Recently Best Friends Animal Society invited Richmond SPCA CEO Robin Robertson Starr to submit a piece for the "Final Word" column in Best Friends Magazine. The column regularly provides a space for thought leaders in the animal welfare community to examine issues that make a difference in the lives of animals. We are delighted that Robin's column appears in the November/December issue that has just arrived in Best Friends members' mailboxes. We knew you'd appreciate the opportunity to read and share it as well. The text of Robin's column is below, or you may click the image to see the full-page column as it appears in the magazine.
Our Choice Now
The no-kill movement germinated in the thoughtful writings of Ed Duvin and took root through the commitment of Rich Avanzino. It has gone from what seemed to be a crazy fringe notion to a powerful force gaining widespread acceptance. The term “no kill” has always inspired controversy and many now prefer “adoption guarantee.” Whatever the terminology, the essential concept that we will end the loss of life of healthy and treatable homeless animals nationwide within the decade has become widely accepted. The reason it has gained such momentum is simple: it is based on an undeniable moral imperative. Killing animals because they are homeless is not ethical. We all know that.
Shortly before I began working at the Richmond SPCA, I visited Rich Avanzino at the San Francisco SPCA and asked a question reflecting my ignorance: “How could you ever stop euthanizing all the animals that don’t get adopted?” Rich did not embarrass or belittle me but took the opportunity to teach. What followed was an insightful explanation by Rich that transformed my understanding and professional direction.
Since then, I have never waivered in my commitment to those no-kill principles. But, my understanding of the complexities involved in achieving our goal of saving all healthies and treatables has deepened considerably.
Communities vary widely in the challenges they face in reaching adoption guarantee because each has a unique interplay of animal and human issues. Considerable tenacity and collaborative spirit are required to significantly and consistently increase life saving results in most communities.
Achieving an adoption guarantee community is only meaningful if it is sustainable. Programs of targeted spay/neuter, pet retention support, foster care and effective adoption promotion are essential. It is foolish to deny that increasing life saving costs money. Many humane organizations need help to improve their fundraising capacities sufficiently to sustain essential programs.
The loss of life of homeless animals has declined dramatically in recent years. Many communities have made remarkable progress in saving increasing percentages of their homeless animals despite tough hurdles. Very few can validly call themselves adoption guarantee and many have a long way to go. But, the tide has clearly shifted. The concepts of the no-kill movement are now embraced by the leaders of the national animal-welfare organizations and people with private and public agencies nationwide. A sea change is occurring as this diverse group subscribes to a shared noble goal, our goal.
This presents a stark choice to those of us who committed ourselves to this goal years ago. We can welcome these new team members into the fold warmly and generously like Rich did for me those years ago. We can expand the tent allowing room for a variety of approaches. We can recognize that all communities will not cross the finish line immediately and that what matters is that they commit to getting across it and work diligently to do so. We can help them to improve while applauding their successes and having the humility to refrain from doctrinaire approaches. We can muster the integrity, diplomacy, tenacity and selflessness that it is going to take to get down the tough home stretch. In other words, we can behave like serious people with a serious commitment.
Or, we can keep this movement to ourselves because we think we own it. We can alienate our new allies by disparaging their past contributions, creating lasting animosities over single issue differences and acknowledging only those life-saving successes we can claim as our own. We can engage in character assassinations, vilifying people who have done their sincere best rather than recognizing their tough challenges and creating partnerships. We can malign the motives of anyone who offers another perspective. We can aggrandize our own accomplishments to make those of others seem small. In other words, we can act like our real concern is commanding the spotlight. Anyone who is paying attention sees this happening in the no-kill movement. It threatens our chances for sustainable success.
Social movements start with a few visionaries who are seen initially as crazy radicals. To change society for the long term, a movement must win the hearts and minds of many by inspiring widespread commitment to an undeniable moral imperative. In time, people support movements that speak to the dictates of their conscience. That time has come for our movement. Its future depends on our choosing to behave like the serious and committed people that homeless animals need us to be.