06/07/2012 04:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Creating a Paradigm Shift in Animal Sheltering


We love our animal companions so much that, as a nation, we spend $50 billion a year caring for them. While caring for our own animals, we also give hundreds of millions more every year to animal related charities. Why then does it appear that there is a "surplus" of animal companions in cold, cramped shelters seemingly "forcing" us to kill more than half of them within days of their arrival there?

Last fall we challenged creative professionals to invent new ways to address the apparent problem of animal overpopulation.

Using "wisdom of the crowd" we applied online social networking to crowdsource the problem and of the five top ideas, one proposal actually touched on this issue. "Create a shelter environment that is transparent and welcoming for both people and animals in order to encourage adoptions, rescues and volunteers."

We recently interviewed Nathan Winograd, Stanford Law School graduate and former director of operations for the San Francisco SPCA and of the Animal Control Shelter in Tompkins County, New York as well as the creator of the first No Kill community in U.S. history. Nathan's books include the critically acclaimed, Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and The No Kill Revolution in America.

Nathan told us that our shelters now have an unprecedented opportunity to reframe their problem from being one of animal liquidation to that of a golden marketing opportunity. For too long, shelters have been killing animals under the false belief that there are too many animals and not enough homes and that killing was the only option. But, not only have over thirty communities nationwide ended the killing of healthy and treatable animals (over 90% of all animals they take in), but the very existence of often neglectful and abusive puppy mills tells us that there is a market that is currently being met by puppies purchased online or from local pet stores. Our local shelters, therefore, have a market share opportunity and could save lives by radically re-designing their approach to the adoption experience.

Innovating could begin with the state governments who fund these shelters to assist them in a re-education process from the top down on how to successfully market their stray pets and to out-compete the puppy-mills by reaching out to the local community and showcasing their animals in new and more innovative ways. Nathan believes we should continue to promote spay/neuter and strongly supports efforts to close down abusive puppy mills but his big message is that we don't have to wait to pass these laws to begin to save lives today. Nathan said that by educating our local governments and communities about No Kill solutions, we have real potential to be the generation that ended the killing of four million animals per year. And doing so will not only save lives, but also the huge waste of taxpayer money that it takes to kill and dispose of these animals.

Adopting animals, rather than killing them, generates new sources of revenue within the local community and is a classic win-win: for the animals, taxpayers, local businesses, as well as for the many caring people who love their animals as family. It is really only our imagination that limits what we can accomplish together in this regard and we can choose to do that which will make a real difference in the lives of these shelter animals.

How can the creative community use their unique skills to make this happen?

Special thanks to animal trainer and behaviorist, Marysia Wojcik, for researching this article