The passion and dedication of people in animal rescue groups and no kill shelters inspired me to write this book. From my limited experience, I know that rescuing dogs and cats can be joyful but also scary and heartbreaking. I am awed by the people who persevere in this work.
Another inspiration for me is the work of Nathan Winograd, the author of Redemption and Friendly Fire and founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center. The model animal shelter law that he developed is known as the Companion Animal Protection. It is based on California’s Hayden Act which was passed in 1988. Animal loving Americans should be grateful to Tom Hayden for saving millions of animals with that law.
Delaware’s Animal Shelter Standards law based on CAPA was passed in 2010 because of the hard work by state Senator Patricia Blevins and Jane Pierantozzi, who is the founder and director of the Faithful Friends. When I attended the No Kill Advocacy Center’s conference after Delaware passed the law, many animal advocates across the nation were very excited. But the fight for homeless animals in Delaware was not over. The supporters of the high-kill SPCA were furious about the law’s requirements, and the director continually poured gasoline on that fire.
From 2010 to Fall 2014, I wrote the No Kill Delaware blog and Facebook page as a forum for thousands of advocates who wanted enforcement of the law at Delaware’s high-kill facility. Angry supporters of the high-kill SPCA set up other blogs and Facebook pages to counter what they called “no kill extremism.” There was real retaliation against critics of the high-kill facility, including cyberbullying and abuse of the animal control function. The worst online harassment by haters was directed at Jane Pierantozzi and Senator Blevins, and many other no kill advocates, myself included, received plenty of online abuse too.
One vicious tactic used against SPCA critics was to have animal control officers go to their homes and demand entry because there had been a cruelty complaint. All too often pets were impounded and sometimes killed. For feral cat colonies, the SPCA practiced trap and kill, so colony caretakers tried to keep their work hidden. Because I had two Pit Bulls and a feral cat colony, I felt that I had to write my blog anonymously, but it was a poorly kept secret. When the officers came to my door, I refused to let them in and told them to come back when they had a search warrant. As they left, they made threats about returning but never did. I feel lucky because I know other people whose beloved pets were killed in violation of the law.
The killing of the Safe Haven 19 was devastating for animal advocates in Delaware. Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary, a no kill shelter that opened in 2012 failed because of mismanagement. All of the hopes and dreams of Safe Haven’s supporters and donors were crushed. I believe that Safe Haven failed because it didn’t implement even one of basic tenets of the No Kill Equation shown in the checklist below, despite the efforts of many dedicated staff members. The biggest problem at Safe Haven was the lack of the most critical element of the No Kill Equation – a compassionate, hard-working director. When the director was finally fired, Cindy Woods became acting director, but it was too late to save the shelter. I had served for three years on the Board of Safe Haven but resigned in protest about shelter operations 18 months before it failed. I took the story of Safe Haven’s mismanagement to the mainstream media, but it was to no avail.
When Safe Haven was closing, Faithful Friends and Delaware’s rescue groups did everything they could do to save the animals. Acting Director Cindy Woods worked desperately to save the animals at Safe Haven. One night Cindy and friends heroically rescued 81 cats by moving them out of the building because she feared that the Board was going to kill the cats or just let them loose somewhere. The cats were taken to a barn and many people worked hard to get them adopted. Postscript to the story: the state police showed up at my house in the morning to ask me about the “theft” of the cats. I was glad that I knew nothing of Cindy’s mission until later. And I was even happier that she pulled it off as her last action at Safe Haven. If Cindy had been the director from the start, I believe Safe Haven would still be operating.
In Fall 2014 we moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to grandchildren. I was very happy to get out of Delaware. As I drove out of the state with my five dogs, I was afraid that if an accident occurred, my dogs would somehow end up at the high-kill facility and suffer at the hands of the haters. By the time we left, the No Kill Delaware blog had been hacked so badly that I couldn’t even save the files. I handed the Facebook page over to another no kill advocate.
After much controversy and pressure from no kill advocates throughout Delaware, the state finally started to enforce the new law. Eventually, the state took over the dog control and cruelty investigation functions. Delaware dogs are now taken to a shelter that has a 90% save rate and hopefully the state will work to improve that. Grass Roots Rescue and the other rescue groups of Delaware continue to save animals. Faithful Friends continues to be a model for the other shelters in Delaware and across the nation. I believe that Delaware is now a no kill state, although a 99 percent save rate should be the goal for any no kill community.
In some ways, this book is a way to get closure about my years as a Delaware animal advocate, but it is also my hope that people will learn more about how we treat homeless animals in America and how we can use the No Kill Equation and the law to save them.