Houston, We Have a Problem

January 28, 2009 by  

A recent article by reporter Craig Malisow in Houston takes on the quality of care and level of killing in the City animal control shelter. Although the article is critical of the agency, it also includes some unfortunate characterizations about my career as a lawyer, my experience in sheltering, and the success of Tompkins County which are factually wrong. So that they are not repeated in an effort to undermine No Kill in Houston or elsewhere, I want to clarify the inaccuracies.

False Claim: I have limited experience

Specifically, Malisow claims in the article that—according to Ed Sayres, my former boss—I was the “Director of Operations” at the San Francisco SPCA for only “two weeks” creating the impression that I only worked there for two weeks. I previously worked for and then consulted with Richard Avanzino, left, and came back a second time for two more years under Sayres. As I indicated to him by e-mail:

That was my title for a few weeks, but it is very misleading. During my second tenure [under Ed Sayres, I also worked for Rich Avanzino] in San Francisco, I had several titles: Director of Law & Advocacy, General Counsel, Vice President, and Director of Operations. [Ed Sayres] even flirted with Executive Director. He hired organizational consultants who came in prior to my leaving and changed my title, but my duties were the same at the time. That is what makes it misleading.

Sayres put me in charge of accounting, human resources, the animal hospital, dog behavior, cat behavior, adoptions, spay/neuter, medical care, and more. The titles changed frequently because of Sayres’ predilection for organizational chart revisions, but the duties stayed the same. When describing myself, it would have been silly to say I was the former “Director of Ethical Studies, Director of Law & Advocacy, General Counsel, Vice-President, and Director of Operations” so I choose the one that is most generic for the industry because it accurately described my duties.

He also claims I was only an attorney for a short time. I practiced law as a criminal and then corporate attorney for a total of six years. I have also been involved in writing laws at the state and federal level and use litigation as a strategy for No Kill success. I’m only 42 years old, how many years does he want?

Moreover, I not only worked in San Francisco and Tompkins County, I was the Board President of the Palo Alto Humane Society, worked with the Stanford Cat Network, the Greyhound Protection League, and assisted Charlottesville VA, Reno NV, Philadelphia PA, and many other communities achieve tremendous lifesaving success. I’ve even created an entire municipal animal control department for a municipality.

Malisow also talked about my assessment of Montgomery County (TX) Animal Control but not the impressive results: the significant decline in killing as a result of their following my recommendations. Here was an agency that killed the vast majority of animals, near 80%, entering their facility that now saves the vast majority. Last month it was around 20%, according to a volunteer. This is certainly worth mentioning.

False Claim: The success in Tompkins was due to Maddie’s Fund and deficit spending

Malisow insinuates that Tompkins County’s lifesaving success was a result of a Maddie’s Fund grant and because of deficit spending on my part. Neither of these claims are true. A simple check of Guidestar and IRS 990 filings would have shown a surplus of income to expenses. The fact that directors before and after me ran deficits should not be attributable to me. I did not.

Moreover, if Malisow had checked the dates of the Maddie’s Fund grant to Tompkins County, he would have learned it came after I left, and only after the county was already No Kill for three years. During my tenure, their total contribution was a one time gift of $6,000 to help pay for a new animal control van.

He also chose not to mention that despite the difference in size, Tompkins County takes in more animal per capita than Houston, and that its success has been replicated in communities which take in tens of thousands of animals, with a per capita rate vastly higher than Houston.

Most significantly, the article insinuated that No Kill requires lots of money and a fancy facility to be successful. While foster homes, volunteers, and veterinary support are needed, none of these things existed when I began in Tompkins County and immediately put an end to the killing. When I started, the Tompkins County SPCA was a typical American animal control shelter geared to overkill. It was running a deficit, had a much too-small, dilapidated and filthy facility, and banned volunteers because they refused to remain silent about inhumane care. But from day one, I took killing off the table and began to implement the infrastructure needed to save lives. To this day, while Naysayers continue to try to disparage the Tompkins County initiative, it just finished its seventh continuous year of No Kill. It is nothing short of a success story.

The article also ignores other community successes which have followed Tompkins. The municipal shelter in Porter County Indiana used to kill roughly 115 dogs and cats per month, young and old, healthy and sick, friendly and aggressive. There were even allegations of cruelty. After firing the long term director and staff, they now kill about 7 hopelessly ill animals or aggressive dogs a month. They did it overnight.

In Portsmouth Virginia, a new director took over the humane society which contracts for animal control services and committed herself to implementing the No Kill paradigm. Killing is down 63% since she took over operations. Contradicting those who say that No Kill leads to overcrowding and animals dying in kennel, the number of animals found dead is down 75% due to better cleaning practices, staff that is better able to assess medical needs, and increased veterinary care. Defying those who say there are too many animals for too few homes, adoptions are up, while rescue transfers have more than doubled. They did it overnight.

In Reno, Nevada, the Nevada Humane Society led an incredible renaissance in 2007 that saw adoptions increase as much as 80 percent and deaths decline by 51 percent, despite taking in a combined 16,000 dogs and cats a year with Washoe County Animal Services. Reno’s success occurred immediately after the hiring of a new shelter director committed to No Kill and passionate about saving lives. They did it overnight.

That is similar to success in mid-1990s San Francisco, Charlottesville, and many, many others.

Despite my request that he do so, Malisow did not talk to shelter directors in communities which were succeeding including:

  • Bonney Brown at the Nevada Humane Society
  • Mitch Schneider at Washoe County Animal Services
  • Susan Cosby of the Animal Welfare Association of New Jersey and former Chief Operating Officer of the Philadelphia Animal Care & Control Association
  • Suzanne Kogut in Charlottesville
  • Doug Rae at Indianapolis Animal Care & Control
  • Tereza Marks in Portsmouth, VA, and,
  • The director of the municipal shelter in Porter County, Indiana

False Claim: I do not believe in public irresponsibility

In the article, Malisow claims I do not believe in public irresponsibility, a fact I contradicted during his interview of me. As a former criminal prosecutor—who helped prosecute everything from drunk driving cases to a capital murder case—and chief of animal control, I would never deny human irresponsibility. In fact, he questioned me about a raid we participated in to try to stop an abusive backyard breeder while I was in Tompkins County.

As a Deputy District Attorney, I also prosecuted cruelty cases under the Three Strikes Law. I was even criticized for being too tough, when I charged someone with arson in addition to animal cruelty after they burned a cat because arson was a “strike” and would have led to a maximum six-year sentence, rather than three years for the cruelty. (As a strike case, it also required the defendant to serve at least 80% of that sentence, rather than the 50% for non-strike felonies.) I also succeeded in changing the policy in Riverside County which allowed defendants to be given their animals back pending trial because it was cheaper than boarding them, even though it meant putting the victim back into the hands of his or her abuser.

I have long stated that while irresponsibility sends animals to the shelters, what happens when they get there depends on the shelter. The fact that someone allows a pet to give birth to a litter doesn’t mean a shelter doesn’t have to put in place a foster care program to avoid killing those little ones. It doesn’t give the shelter the moral absolution to order their killing because they refuse to put in place a targeted program to stop it. Shelters exist to be a safety net for animals who are victims of irresponsible people, for homeless animals, and for animals when people have no where else to turn. But too many kill, rather than save animals. In fact, too many shelter directors refuse to implement alternatives to killing, acting irresponsibly themselves. And that is what I am critical of. While people surrender animals to shelters, it is shelters that kill them and one does not necessarily follow or excuse the other.

False Claim: I care “too much” and am “romantic” rather than practical

First of all, I don’t know what caring “too much” means. Compassion and love are not limited. But to make that claim, he makes much of an adoption incentive we offered in Tompkins for a discount pet massage. When someone adopted a dog or cat from our agency, they received:

1.    Free health exam at any local vet
2.    Free dog grooming at local pet salon
3.    10% discount at pet supply store
4.    Free dog behavior advice for life
5.    Free month of dog doodoo pick up
6.    Free engraved pet I.D. tag
7.    Free bag of pet food
8.    10% discount at puppy class
9.    10% discount for pet massage
10.    Pet Lover’s Guide to New Pet
11.    Free bag of goodies
12.    Discount on latte at local coffee shop
13.    Periodically: free video, free Kong, free collars/leashes, etc.

We paid nothing for these services. I succeeded in getting local pet related businesses to donate them in order to incentivize adoptions, encourage the integration of pets in our community, promote good pet care by new owners, and to promote pet related businesses. How is that an example of “caring too much” and being “romantic”?

In addition, it allowed us to effectively compete with local pet stores. Someone could pay $50 for an unspayed kitten from a pet store or they could adopt one from us for the same price, and not only get a kitten fully vetted and sterilized, but all those freebies and services, and they could adopt him or her at the very same mall during our regular offsite adoption events.

The pet massages were offered by a local business run by an animal loving member of our community, and I graciously accepted the donation. The insinuation is much ado about nothing.

My request to Craig Malisow

Finally, after spending several hours on the telephone with Malisow answering numerous questions which had absolutely nothing to do with the situation in Houston, the success of No Kill elsewhere, and what needs to be done to improve the plight of homeless animals in Houston, I sent him the following:

We talked more about attacks and rumors about my character than about what it takes to reduce killing, and that makes me a bit wary. My whole life has been dedicated to ending the killing of animals, and in the process, I’ve come to realize, as have many others, that often it is bureaucratic inertia and politics or even lack of caring that keeps animal care poor and killing high. It’s also the thinking that they are “just animals.” I can’t imagine a human hospital keeping a doctor whose license was suspended in another state for substandard care, but this is the status quo in sheltering, and it appears to be happening in Houston with their veterinarian (if the allegations reported in the [Houston] Chronicle are true). Given your questioning, which I accept as you doing your job, all I ask is that “controversy” and “shock value” don’t replace fundamental fairness. It’s not fair to me and it is not fair to the animals.

There are far too many animals being killed, and I would hate this to sidetrack about whether reducing the killing is a good idea or not a good idea. Even the Humane Society of the United States can no longer argue with the facts and in language that was excitingly similar to statements throughout my book, in late 2008 they stated that the public does care and is not to blame for their killing, that killing animals in shelters is “needless,” that we can be a No Kill nation today, and that “pet overpopulation” is more myth than fact. According to HSUS, “By increasing the percentage of people who obtain their pets through adoption-by just a few percentage points-we can solve the problem of euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats.”

They also stated that:

  • “The needless loss of life in animal shelters is deplored by the American public. People deeply love their dogs and cats and feel that killing pets who are homeless through no fault of their own is a problem we must work harder to prevent. They want animals to have a second chance at life, not death by injection.”
  • The needless killing of pets by animal shelters and animal control agencies comes at an enormous economic and moral cost.”

This comes after announcing that staunch No Kill advocates Suzanne Kogut and Bonney Brown will be speaking at Expo 2009, HSUS’ animal sheltering conference. Kogut runs an open admission No Kill animal control shelter, while Brown has led a No Kill initiative now saving 90% of dogs and 83% of all cats in Washoe County, Nevada.

It is not pet overpopulation if kittens are being killed in shelters because the shelter refuses to put in place a foster care program which would eliminate the “need” to kill kittens, as too many shelters in this country do. It is the lack of that program which is causing the kittens to be killed. It is not pet overpopulation if Pit Bull-type dogs are being killed because the shelter kills dogs based on arbitrary criteria, even if the individual dogs are healthy and friendly. It is the arbitrary policy that is killing those dogs. Just like it is not pet overpopulation if feral cats are killed, or puppies, or shy animals or any of the other categories of shelter animals which can be saved with a targeted program to save their lives, which shelters simply refuse to implement, even as implementation will provide a lifesaving alternative to systematic killing.

The reality is that short of leaving them alone or outlawing their trapping, you cannot save feral cats in shelters without a Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program, just like you cannot save kittens or puppies without a foster care program. This is why opposition to No Kill is a non-starter. How do you save animals without these programs? You can’t. But while any level of lifesaving is not possible without these programs, No Kill is precluded unless they are comprehensively implemented to the point that they replace killing entirely.

But let’s assume for the moment that you can never reach No Kill. Today, shelters nationally are killing roughly half or more of all incoming animals. If I can borrow from an overused sports analogy, that puts us at the 50-yard line. And although the evidence is fairly overwhelming to the contrary, let’s say that we can never cross the goal line because of “pet overpopulation.” What is wrong with getting to the 20 yard line or 10 yard line? If all shelters put in place the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, the model which brought rates of shelter killing in communities from San Francisco, CA to Ithaca, NY; from Reno, NV to Charlottesville VA, and points in between to all time lows, we can save millions of lives nationally, regardless of whether we ever achieve a No Kill nation. Even if people do not believe that a No Kill nation is inevitable as I do, that is worth doing and worth doing without delay. Because every year we delay, indeed every day we delay, the body count increases.

The promise which the No Kill model offers to end the killing of animals in our nation’s shelters is a very real fact in several communities. And it is a fact only because leaders of the shelter and the community have stopped the excuses and worked to build the infrastructure needed to save lives.

Despite his inaccuracies about me, I am grateful Mr. Malisow is critical of government institutions which use tax money to kill, rather than save animals. I am grateful that his article reflected the desires of animal lovers in Houston who have long called for reforms of the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care. But I am hopeful that in the future he would not be so dismissive of programs with a documented, track record of lifesaving success. Without viable solutions, the problem can never be solved. And the animals of Houston and the Houstonites who care about them deserve an accountable, progressive, innovative, well run animal control agency serving their community which reflects their values.

In the meantime, I encourage all Houston animal lovers to find out how they can help create a No Kill Houston by visiting www.nokillhouston.org.

A note to rescue groups with a Houston mailing address: Judge for yourselves. Read my book Redemption. Contact me by February 2, and I will send you a free copy.

They Did It Overnight

January 27, 2009 by  

Porter County, Portsmouth, and Reno

The municipal shelter in Porter County Indiana used to kill roughly 115 dogs and cats per month, young and old, healthy and sick, friendly and aggressive. There were even allegations of cruelty. After firing the long term director and staff, they now kill about 7 hopelessly ill animals or aggressive dogs a month. They did it overnight.

In Portsmouth Virginia, a new director took over the humane society which contracts for animal control services and committed herself to implementing the No Kill paradigm. Killing is down 63% since she took over operations. Contradicting those who say that No Kill leads to overcrowding and animals dying in kennel, the number of animals found dead is down 75% due to better cleaning practices, staff that is better able to assess medical needs, and increased veterinary care. Defying those who say there are too many animals for too few homes, adoptions are up, while rescue transfers have more than doubled. They did it overnight.

In Reno, Nevada, the Nevada Humane Society led an incredible renaissance in 2007 that saw adoptions increase as much as 80 percent and deaths decline by 51 percent, despite taking in a combined 16,000 dogs and cats a year with Washoe County Animal Services. Reno’s success occurred immediately after the hiring of a new shelter director committed to No Kill and passionate about saving lives. They did it overnight.

That is similar to success in mid-1990s San Francisco, Tompkins County, Charlottesville, and many, many others.  And though we would be a No Kill nation today if all communities embraced, rather than vilified the No Kill philosophy, and if shelter directors cultivated the desire and will to do so and then followed through in earnest by comprehensively implemented the programs and services which make it possible, we will not be. Simply put, too many shelter directors haven’t and many simply refuse to. When shelter leadership is entrenched, when local government is indifferent, we need to find the inner strength to press forward despite obstacles and delays.

While we have felony animal cruelty laws giving shelter the power to protect animals from abusive people, we don’t have good laws protecting animals from shelters, and shelter directors often enjoy unfettered discretion to kill and to refuse putting in place programs that prevent killing. We should have those laws, and we should be working furiously toward nationwide comprehensive shelter reform legislation. But until then, in some places where shelter leadership is not committed, where government continues to stall or delay reform efforts, and where the large national groups who legitimize killing are strong, it will take some time. All of the communities which have achieved No Kill success were as bad as any other before they got started. People can’t get discouraged or believe the road too long or too difficult to start.

So while we are impatient with those who choose to use their power for killing, and while our actions and demands should reflect that, as long as we remain vigilant, we must be patient with ourselves; with what we can accomplish to avoid getting discouraged and quitting. To avoid saying “What’s the point? They will never change.” Quitting ends hope. Quitting fails the animals. Because, though it may take time, the power to change the status quo is ultimately in our hands.

No Kill Conference

The nation’s most successful organizations, shelter directors, and animal lawyers are coming together for an inspiring and revolutionary conference to end the killing of animals in U.S. shelters. Learn how to achieve No Kill from shelter directors who are succeeding. Learn how to legislate and litigate for change from progressive animal lawyers. Learn how to reform your local shelters from dedicated activists. Join No Kill advocates nationwide for this ground-breaking event!

To learn more, including workshops and speakers, visit www.nokillconference.org

Please note: To get the “early bird” rate of only $100, you must register by February 28, 2009! Registration includes two full days of workshops, breakfast and lunch both days, free books about feral cats, dogs, and No Kill, and more.

The No Kill Conference is sponsored by the No Kill Advocacy Center, Best Friends Animal Society, Maddie’s Fund, PAWS Chicago, George Washington University Law School, The Peter and Paula Fasseas Foundation, Paws and Claws Society, No More Homeless Pets of Kansas City, Carolyn Saligman, Animal Ark No Kill Shelter, Animal Wise Radio, The No Kill Nation, Fix Austin, Move to Act, Missing Pet Partnership, and Valparaiso University School of Law. Special additional support provided by Animal Farm Foundation, Alley Cat Allies, PetConnection.com and the Quincy Hotel.

Welcome Houstonites!

Learn the truth about Houston and find out how you can help end the killing of animals in your community: Visit www.nokillhouston.org.

A Smear Campaign

January 15, 2009 by  

Before Redemption was released, I realized that the book would result in attempts to assassinate my character. This week I spent 90 minutes on the telephone with a reporter from Houston who asked me a lot of questions around my integrity and character. The line of questioning was based on the rumor and innuendo of No Kill detractors like Pat Dunaway in order to undermine my efforts and maintain a policy of killing in our shelters. No lie is too grand and no contradiction too obvious for them. Accordingly, it was suggested that I am in league with puppy millers but I am also an animal rights extremist intent on making it illegal to have pets. How can I be both? Especially when I am neither.

Ironically, while they claim that I am an “animal rights extremist,” their policies and tactics are most closely aligned with PETA’s, which also advances an agenda of needless killing, and does so by lying about me as they did in a recent letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle. In that letter, they accused me of causing warehousing in a shelter I not only have never worked for or with, but one I have been a vocal critic of for many years, including blasting it for kill oriented policies in my book.

Claims include that I receive money from breeders and the Center for Consumer Freedom (I have not), but also that I ordered my animal control officers to raid a breeder when I was in Tompkins County because I don’t like breeders. I was then accused of firing the animal control officers because they refused to say it was a terrible facility. Again, am I for breeders? Or against breeders?

It was suggested that I left Tompkins in financial ruin, even though I finished my last year with an operational surplus (and nearly $1 million in the bank).  However, in 2008, the new director of the Tompkins County SPCA (the third since my departure) asked the towns to increase their funding for legally mandated animal control from $1.65 per capita to $3.00 per capita. Several of the towns refused, despite the fact that surrounding communities were paying an average of $5.00 per capita for kill shelters. For less than that, the Tompkins County SPCA was offering No Kill animal control (the towns would pay the costs of the animal control program which they are legally required to do, and the SPCA would subsidize any additional costs).

If this was any other shelter, these people would have rallied around it, because $3.00 per capita was less than half of the high end of the $5.00 to $7.00 HSUS recommends for shelters. But because it is a symbol for No Kill, they attack it as financially unsustainable, an unfair and deceitful double standard.

I debunked all the lies and contradictions with the reporter and I am hopeful that  message will carry the day. I then suggested he speak to shelter directors who are succeeding: Suzanne Kogut in Charlottesville, Bonney Brown in Reno, Abigail Smith in Tompkins. I hope he does.

But just the asking is enough to cast a cloud of guilt and just the raising of the issues muddies the waters which would allow government bureaucrats to use that as an excuse to continue killing. I hope the animals of Houston aren’t sacrificed to this type of politics of personal destruction.

And so I sent the following plea to the reporter:

We talked more about attacks and rumors about my character than about what it takes to reduce killing, and that makes me a bit wary. My whole life has been dedicated to ending the killing of animals, and in the process, I’ve come to realize, as have many others, that often it is bureaucratic inertia and politics or even lack of caring that keeps animal care poor and killing high. It’s also the thinking that they are “just animals.” I can’t imagine a human hospital keeping a doctor whose license was suspended in another state for substandard care, but this is the status quo in sheltering, and it appears to be happening in Houston with their veterinarian (if the allegations reported in the [Houston] Chronicle are true). Given your questioning, which I accept as you doing your job, all I ask is that “controversy” and “shock value” don’t replace fundamental fairness. It’s not fair to me and it is not fair to the animals.

There are far too many animals being killed, and I would hate this to sidetrack about whether reducing the killing is a good idea or not a good idea. Even the Humane Society of the United States could no longer argue with the facts and in language that was excitingly similar to statements throughout my book, in late 2008 they stated that the public does care and is not to blame for their killing, that killing animals in shelters is “needless,” that we can be a No Kill nation today, and that “pet overpopulation” is more myth than fact. According to HSUS, “By increasing the percentage of people who obtain their pets through adoption-by just a few percentage points-we can solve the problem of euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats.” They also stated that:

* “The needless loss of life in animal shelters is deplored by the American public. People deeply love their dogs and cats and feel that killing pets who are homeless through no fault of their own is a problem we must work harder to prevent. They want animals to have a second chance at life, not death by injection.”

* “The needless killing of pets by animal shelters and animal control agencies comes at an enormous economic and moral cost.”

This comes after announcing that staunch No Kill advocates Suzanne Kogut and Bonney Brown will be speaking at Expo 2009, HSUS’ animal sheltering conference. Kogut runs an open admission No Kill animal control shelter, while Brown has led a No Kill initiative now saving 90% of dogs and 83% of all cats in Washoe County, Nevada.

It is not pet overpopulation if kittens are being killed in shelters because the shelter refuses to put in place a foster care program which would eliminate the “need” to kill kittens, as too many shelters in this country do. It is the lack of that program which is causing the kittens to be killed. It is not pet overpopulation if Pit Bull-type dogs are being killed because the shelter kills dogs based on arbitrary criteria, such as perception of what breed a dog is, even if the individual dogs are healthy and friendly. It is the arbitrary policy that is killing those dogs. Just like it is not pet overpopulation if feral cats are killed, or puppies, or shy animals or any of the other categories of shelter animals which can be saved with a targeted program to save their lives, which shelters simply refuse to implement, even as implementation will provide a lifesaving alternative to systematic killing. The reality is that short of leaving them alone or outlawing their trapping, you cannot save feral cats in shelters without a Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program, just like you cannot save kittens or puppies without a foster care program. This is why opposition to No Kill is a non-starter. How do you save animals without these programs? You can’t. But while any level of lifesaving is not possible without these programs, No Kill is precluded unless they are comprehensively implemented to the point that they replace killing entirely.

But let’s assume for the moment that you can never reach No Kill. Today, shelters nationally are killing roughly half or more of all incoming animals. If I can borrow from an overused sports analogy, that puts us at the 50-yard line. And although the evidence is fairly overwhelming to the contrary, let’s say that we can never cross the goal line because of “pet overpopulation.” What is wrong with getting to the 20 yard line or 10 yard line? If all shelters put in place the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, the model which brought rates of shelter killing in communities from San Francisco, CA to Ithaca, NY; from Reno, NV to Charlottesville VA, and points in between to all time lows, we can save millions of lives nationally, regardless of whether we ever achieve a No Kill nation. Even if people do not believe that a No Kill nation is inevitable as I do, that is worth doing and worth doing without delay. Because every year we delay, indeed every day we delay, the body count increases.

But more than that, even if we were to accept as fact that there is no practical way out of killing, that doesn’t make killing animals either ethical, merciful, or defensible. Animal lovers would still be morally bound to reject it. Any “practical” or utilitarian consideration about killing cannot hold sway over an animal’s right to his or her very life. Just as other social movements reject what is claimed to be practical when it violates the rights of individuals, we too should reject the idea that killing animals is acceptable because of the claim-even if one were to accept it as fact-that there are “too many” for the “too few homes which are available.”

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

January 15, 2009 by  

tribes_seth_godin

He is the author of 10 bestselling books. His books have been translated into more than 25 languages. He’s the number 1 business blogger in the world. Seth Godin’s new book Tribes is all about leadership and getting things done. And it includes a case study on the No Kill movement.

In his new book, Godin says “Sure, you know about superstars like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and John Mayer. But consider: NATHAN WINOGRAD [who is saving] the lives of millions of dogs and cats with his tenacious opposition to their slaughter by animal shelters.”

Here’s a review of the book by Guy Gonzalez at Loud Poet:

Just do it.

Or, as Gandhi put it, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That, in a nutshell, is the primary message of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin’s masterful mini-manifesto on what it takes to be a leader and why YOU should be the one to take the lead.

“I can tell you this: leaders have nothing in common.

They don’t share gender or income level or geography. There’s no gene, no schooling, no parentage, no profession. In other words, leaders aren’t born. I’m sure of it.

Actually, they do have one thing in common. Every tribe leader I’ve ever met shares one thing: the decision to lead.”

Emphasis mine, but it’s a point Godin returns to several times throughout the book, illustrating it with numerous examples of people from various walks of modern life who didn’t take no for an answer: they rejected the status quo, risked failure to achieve success by being deeply committed to what they believed in, attracted like-minded people to their cause as a result, and led them forward.

“All you need to do is motivate people who choose to follow you…

This leads to an interesting thought: you get to choose the tribe you will lead.

Through your actions as a leader, you attract a tribe that wants to follow you. That tribe has a worldview that matches the message you’re sending.”

Through the wide range of instructive and/or inspirational examples he cites, from the requisite Steve Jobs and Starbucks, to the far more interesting Grateful Dead and Nathan Winograd — he even throws in a nod to Barack Obama, although unnamed, in a brief section sub-titled “Criticizing Hope is Easy” — Godin gets in front of almost every likely objection someone might have for why his premise doesn’t apply to them and knocks them down.

One of the clearest, and most timely, examples he offers is that of Fox News, noting that they “didn’t persuade millions of people to become conservatives, they just assembled the tribe and led them where they were already headed.” (Ultimately off a cliff, it would seem, but that’s a different post!)

Clocking in at a brisk 147 pages — of which I specifically dog-eared and marked up more than twenty — Tribes reads like a dizzying rush of adrenalized common sense; you can almost imagine Godin pounded it out over one long, inspired, most likely caffeinated weekend. It’s neither a dry how-to manual nor cliched motivational tract, but rather an enthusiastic endorsement of standing up and taking the initiative.

If you’re already a leader, you’ll recognize yourself in these pages and find comfort in the examples of others like you. If you think you’re not leadership material, you may be surprised to realize that you most certainly could be.

Alternatively, if you only THINK you’re a leader but are really just a manager, I hope you have thick skin and can accept constructive criticism, because in a lot of ways, this book is especially for you.

Godin believes that what most often keeps someone from becoming a leader is the fear of failure, and while he arguably downplays the legitimate fear of losing one’s job (especially in the current economy), the more likely downside of taking the lead and failing is feeling bad about that failure, so his underlying philosophy is sound: leaders are modern-day heretics and they don’t burn heretics at the stake any more.

In the end, Godin encourages anyone who gets something from his book to pass on their copy to someone else. The marketing guru that he is, I’m pretty sure he figured it was more likely that anyone who was excited by his book would mark it up and hold on to it for future inspiration, and instead encourage others to buy and devour their own copy.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Well played, Mr. Godin. Well played.

Who is Pat Dunaway?

January 15, 2009 by  

During a visit to Austin, a reporter lashed out at me for questioning the city’s effort and those of the shelter and posed questions of an inflammatory and defamatory nature. No effort was made to simply report the news; investigate fairly; or pretend to be professional and lack bias.

Given our national politics of the last decade, and universal condemnation of the media’s failure to hold government agencies accountable, this outcome is distressing and disturbing, although perhaps not surprising. But that does not make it any less intolerable. That the press has taken on the role of cheerleader, rather than government watchdog, and that it falsely vilifies dissent, is a tragic reminder of the struggles of our time, made worse in our movement by the fact that those seeking reform are smeared while shelter directors who would keep our movement shrouded in darkness are given a free pass. In the end, however, it is the animals who have to pay the ultimate price.

But as I prepare to be vilified by an Austin reporter, I have discovered the source of the reporter’s inflammatory questioning: Patricia “Pat” Dunaway. Who—or more accurately, what—is Pat Dunaway?

The Enigmatic Naysayer
They exist in every community. They claim to be animal advocates but they are promoters of death. They cannot be swayed by logic, facts, or alternative points of view. They seek out that which fits their beliefs and reject everything else to the point of taking facts out of context—and in many cases, making up “facts”—to fit the story. The Naysayers are those who have a predetermined agenda of support for animal control, regardless of how many animals the local shelter kills or how otherwise dysfunctional the agency is. Pat Dunaway is the worst kind of Naysayer. She is an “Enigmatic Naysayer.”

What makes the Naysayer here such an enigma is that they wear the mantle of animal lovers (e.g., they volunteer at their local animal control shelter, they support spay/neuter efforts), but they defend the status quo of killing regardless of how poor, neglectful, or abusive conditions are at the local shelter. Despite the existence of three reports—one from a 15-member citizens advisory committee, one I did, and one from a veterinary team at U.C. Davis—showing that conditions at King County Animal Control were “deplorable,” they support the agency. Despite the fact that Los Angeles County shelters allowed animals to languish and die because of poor care, they support the shelter. Despite the fact that the San Bernardino County animal control facility did not want to hold a severely injured dog who was doused with gasoline and set on fire by a malicious owner so they subsequently returned the dog to the abuser pending the trial, they continue to support that agency.

As a result of proclaiming to be an animal welfare advocate, Enigmatic Naysayers confuse what should be a clear-cut issue for the media and the public, and as a result sow seeds of doubt and confusion about shelter reform efforts. They create the question: “If a spay/neuter advocate and shelter volunteer does not think reform is necessary, is it?” And they accomplish their goal by trying to paint reformers as extremists.

When I was asked to assist the City of Rancho Cucamonga, I was publicly challenged by Pat Dunaway. Dunaway was closely associated with then shelter management which was not only killing animals which rescue groups were willing to save, but was also violating numerous other California laws regarding care and treatment of sheltered animals.

This is the same shelter which claimed it satisfied state law mandating exercise for dogs when it walked the dogs from the front counter to the kennel, and then five days later after the holding period passed, to the “euthanasia room” to be killed. This is the same agency which ultimately returned the burned puppy back to his abuser. This is the same agency with algae covered water bowls for the dogs. This is the same agency which killed specific animals rescue groups called to say they were coming to get—killing them while the rescuers were en route! When the animal control provider was fired, Dunaway was kicked out. She has since become my cyber-stalker.

Whenever an article appears about me, Dunaway calls the reporter and/or using an anonymous posting or a false name, she prints variants of the same thing: I am a militant animal rights extremist; I was fired by Richard Avanzino from San Francisco; Charlottesville, Virginia failed to meet their quota; Tompkins County, New York is failing; more animals are dying in Rancho Cucamonga, California; Reno, Nevada’s numbers are suspect at best; and, because I oppose mandatory spay/neuter, I am in league with puppy mills.

In Austin, Seattle, Reno, and elsewhere, she has posted “anonymous” online comments after articles in which I appear. But all the comments are coming from the same IP address and all involve the same inflammatory and histrionic language. Until this particular reporter in Austin, no one has taken Dunaway seriously because most people are smart enough to see past the inflammatory invective. Nonetheless, if there is a lesson in our national politics of the last decade, it is that we cannot and should not remain silent in the face of a “swift boat” campaign.

My hopes in outing her, therefore, are three fold:

1. to defend myself against her lies;
2. to ensure that reform efforts to save sheltered animals are not sidetracked by her maliciousness; and, most importantly,
3. to take away the power she believes she has by hiding behind anonymity.

Here are my responses to her baseless allegations:

Pat Dunaway has stated that I am a militant animal rights extremist with ties to violent people.
Fact: I am a Stanford University trained lawyer who believes in the rule of law. I spent the first four or so years of my legal career as a Deputy District Attorney prosecuting a wide range of cases: domestic violence, murder, gangs, drugs, robbery and more. I was also the chief animal control official in the county I worked in, ensuring the vigorous investigation and prosecution of neglect and animal cruelty cases. During a short stint, I was also an attorney doing products liability class actions in U.S. automobile defect cases, helping ensure that automakers were held liable for producing knowingly faulty cars, which resulted in people becoming severely injured and even killed. During my work with the No Kill Advocacy Center, I worked on a model law to reform shelters within the legal system and have been involved in litigation to ensure that shelters which break the law are forced to follow it. In short, my whole career has been spent protecting people and animals from harm.

I renounce violence in all of its forms, which is why I strive to make ethical choices in all that I do: from my work as a lawyer protecting and defending victims of crimes, to my work in corporate law on automobile defect cases, to my work at the No Kill Advocacy Center trying to end the systematic killing of animals in shelters, to my own life and consumer choices as an ethical vegan. I am also a family man with small children who teaches them tolerance and fair play and an author who believes in the power of the pen, not the sword.

Pat Dunaway has stated that I was fired by Richard Avanzino at the San Francisco SPCA.
Fact: I was not fired. I left to pursue a career in the law. Rich asked me to stay (and predicted I would be back to animal sheltering!) Nonetheless, I maintained close contact with Rich over the years, did a project or two for him on a consultant basis, and at his request and with his recommendation, did come back to work at the agency, this time under a new President when Avanzino left to head Maddie’s Fund.

I did subsequently resign from the San Francisco SPCA for several reasons: I disagreed vehemently with the direction in which the SF/SPCA was moving, the SPCA was scaling back/closing down the nuts and bolts programs which brought lifesaving success to national all-time-lows under Avanzino, and I opposed the $20-million fee-for-service hospital it was planning to build because I saw it as an unnecessary and costly boondoggle that would strain existing programs for homeless animals.

As I stated in my book, Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America:

When Avanzino left the San Francisco SPCA, he handed his successor one of the best-funded, most successful humane societies in the country. With an infrastructure that included a state-of-the-art pet adoption center and spay/neuter clinic, an animal hospital, a fundraising program that included a bequest stream of over three million dollars per year, a car donation program that was inching its way toward revenues of one million dollars annually, property values in excess of fifty million dollars and over forty million dollars in the endowment, the San Francisco SPCA was at the peak of its success. It not only had achieved a level of financial success which was the envy of SPCAs nationwide, it was saving homeless animals at two and three times the national average, resulting in the lowest death rate of any major urban city and the only one which guaranteed to save all healthy dogs and cats.

The new president, however, was not interested in day-to-day operations, and had different priorities than his predecessor. Moving away from the programs that had made it so successful, the San Francisco SPCA replaced nuts-and-bolts programs that were the underpinning of the SPCA’s lifesaving efforts at an astonishing clip. In their place, partnerships with the University of California at Davis for fee-for-service behavior counseling, as well as architectural plans for a twenty million dollar fee-for-service specialty veterinary hospital were drawn up. And esoteric conferences on animal spirituality and telepathically communicating with animals, which catered to a more affluent, “new age” San Francisco crowd, were held at great expense—in luxury hotels or in posh vacation places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Within a few short years, the SPCA’s feral cat program was virtually abolished. The spay/neuter clinic, the core of San Francisco’s No Kill accomplishments, restricted its hours, significantly raised fees and, at one point, even closed its doors. On a day that came to be called “Black Monday,” the legions of feral cat caretakers who made their regular pilgrimage to use the services of the spay/neuter clinic were turned away. Many of the cats brought in that day were likely re-released unspayed or unneutered into parks and alleyways. Plans to phase out programs in the animal hospital for indigent clients and homeless animals were in full swing. Entire departments, including those which protected the city’s wildlife, worked to find apartments for renters with pets, and advocated for stronger protections of animals, were eliminated. The crown jewel of the No Kill movement quietly passed into obscurity.

When my efforts to keep the San Francisco SPCA on track were rebuffed by the President, I chose to leave.

Pat Dunaway has stated that Charlottesville did not meet its quota.
Fact: Charlottesville achieved No Kill success at its open admission animal control shelter in 2006, repeated that achievement in 2007, and is well on pace to do so again in 2008.

Separately, I have argued that No Kill success is achieved when shelters save roughly 90 percent of all impounded animals, as a small percentage (roughly at or less than one in ten) are irremediably suffering, hopelessly ill or injured, or vicious dogs with a poor prognosis for success. This is based on the most rigorous interpretation of healthy and treatable animals and is summarized in an article I wrote for the No Kill Advocacy Center called “The 90% rule.” Charlottesville has consistently met that.

Dunaway’s false insinuation that there was some quota which was not met (leaving the reader to believe that they have strayed from their No Kill goals) stems from the fact that in one year, the cat save rate in Charlottesville dipped to 88%, just shy of 90%. What Dunaway does not say was that no healthy or treatable cats were killed. What Dunaway does not say is that the 88% save rate was higher than any other municipality in the nation that year. In short, Charlottesville was the safest community in the nation to be homeless cat, but Dunaway insinuates failure. Rest assured, unless there is great self-loathing, if Dunaway were a homeless cat, Charlottesville is where she would have wanted to be that year.

Pat Dunaway has stated that Rancho Cucamonga failed.
Fact: When the City of Rancho Cucamonga fired the animal control service provider—which Dunaway worked with and was associated with—I helped Rancho Cucamonga take over operations by assisting in the development of job descriptions, training for staff, budgeting, construction, and policy recommendations. As to the latter, I recommended strongly that they follow the No Kill Equation model of sheltering. They implemented some programs and not others. That was their choice—one made against my formal recommendation as to what was necessary to achieve true No Kill. As a consultant, I could only recommend, not require.

Because I was not involved in hiring the new Director, in writing their operations manual, or in implementation of programs once the facility opened, I have not followed their progress as I do other agencies which I still work with, nor have I been to the shelter since that time. Periodically, however, I have asked them for their statistics. The last time I received a report, the number of cats saved increased from four out of ten (under Dunaway’s shelter) to six out of ten, the number of dogs saved increased to eight out of ten, and the number of other animals (rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, etc.) saved increased from two out of ten to seven out of ten. Under the shelter Dunaway supported, a cat had more of a chance of being killed than saved and seven out of ten bunnies were being put to death. Is that what she considers success?

Pat Dunaway has stated that Tompkins County is failing.
Fact: Tompkins County has been an open admission animal control No Kill shelter for six years running. It has saved roughly 90% of all animals every year. In addition, Tompkins County had tops-in-the-country save rates in 2007. I spoke to the Director of the agency (the third since my departure) and she laments the double standard about animal control funding in Tompkins County and the misrepresentations about the state of the shelter noting that “the issue of [animal control] contracts continues to be both misunderstood and used against the shelter, and folks are writing fiction about our finances because they don’t bother to ask.” She then asks the right questions: “Why wouldn’t I insist on fair market value for state mandated animal control services? It would be irresponsible of me not to.”

Recently, the new Director approached the local municipalities and informed them that they needed to pay their fair share for animal control services on a cost recovery basis. All of the additive programs above and beyond what the law required would be provided at no cost by her agency. What she has been asking for is fair compensation for the animal control services they are providing under contract and which they have been subsidizing—services which are the legal responsibility of the municipalities, not a private not-for-profit. Currently, the towns are paying about $1.70 per capita—far less than any surrounding municipalities are paying for shelters which kill. The Humane Society of the United States recommends that towns pay $5 to $7 per capita—and that is for a program reliant on killing!

By contrast, for $3 per capita (less than half of what HSUS recommends on the high end and almost half of what they recommend on the low end), she was offering them No Kill animal control. Some decided to opt out of their contracts because they did not want to pay the $3. If this was any other shelter, groups like HSUS and people like Pat Dunaway would have rushed to the shelter’s defense and condemned the municipalities. But because it is a symbol for No Kill, they attack (Dunaway and HSUS’ representative in King County)—sacrificing the animals in the process. It is beyond hypocritical. It is unethical and obscene.

Pat Dunaway has stated that Reno’s numbers are suspect at best.
Fact: Statements are not facts (Especially those made anonymously by a rage filled person with an axe to grind.) Where is the proof of this? In fact, the statistics from Reno do not come from me, they come from two independent sources: The Nevada Humane Society and Washoe County Animal Services. Moreover, the director of WCAS is hostile to No Kill which would tend toward wanting to downplay the extent of the success of the effort, thus making the statistics even more trustworthy. Facts are facts and the facts show a resounding success in Reno. Furthermore, they are cross checked against each other to ensure that impounds and outcomes are not counted twice, and have been verified by a reporter from the Reno News Gazette.

Pat Dunaway has stated that I am opposed to mandatory spay/neuter so I am in league with puppy mills.
Fact: Spay/Neuter is one of the cornerstones of the No Kill Equation and a program I offered for free in both San Francisco and Tompkins County. My opposition to mandatory spay/neuter laws is because they increase the power of the animal control bureaucracy to impound and kill animals for violations, and that is what has occurred in municipalities which pass them. This is not an anomaly. It has happened time and time again. It also causes animal control to divert scarce resources from programs which save lives (e.g., TNR for feral cats) to enforcement of ordinances that result in higher rates of killing.

I’ve written extensively about this in several articles/blogs. And I am not alone in this. According to the kcdogblog.com:

Primarily, they are barriers to our life-saving cause because they actually increase the killing in our shelters. To say they make building a No Kill community more difficult is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong. I support spay/neuter. Voluntary spay/neuter programs have been wildly successful and should be implemented in every city across the nation. Unfortunately, many want to take it one step further, mandating that pets must be altered. While most of the proponents of these laws have the right end goal in mind, the unintended consequences of punitive legislation makes them counter-productive to what they are trying to accomplish…

In 2006, Kansas City passed MSN of all “Pit Bull”-type dogs. Since the ordinance was passed, Kansas City has seen an 80% increase in the number of “Pit Bulls” killed in their city shelter. Many of these dogs are getting confiscated from homes because they were not in compliance with the spay/neuter ordinance. Young puppies are being killed because they look too “Pit Bull” and are not altered by the time they reach eight weeks of age. They’re killed only because they have not been spayed or neutered.

Many other cities have seen similar results with their mandatory spay/neuter ordinances—of both “Pit Bulls” and of all types of dogs. Los Angeles passed their mandatory spay/neuter in February of 2008, and has seen their kill numbers go up 31% this year, after more than five years of steady decline in shelter killings.

Similarly, other cities have struggled with their mandatory spay/neuter ordinances. Problems range from decreased licensing (pushing these people underground and making them harder to reach with low cost services), significant increases in animal control costs, and an increase in shelter killing rates due to the ordinances. Simply put, mandatory spay/neuter ordinances have never led to No Kill success anywhere, ever.

Moreover, I’m not a puppy miller or large scale breeder. I am not even a small scale breeder. I’ve never bred an animal. On top of that, I regularly speak out against puppy mills such as when I blogged “that buying from pet stores who feed the puppy mill industry [fuels] overbreeding, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, poor quality of food and shelter, lack of human socialization, overcrowded cages and the killing of animals by those facilities when they are no longer profitable.”

In fact, I am putting together No Kill Conference 2009 on behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center with a workshop on puppy mills described as follows: “Legislating and Litigating an End to Puppy Mills Strategies to overcome institutionalized cruelty. This workshop will explore legal definitions of “puppy mills,” and offer both legislative strategies through anti-cruelty law reform and litigation strategies to combat this institutionalized form of cruelty…”

Countering the Swift Boat
Since these Enigmatic Naysayers exist in many communities, we are duty bound to challenge them because they wear the mantle of animal protection, yet pursue an agenda—based on lies and vilification—that seek to protect an animal control bureaucracy focused on poor care and overkill. As a result, they can potentially sidetrack reform efforts. We have seen in our national politics that failure to challenge swift boat tactics emboldens these people to further misrepresentations and attacks. We owe it to the animals whose killing they champion and to the reform efforts they seek to prevent to meet them head on and to respond to their allegations no matter how outrageous.

In the end, we can never know what motivates the Enigmatic Naysayer. In late 2006, however, I received two letters about Pat Dunaway. I subsequently had a conversation with a rescuer in Rancho Cucamonga who indicated to me that she and others received them as well. It seems that Pat Dunaway has made enemies of others. If what they say is true, perhaps they provide some insight into who Pat Dunaway is and why she attacks me and the No Kill paradigm I champion. (I’ve redacted information relative to where she lives.)

To read the first letter, click here.

To read the second letter, click here.

Sheltering News From Around the Country

January 14, 2009 by  

Austin, Texas saves all cats… for one day!

On January 12, 2009, no cats were killed in the Austin pound—Town Lake Animal Center—for the first time ever. But Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC) did not celebrate or put out a press release. That’s because TLAC had nothing to do with it. A local rescue group—Austin Pets Alive—saved every cat on the list of cats scheduled to be put to death that day by rescuing them from the pound.

While this is great news for the cats whose lives were spared, a coalition of rescue groups and animal lovers under the lead of Fix Austin argued that the community “could save thousands more if it weren’t for the continued obstinance of the pound’s director who orders that killing continue even when dozens and dozens of cages sit empty.” Fix Austin notes that two evaluations of the shelter by the State of Texas found that more than 100 cages sit empty each day at the pound.

The City pound has killed more than 100,000 dogs and cats since the current director took over in November 2000. This is the director that is being supported by the ASPCA’s “Agent Orange” program which carpet bombs the efforts of local animal lovers trying to end the killing of savable animals. According to ASPCA President Ed Sayres, the pound director “is a very effective leader.”

Effective at what Ed? That’s a rhetorical question. The answer, of course, is killing.

Find out more by clicking here.

A fresh start in Indianapolis

According to Move to Act, Doug Rae started his job as the head of Indianapolis Animal Care & Control (IACC) this week. This follows the resignation of the former director after allegations of animal abuse and neglect at the facility were substantiated by two independent investigators. Prior to his start date, a local blogger posted an open letter to Rae offering her volunteer services, after saving a shy dog from death at the pound.

Rae responded as follows:

Thank you for your efforts helping the homeless animals, for being so practical in your approach, and for being so passionate about the plight of shelter animals. All things to be proud of.

Your allegiance to “shy” shelter dogs translates into an outstanding relationship before I even come to town. I too have a special fondness for the shy/scared animals. Don’t get me wrong. Given the option, I wouldn’t want a single animal living in a shelter. But considering the different levels of animals that are in-house (and there are many), there is something about seeing a frightened dog in a kennel exhibiting signs of aggression (though I know better) that makes me climb right into the kennel, close the door behind me, and sit on the kennel floor.

Some people will say my time as the “leader” is better spent elsewhere. Well, killing an animal is a decision not to be taken lightly, so if my spending 20 minutes sitting inside of a dog kennel can save lives, then I’ll take any heat associated with not sitting behind my desk versus socializing with a scared animal. In fact, my days are usually spent “in the shelter” not behind my desk, but that’s for another day.

I have 6 dogs from 3 different states and 2 of them would have been tagged as ‘fear biters’ in most shelters. Had I not taken the time to treat these animals as individuals and properly evaluate them, both would be in a landfill today.

I tell the story of meeting my ‘Briley’ (a 1 ½ yr old basset) at my first shelter during my first week on the job; she was on the E-list scheduled to die the next morning. “CAUTION – TEMPERMENT TO HUMAN – WILL BITE!!” was written on the kennel card. Briley was sitting as far back in the kennel as possible and started shaking uncontrollably when she felt me looking at her. I climbed into the kennel, closed the door, and slowly but surely saw her for what she was….. ……Absolutely scared to death – not to mention the dog she is to my family today — the most lovable dog I have ‘ever’ met in my entire life. And I mean ever!

Marci, one position critical to protecting the public, IACC staff, and volunteers (and to protect shy / ‘over the top’ dogs that you speak of) will be to have a dedicated full-time dog behaviorist on staff. Once I analyze the current business structure for operational needs, I plan on filling this position without delay. Your volunteerism, passion and anticipated skill-set will support the employee I select for this role, and unquestionably your efforts can make them even better at what they do for the animals!

I start January 12th and once I do I’d love to sit with you and discuss your ideas; all of them. In fact your “… long-term goal of working out a plan to decrease kennel noise, improve the behavior of most, if not all, of the animals, instill an atmosphere more suitable for an adoption setting….” are things I’d like to see in place on day one.

Again, I’m truly pleased that you are taking the strides to improve the lives of homeless animals as seriously as one would like, and I look forward to speaking with you once I get to town….

What a welcome change. The No Kill Advocacy Center named Indianapolis a city to watch in 2009, so No Kill advocates have got their eye on Indy, but apparently so does PETA. As usual, PETA publicly called for continued killing in Indianapolis by equating No Kill with hoarding.

The politics of character assassination

Before Redemption was released, I realized that the book would result in attempts to assassinate my character. Because they could not argue with the philosophy or the facts, the only option (beside doing the right thing and embracing the No Kill philosophy which they refuse to do) for those who kill animals in shelters and their national killing apologists would be for them to attack me. There’s an old adage that if you can’t argue with the message, attack the messenger. And that is exactly what many of them are doing.

This week I spent 90 minutes on the telephone with a reporter from Houston who asked me a lot of questions around my integrity and character. It seems that Pat Dunaway is at it again. I’ve written about Dunaway in the past, as she had ties to an organization which ran animal control which was fired by the City of Rancho Cucamonga for overkill and animal neglect. [To read “Who is Pat Dunaway,” click here.] I was hired to help in the transition to a new animal control provider and my involvement in her ouster has led to a personal vendetta against me and she found the ear of a reporter in Houston.

She refuses to come forward, use her real name, or provide evidence. She attacks based on rumor and innuendo and outright lies in order to undermine my efforts and maintain a policy of killing in our shelters. No lie is too grand and no contradiction too obvious. According to Dunaway, I am in league with puppy millers but I am also an animal rights extremist intent on making it illegal to have pets. How can I be both? Especially when I am neither.

She claims I receive money from breeders and the Center for Consumer Freedom (I have not), but she also claimed I ordered my animal control officers to raid a breeder when I was in Tompkins County because I don’t like breeders. She then claims I fired the animal control officers because they refused to say it was a terrible facility. Again, am I for breeders? Or against breeders?

I debunked all the lies and contradictions with the reporter and I believe that message will carry the day. But just the asking is enough to cast a cloud of guilt and just the raising of the issues muddies the waters which would allow government bureaucrats to use that as an excuse to continue killing. I hope the animals of Houston aren’t sacrificed to this type of politics of personal destruction. But isn’t that Dunaway’s goal?

Ironically, while Dunaway claims that I am an animal rights extremist, her policies and her tactics are most closely aligned with PETA’s, which also advances an agenda of needless killing, and does so by lying about me as they did in a recent letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle. In that letter, they accused me of causing warehousing in a shelter I not only have never worked for or with, but one I have been a vocal critic of for many years, including blasting it for kill oriented policies in my book.

Stay tuned.

The Dead Dog Journal

The Whole Dog Journal, which claims to be about “honoring our dogs,” paid them the greatest dishonor by advancing an agenda of killing healthy dogs in shelters. Can anyone say “cancel my subscription?”

In a misleading and deceitful article by Pat Miller in this month’s issue, No Kill was once again equated with hoarding and called “a deceptive myth.” She also stated that people who donate to No Kill shelters are “misguided.” Miller is no stranger to spreading vicious attacks against No Kill. She led one in the mid-1990s after San Francisco ended the killing of healthy dogs and cats. As I indicated in my book Redemption:

Pat Miller, the president of the California Animal Control Director’s Association, and the director of operations for the Marin Humane Society, a wealthy bedroom community just north of San Francisco that was still killing savable animals, indicated the claims [in San Francisco] were “based on semantics, data distortion, and the prolonging rather than the relief of animal suffering.” Miller would go on to say that she, like others who shared her views, was “disturbed by the advocacy of No Kill philosophies.”

Richard Avanzino, then President of the San Francisco SPCA, summarized this opposition best:

For years, there has been what seems to me a concerted, aggressive, and sometimes mean-spirited campaign against No Kill in general, and against the [San Francisco SPCA] in particular. This campaign has included statements that in my eyes go far beyond the bounds of legitimate debate, and rely instead on falsehoods and misrepresentations that demean, diminish, and disparage…. Again and again, we find programs misrepresented, motives questioned, and results and achievements ignored.

In her latest salvo, Miller revisits her wrath at the movement to end shelter killing by arguing that No Kill shelters are derelict because they refuse to kill animals. Not surprisingly, her husband still works for a shelter that kills animals, despite taking in only 5,500 animals annually. Compare that to Reno (which takes in roughly 16,000) and Charlottesville (which impounds approximately 5,000) below.

Miller claims to be a positive reward based dog trainer. There’s nothing positive about being an advocate for the continued killing of dogs in shelters. It is morally and ethically bankrupt and it is a point of view that is abysmal, abhorrent, and pernicious. And I have to believe that if she was a dog, she would not want to enter either her former shelter or her husband’s current shelter, because no one—and I mean not one single solitary person on the planet—would be an advocate for killing if they were the one unnecessarily facing the needle.

Dr. Hurley, meet Dr. Semmelweis

Not to be outdone, Dr. Kate Hurley of U.C. Davis also continued her pro-killing agenda by equating No Kill with hoarding in an Ohio newspaper. Hurly claims that No Kill “lead[s] to overcrowding, poor record-keeping, widespread disease and behavior problems.” As a result, Hurley concludes that a No Kill policy “virtually guarantees they will torture and kill thousands of animals.”

By denigrating No Kill as akin to warehousing and ignoring the protocols of shelters which have truly achieved No Kill, Dr. Hurley appears to be arguing for nothing more than a nation of shelters firmly grounded in killing—a defeatist mentality that is inherently unethical and antithetical to animal welfare. To imply that No Kill means warehousing is a cynicism which has only one purpose: to defend those who are failing at saving lives from public criticism and public accountability by painting a picture of the alternative as even darker.

As a university and as a training ground for new veterinarians, the U.C. Davis program should be at the forefront of progressive shelter practices and of the dynamic and exciting changes occurring in the field of animal sheltering as a result of the No Kill movement. Instead, Drs. Hurley irresponsibly clings to the past by promoting methods of sheltering that are antiquated, inhumane, and lead to unnecessary killing. This would be the equivalent of a medical school continuing to teach its students that leeches, bloodletting and magical incantations are a valid treatment for pneumonia, in the face of proven alternatives like antibiotics, fluid therapy and rest. It is nothing short of bad medicine—and a textbook example of the “Semmelweis Reflex,” the reaction so-called “experts” often exhibit when the status quo, which they represent, is challenged.

Historians have coined the term the “Semmelweis Reflex” to describe “mob behavior in which a discovery of important scientific fact is punished rather than rewarded.” In the nineteenth century, Dr. Ignac Semmelweis observed a higher incidence of deaths due to puerperal fever in maternity wards associated with teaching hospitals than in births attended by midwives. In trying to figure out why puerperal fever was a hazard of giving birth in a hospital rather than at home, Semmelweis opined that students and doctors might be carrying the diseases from autopsies they performed, while midwives who did not perform such procedures were not. Semmelweis also found that rigorous instrument cleaning and hand washing could bring the fever rate down to zero. Had doctors known at the time that germs caused disease, this finding would have been unremarkable.

Unfortunately, Semmelweis’ discovery predated the germ theory of disease. At the time, no one knew that asepsis was important. According to Semmelweis’ critics, hand washing wasn’t needed when they could clearly see that their hands had nothing on them. And, tragically, they ignored his recommendations and continued with business as usual, with deadly results for their patients. Once germ theory became known and established, however, Semmelweis was vindicated for his foresight. Of course, sterility through instrument cleaning and hand washing has since become the norm.

The housing, socialization, adoption, foster care, cleaning and vaccination protocols, medical and behavior rehabilitation and other efforts pioneered in communities like San Francisco and copied elsewhere provide a life-affirming model of sheltering which provides high quality care, reduced disease rates, even while keeping cages and kennels full as necessary and in foster care, while finding the vast majority of shelter animals loving new homes. These models were developed by caring and compassionate individuals, professionals, and in conjunction with veterinary institutions like Cornell University.

Rather than attack Semmelweis, doctors should have simply washed their hands, since Semmelweis pointed out that this eliminated deaths, even though, at the time, no one could explain why. Similarly, rather than attack the methods of sheltering which allow the vast majority of animals to be saved, even while operating at capacity-plus fostering, shelter administrators likewise should copy its precepts because it has been shown to work in other communities. But the vast majority of shelter directors refuse to innovate in this way.

But something more nefarious was at work in Semmelweis’ time than a failure of understanding about germs, and it is the same “Reflex” which is at work in sheltering today. In fact, what occurred was that Semmelweis was fired because doctors felt he was criticizing the superiority of hospital births over home births, something that threatened their position in the social hierarchy. And therein lies the rub. The archaic voices of tradition in sheltering are acting the same way as the doctors who put their own positions above their patients. They refuse to innovate and modernize precisely because they are threatened by the growing hegemony of the No Kill movement and what this means for their own stature in this movement.

As a movement and as a nation, we have a choice. We can embrace the No Kill philosophy, and the programs and services which make it possible, and end the unnecessary killing of millions of dogs and cats slaughtered each year in our nation’s dog and cat pounds. Or we can adopt the model that will perpetuate it.

As to Hurley’s bizarre and absurd argument that No Kill leads to “poor record keeping,” I think that speaks for itself.

Charlottesville & Reno top the charts…again.

Charlottesville’s open admission animal control shelter finished 2008 saving 92% of all dogs and 82% of all cats. This makes them the safest community in the U.S. for dogs, but they were edged out by Reno, Nevada which saved 83% of all cats. What would Hurley and Miller say about Reno which took in 16,000 dogs and cats, but didn’t slaughter them like the shelters they seem to champion?

While dogs are being saved again in record numbers, in order to increase the cat save rate, we need comprehensive feral cat legal reform to make it illegal for feral cats to enter shelters in the first place, except for purposes of sterilization and release.

No Kill Conference 2009

New speakers have been added to the No Kill Conference line-up. Wendy Anderson, Director of Law & Policy for Alley Cat Allies, will talk about… how to use the legal system to keep feral cats out of shelters and to keep cats from being killed in the pound!

Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends will talk about saving Pit Bulls and other breeds, and how to keep them from falling victim to Breed Discriminatory Legislation (BDL).

And Rebecca Huss, who was the court appointed guardian over the Michael Vick dogs, will talk about her experiences and why BDL does not work.

Learn more and sign up at www.nokillconference.org.

There Ought to Be a Law

January 11, 2009 by  

The New Year opened in Reno, Nevada on January 1, as it did all over the country with one exception. Unlike most shelters which close on holidays, the Nevada Humane Society opened its doors on New Year’s Day and saved 49 animals: 35 cats, 13 dogs, and 1 bird in the first six adoption hours of 2009.

By contrast, the shelters of the City of Los Angeles “are closed for adoptions on … Holidays.” In other words, they are closed when working people and families with children in school—the two most sought after demographics—are available to adopt animals. Is it any surprise that despite taking in three times the number of animals per capita, and despite the fact that Los Angeles is one of the best funded shelter systems in the nation, that Reno is saving more lives? It all comes down to leadership.

Likewise, just six months ago, I held a two day seminar on Building a No Kill community in Indianapolis, attended by virtually all the rescue groups in the city and shelter administrators from surrounding states. But even though it was in Indianapolis, no one from the private Humane Society of Indianapolis came and only one person from Indianapolis animal control showed up, who privately told me “s/he” would get fired if the boss found out s/he was there—fired for trying to learn how to save more lives.

I also made unannounced visits to the two shelters. The Humane Society was keeping over 40 empty cages to reduce costs and was importing animals from outside Indianapolis while animals were being killed at animal control. In 2008, the director resigned. Meanwhile, Indianapolis Animal Control was filthy and 2008 saw a series of scandals of poor care and unnecessary killing that forced the resignation of its own shelter director.

The Humane Society hired a newcomer who is now taking animals from animal control rather than importing them and is keeping cages and kennels full. As part of his management team, he has also hired former critics of the shelter who have claimed support for No Kill. And animal control recently hired a pro-No Kill shelter administrator who was responsible for massive declines in killing in Arizona, Maryland and most recently Pennsylvania. The two have set a goal of reducing the death rate by 75%. It all comes down to leadership.

In Austin, by contrast, one person—the director of animal control—is saying “No” to foster care programs, “No” to offsite adoptions, “No” to TNR for feral cats, “No” to programs that would save animals, choosing instead to kill them. And in fact, since the director of animal control was hired, she has done that with ruthless efficiency: 97,000 animals have been put to death under her watch. That’s over 12,000 each year, 1,000 each month, 34 each day, 1 every 12 minutes the shelter has been open to the public. That is leadership too, only with a different goal and a more nefarious outcome.

One person in Reno, Nevada rejected the prior twenty years of a kill-orientation and began to put in place the programs and services which saves lives, as well as employees with a culture of lifesaving. In the case of Indianapolis, the former director of animal control and the former director of the Humane Society of Indianapolis were not committed to No Kill, and therefore did not pursue the goal of saving animals whose killing was neither merciful nor ethical, even though animal advocates in that community were desperate for change. In Austin, the director of animal control finds killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it.

One person—or in the case of Indianapolis, two people—can help give meaning to the values and will of community animal lovers. But one or two people can also thwart it. Unfortunately, this is also leadership (one is committed to modernizing shelters; the other committed to a paradigm of killing)—and in a system reliant on leadership, leadership can be used for good, or it can be used to perpetuate killing.

And so while, right now, we need progressive leadership, relying on the will of individual people cannot be a long term strategy for widespread and permanent No Kill success. It is why a city like San Francisco can be progressive one day—the crown jewel of the No Kill movement as it was in the late 1990s—when a progressive leader was at the helm, and moving in the opposite direction the next, after a regressive one took over. So while we seek progressive leadership, we need to take the power away from individual leaders at the same time. The system which gives power to one person to say “Yes” to No Kill also creates the power of one person to thwart the will of the entire community, because those different end goals of leadership are two sides of the same coin.

For No Kill success to be widespread and long lasting, we must move past the personalities and focus on institutionalizing No Kill by giving shelter animals the rights and protections afforded by law. Every successful social movement results in legal protections that codify expected conduct and provide protection against future conduct that violates normative values. We need to regulate shelters in the same way we regulate hospitals and other agencies which hold the power over life and death. The desire of the community for No Kill, the expectation of government for use of tax money to save, rather than end the lives of animals, and the rights of animals who seek refuge in shelters to their very lives must be codified in law.

The answer lies in passing and enforcing shelter reform legislation which mandates how a shelter must operate. This is not a radical concept. As a movement, we have been willing to pass all kinds of laws such as mandatory spay/neuter to empower animal control by regulating the public’s behavior. Now that we know that laws of these kind exacerbate killing, and now that we know what is really causing the killing—shelter policies geared to killing—we need to pass laws that do the reverse: that empower community groups (volunteers, foster parents, rescue groups, feral cat caretakers, adopters, taxpayers) by regulating how animal control operates.

The ideal animal law would ban the killing of dogs and cats, and would prohibit the impounding of feral cats except for purposes of spay/neuter and release. Given that local governments may not pass such sweeping laws at this time in history, the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) was written as “model” legislation to provide animals with maximum opportunities for lifesaving in the interim, because too many shelters are not voluntarily implementing the programs and services and culture of lifesaving that makes No Kill possible, and animals are needlessly being killed as a result.

To combat this, CAPA mandates the programs and services which have proven so successful at lifesaving in shelters which have implemented them; follows the only model that has actually created a No Kill community; and, focuses its effort on the very shelters that are doing the killing. In this way, shelter leadership is forced to embrace No Kill and operate their shelters in a progressive, life-affirming way, removing the discretion which has for too long allowed shelter leaders to ignore what is in the best interests of the animals and kill them needlessly—as they did in Reno before the current director of the Nevada Humane Society, as they did in Charlottesville before the current director took over, as they did in Indianapolis, and as they currently do in Los Angeles, Austin, and most animal control shelters around the country.

Because while discretion allows shelter leaders to reduce deaths by 75% as we did in Tompkins County, or over 50% as they are doing in Reno, it also allows leaders to kill 97,000 animals as they have been doing in Austin, Texas; With laws like CAPA, and vigilant oversight by citizens (including litigation when the shelter violates the law), we can have lifesaving in all these communities, irrespective of who is in charge and how much or how little they value life.

If we work to pass these laws, we will be focusing our energy where it was have both an immediate and profound impact, while at the same time, we will be creating a system which will prevent retrenchment in the future. We will create permanence. Rather than fight the excuses and intransigence of regressive directors for each program of the No Kill Equation they will not embrace, the law can bind their hand and force them to send animals to foster care, to give animals to rescue groups rather than kill them, to treat injuries and illnesses, to open for adoption during hours that allow working people and families with children access to animals during non-working/non-school hours. We can have these things literally overnight, as opposed to begging for them and fighting for them, one by one, endlessly, only to have them implemented—if at all—in a limited, haphazard way. (Austin’s director boasts of a foster care program, but only allows staff of the shelter to foster, turning away thousands of animal lovers in the community who would be willing to care for these animals, choosing instead to kill them). Or to have them implemented as they did in San Francisco, only to have them removed when a new shelter director is hired.

With rigorous and comprehensive expectations codified in law, those who allow needless killing will find themselves the subject of litigation, forced to do their jobs, and ultimately they will either be removed or they will leave on their own accord. Because with CAPA comes accountability, and accountability causes incompetent and uncaring leadership to lose their jobs. At the same time, prospective directors will also know what the demands of the job are, and the expectations of the community as codified in law, before they decide to accept the job. This, too, will weed out uncaring and lazy applicants for the job.

And the era when shelter directors were handed a paycheck for sitting in their office all day doing nothing, while refusing to modernize, while dogs are forced to wallow in their own waste, while cats are killed arbitrarily, while staff socialize out back rather than meeting the demands of their job, and in doing so, the animals who depend on them are systematically put to death—in other words, the era of the status quo—will be over.

Winners and Losers of 2008

January 6, 2009 by  

si

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Here are the highlights and lowlights of 2008, and what we can look forward to in 2009.

Winners & Losers in 2008

Winner: Pit Bulls

After the arrest of former national football league quarterback Michael Vick and the seizure of almost 60 pit bull-type dogs raised for fighting, many animal protection organizations called for the dogs to be killed, arguing that these dogs were vicious and beyond our ability to help them. None made this argument after evaluating the dogs, but based on assumptions about pit bull-type dogs, dog aggression, and dog fighting. After deceptively fundraising off of the dogs, for example, the Humane Society of the United States lobbied to have them killed. Because they believe all Pit Bulls who enter shelters should be slaughtered, it was no surprise that PETA also asked the court to put them to death.

In 2008, the court thankfully said “No.” Only one dog was actually killed for aggression after evaluation, and the remaining dogs were placed in either sanctuaries or in loving new homes. Two of the dogs are now even therapy animals, providing comfort to cancer patients.

The results forced even dog lovers-but more importantly the humane movement-to question their most basic assumptions about dogs, pit bull-type dogs, and dog aggression. In short, it showed we can save virtually all dogs in shelters.

Secondly, it showed that there is a real, practical, and potentially widespread “third door” between adoption and killing-the network of foster homes, sanctuaries and long term care facilities to provide for animals who may not necessarily be immediate adoption candidates, but can enjoy a good quality of life which would make their killing neither merciful nor ethical.

Winner: No Kill

In 2008, HSUS stated that the public does care about companion animals and is not to blame for their killing in shelters, that killing animals in shelters is “needless,” that we can be a No Kill nation today, and that “pet overpopulation” is more myth than fact. In language that is eerily (though excitingly) familiar to language in my book, Redemption, HSUS stated:

  • “By increasing the percentage of people who obtain their pets through adoption-by just a few percentage points-we can solve the problem of euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats.”
  • “The needless loss of life in animal shelters is deplored by the American public. People deeply love their dogs and cats and feel that killing pets who are homeless through no fault of their own is a problem we must work harder to prevent. They want animals to have a second chance at life, not death by injection.”
  • “The needless killing of pets by animal shelters and animal control agencies comes at an enormous economic and moral cost.”

This comes after announcing that staunch and unapologetic pro-No Kill advocates Susanne Kogut and Bonney Brown will be speaking at Expo 2009, HSUS’ animal sheltering conference. Kogut runs an open admission No Kill animal control shelter, while Brown has led a No Kill initiative now saving 90% of dogs and 83% of all cats in Washoe County, Nevada.

This language is like nothing that has ever come out of HSUS on the companion animal issue, and it is my most fervent hope that it will signal a permanent shift away from HSUS’ historical role of legitimizing and providing political cover for shelters mired in killing. And while it is still much too early to uncork the champagne (see Loser: HSUS, below); there is some reason for hope.

After announcing that shelters should not adopt animals until after New Year’s Eve-effectively condemning these animals to death-HSUS apologized and removed the recommendation from their website. They also turned around and lent their support to the Home for the Holidays campaign, which is a national adoption campaign in which thousands of shelters nationwide participate, whose goal was to adopt out 1 million shelter animals between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Winner: Washoe County, (Reno) Nevada

Despite taking in over two times the number of animals per capita than the national average, over four times the rate of San Francisco, and over three times the rate of Los Angeles, the Nevada Humane Society led Washoe County (Reno) NV past all of these cities in terms of rates of lifesaving.

In 2008, the percentage of cats saved increased despite the fact that with an economy reliant on gaming and tourism, which is often one of the the hardest hit sectors during economic downturns, loss of jobs and foreclosures impacted the community. Preliminary numbers for 2008 show 90% of all dogs and 83% of cats (up from 78% in 2007) will have been saved.

Winner: Porter County Indiana Commissioner Robert P. Harper

Porter County Indiana’s County Executive proved that being a bureaucrat doesn’t necessarily mean being a bureaucrat. The Porter County Commissioner was given a copy of my book Redemption by an animal lover who saw my presentation in Chicago and bought him one. After reading it, he fired the shelter director and most of the staff and demanded a No Kill policy. The result: lifesaving is at all-time highs, deaths are at all-time lows, neonatal kittens are being sent into foster care, dogs are being walked, and animals are being adopted in record numbers.

Winner: Maddie’s Fund

Rich Avanzino announced a media initiative with the Ad Council (and the Humane Society of the United States) to encourage more shelter adoptions. By focusing on increasing adoptions, Maddie’s Fund gets it right. We only need to increase the market for shelter pets by a couple of percentage points in order to eliminate all population control killing of animals who can be adopted. Some of the market will be replacement life (someone has a pet die or run away and they want another one), some of that will be expanding markets (someone doesn’t have a pet but wants one, or they have pets but want another one). But it all comes down to increasing marketshare (where they get their pets from).

These same demographics also tell us that every year about twice as many people are looking to bring a new dog into their home than the total number of dogs entering shelters, and every year more people are looking to bring a new cat into their home than the total number of cats entering shelters. On top of that, not all animals entering shelters need adoption: some will be lost strays who will be reclaimed, others are feral cats who need neuter and release, some are sick or injured who first need foster care, and some will be vicious dogs or hopelessly ill/injured. When the needs of these animals are addressed their alternatives to killing such as TNR, foster care, rehabilitation, redemptions, and the like, then the remaining population of animals entering shelters who require adoption is actually much smaller. From the perspective of achievability, the prognosis is very good.

The challenge: will shelters respond to anticipated increased public demand with good customer service, family friendly hours, and clean facilities? And while welcome and necessary, the adoption campaign still puts the entire onus on the public: focusing on what they need to do to end the killing. To effectively adopt our way out of killing does not just require more people willing to adopt from a shelter, it requires the implementation of a comprehensive adoption program which includes public access hours (in the evening and on weekends) when working people and families with children, our most sought after adopter demographics, can visit the shelter; it requires daily offsite adoption locations throughout community centers where people live, work, and play, especially if shelters are located in remote parts of a community, as indeed many of them are; it requires good responsive customer service; fair, but not overly bureaucratic, adoption screening; clean facilities (a dog wallowing in his own waste undermines a smile and hello at the door); a good socialization and care program so that animals are happy and healthy, and more.

When all these programs are comprehensively and rigorously in place, the shelter makes it easy to do the right thing, and experience has shown that the public does. Only then can the advertising campaign leverage people’s love of animals, and their desire to bring about an end to the killing, to its full potential.

Nonetheless, more people willing to adopt will mean more adoptions. And contrary to conventional wisdom, we can adopt our way out of killing.

Winner: Anything with a dog or cat on the cover

Authors, movie studios, magazines have discovered the secret of success. “Sex sells” has been unseated by neutered animals. Marley & Me, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Dewey, if it was a story about animals, it reached the best seller list or broke box office projections. Even cartoon animals, like Bolt, carried the day. And if Naysayers tried to attack it, their voices were drowned out by an even louder chorus of animal loving people.

In 2008, PETA, shelters, and even rescue groups attacked Disney for celebrating our love of dogs with the release of Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Ironically, the actual Beverly Hills Chihuahua was a dog saved from death row at a shelter and the movie included a disclaimer asking people to adopt from shelters. These groups ended up being attacked themselves by No Kill advocates for threatening to kill Chihuahuas.

Winner: Redemption

Over the last year, the book climbed to the top 500 titles at Barnes & Noble and cracked the top 1,000 titles (out of 2 million) at Amazon. For its first six months, it was the Number 1 animal rights book in America. Redemption won five national book awards including Best Book from USA Book News and a Silver Medal from the Independent Publishers Association. Midwest Book Reviews called it “a passionate advocacy for ending the killing of homeless dogs and cats in shelters.” Animal People called it “[T]he most provocative and best-informed overview of animal sheltering ever written.” The Bark said it was an “important work… The world owes much to those rare individuals who see things differently-and who then devote themselves to vindicating their maverick conclusions.”

The book has also been favorably reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, Pet Connection, and others. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Endorsements have also come from dog lovers, cat lovers, rabbit lovers, and others who were moved by it and either bought copies of the book to give to their local shelter directors and city council members or have blogged about it in order to help spread the word that we can build a brighter world for animals.

Redemption is changing the way animal sheltering is conducted-and talked about-in the U.S.

Loser: California Assembly Bill 1634

At a California State Senate hearing on AB 1634 just before it died a well deserved death, the bill that started out as mandatory spay/neuter law but devolved and was amended into oblivion, a Senator asked Ed Boks, the General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) and one of the bill’s chief proponents: “Mr. Boks, this bill doesn’t even pretend to be about saving animals, does it?”

To which Boks responded: “No Senator, this is not about saving dogs and cats.” Ed Boks should know. Since passage of his local version of AB 1634, impounds and killing have skyrocketed at the Los Angeles pound he oversees, exactly as concerned animal lovers feared. In fact, the increased killing was the first at LAAS in years.

Since “this is not about saving dogs and cats,” what is it about? For shelter directors who oversee mass killing, it is about taking the pressure off of their own failures by providing a distraction and a target of blame: the “irresponsible public.” As the chorus of voices about the killing in California shelters and their own inability or unwillingness to do anything substantive about it grows, so do their attempts to divert attention elsewhere.

But regardless of underlying beliefs and motivations, the end result of mandatory spay/neuter legislation is tragically the same: power to kill increases and animals die. That is why true animal lovers should dedicate themselves to restricting the state’s killing apparatus, reducing the power of the pounds to involuntarily (or under the threat of citation) take in-and potentially kill-animals when those animals are not being neglected or subject to cruelty. They should not seek to increase that power at the expense of the lives of animals.

And in 2008, they didn’t.

Loser: Author Jon Katz

The author of A Good Dog gave an interview with HSUS entitled “I chose a child’s face over my dog.” The question and answer format with Katz did nothing to illuminate the truth about aggression or dangerous dogs, and in fact, only served to heighten stereotypes and perpetuate myths. That Katz killed his dog because of what he considered severe aggression is not what one takes from the article. That would have been a very different piece, a tragedy for all involved-Jon Katz, his dog, and the people his dog hurt. And maybe, just maybe, our hearts would have hurt for all of them.

Instead, HSUS asks a series of very deliberate questions which not only globalize the tragedy that occurred in the Katz family, but appear to assume the worst in dogs, and the worst in people who want to see less of them killed. Opposition is dismissed as irresponsible. Dog lovers are pitted against children. It’s the type of either-or, you-are-with-us-or-against-us, your-dog-or-your-child hysteria most of us, especially those of us who love both our dogs and our kids, dismissed long ago.

And the tenor of the article results in the following conclusions:

  • Killing dogs becomes unacceptable only when people inappropriately “humaniz[e] dogs.”
  • “Millions of people are bitten by dogs every year, many tens of thousands of children.”
  • If you do not believe in killing dogs, you have made them “quasi-religious objects of veneration.”
  • “Millions of Americans seek medical attention every year for animal bites or attacks.”
  • “[F]or every troubled or aggressive animal kept alive for months or years, healthy and adoptable animals go wanting for homes and often lose their lives.”
  • “Insurance companies are paying out billions of dollars to people bitten by dogs.”
  • As a result of dog bites, “lawyers [are] injected into the human-animal relationship” and this is exacerbated by people who want to see dog killing end.
  • Adopting a Pit Bull appears to be more trouble than it is worth.

Every one of these conclusions is deeply flawed and deeply offensive.

Loser: King County Washington County Executive Ron Sims

If Robert Harper is the ideal County Executive, Ron Sims is the evil twin from King County, WA. Under his watch, staff members of King County Animal Control who were involved in animal neglect are still employed; and, supervisors who allowed it to continue and/or then subsequently covered it up have received promotions. Meanwhile, those who sought to report it have been threatened with termination; and citizens who have answered the call to help the Council fix the broken shelter system have been smeared.

In the end, however, this malfeasance pales in comparison to what the animals have had to endure under his (lack of) leadership. Report after report, audit after audit, complaint after complaint shows rampant neglect, uncaring, and cruelty. Given that animals have not only suffered terribly, they have literally lost their lives because of it, can anyone say impeachment?

Loser: Mission Orange

In 2008, the ASPCA program ostensibly to reduce shelter killing fell apart in its three main cities: Austin, Tampa and Philadelphia. In Austin, shelter leadership refused to comprehensively implement foster care and other programs, choosing to kill the animals instead. The coalition splintered in Tampa when rescue groups refused to remain silent at the ASPCA’s request about the kill-oriented shelter system. And in Philadelphia, its main beneficiary ceased to exist as the health department fired the animal control provider.

Primarily, “Mission: Orange” failed (and continues to fail) to address the fundamental problems that lead to killing; and, it fails to demand accountability of those receiving the money to put into place the programs and services which would end it. Instead, it demands silence as to shelter atrocities under the guise of collaboration and allows shelters to continue with programs that represent the status quo, and to reject those programs necessary for lifesaving success. At the same time, these flawed efforts seek to walk the political tightrope of trying to demonstrate support for No Kill to the general public without offending entrenched shelter directors who are hostile to calls for true reform. As a result, while the ASPCA can put out press releases that it supports No Kill, it falls short of what is needed-in fact, makes things worse-as it props up failed shelter directors whose interests are put above those of the animals, while providing them money and political support without demanding accountability in return.

Despite intense public pressure and desire for reform, Austin’s animal control director refuses to fully implement the programs and services which save lives including a comprehensive foster care program, offsite adoptions, and Trap-Neuter-Return for feral cats, choosing instead to kill the animals whose lives could be saved with these programs. Despite public calls from the Austin rescue community for her resignation, ASPCA President Ed Sayres announced his support of her, calling her “a very effective leader.” Since she was hired, 97,000 animals have been put to death. That’s over 12,000 each year, 1,000 each month, 34 each day, 1 every 12 minutes the shelter has been open to the public.

Loser: PACCA

Philadelphia Animal Care & Control Association (PACCA) promised a No Kill community. But Philly PAWS’ leadership, which ran PACCA, did not do enough to save animals, strayed from their core mission of achieving a No Kill Philadelphia by hiding behind half-truths, becoming complacent about problems, and engaged in only a half-hearted No Kill program implementation.

A Pet Adoption Center, which should have opened within a few months, took over two years to finally open in 2008 because it was not prioritized, and systems to ensure proper care of the animals or that helped animals move expeditiously through the system and into loving homes during peak summer intake seasons were not fully implemented. Management responsible for massive declines in killing in 2005-06 left the organization in disgust, and new management which worked hard to overcome the Director’s intransigence, finally left in 2008 after trying futilely to keep the organization on track.

As a result, the Pennsylvania SPCA moved in and took the animal control contract away from them mid-contract year. PACCA is gone, along with its failed leadership. But will the animals win or lose more? Unfortunately, we cannot look at the change in Philadelphia shelter leadership as either necessarily good or necessarily bad. We have to move past the players and focus on institutionalizing No Kill by giving shelter animals the rights and protections afforded by law. The answer lies in passing and enforcing the Companion Animal Protection Act.

In this way, shelter leadership is forced to embrace No Kill and operate their shelters in a progressive, life-affirming way, removing the discretion which has for too long allowed shelter leaders to ignore what is in the best interests of the animals and kill them needlessly.

Loser: HSUS

Despite new language at the end of 2008, the Humane Society of the United States defended the wholly unnecessary extermination of every shelter animal at Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana (see below), invited PETA killing apologists who equated No Kill with hoarding at their national conference, legitimized the killing of dogs in shelters, deceptively fundraised off of the Michael Vick dogs telling people they were caring for them (they were not) and that money was needed to help them while they were asking the court to kill them, claimed No Kill was impossible, told Des Moines, Iowa legislators that they didn’t have a problem with killing stray cats after the town announced a $5 bounty on each cat, and bashed No Kill supporters by dismissing us as “mean spirited” and “naïve.”

Loser: Tangipahoa Parish (Louisiana) President Gordon Burgess

In August of 2008, the Tangipahoa Parish President ordered the killing of every animal in the Hammond, Louisiana animal shelter when a few dogs came down with diarrhea. When it was over, more than 170 dogs and cats lay dead. A former shelter employee says she’ll never forget the image: “I did walk back there at one point and they were all piled on top of each other, just lying there dead.”

Ignoring the question of why virtually all animals (including cats) were killed when only some of them were sick (and with minor, treatable illnesses than only afflicts dogs), HSUS blamed the mass killing of 170 animals on the public. The most criticism it can muster-which stretches reality to the breaking point in order to label it as “criticism,” is its use of the impotent word “unusual” to describe the unnecessary slaughter of almost every single animal in the facility; but HSUS then immediately follows it up by blaming under-funding and under-staffing as if these were the culprits in the decision to kill all the animals, or as if the Parish president has no role in funding and staffing. In fact, former staff members decried a pattern by local leadership of deliberately cutting corners on staffing when it came to animal care and cleaning and using mass killing as an ongoing strategy. The mass slaughter was not “unusual,” Mr. Pacelle. It was abhorrent, abysmal, intolerable and outrageous.

Loser: PETA

PETA lost what little remaining clout as a voice of authority relating to companion animals among the rescue community it still had. In 2008, PETA wrote King County, WA officials and asked them not to give in to shelter reform advocates who want to reduce shelter killing, which the Council thankfully deemed not worthy of a reply. They then did a series of robo-calls asking supporters in the Seattle area to call the County Council in support of the cruel and barbaric King County Animal Control, despite reports of animal neglect and cruelty. They also called for continued killing of feral cats in Pittsburgh after a TNR initiative was launched by Pittsburgh officials who dismissed PETA’s position as cruel. Houstonites attack PETA’s pro-kill position after PETA attacked a plan to review the shelter which would help lower shelter death rates. The Michael Vick court ignored PETA’s call for the deaths of the dogs. And because PETA routinely kills over 90% of all animals it impounds, including adoptable animals, a petition is filed with the Virginia Department of Agriculture to recategorize PETA as a slaughterhouse.

Is anyone still listening to PETA?

Loser: The term “euthanasia”

The favorite misnomer of regressive shelters, the term “euthanasia” to describe shelter killing increasingly lost its cache with rescue groups and the public in 2008. In 2008, a critical consensus of rescue groups finally realized the euphemism used to describe shelter killing cannot provide a thick enough gloss to conceal the disturbing, awful truth. The more descriptive-and deadly accurate-”kill” is now used more commonly, much to the chagrin of signatories to the Asilomar Accords who wanted to prevent its usage, as well as its antithesis: “No Kill.” By 2008, only two communities embraced the Accords, rendering it dead on arrival. Good riddance.

Loser: Belief in pet overpopulation

The religion of those who defend shelter killing falls by the wayside in 2008 as more and more people point the finger of blame for killing not on a lack of homes, but on the very shelters doing the killing.

The nail on the coffin comes in late 2008 as even the architect of the killing paradigm, HSUS, finally admits it is more myth than fact in a stunning statement in November. More than that, HSUS concedes that killing is “needless,” and that shelters can adopt their way out of it. (See Winner: No Kill, above.)

Loser: The humane movement’s own “Bradley Effect”

The biggest loser is also the biggest winner for the animals. The animal movement has been living with its own “Bradley effect,” the notion that despite all the evidence to the contrary-the people we see at the dog park, the people we talk to in the lobby of our veterinarian’s office, the best selling books and top box office movies about animals, how much we spend on our pets, how many of us share our homes with animal companions, the demographics that show the immense compassion of a pet loving nation-that Americans are irresponsible and somehow don’t care enough about animals. And, the corollary which flows from this uncaring is that shelters in this country have no choice but to put to death roughly four million dogs and cats every year.

But that was proved wrong when Californians overwhelmingly pass Proposition 2. The vote to outlaw battery cages for chickens, where hens are crammed into confined spaces the size of a desk drawer, may have had as its focus protecting animals on farms from what many see as the worst abuses of the factory farming system, but its resounding success at the polls has a far greater significance for all animals. The victory of Proposition 2-specifically its margin of victory-should not only shatter every notion we hold about people’s view of animals, but it also illustrates the ease with which we could end the pound killing of dogs, cats, and all the other companion animals currently being slaughtered by the millions.

What makes the Proposition 2 vote especially significant is that Americans not only care about dogs and cats; they also care about animals with which they do not have a personal relationship. And if they none-the-less care so much about them, despite all the forces telling them voting for Proposition 2 was a bad idea, we need to put to bed, once and for all, the idea that dogs and cats need to die in U.S. shelters because people are irresponsible and don’t care enough about them.

In fact, a recent study showed that 81 percent of people said they would buy holiday gifts for their dogs, and 69 percent would sooner tighten their belts on friends and extended family than tighten the collars on their dogs. And 65 percent would rather eat ramen noodles than make their dogs eat on the cheap.

We are truly a national of animal lovers. And we deserve animal shelters which reflect our values, rather than the kill-oriented system in place in far too many communities. This is a breach of the public trust, a gross deviation from their responsibility to protect animals, and a point of view that we, as caring people and a humane community, can no longer accept or tolerate.

Looking to 2009

Winner: Reno, NV

The New Year opened in Reno, Nevada on January 1, 2009 as it did all over the country with one exception. Unlike most shelters which close on holidays, the Nevada Humane Society opened its doors on New Year’s Day and saved 49 animals: 35 cats, 13 dogs, and 1 bird in the first six adoption hours of 2009.

By contrast, the shelters of the City of Los Angeles “are closed for adoptions on … Holidays.” In other words, they are closed when working people and families with children in school-the two most sought after demographics-are available to adopt animals.

Is it any surprise that despite taking in three times the number of animals per capita, and despite the fact that Los Angeles is one of the best funded shelter systems in the nation, that Reno is saving more lives? It all comes down to leadership.

Winner: Indianapolis, IN

Just six months ago, I held a two day seminar on Building a No Kill community in Indianapolis, attended by virtually all the rescue groups in the City and shelter administrators from surrounding states. But even though it was in Indianapolis, no one from the private Humane Society of Indianapolis came and only one person from Indianapolis animal control showed up, who privately told me “s/he” would get fired if the boss found out they were there-fired for trying to learn how to save lives.

I also made unannounced visits to the two shelters. The Humane Society was keeping over 40 empty cages to reduce costs and was importing animals from outside Indianapolis while animals were being killed at animal control. In 2008, the director resigned. Meanwhile, Indianapolis Animal Control was filthy and 2008 saw a series of scandals of poor care and unnecessary killing that forced the resignation of its own shelter director.

The humane society hired a newcomer who is now taking animals from animal control rather than importing them and is keeping cages and kennels full. As part of his management team, he has also hired former critics of the shelter who have claimed support for No Kill. And animal control recently hired Doug Rae, a pro-No Kill shelter administrator who was responsible for massive declines in killing in Arizona, Maryland and most recently Pennsylvania. The two have set a goal of reducing the death rate by 75%.

Coin Toss: HSUS

HSUS started the year championing killing (See Loser: HSUS, above) but ended it proclaiming the moral superiority of and easy attainability of No Kill (See Winner: No Kill, above).

Which Wayne Pacelle will emerge in 2009?

Welcome to the No Kill Blog

January 3, 2009 by  

Happy new year.

My website has a new look and new features. It includes a bookstore, a virtual shelter tour, and more. It also includes an integrated blog. As a result, the current blog at nathanwinograd.blogspot.com will no longer be updated.

The new blog will be on this page. Or you can simply go through www.nokillblog.com. If you link to my blog, please be sure to update the link accordingly. If you are new to the blog, you can read the archives of 2007-2008 blogs at nathanwinograd.blogspot.com.

Thank you.