The Confederacy of Dunces

July 30, 2009 by  

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. – Jonathan Swift from Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting.” – J.K. Toole, The Confederacy of Dunces.

I do not claim to be a genius, far from it. But that has not stopped the Confederacy of Dunces from aligning themselves against me. In fact, the Confederacy will align themselves against anyone who seeks any progress in this movement. Ask Bonney Brown, the Executive Director of the Nevada Humane Society, who is saving 90% of all animals in Washoe County and being attacked for it by Ardena Perry. Ask Susanne Kogut of the Charlottesville SPCA who has run a No Kill animal control shelter for three years and has her band of Naysayers. Ask Richard Avanzino who was mercilessly attacked by HSUS, the ASPCA, and others when he was blazing a new trail as the President of the San Francisco SPCA. Ask anyone who has ever tried to build a better society, regardless of the field. The status quo always has its champions. And when that status quo is regressive, as the humane movement has been over the care and treatment of sheltered animals, rest assured the Confederacy will be also.

For me, the latest salvo was an interview I did this week where I was asked whether I support puppy mills, hunting, and other animal abuse as the Confederacy has suggested. I was also asked if I get money from these types of groups for promoting that pet overpopulation is a myth.

I did not wake up one day and say “Pet overpopulation is a myth.” Nor did I think that someday I would champion the notion that it was. I did not even set out to prove it. It unfolded as part of my journey in the humane movement and the facts began to compel further analysis. In fact, at one time, I too drank of the Kool Aid. The dedication of my book, Redemption, says it all:

To my wife, Jennifer. Who believed long before I did.

I once actually argued with her on a date, before we were married, that “There were too many animals and not enough homes” and “What were shelters supposed to do with them?” I am ashamed of having done so, but I did. She correctly argued that even if it were true, killing them was still unethical. She also correctly argued that if we took killing off the table, human ingenuity and human compassion would find a way to make it work. But, more importantly, she asked me how I knew it was true.

How did I know? Because I’ve heard it repeated a thousand times. Because I took the fact of killing in shelters and then rationalized the reason backward. But I was too embarrassed to admit so. Here I was: a Stanford Law student who wore my 4.0 department GPA, my highest honors in Political Science, my Phi Beta Kappa, and my Summa Cum Laude, as a badge of my smarts and I came face to face with my own sloppy logic and slipshod thinking about the issue. “It just is,” I said (lamely).

But therein began a journey that started in San Francisco, then Tompkins County (NY), then Charlottesville (VA), then visiting hundreds of shelters across the country, reviewing data from the ASPCA, HSUS, the AVMA, and others, and then the data of over 1,000 shelters nationwide, and more research and crunching of numbers, and several national studies. And the conclusion became not just inescapable, but unassailable. And rather than bury it, ignore it or downplay it, I did what anyone who truly loves animals would have done. I celebrated it. Why? Because it meant that we had the power to end the killing, today. And that is what I wanted to happen because I love animals.

And since that time, other studies have come out which not only prove I was right, they show I was conservative. Seventeen million people are potentially looking for 3,000,000 shelter animals. What that means is that even if over 80% of people who are going to get a dog or cat next year get one from somewhere other than a shelter, we could still zero out deaths of healthy and medically/behaviorally savable animals.

What that means is that contrary to what many shelters falsely claim are the primary hurdles to lifesaving (e.g., public irresponsibility), the biggest impediments are actually in shelter management’s hands. Effectiveness in shelter goals and operations begins with caring and competent leadership, staff accountability, effective programs, and good relations with the community—which most shelters refuse to do. It means putting actions behind the words of every shelter’s mission statement that “All life is precious.” And it is abundantly clear that the practices of most shelters are not aligned with this principle.

What that means is that shelter killing is not the result of pet overpopulation; it is the result of shelter managers who find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. And not only do they kill animals they should be saving, too many of them neglect and abuse them in the process.

The bottom line is that shelter killing is unnecessary and unethical. And pet overpopulation is nothing more than an excuse for poorly performing shelter managers who want to blame others for their own failures. I dare anyone to challenge the data without resorting to petty ad hominem attacks against me. Because I could go away tomorrow, but that wouldn’t change the facts, or the inescapable conclusion one bit. The cat is quite literally out of the bag, and is never going back in.

The No Kill message I advocate is incredibly power because it is the truth and because it resonates so strongly with the experiences that animal lovers have with their own brutal and regressive shelters. And that threatens the Confederacy—the Judie Mancusos, Wayne Pacelles, Pat Dunaways, Ardena Perrys, and Ingrid Newkirks of the world because it does not fit with their predetermined agenda in support of either killing or killing shelters, or in the case of Newkirk, her own mass slaughter. And since they cannot attack the message, they attack the messenger. It’s an old trick and petty trick, but it is all they have because the data is unassailable and no matter what the reality,

  • they want to continue supporting laws that kill animals (Judie Mancuso);
  • they are apologists for killing to the point of standing side-by-side with shelter directors whose shelters neglect, abuse, and unnecessarily kill animals (Wayne Pacelle, Pat Dunaway);
  • they kill animals themselves (shelter directors who are “against No Kill”); and,
  • they have dark impulses that cause them to actually seek out animals to kill (Ardena Perry, Ingrid Newkirk).

The ultimate irony here is that while people like Mancuso, Pacelle, Dunaway, Perry, Newkirk, and the rest of the Confederacy falsely accuse me of being aligned with industries that neglect, abuse, and kill animals, they are the ones that actually support industries that do so. They like to euphemistically call them “animal shelters.” The more thoughtful among us call them “pounds.” The reality is that too many of them are little more than slaughterhouses and death camps.

Let me set the record straight, again:

I am against mandatory spay/neuter laws because they do not work, because they kill animals. I am also against puppy mills.

I was against mandatory spay/neuter when I was the lone voice on that score arguing from the point of view that they lead to increased impounds and killing. I have never shied away from taking an unpopular view when the lives of animals were threatened. Now, there are a lot of animal lovers and even the ASPCA which are against them for the same reason. That people who run puppy mills are also against them does not mean that I am in league with puppy mills, any more than it means the ASPCA is in league with puppy mills. I am against puppy mills and always have been. Puppy mills fuel over breeding, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, poor quality of food and shelter, lack of human socialization, overcrowded cages, neglect, abuse, and the killing of animals by those facilities when they are no longer profitable. That is why I put together the following workshop at the No Kill Conference:

Legislating and Litigating an End to Puppy Mills Strategies to overcome institutionalized cruelty. This workshop will explore legal definitions of “puppy mills,” and offer both legislative strategies through anti-cruelty law reform and litigation strategies to combat this institutionalized form of cruelty…

It is not that I don’t support spay/neuter. I do. And when I was in charge of shelters, I supported it more than most shelter directors do. Spay/Neuter is one of the cornerstones of the No Kill Equation and a program I offered for free in both San Francisco and Tompkins County. My opposition to mandatory spay/neuter laws is because they increase the power of the animal control bureaucracy to impound and kill animals for violations, and that is what has occurred in municipalities which pass them. This is not an anomaly. It has happened time and time again. It also causes animal control to divert scarce resources from programs which save lives to enforcement of ordinances that result in higher rates of killing. Now, the ASPCA has come out against them and HSUS has shifted from support to neutral and is evaluating whether to oppose them. Even the former head of animal control in Los Angeles, one of the chief proponents of such laws, admitted to a California Senator that the laws were not about saving the lives of animals:

Senator: “Mr. Boks, this bill doesn’t even pretend to be about saving animals, does it?”

Ed Boks: “No Senator, this is not about saving dogs and cats.”

They are about more power for animal control departments, more officers, more sweeps of stray animals, more citations written, more animals impounded, and more animals killed. (They also feed the backyard breeder market as people then find other unaltered animals.) That groups which claim to be concerned with high levels of shelter killing would actually seek legislation to empower a dysfunctional animal control bureaucracy to impound—and thus kill—even more animals, is a contradiction they conveniently ignore. I’ve even asked supporters to put in protections for animals in these laws, such as: no impound provisions, free spay/neuter in lieu of a citation if violators are on any kind of public assistance, and automatic repeal if killing goes up. They declined. If they believe in these laws, why not put in these protections?

And just in case that is not clear enough, if mandatory spay/neuter worked to save the lives of animals being needlessly slaughtered in shelters, I would support the laws. I would be the single, loudest voice in support of them. My issue is ending killing. I have no other agenda.

I am against animal abuse of any kind, regardless of whether it comes in the form of hunting, puppy mills, or shelter killing.

I am an animal rights activist. I wear the appellation of animal rights as a badge of honor. It is unfortunate that some people hate the term. It is unfortunate that some animal rescuers hate the term. And it is unfortunate that some No Kill advocates hate the term. I am an animal lover and a lawyer and as we live in a legal Republic, that is what my aim is. I have argued that the term “animal rights” is not going away, and it shouldn’t. It is a term intended to put the No Kill movement in line with other social justice movements—to cash in on the heritage of other rights based philosophies that have benefited from building on the work of those movements which have come before them. It is a powerful term which accurately encapsulates what the No Kill movement is seeking for dogs and cats. And, when it comes to these animals, the public is ready and willing to embrace it.

The No Kill movement is the most progressive voice for companion animal rights that there is. By rejecting the mantel that is rightfully ours, the No Kill movement inadvertently cedes the moral high ground to those who do not faithfully represent it, and who use it to justify killing. And in the end, no group, including shelter animals, is safe in a legal republic without the rights afforded by law. By rejecting the concept for dogs and cats due to a mistaken notion that it represents something it truly does not (i.e., the end of sharing one’s home with animals), those in the No Kill movement allow people like Newkirk and her minions at PETA to exercise their dark impulses by slaughtering dogs and cats, while hiding behind their false claim of animal rights.

I do not get financial support from organizations like the Center for Consumer Freedom.

I never have. If they wrote good reviews of my book, they wrote good reviews of my book. I like to think the good review is because it’s a good book. Hell, it won five awards. But if their positive review is nothing more than their hatred of HSUS (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of thing), it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve never offered me money and I’ve never received money from them.

I have a vegan cookbook coming out in 2011. Rest assured, it won’t be reviewed by them and it won’t be promoted by them. I hope PETA reviews it, and I hope they say it is a “must read” for animals lovers, but that won’t mean I am aligned with them either. And even if they did give it four out of four stars, I’d still call for the Butcher of Norfolk to be fired.

Hopes Fading for a No Kill S.F.

July 28, 2009 by  

The Commission of Animal Care & Control has finished taking testimony from a wide range of organizations on whether to mandate a No Kill policy in San Francisco by enacting shelter oversight legislation that would require all San Francisco shelters, including the San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control (ACC) and the San Francisco SPCA, to commit to saving San Francisco’s neediest animals. Testifying in favor of the proposal included the No Kill Advocacy Center, Best Friends Animal Society, Fix San Francisco, and a host of local rescue groups and animal lovers.

The effort is directed at saving the last of the savable animals still being killed in San Francisco’s animal control shelter—sick and injured but treatable animals, Pit Bulls, feral cats, older 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.

What would it take for San Francisco to become No Kill?

Numerically speaking, it would mean bumping up the save rate a paltry 10%, or roughly 500 additional dogs and cats who are losing their lives at the hands of ACC staff each year. That would amount to just over one additional animal saved per day: either through adoption, or reclaim, or neuter/release of a feral cat. It would mean ACC stops relying on the San Francisco SPCA for whether most animals live or die and takes some responsibility themselves to adopt out more animals, proactively work to reclaim more lost dogs or cats to their families, or undertakes its own TNR program. It would mean that the San Francisco SPCA, which changed the rationale for building its multi-million dollar hospital more times that President George W. Bush did for invading Iraq, adhere to its latest rationale: that it will help save the lives of sick, injured, unweaned, or traumatized animals at ACC and save just over one more per day.

To do that would require leadership at either ACC or the SPCA committed to doing so and doing so today. But they haven’t done it. In fact, they have enlisted the help of the large, regressive national organizations who have historically opposed No Kill to help them resist it. Testifying in front of the Commission, both the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) testified against doing so, just as they historically opposed the efforts which brought the City’s lifesaving rate to where it is today. Former San Francisco SPCA President Ed Sayres, who now heads the ASPCA, sent representatives to testify against a mandate for a No Kill San Francisco. Despite personal knowledge of the City and an understanding that it is an achievement easily within reach, his representatives called it “radical” and told the Commission to take no action and thus maintain the status quo—a continuation of killing.

HSUS went so far as to suggest that saving these additional lives would lead to increased animal suffering—a hopelessly irreconcilable contradiction. Under HSUS’ 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.

So if neither ACC nor the SPCA is willing to provide the leadership needed to cross the goal line, who will? For the last several months, animal lovers in San Francisco have pinned their homes on the Commission. In other words, a No Kill San Francisco would require leadership at the Commission. But they aren’t showing it, either. Instead, the Commission is considering a plan which falls short of a legal mandate and recommends the implementation of services already available in San Francisco.

The plan promotes as a “solution” to the killing programs and services which already exist, but do nothing to end the killing which has been the source of debate all along: the remaining 10% of savable animals who could be saved but are not. And so while most of the recommendations look good on paper and sound good on first read, a closer examination reveals how ineffective in reaching the goal the proposal actually is. For example, the plan calls for “low-cost or free” spay/neuter, a behavior helpline, and programs to increase adoptions. A former colleague of mine in San Francisco summarizes it best:

Except for one or two controversial ones, no one seriously objects to these particular programs. But the reason San Francisco is not No Kill has nothing to do with the numbers of animals being impounded into city shelters annually, or the need to increase adoptions. San Francisco has the lowest intake rate of any major municipality in the United States. SPCA leadership already claims it has to import thousands of animals from outside the City to meet adoption demand. Why are we talking about reducing intakes or increasing adoptions?

Other critics correctly note that increasing adoptions  will be great for the small dogs and kittens the SPCA is bringing into San Francisco to adopt from outside the City, but it will do nothing for the San Francisco animals still being killed neither ACC, nor the SPCA are willing to save. As a result, the plan appears to signal the Commission’s intent to avoid taking a strong stand on the issue, with Commissioners acting reticent about seeking shelter reform legislation over the objections of entrenched interests.

The problem is that the proffered programs don’t address why the animals are being killed: ACC continues to downplay its lifesaving obligations, hiding behind their “public safety” mandate which is not at issue, and the SPCA keeps importing animals while needy San Francisco ones continue to die. To overcome that, the Commission needs a law that forces both ACC and the SPCA to save San Francisco’s neediest animals.

Every social justice movement represents change, and the status quo always has its champions. In the end, progress depends on challenging the status quo, and that inevitably means challenging those who champion the status quo. This is unpleasant. This requires courage. It takes leadership. But success demands nothing less. And sadly, the Commission does not seem up to the task. Those who brought San Francisco rates of killing to where they are, are not those who run the SPCA today. They are those who had to stand up to the types of people running the agency today. But they had the strength to do in spite of their opposition. Yet the same forces at work then to undermine lifesaving in San Francisco are the same forces working to undermine it today.

Due to changes in leadership, the San Francisco SPCA is sadly on the other side of the issue this time around. When it was the leader of the No Kill movement, a market survey showed that 97% of San Franciscans said the SPCA was doing a good job. Yet even with that level of support from the public, the Commission bowed to pressure from the few entrenched interests that did not want progress to occur. If recent newspaper articles, as well as controversies and testimony before the Commission is any indication, the percentage of people who think the SPCA is doing a good job has slipped. But it shows that the people of San Francisco love animals and deserve a shelter system as progressive as they are, and a Commission that champions their desires. After all, as “the eyes and ears of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors with regard to animal issues within the City,” the Commission bears the tremendous responsibility of faithfully representing the great love of animals historically expressed by the people of San Francisco against the few, regressive voices intent on forestalling progress because of personal agendas. The City has the resources and ability to save the remaining 10%, which comprise the neediest of homeless animals. What it is lacking is shelter leadership with the will to do so. Which is why No Kill proponents correctly conclude that if the Commission doesn’t force San Francisco shelters to do so, these animals will continue to be killed—rather than be saved as they are in other, more progressive cities.

Ironically, San Francisco has never been shy about breaking new ground in other areas, and as a result, has achieved many firsts: in universal health care, in combating global warming, in gay rights. In 2000, San Francisco had the opportunity to become the first city in the nation to achieve No Kill. Then San Francisco SPCA President Ed Sayres chose not to, instead championing a multi-million dollar hospital that would cater to the City’s affluent pet owning population at the expense of using resources on saving the lives of homeless animals. Many of the departments and programs that catered to the latter were either curtailed or eliminated. Instead, that honor went to a community in Upstate New York.

Now, San Francisco has the opportunity to become the nation’s first major urban community to achieve No Kill, to lead the rest of the nation—as it has on so many other progressive issues—when it comes to saving the lives of dogs and cats. It is 90% of the way there. ACC has one of the most generous budgets of any facility in California. The SPCA is arguing that its state-of-the-art hospital is needed precisely because it will help the neediest of homeless animals. Then why isn’t it being done? And why do both of these agencies oppose a mandate to do so? Ironically, Sayres, who is now President of the ASPCA, is also asking the City not to mandate a No Kill San Francisco. Tragically, it seems the Commission is listening.

But the public record will note how San Francisco was at one time poised to achieve the honor of being the nation’s first major city to become No Kill, but that, tragically, petty personal loyalties got in the way. As a result, the honor of being the first major urban No Kill community will likely go to some other city.

San Francisco’s animals and San Francisco’s animal loving citizens deserve better.

And the Monster Went Free…

July 27, 2009 by  

The most notorious animal abuser of our time was just given what he wanted most by being reinstated in the National Football League. I have to wonder how much he pleaded for mercy and empathy, even as the dogs he abused and killed received none from him. But most of all, I have to wonder how much Michael Vick played up his association with Wayne Pacelle and the Humane Society of the United States in his meetings with the Commissioner and others who held his fate in their hands. How he is now an HSUS spokesman. How the nation’s largest animal protection organization is now in his corner. How they forgave him, so why shouldn’t the NFL?

I’ll say it again:

Over the years, Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, has shown how little he appears to care for animals. Time and time again, he has taken positions that are the antithesis of what you would expect from the head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization. Time and time again, he has sided with regressive and even cruel animal shelter directors, championed the killing of dogs and cats, and worked to hinder the progress of the No Kill movement.

From Tangipahoa Parish, LA where he legitimized the unnecessary mass slaughter of shelter animals to Wilkes County, NC where he embraced the mass slaughter of dogs. From San Francisco, CA where he fought shelter reform legislation which would have saved lives to the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, where he claimed “Mission Accomplished” and left with tens of millions in HSUS bank accounts which belonged to the animals who continued to suffer. From legitimizing a round up and kill campaign for cats in Randolph, IA to fear mongering over the bird flu by telling people not to help, feed, or touch stray cats but to call animal control when they see them, agencies with a history of mass slaughter,  even as the World Health Organization was telling people cats posed no risk. From New Orleans, LA after Hurricane Gustav where he fundraised off the largest evacuation of animals in U.S. history conducted by a rescue group by falsely claiming it was an HSUS effort, to Virginia where he demanded that the Vick dogs be killed only to fundraise off of them by telling donors that they were caring for them, when they were not.

Given a history of anti-animal positions he has taken, it would seem unlikely that Pacelle could choose to do anything that would still have the power to shock us. But I must admit that Pacelle stunned me with how truly low and vile he has sunk with his latest scandal: helping Michael Vick—the most notorious animal abuser of our time—reform his image.

On hearing the news of Pacelle’s embrace of Vick, Bad Rap, one of the groups who helped care for Vick’s victims, responded:

I just can’t get myself away from the swimming pool in Vick’s yard. I first learned about it while riding in the back seat of a federal agent’s car that sweltering Tuesday back in Sept 07. The agent was assigned with escorting us to the various Virginia shelters so we could evaluate “the evidence” otherwise known as 49 pit bulls – now known as cherished family pets: Hector, Uba, Jhumpa, Georgia, Sweet Jasmine and the rest. I’m not sure if sharing insider information with us was kosher, but you know how driving down long country roads can get you talking. I imagine she just needed to get some things off her chest. She said she was having trouble sleeping since the day they exhumed the bodies on the Moonlight Road property. She said that when she watched the investigators uncover the shallow graves, she was compelled to want to climb in and pick up the decomposing dogs and comfort and cradle them. She knew that was crazy talk, and she was grappling with trying to understand such a surprising impulse.

Her candor set the tone for this entire saga. Everyone we worked with was deeply affected by the case. The details that got to me then and stay with me today involve the swimming pool that was used to kill some of the dogs. Jumper cables were clipped onto the ears of underperforming dogs, then, just like with a car, the cables were connected to the terminals of car batteries before lifting and tossing the shamed dogs into the water. Most of Vick’s dogs were small – 40lbs or so – so tossing them in would’ve been fast and easy work for thick athlete arms. We don’t know how many suffered this premeditated murder, but the damage to the pool walls tells a story. It seems that while they were scrambling to escape, they scratched and clawed at the pool liner and bit at the dented aluminum sides like a hungry dog on a tin can.

I wear some pretty thick skin during our work with dogs, but I can’t shake my minds-eye image of a little black dog splashing frantically in bloody water … screaming in pain and terror … brown eyes saucer wide and tiny black white-toed feet clawing at anything, desperate to get a hold. This death did not come quickly. The rescuer in me keeps trying to think of a way to go back in time and somehow stop this torture and pull the little dog to safety. I think I’ll be looking for ways to pull that dog out for the rest of my life.

So that’s where I’m at. A second chance for Vick? An HSUS sponsored spokesman for ending torture? In my mind’s eye Vick is still in the shadows at the side of that pool. As many times as this scene plays out my head, he hasn’t yet moved towards that dog to pull him out. Not there yet.

Even PETA, a butcher of a different sort, finally got it right:

To clarify misleading stories regarding PETA and Michael Vick, PETA withdrew its offer to do a TV spot with Michael Vick last winter when a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report on Vick’s dog fighting activities revealed that he enjoyed placing family pets in the ring with fighting pit bulls and that he laughed as dogs ripped each other apart. PETA believes that this revelation, along with other factors in the report, fit the established profile for anti-social personality disorder (APD), and we called on Vick to have a brain scan to help confirm this. People diagnosed with APD are commonly referred to as “psychopaths.” They are usually male, prone to lying and manipulation, often take pleasure in cruelty, and cannot feel genuine remorse, which frequently leads to recidivism. PETA had previously been in talks with Vick’s management, public relations, and legal teams about shooting a public service announcement to help combat dog fighting, upon Vick’s release from prison. In December, after consulting with psychiatrists, PETA withdrew the offer for the TV spot, and in January, we called on NFL Commissioner Goodell to require that Vick undergo a brain scan and full psychological evaluation before any decisions were made about the future of his football career.

Everything to Lose

When the Vick case occurred, the entire nation was horrified. The public’s outrage was unequivocal. This was the correct response, and a symbol of just how much people love dogs. But Pacelle, the leader of the nation’s largest animal protection group, is asking people to question that outrage and response. His actions threaten to paint a sympathetic portrait of Vick, despite Vick’s true one-dimensional nature as a sadist who takes pleasure in torturing and killing dogs.

Ultimately, the lesson this embrace of Vick imparts is that the brutal abuse, torture, and killing of dogs is forgivable. That they are only dogs. That the public’s response to the Vick horror was misplaced and overblown. In the end, Pacelle is helping Vick create a false image of himself as “reformed” so he can play in the National Football League again; to avoid the consequences of his actions by getting back the most important thing he cares about—even as he took away from many dogs the thing that mattered most to them: their very lives.

After the depths of Vick’s depravity were fully revealed, the punishment was swift and severe, as it should have been. He was banned from the NFL. He was convicted by the federal courts. He was sent to prison. He was bankrupted. He was despised by the American public. Now, Wayne Pacelle is asking us to sacrifice this precedent. After all, if the head of HSUS is willing to forgive, why shouldn’t the public and the NFL?

Are we really willing to lower the bar on how our society should react to such blatant animal cruelty in order to help a vicious animal killer? What could we possibly stand to gain that would be worth undoing that? Are we really that gullible that we believe Vick can actually influence people not to fight dogs? Are we really going to believe that a PSA or neighborhood talk is going to make people who enjoy watching dogs tear each other apart suddenly have a change of heart? Even if there were a small chance that this was so, without integrity, the “lesson” he is supposed to impart will fail. And it is no surprise that Pacelle can’t anticipate this because he himself appears to lack sincerity for the cause.

So we are left with the question of whether we are really going to accept a few meaningless PSAs and public appearances for an end to the permanent, righteous consequences that Vick must endure by remaining reviled as a monster; by never being reinstated in the NFL; by remaining bankrupt so he cannot afford to rebuild the “Bad Newz Kennels.”

Working to dissipate the righteous anger, working to remove the consequences of Vick’s actions, Pacelle is opening a new chapter to a story that already had the best of possible endings our movement could have hoped for: When Vick was caught torturing innocent animals for sadistic enjoyment, he received a permanent and lasting punishment. He lost his freedom, he lost his career, he lost his money, he lost his reputation, he lost virtually everything. That is exactly how the story should stay ended. And Pacelle’s actions threaten to undo it all.

Nothing to Gain

In the process, Pacelle is helping undermine that which we achieved—showing dog fighters the high cost of punishment; sending the message that dog fighting is unforgiveable and will be met with swift, complete, and permanent recrimination.

To embrace Pacelle’s position, we have to believe that Vick has become a repentant animal abuser who now wants to help dogs. To justify all that we stand to lose as a movement—all the dogs stand to lose—we have to believe that Vick holds the key to ending the scourge of dog fighting. It would be foolish and naïve to do so.

Vick could not care less about stopping or preventing dog fighting. Vick did not have a cathartic realization he was wrong. This isn’t some soul searching effort to make amends. He got caught, pure and simple. Even his guilty plea was not a sincere admission of guilt but a strategic decision (given the overwhelming evidence and a certain conviction) to avoid federal sentencing guidelines which would have locked him away for far longer if he did not plead guilty. And even while he was pleading guilty, he denied killing dogs. Had he not been caught, Vick would be torturing and killing dogs, and taking great amusement in it, to this very day. Our work is about protecting animals, not embracing their abusers. And because our movement stands to gain nothing by this association, Pacelle is asking us to sacrifice the former for the latter. And in so doing, he is undermining our movement. Tragically, it is not the first time.

Finding Our Voice

Through HSUS, Pacelle has:

  • Participated in the slaughter of some 150 dogs, including puppies, in Wilkes County;
  • Lobbied to stop No Kill legislation in San Francisco;
  • Lobbied to stop No Kill legislation in King County, WA;
  • Supported breed discriminatory legislation in Indianapolis, IN;
  • Told USA Today and Newsweek that killing in shelters is acceptable and that No Kill was warehousing;
  • Misled the public about an epidemic of dog bites to convey the view that trying to save Pit Bulls was irresponsible and put children at risk;
  • Told the court to kill Vick’s victims even as he was asking people to give HSUS money so he could “care” for them;
  • Left New Orleans with tens of millions given to HSUS for the victims of Hurricane Katrina even while those animals were still suffering;
  • Legitimized the slaughter of virtually every animal at Tangipahoa Parish animal control;
  • Told people not to adopt animals during the holidays, effectively accepting the deaths of 1,000,000 animals as the alternative;
  • Told the Randolph, IA community that he did not have a problem killing stray cats.

And now this. This unconscionable, abhorrent, and vile embrace of a sadist who takes pleasure in the torture and killing of dogs.

This movement has been too forgiving of Pacelle. Time and time again he has acted in a way that is the antithesis of what the leader of an animal protection movement is supposed to do. Still, activists in this movement fail to condemn him, even as he now asks us to embrace the most notorious animal abuser of our time. To be equally forgiving of that monster, as we have been of him.

Can anyone imagine the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence embracing wife killer O.J. Simpson as a spokesman? Can anyone imagine the National Organization to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children embracing pedophile John Geoghan as a spokesman? Can anyone imagine the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network embracing rapist Josef Fritzl as a spokesman? It is unthinkable. And yet we in the animal movement, under Pacelle’s direction, are threatening to do this very thing, to having our movement embrace our version of Simpson, Geoghan, and Fritzl as a spokesman. It is beyond obscene. It is unthinkable.

When someone tells and shows us over and over who they are and what they stand for, we should believe them. No one can doubt that Vick is a monster. But sadly, despite the heartfelt pain expressed so eloquently about the dogs drowning in Vick’s backyard while he sadistically enjoyed himself, even Bad Rap, who deserves nothing less than unbridled accolades over their role in saving some of those poor dogs, refuses to see and condemn Pacelle for who and what he is. That is our movement’s own myopia. Just because Pacelle claims to value animals and he works for an organization with “humane” in its name doesn’t mean either is true. His actions time and again belie both claims. Which is why Bad Rap’s conclusion about Pacelle’s decision to embrace Vick as a spokesman that they are “not there yet” is not enough. None of us should ever be there. Ever.

If the dogs Vick tortured and Pacelle lobbied to have killed by the court could speak on their own behalf, their condemnation would be unequivocal. As they cannot, it is our solemn duty to do it on their behalf. And it is a trust we must not betray in deference to the power and position of those in our movement who abuse that power and betray our cause. As with any social justice movement, progress requires us to courageously defend what is right, even when doing so places us at odds with those in positions of power. We must put our allegiances to our ideals above allegiance to personalities and institutions. And this compels us to expose, reject, and condemn those in our midst who masquerade as leaders, such as Wayne Pacelle, but who use that power to willfully undermine our goals.

It is time for Pacelle to resign. It is time for him to leave us, and the animals, alone.

Raising the Bar

July 18, 2009 by  

Animal lovers across the country are anxious about the fate of some 400 dogs who were seized from dog fighters and are now in the custody of the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO). Initially, all we heard were ominous statements from those involved—including the Humane Society of the United States whose CEO stated that he was “pretty certain” most of the dogs would be killed, the ASPCA whose representative stated that we should not expect the same outcome as the Michael Vick case (where most dogs were saved), and even HSMO which would not comment. The resulting public outcry and pressure led to more optimistic statements and actions. The dogs are not fully out of harm’s way, but there has been progress. HSMO has reached out to rescue groups. Photographs have been released of very friendly looking and loving dogs kissing and snuggling their caretakers. In addition, the dogs appear to be receiving plenty of socialization and care. We are more hopeful, but we also remain vigilant for all the reasons I stated in my prior blog. The dogs are not yet saved.

Sadly, I’ve read blog postings and have seen e-mails from even Pit Bull advocacy groups that suggest we prepare ourselves for inevitable killing:

  • “We just have too damn many dogs and never enough helpers;”
  • “[E]ven with hardcore efforts, good dogs will still lose out;” and,
  • “[Hurricane] Katrina is a reminder that in all kinds of disasters, including the economic disaster and this cruelty disaster, good efforts do not always add up to the widespread happy endings that victims of these cases so richly deserve.”

I’ve read that we should put off worrying about the dogs: “…we’re getting a lot of mail from people who want to see the dogs…given a chance to be rescued… If and when the dogs are released to the authorities, that’s when we can begin speculating about their rescue.” This sort of language is wrong on so many different levels.

First of all, the primary reason progress is being made in this movement is because of the vocal opposition to traditional policy by the grassroots. It is unfair (not to mention patronizing) when those in charge of organizations seek to forestall grassroots efforts by trying to dictate when it is appropriate for them to make their voices heard. Our strength lies is in their numbers and our power in the expression of their convictions. I, too, received many e-mails from people who are concerned and wondering what they can do to make sure the dogs don’t get killed. It would never have crossed my mind to tell them, in effect, to simmer down; to leave it to the self-proclaimed experts. To wait and see. Instead, I encouraged them to make their voices heard, to let the Humane Society of Missouri, HSUS, the media know that they will not tolerate killing. These are the soldiers who will overthrow the regime based on killing. This is our army of compassion.

No Kill is a revolution. And like any revolution, we have our battles. Each is an opportunity to challenge accepted ways of doing business that favor killing, by demanding that they be replaced with life-affirming choices. Each battle is a chance not just to save lives in the immediate sense, but to destroy long-held assumptions about what is possible and to prove there is a better way. Each battle is an opportunity to remind the leaders of the large national organizations that it is time for change. Most importantly, each battle is an opportunity to gain ground in the war we are fighting, to push the envelope, to heighten expectations of what is acceptable so that when the next crisis happens, when the next battle is upon us, the animals are that much safer and we are that much further along.

I am not sure why people are calling for restraint when we are being told to expect killing, when we are being told that it is “pretty certain,” that we should not expect a replication of the Michael Vick case, that there aren’t enough “qualified” rescue groups, that we saved only half of the 25 dogs last time and that’s better than none. Since when were those the only choices? Why set the bar so low?

The message in response should be: No. We will not accept this. These dogs must not be killed. And we have the power to make that happen. We forced HSUS into retreat after their massacre of the dogs and puppies in Wilkes County. We took the wealthiest, largest, most powerful organization in the country and we brought them to their knees. They were forced to recant. They were forced to change their policy. Not because Wayne Pacelle really cares and realized he got it wrong. Not because they learned from their mistakes. But because the power of our ideal, the strength in our numbers, the righteousness of our message was too strong for them to counter with all their lies, prevarications, and chants of “kill, kill, kill.” They couldn’t defend it. And it is not the first time. We forced them to embrace TNR. We forced them to accept offsite adoptions. We forced them to accept rescue groups. All things they have historically opposed. We’ve also forced them to modify their language on No Kill; and, in short order, we will force them ultimately to make good on those claims.

Second, I worked in animal control. I worked at a private shelter. I’ve done rescue. I’ve consulted with shelters all over the country. I’ve been in the trenches for years. And I say this for one reason: to let people know that it doesn’t take that kind of expertise to champion the ideal of No Kill. It doesn’t require any insider knowledge to know right from wrong. There are no extenuating circumstances or specialized skill-sets that would reveal anything different from what we know in our hearts: killing these dogs is wrong and it is totally unnecessary. And groups and voices on this issue must keep allegiance to the ideal and not hold themselves as having some insider knowledge that the “little people” (who are not so little, who have the numbers on their side, and who care very deeply) just don’t get. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating here: Groups which are going to claim a leadership role in this movement must mirror the discontent of the grassroots, not seek to keep it in check.

Because it is ultimately the vigilance on the part of the American public against the architects of the paradigm of killing we live with today that is going to save those dogs and future dogs who find themselves in the same predicament. It’s not about speculation. It’s about holding the feet of groups like HSUS to the fire, because when we don’t, it ends up as a massacre. The lives of the dogs are too precious to leave to the self-proclaimed experts.

Third, one of the more disturbing things about the way this case was handled is the lack of comprehensive planning—a planning which should have been going on even before the raid occurred when the agency was approached by the FBI for assistance during the investigation. It is planning that has made a difference in whether deaths have increased or decreased during this economic downturn. And it is a planning that can make a profound difference in cases such as the one in Missouri.

When I was director of the Tompkins County SPCA, for example, we were approached by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets which was investigating substandard conditions from a state licensed-breeder involving upwards of 250 dogs in what was described as filthy conditions and dogs with major medical issues. They approached us to participate both in the investigation by having our officers assist, as well as in sheltering the dogs.

We agreed and planned ahead. We set up the infrastructure. In the end, only 60 dogs came to our facility (although virtually all of them had “issues” including neurological conditions, rotten teeth, infections, severe matting, blindness, and more). But by the time they arrived, we already had rescue groups lined up (we did not tell them where the dogs were coming from so as not to jeopardize the investigation), we already had veterinarians on notice, we had a legion of volunteers on alert, and we had a media promotion plan to get the dogs adopted.

I remember walking through the shelter within an hour of their arrival to witness an awesome sight:

  • An assembly line of volunteers bathing, drying, and grooming the dogs.
  • Staff and volunteer veterinary technicians, and students from Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine providing medical care (under the direction of a clinician).
  • Volunteers transporting dogs to local veterinary clinics to augment the volunteer onsite veterinarians who cleared their calendars to assist.
  • The local news station, newspaper, and radio station asking their viewers, readers, and listeners to come forward.
  • Volunteers socializing with the dogs, sometimes just sitting on the other side of the kennel because the dogs were not yet used to human contact.

And all the dogs were saved. Not some of them. All of them. And we did it without the tremendous financial resources of HSUS and the ASPCA. Without the national media power of these groups. Without the millions of animal loving members and global reach.

So enough defeatism. Enough apologia preparing us for what they wrongly believe is inevitable killing. That is not the future we choose. Saving these dogs can and must be done. We do not accept the old thinking and old behavior when they say that “We just have too damn many dogs and never enough helpers.” This is an extraordinary situation and with the right leadership, there will be an extraordinary response.

Fourth, citing Hurricane Katrina as proof that “good efforts do not always add up to the widespread happy endings” is misplaced. A fellow Board Member of the No Kill Advocacy Center was there, on behalf of another organization, coordinating a large scale rescue. People I work with and trust were there, neck deep in water pulling animals to safety, smashing down doors to rescue them. I went there, as well, to do training of Parish animal control officers, to train activists on feral cat rescue, and to review operations for a shelter and rescue group on the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Katrina could have had a much different outcome if the groups which took the lion’s share of the public largesse and had the most capacity to help had done the job the public thought they were doing when they wrote their checks. HSUS left after spending only $4 million of some $20 million raised for the effort and announced “Mission Accomplished,” even while animals were still suffering in horrific numbers. Their “rescue effort” was so badly mismanaged that they were openly condemned by people and groups who normally look the other way. In fact, it cost the Vice-President of Companion Animals for HSUS, the person responsible for coordinating the rescue effort, her job.

The ASPCA also raised a lot of money. They focused their resources on a newly created spay/neuter group run by a person who had no experience and who was hoarding the money rather than distributing the vouchers to the animal control officers, rescuers, and people who needed it. In fact, in 2006, I complained to ASPCA President Ed Sayres about it in a letter. Not surprising, but no less tragic, he offered a thoughtless, knee-jerk defense of her and told me she was doing a great job. It took him some time to see the light because Sayres has never been a champion of oversight and accountability, but the mismanagement was so bad, he ultimately did so. She, too, was removed.

In addition, the Louisiana SPCA which had the most capacity of any of the local groups and did a fraction of the effort of rescue groups like Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) got the lion’s share of the ASPCA grant money for Hurricane Katrina relief. And while ARNO and others were still searching for wayward animals and feeding thousands of others, the Louisiana SPCA was solidifying plans to use the grant money to build a flashy dog agility center, while simultaneously cutting back kennel space. Don’t tell me it could not have been different—that the Hurricane Katrina relief effort wasn’t more successful had nothing whatsoever to do with inherent limitations possible in such circumstances. It comes down to the sincerity, devotion, and commitment to do the best job possible for the animals—values sorely lacking in the leadership of the humane movement’s largest organizations. The only lesson to be gleaned from Hurricane Katrina is that we must be vigilant in defense of these dogs to avoid the lost opportunities and needless suffering that results when the large, national groups are left in charge and with no accountability.

HSUS and the ASPCA, which are fundraising off this case and claim to be on the scene assisting, have combined assets exceeding $300 million. Their annual budgets exceed $200 million. They claim the support of millions of animal lovers. They have a national, indeed global, reach. We will not accept dead dogs because someone says there are too many or not enough helpers.

We will not accept the type of defeatism that sees killing as an inevitability. Even when the groups that make the claim otherwise deserve our praise and gratitude for all they have done to change the reputation and plight of Pit Bulls, as they most certainly have in other circumstances and in other contexts. Because it is not who is right that matters. It is what is right. And the views currently being expressed about these dogs just aren’t right. It is a defeatist mentality the dogs can ill afford. We have to demand what we have the right to expect! We have a right to demand what the dogs—whose lives so precariously hang in the balance—so richly deserve! And we have the right to demand what is so incredibly feasible! Once again,

We have found our voice, and recognize the potential its fullest expression can create. No more compromises. No more killing.

News from Around the Country

July 17, 2009 by  

What if They Ordered a Mass Killing and Nobody Came?

I received this e-mail. It is from the animal control officer for the City of Ferris (TX):

On the morning of July 7, 2009 I was called into my immediate supervisor’s office and handed a form entitled Expectations of Animal Control Function City of Ferris. I was required to sign this. I asked my immediate supervisor does this mean I need to go down to the shelter and kill everything. His response was “yes”. I responded “I would not do this, if that is going to cost me my job then so be it”. “I will not go down to the shelter and just start euthanizing everything”. When I returned to the shelter I contacted a few people who have helped out with posting and rescuing. Then it was a huge mass of people showing up, calling, interviewing me, and emails were flying. All of the 26 animals in the shelter at this time did leave the shelter safely… To date… $ 10,000.00 in adoption fees have been received by the City of Ferris since I started this job. I would like to know how the euthanization of these animals would have been cost effective for the City.

The article is here.

Your American Animal Shelter

YesBiscuit broke the story in May of a family dog killed by an uncaring bureaucrat at the Walker County shelter within minutes of arrival. Per Yes Biscuit:

A lost Boxer wearing a collar was found Tuesday by a couple of good Samaritans who brought the dog to the shelter in Walker Co, AL at 4:00. The relieved owner was waiting to redeem the dog the next morning prior to the shelter’s opening.

The dog was already dead. When confronted, the shelter’s director claimed the dog was aggressive. It was a lie.

Click here for the video of the surveillance tapes which show a very gently dog being brought in by an elderly couple. A very gentle dog walking to the back with shelter staff. And the dog being wheeled out in a garbage bag just minutes later.

Once again, while the Humane Society of the United States assures us that everyone in animal sheltering has “a passion for and are dedicated to the mutual goal of saving animals’ lives” and PETA says blaming shelters for killing is like blaming hospitals for sickness, Boost’s family in Walker County AL knows better. The shelter manager needlessly killed their dog within minutes of arriving and lied about it to cover up the crime.

This is YOUR American animal shelter. The one that blames YOU for the killing.

Another One Joins the Club

I received the following e-mail from the new Executive Director of an agency which contracts for animal control sheltering services in the South. I am not patting myself on the back here. It is important because it sheds light on how important leadership is and how much of an impact we can make by providing the information people need to see through the fog of deceit which has institutionalized the paradigm of killing and which blinds people to the possibilities for lifesaving.

Nathan,

[Our community] has always operated as a traditional pound/humane society and was proud of their old school policies. A board member picked up your book as a joke so she could see the “other side’s” arguments so they could know how to respond to them. The funny thing is that it completely changed her view point and she then made all the other board members read the book as well.

With a fire in their belly to make a change they called me to consult with them on how to take your ideas and implement them. I was able to arrange for a ticket to your conference in Washington DC for the board president and that was all it took. They offered me the position soon after I met with them and now I get to help a community stop the killing. I am so excited about being able to make this major change and you are the reason I get to do this amazing work here.

Sadly, some people are not open to change and they must be removed. But this board member was. The others were. And the new director certainly is.

redemptionnew1

Get the book. Spread the word. Change the world. Click here.

What’s in a Dog?

A just released study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science analyzed DNA samples of dogs adopted from shelters. The dogs in this study were of unknown parentage. They then compared the DNA results with what breeds the dogs were identified as by the shelters.

I’ve not read the actual study, just a summary by one of the authors who writes that,

In 87.5% of the adopted dogs, breeds were identified by DNA analyses that were not proposed by the adoption agencies.

So much for “I know a Pit Bull when I see one”-based breed discriminatory legislation. Read kcdogblog’s commentary on why it is time “to end the madness” by clicking here.

Citation: V. Voith, E. Ingram, K Mitsouras, et al, “Comparison of Adoption Agency Identification and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, July 2009.

The Cost of Saving Lives

Many cities and counties are teetering on the economic edge and are cutting back services across the board. Tragically, distraught animal lovers are being told by their elected officials that “it is less expensive to kill an animal than to house and feed that animal until adoption.” Read my response to that in “The cost of saving lives” by clicking here.

This is the second in a series of articles analyzing how the economy is impacting shelter life and death rates. The first article, “Is the economy killing California’s shelter animals” is available by clicking here.

Houston BARC Recruiting

Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation & Care is hiring. The City of Houston is now accepting applications for staff veterinarian, veterinary technician, senior animal care technician, senior customer service clerk, administration manager, animal control supervisor, and more. For a full list of available positions and information/application links, click here.

Please note: I am posting this as a courtesy for Houston BARC because both the animals and animal lovers in the city want and deserve people with a passion for saving lives in these positions. In addition, the importance of having No Kill advocates working in shelters cannot be overstated. While I am working with the City on a very generalized report on conditions and recommendations for their facility, BARC is not a No Kill facility and has not yet demonstrated its full commitment to becoming a No Kill facility.

Demanding What We Have the Right to Expect

July 15, 2009 by  

Recent reports out of Missouri indicate that many of the dogs seized in the recent dog fighting raid are puppies. In addition, many of the dogs are pregnant and will shortly give birth. As a result, additional puppies will be born. Bowing to public pressure, the Humane Society of Missouri announced it is looking to place dogs who pass their behavior evaluation and the puppies with rescue groups. One of the requirements that they are insisting on is that the rescue groups have liability insurance to protect themselves from any possible liability, even though a waiver of liability will accomplish the same thing.

Unfortunately, many rescue groups do not have insurance. A policy can cost anywhere from $400 to two times that amount, depending on the volume of animals placed annually. In order to increase capacity for rescue, I am calling on the Humane Society of Missouri to drop the demand of liability insurance, in favor of a waiver of liability. If they refuse, I am calling on the ASPCA and HSUS to offer to pay the full premium for a one year liability policy for any rescue group willing to accept one or more of these dogs into their program. On the high end, assuming every dog went to a different rescue group and none of the groups had insurance (a highly unlikely proposition), it would only be $250,000, a small fraction of the combined $200 million they spend annually, and probably less than each will fundraise off of these dogs. Doing so would be both reasonable and proper. When people see these dogs on television and get out their checkbooks to donate, they expect the money to go to caring for and saving the lives of the dogs, not to be hoarded in their bank accounts, which occurs much too often. When HSUS puts out photographs and insists it is doing its part, as it did today, people expect that means the money they raise will go to the dogs and the dogs will be saved.

But make no mistake: that is not remotely enough. While I hope rescue groups come forward (saving the dogs is our immediate priority), once again the pressure is put on those groups who have the fewest resources to save the lives, while groups like HSUS offer crumbs, the same way they did after raising tens of millions of dollars and then leaving town, their coffers overflowing, during Hurricane Katrina. This is not acceptable now—and is not acceptable going forward.

That the dogs aren’t immediately being systematically killed as HSUS has historically promoted is certainly progress. But that, of course, is tempered when Wayne Pacelle says, as he did to a national press, that while the dogs will be evaluated for aggression, he expects them to fail and be killed anyway. And until the dogs are actually saved (it is still possible that most will not get out alive, but be killed under an HSUS promoted Sue Sternberg-type evaluation which favors death for pit bull-type dogs), that progress is very limited and, from the dogs’ perspective, still very tenuous.

As I stated in an earlier blog,

We must start demanding outcomes—outcomes that include rescuing, rehabilitating, and ultimately saving these dogs.

Any statement that elevates process (“we’ll test them”) over substance (“we’ll save them”) is weak, as it still leaves the door wide-open for killing. Since HSUS stated that “it’s pretty certain that a lot of those dogs will not pass a behavioral test,” even as they release photographs of the dogs kissing those caring for them and even though we now know that many of them are still only puppies, it is not clear how much the dogs will have benefitted. It is not progress from the dogs’ perspective if the outcome—death—is the same.

modog

And while it is great that the Humane Society of Missouri is reaching out to rescue groups for help, saving the dogs should not be dependent on rescue groups coming forward, when the two largest and wealthiest animal protection organizations—HSUS and the ASPCA—are actively involved. It is not an issue of capacity or resources at this point. All alone, HSUS and the ASPCA have the public relations power, financial wherewithal and global reach to save these dogs and find them homes. All they lack is the will to do so—enabled by our historic failure to demand that they do. It is only 400 dogs, many of them puppies. They can do it alone. And we should expect them to. That is what they imply in their fundraising. That is what the public believes will happen when they donate. That is what we should logically expect in these situations. If saving dogs in extraordinary situations such as this is not their mission, what on earth is?

So rather than rejoice when they say they are “assisting” in the care of the dogs; and rather than remind everyone that HSUS now has a “policy of recommending that all dogs seized from such operations be professionally evaluated to determine whether they are suitable candidates for adoption,” this is the tenor of the statement we should expect from HSUS to animal lovers around the country who are anxious and concerned about the ultimate fate of these dogs:

The Humane Society of the United States wants to assure everyone concerned over the fate of these dogs that we are doing everything in our power to provide unconditional love and the best care possible for the victims of these crimes. Their welfare is our utmost concern, and every action we take on their behalf will be guided by compassion for their plight, respect for the lives, and an unwavering commitment to ensuring we find them a safe, loving environment, in which to spend the rest of their lives. We know that rescue groups often have stretched resources. We know that shelters, like the Humane Society of Missouri, also have to care for the daily influx of dogs and cats in their shelter. So as the nation’s largest, richest, and most powerful animal protection organization, we are stepping up to the plate. If any rescue groups have the capacity to help, we’ll welcome it. But rest assured: we will not allow a single one of these dogs to lose their lives. However long it takes, however much it costs, we will save all the puppies. We will save all the dogs. And if any are aggressive, we will undertake a comprehensive rehabilitation. That is our pledge to them. And that is our pledge to you.

They didn’t say this, of course. But they should. Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid. Case in point: In 1994, Richard Avanzino, then President of the San Francisco SPCA pledged to save each and every healthy homeless dog and cat “no matter how many there were, how long it took to find them a home, or which San Francisco shelter they entered.” HSUS said it was impossible. But the rest, as they say, is history…

Death in CA and other news

July 15, 2009 by  

California’s Death Rate Increases

The California Department of Public Health put out its annual reporting of “Local Rabies Control Activities” which shows that impounds and killing in shelters across the state increased in 2008 fairly significantly. The economy is the preferred explanation. As a result, the Humane Society of the United States took their hundreds of millions of dollars and pledged some small portion of it to helping families with animals get through these tough economic times. Only in my dreams, of course. Instead, the masters of saying little and doing even less put out a press release with such savvy tips like “Consider cutting back on your personal spending and use that money for pet care expenses.” Really? That just would never have occurred to anyone.

Others are using the data for their own agendas. Killing apologists and enablers like the people behind punitive laws are using it to explain the need for their efforts despite increased rates of killing at those shelters, like Los Angeles, which have such laws (the logic of saying people cannot afford to keep their companion animals so we need to force them to pay exorbitant veterinarian fees without providing any subsidy and expecting them not to surrender their pets for shelters to kill is beyond me, but logic has never been their strong suit.)

In an earlier blog, I wrote about a Texas shelter that was threatening to kill dogs claiming they were running out of food because of “the economy.” I wrote,

shelters in economically hard hit areas run by progressive directors are finding ways to either run more efficiently while increasing lifesaving (such as Reno, NV which increased lifesaving again this year despite 11% unemployment and a foreclosure crisis in the county) or are finding ways to make up the shortfall in donations through creative fundraising and marketing (such as Animal Ark in Minneapolis, MN).

So the question has to be asked: is “the economy” really to blame for increased killing in California? It would be difficult to deny an increasing unemployment and foreclosure rate as not having an impact on impounds. But killing rates appear to have an altogether different causal mechanism. I think the data shows that blame must be put on the shelters themselves.

In light of the availability of homes (17 million people looking to adopt 3 million animals nationally; in California, by population extrapolation, roughly 2 million looking for less than 300,000), the economy can’t be the real reason for the increased killing. In fact, that is why shelters exist in the first place—to provide a safety net for animals who have nowhere else to go. The progressive ones prepared and geared up programs to assist the influx of animals from those losing their jobs and their homes. The regressive, kill-oriented ones did not. Their answer continues to be what it always was: adopt a few and kill the rest. My preliminary review of the data shows that may provide a more accurate assessment for the differences between communities like San Bernardino which saw an increase in killing and other communities, like San Francisco, San Diego, and Alameda, which saw a decline.

I looked at several counties I was familiar with in terms of their sheltering operations, because I’ve either lived in the community, live in the community now, worked there, consulted there, or have more than casual familiarity with the operations. Those counties include San Francisco, San Diego, Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Mateo, and Tulare. And this is what I found (admittedly, this is preliminary and not scientific):

Alameda, San Francisco, and San Diego saw decreases in killing. Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Mateo, and Tulare saw increases. If you look at economic indicators (foreclosures and unemployment), the “economy” does not appear to provide a satisfactory explanation because there did not appear to be any correlation between economic indicators and whether the counties saw increases or decreases in killing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all of the counties had increases in unemployment from one year prior. The lowest of these communities (San Mateo) had a rate of 4.7% and saw the lowest increase from 2007 of just 0.9% but killing rates increased. Orange County had the second lowest rate of unemployment at 5.3%, an increase of 1.4% but killing also went up. By contrast, Alameda had a higher increase (1.5%) and a higher unemployment rate (6.2%) but killing declined. San Diego also saw a 1.4% increase to 6.0%, but killing went down.

In short, given that every community saw unemployment rate increases of at least 1.1%, with the exception of San Mateo, all of them should have seen increases in killing. That they did not, that the County with the lowest overall unemployment rate and the lowest increase, also saw killing increase, while those with higher increases and higher rates saw killing decline indicates that “the economy” (if you use unemployment rates as a proxy) does not provide a satisfying answer. And while inland rates were admittedly the highest, there does not appear to be anything like either correlation or causation of whether killing went up or down that can be extrapolated from unemployment rate increases.

Foreclosure rates also provide the same randomness. In 2008, San Mateo was low, second only to San Francisco, at 1.13, but it saw an increase in killing. San Diego was more than two times higher than San Mateo (2.51) but it had a decrease in killing. Los Angeles saw a huge increase in killing despite a rate of only 1.79, Orange County’s was 2.00 and it saw an increase, while killing in Alameda declined despite a higher foreclosure (2.41) rate. Once again, while inland rates were admittedly the highest (5.33 and 7.58), there is nothing like either correlation or causation that can be extrapolated from foreclosure rates.

But there is one indicator which may account for the difference. It is the same indicator which accounted for save rates at shelter across the country in the No Kill Advocacy Center study that looked at whether per capita animal control funding rates correlated with rates of lifesaving. They did not. It found that the difference in save rates were a function of leadership. And it appears that is the reason why killing rates varied across the state in 2008 compared to a year earlier.

San Bernardino County’s shelter—and its leadership—has always had a wanton disregard for animal life. You can read about it here (County shelter) and here (City shelter). Riverside County has long been a battle ground between animal lovers and shelter killing bureaucrats.

Tulare County’s shelter leadership was indicted for killing animals and selling their bodies on the side to enrich themselves. You can read about that by clicking here.

Los Angeles County was the subject of a lawsuit by the No Kill Advocacy Center for indifferent and inhumane care of animals, while City shelters were also mismanaged. You can read about that by clicking here (County shelters) and here (City shelters).

San Mateo’s leadership has been a long-time opponent of the No Kill philosophy, while Orange County has been rocked by allegations of mismanagement and several cities in that county have been considering starting their own regional or local animal control programs.

In fact, I randomly read through the counties on the list which I knew were subject to either litigation or threats of litigation (Kern, Kings, and San Luis Obispo) over poor care of the animals and hostile treatment of volunteers, and guess what? Like those above, they lined up as well.

Indeed, next to “pet overpopulation,” “irresponsible public,” and “unadoptable animals,” it appears “the economy” is the latest excuse for shelter managers steeped in a culture of killing who continue to find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. And so while the economy may lead to intake increases, it doesn’t mean killing needs to rise as well.

Shelter Volunteer Driven to Life of Crime?

A North Carolina man faces theft charges after stealing 37 cats from the Rockingham County Animal Shelter he volunteered with because the cats were going to be killed. According to shelter bureaucrats “many of them had overstayed the 72-hour mandatory hold period and would have been euthanized [killed’].” He planned on fostering them until he could find them homes. The cats are safe “for now,” and are available for adoption—for free. After being caught, he agreed to pay their adoption fees so that cost would not be a barrier for someone saving their lives.

He’s not the first law abiding animal lover who claims to have been driven to a life of crime by uncaring bureaucrats intent on needlessly killing animals. In 2002, volunteers and staff for an Arlington shelter faked death records for kittens who the director wanted killed and fostered them instead, bringing them back when they were ready for adoption. After the director found out, they lost their jobs and some of the animals were killed. Click here for more.

And just last year, a man wielded a baseball bat to rescue his cat a Texas shelter was committed to killing because all his money was being spent on cancer drugs and he could not  afford the heavy fees and fines. Click here for that story.

More optimistic news out of Missouri?

With the fate of some 400 dogs in the balance in Missouri and more optimistic statements coming out of the Humane Society of Missouri (HSM), there is some more news to report: HSM put out a press release asking for assistance from rescue groups. You can read the press release here.

The dogs are not yet out of the woods…

Is it ethical to spay pregnant dogs and cats?

I launched a decidedly unscientific study to gauge people’s attitudes about spaying pregnant animals (and thus aborting puppies and kittens). So far, 36% say it is ethical to spay pregnant animals, 25% say it is unethical, and 41% say it depends. The survey includes narrative responses not yet analyzed.

To participate in the survey, click here.

Want to snorkel in Australia? Or gamble in Las Vegas?

Join me at the following animal welfare conferences as we forge forward not just toward a No Kill nation, but a No Kill world:

  • September 30 – October 2, 2009, National Summit, Gold Coast, Australia.
  • October 23-25, 2009, No More Homeless Pets Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Are you a San Francisco Bay Area animal lover?

Catch my reports and commentary about No Kill issues in the Bay Area on examiner.com.

Click here for more information (you can sign up for e-mail alerts when new stories are posted too!)

Want to stay connected?

  • Read the new version of Redemption, expanded and updated for 2009, by clicking here.
  • Get bi-weekly announcements of blogs, appearances, and more, by clicking here.
  • Follow on twitter, by clicking here.
  • Listen weekly on Animal Wise Radio, by clicking here.
  • Follow the work at the No Kill Advocacy Center, by clicking here.
  • Subscribe to the No Kill Advocacy Center’s free e-newsletter, by clicking here.
  • Attend a public seminar and/or book signing, by clicking here.

Who is Ardena Perry?

July 14, 2009 by  

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

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

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

Washoe County (NV) also has one—Ardena Perry, who is trying to undermine the tremendous success which has occurred in that community under the Nevada Humane Society’s (NHS) No Kill initiative. The save rate in that community has climbed to 86% for cats while the dog save rate remains steady at an impressive 90% (YTD). On a per capita comparative basis, it puts Washoe County death rates at 1.8 dogs and cats per 1,000 human residents, very near if not the lowest in the entire nation.

In fact, a Washoe County community survey in January 2009 revealed that:

  • 93% support the No Kill initiative;
  • 95% gave the humane society positive ratings on adoption efforts and results; and,
  • 93% say NHS has a good or great public image.

Open-ended public comments were overwhelmingly positive and coalesced around two major themes:

  • “We believe NHS does an excellent job for the citizens of Washoe County.”
  • “NHS does a great job of taking care of the animals in its care.”

But Ardena Perry is not applauding. Perry has been trying to sabotage the No Kill initiative since it was launched, despite the fact that the NHS has reduced Washoe County rates of killing by half, while doubling adoption rates.

Regularly attending County Commission meetings to disparage NHS, Perry lies to Commissioners about conditions at the shelter in order to undermine their support of the Washoe County Regional Animal Services (WCRAS)-NHS partnership. Her campaign is based on data distortion, misinformation, and outright falsehoods. But Perry’s depravity is not limited to pre-Commission meeting rants.

In 2007, NHS took Perry to court and was granted a restraining order by a Washoe County Judge after Perry adopted a dog under false pretenses and then killed the dog. As a result, Perry is forbidden by law from entering NHS or sending someone on her behalf to NHS.

The tragic facts are as follows:

Carie 2 on cc

Carie, a healthy and friendly dog, was drugged and then killed by Ardena Perry.

NHS had a sweet, six-year old German Shepherd named Carie available for adoption. She responded to commands and was a happy, friendly dog. However, Carie had limited vision. Perry had a history of obsessing on particular NHS dogs and when they got adopted, Perry would accuse NHS of hiding the dogs from her. On or about October 31, 2007, Perry sent NHS an e-mail which began:

It is 2 in the morn, the world is quiet, only my thoughts hold me from sleep. Taking a Note pad I start Scratching out these demons from the day…

It would turn out to be an ominous sign. Since Perry believes that dogs should be killed in shelters and she especially does not believe NHS should save dogs with what she considers “impediments,” such as the limited vision, Perry had a friend go in to adopt the dog on her behalf.

Perry then drugged the dog herself with human-prescription Librium, a controlled substance which is widely used by those with chronic anxiety and alcoholism withdrawal.  She then took the dog to a veterinarian and had the dog killed.

buy_librium

The case was brought in the Justice Court of Reno. The court ruled that,

it appearing to the satisfaction of the Court that the Adverse Party has committed and/or is committing or remains a threat to commit stalking, aggravated stalking, or harassment… [Ardena Perry is] PROHIBITED, either directly or through an agent, from contacting, intimidating, using, attempting to use, or threatening the use of physical force, or otherwise interfering in any way with the [Nevada Humane Society]…

Perry appears to be a protégé and friend of Pat Dunaway, who has a dubious history of animal neglect and cruelty as well (they use similar language and share false claims). A pattern is starting to emerge that may help illuminate the psychological profile of the pro-killing Naysayer.

The questions that remain are:

  1. Where did she get the Librium, a drug used by prescription for chronic anxiety and alcohol withdrawal? Is it prescribed or is she using it without a prescription (we know she did this with Carie)?
  2. And, more importantly, why are some commissioners listening to her?

Why are officials in a community with one of the most successful shelters in the nation responding to the rants against that shelter by a woman with a history of drugging a dog, killing a defenseless dog, lying to adopt a dog in order to kill that dog, and who actually had a restraining order issued by a Washoe County court forbidding her from entering the facility which she attacks publicly? How can such a person be viewed to have any legitimacy whatsoever? And, finally, why are some commissioners allowing this shameless lying dog killer to disparage nation-best save rates, which should be a source of community pride?

Only they can answer those questions.

Update on Pat Dunaway:

Perry’s mentor is Pat Dunaway who I discuss at length in a blog here.

Dunaway, who lives in San Bernardino County, works with San Bernardino shelters and holds them up as model facilities. She began attacking me when I began working with the City of Rancho Cucamonga, in San Bernardino County, to wrestle control of the city’s animal shelter away from the County which ran it under contract. At the time, the County would intentionally kill animals rescue groups were en route to save, dogs were forced to drink out of algae-covered water bowls, and in one particular gruesome case, a shelter employee beat a puppy with a baton spewing blood all over the puppy’s cage and was not fired. In another case, the shelter returned a puppy which had been set on fire to its abuser pending trial because it did not want to take on the expense of holding the dog through judicial proceedings, even as rescue groups offered to provide that care at no cost to the county.

Although my contract with Rancho Cucamonga ended years ago, and I’ve not worked with them at all since 2006, today, their rate of lifesaving stands at 80%, or eight out of ten animals. By contrast, the San Bernardino County shelter kills six out of ten and the San Bernardino city shelter kills seven out of ten. These are all shelters in the very same county.

Read the 2008 article from the Press-Enterprise by clicking here to see conditions at a shelter Dunaway holds up as a model.

Also, click here for more information on the County shelter she supports and lauds.

Is it any wonder that Dunaway herself has been allegedly investigated for animal cruelty? And is it any wonder that Perry herself had a court-ordered restraining order against her after she drugged and had a dog killed?

Both Dunaway and Perry say they are against the “No Kill Equation” model of sheltering. What they are saying is that they oppose foster care, TNR, volunteers, comprehensive adoption programs, socialization, preventive medical care, medical and behavior rehabilitation, and pet retention programs. In other words, they are advocating for shelters to continue to kill animals needlessly and without restraint. That is patently unethical.

They Deserve More

July 13, 2009 by  

Raid03

I wrote the following editorial, “The Deserve More than a ‘Humane’ Death,” for the examiner:

Authorities in Missouri seized almost 400 Pit Bull-type dogs as part of a multi-state raid designed to break up dog fighting rings across the country. It was the single largest effort of its kind in the history of humane law enforcement. But while the dogs were “rescued,” they are not yet “saved.” At issue is whether the dogs will live or will be killed by the shelters if and when they ultimately are awarded custody of the dogs by the Courts.

Unfortunately, some statements that are coming out of the agencies involved in the decision-making process are ominous. According to Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, most of the dogs will likely be killed: “I think it’s pretty certain that a lot of those dogs will not pass a behavioral test.” Meanwhile, the Humane Society of Missouri, which is housing these dogs, isn’t talking except to say that in a recent case, they killed half of all Pit Bull-type dogs they seized. Is that a bellwether of things to come?

24590612E

Some see a modicum of hope. Randall Lockwood, who was part of the ASPCA team that evaluated and passed the vast majority of the dog victims of Michael Vick, the 2007 case of the then-Atlanta Falcons Quarterback that took the issue of dogfighting to national prominence, is on the scene in St. Louis. Unfortunately, Lockwood himself made statements to the media about this case that the Vick outcome may not be “replicated.” He also made statements that we should not focus on our differing opinions about what to do with the dogs, but focus on blaming the dog fighters.

No one questions the need to rescue these dogs from the abuse they faced. And the articles appearing on blogs across the country such as one that was aptly titled “scumbags,” adequately convey what we think about the perpetrators. But Lockwood is wrong. The case is in the hands of the U.S. Attorney. So there is nothing more to do on that score. The only choice now is whether, when granted custody of the dogs, the Humane Society of Missouri will kill them or whether the Humane Society of Missouri will not kill them. In fact, that is all we should focus on.

If the Vick tragedy taught us anything, it is that our most basic assumptions about dogs, pit bull-type dogs, and dog aggression, were wrong. In short, it showed we can save virtually all the dogs, even when they were raised for dog fighting and horrifically abused.

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

In 2008, the court thankfully said “No.” Only one dog was actually killed for aggression after evaluation, and the remaining dogs were placed in either sanctuaries or in loving new homes. Two of the dogs are now even therapy animals, providing comfort to cancer patients. The results forced even dog lovers-but more importantly the humane movement-to question their most basic assumptions about dogs, pit bull-type dogs, and dog aggression. In short, it showed we can save virtually all dogs in shelters.

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

As a result, we should no longer assume the dogs can’t be adopted or for the ones who are traumatized, rehabilitated first because the vast majority can. In addition, some of the dogs were “bait” dogs because they were not aggressive, or others were used as “breeder” dogs, so have no history of fighting. Moreover, those that were are often very friendly to people. Finally, we do have the ability and skill as a movement to rehabilitate those who are traumatized. As a result, we should assume the opposite: they are savable unless a rigorous, fair, and comprehensive evaluation proves otherwise, which it might—but only for a small number of the dogs. And we should no longer assume there isn’t a sanctuary or even homes for these dogs, since HSUS and the ASPCA have the public relations power, financial wherewithal and global reach which easily prove otherwise.

Given this, we must stop talking about how these are “often broken dogs” or how there might be difficulty finding “available homes.” We need to stop speaking the language of defeatism, the language which frames the debate in a negative light, that condemns some of the dogs without all the facts, that assumes killing may be inevitable, and thus may actually help pave the way for their eventual slaughter.

In other words, we need to put aside unfounded biases and consider the victims of these cruelty cases the way we talk about the animals in other cruelty situations—with regret and condemnation for what they have suffered and with the expectation that whatever agency now has power over them will give these dogs what they deserve. We must assume—as the facts in the Michael Vick case proved—that condemning them as vicious simply because a dog fighter possessed them is guilt by association and unfair. That they were abused doesn’t make the dogs abusive. That they were subjected to violence doesn’t make them violent. That they were unloved doesn’t make them unloving.

In short, we must not echo the unfounded biases which plague our movement and have harmed animals for far too long, with no evidence to support such claims. Instead, we must adopt a language that is optimistic about the dogs and uncompromising in defense of their lives. We must put the ASPCA and the Humane Society of Missouri on notice that we expect them to save these dogs. Because anything short of that clears a path for those who appear bent on destroying them.

Raid02

Instead, we must start demanding outcomes—outcomes that include rescuing, rehabilitating, and ultimately saving these dogs. A fair, rigorous evaluation will lead to lifesaving for the vast majority of these dogs and given HSUS and ASPCA wealth, media power, membership in the tens of millions, America’s dog loving culture, and the vast number of available homes, these are not barriers. Even the slide show of photographs from the law enforcement raid shows the rescuers handling the dogs with little restraint, fear, or concern for their own safety. Because, at the end of the day, while rescuing the dogs was crucial and for which we are all grateful, we must also demand a commitment to saving them. After all they have been through, the dogs deserve nothing less.

Raid01

A subsequent statement by the Humane Society of Missouri stated,

While they are being cared for, each dog will be evaluated by animal behavior experts from the Humane Society of Missouri and other organizations to determine their suitability for possible placement with rescue groups or individual adopters. The Humane Society of Missouri will make recommendations about each animal to the U.S. District Court which will make the final decision for each animal… We are committed to giving dogs who have come from such horrible abuse the absolute best chance for a good life…

This is a positive statement. But while we are hopeful, we must remain vigilant. Commitments to giving these dogs “the absolute best chance for a good life” are a welcome change in tone from HSUS which expects them to be killed, from the ASPCA which cautions against expecting the same results as the Vick case (i.e., the dogs being saved), and from PETA which is again calling for their mass slaughter by saying that either individual assessments or actually saving them is “dangerous.” It is also a welcome change in tone by the Humane Society of Missouri which earlier refused to comment on the possible outcomes.

But we are looking for more than a “chance” at life. We are looking for outcomes that ultimately include saving these dogs. Since this case broke, I’ve been sent or have had forwarded some very slick looking fundraising pieces by many groups, even in cases–such as HSUS–where the groups don’t even have care and custody of the dogs. That money, their global reach, their media power, and their millions of animal loving members must be tapped and used to save these dogs.

Dogfighting Raids Help

While rescuing the dogs was crucial and for which we are all grateful, we must also demand a commitment to saving them. After all they have been through, the dogs deserve nothing less.

HSUS: Abused Dogs Should Face “Pretty Certain” Death

July 10, 2009 by  

Dogfighting Raids Help

In February, rescue groups throughout the country pleaded with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Wilkes County officials not to put over 150 dogs seized from a dog fighting raid, and their puppies, systematically to death. They even extended offers of assistance, support, and resources. But HSUS refused, arguing that all the dogs should be killed, including puppies who were born after the seizure and posed no threat to public safety. John Goodwin of HSUS also attacked the animal lovers for raising an unnecessary “fuss.” Across the country, animal advocates, No Kill shelters, and rescue groups, as well as everyday dog lovers condemned the killings and Goodwin’s callous retort about it.

The resulting outcry forced HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle, who had defended the slaughter and HSUS’ handling of the criticism, to back down. While stopping short of an apology or admitting they were wrong in having the dogs killed (including forcing a volunteer to return puppies to be killed), they agreed to re-evaluate their position and meet in Las Vegas to come up with a more humane policy.

The resulting April statement that came out of Las Vegas was hailed as a breakthrough. I was skeptical about it, and I wrote:

In reading the new joint statement, there is no right of evaluations. There is no stated commitment to save all the underaged puppies. There are no independent evaluations. Rescue groups do not have a right to save these animals, regardless of what the HSUS evaluation shows. And there is no commitment for HSUS to use its significant resources in order to expand the adoption opportunities of these dogs. Instead, we got, what reads to me, to be more HSUS equivocations: “recommending,” “should be,” “approved” rescue groups, “reasonable” time frame, and “future protocols.”

We got a policy that says, in essence, that these dogs should not automatically be killed, but that HSUS will recommend that they be given individual consideration and equal opportunity. But what does that mean? Does it change the outcome for the dogs? Does it mean they live instead of die? Are we really going to settle for an unenforceable promise of equal opportunity, which in too many communities means little more than an equal opportunity to be killed? Are we really going to trust that the same people who brought you HSUS’ defense of killing in Tangipahoa, LA and Wilkes County, NC are going to fully champion the dogs going forward, especially since they resisted a new written policy and began the process by defending their actions?

I am not blind. I realize what has resulted is better than the automatic kill policy, and that is certainly progress. But I also know that doing better is true by definition. You couldn’t do worse. It isn’t possible. If only one dog is saved going forward, that’s improvement over automatic destruction. And by an automatic destruction standpoint, 13 of 145 dogs in Oklahoma is significant. It certainly is better than the zero who made it out alive in Wilkes County. But it is not enough.

And but for the fact that HSUS simply refuses to give more, we don’t have more. There is simply no reason why we shouldn’t have gotten all those guarantees requested. Instead, we hold back comprehensive progress because Wayne Pacelle won’t allow for more, and we accept it for no rational, financial, or practical reasons other than Pacelle refuses. It doesn’t have to be this way. It is only this way because we let it be. The power he has is the power we give him.

And so, as to whether the new policy actually results in dogs being saved, rather than killed while Wayne Pacelle, John Goodwin, and the others are still in charge of implementation, I’ll say this in a moment of diplomatic self-restraint: I’ll believe it when I see it.

So what has changed since the Las Vegas meeting with Wayne Pacelle over the fate of dogs seized in dog fighting cases? From statements Wayne Pacelle recently made, the answer appears to be not much. HSUS claims it was involved in a major dog fighting bust of over 400 dogs, the vast majority in Missouri. Given the Las Vegas agreement, Pacelle’s statement about the fate of these dogs is ominous. According to Wayne Pacelle,

I think it’s pretty certain that a lot of those dogs will not pass a behavioral test.

Given everything we have been through with Pacelle:

His statement is outrageous. The Humane Society of Missouri, which is housing these dogs, isn’t talking except to say that in a recent case, they killed half of all Pit Bull-type dogs they seized. Is that a bellwether of things to come? I would have feared so, but maybe not.

Randall Lockwood, who was part of the ASPCA team that evaluated and passed the vast majority of the Michael Vick victims, is on the scene in St. Louis. He is doing a preliminary evaluation of the dogs this week and will be designing an exercise and socialization regimen for them, as well. And that, at least for these dogs, gives us a small modicum of hope. But, at this time, that is all it is. One reason is that as a consultant, Lockwood can only recommend, not dictate. In addition, Lockwood himself made statements to the media about this case that the Vick outcome may not be “replicated.” He also made statements that we should not focus on our differing opinions about what to do with the dogs, but focus on blaming the dog fighters. No one questions the need to rescue these dogs from the abuse they faced. And kcdogblog’s aptly titled posting about the situation, Scumbags, conveys what we think about the perpetrators. But Lockwood is wrong. The case is in the hands of the U.S. Attorney. So there is nothing more to do on that score. The only choice now is whether, when granted custody of the dogs, the Humane Society of Missouri will kill them or whether the Humane Society of Missouri will not kill them. In fact, that is all we should focus on.

But at the very least, the outcome isn’t guaranteed as it would be if HSUS was involved. Because if Pacelle’s kill-oriented crew were involved, Pacelle’s premonition would be the most likely outcome. But the fact that Pacelle doesn’t have a role in their future doesn’t make his callous comment less obscene.

Once again, HSUS has taken on for itself the role of championing killing. Once again, Pacelle shows he is not fit to run the nation’s largest animal protection organization. Once again, Pacelle shows that his claims that “HSUS is changing” ring hollow. Once again, Pacelle replaces comprehensive, thoughtful, rigorous analysis, with an ignorant sound-bite that favors death.

If the Vick tragedy taught us anything, it is that our most basic assumptions about dogs, pit bull-type dogs, and dog aggression, were wrong. In short, it showed we can save virtually all the dogs, even when they were raised for dog fighting and horrifically abused.

As I stated in an earlier blog,

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

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

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

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

As a result, we should no longer assume the dogs can’t be adopted or for the ones who are traumatized, rehabilitated first because the vast majority can. We should assume the opposite: they are savable unless a rigorous, fair, and comprehensive evaluation proves otherwise, which it might—but only for a small number of the dogs. And we should no longer assume there isn’t a sanctuary or even homes for these dogs, since HSUS (and Lockwood’s ASPCA) has the public relations power, financial wherewithal and global reach which easily prove otherwise.

Given this, we must stop talking about how these are “often broken dogs” or how there might be difficulty finding “available homes.” We need to stop speaking the language of defeatism, the language which frames the debate in a negative light, that condemns some of the dogs without all the facts, that assumes killing may be inevitable, and thus may actually help pave the way for their eventual slaughter.

In other words, we need to put aside unfounded biases and consider the victims of these cruelty cases the way we talk about the animals in other cruelty situations—with regret and condemnation for what they have suffered and with the expectation that whatever agency now has power over them will give these dogs what they deserve. We must assume—as the facts in the Michael Vick case proved—that condemning them as vicious simply because a dog fighter possessed them is guilt by association and unfair. That they were abused doesn’t make the dogs abusive. That they were subjected to violence doesn’t make them violent. That they were unloved doesn’t make them unloving.

In short, we must not echo Wayne Pacelle and the unfounded biases which plague our movement and have harmed animals for far too long, with no evidence to support such claims. Instead, we must adopt a language that is optimistic about the dogs and uncompromising in defense of their lives. We must put the ASPCA and the Humane Society of Missouri on notice that we expect them to save these dogs. Because anything short of that clears a path for those—like Wayne Pacelle—who appear bent on destroying them.

Instead, we must start demanding outcomes—outcomes that include rescuing, rehabilitating, and ultimately saving these dogs. A fair, rigorous evaluation will lead to lifesaving for the vast majority of these dogs and given HSUS wealth, media power, membership in the tens of millions, America’s dog loving culture, and the vast number of available homes, these are not barriers. Even the slide show of photographs from the law enforcement raid shows the rescuers handling the dogs with little restraint, fear, or concern for their own safety. Because, at the end of the day, even if they do get evaluations, it’s not progress from the dogs’ perspective, if the outcome is the same.

Thankfully, it appears Pacelle and his kill-oriented dog fighting team will have no say in that.

For Further Reading:

In Bed with Monsters

Las Vegas, Round 3

Wayne Pacelle Under Seige

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