Richard Avanzino built the first No Kill city as Executive Director of the San Francisco SPCA. In 1999, he became the first President of Maddie’s Fund, a family foundation funded by PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield, and his wife, Cheryl, to help create a No Kill nation.
By Rich Avanzino
With transparency as one of the most important ways to bring forth public awareness about the reality that homeless pets face, Maddie’s Fund requires all shelters within a city to work together and report detailed statistics of their data, including the number of animals taken in, the number adopted out, and the number killed. This requirement has prevented many communities from getting grants, because many traditional shelters have historically not wanted to disclose their data. Here, Avanzino elaborates on the importance of transparency to the No Kill model.
Transparency is one of the cornerstones of the Maddie’s Fund philosophy. Although transparency in the non-profit world generally refers to financial information, I am referring to shelter data, or specifically tracking and publicly reporting the outcome of every live dog or cat who crosses the shelter threshold.
To achieve transparency, shelters should start by collecting and publishing shelter animal intakes and outcomes, using nationally recognized definitions that categorize animals as “healthy”, “treatable” and “unhealthy & untreatable”. Publishing this data means promoting it on websites and in newsletters so the whole world can see what’s happening.
Many shelters say they don’t want to publish their statistics because the organization will look bad. If an agency fears looking bad, something is going on. Regardless the reason, if large numbers of dogs and cats are dying, the public should know. We owe it to the animals to tell the community what’s taking place in the shelter system. Not only does the public have the right to know, but once the information is exposed, there is greater opportunity for solutions to be found to reduce the killing. If the community doesn’t know what’s happening, it can’t help.
Rather than fearing or fighting transparency, animal welfare organizations should embrace it.
In my opinion, real transparency means no fudging allowed. If an organization saved all of its healthy animals except for 25 friendly, healthy pit bulls that were killed because of a local mandate, those animals have to be accounted for and listed as healthy deaths. They can be asterisked (e.g., “the Humane Society saved all of its healthy shelter dogs and cats except for 25 pit bulls who were killed because of a local ordinance prohibiting pit bull placement”). But the organization has to be transparent and account for those deaths.
Another situation that tends to go unreported is owner/ guardian requested euthanasia. It’s not uncommon for shelters to euthanize animals at a guardian’s request then exclude them from overall shelter intakes and deaths. In other words, the animals simply don’t show up in public records.
Rather than fearing or fighting transparency, animal welfare organizations should embrace it. When an organization is forthcoming and demonstrates it has nothing to hide, its vulnerability to exposés and allegations is substantially reduced. If there is a problem, the best way to address it is to talk about it. Cover-ups cause people to lose faith and question an organization’s honesty. Refusals to disclose information only make people assume the worst.
Transparency is a big plus even if an organization is less than perfect, because it allows the community to monitor improvement. When the public can see that an agency is saving an increasing number of dog and cat lives, it enhances the organization’s reputation, which builds community trust, which increases financial support, which saves even more lives — and the positive momentum keeps building for the animals.
For more information, visit maddiesfund.org.