Best Friends Blog

“You mean they kill animals in this country?”

Social change, as sociologists define it, is any significant alteration in behavior patterns, cultural values and norms over time. The goal of Best Friends and the no-kill movement is to influence the behavior patterns and cultural values of Americans as they relate to those animals who we call our pets.

In the early days of Best Friends, some young Germans touring the high desert canyons of southern Utah came across a mama cat and her weak and dehydrated kittens. They gathered them up and tried to provide what relief they could, but some of the kittens were barely holding on and they needed immediate veterinary attention. After inquiring about help at the nearest town, the tourists were directed to our sanctuary, which was more than an hour’s drive away. Once they arrived, we thanked them for their efforts and got to work, administering fluids and nourishment to the stressed mama and her kittens.

In those days, we didn’t have many visitors or regular tours, so we scrambled to arrange a drive around the Sanctuary with one of the founders who knew a little German. As they went from animal area to animal area, a look of obvious confusion grew on the faces of our German guests as they chatted among themselves. Then one of them asked in halting English, “Why are all these animals here?”

When it was explained that most were rescued from shelters or the streets, their confusion only deepened. Why were we rescuing animals from shelters? Explaining what seemed to be the obvious, our guide patiently elaborated on the route and the reasons why most of the dogs and cats came to Best Friends, and that most, if not all, would have been killed had they remained in a shelter. At that point, the Germans did a collective jaw drop and one of them said, “You mean they kill animals in this country? In Germany it is illegal to kill dogs and cats.” That’s when the founder’s jaw dropped.

It was an “aha!” moment of epic proportions. The killing of pets in shelters was not an inevitable side effect of keeping dogs and cats as household pets. There was, after all, a societal benchmark for our no-kill dreams and aspirations. All we needed was some social change!

Obviously, the United States is not Germany, but we are every bit as much a nation of animal lovers as Germany is. So how do we translate America’s love for our pets into real change at a community sheltering level?

Social change is required to create and sustain a no-kill community. Fortunately, virtually all of the mechanisms and work needed to end shelter killing are themselves implements of the social change required.

Think about it. Promoting shelter and rescue adoptions to the level needed to make a difference means changing the way the public acquires pets — by communicating through advertising, social media and word of mouth. I can no longer count the number of television ads and shows that identify a featured pet as having been adopted. An adopted pet now has a certain cachet and the act of adopting a pet has a glow of social responsibility. In communities where more and more people are walking around with beautiful adopted dogs, more people want one of their own, which drives a counter-intuitive process.

Rather than exhausting a limited pool of potential adopters, high-volume shelter adoptions (one of the cornerstones of a no-kill campaign) actually increase demand for pet adoptions. Another major benefit of high-volume shelter adoptions in communities where dogs and cats are fixed prior to adoption is the prevention of unwanted litters. More fixed pets adopted into the general population mean fewer dogs and cats who need to be spayed or neutered, and fewer unexpected puppies and kittens born.

And what of spay/neuter? One of the challenges of a no-kill campaign is to deliver low-cost and free spay/neuter resources to underserved communities. Letting residents know that such services are available and affordable, or free, requires very basic ground-level marketing, such as distributing door hangers and flyers. That kind of grass-roots activity creates public awareness, demand and community expectations that previously did not exist in a segment of the population.

As pets become a more significant part of a community’s identity through pride in ownership of no-kill achievements, the more businesses begin catering to pets by allowing employees to bring pets to the office, creating pet-friendly outdoor dining areas or even having a dog treat cookie jar on the counter. Maybe you’ve noticed a rise in pet-friendly hotels and doggie day-care businesses and cat hotels that specialize in boarding and pampering cats.

These gradual societal shifts in behavior and expectations create more pet-friendly ecosystems that indirectly help to cement the hard-won gains of a community’s no-kill efforts.

All of this adds up to social change — not top-down social engineering, but rather bottom-up change that aligns with public values.

We don’t need to become Germany to end shelter killing. Together, we Americans can Save Them All.

Love reading the Best Friends Blog? Make sure you never miss a post by clicking here to subscribe and receive every post right in your inbox.

Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Kira

    With all the new research coming out on the health problems caused by spaying/neutering dogs prior to 5 years old, it would be nice to see shelters and rescues switching over to tubal ligations and vasectomies (tubes tied) rather than full spays and neuters for younger dogs. I believe this would decrease the number of older dogs entering shelters and rescues when they develop endocrine disorders that their owners can’t afford to manage. It would also increase the quality of life for dogs across the U.S. Something that interests me is that in Europe, people don’t get their animals spayed or neutered and yet they don’t have the troubles we do. We’re a long way from that kind of social change but it would be so wonderful to be a part of a society where everyone knew how to manage their animals responsibly without having to perform invasive surgery on them. One can dream, right?

    • Misty Scallion

      Kira;Your message was great.Your information is right on target. But one thing “No” one knows is: these animals are Re:makes of all the animals previously euthanized from surrendered owners having allergies(assumed) via their pets. So these new animals have been mixed with a good breed of dog and a bad(aggressive) dog Then again they also were mixed with a bigger dog and a smaller dog.I have a mix breed of Wheaten which is a huge dog mixed with a Terrier and that one was very small.I found it very odd that this dog would squat like a girl to pee,and when he barks he has a very loud high pitched bark like that of a female.So these dogs are being totally messed up intentionally. They are now known as throw away dogs,because some or most shelters will not take them back and/or Re:adopt options.It’s all about money not so much the life style and/or safety of these animals,unless of course there is a fine involving we the pet owners.There is and always will be a catch 22. Good Luck.

  • rinteln60

    I am a German,And I do not harm any animals! Even to the point that I am vegetarian. Bordering on vegan! I came to the conclusion that I was being a hypocrite when I stated that I was an animal lover,but then I ate animals! So now I do not! All animals have the right to live in peace,and without fear of being harmed in any way. Just as any human wishes to be!

  • Stacy Mercord

    That is a poster about dogs banned in Germany specifically for people on bases, as issues have arisen for various reasons (abandonment etc) and it is not that simple. I lived there for nine years and had friends off base that had Rotties (rescued) It is a three step process that looks at each case: the home environment and dog behavior. On base I had other friends that had obvious “pit” mixes in housing which were never assessed or regarded in any formal way. Having volunteered with rescue on base, on the German economy and in a neighboring country, I can put my 2 cents in that there is a lot Germany is doing right by their pets. Not only the numbers but simple observations walking down the street there can show this. They love their dogs and hold them in pretty high regard. Is it perfect? No. But ours is far from perfect as well, and the data doesn’t lie when it comes to the number killed. Perhaps what we can do is look at different countries,states, or local programs that are doing well with their pets and use what we think is appropriate in ours. It’s not a competition about being right but about trying to save lives.

    • Misty Scallion

      Stacy;I some what understand where you may be coming from. But I can speak for Massachusetts,where billions of animals were euthanized only a few years ago while all these people assumed having allergies to their animals, via their Drs..”Not” one single person put their ad in a news paper to place these poor animals in other homes.My sister was told she was allergic to her cat;so she went out and got two more and her allergies went away. Recently I was waiting in an animal shelter when an older gentlemen came in looking to adopt a dog,he said he was told a few years ago he had an allergy because of his dog so he too surrendered his dog,he then stated that the dog has been gone for many years and he still has the same allergies,so this one animal shelter refused to allow him to adopt another pet. I felt no mercy for those that left their loving pets behind only because of a minor allergy,not at all life threatning. People need to do their foot work and question their options. Who is right and who is wrong. I would never get rid of my pet for the sake of any illness // life or death threatning. I will take my chances and trust 100% to the man upstairs…. One other request: We all as a unit need to stick together,rather than attacking others for what ever the reason maybe.God Bless all our animals and God Bless us that have stood by our animals through thick & thin as they have us.There is an answer to every thing. Seek and we do find.

  • SK

    Germany has quite an extensive list of banned (not allowed at all – if they find you have one they will take the animal and may euthanize it) and restricted (you have to have the individual animal evaluated for behavioral issues – haven’t found out what happens if your animal doesn’t pass the test) dogs however. So though they may technically be no-kill, they may still kill your dog if he is the wrong breed! I don’t know that there is any country that really has a no-kill, open arms, love all the animals policy sadly.
    List of banned/restricted dogs for the curious:

  • Delphia June

    I understand and love this article, however, there is a statistic somewhere that there are 35 dogs per human in the U.S. Most towns regulate how many animals you can have which helps prevent hoarding. Trying to save them all seems like a daunting task. I have 2 I rescued, one from a high kill shelter and the other from heading to a high kill shelter. I would love to do more but my income limits what I can do to provide all the necessary vet care possible. Resources seem to be what limits animal facilities. I can not call them shelters with a clear conscious. How do communities deal with under socialized animals with limited funds? Most people can’t handle those type of reactive animals. There are so many issues to consider in this goal. Where do you begin? I tried to discuss these issues in my area and was told that I wasn’t an animal advocate but a PETA Activist and fired from a volunteer job which was weird since I’ve never met or been around a PETA Activist in my life. I just thought we could do better using social media, involving the community, etc. It was a weird experience dealing with the people/town. Yes, they still kill here at this animal facility. How do you begin to educate, make changes, to have a no kill U.S. ??

    • Misty Scallion

      Delphia June; Don’t worry about what other people say to you,they are just thinking on more terms of maybe safety for pets etc.Also there is absolutely nothing wrong with Peta organization,they protect us and all other animals being abused via the system(science & the government.)I take my pets to a natural holistic practioner,I find it’s less money and less often for the visits.But you might need to shop around as prices vary. I lucked out on a great deal. Another thing is// the public/society and the government are hard on us as adopters because it strengthens their ability to be sure of the animals treatments which means more money,one thing that these shelters do not know or even care about most pets especially dogs have severe issues,they are aggressive,they may be un-teachable,hyper ,and constantly barking( my neighbors constantly complaining) plus much more,so this is where yet more money comes in the picture for every one such as the shelter workers,the government etc.The saddest most traumatic situation is that it’s stressful on myself as well as my dog. We need to be aware and listen to our teachers and try to get in on the best of every thing that is offered.Information. Good Luck