Foro was instrumental in turning the no-kill goal into a movement
By Merritt Clifton
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee––Lynda J. Foro, 74, organizer of the first six annual No Kill Conferences, 1995-2001, died on December 27, 2016 in Jefferson City, Tennessee, her home of the past several years during a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Born on August 6, 1941 in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of osteopath Chauncey B. Sturgess and Dorothy May Griffin, Lynda lost her father in January 1958, during her sophomore year in high school, when his car skidded off an icy road and struck a tree near Potsdam, New York.
Enlisting in the U.S. Navy upon graduation, Lynda served until 1961 in the hospital corps, meeting and marrying Bradley R. Foro in 1960. Divorced in 1974, they had two children together: son Craig Bradley Foro and daughter Gwen Denise Foro, later a police officer and local politician in Surprise City, Arizona, before relocating to Tennessee.
Following her divorce, Lynda earned an associate of arts degree from Montgomery College in Maryland in 1974, and a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Maryland in 1976, while working in medical office management, as a correctional counselor, editor/proofreader, and eventually as an administrative secretary for the state of Arizona.
Later, in 1995, Foro earned a certificate in nonprofit management from Arizona State University.
“On the side,” Lynda wrote in January 1994, “I have owned my own catering business, word processing business, and have been pet-sitting for the past nine years. I recently established a pet-sitting referral service in Phoenix,” representing her mother and daughter as well as herself.
Pet-sitting led Lynda to become involved as a volunteer with the Valley Dale Animal Haven no-kill shelter in Sedona, Arizona.
Then, as that shelter ran into management difficulty, she sought to expand her knowledge of no-kill sheltering and fundraising by doing an internship at the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary near Kanab, Utah in 1992.
From Valley Dale to Critter Crater
Returning to Arizona, Lynda met longtime friend Christine French, who notified ANIMALS 24-7 of her death, when French, an experienced shelter director in upstate New York, was hired in 1993 to try to save Valley Dale.
After that effort failed, French, Foro, and other former Valley Dale volunteers formed a no-kill shelter called Critter Crater in nearby Flagstaff. French returned to upstate New York in 1997 to become executive director of the Ulster County SPCA. Critter Crater went through at least two more executive directors before folding in August 2002.
Lynda meanwhile founded Doing Things For Animals, with French on her initial board of directors, in 1993, formally incorporating in 1994.
“What I want to be”
“Only in the past few years,” Lynda explained, “have I decided what I want to be. I want to be a person who serves animals in the way most natural for me––through communication and advocacy. I hope to improve the circumstances of sheltered animals and their caregivers.”
Toward that end, while doing a second internship at Best Friends, Lynda during the summer of 1993 sent a questionnaire to the directors of 230 animal shelters, fostering networks, and low-cost spay/neuter clinics whom she believed were self-identified in some manner as “no kill.”
Communication & support
At that time the vast majority of the 4,000-odd animal shelters in the U.S. continued to kill dogs and cats for population control, rather than for health reasons or to protect the public from dangerous behavior.
Only a handful of large, successful dog-and-cat shelters then embraced the term “no-kill,” notably the North Shore Animal League, National Humane Education Society, Bide-A-Wee Home, San Francisco SPCA, DELTA Rescue, and Best Friends Animal Society, most of which had distinctly different modus operandi and little contact with each other.
“I believe a directory of the no-kill animal sanctuaries in the U.S. will be a useful tool for communication and support,” Lynda said at the time.
Debut of the No-Kill Directory
About half of the questionnaire recipients responded. During the next six months Lynda edited the responses into the first edition of the No-Kill Directory, a project she continued into 2002. Sales were brisk enough, at $10 apiece, to meet most of her expenses.
Lynda’s first No-Kill Directory listed any self-defined no-kill that answered her inquiries, without imposing further criteria.
As there was no widely accepted clear definition of “no-kill,” either then or now, she included on the cover a statement that “Implicit to the no-kill philosophy is the reality of exceptional situations in which euthanasia is the most humane alternative available.”
A year later this statement was expanded to stipulate that, “Those exceptional situations include irrecoverable illness or injury, dangerous behavior, and/or the need to decapitate an animal who has bitten someone, in order to perform rabies testing. They do not include ‘unadoptable, too young, or too old,’ or lack of space.”
Sought to introduce standards of care
Within a few months of publishing the first No-Kill Directory, Lynda began to believe the fast-growing grassroots “no-kill movement” needed better definition, to avoid becoming co-opted into a defense movement for bad shelter management practices such as she had seen at Valley Dale: overcrowding, failure to euthanize animals who were suffering from irremediable medical conditions, rehoming dangerous dogs to the public, and lack of public accountability for funds.
“I see value to establishing criteria, and to establishing a certification program,” Lynda wrote. “The creation of standards would improve the image of no-kill shelters in general and be a great service to the humane community.”
The first No Kill Conference
Toward establishing no-kill sheltering standards and an organization capable of enforcing them through an accreditation program, which to this day has never been successfully formed, Lynda hosted the first No Kill Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in September 1995. About 75 people attended.
As keynote speaker, I warned of the necessity of no-kill shelters maintaining high animal care standards, so that “no kill” did not degenerate into “slow kill.”
I warned of the risk that the no-kill cause could be sidetracked by making common cause with pit bull advocacy and feral cat feeders.
I pointed out that dogs bred for centuries for the sole purpose of ripping other sentient beings apart alive should not be adopted out or promoted by the humane community, and that the appropriate humane solution would be to sterilize them out of existence.
I further warned, as a strong advocate of neuter/return feral cat control where the habitat is suitable, that practicing neuter/return successfully means accepting that feral cats are wildlife, not outdoor pets.
I emphasized that cats are acceptable to most of the public either as house pets or as seldom-seen, mostly nocturnal rodent hunters, and that feeding feral cats in a manner causing them to visibly congregate by daylight will inevitably increase their predation on birds and public resistance to their presence.
“Live release rates are gibberish”
I warned of the importance of relying on accurate and meaningful statistics, in particular the ratios of shelter admissions and killing to human population.
So-called “save rates,” “live release rates,” and “euthanasia rates,” I pointed out, with real-life examples, are meaningless gibberish, since they can be manipulated by a shelter simply refusing to accept hard-to-rehome or dangerous animals, and most especially since the goal of dog and cat sterilization is to reduce the numbers of easily adoptable puppies and kittens coming into animal shelters to zero.
Once that is accomplished, shelters will receive a far higher percentage of animals who cannot or should not be rehomed, chiefly to avoid causing more rather than less animal suffering.
Spay/neuter & adoption transport
I stressed the importance of maintaining the emphasis on spay/neuter which as of 1995 had already cut shelter admissions and killing by more than 80% in 25 years. To this day, more than 95% of the cumulative reduction in shelter killing, from upward of 20 million animals per year to fewer than 2.5 million, is attributable to spay/neuter, since total adoptions flat-lined between four and five million per year circa 1985.
I encouraged the expansion of the use of adoption transport, pioneered and promoted by the North Shore Animal League, to move healthy, adoptable animals from remote animal control shelters to centrally located adoption boutiques which could give them a better chance to find homes. This seems to have been the only part of my message that anyone heeded.
Later, in the evening, I introduced Richard Avanzino, then heading the San Francisco SPCA, later president of Maddie’s Fund, 1998-2015, who as dinner speaker appeared for the first time at a national conference.
Adding longtime no-kill shelter director and consultant Bonney Brown to the Doing Things for Animals board, Lynda and Bonney presented follow-up No Kill Conferences in Denver in 1996, in partnership with the American Humane Association; in Boston in 1997; and in Walnut Creek, California in 1998.
By then the Best Friends Animal Society had hired Brown and spun off a separate series of conferences on no-kill sheltering, called No More Homeless Animals, initially held twice a year, alternating between coasts.
The Pet Savers Foundation, the North Shore Animal League subsidiary that also houses Spay/USA, hired Lynda and became primary sponsor of the No Kill Conference in 1999.
CHAMPS & Winograd
Doing Things For Animals became a subsidiary of the North Shore Animal League America in 2000. It was absorbed into the Pet Savers Foundation after Lynda left in 2002, at which point the original No Kill Conference began a gradual transition into the more broadly focused Conference on Homeless Animal Management Programs (CHAMPS) of 2003, 2004, and 2005.
The current No Kill Conference, begun by No Kill Advocacy Center founder Nathan Winograd in 2007, is not a direct descendant of the original No Kill Conference series.
If Winograd ever attended the original No Kill Conference series, there seems to be no record of it, but he did participate in several editions of the No More Homeless Pets conference.
Lynda’s last two years at the Pet Savers Foundation were troubled, to say the least, including splits with many longtime friends and former allies.
Leaving Pet Savers to become executive director of the National Humane Education Society, a West Virginia-based no-kill sheltering organization founded in 1919 and operating continuously since 1948, Lynda lasted barely six months.
Thereafter, Lynda drifted out of humane work. I heard nothing from or about her from 2002 until Christine French notified us of her death.
Christine French says
Thank you Merritt. As always, an honest and accurate accounting. Your research is amazing. Beth’s collages depict Lynda as I like best to remember her. She was crazy for cats. I met Lynda Foro by phone when ordering her first directory. Without her guidance I’m afraid I could easily have become another shelter director focused only on “saving them all” and small crises. Instead she taught me all she had learned while obtaining her post-baccalaureate certification in nonprofit leadership and management from Arizona State University. She and Bonney Brown continued to share their knowledge about how to legally form, and properly run, non-profits to any who were interested, at no charge, for many years. The information is the same regardless of the mission, for as Mike Armstrong emphasized at an early No Kill Conference, animal welfare organizations are businesses and must be run as such to succeed. I left animal sheltering when it became obvious to me that the no kill movement was headed toward saving and adopting out potentially dangerous dogs while family pets continued to be killed for space in many shelters. I spoke to Lynda about the situation in 2014 and it saddened her greatly. Doing Things For Animals’ focus on the success of the organization, and not the sensationalism of the “rescue”, set it apart from all of the other humane education organizations. I have continued to use all Lynda taught me while running other nonprofits for the past ten years.
Jamaka Petzak says
RIP Ms. Foro, and may her legacy be carried on as we work to advance TRUE “no kill”.
Gwyn Foro says
Thank you for writing a nice memorial for my mother. I know she is reading this and pleased that she is remembered. She was a remarkable woman and very much loved. Her 75 years went by too fast. Mom did not suffer and passed away peacefully from complications of Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons Disease. I, her Cousin Joan and husband Ivan were with her. She spent the last 18 months in the Life Care of Jefferson City. They took very good care of her. I was her caregiver for many years prior to her residing in the nursing home. I retired in 2014 and moved to TN as Mom wanted to be closer to her Cousin Joan. My father was from Duluth, Minnesota so there was no TN connection with him. Mom was friendly with Chris French and Bonnie Brown. She enjoyed sharing stories and observations regarding the no kill movement of today and in the past.
She leaves behind myself, brother Craig, several grandchildren, Cousin Joan and Ivan.
Again, Thank you for remembering her and her contributions to the no kill movement.
Sincerely, Gwyn Foro
Jeff Bryant says
I remember quite vividly having breakfast with Lynda at the CHAMP conference in Reno 2002. Elizabeth Oliver and I attended all the way from Japan. We learned a lot from Lynda and I still have a cassette recording of the lecture on no-kill that Lynda gave at the conference. Much of the content of that lecture has been recounted here by Merritt.
Blessings on Ms. Foro’s family and please know that your mother’s message went across oceans and instructs others of like mind far from Tennessee.
Animal Refuge Kansai
Gwyn Foro says
Thank you for remembering her. Gwyn Foro
Cynthia Eardley says
Good article. I attended the Doing Things for Animals in Phoenix in 1995 and 4 of Winograd’s No-Kill conferences in DC. I am happy to see that in the past 20 years, community cat advocacy has become more broadly accepted. I have observed over the years, that as long it is OK to kill cats, many will be killed who are owned and loved, and imho, we are not focusing enough on this problem.
Val Schweickhardt says
I went to my first animal-related conference in Lisle, Illinois, at what I remember as being the 5th No-Kill Conference, where I met Lynda, Becky Robinson, Nathan, Merritt and many other creative, forward thinking animal issues folk from around the world. I was floored at how much they were willing to share ideas, contact information and material. I attended all the other conferences up to Reno as CHAMPS. I was also a Ambassador for DTFA under Lynda and through the St Louis Conference and all the staff and owner changes. When they placed a woman who was a Humane Society of the United States follower as the event director, I knew the days of conference being innovative, creative and grassroots-oriented were truly numbered, I too am very concerned about the changing nature of the definition of No-Kill, which was orignally to not kill shelter animals for space or time in the system, but to euthanize animals who were a danger to themselves, other animals and to humans, or were terminally ill, or whose illness or injury was beyond the resources of the rescue or shelter to treat. As a whole the welfare community has done well, even upping the chances that injured, ill and older animals get out alive. What I am unhappy about is the number of dangerous dogs who go back into the communities where they kill other family pets and humans. They need to do a better job of weeding out the unstable dogs. However unlike Merritt, I see this as a dog issue, not a breed issue. I will miss Lynda, I had been wondering where she was these days, with Sun City being her last known address. She was a great lady who did good things for animals.
Merritt Clifton says
Of the 311 disfiguring and/or fatal injuries to humans inflicted by shelter dogs since I began logging dog attacks by breed in 1982, 190 (61%) were by pit bulls. Of those 311 attacks, 296, involving 181 pit bulls (also 61%) have occurred since the Michael Vick bust in April 2007 made rehoming pit bulls fashionable. Pit bulls are now about 5% of the total U.S. dog population, up from under 1% circa 1982, but since 2007 have accounted for about a third of all dogs entering U.S. shelters, 16% of those rehomed by U.S. shelters, and about two-thirds of the dogs who are euthanized for dangerous behavior. Solution: stop breeding pit bulls, and cease, immediately, all efforts to whitewash and popularize pit bulls, which serves chiefly to stimulate breeding, especially when the public swallows the Big Lie that “it’s all in how you raise them,” opting therefore for acquiring a pit bull puppy instead of a high-risk shelter dog.
Elizabeth Clifton says
I do believe that the original intent of the No Kill movement has been hijacked. Most of those people originally involved circa 1995, who put forth the No Kill approach to addressing sheltered companion animals, agreed that rehoming sick and dangerous dogs, or collecting and feeding stray cats where they are unsafe and unwanted, is inappropriate and strongly warned against it. I am very saddened that so many animals and people have had to die, or live the rest of their lives disfigured, because of our inability to acknowledge or outright decision to ignore the most obvious problems. Here is my story.