|MF: Mike Fry |
BN: Beth Nelson
RC: Ryan Clinton
BN: We throw up a cheer for Ryan Clinton for the role he played in helping Austin to reach the no kill goal of 90%+ live release rate community wide in Austin, Texas.
MF: We’re coming up on three years, Ryan, if I’m doing my calendar in my head correctly. I’ve said over and over that the story in Austin is phenomenal. It is now the largest no kill community in the United States. I also like to tell people it wouldn’t be that if it wasn’t for you, because you really were a fundamental core of what got the whole thing started. We’re going to take some time to revisit that, and also talk about what I would call a little bit of rewriting of history around the history of Austin’s success. Welcome back to Animal Wise Radio, Ryan.
RC: Thank you very much. It’s really nice to be on the phone with you. You deserve a lot of credit for the leadership that you have provided to this movement as well, so I thank you for that.
MF: Well, we haven’t done anything like you did in Austin. We were there and we talked to you, but you guys did it. Really, you rolled up your sleeves and did it.
I want to do a real quick recap of it, but before we do that, I want to set the context. Recently, I’ve been hearing things around like people saying, “I don’t want to follow the No Kill Equation, I want to use what they did at Best Friends in Austin did, or so-and-so in Austin did,” and all these different agencies running around trying to claim that Austin isn’t following the No Kill Equation – that there’s somehow these other entities that are connected with it. Near as I can tell, Best Friends wasn’t even in the room at the time. First of all, is that true, and then can you give us a little bit of a history of how it got started?
RC: The answer to your question is yes, that is true, that while Best Friends has been involved in Texas recently and has certainly helped us very much on a number of issues including in San Antonio and also with respect to trying to get a rescue access bill passed in the Texas legislature, they were not with us back in the mid 2000s to 2010 when we were going through the battle that it took to get to no kill.
I think it’s important in this movement not to change history, because then you’ll learn the wrong lesson from it. The lesson from Austin as that it was a long battle, and it really was a battle. We followed the only methodology that we had ever known to work. One of the things that we did very early on was we decided that we weren’t experts in this, we were not geniuses, we did not have to come up with all of the solutions, and that we should figure out what worked in other communities, and follow their lead.
What we did very early on was a lot of research. We didn’t think that we knew the answers. We thought that other people did. We did a lot of research, and we discovered the success that Nathan Winograd and the Tompkins County SPCA had had in New York. We discovered the success that Charlottesville, Virginia, and Suzanne Hogarth at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA had had in Charlottesville, Virginia. Later on we discovered the amazing, remarkable success – I think it’s truly one of the great success stories – the success of the Nevada Humane Society as we know with Bonney Brown in Reno.
We figured, “If they can do it, we can do it, but let’s not try to be geniuses, let’s not try to come up with what we think is going to work – let’s just implement what works there.” That’s what we did. It was a long, hard battle to get the stakeholders and the status quo people in Austin to come on board, and frankly, many of them have still not come on board.
BN: Ryan, could you tell us who those stakeholders were at the time, or are? Who are those players in Austin?
RC: At the time back in the mid 2000s there was no Austin Pets Alive that everybody knows about. There was, but it was really a dormant organization at the time. The stakeholders were our local humane society, which is the Austin Humane Society. We had two low-cost spay/neuter clinics, Animal Trustees of Austin and Emancipet, and we had the city council and the city leadership, the city shelter director, who is no longer the shelter director in Austin, and then also we had the ASPCA.
Many people don’t know that, but the ASPCA was very involved in Austin. They have local representatives who live – and it sounds strange, because it’s really the Manhattan SPCA – but they have people who live and work in Austin, and they were very, very vehemently against anything that we suggested that should be done differently at a shelter that was killing 14,000 animals a year, which was 34 a day or one every 12 minutes.
BN: Let’s be clear. They don’t have a shelter, didn’t have a shelter. They were just aligning behind the status quo.
RC: Correct. I think it’s really important that you brought that up, because they came in with what they called “Mission Orange,” which a lot of people called “Agent Orange,” because they were so poisonous and toxic.
MF: I remember Agent Orange.
RC: There are new Mission Oranges popping up all over the country. They have new names, but they’re essentially the same scam, as far as I can tell. They are people who don’t know what they are talking about, who’ve never achieved no kill in a community, who come in and purport to be experts, really backing their local shelter, backing their local status quo, and fighting the people on the ground who are trying to save lives.
MF: That’s a perfect place for us to pause. When we come back, we’re going to hear more about these new Mission Orange wannabes and all these people trying to take credit, pretending they can bring communities to no kill, even though they actually never have.
MF: On the line we’ve got a major animal advocate, Ryan Clinton, from Austin. He’s one of the folks responsible for bringing the City of Austin, Texas, to becoming the largest no kill community in the United States. We’re hoping a bigger one will come forward and do that and replace you, Ryan, but for now you’ve had that mantra for going on three years. We’re revisiting some of the history of how you got there and these groups that are now coming forward and trying to claim that they have some sort of expertise because they were part of that story when they weren’t.
BN: One thing I’d like to mention to our listeners who many not know Ryan very well or the work he’s done – his day job is as an attorney, so he’s not a full-time head of an animal shelter or running his own private rescue, although he probably has some troubled animals living at his home. He’s got other work, but applied his talents in a very unique and pivotal way. I just wanted to sneak that in before you come back and address what Mike was just talking about.
MF: In the last segment you mentioned the ASPCA and this defunct and really failed program called “Mission Orange” that we kind of nicknamed “Agent Orange” because it was so toxic. The basis for the whole Mission Orange thing was, “Everybody’s got to be nice, and everybody’s got to get along, and we’ve all got to agree and sing Kumbaya,” – that’s my words of how I would describe it, and why it’s never, ever worked anywhere on the planet.
It seems to me that these groups that are coming forward saying that they have their other programs, and they’re also saying that same thing. “You all have to just get along and you have to be nice.” That’s something they say up here in Minnesota, because you hear about “Minnesota nice.” I would say that in fact, it was quite a battle in Austin. Can you talk a little about those early battle days? It was Fix Austin and you, Ryan, who really did a lot of the deep in-the-trenches fighting.
RC: Unfortunately, it was a battle. It really, truly was. That whole time period of my life took many more years off of my life than I actually dedicated to it. While you were talking, I found something on my computer. I’m giving a speech on Friday in New Orleans on this issue to the Louisiana Bar Association, and I found a couple slides from my presentation. I have one slide from the ASPCA. This is a letter to the editor that the APSCA sent to the “Austin American Statesman” after we had published an article saying that we believed there should be off-site adoptions, we believe they should actually fill the kennel space – they were supporting a move to a new shelter that had less kennel space than the current shelter.
Here’s a letter to the editor, and I’m going to quote for you. This is the ASPCA – again, I like to call them the Manhattan SPCA because they don’t have shelters all over the country, they have one in Manhattan. Here’s a quote from them:
“Criticism of the city’s lack of offsite adoption program fails to recognize that the shelter has cultivated rescue groups and partners that take animals outside the facility. Clearly, the problem is not getting adopters to the shelter, but rather having enough desirable and placeable animals to choose from.”
This is a shelter that was killing 14,000 animals a year, and the ASPCA put the blame squarely on the animal.
MF: “They’re not desirable enough – we have to kill them.”
RC: “We have to kill them.” Here’s another letter from the ASPCA that they sent out to shelters all over the country, because they feared that they were going to be citizens who wanted to reduce shelter killing. They called this document the ‘tactics of an extremist agenda.’ They say, “The no kill organizations will lobby public officials regarding existing euthanasia rates. In most cases, there does exist public attention to the need to reform. The proxy organization will get involved in local elections, providing questionnaires and financial support to candidates perceived as sympathetic to this extremist agenda.”
Can you believe that? This is the ASPCA calling advocates wishing to reduce euthanasia at animal shelters the ‘extremist agenda.’
BN: I remember the website. I remember looking at it on their website.
MF: We were there with you going through it, Ryan. That’s why it burns my butt when these people are running around saying that they don’t want to follow the No Kill Equation. They want to be ‘nice’ – they want to follow some other model, be it Best Friends or ASPCA or whoever the supposed new model is where suddenly that opposition to no kill no longer exists, and everybody’s going to hold hands and run off into the future together – but that doesn’t exist out there anywhere that I can find.
RC: Yes. Let me tell you about a specific incident of this. I’m going to blog about this as soon as I have time, but I haven’t, so I’m going to break this story here on Animal Wise Radio.
I’ve been loosely involved trying to help a shelter out in Baton Rouge for a number of years. They ultimately really turned away from trying to be no kill. A group took over the shelter, but they really have not ever, in the words of a recently resigned board member, “They never implemented the No Kill Equation. They were never serious about it.” This board members said that the board there, it was like they were asked to design a skyscraper, but none of them believed it was possible to design one.
They recently were contacted by a group called Target Zero. This apparently is the new Mission Orange. It’s a group going around the country claiming that they know how to get to no kill, and as far as I can tell, none of the major players have made a community no kill, although one of them claims to have made the state of New Hampshire no kill, which I understand is not remotely true.
Putting that aside, the person in charge has not made his own community no kill, and then he’s hiring these “no kill experts” who have not made their communities no kill, one of whom is Dr. Sara Pizano. She managed a shelter in Miami with a 50% kill rate, a breed ban, automatic killing for pit bulls, and resigned after it was discovered that they were heart sticking kittens unsedated in the animal shelter, after which she fired the whistleblower and just docked the pay of the person who was doing it. These are the new ‘experts.’ Welcome to the new ‘experts’ of no kill. It’s really astonishing.
I learned shortly after this group got involved in Baton Rouge that the shelter had gone through and killed almost all of the animals in the shelter. They previously kept all their cage spaces full, and they decided to kill almost everything. People were contacting and calling me – people I didn’t even know, who didn’t even know I had been involved in Baton Rouge or that I was from Baton Rouge, telling me they’d never seen it so empty. There were rows and rows of empty cages. They actually sent me pictures. It almost reduced me to tears.
Rows and rows of empty cat kennels. Of the 58 stray cat kennels, 18 were used on one day that one person walked in. They said, “This was the Target Zero recommendation, that we should reduce our shelter capacity.” In fact, they produced documents from Target Zero that said that you should reduce your shelter capacity of dogs, specifically, so you only have every other cage full so it will be easier on staff to clean the kennels, because you can clean one and just switch the dog back and forth while you clean. They did that, and it resulted in a mass killing of dogs.
MF: So in other words, “down to zero” means down to zero work.
RC: It’s either zero success rate, zero work, zero communities we’ve ever made no kill, zero expertise – it’s one of those things is what the ‘zero’ stands for.
MF: It just has all the feelings of ASPCA. Is there any connection to Target Zero and ASPCA that you can find, or is it just a separate rogue group?
RC: No, it’s a person who’s involved in Jacksonville who I’m sure you guys know who is in charge, and then a person who wrote an essay a long time ago about spay/neuter who is really a big spay/neuter proponent.
The other thing they did was they went into Waco and convinced the Waco City Council to pass a mandatory spay/neuter law, even though all of the research across the board says that mandatory spay/neuter laws not only don’t work, but they can drive up intake and kill rates. When you self-appoint yourself as an expert, you get to say whatever you want.
BN: I just have to put this in – there’s nothing in the No Kill Equation that says don’t spay and neuter shelter pets. It is a part of the No Kill Equation – it’s just not pretending to be the beginning and end of it.
I think this is where clearly the No Kill Advocacy Center has always presented the steps that they took to get to the 90% live release rate goal. They’ve clearly stated them. They’ve said, “Do all of them, because you can't skate by if you only choose a few of them.”
Even when we saw the white paper that was published out of California and looked at the text of that document, while they were essentially identifying every one of those elements of the No Kill Equation, there was not anything strongly worded enough that you have to go for it in totality. I think this is where Austin clearly did.
Fix Austin was very instrumental, along with the Animal Advisory Committee with channeling energy towards reform of council rules for the city pound director to have to follow so that it wasn’t just about one person and whatever they decided to do on any given day. They had a responsibility to meet, and yet that was just one aspect of it. You had other groups coming in or other people coming in and flushing out other parts of that equation, and so you embraced the whole thing.
RC: Absolutely. What we did very early on was we figured out what was working in other communities, and we determined what we weren’t doing of those things in our community. We had an amazing, astonishing rescue partner of Austin Pets Alive doing a lot of great work like saving all the parvo puppies, saving all the bottle baby kittens, and we did have great spay/neuter groups.
We do not have a mandatory spay/neuter law. If anybody is suggesting that about Austin, it’s a lie. We do not have one. We have very good, low cost and free spay/neuter options from multiple places in Austin, and that is what has helped us keep our intake as low as it is for a city the size that we are. We have not mandated, and it’s not part of the No Kill Equation.
There’s a difference between providing free and low cost spay/neuter and trying to go out in your community and arrest people or fine them hundreds and hundreds of dollars if they don’t do it. The former works to reduce shelter intake; the latter does not work to reduce shelter intake.
MF: The latter actually increases shelter intake because you’ve got another reason to seize or confiscate an animal because it’s not sterilized, and if they don’t have the money to sterilize it, then you just got another pet you’re going to kill in the shelter.
RC: That’s right. They’re going to go down to their local Walmart and buy one that’s unneutered to replace it the next day for $20. You’ve not only seized an animal that was owned by someone, but you’ve replaced and you’re going to kill it, probably, and then you’re replaced it in another community with another unaltered pet. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
MF: I’m going to change tracks a little bit in the conversation, and I want to go to that I’m hearing a lot more from advocates all over the United States that are really, as we approach now 226 communities in the United States, more and more people in their own communities are stepping up who are not no kill saying, “We can do it, too.” They’re angry and they’re calling out their local shelter for the killing that’s taking place, and they’re being labeled as divisive. People in their communities are telling them, “You’ve just got to get along. You have to play nice. If you don’t build bridges with the powers that be, you’re never going to get anywhere.”
All I can think about are the days back when, Ryan, people were calling you ‘divisive.’ I can remember a cover of a magazine that appeared in Austin.
RC: Yes. The local weekly newspaper had a caricature of me with a wolf’s head – at least everybody thought it was me.
MF: Do you have some words of wisdom for those folks?
RC: You have to know that you’re going to get punched, and you have to know that people are going to criticize you. You have to know that this idea of ‘everybody has to get along’ only runs one way for these people. At the same time they were telling the council how horrible we were for not getting along with everybody, they were undermining us with council at the same time. They were trying to cut us down at our knees. They were saying we didn’t know what we were talking about. They were writing letters to the editor saying it was all the animals’ fault.
You have to understand – they are in the battle. The status quo is battling you. They are doing everything they claim you shouldn’t do. This idea that you have to play nice only runs one way for them, because they’re not playing nice. They’re playing dirty. I received emails that people had received from the ASPCA that were literally about me. They’re playing dirty.
I’m not suggesting to play dirty. What I’m suggesting is you have to fight for what you believe in. There’s a real solution to this. It’s the programs and policies of the No Kill Equation, and you have to do what you have to do to get that done.
I give speeches on this, and I’m not one of these people that like to demonize people. I think that you can win arguments through persuasion. I don’t believe that you have to make a bogeyman out of anybody. I don’t even tend to use people’s names, as I haven’t in this conversation, because it’s not about people. It’s about programs, policies, and it’s about saving lives.
If you focus on the things that save lives, you can be successful, despite all the noise and all the criticism. I like to say that we probably have the only city council in the country that knows what an offsite adoption is and what a foster program is. The reason they know is because every time we talked to them for five years straight, we talked about those programs and how important they were. We did not talk about how horrible some person was who was in charge. That’s what ended up getting us where we needed to be.
Hold your head high, do the right thing, but know that you’re going to be criticized, and this idea that you cannot have an opposing opinion is only intended to silence you and make you unsuccessful at your efforts.
MF: As always, Ryan, thanks so much for your passion, for being so articulate, and being a great voice for animals. It’s worth noting that Ryan has done a webinar that you can find if you just Google “no kill webinar Ryan Clinton.” You will get to a nice webinar that he did talking about exactly how they brought about the change to Austin.
He also blogs at www.oisforonward.com. He’s an excellent writer. He’s got a lot of good information out there. I just say, it is time for people to remember, always remember, that we’re always moving on, heading forward. Thanks again, Ryan for all of your work.