year, they saved 91% of all animals. How does your community measure up? Marquette, MI, went from a 64% rate of killing to a 7% rate in one year. Is your community suggesting it will take five or ten years?  Is your local opposition to no kill claiming that “it could never work here” because our situation is unique and the people who live here are too irresponsible?

Be comprehensive. You want to save lives. You want to make sure animals are provided quality care. That is why you do what you do. But public officials will have broader interests. Be prepared to address fiscal issues, public health and safety, and liability. Check out the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Reforming Animal Control page for how to respond effectively.

Nothing succeeds like success. You want the shelter to stop killing? You want them to provide quality care? Don’t get sidetracked with failed models like mandatory spay/neuter, pet limit laws, and other punitive schemes to punish the public. Focus on changing how the shelter operates. How did Tompkins County, Charlottesville, Reno, Marquette, and increasingly other communities such as Austin turn their shelters around? The programs and services of the No Kill Equation.

Significant contributions to this post made by Nathan Winograd.  Thank you!

22 thoughts on “Road Map to Reform

  1. Tony the Tiger G R E A T post. Thank you Biscuit, for always providing eversoflipping valuable information and for also providing shelter in the storm to the guys in the trenches. You hop. Big time.

  2. I think it’s great that you are tackling the issue of shelter reform from the local level…my biggest issue with shelter’s is that each shelter has it’s own set of policies/rules/regulations and while shelter “A” may hold pets indefinitely & only kills for untreatable illness, you have shelter “B” that holds only 3 days & determines what grounds for killing are, and shelter “C” holds them for a week & kills every animal that has been at the shelter for a month.

    So for each shelter we are looking at individual policies and making an effort at seeing each shelter turning into a no kill shelter – I can’t help but think that we need a national group that is willing to oversee shelters so that we have more uniform policies/rules/procedures at each shelter across the US. Something to keep them accountable and will be able to “inspect” local shelters to make sure they are adhereing to everything that is put into place. Wouldn’t sweeping shelter reform work best if we first attacked it at a NATIONAL level and let it filter down instead of beginning at the bottom and building up.

    So many people think that HSUS is a national “umbrella” for local human societies – and they have a “Shelter Partner” program that the local shelters can pay to be a part of. I’m thinking we need to set something up similar to the HSUS Shelter Partner program – only it needs to be a separate group that oversees the shelters and makes it very clear that this national group DOES oversee shelters in each state. You know something that can have a national group and individual state groups that trickles down to localities. Something that can make a change all across the US and hold the individual shelters accountable. I am thinking we should start with and build from it.

    If we base this on the No Kill movement but pull the sheltering system away from the HSUS and implement the programs, policies, and procedures based on Nathan Winograd’s methods that we could see a huge sweep across the US where each shelter had the same policies and procedures in place. I had originally thought that utilizing the NAIA would be a great “national” umbrella group to oversee shelters, but after reading through the website I’m thinking we could expand upon this as a national model.

    I understand that each locality has their ‘own’ method of doing things, but I am thinking that long term we would be better off doing this at the national level because that way we don’t have to worry about one locality changing directors of a shelter and then changing the way they do things at the shelter, which could potentially cause backsliding instead of continuing with the forward progression of the No Kill movement.

    Does this make sense to anyone else? Or am I thinking too BIG for this at this point in time?

    1. After reading that over again I wanted to clarify something…when speaking of the HSUS and their “Sheltering Partner” program – I am not thinking that we need a national group that our shelters pay to do evaluations and such – but a group that works with shelters WITHOUT adding an additional financial burden on the shelters already overstretched budgets. Yet – similar to HSUS this group could also promote fundraising which would trickle down to shelters that need the money. Removing the HSUS from the entire sheltering system and having another group that will work with shelters as an “umbrella” group. Of course, we would still have to have the shelters set up to be able to assist in time of natural disasters and when *raids* are done…but in this form the national group would be able to have HSUS pay a set fee that would offset the care of the animals that are removed from these *raids* that will help provide care for the animals. I think this way it would be a win-win for shelters no matter how you cut it.

      Just wanted to make sure I was clear on that because one of MY biggest gripes with HSUS is that they are seen as the national umbrella group over shelters and many people give money to HSUS thinking it will help shelters, when that is not the case as we all know. Recetly Dallas spent $25k to have an evaluation done and I was completely ticked about it because #1 – I could’ve given them the same info and NOT charged $25k and #2 the funding at our shelters is already struggling and I don’t want to see a national group created that is going to continue to cause more finanical burdens on shelter, but the opposite where the group would be there to help the shelters

      1. Let’s see… you set up a National organization that will monitor shelters and make them do what YOU want them to. What happens when what YOU want is different that reality? What about the many, many municipalities in the US that don’t have funding for their school systems, much less animal control. What about places that don’t have laws providing for cats? What if the shelter does not have the money for what YOU want them to do? Where will they get it? From YOU?

        You do realize that – across the US – animal protection laws vary drastically. Cities that don’t have laws protecting stray cats don’t provide funding for cat sheltering. They run dog pounds. While most of the larger cities have full-service shelters, the vast majority of the country doesn’t. They either partner with a non-profit humane society, or just run a stray pound somewhere. I can tell you from experience that cities generally will only pay for services to house stray animals. They are not interested in providing funding for adopting that animal out after it’s stray time is up. Non-profit humane societies usually take up the slack and provide those services through donor-based funding.

        My point is – as nice as your National organization sounds, you can’t just decide that YOU are going to be the Judge of what every shelter in the US should do or not do. Make suggestions – sure. Offer assistance and guidance – great! Oh wait, that’s what HSUS already does…

        And, check your facts – HSUS’s Shelter Partner’s program does not charge shelters to participate. The program offers partners special discounts on advertiser’s products. That’s it. It has nothing to do with their shelter evaluations or their other services.

      2. Elsie –
        The biggest problem I have with your post is that you think this is about ME, it’s not this is about the ANIMALS. This is about getting a large group of people together to tackle this issue of shelter reform, because we have shelters everywhere that COULD become No Kill and we need a national group that DOES oversee shelters and works with shelters. Contrary to what you have posted the HSUS CHARGES to do services like evaluations, which can have a big impact on a shelters budget and is not proven 100% effective at actually reforming shelters.

        I don’t need to check my facts…I KNOW it is a fact that the HSUS charges shelters to attend workshops, to have evalutations done, and the HSUS utilizes shelters to help when they do raids (without providing any money for the animals care).

        This isn’t about attacking HSUS. But it IS about providing an umbrella group to work with shelters – that is there for the shelters ONLY – not a group that refuses to come forward and say they do NOT financially support local human societies, while leaving MANY people to believe that donating to HSUS will help shelters.

        We’d love to have you be a part of the group – just remember that we’re doing this for the animals in the shelters. I’ve already made it clear that we aren’t interested in attacking groups like PETA, HSUS, & ASPCA – we’re interested in seeing reform within our sheltering system. You know – the program that is set up to actually provide care and SHELTER for animals….but in many cases a lot of these places fall short of actually living up to the name “shelter”. We want to form a GROUP that can tackle this problem.

    2. I see and hear you. I understand the issues and the problems with multiple shelters in a given area. But I don’t see how a national organization can have enough control/jurisdiction over local groups. (Unless it were voluntary…and look how much help local humane societies get from their national counterpart?!)
      AARP has a national presence and each state has a “chapter”…Big Brothers Big Sisters has a similar structure. How does Wendy’s (the restaurant) work? They are a franchise aren’t they?
      Here in my neighborhood, Animal Control is a government service with union employees. There are four or five 501(c)3 rescue organizations, and dozens of other caring individuals who work with vets or friends and neighbors to do what they can to help individual animals.
      Perhaps the taxpayers could mandate that Animal Control join up with a national no kill agenda…but those little rescuers will need to be on board too, or Animal Control won’t be able to make it work!

      1. My thought is that we “develop” a national group that over sees a group within each state. The state “group” would oversee the individual shelters/rescues in that state. Divide it up to three “levels” – national, state & local.

        As to local human societies and their national “counter part” – HSUS claims to have no vested interest in local human societies – rather they have their program in place that sends out a monthly magazine, sends info about seminars, and does shelter evaluations. MY problem with it is that the shelters that participate have to pay to do so AND pay for the “services” offered by HSUS. So in my mind the HSUS is no counter-part of the local groups, in fact they are a big part of what is wrong with the local human societies….how many times have you heard of people saying they donate to support their local humane society only to find out they are actually sending money to HSUS – and we all know that the HSUS does NOT support local shelters.

        We have groups that have been set up in a similar fashion – like you said the AARP and Big Brothers/Big Sisters are set up similar to this and they have great programs in place that they are able to oversee from all levels. My thought is that IF we have this set up in place there will be checks and balances that keep EVERYONE in line and make sure that no one falls between the cracks and gets lost.

        I have it all mapped out in my head and in my head is works flawlessly (LOL)…granted that actually doing the work will be time consuming and take some time to get all the kinks worked out. Yet, I think the end result would be worthwhile. I mean if you tell the local ACO’s that we have this program in place it is going to relieve pressure from them I can’t see how they could say no – unless they really hate animals that is….

  3. AWESOME! So, basically, we begin in our own backyard, we collaborate with other neighbors, but we use the successes and failures of others all over the country/world as support and lessons so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel!?!
    My biggest problem will be getting locals to organize TOGETHER as there is much distrust and infighting.(My fault as much as anybody else, so I’ll work harder on my own “issues”.) Thank you. Not just for this post, but for ALL of them!!!

  4. Thanks so much for writing about this topic, which is near and dear to my heart. And “Erica”— I love your idea. It’s one that I’ve recently started brainstorming about (with several other people). There needs to be a NEW national humane organization. One worthy of the name humane.

    1. How interesting – I have been discussing this with a few people as well. The more I speak up about my ideas the more I hear of others who are thinking the same thing. Seems to me like maybe we need to find some way to collaborate so that we can all draw from the same resources and can work together on this (instead of having a bunch of smaller groups working independently) it might be much more productive.

      1. Okay, I got just the bare bones of a forum on my site that we can use to start things off, and then if it starts working out, I’ll buy an agreed-upon domain name and we’ll move there. This can be my donation to start things off, since I usually have enough time to watch and monitor.

      2. Thanks for the link – I think this would be a great way for all of us to come together and share our ideas on how to make the changes we all so desperately want!!! Michy I hope you’re ready for this one, boy, do you know what you’ve started?!?!?

  5. First of all, great post, as is typical for you. And thank you to Nathan for his contributions. I *just* finished reading Redemption, and while I knew a fair amount about these things, there was a lot more information, and this is something I can share with others who don’t know.

    @ Erica, I think that is a great idea, but I’m not sure how we would get everybody together. I could set up a forum on my site, and people could be invited there to discuss? I’ll go see what I can come up with, and maybe we could start there… then decide on a better name and I’ll be happy to host the domain to help.

    1. You ROCK Michy!!!!! I have joined the forum and am beginning a post. For everyone who is interested in jumping on board we’d LOVE to have your input…and let’s share this with as many people as we can so that we are truly working together to see that ALL points are addressed in this effort. If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved send ’em on over to the forum and tell them to jump right in – the more the merrier!!!

      Here’s the forum –

      (Shirley thanks for helping in this effort without even realizing it you have started a big revolution that will *hopefully* help us all see some change within our shelters!)

  6. I didn’t read all of the comments, but it seems the general thoughts of the public is, HSUS gives money collected from donations to their shelters. They don’t. By having their name on your door only makes you follow their policies. Local Humane Societies do not get a dime from HSUS.

  7. I want to implement this at Paws. I’m trying to get a local group started. I have started a face book page and I have alot to add to it this weekend, but I
    m open to suggestions! I need help! I love what fix Austin has been able to accomplish.

  8. Wonderful post! Thank you and thank you to the people that care and share and comment. Hope is now alive in people that thought there was not much hope for the homeless pets in the United States.

    I am looking forward to checking out the new forum and the site

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