|MF: Mike Fry|
BN: Beth Nelson
DJ: Denise Jones
MF: Welcome back to our special edition of Animal Wise Radio where we’re celebrating and talking to the recipients of this year’s Henry Bergh Leadership Awards that are given out each year by the No Kill Advocacy Center. There are some amazing people that we are meeting.
We’re now being joined by Denise Jones, who is joining us from Shelby County, Kentucky. She’s partly responsible for creating the first no kill community in Kentucky, but she’s continued to do her work since then. Clearly a true leader. I’m really anxious to talk to her. Welcome to Animal Wise Radio, and congratulations, Denise.
DJ: Thank you.
BN: Denise, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your community. We know because we’ve spoken with Kelli Jedlicki from your community in past years that there’s a mixing and merging, and you know each other, and there’s just something special happening in this corner of the world. Just give us some basics first before we get into some of those relationships.
MF: Where is it? What’s the county like?
DJ: Our county is a small county. It’s about 42,000 people. It’s a nice county. It’s a rural community. It has come a long way since I moved here in 2000. There were animals running all over. There were a lot of offspring being born. You work hard and you keep trying to encourage people to spay and neuter. Twelve years later, there’s not a lot of puppies being born here in our community. A lot of spay and neuter. A lot more responsibility with pets, so that is a good thing. We’ve come a long way in the last 12 years.
MF: But the real progress seems to have been very recent. Shelbyville went officially no kill fairly recently – two or three years ago, is that about right?
DJ: Four. We’re actually going on our fifth year.
DJ: That has been very much because of the no kill mission group who formed, with Kelli Jedlecki being head of the organization. That really propelled and made a lot of awareness that this was the right thing to do – foster, offsite adoptions, and save these animals and give them a second chance because they deserve it.
MF: One of the reasons Nathan indicated when he was announcing you as a recipient for the awards this year harkened back to something that Sergeant Bailey just said. He says it’s not always easy. Shelby County, Kentucky experienced a time this year when no kill wasn’t easy, and it was actually possibly looking like maybe the no kill status might possibly be at risk, but a group including yourself stepped up and reinvigorated. Can you tell that story just a little bit?
DJ: We were so full. We had so many animals. We had some long time residents, and we had no place to put any more animals coming in, and we are an open admission facility. We really had to step it up. We really had to get creative. We really had to push for more foster. We did adopt-a-thons. We went to more offsite adoptions.
We made this commitment and said, “We are not going to lose this status, because we are not going to euthanize any animal that is adoptable. It’s just not right.” We fought the fight and it was hard. It is not easy. It is a commitment every day, an unconditional commitment.
BN: I’m going to ask you a question, though, because I hear that and I hear it loud. Mike and I work at Animal Ark, and we know that there are sometimes animals that are really hard to place. It seems like an unending supply coming from our partners in our no kill coalition. It’s an ongoing job. When you think about the choices, you made a choice in August when your choice was, “We can work hard to move over and maintain this no kill status, or we can do what is often called the hard work of euthanizing animals to make more space.” Which really feels harder to you, having done both?
DJ: No question – I think it would be much harder to euthanize a dog that’s wagging its tail, that’s looking at you, that sees you every day, thinking you’re going to take it for a walk, and instead you’d be taking it in a back room. That is absolutely harder than being up late at night and transporting animals to another rescue group that could help. It would be way harder to kill them. I just couldn’t even bear it.
MF: That to me is one of the puzzles we have to solve still within the community, because we have people who run shelters, unfortunately, where maybe that isn’t the hard choice for them for whatever reason. That’s the easy choice. I think as a society my question is, “Why do we put people like that in charge of shelters?”
DJ: You’re absolutely right. You might be getting to the class that I had to take, and there were two types of people in that class.
MF: Explain what the class was.
DJ: It was a euthanasia class that we have to go to as animal control officers to be certified in the event there is something very, very injured or very, very ill. We have to be able to euthanize an animal.
There were two types of people in there. There were people that you could tell have done it, and it really didn’t bother them, and then there were the people in there that absolutely only wanted, as I, to just be able to know how to do it in the event it was absolutely no question necessary.
MF: Explain to people, as I understand, this isn’t just a theoretical class – animals were actually killed during the class.
MF: Describe what these animals were like.
DJ: They were two dogs that came in the room on a leash, they jumped on the doctor, they looked at all of us, they were wagging their tail, and I had to sit down. I thought, “I’m not going to make it through this part.” You couldn’t stop the tears rolling down your face. I couldn’t. I thought, “I can't do this.”
I said, “Maybe we can just use saline. I know I can find homes for these animals.” They couldn’t do that, but in the end, the doctor said, “This gets harder and harder for me to teach because of what it does to you guys.” I knew that they got that it really does take a toll on those that don’t want to euthanize good, healthy, adoptable animals.
At that point, I said, “The other three cats that are left, can I just take them and find them homes?” and she said, “Yes, you can.”
MF: How amazing is that? You go to a class that you’re required to take where they’re killing healthy animals, and you find a way to say, “No.”
BN: “There must be something else we can do.”
MF: I think that story right there says a lot about this movement.
BN: And the type of person Denise is.
MF: And the type of person that we should have running our animal shelters. If we want them to be effective, if we want there to be lifesaving, we have to have people who understand the problem of killing healthy animals when they don’t need to be killed.
I think that story is just very palpable. Since you’re obviously one of those out of the box thinkers with a heart, how did you get involved with the shelter in Kentucky?
DJ: I had started a not for profit organization when I lived in Illinois and moved to Kentucky. I brought it here. I started a spay and neuter clinic in Lexington, and spent a lot of time thinking that if we could spay and neuter enough and have less animals, there would be more homes for the animals that were here already. Of course, that leads into rescue and everything, and then I started going to different shelters and trying to help them.
Then I moved to Shelbyville, and I really focused a lot here to help. At the time, there were several different people that were at the shelter. Then we built a new shelter, and there were a lot of changes of positions. Finally when that position opened I applied, because I thought I could make a difference, and the people that were there were people I believed I could work with. That’s how I got the job at the shelter, but I had a lot of experience with the rescue side, and I knew that side, and I knew that we could get these animals out of the shelter if we worked the no kill equation.
BN: I’m just going to sprinkle a little bit of love your way because one of the things we know for sure working at Animal Ark and going to animal control centers that are in our broader community, we need people like you to be working at these places, because they’re the ones that are going to make the extra effort to work with animal rescues. We have some in our community that figure out that even though sometimes rescue groups can be challenging or their quirky personalities or whatever we all bring with us, they get that frees up space for them and resources for them to do other work. We have other animal control centers that seem like they throw up every road block to make it harder.
What you said and how you said it is in my estimation underplayed. “I thought I could make a difference, and I had some background in rescue.” For people on our side of the equation, we get how valuable it is to have people like you doing that work, and we do celebrate it.
DJ: Thank you.
MF: I’ve been asking this of many of our guests. Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for any other communities that are trying to reach the 90% goal that haven’t quite gotten there yet?
DJ: I think you just have to keep trying. You can't give up. You just have to keep thinking, “Who else do I know? Who else can I call? Who else can I ask for help? Who does somebody else that I know know, and who do they know, and who do they know?” People kind of joke; one of the things with me is I’ll ask somebody something, and if they say no, what do I say? Everybody that knows me knows I say, “Next,” and I go to the next person. I’m okay with ‘no.’ You can say ‘no’ to me, because I’ll go to the next person and ask. It’s okay to say ‘no’ if you can't do something at that time. I’m good with that, but I just have to keep moving forward to find that ‘yes’ to complete what I need or what the animals need.
MF: Here’s the thing that I hear in everything that you’re saying – what you did in Shelby County, Kentucky is take killing off the table. You said, “We’re just not going to do it.” I would argue that in those times that Carl Bailey says it’s not always easy that having the killing off the table is the thing that makes you keep asking, going to the next thing, because as long as the killing is an option and as long as they are people who are in the shelter who are willing to kill – and there are in many shelters – then the killing will just continue going on. I think that you’ve provided a lot of insight and inspiration for how we need to fix the shelters. Take the killing off the table and put people in the shelter who won't do it.
DJ: Absolutely – because when it’s “can't” – and that’s probably the only time that I’ll use “can't” – people that know me know that “can't” isn’t in my vocabulary, because you can. You can always create possibility, but the “can't kill” in our shelter is absolutely we can't. I just can't. That’s a “can't.”
MF: Thank you so much and congratulations on your Henry Bergh Leadership Award, and I can understand why you got the award.
DJ: Thank you very much.