what no-kill means to joshua frank
downloadable pdf: Spring 2006 Newsletter.
What “No-Kill” means to me
by Joshua Frank, Executive Director
A few decades ago, I worked for a company that instituted a
“Total Quality Management” (TQM) program. At the time,
it was all the rage among management consultants. Years
later, when I went to graduate business school, I was impressed
when I learned all about the philosophy and tenets
behind this new quality movement.
Nonetheless, when my company first instituted TQM, I was
skeptical. The old-timers, especially the blue-collar workers
who had been at the company for more than twenty
years, were even more skeptical than I was about TQM.
Here were these high-paid outsiders with MBA’s, and little
detailed knowledge of our particular business, coming in
and telling us that we should make having “zero defects”
our goal, that nothing less was acceptable, and having us
waste all kinds of time attending workshops and doing exercises
about how we could reach that goal. We all tried to
make as few errors as possible, but of course, we knew that
the concept of zero defects was impossible. To strive for an
unrealistic goal, in the minds of many, (including me, initially)
But, as I learned later, such a perspective is wrong on several
fronts. First, sometimes zero defects is achievable. It may
not happen every time, in all situations. But production
plants can, and have, met this goal, and have gone on to celebrate
their achievements for a certain week, month, or even
year. Furthermore, even when it is not fully achieved, it is
still the right target for employees to focus on. A focus on
zero defects can lead to great improvements in quality, even
when a perfect record is not achieved. And unless a firm is
achieving zero defects, there is still room for improvement.
Finally, and most importantly, the concept of achieving zero
defects represents more than just a tangible goal—it represents
a “paradigm shift.” In other words, this quality management
movement represented a total shift in thinking.
Previously, management assumed a certain level of defects
was “optimal”—there was a balancing point between reducing
the cost of defects to the company, and reducing the costs
of conducting “quality control” work by the company. Have
too many defects, and you paid in wasted product, but have
“too few” defects, and you unnecessarily incurred high quality
control costs. This philosophy dominated management
for most of the 20th century. However, once you believe Xnumber
of defects per thousand units is acceptable, you tend
not to look for opportunities to reduce errors, even when they
come from improvements in the process that save money,
rather than costing a penny. In short, seeing defects as acceptable
leads to complacency.
In animal sheltering, many workers and managers, particularly
those who have been in the field for years, scoff at the
idea of saving the lives of every healthy or treatable animal.
They say it is unrealistic in their community. There have
always been too many animals, and not enough homes. Shelters
try their best, after all, and should not be demoralized
with unrealistic expectations.
But as with TQM, this thinking is faulty on several fronts.
First, killing no healthy or treatable animals is not only
achievable in theory, there are now cases where it has been
done in shelters that do not have the luxury of “limited intake.”
Second, anybody working at a shelter should find the
killing of animals that could be adopted or treated unacceptable—
period. This is not meant to be a judgment of shelters
that kill “excess” animals when they run out of space. What
shelters do in the very short term, when they have more animals
than space, is a difficult question and there are no easy
answers. However, in the longer term, the answer is not difficult.
Believe with all your heart that killing is unacceptable,
then do whatever it takes to stop killing any animal that
can be saved. There does not need to be any debate about
“no-kill” versus traditional sheltering. Both sides should be
able to agree that the ultimate goal for a community is to kill
no animals (excluding those animals who are truly incurably
ill or truly dangerous). And everybody in sheltering should
care enough about animals’ lives to have a sense of urgency
in reaching this goal.
And as with TQM, the most important part of a change towards
what I consider to be a “no-kill” viewpoint is a paradigm
shift. This is not about changing shelter euthanasia or
intake policy. It is about shifting perspectives. Shelters can
no longer think that any level of killing of “excess” animals
is acceptable. There can be no ‘business as usual’ as long as
killing is still occurring. There can be no complacency when
it comes to the lives of animals. Period.
This shift in perspective has been shown to generate real improvements.
A growing number of communities across the
country have all experienced this paradigm shift to one extent
or another. For example, FIREPAW works analyzing
Maddie’s Fund community programs across the country. It
is true that often these communities fall short on some very
aggressive program goals. Sometimes, opponents use these
kinds of results to argue that they were right about “no-kill”
all along. But this is just like arguing that TQM is a bad idea
simply because one may not achieve zero defects. The fact
is, that every Maddie’s Fund program community (and quite
possibly every place that has undergone this sort of animal
sheltering “paradigm shift”) has drastically reduced the killing
of animals in their community. And this is success.
Even when not every animal is saved, when the life of every
animal is valued, any change that saves lives is a change for
the better and worth the effort.