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They know what they know so don’t give them the facts.

I had the pleasure of having an interesting conversation with a member of another humane organization this past weekend. They are an SPCA that takes in animals for a number of localities and operates as the pound for their area. She asked how we were doing in Lynchburg and I, of course, was excited to tell her about our recent success about our save rate being 84% and having no healthy animal lose their life in our shelter in 2010 and how much the community has embraced the changes as we move toward becoming No Kill. She immediately went to defense mode and asked me loaded questions to prove I was wrong and of course explain to me how our programs wouldn’t work for them.

The appointment system, wouldn’t work – pet owners aren’t responsible enough to do the right thing. People must be just “dumping” their animals in other localities.” Fact: The counties that reported their stats for 2010 in the Lynchburg area saw a reduction in the number of animals they took in and more importantly, a reduction in the number of strays they took in compared to the previous year. The Lynchburg Humane Society also saw a reduction in the number of strays we took in last year with very few “drop offs” being left outside the doors. She felt like their pet owners wouldn’t do the work needed. They were different some how. When I suggested they start by just talking with people and let them know the problem their organization is facing, she said they can’t do it because they take in too many animals and their pet owners don’t care. Fact: 35% of the people on our waiting list are from other counties, most close by but some pretty far away. 33% of the people who contacted us to surrender their pet, found homes on their own when given the help or decided to keep them, that is close to 300 animals.

The foster program- wouldn’t work for them – their community couldn’t be trusted. One of her questions was “do you put kittens who need to be bottle fed into foster?” I said “yes of course” and her response… “don’t you think it is unfair to the fosters?” which my response was “don’t you think they will tell us if they can’t do it? They are adults, they will let us know if something is too hard for them.” Fact: we placed over 200 animals into foster last year, many of which would not have made it if they stayed in the shelter environment. We hope this year we continue to grow this program.

Create adoption policies and specials to make it easier for people to adopt. Well guess what her answer is here?

What I heard was. “We can’t do it because we don’t trust people.”

The interesting thing is that for 10 years I have heard the same type of response from the naysayers about each of the communities I have worked. They are more interested in finding reasons why it won’t work for them rather than putting that energy into just trying.

First in Richmond where in the first year of going No Kill the community saw a 41% drop in euthanasia and with a save rate of around 76%. The critics said: “Richmond can do it because it is a city environment, they have a new building and a lot of money.” “We can’t do it in rural areas; the people wouldn’t support those programs.”

In Charlottesville, the SPCA is currently saving around 90% of the animals that come to them and they operate as an open admissions pound serving two localities. So the naysayers will tell you it is because they have a lot of money in their community and it really isn’t a rural setting because of UVA.

So now in Lynchburg, we have a 61% reduction in euthanasia and an 84% save rate in one year. (note our save rate in 2008 was 49% and in 2009 it was 65%) So now we hear the other groups or animal controls can’t do it because they are more rural than we are and their community won’t embrace the programs or care, plus they take in way more animals than we do.

I must add here that Charlottesville takes in around 5,000 animals a year, which is more than any other group around us. Oh, but it is Charlottesville so it’s different, I forgot.

I have found that no matter where you live whether that is city or rural, that most people want what is best for their pets and will do the right thing when they understand the problem and they know how they can help. Yes, you have the city jerks and the country jerks- they live in different places but they behave the same way in regards to their lack of concern for their pets. But no organization should develop programs around the jerks of their community but they should focus on those who care and want to do what is right.

What does it take - the willingness to trust people and the ability to talk with them. Foster care program, more friendly adoption policies and process, adoption specials, talking with pet owners about the problems they are having and helping them re-home their pet and finally educating people about feral cats, these are inexpensive programs that work.

Sadly, what I have discovered is if they don’t want to do it then they won’t, but what is so frustrating is that in the face of many organizations in Virginia or even across the nation where No Kill is working in an open admissions pound environment, they still don’t want to listen and learn how to save lives. Why they won’t just try some of the programs is beyond me. Just try them for no other reason then to prove us wrong. If it means lives are saved then please, try and prove us wrong.

So what do we do? We keep doing the great work and continue to educate people and somewhere someone associated with these high killing pounds and humane societies will get a wake up call and be either forced to try the programs, decide for themselves it is time to change or leave the field.

Why am I doing this blog? Because I care about animals not just here in Lynchburg but everywhere and even though I am focusing on a recent conversation, I have had this same conversation over the years with many other organizations. I could have written this blog 2 years ago, 5 years ago, 8 years ago. My hope is that someone out there will read this and think, maybe they should try a different way. I can dream can’t I?

And if someone reading this has new ideas or new ways for us to save even more animals we are always open to hear how we can do better. We have to keep up with change as well and hope that we continue to strive to be a better organization.


  1. I'm surprised that people still have such outdated attitudes toward saving lives in their communities. I am so happy that we have forward thinkers here. Thank you for embracing change and looking for ways to save lives LHS!
    I wonder if that person has heard of Nathon Winograd...he has some interesting books on pet overpopulation and how it became the responsibilty of those who were trying to end it. I certainly believe it is a social responsibility and everyone should do their part to FIX it. Thank you for guiding us in that direction. I hope your leadership will spill over to other counties as well.

  2. I think you should post this blog on a Facebook page, so it's easier to share info. Great job!!!

  3. Ah, now I finally understand why Humane Societies and SCPAs won't embrace No Kill: they don't trust people. After years of seeing cruelty and neglect cases they see all people as cruel and neglectful. They remind me of cops who, after time, start viewing everybody as bad guys. I think it's a form of burn-out. Maybe what should be done is present them with many individual examples of when people in different communities cared and helped, not just with a bunch of numbers and statistics?

  4. this is the kind of behind the times thinking that hamstrings so many shelter operations. They are too busy telling you what will not work without trying it.

  5. I applaud you on your success in reducing your euthanasia rate. I wonder about the feral cats though. Charlottesville still kills healthy feral cats; that's not really no kill in my mind. Do you plan to start a TNR program in Lynchburg?

  6. Without people like you all, the Humane Society would not have the drive and determination to be the best organization and advocate for our precious animals who cannot speak for themselves. Great job ladies!!!!

  7. Bless you! Trusting people and talking with them...two seemingly simple but essential tasks in rescue work! It worries me to hear my fellow rescuers say, 'I just hate people now!' We won't get anywhere working against pet 'owners.' I can only get through each day in rescue telling myself, 'Everybody is doing the best they can with what they have.' They may have limited financial resources, poor support systems, lack of attachment to their animals, or an early upbringing that denies them caring relationships, but they are part of the team. We HAVE to get them on our side or we will fail terribly.

  8. Thank you! We need lots more people with your attitude everywhere!

  9. Thanks for getting the word out. I had no idea Lynchburg had such a high save rate!

  10. Yea! Thank you for this post and this blog!


    Start a Facebook PAGE for the shelter - post animals there -- makes it easier for people to share with friends. Make sure to add your Facebook page badge on this blog to help people find you on Facebook.

    Also start a shelter Twitter account and tweet about the pets, your blog post, shelter events, etc... This is also easy for people to share and spread the messages. Add link to your Twitter account on both your blog and Facebook.

    Consider doing a pet of the week or a pet of the day posting here and on Facebook too.

    Set up a few google alerts with keywords about fundraising, adoption events, etc, to get ideas about creative marketing for your shelter pets.

    Wishing you all the very best!

  11. I like engaging them in dialogue. For those who say "It won't work here", my response is: Have you TRIED it here? Listen carefully. Address their issues. Allay their reservations. Get them started, even on one little thing, one little area. Build on their successes. Every life saved is worth it.

  12. Any chance that your organization could join us on April 4th at 2:00 PM in the Roanoke City Council meeting to address this exact issue?

    We need everyone's support to change RCACP to a real shelter for the unfortunate animals that end up there.
    So all of you PLEASE mark your calendars and join us at the:
    Roanoke City Council Chamber
    fourth floor
    Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building
    215 Church Avenue, S. W.

  13. your article and insight is an inspiration! Thank you!

  14. Just saw the information about your Cat Fix program and your information on feral cats. Fantastic! You are light years ahead of the other shelters in this state. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of feral felines.

  15. Great work. Hopefully Roanoke can learn a lesson from you!


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