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This past weekend (Feb 1-4, 2019), the Pawlytics team went down to Austin, TX for the American Pets Alive! Conference to soak up information from some of the most successful animal welfare organizations in the country. One of the classes we attended was “State Level No Kill Advocacy”**, and here is a little bit of what we learned.

As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. This time in literal numbers of organizations and (of course) the data. I’m certain you are sensing a theme by now – haha!

Coalitions: what are they are how are they so powerful? A coalition or alliance is a group of organizations whose missions align. These organizations have come together to create standards, group their collective resources, and empower one another to achieve one main goal. In animal rescue that goal is typically achieving the highest possible save rates, or no kill.

Coalitions can be, and in many states are, a force of unstoppable animal saving power. How can your community, region, or state harness that power? We put together a few tips and tricks from the experts in Michigan, Colorado, and Virginia below.

Data

Put simply: data saves lives. The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance used this to their advantage in pushing their whole state to near no kill save rates. They first calculated the total number of shelters and animal control facilities. They found that there were 177 in total with 50% shelter based and 50% animal control based. There were also hundreds more foster based rescues across the state. This gave them a starting point with their numbers. When forming the Alliance, they wanted to make reporting of your organization’s statistics annually mandatory so they could get a grasp on how many more animals they needed to save, where the gaps were, and if there were overarching ways the Alliance could contribute. By measuring where they started, they were able to measure how far they came and what “success” really looked liked. Today in the state of Michigan, 62 of 80 counties are saving 90% of their animals or more and the entire state is saving 88% of their cats and 90% of their dogs. They use this data to continually search for gaps in the saving and give this data to the public to better empower them to save animals that are repeatedly falling through the cracks.

Strategy

When dealing with a large group of people, strategy will help keep you organized and on track towards a common goal. As a Coalition or Alliance, it is important to have a strong digital presence. A digital presence will help people find you, support you, and better understand the goals of your Alliance. You can also use your digital presence as a means for resources for other advocacy groups or the partners within your coalition. Having an FAQ on your website will help the community understand your goals and may encourage others to join you!

Being a great resource for the community and advocates is just the tip of the iceberg. Coalitions and Alliances in Virginia, Colorado, and Michigan have found that helping the organizations within the Coalition or Alliance is the biggest incentive for these groups. Helping them create power points, presentations, preparing SOPs (Standard operating procedures), and creating their own strategic plans gives these organizations a foundation to continue building off of. It is also important to give leaders at these organizations access to each other and empower them to reach out and ask for help. A great example would be if one organization has a popular working cat program while another has TNR-ed cats they are not allowed to return due to municipal laws.

These Alliances have also found that everyone likes a little competition and they created annual award ceremonies with plaques and cash awards to help organizations based on their data. When it comes to your Alliance’s fiduciary role: awards are great but how about rewards for pulling hard to adopt animals within the alliance? Michigan Pet Fund Alliance will donate $200 to any rescue that pulls an adult animal from a shelter. This type of incentive can also help rescues and shelters get over their trust barrier. We all know we are aligned, but acting like it is a whole other story.

Lastly, your strategy must include some standardization. We have all seen the absolute horror stories of “rescues” that turned out to be hoarders. The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance created the “Michigan Rescue Certification Program” to solve this problem. Rescues and shelters must fill out an application, sign a code of ethics, and must pass an interview to get certified as a reputable rescue and also gain membership to the alliance and its many benefits. A few perks of this alliance aside from access to hands on help and likeminded rescuers, is the in-shelter training the alliance will provide and talent brought in during animal conferences. To set up a similar program check out how Michigan does it here.

Advocacy

Advocating as a statewide Alliance or Coalition really puts your organization at the forefront of making that state as safe for homeless pets as it can get. In Colorado, No Kill Colorado has been pioneering this effort. No Kill Colorado is a Coalition that embraces the no kill equation created by Nathan Winograd. To get everyone on board, however, they took a step back and defined the difference in “kill” versus “euthanasia”, because there is a huge difference.

They revolved their organization’s culture around the idea that you need to BELIEVE that change can happen overnight because – it can’t be impossible if it exists. There are almost 4,000 no-kill communities across the nation. It IS possible.

No Kill Colorado has set their role in Colorado as being advocates in their communities. They are the experts in their field. They are the experts for legislators to come to when law changes are being made. No Kill Colorado advises that if you are looking to make changes to animal laws in your area, start at the local level and work up to the state level.

Putting a team together can be a challenge. And as odd as it sounds: look for the busy people. The ones who dedicate almost every minute of their life to work, animals, or passion projects. These are the people whose work ethic will match yours and have the capability to drive change.

As you begin your advocacy work, it is important to focus on one thing at a time. Don’t go in trying to change the world – concentrate on one thing at a time.

As you begin putting your Alliance together (or work to grow a current one), remember these parting tips:

  • Don’t damn those who are not in the Alliance or those who are still below the 90% save rate.
  • Agree to disagree – find the 98% you all agree on and work to solve those issues first!

Sometimes you have to be disruptive.

**This talk (State Level No Kill Advocacy) was given at the 2019 American Pets Alive! Conference by Debra Griggs (President of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies), Davyd Smith (President of No Kill Colorado), and Deborah Schutt (President, Chair of the Board of Directors, Co-founder of the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance).

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