Shame on Target Zero
I tend to write my blogs with some type of introductory wording to set the stage about the topic. Not this time. Today I want to talk about an organization called Target Zero, why I will not support or promote it under any circumstances and why I think the people involved with Target Zero should be ashamed for a new campaign they are promoting.
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.
I learned last week that Target Zero is promoting a new campaign called the “Lick My Face” campaign in which people are encouraged to have their dogs lick their faces. The front man for the campaign is David Duchovny, one of their donors. People have been encouraged to record a video of their dog licking their face. For each lick, Duchovny will donate one dollar to Target Zero. There is a new webpage set up just for this campaign (which I refuse to share) and there is even talk of a “Lick Off.” Really? I presume that Mr. Duchovny means well, but this is still a terrible, dangerous idea.
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.
When I first became an advocate and started doing volunteer work to help rescuers years ago, my presence was simply a Youtube channel. I stored my slideshow projects there and I still do, even though I have moved my voice to this website and to the other websites I manage related to my advocacy.
One of my early projects was a slideshow simply called "Find Me." I used a Fisher song which was unreleased at the time and which was written about the disappearance of Natalie Holloway. Although I have reworked a number of my slideshows over the years to keep them fresh, I have left Find Me as it was originally created. I put it together at a time when I was incredibly frustrated and exasperated and it is one of my darker projects. My thought now is that there is enough negativity "out there" related to issues about companion animals and I'm better off taking a more educational or positive approach. I know how I react when a commercial comes on TV for the APSCA or the HSUS. I just don't want to be seen in the same light. They can keep the doom and gloom approach and I'll try to reach people using other methods. One of the recurring frames in Find Me is the traditional see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil image which is ordinarily associated with the Three Wise Monkeys.
I was interacting with a contact of mine with No Kill Houston recently and she let me know she had been contacted by a filmmaker after reposting an old "rant" of mine about shelter volunteers who enable failed shelters through their silence or who otherwise defend the destruction of savable animals. The documentary film is called Silent Shelter and it is currently in production. What caught my attention about the film was not only the image which leads off the trailer, but also the subject of the film itself: the rights of volunteers who help in animal shelters related to their free speech.
I am the first to admit that I have very little tolerance for people who volunteer for or otherwise support shelters where healthy and treatable animals are destroyed. There are proven programs to end the killing and they have been known for about 15 years. My own advocacy has been made more difficult not only due to shelter leaders and employees mired in a dysfunctional system, but also by rescuers and volunteers who refuse to speak out about what is broken. Some of the most toxic opponents of my no kill advocacy have been rescuers and volunteers who spend their time defending the killing and enabling the process when common sense would dictate that they would work just as hard as I am to end the needless killing. I cannot count the number of times I have been told by volunteers that they essentially "go along to get along" so they won't be "cut off" from helping animals. I've never really understood that position at all. If you really want to help animals, then look further than X dog or Y cat to resolve the systemic issues which cause them to be destroyed in the first place. Your silence is, ultimately, your approval.
In spite of my criticism for enablers and apologists, I know of numerous other people within the system who have spoken about about wrongs they have seen, heard and experienced only to be banned from a shelter or told they must sign some type of document saying they will not criticize the shelter. Is it this subject which is explored by the film and for that I am thankful. This subject has been covered by a lot of people a whole lot smarter than me so I won't go into detail on the issue here. The bottom line is that shelter volunteers and employees cannot be silenced because doing so violates the free speech provisions of our Constitution.
I look forward to seeing the film. I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch the trailer. If you are a volunteer or employee at a shelter where bad things happen, I hope you will take some time to educate yourself on no kill philosophies and issues related to free speech.
If you don't speak out for the welfare of animals in shelters, who will?
Silent Shelter Trailer from Dana Keithly on Vimeo.
Helping Man’s Best Friend
There was a time about a decade ago when I considered myself pretty well informed about animal issues simply because I grew up in an animal friendly household and I just like animals. Looking back now, I just didn’t have a clue. Yes, I meant well, but I really was completely out of touch with most of the issues which now take up a lot of space in my head and about which I find myself thinking. A lot.
One of those issues relates to pit bull-type dogs and something called either breed discriminatory legislation (BDL) or breed specific legislation (BSL). I really didn’t have much awareness on this subject until long after the Vick debacle related to his arrest and which led to the 2007 relocation of 47 of the 49 dogs seized from his property (one dog was destroyed early in the process and another was later destroyed for medical reasons). I knew the dogs had been treated in ways most of us simply cannot imagine and they all deserved a second chance. But I really didn’t get into the topic of pit bull-type dogs and legislation issues related to breed until the summer of 2009 when I was asked by my local shelter director to write a “white paper” advocating adoption of “pit bulls” from her shelter. She told me she wanted the paper so she could use it to persuade some of her old guard employees that these dogs were not inherently bad and to convince some folks at city hall that she should not have what then was essentially a de facto ban on these dogs in her building, leading to their destruction. I told her I was not qualified to write a white paper, but that I would be happy to prepare a research paper if it would help her and would save the lives of dogs.
I think I knew even the she would never use the paper and so I wrote it to be of use pretty much everywhere, in hopes that someone would get some use out of it. It took me weeks to research and write and when I first shared it in September of 2009, I felt good about it. I had learned things along the way I just did not realize before and developed a great contact in the process through my interaction with Karen Delise, the founder of the National Canine Research Council. The paper got passed around a bit, ended up on the Animal Law Coalition website, and the feedback was generally positive. When I saw my shelter director being interviewed by a local news anchor years later (in late 2012), lamenting the fact that she had so many “pit bulls” she simply had trouble placing, I’ll admit it made me angry. Yes, I just wrote a paper. Yes, it was just research. But had she been genuinely interested in advocating for these dogs and helping to educate those around her on how great they are, all she had to do was read my paper and develop a plan of her own on how to use it. I decided to channel my anger into action and I revised my research paper in February of 2014. Some of the end links no longer work, but I stand by my research all of which is found here.
When you put the media hype aside and you take a real look not only at the breeds of dogs we all call “pit bulls,” but at the research regarding factors which cause fatal dog attacks, the reality is that these dogs are no different than any other dogs. All dogs have teeth. All dogs bite. How we treat dogs, objectify dogs, use dogs, whether we spay and neuter dogs and whether we neglect or abuse dogs all play a role in their behavior. I am a huge proponent of breed blind legislation and I firmly believe that all dogs should be treated as individuals. I’m fine with legislation which is focused on public safety, but which is completely silent regarding dog breed. Some dogs really are dangerous. Some dogs are just broken, for lack of a better word, and should not be around people. But to take entire breeds of dogs – or worse yet – perceived breeds of dogs and try to legislate them is not only unconstitutional, but it is entirely ineffective.
I was on Facebook today and two items in my news feed stood in stark contrast to each other and served as a reminder that legislating dogs by breed simply does not work and is just wrong.
If you really care about dogs or just about how municipalities spend your money in the name of public safety and through use of police power, please educate yourself about the history of the types of dogs we call “pit bulls” and about the real reasons behind dog aggression. The best way for you to help man's best friend is to be an informed animal lover or animal advocate. If the whole subject is a bit too overwhelming for you and you need a place to start, well, my research paper may just help you.
I have absolutely no background in marketing. Certain things seem obvious to me as an animal lover, however, and one of those things is that in order to get shelter animals adopted, they have to be marketed very visibility and in a very consistent way.
It's an unfortunate reality that our historic destruction of shelter animals, regardless of their health or behavior, has led most of the public to get used to the killing, at least to a degree. People have come to believe either that something must be "wrong" with the animals who are destroyed or that there's just no other way to function. "Surely," the argument goes, "shelters would not be destroying animals unless they had no other choice, right?"
The reality is that there are other ways for animal shelters to function and that healthy and treatable animals don't have to die. Yes, we should absolutely euthanize shelter animals who are suffering or who are irremediably ill. To do otherwise would be unethical. Yes, we should destroy dogs who are genuinely aggressive to people and for whom no sanctuary placement is available simply because we cannot have them in our communities endangering the public. But what about the other animals in shelters? What about those animals who are perfectly healthy or who have treatable health conditions and would made a great companion for someone?
I think that a lot of people who work in shelters or who volunteer there think that the public knows about animals who need homes and they don't care enough to save them. I just don't agree. Most of the public does not know about the animals needing homes because they just don't think much about what happens at their local shelter. Even though they may love animals, or may be thinking of getting a new-to-them animal, most people have no clue about those healthy, wonderful and very worthy animals at their local shelter. It is up to shelters to make sure the public knows about these great animals and to put the subject on the "community radar" by being very vocal and very consistent in terms of the message. It has been said many times that we could be a no kill nation now if only shelter animals and potential adopters were better introduced. Exactly.
There are an endless number of ways to get shelter animals into new homes, most of which require no extra spending by animal shelters and just a little creativity. In most communities, all it takes to get animals adopted is to let the public know they need homes and to talk about how great they are. The more shelters view themselves as customer service based businesses with animals who need to be marketed, the more the public will respond. Whether shelters use web sites, social media, television media, radio or billboards, there are a host of ways to put the message in front of the very public who can be persuaded to adopt your animals in need. People have a host of options regarding getting a new pet from a breeder, from the internet, from a store or from a newspaper ad. Those people need to be convinced that your shelter is the first, best, "green" and the "go to" option when the time comes to bring a new animal into their home.
Be positive. Get creative. "Sell" the attributes of your animals. Offer ongoing adoption programs like Pets for Vets to place animals with those who have served in our armed forces or Seniors for Seniors to place older animals in homes with older people. Have regular adoption events not just in the same place in your city every few months, but at your shelter so that people can see how you operate your business and how much you care. Consider doing adoption events in different locations in your community on a regular basis so you are taking at least a few of your animals out to the public who may adopt them. A lot of people are afraid to go to an animal shelter because they are worried about what happens there or that they will be overwhelmed by animals needing homes. Why not take the animals to them instead? Take advantage of national events like Just One Day to help get exposure for your shelter and your animals in the media and using social media.
Who knows. You may find that the demand for your animals exceeds your supply. And wouldn't that be a wonderful problem to have...
The "Value" of our Pets
I work in the legal field and am also considered the resident "animal person" in my law firm. When people need help placing an animal, they ask me. When they need help adopting an animal, they call me. Every now and then our law librarian (a dog lover) passes along a legal opinion brought to his attention related to animals and we invariably have some discussion about the case. It makes my job more interesting when my animal welfare interests become related to how I spend my days.
On June 6, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court rendered an opinion in a case involving a dog who became gravely ill after having been administered medication improperly by a boarding facility. Her owners ultimately spent almost $70,000 trying to save Lola, their 8 ½ year old Dachshund mix they had adopted from a rescue center at the age of two. They were not able to save her and Lola later died. The case ended up on appeal to "the Supremes" related to issues about the value of the dog. Her family argued they were entitled to compensation for expenses paid treating her and trying to save her life. The boarding facility argued that because she was obtained from a rescue center, she had no value and the family was not entitled to compensation for her veterinary care because the amount they spent was unreasonable.
I found it very interesting that the court had to go back to cases from more than a hundred years ago for legal precedent. People may not realize this happens, but it does all the time. The law is an evolving, ever changing landscape. But if the last cases factually similar to one now are from 1850, they are still legal precedent. In the end, the Supremes ruled, as they had to, in accordance with Georgia law. The case was sent back to the trial court in accordance with the ruling that the family was entitled to seek damages for the loss of the value of the dog and for reasonable veterinary expenses. The court was not in a position to allow the family to seek damages for the sentimental value of Lola just because Georgia law doesn't provide for that remedy.
In spite of the limitations put on the ruling, I found some of the wording of the opinion to be quite enlightened and I see it as an indication that times are changing related to how we view the "value" of our companion animals. The court began the opinion with this sentence: "The subject matter of this case is near and dear to the heart of many a Georgian in that it involves the untimely death of a beloved family pet and concerns the proper measure of damages available to the owners of an animal injured or killed through the negligence of others." The court also stated the following near the end of the opinion, which I choose to interpret consistent with my own values:
"We agree with those courts which have held that the unique human-animal bond, while cherished, is beyond legal measure."
Time will tell how our laws continue to evolve related the value of our companion animals in our legal system. If you're anything like me, your dog is priceless to you and you want your laws to reflect that if anything were to ever happen to them due to the conduct of others. Lola was one dog. But she could have been my dog or yours.
You can read the entire opinion in the case of Barking Hound Village, LLC v. Monyak here.
(image courtesy of Peace and Paws Dog Rescue, Inc.)
The Legacy of Harley Taylor
When you hear the word, "legacy," what does it mean to you? Do you automatically think of other people or do you think of your own legacy and how you will be remembered once you are gone? I suspect that most of are so involved with the day-to-day activities of life that we don't give a whole lot of thought to our legacy. Introspection takes time and effort. I think I am more mindful of having a purpose-driven life now that my parents are gone. I know that I'll never be famous and I know I won't change the world. The best I can hope for is to try to be a positive force for change in some way.
Which brings me to the subject of Harley Taylor and his legacy. I was at work when I read the news that Harley had passed away on March 20th. It shocked me, I started to cry and I could not stop. So much for being the hardened, crusty old soldier. I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss for a dog I had never met, but with whom I felt a strong bond. Harley was a "client" of mine, for lack of a better description. I had spent so many hours marveling at his advocacy and working with his images and videos for projects, that the loss seemed personal to me. I know that grief is a selfish emotion, but that did not help the wave that came over me. (If you do not know who Harley Tayloris, I encourage you to learn about his life through his website and perhaps by reading some of my earlier blogs about him.)
When I was finally able to "get a grip," as mom used to say, my next thought was for Harley's family and friends. Harley lived a very public life and I am grateful his family shared him with all of us. I knew that if I was being so affected by his passing, surely what his family was enduring was beyond description with words. I expressed my condolences in my own ways and hoped that time would bring peace to them somehow.
As the days and weeks passed, I wondered about Harley's legacy. How would his family move on? Would they continue his work to educate the public about the evils of the commercial dog farming industry or would it just be too much? How would they really be able to grieve their loss while the rest of us were reminding them of our feelings pretty much every minute? Social media is a great thing, but it can also be a terrible burden and I know that even the most well-intentioned words of support can keep a wound from healing.
As Dean Koontz (famous author, huge dog lover and philanthropist) once so aptly wrote, "grief can destroy you or it can focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn't allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it." In the case of the Taylor family, I think it is safe to say that their grief has focused them and that the legacy of Harley Taylor will be strong. Harley's Facebook page is as active as it ever was and new social media pages have emerged to help people show their support for his advocacy to end the mill industry and their support for his family. The Taylors have also established the Harley Puppy Mill Education and Outreach Fund which will be used to carry on Harley's mission to bring awareness to the commercial dog breeding industry. The money raised will be used to develop educational curriculum materials about Harley’s life for use in schools, fund billboards to raise puppy mill awareness, create brochures and promotional materials, and to complete a documentary film about Harley which was started last summer.
I like to think that most people are inherently good or that there is good in them. I also like to think that we all to change the world in our own small ways during our lives whether it relates to our own families, our professions or social issues. For myself, I can only hope that my legacy will be a fraction of the one being forged right now by Harley's family in his honor. And I am happy to be involved in perpetuating that legacy in some small way through our educational projects. If you would like to support Harley's Puppy Mill Education and Outreach Fund, you can learn more about it on his website.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson