Q & A with Nathan Winograd

Nathan J. Winograd, a graduate of Stanford Law School, a former criminal prosecutor and corporate attorney, is one of the foremost national No Kill leaders.

As Director of Operations for the San Francisco SPCA, Winograd was instrumental in advancing some of the most progressive shelter programs in the nation, and helped establish the first No Kill city. By making a commitment to stop the killing as Executive Director for the Tompkins County (NY) SPCA, he put programs in place that took Tompkins County No Kill. He has since formed No Kill Solutions, a national consulting group to help communities throughout the country move towards No Kill status.

Why has the general public been out of the loop in understanding the plight of homeless animals?

The primary reason is because we have been misled into believing that there is no alternative to killing in shelters. More than that, we have been told that this killing is the right thing to do. The nation’s leading animal rights group, for example, says that killing is “often the kindest option for animals admitted to sheltering facilities.” But, in fact, killing is neither kind nor necessary, nor will it prevent animal suffering. Indeed, it is population control killing that itself is the root cause of animal suffering in our nation’s animal control shelters. By misleading and even blaming the public, shelters have turned their backs on a very dog and cat loving American public that could help them save lives—through donations, volunteerism, and adoptions.

Can you explain the difference between traditional shelters, No Kill, and animal control agencies?

Specifically, an animal control agency is a sheltering agency that takes in all dogs and cats in a particular community and also enforces laws relating to companion animals. Historically, they were known as “dog pounds.” They can be public or private. In other words, they may be part of the government or operate under contract with government. An animal control agency can still be No Kill, but few are. A traditional shelter is one that is private but kills savable animals. And finally a No Kill shelter is one that is saving all healthy dogs and cats, sick and injured but treatable animals, and healthy and treatable feral cats. No Kill shelters can be public or private and even include animal control. More generally, it is probably safe to say that No Kill shelters don’t kill savable animals, while traditional shelters do.

Why are traditional shelters so reluctant to go No Kill?

There are several reasons, but the most common one is what I call “institutionalized defeatism,” which is the belief that shelters are required— indeed, morally obligated—to kill the bulk of their occupants. Unfortunately, because the national groups to which they turn to for advice have legitimized and even promoted this view, it has hardened to the point that any efforts to break the status quo—to save feral cats, promote more adoptions, or stop animal killing altogether—is met with virulent opposition. These directors are blind to alternatives because they are so mired in blaming the public for killing, they refuse to try alternatives. And, in the end, they fail to implement lifesaving programs because they believe that killing is acceptable. To this day, animal shelters continue to ignore their own culpability in the killing, while professing to lament continued killing as entirely the fault of the public’s failure to spay/neuter or make lifetime commitments to their animals. As a result, they ignore their own practices which result in killing. Many shelters are still not sterilizing animals before adoption or providing the public with affordable alternatives. Some do not have foster care programs and do not socialize and rehabilitate dogs with behavior problems. Still others do not take animals offsite for adoption, have not developed partnerships with rescue groups, limit volunteerism, are not practicing TNR, and still retain adoption hours that make it difficult for working people or families to visit the shelter, the very people they should be courting to adopt the animals they are charged with protecting.

How difficult is it for a traditional shelter to go No Kill?

It is not difficult at all. There are a key series of programs and services which result in increased lifesaving, a declining death rate and have created No Kill in both urban and rural communities which implemented them. And all it takes to implement these programs is leadership: a hard working, compassionate shelter director who is passionate about saving lives, abhors killing, and is not content to hide behind tired clichés like “too many animals and not enough homes.” Anyone with a deep and abiding love for animals and a “can do” attitude can take on positions of leadership at SPCAs, humane societies, and animal control shelters across the nation, and quickly achieve the kind of lifesaving results that were once dismissed as nothing more than “hoaxes” or “smoke and mirrors” by the leaders of the past. With no allegiance to the status quo or faith in conventional “wisdom,” new leaders can cause dog and cat deaths to plummet in cities and counties by rejecting the “adopt some and kill the rest” inertia of the past one hundred years. In a little over one year under new leadership committed to change, for example, the Charlottesville SPCA which contracts for animal control in Virginia saved 92 percent of all dogs and cats. This was accomplished under a director with no prior experience running a shelter. There is a larger lesson here from the experiences of other communities with similar success: whether a No Kill succeeds or fails depends on who is running the shelter. The buck stops there.

What are the key programs necessary to achieve No Kill?

I call them the “No Kill Equation.” And it is the only model that has actually created No Kill communities. The programs and services of the No Kill Equation include a feral cat Trap-Neuter-Return program, comprehensive adoption programs which include evening and weekend hours and adoption venues throughout the community, medical rehabilitation and behavior socialization programs, working with volunteers, a foster care program for underaged, sick, injured or traumatized animals, high volume affordable spay/neuter, public relations and marketing, working with rescue groups, pet retention programs to help people overcome issues which may cause them to relinquish their pets to shelters, public relations and marketing, and accountability. It is the only effective roadmap to No Kill.

In your experience, what’s the most critical step to build a No Kill community?

If you ask 100 animal welfare professionals this question, all 100 would say spay/neuter. But all 100 would be wrong. That is not to say that high volume, low cost sterilization services aren’t important, they are. In fact, they are crucial. But that is not why most dogs and cats are currently being killed in shelters. It isn’t “pet overpopulation.” What we are actually suffering from as a nation, what is actually killing a high number of animals, is an over-population of shelter directors mired in the failed philosophies of the past and complacent with the status quo. We know how to stop the killing, but many shelter directors refuse to implement the No Kill model. As a result, a widespread, institutionalized culture of lifesaving is not possible without wholesale regime change in shelters and national animal protection groups, replacing them with compassionate leaders who reject killing as a method for achieving results.

For more information, http://www.nathanwinograd.com/.