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Insights with Davyd Smith with No Kill Colorado

About Davyd Smith

Although Davyd adopted his first pet more than 50 years ago - his journey in animal advocacy began in 2007 when he adopted his first Saint Bernard from Colorado Saint Bernard Rescue. This experience led him to become an active participant in rescue organizations. Realizing there were over 300 organizations in Colorado (Shelters and Rescues) he realized something was missing. We should have already been able to service all the animals entering our system with that many life saving organizations.

This led him to become a No Kill advocate and work to make the Colorado system the best in any state.

Davyd actively participates in non-profit animal welfare issues and advocates for homeless pets. He founded RescueOneDog, a blog and advocacy arm for PeopleFund, to help homeless pets. He was a founding member of No Kill Colorado in 2011 and has remained in various positions in the organization since then.

He is a member of No Kill Movement and leads discussion on animal sheltering on the YouTube channel No Kill in Motion.

Let's get started!

Mark: Can you tell us more about the mission and vision of your organization in protecting homeless pets and promoting pet adoption in a No Kill environment?

Davyd: The mission is simple and our tagline proclaims: Make Colorado the Safest State for Homeless Pets. And that requires Colorado to save every healthy and treatable pet entering our shelter system – and makes us a No Kill state.

A couple of terms are important as well. No Kill does not mean no animal ever dies. Euthanasia is limited to the dictionary definition: the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (such as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.

Mark: What are some of the key initiatives or programs your organization has implemented to ensure the well-being and safety of homeless pets?

Davyd: We advocate for sensible laws to help homeless pets and people. We also have created an alliance of like-minded shelters and rescues called SARA (Shelter and Rescue Alliance) of Colorado. Our key to success is the No Kill Equation (NKE).

Made up of 11 programs and services the NKE can make any Colorado shelter successful in saving every healthy and treatable homeless pet. And we try to provide resources for any organizations implementing the NKE.

Mark: How do you go about encouraging pet adoption and finding suitable homes for the animals in your care?

Davyd: Encouraging pet adoption with Colorado residents is not the challenge. Getting organizations to focus on local animals first and allow people to help is the greater challenge.

Sounds odd right? We need to lower barriers to fostering and adoption to save every healthy and treatable pet. Colorado surprisingly has MORE adopters than we need to save every pet entering our system within the state. We bring in tens of thousands of animals from out of state each year, but we are still killing several thousand that originated in our state. We can do better, and we can do it overnight.

Mark: Are there any unique strategies you've found to be particularly successful?

Davyd: For shelters there are several strategies. Foremost, stay open while people can come to you. Many shelters look at a 9 to 5 or even less available hours when a lot of people are working. Nights and weekends are important for adoption and for people to retrieve lost pets. You don’t have to extend hours, just change them to more convenient times for families to access your animals.

Also, off-site adoptions are extremely important for all organizations – shelters or rescues. Go to where people are. If a shelter is on the outskirts of town or in an industrial area, etc., people do not see it and do not think of it. Get to the pedestrian centers, retail stores, community events and bring your animals to the people who might be interested.

We must lower barriers to entry. There is no evidence that free or discounted adoption fees put animals at a higher risk. You can still do home checks on people and there are other ways to vet them as good adoption candidates.

There is also evidence that the shelter and rescue world needs to be more aware of implicit and explicit bias to some demographics. We need to check ourselves and make sure we are not denying people access to pets based on age, gender, race, etc.

We must simplify adoption and foster applications and contracts. Some are pages long and ask for very sensitive information. We are driving people to purchase pets when we make it too difficult to adopt (creating our own problem). There is some information we want in those documents but asking for comprehensive personal information is not really necessary (and opens you up to personal information security policies you must put in place legally).

Just about all volunteers have full-time unrelated jobs. All skills can be utilized in saving lives. And compassion is not limited. Pets and people are not two separate things. Compassion and motivation, I think those sum it up.

Mark: What challenges do you face in operating a No Kill environment for homeless pets, and how do you address them?

Davyd: The public supports No Kill. The opposition are regressive shelter managers that cling to failed shelter models that need to go. Unfortunately, we have to waste resources defending the idea that we should save every healthy and treatable pet. Can you believe it?

Mark: Can you provide examples of success stories where your organization has made a significant impact in the lives of homeless pets through adoption or other means?

Davyd: I’m probably going to go way too long here. I also want to point out that we do nothing alone. We work with local advocates whenever we work in a community and rescue and No Kill shelters in Colorado handle much of the operational tasks to support our success.

Back in 2013, we were approached by a small community near the New Mexico border (Antonito). They had over 100 stray dogs in a town of less than 800 people. Imagine what that looked like. We set up a low cost spay/neuter clinic for the locals and spayed and neutered over 100 dogs for free and placed them in No Kill shelters and rescues throughout Colorado. We saved EVERY animal except for one that had parvo in a litter of 7 (the other 6 were saved).

Around the same time the shelter in Canon City was doing a horrible job. We advocated for change for well over a year until they decided to hire a new director. When we first approached them, 1 in 2 cats and 1 in 3 dogs did not get out of the building alive. Since we got the new director in there the save rate is over 95% annually since 2015. Doug Rae took it over and his staff and volunteers are unmatched for their compassion and work. Now, the only animals euthanized are truly suffering pets that we cannot help.

We have funded over $50,000 in lifesaving programs in the last 2 years through our alliance SARA.

And I will point that we handled a large effort right before COVID in Delta, Colorado. They had a massive community cat population and we set up several Spay/Neuter/TNR clinics (Trap, Neuter, Return). Hundreds of community cats have been spayed and neutered and returned to their community – but they will never add to the population while they live their lives. Many were friendly and we got them adopted by our partners. And we provided low cost spay-neuter to people that brought their cats in and did several hundred surgeries for that as well.

And, we'll continue to bring on new programs as resources allow.

Mark: How do you collaborate with other animal welfare organizations, shelters, or volunteers to further your mission?

Davyd: As I mentioned, we have spent more than $50,000 in the past 18 months working with partners to make them successful. One of my favorite annual events is our Home for the Holidays. We work with several rescues and shelters to get pets home for the holidays. The pets need to be over 3 years old OR have special needs (medical or behavior). We got more than 150 pets home for the holidays from Thanksgiving to Christmas in 2022. Can we increase that in 2023? We plan on it!

We will work with anyone saving lives, but we do encourage everyone to:

  1. save every healthy and treatable pet they take in

  2. look inside Colorado before leaving the state to help a homeless pet

  3. support each other in the state to make Colorado the best state for homeless pets.

We are expanding collaboration through our alliance SARA.

Mark: Can Colorado really reach No Kill?

Davyd: Yes. Not just yes, but YES OVERNIGHT! All it would require is that we look down the street in our own community before transferring out of state. Let me be clear, we should help our neighbor states, and we can. But we can save every pet here and then go out of state. We have tens of thousands more adopters than we need for the animals entering our shelters locally. We can save each healthy and treatable pet and still help our neighbor states with tens of thousands more.

Mark: What opposition is there to No Kill?

Davyd: Ask any person on the street if we should kill healthy or treatable homeless pets - Virtually everyone will say we should save them. Remarkably, it is shelter management. Not all, and we have shelter management here in Colorado that agree with us and are succeeding, but regressive shelter management that refuses to take known solutions and fail or refuse to implement them.

Many do not want to do the work to save every healthy and treatable pets, they oppose the No Kill Movement with false information, knowingly or not, and deny that it works when there are 100’s of communities across the US succeeding at it.

Mark: In your opinion, what are the key qualities or skills that make a successful leader in an organization focused on protecting homeless pets and promoting adoption?

Davyd: You’ll often see job postings that look for experience in the field. I find that unnecessary. Hard working leaders improve every organization, not just in our field, but it is imperative in our field to lead with compassion and hard work. Some of the best shelter directors and managers come from other fields. Just about all volunteers have full-time unrelated jobs. All skills can be utilized in saving lives. And compassion is not limited. Pets and people are not two separate things. Compassion and motivation, I think those sum it up.

Mark: Looking to the future, what are your organization's goals and aspirations in terms of expanding your reach, improving services, or advocating for change in the field of animal welfare?

Davyd: Our big push is really to get to a No Kill State. Save every healthy and treatable homeless pet entering our system. Although this has always been the goal, we can truly see it. Of the 9,000 dogs and cats that die in our shelter system we believe half are healthy and treatable. And we transfer tens of thousands from out of state. So, we know we can both save everyone here and help our neighbor states to the tune of tens of thousands additional pets. If we do that, we can be the first true No Kill state, set an example for the rest of the nation, and be a beacon for the shelter industry.

Our major tactical obstacles are medical and behavior funding. Many of these animals need a little more resources, a little more time, a little more compassion to get them healthy and ready to go a loving family. Money doesn’t actually save lives - people do, but funding makes it a hell of a lot easier. We really are working to find corporate sponsors looking to help fund helping the dogs and cats at risk that are right here in our Colorado communities.


Please visit No Kill Colorado if you want to know more about how to help the pets in Colorado, or to make a donation.

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