Best Friends Blog

The flat earthers of animal welfare

Upside down tabby kitten on couchAs 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 ProjectBrent 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.

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

  • Karen Martiny

    As always, Francis writes so very eloquently and gets his point across clearly. No kill will happen across the U.S., and regardless of naysayers, the movement can’t be stopped now that it’s begun. It will take time and commitment, but those of us in animal rescue won’t give up until we achieve our goal. We must make our message heard more loudly than the ones shared by negative doubters.

  • Peter Masloch

    Actually, it has been done “overnight” (becoming No Kill) in several places. As example, Seagoville, TX or Allegany County, MD. All it took was the right group of people with the right leadership. Becoming a No Kill community does not always require a 5 year plan.

    • jondunn


      If you’ll notice in the blog, we mention that there are places where it has happened “quickly” but like the example of Palm Springs, there were many things that happened leading up to the taking of the shelter contract. There was a framework put in place that took years – coalition building, a creation of volunteer program, growth of a foster network.

      Words like “quickly,” “easily” and “overnight” are, quite frankly, unhelpful and possibly dangerous when it comes to promoting no-kill.

      We all know plenty of examples where well-intentioned advocates, taking the lead of the “it’s easy” narrative found themselves way in over their heads once they underbid themselves on a shelter contract – and had no idea what they were doing. All they knew is that it was “easy!”

      When executed correctly, with adequate funding and the right leadership, no-kill certainly can be achieved, but in our view, far too often pundits in the movement are throwing those words around.

      Jon Dunn
      Senior Manager of Policy
      Best Friends Animal Society

      • Peter Masloch

        Jon, I mostly agree with you. The coalition building, as example, is not always needed. Often that “coalition building” or the “lets get all along” is often hindering people to move forward. Of course, every community is different. In my community, as example, local rescues have chosen to work against us and that is fine. We learned to work around them. The one thing I would like to mention is the difference between becoming No Kill and stay No Kill. In my experience becoming No Kill is the easier part. Sustaining it over the years is the real challenge.