The Butcher of Norfolk

March 27, 2009 by  

The blog I write is about reforming animal sheltering in the United States. It is about ending the systematic killing of animals in these pounds. But this particular blog isn’t about sheltering. This isn’t about the battle between the No Kill philosophy and its eventual conquest over regressive, kill-oriented approaches. This isn’t about a lazy, inept, or uncaring shelter director who fails to hold his or her staff accountable. It isn’t about shelters that kill animals because doing so is easier than putting in place the programs and services to stop it.

This is about something more nefarious. This is about something truly insidious. This is about a bully who seeks out animals to kill. This is about the creation of death squads that actively go into communities with the specific purpose of finding dogs and cats to kill. And this is about a movement that has utterly failed to defend the innocent animals being slaughtered. This blog is about Ingrid Newkirk, the President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This is about an animal killing, arrogant, disturbed person. And enough is enough.

Since 1998, PETA has killed over 20,000 animals. Over one year ago, I wrote a blog opining that the reason PETA slaughters virtually every animal it seeks out and “impounds” has more to do with Ingrid Newkirk’s dark impulses than with any ideology, philosophy, or belief in overpopulation. This followed a staggering 97% kill rate for animals in 2006, despite millions of animal loving members, a world-wide reach, and a budget of tens of millions of dollars. It followed the killing of 1,942 out of 1,960 cats they impounded. It followed the deaths of 988 out of the 1,030 dogs they impounded. It followed the killing of 50 of the 52 rabbits, guinea pigs, and other animals they took in. It followed the killing of the one and only chicken they impounded. That blog earned me a letter from PETA’s attorney threatening litigation for defamation.

Then came the 2007 numbers showing a 91% rate of killing—the killing of 1,815 of the 1,997 animals they impounded. And so I reran the blog. And now we have the 2008 figures and the slaughter—the needless, senseless, evil slaughter—continues with an equally staggering 96% kill rate. A paltry seven dogs and cats were adopted. A paltry 34 were transferred to an SPCA whose fates are not known. And out of 2,216 dogs and cats impounded, the rest were systematically put to death by PETA.

Killed: 555 of the 584 dogs.

Killed: 1,569 of the 1,589 cats.

PETA has argued that all of the animals it kills are “unadoptable.” In fact, PETA’s attorney stated that in his letter threatening a defamation lawsuit if I did not back down. But this claim is a lie. It is a lie because the numbers historically come from the State of Virginia’s reporting form which only asks for data for animals taken into custody “for the purpose of adoption.” It is a lie because PETA refuses to provide its criteria for making that determination. It is a lie because rescue groups and individuals have come forward stating that the animals they gave PETA were healthy and adoptable. It is a lie because testimony under oath in court from a veterinarian showed that PETA was given healthy and adoptable animals who were later found dead by PETA’s hands, their bodies unceremoniously thrown away in a supermarket dumpster. And it is a lie because Newkirk herself admitted as much.

In a December 2, 2008 interview with George Stroumboulopoulos of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Stroumboulopoulos asks Newkirk: “Do you euthanize those pets, the adoptable ones, if you get them?” To which Newkirk responds: “If we get them, if we cannot find a home, absolutely.” In short, Newkirk admits that PETA “absolutely” kills savable animals. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.

Why does the animal protection movement tolerate this woman?

No other movement would allow someone to remain in her position without a massive outcry and public condemnation when their actions are so counter, so anathema to their movement’s foremost principles. The child protection movement would not allow someone who kills children to run an organization dedicated to children’s rights. The human rights movement would not allow someone who kills people to run any of their organizations. But the animal rights movement—a movement founded on the principle that animals have a right to life—allows a very public, avowed, shameless animal killer to run an animal rights organization. And with the exception of Friends of Animals, the rest of the nation’s animal rights groups remain deafeningly silent about it.

As if that was not shameful enough, others go further and actually embrace her. The groups which organize the Animal Rights Conference inducted her into their Animal Rights Hall of Fame. Wayne Pacelle and HSUS have allowed her and her pro-killing apologists to give workshops at their national conference, HSUS Expo, to promote PETA’s ghastly vision of killing.

So a notice to all would be animal killers out there. One way to avoid the condemnation by the animal rights/welfare community for your vile actions is to start an animal rights group yourself and use that group as your cover for killing. Because they won’t stand up to you. There will be no campaign to bring you down. They will kowtow to your power and your position. You will become their colleague. Some will look the other way. But others will induct you into their hall of fame. Still others will ask you to present workshops at their national conference.

If history teaches us anything, however, it is that the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to one. The only thing that will stop Newkirk is challenging Newkirk and calling her killing for what it is: the nefarious acts of a disturbed person. Because that’s how history will remember and condemn her, despite the aura of legitimacy her untoward actions now receive from her Board of Directors, the Humane Society of the United States, the groups who promote the Animal Rights Conference, and the other groups which tolerate her leadership position through their silence.

While those who now dare to call Newkirk’s slaughter for what it is may be threatened with litigation, or be attacked in other ways, history will vindicate them, as it always does for those who—despite the personal costs—defend what is right by challenging tyrants. While those who remained silent in the face of these atrocities—the hypocritical leaders of other organizations who take her telephone calls, shake her hand, stand side-by-side with her, and take personal pride in their association with her—will someday have to answer for this complicity, and will face the shame that comes with answering “nothing” when asked what they did to stop Newkirk’s bloody reign at PETA.

Because engrave this in stone: As soon as Newkirk and her pro-killing cultish devotees are gone, PETA will immediately, completely, and without reservation embrace the No Kill philosophy and become one of its leading champions. When that happens; when her actions are thoroughly and completely seen by everyone for what they truly are; when she is condemned and finally, finally, thankfully, finally, we don’t have to hold our breath, clench our teeth, shake with rage, or cry at the thought of what PETA did to those poor animals, we will all be left wondering just what took us so damned long to rise up and stop this villain in our midst.

So here it is again: Round 3. Munchausen by PETA. My opinion.

Munchausen by PETA?
In search of a diagnosis as to why Ingrid Newkirk and PETA seek out animals to kill. And a plea for the movement to stop them so that they won’t continue killing.

In 2006, an official report from People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) shows that they took in 3,043 animals, of which 1,960 were cats, 1,030 were dogs, 52 were other companion animals, and one was a chicken. Of these, they killed the chicken, killed 1,942 cats, 988 dogs, and 50 classified as “other companion animals.” They found homes for only 2 cats, 8 dogs and 2 of the other companion animals.

By the numbers:

  • PETA killed 1,942 of the 1,960 cats, finding homes for only 2.
  • PETA killed 988 of the 1,030 dogs finding homes for only 8.
  • PETA killed 50 of the 52 other companion animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.), finding homes for only 2.
  • PETA killed the chicken they took in.

That’s a 97% kill rate. (This was based on PETA’s own reporting to the Commonwealth of Virginia, which only requires “recordkeeping and reporting of only those animals taken into custody… for purposes of adoption.”) Despite $30 million in revenues, they found homes for only 12 animals. An additional 21 cats and 25 dogs were transferred to another agency (likely a kill shelter since PETA has a “policy against No Kill shelters.”) The rest were put to death. Why?

I’ve tried to explain it by the simple observation that the founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, formerly held a job killing homeless dogs and cats at the Washington Humane Society, a shelter with a consistently poor record for saving lives and the subject of historical public acrimony for its over-reliance on killing. But, in my opinion, there appears to be something more disturbing going on here than Newkirk’s history.

It can’t simply be explained by catch phrases like “they are hypocrites” and “they don’t really care.” Those are terms which No Kill proponents may use to describe Newkirk’s and PETA’s position on killing dogs and cats, but they don’t explain it. Nor is this simply a disagreement between No Kill supporters and traditional “catch and kill” proponents. That is the debate going on with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), where their reputations and donations are being threatened. But with PETA, there appears to be something much more nefarious at play.

While Newkirk tries to shield her actions by wrapping them in the language of opposition to “No Kill,” PETA neither has an animal control contract, nor do they operate as a rescue group. Any effort to offer a lifesaving alternative to killing is dismissed as “no clue” or “warehousing animals” and any dissent by employees or volunteers is allegedly punished by termination or ousting from the group. In talking with an ex-PETA employee, he indicated that during a staff meeting, he was subjected to a PETA video of this kind (No Kill equals hoarding). Having lived in San Francisco during the 1990s when No Kill was in its heyday there and the San Francisco SPCA the nation’s premier shelter, he openly questioned the veracity of the information and was asked to his supervisor’s office and terminated.

Why? The closest analogy or explanation that I have found which appears to fit is the same phenomenon that causes nurses to kill their patients, some offshoot of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (See Attack of the Killer Nurses: A look at a curious phenomenon – nurses who kill their patients, National Review, May 28, 2001). In the typical case, the nurse or caregiver kills the patients with lethal injections. They often claim they act from “compassion for their ailing victims,” because they want “to end their suffering,” and because they and their colleagues are “severely overburdened.” In their minds, they are the heroes and those who try to stop them are turning their backs on their patients.

The corollary to PETA’s language about “Euthanasia: The Compassionate Option,” about “overburdened” shelter workers, and about giving animals what Newkirk calls “the gift of euthanasia,” and how “it was the best gift they’ve ever had,” is eerily similar. In her case, she also believes she is the hero and those who try to stop her are turning their backs on the animals. (She recently blasted a No Kill supporter by stating: “How dare you pretend to help animals and turn your back on those who want an exit from an uncaring world!”) Indeed, Newkirk-through-PETA says that blaming shelters for killing animals is like blaming hospitals for killing patients. Is Newkirk trying to tell us something?

Unfortunately, I have no psychological evaluation to support such a diagnosis, except for similarity of language and the acts themselves: the fact of the killing, the death squads, the indoctrination against No Kill, the hateful denunciation of No Kill, and the proactive efforts to stop communities from trying to embrace No Kill principles.

So what is it? (PETA-apologists have suggested that Newkirk has seen terrible suffering and worries about animals, but this is nothing more than Orwellian double-speak. I was a prosecutor. I’ve seen and handled cases involving torture, child rape, murder, arson of animals, and other acts of unspeakable cruelty. I was also an animal control director in a shelter which investigated and prosecuted horrific crimes against animals. I’ve seen terrible suffering to which is why I want to end it, regardless of whether it comes at the hands of a single abuser or systematically by killing)

We may never know. But what we do know and what I can say is that animal rights and animal welfare groups should reject this point of view and actively campaign against it not only for the dogs and cats PETA will kill in the future and whose interests they theoretically exist to protect, but because it undermines our movement’s credibility when we either ignore the atrocities PETA is committing against animals, or make excuses for it simply because those perpetrating them claim to be part of our movement. Moreover, PETA’s position that animals in shelters do not have a right to live subverts the entire foundation upon which all social justice movements are inherently based.

The right to life is universally acknowledged as a basic or fundamental right. It is basic or fundamental because the enjoyment of the right to life is a necessary condition of the enjoyment of all other rights. A movement cannot be “rights” oriented as PETA claims to be and ignore the fundamental right to life. If an animal is dead, the animal’s rights become irrelevant. Not only does PETA not acknowledge the right to life, they have rejected it saying that they “do not believe in right to life,” as it relates to dogs and cats.

Of more immediate concern, it is the relationship between Americans and their animal companions that can open a door to larger animal rights issues. In their daily interactions with their dogs and cats, people experience an animal’s personality, emotions, and capacity both for great joy and great suffering. They learn empathy for animals. It is not a stretch that someone who is compassionate—and passionate—about their pets would over time and with the right information be sympathetic to animal suffering on farms, in circuses, in research facilities, and elsewhere.

Right now, however, the nation’s largest self-proclaimed “animal rights” group is actively working to ensure that that door is never opened—by actively and proactively arguing that dogs and cats do not have the right to life, and that killing them is an act of kindness. In my opinion: It is beyond ironic. It is beyond hypocritical. It is beyond a betrayal. It is beyond obscene. Regardless of whether you believe in “animal rights” or you don’t; regardless of whether you are a vegetarian or not; regardless of where you stand on animal issues unrelated to animal sheltering, I believe PETA’s position is insane.

And despite the fact that PETA’s annual killing of thousands of dogs and cats has been common knowledge among the leaders of our nation’s animal welfare and animal rights groups for years, most of these so-called “leaders” have chosen to look the other way. In fact, HSUS invites Newkirk and her cronies to give presentations at their national animal sheltering conference. Two years ago, Newkirk gave a video presentation on what amounted to why Pit Bulls should be killed and this year, one of her devotees will share PETA’s strategy for how to engage in “damage control” and “public relations spin” when a shelter or community which kills is challenged by No Kill proponents. Why are groups like HSUS supporting her? Do they hate the movement to end the systematic killing of shelter animals which No Kill represents so much that they are willing to embrace a person and organization this zealous in support of the killing of dogs and cats? The “enemy of my enemy is my friend” can’t be it, can it? Is HSUS so threatened by No Kill that they are willing to embrace an organization which appears to be working to undermine their other platforms? With friends like these, the animals truly do not need enemies.

In my opinion, PETA’s position on killing of dogs and cats is irresponsible. But as to the question of why they do it, I am not a psychiatrist and I very much doubt that Newkirk and her followers will submit to a psychological evaluation. As a result, I am afraid I have no clear answer, though my personal opinion leans toward Newkirk suffering from the mental illness of Munchausen by Proxy. And if I am correct, she will never stop killing until she is forced to.

PETA’s Board of Directors, PETA employees, other animal welfare groups, and animal rights activists need to stop drinking the Ingrid Newkirk Kool-Aid. They must stop making excuses for the killing of animals. They need to openly reject views that need to be explained in the pages of the Journal of Psychiatry. And, if they are to protect the thousands of animals whose lives are at future risk from PETA, they must work to remove the political cover provided by her association with PETA which allows Ingrid Newkirk to continue to act on what I believe are deeply disturbing impulses that result in animals being killed.

Please note: The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the writer and no one else, nor any agency or organization. The author is an attorney and notes that the communications are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Any attempt to infringe on that right, whether actual or threatened, will be considered a strategic lawsuit against public participation.

Sheltering News from Around the Country

March 26, 2009 by  

Yet Another Grisly Year at PETA: 95% of Animals Killed

In 2006, PETA killed a staggering 97% of animals: 1,942 out of 1,960 cats they impounded, 988 out of the 1,030 dogs they impounded, 50 of the 52 rabbits, guinea pigs, and other animals they took in, and the one and only chicken they impounded.

In 2007, they killed 91%— 1,815 of the 1,997 animals they impounded.

As others have reported, 2008 was another grisly year at PETA. A paltry seven dogs and cats were adopted. A paltry 34 were transferred to an SPCA whose fates are not known. And out of 2,216 dogs and cats impounded, the rest were systematically put to death: 555 of the 584 dogs and 1,569 of the 1,589 cats.

In the past, PETA argued that all of the animals it kills are “unadoptable.” But this claim is a lie. It is a lie because PETA refuses to provide its criteria for making that determination. It is a lie because the numbers historically come from the State of Virginia’s reporting form which only asks for data for animals taken into custody “for the purpose of adoption.” It is a lie because rescue groups and individuals have come forward stating that the animals they gave PETA were healthy and adoptable. It is a lie because testimony under oath in court from a veterinarian showed that PETA was given healthy and adoptable animals who were later found dead by PETA’s hands, their bodies unceremoniously thrown away in a supermarket dumpster. And it is a lie because Newkirk herself admitted as much.

In a December 2, 2008 interview with George Stroumboulopoulos of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Stroumboulopoulos asks Newkirk: “Do you euthanize those pets, the adoptable ones, if you get them?” To which Newkirk responds: “If we get them, if we cannot find a home, absolutely.” In short, Newkirk admits that PETA “absolutely” kills savable animals. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.

Why do they do it? I am going to answer that question tomorrow.

Giving Away the Store

The No Kill Advocacy Center is offering free copies of my book Redemption, to any elected official, staff reporter of a newspaper, or animal control director.

We need to change the way shelters operate and I am willing to pay for it. I’ve donated “as many copies as it takes” to them in order to get City Council Members, Board of Supervisors, Mayors, Assemblymen, Senators, County Commissioners, even staff reporters and animal control directors to read it. All they have to do is ask them for it.

To make sure they will actually read it, and so I don’t go broke and waste resources for naught, they have to ask for a copy on official stationary by May 1. That’s it.

For more information, click here.

Best Friends: Time to Reset HSUS Policy

After the Wilkes County massacre, Best Friends made the following statement after it was announced that they were meeting with HSUS to discuss policies surrounding the killing of Pit Bulls in shelters:

There had been more than enough airing of feelings and outrage that the [Wilkes County] dogs were not evaluated prior to being summarily [killed]. It was time to hit the reset button on this in order to move things forward in a constructive way. Mr. Pacelle was open and receptive to what we had to say and we are looking forward to our meetings in April.

In my blog, I was critical of the quote and stated:

I believe the meeting should take place, and I hope their faith is not misplaced. I welcome the involvement of Best Friends in helping set HSUS policy and have very high regard for Best Friends employees working in this field. So much so, in fact, that Best Friends speakers will be giving presentations on this topic at the No Kill Conference this year. There is no falling out with Best Friends. But I do take issue with the notion that it is time to move on from airing outrage or that it is time “to hit the reset button.” One does not necessarily follow the other.

It was mass public pressure from a large number of groups and a wide array of voices which forced HSUS to the table, not a response to a single group’s call for change, however large and influential. Admittedly, Best Friends was a major player and took an important and vocal leadership position on this issue; but any appearance of cooperation they get from HSUS is the result of widespread and loud dissent rising up from grassroots activists and rescuers nationwide. It is that clamor which is the only thing that has ever forced HSUS to the bargaining table—and it should not be discouraged.

Best Friends contacted me recently and said that what they really meant was that it is time to hit the reset button on HSUS policy. You decide. But I did take the opportunity to share with them my recommendations for what that new policy should be:

  • It must include the right of individual evaluation and consideration for each dog, not merely a recommendation as HSUS wants.
  • It must include a guarantee of clemency for any puppies.
  • It must give rescue groups and No Kill shelters the right of access to save the animals, and the right to conduct independent evaluations rather than rely on the flawed results of HSUS or the shelter’s own potentially predetermined ones which favor killing.
  • It must include an unqualified statement in favor of saving animals that rejects the excuses of the past.
  • It must include support of legislation that will give all of these principles the force of law. It should be illegal for a shelter to kill a dog if a rescue group is willing to save him (as it is in California).
  • Dogs should not be deemed dangerous without an evaluation and hearing, subject to appeal by any shelter or rescue group.
  • Before any agreement with HSUS is signed, it should be adopted as a draft and then widely circulated to the larger humane and pit bull community for comment. After those comments are received, a final policy can then be agreed upon.

I offered to meet with Wayne Pacelle as well, but he refused. I’ve asked Best Friends to carry my recommendations to him.

The Latest Twist in the L.A. S/N Voucher Fiasco

As others have reported and I blogged about, Los Angeles cut its half-hearted spay/neuter voucher program despite a mandatory spay/neuter law that has seen deaths skyrocket as poor people surrender their pets to avoid facing citations.

In an apparent turnaround, the director of Los Angeles Animal Services reports that he has found money in the budget and reinstated the program. (This comes in advance of a City Council vote which would have done it for him anyway.) This partly has to do with the fact that few people actually take advantage of the program. By only paying for $30 (or in some cases $70) of the full retail cost of the procedure, it is still out of reach of those at the bottom 15% of the economic ladder.

It is better than nothing, but those aren’t the only two choices. As I wrote in a prior blog,

Instead of reinstituting the mediocre program Cardenas falsely called a “key to No Kill,” the Los Angeles City Council should expand it based on their successful 1970s model. Indeed, LAAS has seven new shelters, complete with state-of-the-art spay/neuter clinics which are currently sitting largely unused, a betrayal to Los Angeles taxpayers who agreed on a $37-million bond measure to build them.

Building a No Kill Houston

There is still time to sign up for the all-day seminar in Houston this Saturday. Workshops include Cost Effective Lifesaving Programs, Turbocharging Adoptions, Saving Shelter Dogs, Feral Cat Care & Advocacy, and Reforming Animal Control. For more information, visit www.nokillhouston.org.

L.A. City Council Sheds Crocodile Tears

March 24, 2009 by  

I believe in spay/neuter. I encourage spay/neuter. I promote incentives for spay/neuter. It is a key component of the No Kill Equation. But I am against mandatory spay/neuter laws. That is not a contradiction. It is an understanding that if one is goal oriented, and if the goal is reducing shelter intakes and shelter deaths, one does not necessarily follow the other.

As my colleague Brent Toellner at kcdogblog.com indicated in an interview I did of him last year,

In 2006, Kansas City passed mandatory spay/neuter 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.

Giving shelters the power to impound and kill even more animals is no way to lower the death rate. Giving animal control the power to divert resources from programs that do work so that agencies can hire yet more officers to write yet more tickets, to no avail, is no way to lower the death rate.

Time and time again, studies show that people who do not spay/neuter belong to those at near, at, and below the poverty line. And Los Angeles should know, it was on the vanguard of this understanding some three decades ago, and put in place a very effective response to overcome it. As I wrote in Redemption,

On February 17, 1971, it opened the first low-cost spay/neuter clinic in the country, with the City of Los Angeles paying for the veterinary staff. By 1973, two more clinics opened and the first was expanded. In 1979, a fourth clinic became operational. The program was so successful, that within the first decade of the program Los Angeles shelters were killing half the number of animals they had been prior to the clinics. Every dollar invested in the program was saving taxpayers ten dollars in animal control costs, due to the reduced numbers of animals these shelters were handling. And despite outcry from private veterinarians and their associations when the program first began, there was no discernible loss of business over time. With four clinics operating, private veterinarians were still performing 87 percent of all neutering within Los Angeles, because the clinics were being used by poor people who would not otherwise have had their pets altered. While national “leaders” were trying to appease private veterinarians, Los Angeles had begun the march to save the animals.

Unfortunately, the clinics were closed in a round of budget cuts, and Los Angeles began following the model of punitive legislation being advanced by those national leaders. Now, it is left scrambling to try to save a badly flawed, unworkable program. And that is why the latest furor over the elimination of subsidized spay/neuter vouchers sadly misses the point.

As I reported earlier,

Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) General Manager Ed Boks made headlines in his support last year of Assembly Bill 1634, California’s mandatory spay/neuter bill when he admitted that the legislation was more about expanding the bureaucratic power of animal control than saving animals. During a legislative hearing, 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.”

Not content to wait for the state (which did not pass the measure), Boks convinced the City of Los Angeles to pass its own version. He also demanded more officers to enforce it. The end result was predictable. Almost immediately, LAAS officers threatened poor people with citations if they did not turn over the pets to be killed at LAAS, and that is exactly what occurred. For the first time in a decade, impounds and killing increased—dog deaths increased 24%, while cat deaths increased 35%. In the process, he also fed the backyard breeding market for more (unaltered) animals.

Now, Boks is adding another insult. As others have reported, he has abolished LAAS’ low-cost spay/neuter program, which allowed some poor people to comply with the new law. Despite increasing impounds, Boks has decided that subsidized spay/neuter is expendable.

In response City Council Member Tony Cardenas introduced a motion, with three co-sponsors, to reinstate the voucher program calling it “key in creating a No Kill city and saving money.” Cardenas, sponsor of the city’s mandatory spay/neuter ordinance, further stated that “When [that] ordinance was drafted, my focus was on drastically reducing the over 15,000 dogs and cats [killed] per year. Without assistance, lower-income families will be unfairly burdened and will be put at risk for non-compliance with the law. In these tough economic times, individuals should not be forced to choose between feeding their families and complying with the law.” The motion calls “for the continuation of the voucher program and a report on the success of the spay/neuter ordinance.” Both efforts are largely meaningless.

First, it is only by the sheerest self-delusion that he seeks a report on “the success” of the ordinance. Since the Cardenas pet killer bill was passed, Los Angeles City shelters have increased the rate of animal killing, the first such increase in better than a decade. And killing is not only up, it is skyrocketing with 35% more cats and 24% more dogs losing their lives. In effect, Cardenas is asking for something that is not possible to do—there is no “success” to report. Instead, the law has been an abysmal failure, something that was not hard to predict.

But Cardenas has his fall guy, in the form of Ed Boks, the director of animal services who, in an all-too-common moment of impolitic, eliminated a program that he once sold to the community as a key component of making the mandatory spay/neuter approach work. And so Cardenas and other Council Members get to ignore their own dubious role in the increased killing by taking pot shots at Boks, while grandstanding over a program that does very little for the animals of Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, I too have called for the program to continue. It is certainly better than the alternative, which if Boks has his way, is nothing. But for all of Cardenas self-serving rhetoric, the voucher program was not successful, because the paltry amount it offers does little to offset the cost of spay/neuter and therefore, the primary barrier which keeps low income people from sterilizing their animals in greater numbers.

Every year, Los Angeles issued roughly 40,000 of the vouchers, but the vast majority only covered $30 dollars of the full retail cost of the spay/neuter surgery at private veterinary hospitals, which can run upwards of hundreds of dollars. (The more “generous”–and less common–vouchers still only cover $70.) Some veterinarians even add pre-surgical blood work, vaccinations, and office visit fees, vastly increasing the cost of the already expensive procedure, and taking it further out of reach of those at the bottom 15% rung of the economic ladder. This is hardly a low-cost program, and—not surprisingly—it is one key to understanding why less than 5,000 vouchers are historically redeemed annually (although Los Angeles Animal Services claims roughly 12,000 of the 40,000 vouchers handed out are now redeemed). Using the American Veterinary Medical Association pet population index, there would be roughly 2,000,000 dogs and cats in Los Angeles, which means only 0.01% of animals are assisted by the city’s pet sterilization program if indeed redemption of vouchers jumped to 12,000—and, even then, they are only partially assisted. How does Cardenas expect lifesaving results with that feeble of an effort?

Where would Los Angeles be today if it continued its successful 1970s era spay/neuter program? A comparison to San Francisco is helpful. In 2008, the pound in San Francisco took in less than 6,000 dogs and cats. Adjusted for population, that would be the equivalent of the Los Angeles city pound taking in about 27,000 dogs and cats per year, or about half the current intake. That would wipe out all population control killing in Los Angeles and even allow Los Angeles to do what San Francisco does—impound thousands of dogs and cats from outside its jurisdiction to meet adoption demand. But Los Angeles did not continue its program, choosing to follow the the punitive road of sheltering promoted by the Humane Society of the United States.

Instead of reinstituting the mediocre program Cardenas falsely called a “key to No Kill,” the Los Angeles City Council should expand it based on their successful 1970s model. Indeed, LAAS has seven new shelters, complete with state-of-the-art spay/neuter clinics which are currently sitting largely unused, a betrayal to Los Angeles taxpayers who agreed on a $37-million bond measure to build them.

But Los Angeles Animal Services has been asked to cut its budget, so where would the money for a truly low cost, high volume program come from? For one, it should be viewed as an investment, not an expense.

Second, city taxpayers spend over $20 million per year on their shelters, about $5.50 per capita. It is one of the most generously funded systems in the nation. I am not arguing that this is too much, only that it is too much for what Los Angeles residents and animals receive in return. Many cities take in a higher per capita rate of animals than Los Angeles, but spend a fraction of the Los Angeles animal control budget, and they still save a higher percentage of animals. As a result, it should not be hard to find revenue from the roughly $400 Los Angeles taxpayers spend for each animal impounded into their shelters. Providing free spay/neuter would only cost a fraction of that.

Third, they could eliminate some of the unnecessary bureaucracy, starting with some of the “typists” who work for the department—49 in all, 11 of them “senior typists.” Or how about diverting to spay/neuter the nearly $350,000 on 11 canvassers Animal Contol wants to hire to enforce dog licensing? Since the pound re-started the licensing canvassing program in FY 2003-04, it notes that dog licensing rates actually declined. Or, how about using the $62,000 proposed to hire assistants for the “assistant” managers? Or how about using some of the $65,000 earmarked for a public relations specialist who, if history is any guide, will do little more than spin the truth anyway?

But that is not likely to happen, because Cardenas and his ilk are buffeted by a throng of activists who demand more laws to punish the public and who champion his cheap populist message, a fact he is only too willing to exploit as he sheds crocodile tears over the half-hearted voucher program and asks for a whitewash over the results of his pet killer law. In  Redemption, I wrote:

While some activists simply do not know better and mean well, others obstinately ignore facts, experience, and history and continue to push these types of laws. They will do what they have always done—facts, logic, and history be damned. They will continue to blame the public and they will continue to fight for more and tougher laws. They will argue that their community is different, that their situation is unique, that citizens in their community are particularly—or peculiarly—irresponsible. None of this is true, but they do not care.

While they claim to be motivated by saving lives, there is something much more powerful driving them: the desire to punish. An activist truly focused on lifesaving, who subsequently learns that punitive legislation is not only a dismal failure, but that it has the opposite results (more impounds, more killing), would end their support of such methods and begin to push for regime change at animal control or the programs and services of the No Kill Equation.

By contrast, those who are intent on punishing the public are being driven by other imperatives. In the end, they so want to punish the public for not taking care of their pets as much as they think they should, they are willing to ignore all the evidence about legislation’s true results or about how to truly save lives, and instead empower animal control to kill animals in the process. Unfortunately, animal control is generally more than willing to oblige and do just that. In the end, these activists become that which they claim to most despise—people whose actions result in the impound and killing of animals. They become the “irresponsible public.”

It is clear that these individuals are not truly motivated by saving animals because they spend no effort on shelter reform legislation, and don’t even stop to think about how horrible and abusive the pounds are that the animals get taken to because of their punitive laws. In fact, they stand side by side with the perpetrators—in speeches and legislative hearings. They are the champions of continued killing, the defenders of draconian animal shelters, and the purveyors of punishment through misguided legislative efforts such as pet limit laws, leash laws, feeding bans, and mandatory spay/neuter even when community after community has shown that animals are killed because of it.

The ones that, as another colleague described,

have heard—and repeated—the mantra of “irresponsible pet ownership” as the root of all evil in the animal world. This resonates with them doubly because they tend to dislike/distrust people, and are exposed to animals that are often the result of abandonment, neglect, ignorance, or at least believe this to be true which further reinforces their dislike for people as a whole. When a local Pit Bull advocate loudly proclaimed that Pit Bulls would be better off with a “humane death” than to be adopted to the “wrong family,” the last piece finally fell into place for me. So many animal welfare people have assumed a position of moral/ethical superiority over the “masses” by virtue of their work with the animals. Only they and an elite few can properly know and care for animals. Most animals in the hands of the unwashed masses, in their estimation, would be better off dead at the hands of “caring” professionals than to be subjected to the horror of the POSSIBILITY of being in the clutches of the dreaded “irresponsible pet owner.” Many of these people are truly distraught at the idea of drastically increasing adoptions, knowing that it will be bad for the animals. In their minds, shelters MUST kill animals to protect the animals.

When you’re exposed to ugliness or just thoughtlessness toward animals, it’s very easy to fall into the mindset I describe above. I think this is why getting animal welfare folks to truly embrace No Kill as a reality (rather than just a nice idea) can be such a hit-or-miss affair and I have not yet come up with a strategy to really “reach” the people who so desperately need the killing to continue. They’re not willing to embrace the No Kill Equation because it depends on the public being a key component to solving the problem…and they will simply not accept that the cause of the problem can in any way be the solution to the problem. Only by pummeling and imposing legislative controls on people … do they see the problem being solved. All the while, they sit atop the shining throne of the animal advocate and know they are “doing good.”

They aren’t motivated by saving lives, they are about setting themselves up as “better” because they are in opposition to everyone else, the uncaring masses. They are, as my colleague noted above, “atop the shining throne of the animal advocate,” whose rule is threatened by the emerging success of the No Kill movement which says, yes some people are irresponsible, but most people do care. Most people find killing abhorrent. Most people pass on their own needs during difficult economic times in order not to have to cut back on what their animals need. Most people would do the right thing if given the information they need to make good choices, if we can cut through the fog of deceit that HSUS has been peddling for fifty years. Most people are not only part of the solution; they are the key to it. And that, according to these Naysayers, can’t be allowed to happen. Because guess what? When everyone is special, no one is special. Not only are most people as committed to animals as they are masquerading to be, but they are more so, because they oppose killing, too. So they can’t accept that. And they block it out, because what else do they have? Who else are they? They lose their identity as “saviors”—these addicts of being special at the expense of the animals.

And so they will champion Cardenas. And they will line up at the podium to thank him. And he will get his lackluster voucher program. And he will get a report that says the mandatory spay/neuter law works but its success is being obscured by rising impounds and deaths due to the economy (ignoring the fact that other communities that have been harder hit by the recession are still increasing rates of lifesaving, despite these troubled economic times). And the activists will applaud their “good work” and go back to feeling special. Meanwhile, the animals will continue to be killed.

It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

March 17, 2009 by  

In 1993, both the ASPCA and HSUS opposed a No Kill San Francisco. The ASPCA called it a “hoax” and the HSUS spent years trying to derail it through data distortion and a deliberate campaign of misinformation. Now, both the ASPCA and HSUS are trying to hinder success yet again. If ever agencies were blind to their own interests and bent on their own destruction, it is HSUS and the ASPCA.

The Animal Welfare Commission in San Francisco is considering the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA), shelter reform legislation designed to maximize lifesaving by mandating how shelters operate. Ultimately, the question facing San Francisco is not will it or won’t it pass such a law? The real question is, will it do it now or will it do it later? In the end, laws of this nature are inevitable: not just in San Francisco, but in every community; and not just for sheltering, but in every social justice movement. All movements seek to codify expected norms of behavior into law. That is why we have—and embrace—voting rights acts, environmental protection laws, and laws against discrimination based on gender, race, and sexual orientation. Ultimately, such laws are essential to ensure fair and equal treatment and to prevent abuses which can come when those in power are given too much discretion—a discretion which has been abused by shelter directors to unnecessarily kill almost four million animals every year.

As I reported earlier, I was asked to testify by the San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission as part of its “exploration of a policy that would ensure that no adoptable animal (including those that need medical and behavioral intervention but would be adoptable after that) is [killed] in San Francisco shelters.” The effort is directed at saving the last 10 percent of savable animals still being killed in San Francisco’s animal control shelter—Pit Bulls, feral cats, older animals, sick and injured but treatable animals—and it is an achievement easily in reach given that San Francisco has the lowest per capita intake rate of any municipality in the nation (five times less than that of Reno, NV, four times less than Los Angeles, and half the national average) because of a twenty-plus year history of high volume, low-cost spay/neuter. If it chooses, it can easily achieve this worthy goal, even while importing thousands of out of county young and small dogs and cats, as the San Francisco SPCA is currently doing.

Why do the ASPCA & HSUS Fear the Companion Animal Protection Act?
At the meeting, both the ASPCA and HSUS testified (the latter in a letter from Wayne Pacelle) against legislation of this kind. Why? There are several reasons.

First, the ASPCA and HSUS oppose any form of shelter regulation if a shelter director asks them to do so—regardless of what is right or what is wrong, what will help animals or won’t help animals, and despite public desire and clamoring for change. That is why the ASPCA supports the decision by Town Lake Animal Control (TLAC) in Austin, Texas to keep over 100 empty cages daily, even as it claims it has no choice but to kill “for space.” That is also why the ASPCA sided with TLAC when it decided to move the shelter from its currently central location conducive to adoptions to a more remote location in order to build more office space for managers and less kennel space to save animals. That is why HSUS supported the massacre of 145 dogs, including some 60 puppies, in Wilkes County, North Carolina last month even though rescue groups offered to help save them. That is why HSUS supported the shelter in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana when it decided to kill every single animal in its facility, including cats, when a few dogs came down with a mild corona virus (which is not fatal to dogs and which cats cannot get).

Moreover, the notion of a city passing legislation of this kind is very threatening to HSUS and the ASPCA. It would prescribe how shelters must operate, removing the discretion that allows shelter directors to ignore what is in the best interests of animals and needlessly kill them. And because it would codify the programs and services responsible for dramatic lifesaving success in communities which have already voluntarily implemented them, its success would prove exactly what is needed in order to create No Kill. For example, before killing an animal, the law would require the shelter to certify that:

(1) There are no empty cages, kennels, or other living environments in the shelter;
(2) The animal cannot share a cage or kennel with another animal;
(3) A foster home is not available;
(4) Rescue groups have been notified and are not willing to accept the animal;
(5) The animal is not a feral cat subject to sterilization and release; and,
(6) The director of the agency certifies he or she has no other alternative.

As such, this law provides a course of action so reasonable, so eminently fair, and so easily doable that there should be no controversy whatsoever. Not only because the public would be shocked to know that such basic and important steps are not commonplace for every animal in every shelter already, but that a law is needed to force shelters to take these simple, ethical steps. Moreover, because San Francisco’s SPCA and its Department of Animal Control assured the Commission that they are already doing everything they can to save lives, they should also support this legislation. If they claim to already be behaving in accordance with the law, why oppose it? If the claim is true, the law would not require them to do anything differently. The reason is that they are not doing everything they can as evidenced by the save rate, and thus fear being held accountable. The ASPCA and HSUS’ position defends and excuses this resistance—when as the nation’s largest animal protection organizations, they should be voices for progress, not champions of those resisting change.

Another reason they are opposed to CAPA is that it will show, in fact, that the killing is the fault of shelter policies and regressive directors—something HSUS and ASPCA will not allow to happen willingly. By changing the way shelters operate, thereby resulting in immediate lifesaving success, the legislation will prove that shelter policies were to blame all along—in opposition to their longstanding assertion that the public is to be blamed for the killing. In fact, it will expose Pacelle and Sayres for what they truly are—bureaucrats who do not care about saving animals, but see their role as protecting a special interest group: shelter directors who do not want to change. Because, in the end, neither Ed Sayres, the President of the ASPCA—who sabotaged No Kill in San Francisco when he was President of the San Francisco SPCA—nor Wayne Pacelle of HSUS could support CAPA because to do so would require them to stand up to their colleagues, something they have proved too cowardly to do in the past.

By contrast, the demands such a law makes on shelters are and would be judged by the public as so reasonable and so successful in achieving their intended aim that for HSUS and the ASPCA to oppose them elsewhere would be politically untenable in other communities that would inevitably follow. This would force Pacelle and Sayres to an even tighter corner than they have already placed themselves through their historically virulent opposition to No Kill—how can they stand before a city council and tell them not to pass a law which leads to No Kill success, in order to defend a kill oriented colleague?

Likewise, when a CAPA-type law passes, and works, it will eliminate any perceived need for the legislation that they, in fact, do promote. Every community will have a choice going forward: continue to pass their leash laws, feeding bans, pet limit laws, and mandatory sterilization laws which have failed in every community, or pass CAPA, and realize immediate life-saving results. It will shine a bright light on just how irrelevant and obsolete HSUS and the ASPCA have become as they cling to outdated, harmful philosophies which have been proven false, no longer make sense, and fail to define a way forward from the quagmire their organizations created.

In fact, during the hearing, when the ASPCA representative referred to No Kill as “radical” and was asked by a commissioner if she really believed that, she realized too late she could not defend her position nor create a smokescreen effective enough, and she was forced to back-pedal. She had not properly anticipated her audience or the issue at hand; namely, that the idea of not killing is no longer controversial in San Francisco and hasn’t been for over a decade. So her suggestion that No Kill is “radical” to a room full of people who live in the City that proved high rates of lifesaving are possible showed how completely tone deaf the ASPCA has become, especially since she followed a presentation that discussed the attainment of 90 percent save rates throughout the country. The world of animal sheltering is changing rapidly, and rather than learn, evolve, and positively contribute, they continue their attempts to force failed, worn out ideologies on a movement that has moved beyond them.

Reading Between Wayne Pacelle’s Lines
Despite Pacelle’s unwillingness to compromise HSUS’ defense of killing, he has realized he must modify its language embracing it. In the mid-1990s and early 2000s, it was HSUS that argued that shelters should not send animals to rescue groups rather than kill them because sending them to rescue would “stress” them in transport, even though the alternative was death. It was HSUS that argued that people who trap, sterilize, and re-release feral cats were violating state anti-cruelty laws against abandonment and should be jailed and prosecuted. It was HSUS that falsely inflated San Francisco’s dog and cat death rates in their magazine to downplay the success of the No Kill effort, and refused to print a retraction when the San Francisco SPCA pointed out the lie and demanded that they do so.

But the times are changing and so is Pacelle’s rhetoric.  Though Wayne Pacelle’s letter to the Committee was wrong in its conclusion that the City shouldn’t force the shelters to the goal line, he did acknowledge that the success in San Francisco is real and is due to the No Kill Equation. But he then wrote that a community should not put in place a plan to demand and achieve that success because doing so would take the City further away, not closer, to the goal of not killing—a hopelessly irreconcilable contradiction. Under Pacelle’s muddled thinking, we shouldn’t have voting rights legislation because that will lead to disenfranchisement. We shouldn’t mandate civil rights laws because that will lead to discrimination. We shouldn’t pass environmental laws because that will lead to more pollution. It not only makes no sense a priori, it makes no sense in light of the tremendous success communities which have achieved No Kill experienced by committing to the endeavor whole-heartedly as this law would dictate.

Because challenging No Kill outright is no longer politically possible for these agencies, both the ASPCA and HSUS now have to use a less obvious, more subtle ways to fight San Francisco making further progress. They have to make it sound like they were on board all along, while simultaneously pushing the same agenda of hindering lifesaving that they always did.

That is what makes Pacelle’s spin so cleverly crafted. Now that leadership has changed and those in charge do not want to save the remaining animals that are at risk in the City, Pacelle now supports the SPCA leadership. Were the situation different, were the San Francisco SPCA promoting this legislation over the objection of animal control, Pacelle’s letter would have challenged the SPCA’s lifesaving claims, just as HSUS always has.

In the end, however, while HSUS and the ASPCA have not changed, the movement has. And this change offers the San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission a chance for its own redemption.

A Second Chance to Do the Right Thing
In 1993, Richard Avanzino stood before the Commission and asked for its support in forcing animal control to allow the SPCA to save animals in the custody of San Francisco Animal Care & Control (ACC). Avanzino was offering to save every healthy and thousands of sick and injured but treatable animals from animal control’s death row by bringing them to the SPCA for adoption. ACC refused. Its leadership argued that they should be allowed to continue to kill animals because the threat of a death sentence is what kept people from surrendering animals to the shelter. Sadly, the Commission refused to act. Given the number of lives that have been saved by the SPCA since, and how obscene it was for the leadership of animal control to demand that killing continue, we look back in astonishment that there was ever any opposition at all, that ACC leadership felt confident enough to voice that position, and that the Commission actually bowed to it. How dare animal control say no. And how was it that the Commission failed to act in support of the animals? What was so controversial about mandating that Animal Control give the San Francisco SPCA animals it was planning to kill, but the SPCA wanted to save?

Likewise, were the City of San Francisco to pass legislation prescribing how shelters in the City must operate in order to maximize lifesaving, it wouldn’t be long after they were passed that their precepts would come to be regarded as sacrosanct. In the future, we will likewise look back with bewilderment as to what all the controversy and fuss was about.

Will the San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission take what may now seem to some like a bold leap, but which history will judge to be such an obvious necessity as to leave us astounded by the hesitancy? Will they set aside their hesitation—and in the case of the San Francisco SPCA and San Francisco Animal Control representatives on the Commission, their personal loyalties—and look at the issue for what it is: granting animals the protections they need and deserve, and by doing so, help the city of San Francisco once more attain its reputation as the crown jewel of the No Kill movement? Or will the Commission delay action while other communities continue to move confidently forward? Will they wait to act until public dissatisfaction at the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of animals every year in San Francisco grows even greater? Will they wait until the fight becomes more bitter and divisive as San Francisco animal lovers watch other cities throughout the nation continue to achieve and then supersede San Francisco’s lifesaving? Will they wait to act until San Francisco is no longer hailed as the progressive city where no healthy animals are killed, but lamented as a regressive city where they are still killing animals who can and should be saved?

If history is any guide, we may be in for a long fight.

More Shelter News From Around the Country

March 15, 2009 by  

Los Angeles Abolishes Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Program Despite Mandatory Spay/Neuter Law
Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) General Manager Ed Boks made headlines in his support last year of Assembly Bill 1634, California’s mandatory spay/neuter bill when he admitted that the legislation was more about expanding the bureaucratic power of animal control than saving animals. During a legislative hearing, 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.”

Not content to wait for the state (which did not pass the measure), Boks convinced the City of Los Angeles to pass its own version. He also demanded more officers to enforce it. The end result was predictable. Almost immediately, LAAS officers threatened poor people with citations if they did not turn over the pets to be killed at LAAS, and that is exactly what occurred. For the first time in a decade, impounds and killing increased—dog deaths increased 24%, while cat deaths increased 35%. In the process, he also fed the backyard breeding market for more (unaltered) animals.

Now, Boks is adding another insult. As others have reported, he has abolished LAAS’ low-cost spay/neuter program, which allowed some poor people to comply with the new law. Despite increasing impounds, Boks has decided that subsidized spay/neuter is expendable.

Giving shelters the power to impound and kill even more animals is no way to lower the death rate, as has been shown time and time again. And despite the claims of those who promote these types of laws that their approach will work, they flatly refuse to include protections in the law for the animals themselves. If they are so convinced that this is good for animals, every mandatory law of this kind, introduced anywhere, would include the following:

  • A “no-impound/no-kill” provision, meaning an animal can never be impounded based on a violation of this law and if an animal is surrendered because a person received or was threatened with a citation, that animal cannot be killed.
  • An exemption for feral and free roaming strays, as they have no “owners.”
  • A provision for “free spay/neuter” in lieu of a citation based on a legislative approved income schedule. In other words, if someone falls below a threshold on income (e.g., is on any type of local, state, or federal welfare benefit or subsidy), they can demand free sterilization instead of a citation; or the citation cannot be written or the law enforced against them.
  • A baseline impound and killing rate is established before the law goes into effect. If at any time, there is an increase in impounds or killing on an annual basis, the law automatic sunsets without further action by the legislature. In other words, if Year 1 impounds or killing exceeds Year 0, or if Year 4 impounds or killing exceeds Year 3, etc. the law is automatically repealed.
  • If after the first two years, the decline in impounds or killing does not exceed the decline in impounds or killing for the two year period prior to enactment, the law is also automatically repealed.

The City should permanently suspend enforcement of the law because it fails to meet the above principles, but failing that, at the very least, until such time as it gives people of low income the ability to comply.

Doing it Wrong, Doing it Right
In February, the Animal Humane Society (AHS) in Minnesota claimed to have “rescued” about 120 cats from a situation they described as animal hoarding. According to press reports, the cats suffered from mostly minor and treatable medical conditions. Animal Ark, the largest No Kill shelter in Minnesota, and local rescue groups had offered to help pay for the care of the cats, offered to provide the care themselves, and offered to transfer the cats to their own groups to save them. But according to sources, AHS did not return their calls and killed all the cats without giving them a chance for adoption.

At about the same time, the 200-million dollar Humane Society of the United States which boasts 12 million animal loving members, embraced, endorsed, demanded, and defended the mass slaughter of 145 dogs in North Carolina, including some 60 puppies, despite similar offers of support from groups around the country. A volunteer was even ordered to return the tiny babies she fostered back to be killed.

Another hoarding bust in Minnesota recently occurred but Animal Ark reports that “their story and the outcome is far more inspiring” than the one under the large, well-funded Animal Humane Society, and certainly better than the mega-rich HSUS under Wayne Pacelle.

This second group of cats was rescued not by a large well-funded humane organization. They were taken in and cared for by a relatively small agency, the Humane Society of Freeborn County. In spite of the challenges, the Freeborn Humane Society reached out to rescue groups and put their efforts into treating the cats.

All of the cats have been placed with rescue groups. According to Animal Ark, “In spite of their small size and lack of resources, the Humane Society of Freeborn County was able to achieve a different outcome for these lucky felines by reaching out, asking for, and accepting help.”

Who should be teaching who how to do things right?

In San Francisco, it’s Déjà vu All Over Again
In 1993, both the ASPCA and HSUS opposed a No Kill San Francisco. The ASPCA called it a “hoax” and the HSUS spent years trying to derail it through data distortion and a deliberate campaign of misinformation. Now, both the ASPCA and HSUS are trying to hinder success yet again—even though the world of animal sheltering has changed. If ever agencies were blind to their own interests and bent on their own destruction, it is HSUS and the ASPCA.

The Animal Welfare Commission in San Francisco is considering the Companion Animal Protection Act, shelter reform legislation designed to maximize lifesaving by mandating how shelters operate. Ultimately, the question facing San Francisco is not will it or won’t it pass such a law? The real question is will it do it now? Or will it do it later?

In the end, laws of this nature are inevitable: not just in San Francisco, but in every community; and not just for sheltering, but in every social justice movement. All movements seek to codify expected norms of behavior into law. That is why we have—and embrace—voting rights acts, environmental protection laws, and laws against discrimination based on gender, race, and sexual orientation. Ultimately, such laws are essential to ensure fair and equal treatment and to prevent abuses which can come when those in power are given too much discretion. And we shouldn’t leave the decision as to whether dogs and cats live or die to discretion either—a discretion which has been abused by shelter directors to unnecessarily kill almost four million of them every year.

The proposed law has the ASPCA and the HSUS worried. Stay tuned…

Building a No Kill Houston
There is still time to sign up for the all-day seminar in Houston on March 27. Workshops include Cost Effective Lifesaving Programs, Turbocharging Adoptions, Saving Shelter Dogs, Feral Cat Care & Advocacy, and Reforming Animal Control. For more information, visit www.nokillhouston.org.

Will San Francisco Rise Again?

March 12, 2009 by  

The following were my comments at a March 12, 2009 meeting of the San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission, as part of its “exploration of a policy that would ensure that no adoptable animal (including those that need medical and behavioral intervention but would be adoptable after that) is [killed] in San Francisco shelters.”

Both the ASPCA and HSUS also testified (the latter in a letter from Wayne Pacelle) arguing against taking any action to achieve No Kill. The ASPCA argued for gradualism, a slow move toward increasing save rates and urged the Commission to take no action to demand No Kill, ignoring that San Francisco has had a 14-year head start but has fallen behind and abandoned the No Kill goal. It called a policy favoring No Kill “radical” which should not be pursued. Not surprisingly, the ASPCA’s Director, Ed Sayres, is responsible for sabotaging No Kill in San Francisco when he was President of the San Francisco SPCA.

Pacelle’s decision to oppose a Commission mandated No Kill goal for San Francisco is also not surprising. Recently, Pacelle defended the slaughter of some 60 puppies in Wilkes County, NC; called for the extermination of 145 Pit Bulls, with most being gassed to death, in the same facility; defended a Louisiana shelter’s decision to kill every living creature in its facility–including cats–because some dogs came down with a mild corona virus; and (through his Vice President of Companion Animals) told an Iowa town that  passed a round-up-and-kill plan for cats that HSUS had no problem with killing stray cats.

Pacelle, who believes we should legislate everything about our relationship with dogs and cats even when such legislation causes animals to be needlessly killed such as pet limit laws, feeding bans and cat leash laws, came out against shelter reform legislation in San Francisco precisely because it was focused on requiring shelters to save animals. Continuing a cowardly pattern of putting his cronies in shelters ahead of the animals, he refused to stand up for the latter by stating that legislation to save the lives of animals was not the answer. Ironically, HSUS historically attacked the No Kill effort in San Francisco and blasted the San Francisco SPCA when it was on the vanguard of the No Kill movement. Now that new leadership has abandoned the No Kill goal, Pacelle came to the defense of the SPCA, saying that it should not be asked to do more.

Dear Madam Chair and Members of the Commission,

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission today. I was asked to speak on the following topics:

1.    What is the history of No Kill in San Francisco?
2.    What is happening nationally in other communities?
3.    Is the term “No Kill” misleading?
4.    Is there pet overpopulation in San Francisco?
5.    Can San Francisco reclaim its national stature? And if so, how?

The History of No Kill in San Francisco.
Please note: A detailed history of the No Kill revolution in San Francisco can be found in chapter two of my book, Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America.

Throughout the 1980s, the San Francisco SPCA (SPCA) ran animal control under contract with the City, and it was impounding tens of thousands of animals annually, putting most of them to death. The City, however, was consistently underpaying/refusing to pay what it costs to administer the animal control program and in 1989, the SPCA relinquished the contract, requiring the City to build and run its own department—San Francisco Animal Care & Control (ACC). Freed of its subsidy of animal control, the San Francisco SPCA began significantly ramping up its lifesaving efforts through adoption, spay/neuter and other lifesaving programs including many first in the nation programs: offsite adoptions, foster care, behavior advice, Trap-Neuter-Release for feral cats, socialization and training, behavior and medical rehabilitation, pediatric neutering, no-cost neutering, and a whole series of programs and services I collectively call the “No Kill Equation.”

And the results were dramatic. Intakes in San Francisco, including the city shelter, were cut in half, to about 13,000 per year. Deaths of healthy animals fell to a trickle. And San Francisco was ready to take next bold leap: A lifesaving guarantee for all healthy dogs and cats in San Francisco, no matter which San Francisco shelter they entered, no matter how many there were, or how long it took to find them a home. Under the terms for such an agreement, the SPCA would guarantee to take every healthy dog and cat the city shelter could not place and would find them all homes. The SPCA would also take thousands of sick and injured animals as well, working to eliminate their deaths entirely also. The SPCA would take on all the costs and responsibility. In return, city shelter staff would not kill these animals, and the animals would be saved. It should have been easy to come to this agreement. But ACC turned out to be a roadblock.

The leadership of ACC claimed an adoption guarantee would lead to increased pet abandonment because the “threat of a death sentence was what kept pets in their homes” and that “people would think pet overpopulation was solved and would no longer spay or neuter their animals.” In other words, ACC leadership argued that they should continue to kill animals so people will be scared to surrender them to the shelter and continue to spay/neuter—a patently unethical position.

Undeterred, the San Francisco SPCA appeared before the San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission (AWC) proposing an “Adoption Act,“ a law that would make it illegal for ACC to kill an animal if the SPCA was willing to save him/her. Ironically, every Bay Area shelter director opposed it, fearful that if it was successful it would bring public scrutiny to their own failures to save lives. Unwilling to choose sides, the Chair of the AWC told the leadership at both ACC and the SPCA to come to a voluntary agreement. After several delays and the SPCA’s threat of a public initiative, ACC backed down and signed an agreement that has come to be known as the Adoption Pact.

The Adoption Pact required the San Francisco SPCA to accept all animals ACC classified as healthy and it could not or would not place, and thousands of treatable animals with a goal of zeroing their deaths as well. In its first year, the number of animals in San Francisco shelters killed as healthy (“Available” under ACC terminology) dropped to zero. The number of  animals killed as treatable (“Sick 1,” “Injured 1,” and “Behavior 1”) dropped by 50%., In short, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. saving all healthy dogs and cats, and the first to dramatically cut the deaths of sick and injured animals. It became the safest community in the United States for homeless animals, proving the viability of the No Kill philosophy and creating a model of sheltering that makes it possible. But it stopped short of the goal of saving all savable animals, including sick and injured treatable ones, and healthy and treatable feral cats; and then abandoned it entirely. (A No Kill community is one in which all savable dogs and cats are saved. This occurs when a shelter saves roughly 90% of all impounded animals. For a definition of savable animals, please see the Matrix.)

What is happening nationally in other communities?
When Richard Avanzino’s retired as the President of the San Francisco SPCA, our hopes for a truly No Kill San Francisco appeared to be lost. New SPCA leadership began to move away from the nuts and bolts programs which brought No Kill within reach and finally abandoned the goal altogether. And while save rates have continued to slowly climb (as they have all other country) the goal of a No Kill San Francisco has remained out of reach. In 2000, I left the San Francisco SPCA after it became clear that leadership was not committed to doing so, and took the San Francisco model to a rural community in Upstate New York, achieving unprecedented results.

Tompkins County became the nation’s first No Kill community, saving 93% of all animals using the San Francisco model of the No Kill Equation. Since that time, other communities have achieved similar success, surpassing San Francisco’s rate of lifesaving. The No Kill revolution may have been started by the private San Francisco SPCA in the mid-1990s, but it is now being driven by progressive animal control agencies around the country: Tompkins County, Charlottesville, Virginia, and Reno, Nevada are but a few. Recently, Porter County Animal Control in Indiana reduced killing rates by 94%, Montgomery County Animal Control in Texas went from an 80% rate of killing to an 18% rate of killing, Caddo Parish Animal Control in Louisiana has seen adoption/redemption rates increase 245%, and others are striving equally hard toward No Kill.

Some of these communities are in the North, some in the South. Some are urban, some rural. Some are public shelters, some are private. Some are in what we call “blue” or left-leaning states, and some are in very conservative parts of the country—at least one is in the reddest part of the reddest state. And every single one of these communities (and others in Utah, Colorado, North Carolina, and elsewhere) are using the model created in San Francisco. A model which this city should be proud of, should embrace, and should lead. It should be a source of community pride. It was the first, it was the best, and it should still be number one, but it is not.

Admittedly, I am used to working in communities that start out saving 40% or 50% or in one case, only 12% of the animals, so it is a little off putting addressing a community saving roughly 80% of dogs and cats, and in the low 70th percentile of all animals. But comparing oneself to other communities who are doing poorly (the national average is 59%) can lull you into a false sense of comfort. San Francisco should not be comparing itself to poorly performing communities. It should strive to be the best. San Francisco is a leader in human rights, in civil rights including marriage equality, in universal health care, in environmentalism, and it should also lead the way in animal welfare.

In addition, there are still lives being needlessly lost in San Francisco because the City stopped short of the goal line—settling for “good enough.” As an animal advocate, I must put the animal’s first and feel duty-bound to speak up wherever lives are being needlessly lost as they are in San Francisco. Good enough is not good enough; not in San Francisco, and frankly not anywhere else when lives are in the balance.

Moreover, compared to the best performing communities in the nation, San Francisco is second rate. This is not acceptable for the birthplace of the modern No Kill movement. This is not acceptable for one of the most progressive, educated, enlightened, and generous cities in the country. This is not acceptable for a community which had a 10-plus year head start on the communities it has fallen behind. Despite the San Francisco SPCA’s claim that this is the “safest community” in the U.S., it is not. It used to be, but it hasn’t been for at least seven years. San Francisco can be, and should be, and I sincerely hope it chooses to be.

Is the term “No Kill” misleading?
This argument is a distraction. The term “No Kill” is not going away and focusing on the term is nothing more than elevating form over substance. Moreover, those communities which are sincerely striving to achieve No Kill or which have in fact achieved it do not see the term as controversial. In fact, they embrace it regardless of whether they are private shelters or public animal control ones. Indeed, they wear is a badge of honor. In these communities, the term is not controversial. The only shelters and communities advancing the “No Kill is misleading” argument are those whose shelter directors are failing to achieve it, because the demands of accountability it makes on shelter leadership is threatening to them. It represents a goal and an achievement that shines the light of public scrutiny on how they are performing. And in order to shield themselves from accountability, they obfuscate what should be straightforward and hope to keep the debate focused on meaningless semantics rather than on what their shelter should be doing—but is failing to—in order to save more lives.

The real focus should be on whether shelters are doing enough to save all the lives at risk, not what the effort to do so should be called. It is an attempt by those hostile to the life-affirming philosophy that No Kill represents to take the focus off their own failures or refusal to meet their primary mandate to save lives. The debate is also not principled as it ignores the misleading terms of which many shelters are particularly fond of such as “putting them to sleep,” “euthanasia,” and that “open admission” shelters are necessarily better.

Webster’s dictionary, for example, defines “euthanasia” as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” To constitute the dictionary definition, four elements must be met: 1. the animal must be hopelessly ill or injured; 2.the calculus must be based on an individual animal’s prognosis for rehabilitation; 3. the killing has to be painless; and, 4. it must be motivated by mercy. Killing savable animals is not “euthanasia.” As I argued in my book, euphemisms like “euthanasia” or “putting them to sleep” make the task of killing easier and obscure the gravity of what is actually occurring to avoid accountability for it.

This is also true of the idea that open admission shelters are somehow more ethical. The implication is that No Kill shelters can’t be open admission (a falsehood given No Kill animal control shelters in Charlottesville, Tompkins, Reno, Porter County and elsewhere) and that No Kill shelters which are not open admission are derelict because they refuse to kill animals. Finally, this misleading idea ignores that most open admission shelters kill largely out of convenience because they refuse to put in place the programs and services which save lives—because they refuse to implement the San Francisco model of sheltering—essentially becoming little more than open doors to the unnecessary killing of animals.

But these misleading terms serve a purpose for shelters, whereas the term No Kill does not. This is also true of two misleading statements perpetuated by the San Francisco SPCA. On its new website, it states that “San Francisco [is] the nation’s safest city for homeless cats and dogs.” This is not true: Reno, NV takes in 16,000 animals per year, nearly double that of San Francisco and is saving a higher percentage of animals; Tompkins County has been saving over 90% for the last seven years, and there are others.

The San Francisco SPCA also claims that, “The San Francisco SPCA has moved beyond our vision of saving healthy dogs and cats to also include rehabilitating thousands of sick and injured animals—and going beyond the borders of San Francisco to help animals that may face euthanasia because of pet overpopulation.” Let’s put aside the misleading term “euthanasia“ and, as demonstrated below, the false statement these animals face death because of “overpopulation,“ rather than because those shelters are derelict in their duty to innovate and modernize by comprehensively putting in place the programs and services which save lives. The implication here is that the work of saving lives in San Francisco is done, that all the animals who can be saved are being saved. It also falsely implies the SPCA is moving into a new area.

In fact, the 1994 Adoption Pact specifically focused on both healthy and sick and injured but treatable animals, the San Francisco SPCA under Richard Avanzino built entire departments focused on rehabilitation of sick and injured animals, deaths of sick and injured treatable animals (what San Francisco ACC called “Sick 1″ and “Injured 1“ animals) fell by 50% in Year 1, and the majority of animals saved by the SPCA from ACC since the mid-1990s have been sick and injured. That was always the vision. Finally, saying they are going “beyond San Francisco” is a way to spin the abandonment of the No Kill goal in San Francisco, to pretend that all the savable animals in San Francisco are being saved and that therefore, now is the time to help others.

And although I would advise against spending time discussing semantics or about what terminology is or is not misleading, if the AWC chooses to do so, then in fairness, it should discuss them all, not just the ones that don’t serve the agenda of needless killing.

But back to the question: Is No Kill misleading? I would argue that it fits closer to the dictionary definition of “euthanasia” than the term used now by killing shelters (with the exception of aggressive dogs). I would also argue that since it the term the movement is using and as hard as the architects of the status quo try, it is gaining, not diminishing in popularity, it makes no sense to abandon it. Moreover, according to the San Francisco Chronicle pet writer on the petconnection.com blog, the term No Kill is powerful:

“That power is exactly why no-kill opponents are doing their level best to destroy the no-kill brand. They know it is probably the most positively-associated of all phrases for the general animal-loving public. Surrendering it would a huge mistake, and it would be to grant a victory to the enemies of no-kill that they have not honestly won. And worse, it would be an insult to the compassion of people like my friend, and the animals those people want to see not-killed. Think long and hard before you surrender that power.”

I hope the AWC does. I would hope the AWC avoids this distraction, and would rather see it spending its time requiring the shelters of San Francisco to make it their goal and to work rigorously to achieve it.

Is there pet overpopulation in San Francisco?
This is also a distraction, a way to deflect attention away from the real issues. The more apt question is “do San Francisco shelters have to kill savable animals?” and the answer is definitively, no. In fact, the San Francisco SPCA is importing animals from outside its jurisdiction. By doing so, it is essentially saying that the problem in San Francisco is solved and that it has no choice but to get these animals elsewhere because there aren’t any savable animals left in City shelters. I disagree with the assessment, but nonetheless even the SPCA agrees that there is no overpopulation in San Francisco or it wouldn’t be seeking animals from outside the jurisdiction.

The SPCA’s justification aside, is San Francisco killing savable animals? The answer has to be yes. First of all, ACC gives the SPCA a “pass” on animals, allowing them to change their categorization from adoptable to unadoptable for a few animals each month. This has nothing to do with whether the animals are actually savable. Furthermore, ACC is still killing healthy feral cats, some categories of animals have high death rates (e.g., 56% of all Pit Bulls), and it is only saving roughly 80% of dogs and cats (and less than that including other animals). (ACC says it is saving 84% of all dogs and cats, but they specifically exclude animals whose owners request that they be killed, animals who die in their kennels, and missing animals who should not be swept under the rug.)

Roughly speaking, a shelter achieves No Kill when it is saving about 90% of all animals. This comes from an analysis of dog bite rates (showing the incidence of aggression in dogs), and an analysis of sheltering intakes, as well as save rates at the best performing shelters in the country. For example, Reno saved 92% of dogs in 2007, but still admitted savable dogs were being killed (they believed they were 1-2% away from No Kill for dogs). By way of another example, Charlottesville saved 87% of cats and dogs in 2006 and admitted savable animals were still being killed (they did not claim No Kill for dogs until they hit a 92% save rate).

But let’s look at the numbers. San Francisco ACC impounds roughly 6,000 dogs and cats annually. That’s 7.5 dogs and cats for every 1,000 human residents. If you include all species of animals, it is still only an 8.5 per capita intake rate (although the save rate drops to the low to mid 70th percentile). Meanwhile, the national average is 15 dogs and cats for every 1,000 human residents. So San Francisco takes in half the national average.

By contrast, Tompkins County takes in 26 per 1,000 and is saving over 90% and has been for seven years. Charlottesville also takes in 26 per 1,000 and is saving a greater percentage of animals than San Francisco. Washoe County, Nevada takes in 39/1,000—that’s five times the rate of San Francisco. It also takes in almost three times the total number: 16,000 per year. Yet they are saving 90% of dogs and 83% of cats and expect 90% save rates for both this year despite an 11% unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. So regardless of what is happening outside San Francisco, San Francisco is at the bottom rate of intakes nationally. And therefore there can be only one conclusion: There is no overpopulation in San Francisco. It could take in five times the rate of animals it does now and should still be able to save a higher percentage of animals than it is.

Nationally, the numbers tell the same story. Roughly four million dogs and cats are killed annually. Every year, over two times the number of people are looking to bring a new dog into their home than the total number of dogs entering shelters, and 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 dogs and cats entering shelters need adoption: Some will be stray animals who will be reclaimed by their owners; some of the cats will be feral and do not need adoption, but need sterilization and release; and a small percentage of the dogs and cats will be hopelessly ill, injured or in the case of dogs, vicious with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation, and will be killed.

By contrast, there are 165 million animals in over 110 million households. The inventory of pet owning households is increasing both as to number of pets in a single household and number of households with pets. But there are four million killed, of which 3.6 million are “savable,” some of whom are feral cats who do not need a home. It is a very achievable goal. In the end, we need to increase market share only by about 3% nationally to eliminate all population killing in the U.S. These aren’t just my conclusions; they are also the conclusion of the Humane Society of the United States:

• “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.”

Even HSUS, one of the chief architects of the current paradigm of killing, can no longer argue with the facts.

Can San Francisco reclaim its national stature? And if so, how?
The answer of course, is a resounding yes. The AWC should look into several issues if it wants to really understand the increasing irrelevance of San Francisco in the larger No Kill movement and if it wants to get a handle on the lost potential for achieving No Kill in this City.

First, the AWC should investigate the issue of the San Francisco SPCA impounding of animals from out of county while animals die in San Francisco shelters. It should also investigate why ACC has such a low number of adoptions. ACC should not rely on the SPCA and rescue groups solely to keep lifesaving rates where they are. Rescue transfers should be “additive” or supplemental to an animal control shelter’s own comprehensive adoption effort. It is too easy to blame the SPCA, but ACC has abdicated its responsibility for too long using rescue groups and the SPCA as a crutch by threatening to kill animals they don’t rescue. And by choosing to build a police agency, rather than becoming a true adoption agency.

When it suits them, they’ll tell you they are focused on public safety not lifesaving. When it suits them, they’ll brag about their level of lifesaving. They play it both ways depending on which way the wind is blowing. The AWC needs to tell them that both efforts need to be addressed and that high rates of adoption are not incompatible with public safety, as other communities have proven.

The AWC must also not accept budget cuts as a reason to expect less lifesaving in San Francisco by keeping in mind that other communities which are more successful than San Francisco get far less per capita for animal control than ACC even with any budget cuts. Moreover, ACC is also leaving money on the table. Maddie’s Fund offered ACC $20,000 to publish their numbers in a very specific format when the recently retired director was in charge, but he refused. Maddie’s Fund also offered the new director $40,000 to do so, but she also has not done so. Finally, if they publish those statistics, they offered an additional minimum of $700,000 and up to $2,000,000 (depending on various factors) to be shared among ACC, the SPCA, and even the rescue groups as a lifesaving award. So far, ACC has not agreed to do so and it has been “under consideration” for over a year. That money can be used to bump up the save rate to No Kill levels. ACC is taking that money away from rescue groups, away from the SPCA, away from the animals that depend on them. And it is intolerable, as they complain how budget cuts will impact their lifesaving efforts. You should force them to do so.

Second, the AWC should not accept the fiction that as a private shelter, the San Francisco SPCA is out of reach of its jurisdiction. That is patently false. The animals are held in trust for the people of San Francisco. The SPCA holds the power of life and death. The City has a right to regulate private animal shelters the same way San Francisco regulates private hospitals and private businesses.

Third, San Francisco proved the viability of the No Kill model. At one time, it showed other communities how to achieve it and many communities have, surpassing San Francisco in that goal. The AWC should not offer excuses for the SPCA’s and ACC’s failures. It should stop debating semantics about overpopulation and the term “No Kill.” It should focus on forcing shelters in this City to do all they can to save lives.

These shelters are being paid for by the citizens of San Francisco, through their tax and philanthropic dollars. These shelters do not belong to their directors, to the staff, or to the Board members. They belong to the people. And they should fully reflect the humane values this City is known for, for which the City of St. Francis is named—the patron saint of the animals. The people have a right to reclaim these institutions for the animals who depend on them. As the AWC represents the people, it would be speaking for them by embracing and demanding a No Kill San Francisco.

Finally, in Redemption, I wrote that,

No Kill is only succeeding in some communities because of the commitment by individual shelter leaders, who are few and far between. Traditional sheltering, by contrast, is institutionalized. In a shelter reliant on killing, directors can come and go and the shelter keeps killing, local government keeps ignoring that failure, and the public keeps believing “there is no other way.” By contrast, the success of an organization’s No Kill policies depends on the commitment and vision of its leader. When that leader leaves the organization, the vision can quickly be doomed. It is why an SPCA can be progressive one day, and moving in the opposite direction the next.

That is why the AWC should focus on institutionalizing No Kill through shelter reform legislation (like the enclosed model law, The Companion Animal Protection Act). Legislation is needed to force ACC to put “saving lives” on an equal footing with “public health/safety,” and to force them to focus more on adoptions. The law would force both shelters to be rigorous in implementing all the programs that make No Kill possible and to eliminating killing for all but hopelessly ill or injured animals. It would open up their operations to the full light of public scrutiny, and give citizens an integral voice in how these shelters operate.

By adopting this approach, you will force shelter leadership to embrace No Kill and to run 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, even in spite of tremendous public opposition and hunger for change.

This law would be the first of its kind in the nation. It would reignite the pride we all felt when San Francisco was the crown jewel of the No Kill movement. It would be ground-breaking, consistent with the City’s progressive history. And it would once again make San Francisco a beacon of light for the nation.

I believe the members of the AWC owe it to the animals of San Francisco, to the animal lovers of San Francisco, and to yourselves to do so. You’ve been given a great trust on this Committee. I urge you to leave a mark that will help pave the way for our nation’s inevitable No Kill future. The City once led the No Kill movement, and it is up to you whether it will do so again.

Thank you.

Did Wilkes County Dogs Get Gassed?

March 9, 2009 by  

With the uproar over the Wilkes County massacre focusing on the systematic and needless killing of the 145 dogs and puppies, and the Humane Society of the United State’s shameless defense of it, there hasn’t been a lot of commentary on the cruel way the dogs probably died. Did the Wilkes County dogs get gassed? Except for the really young puppies, according to testimony at a County Commission meeting, the answer is probably, yes.

The Wilkes County NC shelter which was the sight of the massacre is back in the news—defending the carbon monoxide gas chamber to kill animals, even as employees there have admitted that when they use carbon monoxide, it isn’t “a pretty sight, with animals scratching and trying to get out.”

Despite testimony from a veterinarian that animals put in gas chambers  “endure more trauma and pain than necessary to end their lives,” the Director of the Wilkes County shelter not only defended the use of gas, but he defended shooting animals, and claimed (erroneously) that it takes upwards of five minutes after lethal injection for animals to stop breathing.

Webster’s dictionary defines euthanasia as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” Unfortunately, in most shelter environments, animals are not solely being killed because they are hopelessly sick or injured, but rather as “population control.” In this environment, shelter killing—particularly of healthy and treatable animals—raises a host of ethical questions and dilemmas, many of which are being raised by the public in communities across the country.

At the very least, shelters who kill, particularly those which kill large numbers of animals, are obligated to ensure that employees are technically proficient, competent, skilled, compassionate, properly trained, and doing everything in their power to make sure the animals are as free from stress and anxiety as possible. The use of a gas chamber does not allow this.

A “relatively painless” death can only occur in an environment where sensitivity, compassion, and skill, combine with efforts to minimize distress and anxiety. By contrast, gas systems take time to kill—during which animals experience distress and anxiety, and can struggle to survive. They can result in animals surviving the gassing, only to suffer even more. They are designed for the ease of shelter workers, not care and compassion for the animals.

The use of such systems to kill animals is universally condemned by humane advocates and progressive shelters, and has been outlawed for dogs and cats in several states including New York and California. According to Dr. Michael Moyer, V.M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine:

There is no progressive sheltering agency of any scope or stature willing to philosophically embrace gas systems for the killing of any species of animals. Sheltering is deliberately, inexorably, and philosophically moving away from mass killing as an acceptable method of dog/cat population control.

That there are technical features of one system that distinguish it from other such systems is irrelevant. Profit center analysis, head-to-head demonstrations, ease of use, load capacity—none of these are capable of overcoming the humane and philosophical objection to mechanized death at the core of those who have moved away from this technology.

In short, they should never be used. But they are in Wilkes County. And they most likely were for most of the Wilkes County dogs.

To view a video of animals being gassed and then thrown into a dumpster, click here. (Caution: this film videotaped inside a North Carolina shelter is very graphic.)

Excerpted From the Wilkes-Journal Patriot, March 9, 2009

The Wilkes County Animal Shelter’s use of carbon monoxide poisoning to euthanize dogs and cats was challenged during the “public concerns” portion of the county commissioners meeting Tuesday night.

Janice Combs said lethal injection was more humane and should be used instead. Ms. Combs said Wilkes was among the few places where carbon monoxide poisoning was still used.

Legislation proposed in the current N.C. General Assembly session bans euthanization by carbon monoxide. It requires that animals be euthanized only by lethal injection or by ingestion of sodium pentobarbital and that euthanasia be performed only by licensed veterinarians or certified euthanasia technicians.

Ms. Combs said that when she called the Wilkes Animal Shelter last year about the matter, an employee told her both methods were used there and that animals didn’t die quickly with carbon monoxide poisoning. The employee “said it wasn’t a pretty sight, with animals scratching and trying to get out,” she added…

Ms. Combs, an employee of the Town of Elkin, left a video and written materials for county officials to view. They included written statements criticizing use of carbon monoxide poisoning to euthanize animals, one signed by four veterinarians in Winston-Salem and the other by a veterinarian in Bahama (near Durham)…

Part of the statement from the four veterinarians with Ard-Vista Animal Hospital in Winston-Salem read, “Unfortunately, euthanasia by carbon monoxide gas chambers is still in use in many animal shelters due to lack of training, resources, funding or a combination of the above. Animals placed in these chambers, who may be suffering already, endure more trauma and pain than necessary to end their lives.”

Wilkes Animal Control Director Junior Simmons said in an interview this morning that opposition to carbon monoxide euthanization is based more on misinformation than fact.

Simmons said older animals with difficulty breathing and animals up to 4 months old are euthanized with lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital at the Wilkes Animal Shelter as recommended by the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

Except in cases where an animal struck by a vehicle or injured in some other way makes euthanization by gunshot more humane, he said, other animals at the shelter are euthanized by carbon monoxide.

He said three dogs of comparable size at a time typically are placed in the carbon monoxide chamber. When the gas is released, said Simmons, they become unconscious in 20 to 45 seconds and die as they stop breathing in two to five minutes. He said the length of time is about the same with lethal injection…

Sheltering News From Around the Country

March 6, 2009 by  

The Revolution Marches On, Cont’d

I’ve blogged about success in communities in which the No Kill initiative was led by animal control. Shelters I’ve worked with have had some very progressive results: Porter County Animal Control in Indiana reduced killing rated by 94%, Montgomery County Animal Control in Texas went from an 80% rate of killing to an 18% rate of killing, Caddo Parish Animal Control in Louisiana has seen adoption/redemption rates increase 245%, and others are striving equally hard toward No Kill. This is on top of Tompkins, Reno, and Charlottesville, and is by no means a comprehensive list.

Recently, a former neighbor of mine when I ran the Tompkins County shelter in New York touched base. Sgt. Joel Klose who runs animal control on behalf of the Elmira (NY) Police Department sent me an update of his progress. He writes that “Last year 83% of all dogs went out alive,” and he hopes to replicate that success in cats. Sgt. Klose notes that “we are taking in 1/2 as many [cats] thanks to a gargantuan effort in 2006-2007 to get an active TNR program going in our area and a solid low cost spay neuter program… and working on recruiting the community to re-evaluate cats as “neighborhood cats.”

In other words, while he is actively spaying and neutering and increasing adoption programs, he is working to undo the HSUS-created paradigm that sees free roaming cats as a “nuisance,” and instead is working to encourage the public to view them as animals who share our communities and whose needs must be accommodated.

Sgt. Klose further notes that “this may be the best year here in my 25 years of working in the animal control field.” He finishes by saying that they are “still in the battle with one goal—get ‘em out alive.” Kudos to Sgt. Klose who, after 20-plus years in animal control, had the courage and conviction to embrace the innovative approach of the No Kill philosophy and to commit himself to the compassionate goal of saving lives entrusted to his care.

Sgt. Klose is not alone. An Arkansas animal control officer wrote me the following: “I am the animal control officer for the city. I have been doing this for about four years. When I took the job they had a hold and kill pound. I told them I wanted to make it a no kill operation.” The officer reports not killing a single dog in that time.

If only that was the goal of every shelter director…

Following our Conscience

In questioning a recent call by large groups to curtail outrage over the Humane Society of the United States’ recent endorsement, embrace, and recommendation to slaughter 145 Pit Bulls, including dozens of puppies, in Wilkes County, North Carolina, I wrote that,

Leadership in this movement must reflect the tremendous discontent of those in the grassroots, not seek to prematurely quell it and the vast potential for reform its expression offers. There is no “reset” button for the more than 150 dogs and puppies killed in North Carolina—they are gone forever and we cannot bring them back. It is, therefore, premature to suggest that we move on—not only because HSUS has neither apologized for their actions nor owned up to the obscenity of them, but because the North Carolina incident is a typical example of how HSUS routinely operates, and therefore offers us a cautionary tale as to what we can expect from an HSUS that is anything short of what it is our duty to force it to be: unequivocal in its embrace of No Kill.

Because of the grassroots backlash, Wayne Pacelle, the HSUS CEO, announced that he wanted “to talk with professional colleagues in the movement” in order to reevaluate the HSUS position. But there is also a potential trap here. What makes the No Kill movement so vibrant is that we do not follow the voice of groups who have the biggest budget or the loudest voice. We follow our conscience. And it is incumbent upon HSUS to heed this as it enters negotiations with large, national groups next month in Las Vegas before producing a carefully crafted statement that is devoid of substance.

When some of the largest groups outside the No Kill movement and some of the largest groups inside the movement signed on to a vision for the future called the Asilomar Accords, they claimed that this would be the roadmap for animal sheltering in the U.S. Fortunately, the grassroots rejected them, not because they were not invited to participate, nor because their views weren’t sought. They were rejected because it allowed killing to continue. They were rejected because conscience dictated it. As a result, they were dead on arrival and have since been largely forgotten.

Wayne Pacelle risks a similar outcome if he insulates himself from the voices of grassroots conscience by speaking only to those he considers “professional colleagues,” as was done in Asilomar, and as he is threatening to do in Las Vegas. If something worth accepting and celebrating is to come out of this meeting, it must be judged before the conscience of the grassroots which has powerfully and vocally demonstrated its rejection of the disproved excuses used to justify continued killing, and its hunger for real, substantive, life-affirming change.

With this seismic shift in the understanding of what is causing the killing, what must be done to end it, and how quickly it can be achieved, has come a more confident grassroots that is outraged with the status quo, and more outspoken against it and the forces working to maintain it. There is strength in these numbers and with this shift in power, the realization that there is no pragmatic or practical reason to tolerate the undermining of our values, the thwarting of our will, or the compromising of the No Kill movement’s goals any longer—especially when it comes to reforming organizations such as HSUS which act against the best interest of animals despite their stated mission to protect them. As I’ve said in the past, “We have found our voice, and recognize the potential its fullest expression can create. No more compromises. No more killing.

Volunteer Rights

Recently, I posted a blog about using civil rights laws to protect volunteers who are fired for going public about inhumane conditions. A district court in Southampton recently awarded a volunteer who experienced this situation over $250,000, in ruling she had the same rights as paid staff against unlawful termination.

Read the article by clicking here.

Mandatory Spay/Neuter

The champions of expanding the animal control bureaucracy’s power to impound and kill animals in California may be at it again. A newly introduced statewide licensing and leash law for unaltered animals was recently introduced. I have to wonder why they don’t spend any energy trying to reduce animal control’s power to mistreat and/or kill animals? How about shelter reform legislation like the Companion Animal Protection Act?

And as often as I have tried to set the record straight, I will do so again: My opposition to these kinds of laws is not philosophical, unless you want to say that I must oppose any law that expands the power of “catch and kill.” My opposition is practical. I would be the first to champion any successful approach to reducing shelter killing. But if we are going to heed the lessons of the past, that means we must work to reduce the power animal control has to impound and kill animals, not increase it by giving officers additional power to threaten citations if people don’t surrender their animals who are in violation (which just as often means they go get another animal, thereby fueling and exacerbating the market for backyard bred animals).

Without forcing shelters to put in place the humane, life-affirming programs of the No Kill Equation, the animals impounded under these laws will be killed. Giving shelters the power to impound and kill even more animals is no way to lower the death rate, as has been shown time and time again. And despite the claims of those who promote these types of laws that their approach will work, they flatly refuse to include protections in the law for the animals themselves. If they are so convinced that this is good for animals, every mandatory law of this kind, introduced anywhere, would include the following:

  • A “no-impound/no-kill” provision, meaning an animal can never be impounded based on a violation of this law and if an animal is surrendered because a person received or was threatened with a citation, that animal cannot be killed.
  • An exemption for feral and free roaming strays, as they have no “owners.”
  • A provision for “free spay/neuter” in lieu of a citation based on a legislative approved income schedule. In other words, if someone falls below a threshold on income (e.g., is on any type of local, state, or federal welfare benefit or subsidy), they can demand free sterilization instead of a citation; or the citation cannot be written or the law enforced against them.
  • A baseline impound and killing rate is established before the law goes into effect. If at any time, there is an increase in impounds or killing on an annual basis, the law automatic sunsets without further action by the legislature. In other words, if Year 1 impounds or killing exceeds Year 0, or if Year 4 impounds or killing exceeds Year 3, etc. the law is automatically repealed.
  • If after the first two years, the decline in impounds or killing does not exceed the decline in impounds or killing for the two year period prior to enactment, the law is also automatically repealed.

Their refusal to do so speaks volumes about both their integrity and their values.

Abuse continues in Los Angeles

The No Kill Advocacy Center and other plaintiffs in the Los Angeles County lawsuit over inhumane conditions in Department of Animal Care & Control shelters may be heading back to court as the County shelter system continues to violate the law, this time in violation of a court order. For more information, click here.

To read an article (with graphic photographs) about inhumane conditions in L.A. county shelters, click here.

Thanks to a grant from Maddie’s Fund, the No Kill Advocacy Center will be announcing similar lawsuits in other communities this year.

More Kudos for the Nevada Humane Society

Look for 90-plus percent save rates in Washoe County for both dogs and cats this year as the former director of Washoe County Animal Services has retired. Despite her open hostility to the No Kill philosophy, and actions which resulted in animals needlessly losing their lives, the NHS-led countywide No Kill initiative has nonetheless had some very impressive results in its first two years.

In 2007, NHS:

  • Increased the countywide adoption rate 53% for dogs and 84% for cats (compared to 2006), a higher increase than any other community in the nation.
  • Decreased the countywide number of dogs killed by 51% and the number of cats killed by 52% in Washoe County animal shelters (compared to 2006).
  • Achieved a countywide 92% save rate for dogs and 78% for cats despite a per capita intake rate that is twice the national average, effectively making Washoe County one of the safest communities for homeless animals in the United States.

In 2008, NHS:

  • Increased dog and cat adoptions 9% over 2007.
  • Decreased the number of dogs and cats killed in Washoe County by 10% over 2007.
  • Increased the countywide save rate for cats to 83% despite a per capita intake rate that is twice the national average, again putting Washoe County in the top tier of communities nationwide.

With her departure, one of the last remaining obstacles to No Kill success has been overcome. The future looks very bright indeed.

The Irresponsible Shelter

During the years I’ve been working in this field, I’ve kept a collection of the most unusual reasons why people have surrendered their animals to shelters. I’ve got plenty of the usual ones, and even some unusual ones, including:

1.    “My dog is too friendly”
2.    “My cat needs her litter box scooped DAILY”
3.    Spontaneous allergies after 9 years with the dog
4.    “Moving” for surrendering a litter of black and white kittens. Still “moving” from the same address one year later for a second litter of black and white kittens

But one takes the cake. It occurred while I was in Reno during a recent evaluation of operations I did at the Nevada Humane Society. In surrendering this little gem of a dog, the family came in and said they “didn’t want” their dog anymore. When pressed further, they said that, well, “she has a chew bone stuck on her jaw.” The family woke up in the morning and found the chew bone stuck around their dog’s lower jaw (as seen in the photograph) and could not remove it. They then decided they didn’t want the dog anymore.

img_0490

I have long stated that while irresponsibility sends some animals to the shelters (though certainly not all, a distinction shelters often fail to make), that is why shelters exist in the first place and they are obligated to respond humanely. I’ve long stated that what happens when the animals 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.

There is a great hypocrisy in our movement. While shelters tell people not to treat animals as disposable, they treat them that way by killing them and literally disposing of their bodies into landfills. And rather than take responsibility for the killing, they deny that they are even killing, as this “euthanasia expert” stated to thunderous applause at HSUS Expo 2006, the Humane Society of the United States’ animal sheltering conference:

We are not killing [animals in shelters]. We are taking their life, we are ending their life, we are giving them a good death… but we are not killing.

Listen by clicking here.

What is more disturbing than the fact that animal shelter professionals from coast-to-coast applauded in agreement, and that the nation’s “euthanasia” expert is professing the Orwellian logic that killing is not killing, that killing is kindness. But when you deny any responsibility for the killing, the impetus to change your own behavior which might impact that killing disappears.

A note on Chewy Bone: She wasn’t in any pain. And yes, the Nevada Humane Society got the chew bone off.

The Revolution Marches On

March 2, 2009 by  

The No Kill Revolution

The No Kill revolution may have been started by the private San Francisco SPCA in the mid-1990s, but it is being driven by progressive animal control agencies around the country: Tompkins County, Charlottesville, and Reno are but a few. Recently, Porter County Animal Control in Indiana reduced killing rated by 94%, Montgomery County Animal Control in Texas went from an 80% rate of killing to an 18% rate of killing, Caddo Parish Animal Control in Louisiana has seen adoption/redemption rates increase 245%, and others are striving equally hard toward No Kill.

Some of these communities are in the North, some in the South. Some are urban, some rural. Some are public shelters, some are private. Some are in what we call “blue” or left-leaning states, and some are in very conservative parts of the country—at least one is in the reddest part of the reddest state. Despite all the things that separate us as Americans, people of all walks of life want to build a better world for animals.

The fundamental lesson from the experiences of these communities is that the choices made by shelter managers are the most significant variables in whether animals live or die. Several communities are more than doubling adoptions and cutting killing by as much as 75-90 percent—and it isn’t taking them five years or more to do it. They are doing it virtually overnight. Their success occurred immediately after the hiring of a new shelter director committed to No Kill and passionate about saving lives.

In Reno, for example, a new director’s commitment to the No Kill philosophy resulted in an increase in the adoption rate of 53% for dogs and 84% for cats and decrease in the number of dogs killed by 51% and the number of cats killed by 52% countywide in her first year. Not content with saving nine out of ten dogs and eight out of ten cats, in 2008 she led an effort which further increased adoptions by an additional 9% and decreased killing another 10%. The director’s appointment followed the 20-plus year reign of a darling of HSUS—a member of their national sheltering committee—who for two decades found killing easier than doing what was necessary to stop it.

This is also the story of Tompkins County, Charlottesville, Porter County, Montgomery County, and all the others. The buck stops with the shelter’s director.

And that is ultimately why the question of public vs. private shelter, urban vs. rural, or South vs. North is not relevant. The only relevant inquiry is whether the shelters are run by truly compassionate directors working to rigorously implement the only national model that has achieved success—The No Kill Equation. And that is why any argument that “every community is unique” or its residents are particularly—or peculiarly—“irresponsible” is simply excuse making.

The time has come for animal advocates to broaden their understanding of why animals are really being killed in shelters, to stop accepting the excuses which rationalize the killing, and to stop providing regressive shelter directors the political cover they need to continue killing. The animal protection movement must find the moral courage to stand up to shelters directors who refuse to change the way their shelters operate, to national organizations like HSUS which legitimize the killing, and also to the Naysayers in our midst who choose to ignore or remain willfully ignorant of that facts and champion defeatism by repeating the mantra, “It can’t happen here”.

By replacing kill-oriented shelter leadership, by boycotting groups that oppose No Kill, and by silencing the voices of negativity and failure, we pave the way for No Kill’s conquest of the status quo. And that conquest will give animals entering U.S. shelters a new beginning, instead of what they currently face unnecessarily and much too often—the end of the line.

The Bark

A new year, a new president, and new hope for a No Kill nation. Read my editorial “No Kill Nation” in this month’s issue of The Bark magazine. Available wherever books and magazines are sold.

Building a No Kill Houston

The No Kill Conference in Washington DC has sold out two months in advance, a testament to the desire and hunger for a No Kill nation. If you did not register in time, consider the all-day No Kill seminar in Houston, TX:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Come to the all-day seminar which has been called “a prerequisite for rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.”

Workshops include:

•    Building a No Kill Community: Cost-effective Lifesaving Programs
•    Big Dogs, Shy Cats & All the Rest: Finding Homes for All of Them
•    Saving Shelter Dogs: Evaluation, Socialization, Treatment & Placement
•    Feral Cat Care & Advocacy
•    Reforming Animal Control: A Guide to Citizen Action

For more information, go to www.nokillhouston.org

To register, go to nokillhouston.eventbrite.com

Proceeds benefit No Kill Houston.

BOGO (For Your Local Shelter) Free

Buy One Get One (for a local shelter) Free!

From now until March 31, buy one copy of Redemption from the No Kill Advocacy Center for you or a friend and get a second  one sent to the manager or director of your local animal shelter free.

Help spread the No Kill revolution with the book which is being called “powerful and inspirational,” “ground-breaking,” and “a must read for anyone who cares about animals.” Winner of USA Book News Award for Best Book (Animals/Pets), a Best Book Muse Medallion winner by the Cat Writers Association of America, a Best Book nominee by the Dog Writers Association of America and winner of a Silver Medal from the Independent Publishers Association, the book shatters the notion that killing animals in U.S. shelters is an act of kindness.

To purchase, go to www.nokilladvocacycenter.org and click on “What’s New.”

Reforming Animal Control

The No Kill Advocacy Center’s latest e-newsletter, The No Kill Advocate, is dedicated to Reforming Animal Control and includes features on shelter reform legislation, litigation, a guide to citizen action, pet limit laws, liability, and more.

Read it at www.nokilladvocacycenter.org by clicking on “No Kill Advocate.”