Target Zero is a shelter consulting organization which markets itself as being qualified to help guide communities to get "to zero" regarding destruction of shelter animals. In some places, it offers these services for free, making the offer almost irresistible to municipal governments. From my perspective, this is a group of people who are backed by big money - and who may very well have good intentions - but who are simply not qualified to help any community become a true no kill community. I set out my experiences with and concerns about this group not quite a year ago in my blog called "Target Zero or Doing Zero?" I won't repeat myself here simply for the sake of emphasis. You can read my original blog to understand my position on the organization as it was in September of 2015.
Since the time I wrote that piece, one of the original founders has left Target Zero and Target Zero has left Huntsville, Alabama (the city where I have spent 10 years seeking shelter reform). They have declared it an “alumni city” and have moved on seek new clients, all while using Huntsville as an example of their work. They have a video they use which references Huntsville and our shelter director routinely sings the praises of Target Zero in media interviews. But let’s get real for a minute: Huntsville is not a no kill community. Although there were a period of months when the live release rate exceeded 90% (what Target Zero considers “getting to zero”) that is not the measure of a no kill community. That number proved to be unsustainable in any event. There are now issues with dogs entering the building healthy and then getting sick and we have heard that local rescue organizations have become overwhelmed in their efforts to do too much with too little in order to improve the shelter statistics.
We have remained silent for the most part about the fact that Target Zero is marketing off of Huntsville to get new clients. My personal thought is that me speaking out individually against Target Zero on my own is certainly not going to slow their efforts to seek new clients with the allure of "free" help. I don’t try to warn communities to not hire Target Zero simply because that could cause me to be sued for interference with a contractual relationship. No, thanks. I'm equally sure that those who manage the organization or support it blindly will label me a malcontent and treat this blog as some attempt to seek credit for change in Huntsville. No. This is not about credit. It is about reporting history accurately and not leaving out parts that don't fit the desired narrative which makes Target Zero look like the hero here. If the city had taken action to save animals on its own and after having learned about no kill programs in late 2008, our no kill coalition would not have been necessary in the first place. As the saying goes, “we didn’t start the fire.” We were always results-oriented and we still long for the day when our advocacy is simply not necessary.
I'm sure that Target Zero did do some good in Huntsville. They were able to connect with the shelter director here in ways the members of my no kill coalition could not. We had tried to help her for years, only to be dismissed as naive and uninformed. Target Zero was able to get her attention due to who they are and because they have what I presume to be almost unlimited funding. By the time they arrived on the scene, the live release rate had gone from 34% to more than 70%, all without their involvement and after we took the no kill subject to the public and to a new city administrator. Change was already taking place. There will always be disagreement about what led to that change. I am absolutely certain that but for the advocacy of No Kill Huntsville nothing would have changed at all and the city would still be destroying the majority of the animals in the shelter while being answerable to no one.
But back to my issue with Target Zero standing on the backs of the members of my coalition. The problem with Target Zero using Huntsville as a marketing tool is that they only tell part of the story - the part that makes it sound like they swept in to the community and saved us from ourselves. Hardly. What Target Zero fails to tell other places is that they were able to do some good in Huntsville because other advocates had already been fighting for change for years and had created a climate where even more change was possible. They quite literally jumped on the bandwagon of change and then declared themselves the reason for that change while making no mention at all of the unique factors in Huntsville which allowed that change to happen. Huntsville is in the rear view mirror of Target Zero now that they have moved on and the members of my coalition are left to continue our efforts to make this a no kill community.
For me, this campaign is simply further evidence that Target Zero is completely out of touch with the very shelters they claim to be qualified to advise. I guess it’s possible that some service animals are trained to lick the faces of the people they help in order to wake them. Aside from that, I can think of no circumstances under which it's a good idea to encourage a dog to lick someone's face. Dogs have teeth and dogs can get excited about food and treats. No one knows how many dogs end up in shelters due to biting incidents or due to perceived instances of aggression which were really not the fault of the dog at all and the result of something we did or failed to do.
I think it is a uniquely terrible and uniformed idea to encourage people to participate in a campaign which not only promotes undesirable behavior in dogs but which could have the end result of more dogs being surrendered to shelters due to no fault of their own. There are a host of things Target Zero could have done to promote saving shelter animals and to promote the humane-canine bond. Walking. Playing. Reading. Anything but licking.
Shame on Target Zero for this ill-advised campaign and shame on Target Zero for using Huntsville as a marketing tool.
If anyone with Target Zero wishes to speak with me to try to convince me that the Lick My Face campaign is a stellar idea, please. Send me an email message. Tell me that you consulted with dog behaviorists and dog bite fatality experts and that you fully researched this whole idea before putting it out there for the nation to see.
And if anyone with Target Zero feels I have misrepresented their role in helping Huntsville save more animals, please. Send me an email message and try to persuade me that I should see this situation differently. If I am wrong and have judged them too harshly, I will admit having done so.