No Kill Heroes

Did you know that there was a whole group of people back in the 1980s and 1990s who were the creators of No Kill? These were the people who developed No Kill, proved that it could work, knitted it into a movement, and delivered it to the world. And they did all this without any thought of credit or personal glory.

The best known of the group of people who were active in the 1980s and 1990s is Richard Avanzino. He took over as shelter director at the San Francisco SPCA in the 1970s and kept that position until the end of 1998 (when he was succeeded by Ed Sayres). Avanzino was a creative leader, and on his watch the San Francisco SPCA developed the programs and philosophy of No Kill. Today, of course, he is the head of Maddie’s Fund and still going strong. Rich Avanzino is often called the founder of No Kill. He himself would say that it is the American people who deserve the credit for No Kill, because they are the ones who have opened their hearts to shelter animals.

Avanzino collected extraordinary people around him at San Francisco. Two of the most creative were Lynn Spivak and Pam Rockwell, both of whom are now retired. Spivak was the marketing and public outreach genius at the San Francisco SPCA. She helped to create an atmosphere where everyone, including the volunteers, came up with ideas for lifesaving, and the attitude was “let’s give it a try.” Her department was where the famous San Francisco programs were developed. Due to her efforts there was always something fun happening at the SPCA, and in consequence the shelter was always in the paper and on people’s minds. Rockwell was head of the Ethical Studies division. She was an Ivy League attorney and she redefined what a shelter’s job was in the community, not just for cats and dogs but for all animals. She put the ethical beliefs of the San Francisco crew on a sound legal and philosophical basis and helped work out the proper response for each new complex issue that came up.

Lynda Foro is another person who could be called the founder of No Kill. Before she started her activism, there was no No Kill movement. Starting in the mid-1990s, she held the first No Kill conferences and she issued No Kill directories. She created a network of people where none had existed before. People who wanted to stop shelter killing and who had been working in isolation suddenly discovered that there were other people just like them. Foro is retired, and has never sought any credit for her work. She’s another person who was all about the animals.

Ed Duvin has often been called the founder of the No Kill movement. His 1989 article “In The Name of Mercy” created a firestorm in the animal sheltering world. Duvin analyzed the current state of animal sheltering in light of the animal rights movement that had been underway since 1975. His critique of the animal shelter industry was devastating. He pointed out that we did not even know how many shelters there were in the United States at that time (we still don’t) much less how many animals they were killing (still true), and that sheltering had no effective national guiding body (still true). He tore down the excuse that killing was necessary to prevent suffering, arguing that shelters that did not even use the most basic management techniques had no ground on which to make that claim. He made several practical observations about how shelters could do better. Reading this document today it seems like a blueprint for the No Kill movement. And yet Duvin did not demonize shelter workers — instead, he said “[w]e reach out to our friends in the shelter community with respect . . . .”

All of these people and more were crucial to the origin of No Kill in the 1990s. No Kill is a product of many great leaders, but ultimately, as Rich Avanzino says, No Kill is the work of the American people. Today we have a new generation of younger activists who are carrying on the work. I hope that they will always be as smart, effective, and modest as their progenitors.

12 thoughts on “No Kill Heroes

  1. Bett

    I am really puzzled by this blog. It seems like you are trying to re-write history by completely ignoring the person who has pushed the No Kill movement farther than any of the other people that you mentioned i.e. Nathan Winograd. Why would you completely leave out any reference to him?

    All the people that you mention may have come up with the idea that No Kill was right or possible, but some of them did little to nothing to actually end shelter killing, like Nathan has or they have done little to nothing to push the idea and teach the necessary programs to any community outside of their own, as Nathan has.

    Nathan’s decades of dedicated work has arguably resulted in the end of shelter killing in more communities than any other person that you mentioned. If he had not created the No Kill Advocacy Center to teach the No Kill model of sheltering to others (after he created the first No Kill community) your list of communities would likely be extremely short today. But you did not even mention his name. To me that seems to be a blatant re-writing of history and I think it is very disrespectful to Nathan.

    Also, this blog comes across as almost anti-No Kill advocates i.e. “Reading this document today it seems like a blueprint for the No Kill movement. And yet Duvin did not demonize shelter workers — instead, he said “[w]e reach out to our friends in the shelter community with respect…” This feels a lot like a slap in the face to all No Kill advocates who are working tirelessly to try to end shelter killing in their communities, including me. Most of us are doing this exhausting, stressful and heartbreaking work after our full time jobs end. To wrongly imply that most, if not all, of us have not first tried to reach out to kill shelters and have not tried to help them stop killing is offensive to me. Believe me, we HAVE tried to work with them. It hasn’t worked. They continue to kill thousands (80,000 here in Houston) with impunity even though we have provided many, many opportunities to learn how to end shelter killing. They don’t want to learn because they do not care if they stop killing. What your quote implies is “demonizing shelter workers”, we No Kill advocates call raising awareness of serious issues and fighting for change that will save the animals’ very lives.

    Your statement makes me believe that you are oblivious as to what is really going on in communities around the country. (You should read YesBiscuit’s blog for just a week to get just a small hint of what is going on in “shelters” across the country. Here is one example:

    Also, I think if you listened to the animal advocates in those No Kill communities, you would know that most of the shelters listed on your blog did not stop killing on their own. Unfortunately, most kill shelter directors are not eager to stop killing. It did not just magically happen in a lot of those communities. Most of the time, it takes hard work from No Kill advocates and the community, who raise awareness of high kill rates and inhumane conditions, and who demand better. Sometimes it takes a fight to end shelter killing. It is not like any of us like it but, sometimes it is the only way to end the killing. Our conscience forces us to stand up and demand better.

    What you wrote essentially demonizes all of the No Kill advocates who are fighting to end shelter killing, but who are fought tooth and nail every step of the way by the kill shelters and local politicians who could end it.

    I am really disappointed in this blog.

  2. Susan Houser Post author

    Hi Bett — One of the things I’ve learned from Rich Avanzino is that everyone’s contribution is valuable. I’m sorry that you seem to interpret my blog post as being critical of anyone. It was not intended that way. The founders of No Kill were modest, selfless people and I was trying to convey that in my post, because it’s one of the things I most admire about them. As for Nathan’s contribution, the things you mention – his work at Tompkins County and his creation of the No Kill Advocacy Center – happened after 2000. My blog post is about No Kill leadership in the 1980s and 1990s.

  3. Denise Mulliken

    I heartily agree, Bett. I honor all the people mentioned in this blog, but it undeniable that Nathan Winograd has advanced the cause of No Kill more than any other. He deserves the respect and admiration of us all.

  4. Bett

    Nathan worked with both Avanzino and Sayres at the San Francisco SPCA during the time period you mention above.

  5. Susan Houser Post author

    Hi Bett – I was told by people who worked at SF SPCA in the 1980s and 1990s that Nathan’s only employment at the SPCA while Avanzino was director was a temporary, one-time stint filling in for Pam Rockwell while she was on vacation. He was employed by Sayres in a full-time position starting, according to Sayres, in 1999, but Nathan himself has said that he did not consider Sayres to have continued the progress of No Kill — quite the reverse. More broadly, I’m disappointed that my attempt to recognize the founders of No Kill in the 1980s and 1990s has turned into a debate over how much credit someone else deserves. I was hoping to focus a little attention on these mothers and fathers of the movement who are so modest that they never talk about themselves or their own contribution.

  6. Terry Ward

    Not demonizing shelter workers is a slap in the face to NoKill advocates?
    For once I am speechless.
    Thank you Susan for such a balanced and thoughtful assessment.
    We work together we succeed.

  7. Susan Houser Post author

    I don’t really want to get into a debate about the relationship of No Kill advocates of today with shelter workers. That’s not what the post was about. I included the quote from Ed Duvin because I thought it was interesting that, in writing a critique in 1989 that tore the animal shelter industry to shreds and made the strongest possible statement of a shelter animal’s right to life, he also made the point that his critique was of the process, not of personalities. I think that is an example we could all learn from.

  8. Mike Fry

    Did I know there were no kill advocates working on no kill in the 1980’s and 1990’s? Of course I did. My mother founded Animal Ark in 1977. I personally visited San Francisco in it’s glory years to digest what could be learned from it. Additionally, I attended the first no kill conference and have spoken with or met many of the people you wrote about.

    Perhaps more importantly: I agree with everything you said about those people. Yet, at the same time I have to agree with what others have said. This article strikes a off-key note as it seems to have intentionally omitted important context and people. It therefore, comes off as a sort of passive-aggressive slap to Nathan.

    Your response to others’ comments only made that worse, from my perspective. What relevance do the dates of Winograd’s employment at SFSPCA have to do with anything? I mean, really? What? Some of the people you mentioned were employed no where to do the things you discussed. Furthermore, both Nathan and Jennifer Winograd were actively involved in “the movement” in the ’80’s and ’90’s.

    Additionally, for the record, while I consider Avanzino a hero of mine and I include him in my leadership lectures, his leadership ended, IMO, in San Francisco. Maddie’s Fund was an interesting idea. Yet, their primary focus on creating “community collaborations” was a very expensive and total failure, which is why they stopped giving out community collaboration grants.

    Their focus on “community collaborations” was especially strange, because the success in San Francisco, led by Avanzino himself, was anything but collaborative. City animal control fought Avanzino tooth and nail and actually refused to transfer animals to the SFSPCA. Avanzino forced the issue by pushing for a public referendum. It was a big, very public battle. It was strong-arm politics. And, it worked.

    The lesson to be learned from San Francisco was that no kill advocates have the power to demand more and better from our shelters.

    I don’t know what happened to Avanzino in between San Francisco and Maddie’s Fund. However, by the time he ended up at Maddie’s the fighter in him was gone and he set many communities down a dysfunctional “coalition” path that burned through millions of dollars with very little to show for it.

  9. Susan Houser Post author

    Hi Mike — I’m frankly stunned that my post is seen as so controversial. As you may know, I’m writing a history of animal sheltering from 1870 to 2000, including the nascent No Kill movement. I see the year 2000 as the end of an era and the beginning of another era, because by the year 2000 the programs for No Kill had been created and had been proven to work. In the huge amount of research I’ve done so far, I’ve been concentrating on the years before 2000. I’m not deliberately ignoring what happened after 2000, it’s just not in the scope of my work. From a historical perspective, the time period from 2000 to the present is too recent to analyze. You bring up Maddie’s Fund, for example. People have different views about how effective Maddie’s Fund has been, and only the future will show who is right. Right now we have only about 3% of the US population living in No Kill communities. In another 10 or 15 years we may know who and what was most responsible for the successful spreading of No Kill, but right now that’s up in the air. Your insistence, and Bett’s insistence, that the past must be seen through the lens of the present may be fine for your current advocacy efforts, but it is not, in my opinion, an appropriate approach for a history.

  10. Bonney Brown

    I really loved seeing some of these folks mentioned in this blog, who made sacrifices and laid the ground work for what so many others have achieved, get a shout out. This seems to be a description of some of the leaders from the 1980’s and 1990’s. I am blessed to have met most of the remarkable people mentioned and am saddened that so few of them even get a mention these days. Quite possibly, none of us would be doing what we are doing now without them and their contributions.

    Acknowledging other’s contributions — in this case, those of people who were working on this great effort before most of us were making our real marks in the field (including Nathan) — does not diminish anyone’s contribution. For me, it’s valuable in showing the depth of this long-term labor of love by so many varied individual over the years. This variety of voices and efforts is especially important because diversity is part of the growth of a movement and a sign of its strength, durability and expansion. Additionally, many leaders and voices are important to growth because words and messages and actions resonate differently for different people and hence, reach new people.

    I imagine everyone reading this already knows about Nathan’s work. I cannot help but feel that writing and learning about more leaders — past, present and future – is a good thing for the animals and the movement. I think there is room in the wide internet to celebrate all the varied contributions. We do not all have to do it in the same way, nor agree 100% on everything to appreciate what others bring to this work.

    I have deep respect for Mike’s contributions and Susan’s. Both are dedicated to saving lives.

    Bonney Brown

  11. Mike Fry

    You are splitting hairs and not being honest. If you are focusing on everything before 2000 and you highlight the work of Maddie’s Fund. Then, you say it is too soon to know if their activities have been helpful. Those sorts of contradictory statements do not help your credibility.

  12. Susan Houser Post author

    I’ve decided to close comments for this post. I’m getting a lot of people sending in comments reacting to Bett and Mike’s comments, and criticizing Nathan. I don’t want to be a part of that on my blog – the whole point of my post was to celebrate the great leadership we had in the No Kill movement in its formative years, not to tear anyone down. So, if you have sent in a comment and I haven’t posted it, it’s because I don’t want to feed that particular fire. Thank you for your understanding.

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