Mike Fry, the recipient of the Henry Bergh Leadership Award in 2009 and 2012. He worked as an executive in the computer software development field for 10 years until he discovered the need for animal shelter reform. He has spent approximately 20 years improving the lives of shelter animals. Listen in as he shares with us his perspective. If you’d like to learn more, please check out his No Kill Learning Blog.
Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll Podcast is probably sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now on with our show, Mike Fry has worked in the animal shelter you feel for the last 20 years or so. Starting out in Minnesota, he’s been a speaker and consultant, toe local, state and national animal welfare conferences and seminars, as well as state and local governments, nonprofit organizations and grassroots Beith animal welfare advocacy organizations and communities large and small across the U. S. He led the effort to successfully pass Minnesota so called puppy mill bill that allowed the state to regulate large scale commercial dog breeding facilities. Hey, Mike, welcome to the program. Thank you for having me glad to be here. Yeah, it’s great to have you as well. So tell us a little bit about you and how you got into rescue. I mean, you’re somebody that has got an I t background. You’ve been around for a while. If I can say that, you know what’s your story? So where did where did you begin? How did you find your passion? Oh, gosh, it my passion goes way back. Really? You know, I think I was born with honestly, and it was something that is deeply steeped in my entire family. Frankly, we always, you know, head pets. My real passion, really younger when I was younger, was reptiles, wildlife and exotics. And so I had my The early part of my animal career was really very much in that area. So, historically, I worked for a while. As the clinic coordinator for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the University of Minnesota, I was the rehabilitation manager at the How Wildlife Center in Seattle, very much into wildlife and wildlife rescue, oil spill response, that whole area of work that’s very important, but and my, the rest of my family actually were involved in domestic animals. My mother, for example, founded the first no kill animal shelter in Minnesota back in 1977. So our family has been steeped in the topic of no kill for decades. And after you know, many years in animal rescue, I sort of had to areas of interest in my life. One was animals, the other was technology. And I sort of flipped those two back and forth as professional or hobby throughout my younger life. Eventually I became, you know, the Internet technology experts, so to speak. At Penn, Terror was their Internet director of Internet technologies. That pence care this big international Guam, you know, and and really, just when I was there, I love the place, wonderful people. But I decided that life wasn’t for me, and and the shelter that my mother had founded was struggling very badly. And I had had many epiphany moments along the way, and I had come to realize that number one no kill was possible anywhere and to there needed to be some sort of strategic plan to bring that conversation to the national audience. Prior to that, you know, I had been the small, little local voice kind of screening about the killing that was going on at my local shelter. But I had I was the small little voice going up against this multi $1,000,000 operation. Who controlled the press you know all the conversation. And so I really put together a strategic plan for figuring out how we were gonna change that. And part of that was to bring the conversation about no kill to a national audience. And so I decided to leave my technology career and overrunning that small little rural shelter in Hastings, Minnesota, and use that as a platform to bring the conversation about no kill to the national audience. So I did that work for 15 years, and and it’s it became really not just a passionate, just sort of became who are part of who I am. And it’s like now that I’m semi retired, I just can’t stop. So it’s It’s just always, you know, there is always just under the surface. So, you know, one of things I wanted to ask you, Mike, because, as you know, the term, no kill people either love it or hate it. It’s kind of a lightning ride, sometimes an animal rescue, and you mentioned obviously that your mother done that back in 1977. How do you define no killing and kind of What’s your take on why it’s such a lightning rod in animal rescue. Oh, there’s Ah, that’s, Ah, big question. But I define no kill as the commitment to not end the life of any healthy or treatable pat so fully endorse and support ending a life of terminally ill and suffering pets. Certainly in my work in wildlife, you know, we the large chunk of the animals we took in and wildlife rehabilitation where you like what I would you know, sometimes cursed Lee crudely call road pizza. You know, by the time an adult box can be scooped up by the average citizen, you know that animal is very debilitated. So you know, we oftentimes, in awhile life rehabilitation would euthanize a high percentage of animals, and I fully support that I have no issue around it. What? I have an issue with our shelters who so easily inconveniently and quickly decide for arbitrary reasons to end the life of thousands of animals, and that has gotten better over the years. But there are still shelters who are doing that, and that’s to me, no kill. It needs to define better that there’s a distinction between humane euthanasia of terminally ill suffering animals were dangerous animals or conveniently killing animals that you could otherwise save. And that’s the distinction for me. And that’s why I believe the term no kill his fully appropriate. I think it’s the correct term. I think it gets right to the heart of the issue, and I think that that’s why people who don’t want to change your upset by it because they they don’t want to fundamentally face what they’ve been doing. You know all those years that it makes it a very difficult thing for them, and it forces them tow, you know, in effect, take a look at what they’ve been doing, and that’s not always comfortable. And it shouldn’t be. Yeah, and one of the things I’ve heard is, well, you know, the no kill terminologies so absolute right to you know, how do you measure it is, is, is what’s what’s the objective way to measure? And it’s somebody truly know, kill or kill, right, cause it sounds like the opposite. And I’m sure you’ve heard all these arguments before. Some just, you know, maybe sheriff. Our listeners kind of howto How do you think through that? It’s really for me. It’s actually incredibly easy, but what you have to do is roll up your sleeves, and you have to look at the standard operating practices and protocols that are in place in animal shelters and in my consulting work with no kill learning curve that I currently do. That’s really where I start when I go into an A set to assess an animal shelter or help take them from where they are to a no kills Data’s where I start is looking at their standard operating protocols to make sure that they are reflective of a desire to save every healthier, treatable path. And what I find most always is that either those documents don’t exist or or they’re extremely lacking in terms of defining. You know what is required? What you know, what are the boxes that you need to check off before you euthanize an animal at a shelter so important it’s really important because in the end, there’s should be one person in that shelter who signs off on every single decision to euthanize a pet, and I’ll give you I’ll tell you a story. It was This is a shelter I ended up not doing consulting work for, but they had contacted me because they had been in the news for months because they had repeatedly been caught killing owned animals that had come in a stray on arrival against state law and a couple of those animals. One of them had a microchip. One of them was wearing a collar with I D on it, and their and their families were looking for them. So this is three separate incidents that made the news in a short period of time. So and if you watch the news about animal shelters, you’ll know that’s not a unique situation that happens all over the United States, you know, periodically, multiple times a year. Well, in that situation, everything sort of blew up. You know, of course, the board gets all upset. The staff is all upset. The executive director, you know, walks out, resigns sort of in disgrace, and they bring in, you know, an interim director. So the interim director who had taken over in that case gets to my website, starts looking at all the things that they can do, contacts me about potentially doing some consulting work, and he says, What should I do? What I do right now to make a change while we’re having this conversation, I said Okay, a number one tell the staff no animal is going to be euthanized unless you sign off on it. A number to give them a list of things they need to do for every animal before they come to you. To even ask to euthanize that, you know, And that list is relatively simple. Contact your rescue partners, see if any of them will take it. Contact your foster homes, see if any of them will take it. And, you know, post the animals out on your social media and say we’re desperately looking homes for the, you know, do everything you can before you even come to me. So the very next day I get a call from my nieces. I went to the staff, said that and they said OK, they were on board. And then the next morning they came with a list of six dogs that they wanted to euthanize. And he says to the staff, Did you contact the rescue partners? No. Well, that’s the first item on the list. Go do it. Sure. And with and within a couple of hours, every one of those dogs was placed. You know, if it’s really relatively simple, if you put those requirements in those documents, you say you must do this, you must do that. And then the executive staff manages those staff to make sure that they’ve done those things. Every shelter can very quickly turned themselves into a no kill shelter. Interested? And you know what I’m hearing? A lot of what you’re talking about is even just human behavior. It’s It’s more, you know, routines. And, you know, we all have jobs and things that were doing. And, you know, you’re told this is what you need to do. And if you set the guidelines and procedures it, you know, people are very good at following them well, and if they’re not, you have a tool then that you can use to manage the people. And you can say if they won’t follow that Oh, they have to leave. We have to find people who will, and it becomes. If it takes all the emotion out of those decisions, it takes all the drama out of it. And what I find is that if the shelter is operating that way and they’re being transparent with their rescue partners and everything is open and they’re saving as many lives as they really can. Then the rescue community and the public turns around and embraces them. Where all these fights haven’t is when the shelters killing there, you know, turning away their rescue partners. They’re belittling their volunteers Are, you know, oftentimes being very draconian or hostile to them those air, the very phenomenon that create the fight and then those shelters who are killing animals, trying to do it in secret, you know, trying to hide. They turn around and try to blame the people who are exposing it on. That’s that’s why they say, quote unquote no kill is divisive because where the no kill movement fundamentally is about changing the culture in our animal shelters. And if you’re on the side of wanting to resist that change, you’re gonna find it divisive. You know what I really like about what you’re saying? Because it resonates with me. I’m always about Let’s take the emotion out of it. Let’s take the drama out of it, and there has been for many years, and you would know this even more than I a supply and demand problem. And you know how you go about resolving that, You know there is. You know, I’m I’m a believer in celebrate the people that are trying to do the right thing. And what I like about what you talked about is that the the start here. Here’s a very simple thing you can do and that’s not going to be the end. All be all, but you’re you’re not bashing them. You’re not saying you’re a terrible person. You’re saying Here, let me help you. Here’s the steps that we’ve shown that have worked before. Take this and learn from this. Yeah, I 100% agree with every part of that, with one slight exception is I? No. I no longer believe that there is a salt supply demand problem. If there If there is a supply demand problem in the community, it’s because the shelter has done a poor job at marketing their pets, because if you look at the number of animals a number of families that are acquiring new pets every year it’s exponents. It’s dramatically higher than the number of animals that need rescue from animal shelter, so it really is a marketing problem, and the people who can handle and address that problem are the shelters. And when they do address that problem, the killing goes away. So so if they can manage both the supply and the demand side, and I’ll give you a great way that animal shelters can address the supply side to throughout most of the United States, it’s perfectly legal to let your cats roam free. You know, you can argue, and I and others can argue, Is that a good idea? Should people do it, CASS in and of itself? And but it doesn’t really matter because it’s legal to let them do it. And I will tell you this in my neighborhood, I know many, many cats who have been indoor outdoor cats their entire lives, and now they’re old senior cats and they I love being outside and they, you know, so we could talk about that and they have great lives, But, um, it’s perfectly legal. It’s still common for animal shelters in the United States to encourage people who see those cats out about to scoop them up and bring them into the animal shelter as though they’re being quote unquote rescued, when in fact they’re being taken to animal shelters, some of which 2 may have a 50% kill rate for cats. So you’re taking him off the street from their home, where they’re perfectly fine and animal shelters can just stop doing that and that will. That will dramatically cut down on the quote unquote supply side of animals coming into animal shelters. So again, getting back to the basic, you know, standard operating practices and protocols, you can look at those documents and figure out where you can stop taking in animals that don’t need rescue and focus. Your resource is on the animals that do and make them more efficient and market those animals to get them out the door alive. And so that, to me, is the fundamental equation. If you look at the no kill equation, the 11 programs of the, you know count the no kill equation. All of them fit into one of those buckets, keeping animals out of the shelter that just don’t need to be there. That got perfectly fine alternatives outside the shelter. Keep him out and then if they come in, get them out alive. And so if they do that and embrace that approach, every shelter can be no kill. And it’s interesting. And I agreed to a point that you know this the supply and demand. I mean, actually, what I say to people is it’s not a supply and demand problem anymore. In my mind, it’s a logistics problem. There are areas of the country where there’s more demand than supply, and there’s others where it’s the reverse. But if we can work together and use things like transport as an option to kinda, as I call it, lower the water line to build, to get on top of some of these things and instituted program, because what I have the experience and talking to some of the rural, more Southern shelters is it’s almost like the flood just keeps coming and you’ve got to get on top of it and a place to start. Sure, But you know, let’s I’d like to talk a little bit about Lake County, Florida, for just a second, and I like to talk about it because number one I was up to my eyeballs involved in that project, and it turned out to be one of the most rapid transitions to know kill that this country has ever seen. And it happened in rural central Florida at a open admission county run animal control center that has one of the highest per capita intake rates of any shelter I have worked with. It’s not one of the highest in the country, but it’s is almost three times the national average show. So So you know, they could have easily and did for years fall into that mindset. We have a supply problem here, you know, that was their mantra. But if you looked closely at what was actually happening in that community, you see to animal shelters that were private animal shelters who were actually importing animals in Mass into Lake County. And you had the local shelter, you know, killing oftentimes upwards of 50% of their own animals. And it was just really and common situation. What actually happened is after about five years of advocacy, local advocates have been yelling and screaming and complaining about the killing. For about five years, one of the county commissioners started Ashley listening, you know, and and I I can understand why City Council County commissioners want to tune it out. It’s a complicated conversation. So one little tidbit for advocates. You’ve got to be prepared for a long haul. You’ve gotta find a way of getting in front of those decision makers over and over and over and over until they hear you. Well, ultimately less. The campy own county commissioner in Lake County heard it understand that absorbed a spent time Marie see researching it and enrolled the rest of the count. The Lake County Board of County Commissioners, uh, that they wanted to do it, and we’re committed to doing it. And they voted unanimously to do it, and they engaged me to help them make that transition. At the time, the shelter was being run by the sheriff’s department and they decided that they were gonna The board of county Commissioners was gonna take personal, direct responsibility for the operations at that shelter. So they got their county manager on board and the county manager got the rest of the city team on board. They contacted the facilities, people, the communications and marketing people. The county attorney. They brought that entire leadership team together and said, We’re going no kill. And this is the guy we’re gonna listen to and follow to make that happen. And again, we started with their standard operating practices and protocols. We looked at the staff and that the team and January 15 2016 we have. We had a new team fully trained on the new practices and protocols. The keys were handed over and healthier, treatable animal was not killed. Sense on and this and this year they’re averaging between a 95 and 98% live release rate every month. And this is now going into their second year of no killings. Lake County. It literally happened almost overnight. Wow. And so the whole idea that there are pockets in the United States where the supply is just too much. What’s really happening in those areas is that the shelters, policies and practices are taking in animals they don’t need to take in. They don’t have the proactive redemption protocols in place for their animal control officers. So stray animals that they pick up in the field that could literally go right home. They can figure out where those animals belong and get them home without bringing them to the shelter. They don’t have those policies or practices in place. So all those dogs and cats completing into the shelter that don’t need to go there. And they don’t have the relationships and the marketing and all the things they need to get the animals out alive. And since then, like County A any if Lake County could do it, any shelter can you know what’s really interesting? I, as you’ve been talking like one of the things that I’ve really valued is I don’t hear you saying and this person is terrible in that person’s terrible and shelter staff. Me, you know, everything you’ve talked about it is start with the procedures, look att. The way things were being told to the people, they’re working those facilities. So it’s not. It’s not about bashing the people. It’s about saying, Listen, you’re creating this environment where? How could they be effective? It seems I am I correct in saying that? I think that’s largely true. Yes, and I don’t I don’t really believe in Kota quote bashing anybody, although sometimes I will use strong language because it’s an important issue and we are actually talking about killing living things. I mean, let’s be clear, you know, and I don’t believe in calling the ending of a life of a perfectly healthy animal that you could adopt out or that you could transfer to rescue. If you end that life, that’s not euthanasia, that’s killing. You’re just killing that animal. And I do believe the line staff who are actually involved in doing it they’re not generally responsible for It’s the leadership and in county government in city government, that usually is the county board, you know, county commissioners, you know, in the cities, it’s the mayor. It’s the City Council, and that’s what makes it so difficult because it’s really a leadership issue. And and that means the citizens who are responsible for you know, I really think the citizenry is responsible because they select those people. They tell those people what’s important. They tell those people how they want it to be and how how they wanted to run and so engaging the public in that conversation is really, really important. I will tell you this in Lake County, I had the privilege. I mean of meeting and talking with all of the county commissioners, you know, and county commissioner meetings and at private events behind the scenes. And I can tell you this most every one of them that I talked to before this and effort came to be none of them other than Leslie Campy own, really had been to the shelter even know they had. They had before it was given to the shelter. The sheriff. They had run it previously, and even though they had been responsible for the shelter, they just didn’t go there. And that is more common than you might think. And so it is impossible for the lines to have to do their jobs Well, if the leadership hasn’t given them the tools, the learning, the protocols, the support necessary to do it. And if the leadership is unwilling to get rid of staff who won’t do it and replace them with staff who will and train them, then the shelter has no no choice. So I tend to be a little bit more direct with the shelter directors. I mean, they’re ultimately responsible. They can have a big say when you’re talking to, you know, the county commissioners or the City Council. And so if you’ve got a shelter director who won’t have that difficult conversation with those people. You need a new shelter director and I will Flatow openly say that. And so shelter directors who haven’t done that tend to get their hackles up because, in effect, I’m saying, If you won’t do that, you should go get a different job, you know, And I will be that direct because the fact of the matter is you you are running a shelter whose mission should be to save those lives. And if you won’t do it, let somebody who will do it do it. So my I’m curious. What would you recommend to somebody? This, this? Listening to this saying you know he’s right like this is very practical. Where do we get going? You alluded to, even with Lake Lake County that it was. There’s a lot of layers. There’s a lot of people. There’s a lot of persistence and that required, you know, Do you have any advice for somebody who’s to say Step one, Step two, Step through here. The things you should start first, Absolutely. You know, I think that it’s always a good idea to, in a engaging and constructive and polite way approached the shelter director because you know, while there we have a lot of say in the game. They’re not always the decision maker. I know of shelter directors who wants to make changes that would save lives, but they’re prohibited from doing it because of you know, people who are over their heads of city or county. And so going and approaching that shelter director in a constructive, engaging an open sort of invitation way is the really good first step and see if you can develop a relationship with them to see where they’re at. Are they open to helping you? Are they open to working with you? Are there things that they want to do to make things better that they can articulate and engaged? And if you if you got that, then you’ve got something that you can work with and if their defensive, if they’re putting up roadblocks, if they won’t share their data, if they if they’re not reporting in a transparent way, then you kind of know what you’re dealing with and then you really have to take the conversation over their heads to their bosses, which usually ultimately means City Council, county commissioners, et cetera, and get them replaced. If it’s a non, if it’s a nonprofit private organization, you have to take the conversation to the board, and usually that requires engaging more people in your community. So the typical model is they’ll set of social media campaigns to expose what’s happening in the shelter and to help educate the public about the fact that there is an alternative that really doesn’t involve transporting animals and mass. I mean, it doesn’t There’s a place for transport, for sure. Um, but at best, it’s a small band Aid that you can put on this giant problem is, and when you can fix the problem locally, and I believe it can be fixed everywhere locally, it’s more important to do that. And all of those transport resource is can and I believe, should be used locally at solving the problem. And if you could have that conversation and if you can get enough of the local people saying that, then the City Council, the county commissioners, the board of directors of the nonprofit will eventually listen. Yeah, no, and it’s definitely something. It’s a community problem, and the challenges ey’re different, You know, everywhere and the cultures and that are different. So it’s It’s fascinating Thio listen to and I appreciate the practical kind of step by stuff. So, Mike, it’s been really good talking to you. And sharing all this is raining else you wanted to mention before we wrap things up. Yeah, I would just you know, I think that the United States is This is a nation of animal lovers and you know, what’s happening in our animal shelters currently is better than it was 20 years ago, a lot better than it was 20 years ago. But that shouldn’t ever be used as an excuse to kill any healthy treater treatable animals in shelters today because we know that can stop and every one of those lives that are lost and currently, you know, depending upon who’s estimate, you believe it’s somewhere between one and two million animals that air healthy, untreatable, that are being killed in animal shelters. Still today, and that can stop. It should stop and anybody who wants to stop it, I invite them to come to the table, find the local people in your community who are working on it and get busy, get vocal and make a change because you can. It’s happening everywhere. If I can do it, anybody can very well stated Mike. And I definitely agree that we would love to have the passion and involvement from people that are ready to make a change and in an objective way. So well, thank you, Mike. I appreciate you coming on the program. Today was great to talk to you. It was nice being here. Thanks. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, join the Air P A. To take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do bert dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.