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.