No Kill Fastrack: One Year in Lake County, Florida
On January 15, 2018 the open admission Lake County Animal Shelter celebrated one year of No Kill with a 92% Live Release Rate. Now they can claim official status as a No Kill shelter. How did they do it?
The Campaign: In the Beginning
In 2012, Steve Shank, a former volunteer at Lake County with no prior experience in advocacy, decided he wanted to see better outcomes for the animals at the shelter. He began to write to the county commissioners in charge of the shelter, challenging them to do better for the animals and make Lake County go No Kill. He was told by well meaning people that the shelter was doing the best it could do and it wasn’t possible for the Lake County shelter to go No Kill.
He writes via e-mail, “I knew there was a better, more compassionate way. I had read about Reno, Charlottesville, Austin…If they were doing it, you couldn’t say it was an unrealistic expectation. It was already being done.”
To focus the public on his efforts, he set up a Facebook page called “Shelter Reform for Lake County Florida” and he began to do some research. He quickly became obsessed with learning everything he could about No Kill sheltering.
He writes, “I strived to know more than the naysayers in local government and in the community who questioned the legitimacy of becoming a no kill shelter and insisted it wasn’t possible, without having done their own research.”
As he learned more he became more convinced that No Kill was within the reach of Lake County. He writes, “One google click led to another story, which led to another, adding ammunition to my quest for real life success stories, proving if it can be done elsewhere, it can be done in my home county.”
He wrote to county commissioners and provided them with information about No Kill best practices. He felt that they appreciated his persistence, but nothing substantive seemed to change. Undaunted, he started reaching out to others around the country who had successfully advocated for No Kill in their communities. He became particularly influenced by Aubrie Kavanaugh of No Kill Hunstville who became his mentor.
His dialogue with the commissioners lasted 5 years, and at last one commissioner, Leslie Campione, decided she also wanted to see change at the shelter. The other commissioners were not swayed by his advocacy. However, they eventually were up for re-election and Shank finally saw his opportunity. By now he was working behind the scenes in local politics on a regular basis and he felt he understood each commissioner’s attitudes towards shelter reform.
The Election Changes Everything
Shank reflects on how he planned to finally make some headway, “The only way to knock a hole in the wall of uncompromising politics was to replace the stubborn incumbents,” he decided.
Two of the commissioners who opposed shelter reform were up for re-election. Without their support, No Kill would be impossible. He also knew that there was a danger that even new commissioners would be no different than the old ones so he decided to be proactive and vet them for their desire for change at the shelter.
He contacted the two candidates that he thought showed the most promise and told them the story of his personal quest to transform Lake County into a No Kill shelter. To his surprise, they both showed interest and listened to him and were willing to learn despite having no previous interest in the animal shelter. Shank was impressed and he decided to promote their candidacy on his Facebook page. His Facebook followers took notice.
In local elections, turn out is very low, so every vote counts. Motivated by Shank’s Shelter Reform Facebook page, animal lovers voted for new commissioners and the two stubborn incumbents were ousted. The commission would now surely support the effort of the animal shelter to go No Kill.
Shank reflects on the experience,”It’s imperative to vote in elected officials who are receptive to change, take an interest in what’s important to their constituents, and have your best interests at heart. Anything less and they must be replaced.”
Shortly thereafter, the commission approved a No Kill mission for the animal shelter. Mike Fry was hired to guide the shelter to No Kill best practices. On January 15, 2017, the journey to No Kill began.
One year later Lake County is officially “No Kill” and plans are being made for a new building for the shelter.