Improving the lives of strays one furry friend at a time

by | Dec 1, 2016 | Features

No Kill Russellville is a grassroots organization of activists and game changers dedicated to the care and fair treatment of animals. As a group, their goal is to lower the “kill rate” of the Russellville Animal shelter by providing low cost spay/neuter clinics and microchipping, volunteers, and adoption drives. Since 2012, Whitney Hickerson and her fellow animal lovers have been improving the life of stray animals one furry friend at a time.
No Kill Russellville formed after Whitney wrote a letter to the editor for the local newspaper criticizing the published kill rates at the Russellville Animal Shelter. According to the text, less than 20 percent of animals brought into the shelter were adopted and the rest were euthanized. Whitney wrote, “There are resources available to help cities work toward achievable goals in reducing both the shelter’s kill rate and the community’s overpopulation challenge.” These resources included grants, volunteer work, and simple policy changes.
After reading that letter to the editor some like-minded folks found Whitney on Facebook and started discussing what they could do to facilitate change. From there, the group quickly snowballed into a volunteer force that became No Kill Russellville. Their first event was a huge adoption drive during the summer of 2013 and before long they had identified several ways to begin improving the quality of care given to animals at the Russellville Animal Shelter.
Although the group is called No Kill Russellville, volunteer Megan Jones explained that they understand not all animals can be saved. Some cannot be rehabilitated and many are so sick that they cannot recover. Behavioral problems, injuries, and sickness can all mean that euthanasia  is the most humane response. Megan said, “Even a no kill shelter isn’t going to be 100 percent, and we know that. There are dogs that come in that are really, really sick and cannot be rehabilitated or are just vicious.” In these cases, euthanasia is the only humane choice. Instead of focusing on these animals, the No Kill movement is focused on reducing the numbers of animals that are killed because of cost, time, and space requirements.
A commonly discussed goal among no kill groups is a 90 percent adoption rate. According to 2013 numbers, only 20 percent of animals brought into the Russellville Animal Shelter are adopted. In addition, statistics comparing the Clarksville Animal Shelter and the Russellville Animal Shelter show that Russellville spends more money per animal and euthanizes more than three times as many of those animals. The No Kill website reads, “This begs the question. Why do Russellville taxpayers spend more money to save fewer animals?”
The solution is complicated, with multiple strategies coming together to reach that 90 percent  adoption goal. The volunteers donate time, raise money, and hold events to help out at the shelter.
One of No Kill Russellville’s biggest events is the spay and neuter clinic. The overpopulation of stray animals is a substantial strain on the animal shelter. In Russellville, these animals are brought into the shelter but simply cannot be adopted away fast enough. When the shelter runs out of space, they have no choice but to euthanize. Having a spayed or neutered pet is the best way to combat this overpopulation, and No Kill Russellville’s clinics allow pet owners to spay or neuter their pets for only $20.
Any reduction in the breeding of stray animals is a benefit to the Russellville Animal Shelter. Lower numbers of animals means that each animal gets more care, more time available for adoption, and the attention they deserve. Sterilization isn’t just about overpopulation either; according to The Humane Society, spaying or neutering your pet often improves behavior. Calmer animals are much more likely to be adopted.
Holding a clinic like this is not an easy or a cheap task. “We’ve been raising funds for a spay and neuter clinic all year,” board president Megan Davis said. Despite the effort, high volume spay and neuter clinics are the most cost effective means of keeping animals out of shelters.
Another service No Kill Russellville offers is low-cost microchipping. Many lost pets brought to the animal shelter are never recovered. But for $10, pets are implanted with a small RFID tag that can be read at any vet’s office or animal shelter. This tag stores an ID number that can be used to retrieve the pet’s name and owner information. The chip is about the size of a grain of rice. It is inserted with a needle and is no more painful than a vaccine. These chips are an invaluable resource for pet owners and help keep animals out of the shelter and reunited with their owners.
Volunteers from No Kill Russellville also donate their time to walk the dogs, which exercises the dogs and helps improve their behavior. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how rambunctious dogs can be if they’re not exercised regularly,” Megan Jones said. When shelter animals are locked in a kennel for days at a time they quickly develop behavioral problems, anxiety, and sometimes even aggression. In addition, the volunteers occasionally help clean up the shelter.
All of these activities and events help reduce the shelter’s kill rate, but the most effective service No Kill Russellville provides is with its adoption events. Once a month, the volunteers select the most likely candidates for adoption early in the morning. They groom the animals, walk them, and then transport them to one of several locations, such as A Dog’s World Grooming or Tractor Supply Company. While at the event, No Kill volunteers do their best to promote adoption. “We’ll post pictures on Facebook and invite people to come out,” Megan said. Adoption events help animals and recruit volunteers. “Adoption events are dual purpose, said Whitney, “Not only do we work to adopt dogs from the shelter, but we also use it as an opportunity to talk with people in the community, hear their stories, and talk about how they can make an impact.”
“Sometimes we go in and take mass pictures of dogs,” Megan said, “We wish the shelter would just take photos of the dogs when adoptable ones are brought in.” She said that one of the things that No Kill would like to change about the animal shelter is an improvement on intake procedure. “Animals should have a picture, identification, gender, and description posted online when the arrive,” Megan said. She expresses frustration with the Animal Shelter, but admits that they do very hard work and have improved greatly. She estimates that kill rates in Russellville have dropped to 50 percent  — a big improvement over the 80 percent euthanasia rate published in 2013.
No Kill Russellville is part of the larger No Kill Movement, which is growing nationally. These groups work together to share resources, volunteers, and advice while promoting the humane treatment of shelter animals. Similar groups have seen success in cities like Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas, where almost 100 percent of shelter animals are saved.
When we hear the words “animal shelter,” images come to mind of a safe space for homeless animals and families reunited with their lost friends. The reality is unfortunately far more bleak than that. Although the No Kill Movement has a long way to go and change happens slowly, members of No Kill Russellville are happy with how far they have come. They will continue to fight for animal rights until “no kill” is a standard practice, not a slogan to rally behind.
Those that want to join No Kill Russellville are encouraged to visit and fill out the volunteer form. New recruits will then be contacted with further information about how to get involved.

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