Finding Common Ground: Collaboration is Key to Saving Lives

I’m writing this blog post as I sit on my hotel balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico during the annual conference in St. Pete’s Beach, FL. The setting seems a perfect one to remind us of the beauty of the collective work we do, and to find peace and personal reflection when the opportunity arises.

One of the greatest things about these annual assemblies is the chance to network with other professional peers, to put a face to a name and to share in like challenges and triumphs. There’s a kind of “conference high” that happens when we take time to step out of the trenches and take in the view. It’s just this kind of perspective I needed to finish this post that I have been working on for awhile.

Earlier this fall, I published a longer article on this same subject in Animal Sheltering magazine. The message has resonated for so many that I wanted to share it with SAWA, too. In short, it is a continuance of the spirit and camaraderie we experience at the conferences. It is a call to action to our industry to set aside divisive labels and decide instead to embrace agreed upon and effective means of helping as many animals and people as we can.

When I began my career in animal welfare I became quickly caught up in the passion, excitement, and furor of the no-kill movement. It seemed to me a simple yet powerful tool to transform an entrenched industry filled with despair into one of hope. For me, the no-kill movement was just the sort of social justice cause that fulfilled my millennial-generation aspirations of making a difference. In the late 1990’s and early in the turn of the century, the no-kill movement was playing a tremendous part in transforming our industry. It was gaining ground, progressing from a grass-roots movement to one of far-reaching influence, attracting the attention of wealthy philanthropists and educated and experienced professionals. Though it has yet to overcome some of its radical stigma, the no-kill movement has, without a doubt, played an integral part in the transformation of our industry. It has helped to standardize programs and practices previously viewed as ancillary to the core work of animal sheltering.

Why then, does the issue of no-kill continue to incite such heated debate among our profession? Nearly everyone in the industry agrees that each animal deserves individualized care and attention, that people care is essential to that success, and that we must engage our communities in a shared vision and plan for positive outcomes for our homeless pets. The problem, it seems to me, is a failure amongst ourselves to accept organizational diversity within the industry and to to realize that these lofty goals can be sought after and achieved in many ways. We must concede that the unique dynamics affecting every different community can impose complex challenges that may promote or impede the pursuit of a positive outcome for every animal.

We now have every reason to collectively celebrate a giant leap forward in the provision of high quality care for animals and humane education and outreach for people. The time for the use of labels has come and gone. My challenge to us instead is to talk about ourselves with each other and to our constituents about our successes and our struggles. Teach the general public what it means to honor the 5 Freedoms, make adoptable animals as available as those from other sources, and continue to find creative ways of promoting and educating about responsible ownership and the value of the human-animal bond.

We already know that it is not conducive to the level of collaboration we seek to define our organizations solely around live-release goals. If we want to keep above the trenches and continue creating a view worthy of admiration, we need to look beyond our own organizations to the communities we serve, and find ways to work together to provide for those needs. I for one prefer this perspective and am tired of defining the scope and scale of our collective work within the limited equation of live-release. We have the tools and the vantage point to move together toward even greater systemic successes and it’s time we change the dialogue in order to realize it.


Britney Wallesch

Britney Wallesch is the Executive Director of Black Dog Animal Rescue, Inc.

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