Revisiting the No Kill Equation

August 24, 2009 by  

Two decades ago, the concept of a No Kill community was little more than a dream. Today, it is a reality in many cities and counties nationwide and the numbers continue to grow. And the first step is a decision, a commitment to reject kill-oriented ways of doing business. No Kill starts as an act of will. The next step involves putting in place the infrastructure to save lives.

Following a commitment to No Kill is the need for accountability. Accountability means having clear definitions, a lifesaving plan, and protocols and procedures oriented toward preserving life. But accountability also allows, indeed requires, flexibility. Too many shelters lose sight of this principle, staying rigid with shelter protocols, believing these are engraved in stone. They are not. Protocols are important because they ensure accountability from staff. But protocols without flexibility can have the opposite effect: stifling innovation, causing lives to be needlessly lost, and allowing shelter employees who fail to save lives to hide behind a paper trail.

The decision to end an animal’s life is an extremely serious one, and should always be treated as such. No matter how many animals a shelter kills, each and every animal is an individual, and each deserves individual consideration.

And finally, to meet the challenge that No Kill entails, shelter leadership needs to get the community excited, to energize people for the task at hand. By working with people, implementing lifesaving programs, and treating each life as precious, a shelter can transform a community.

The mandatory programs and services include:

I. Feral Cat TNR Program
Many communities throughout the United States are embracing Trap-Neuter-Release programs (TNR) to improve animal welfare, reduce death rates, and meet obligations to public welfare.

II. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
Low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter will quickly lead to fewer animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives.

III. Rescue Groups
An adoption or transfer to a rescue group frees up scarce cage and kennel space, reduces expenses for feeding, cleaning, killing, and improves a community’s rate of lifesaving. In an environment of millions of dogs and cats killed in shelters annually, rare is the circumstance in which a rescue group should be denied an animal.

IV. Foster Care
Volunteer foster care is crucial to No Kill. Without it, saving lives is compromised. It is a low cost, and often no cost, way of increasing a shelter’s capacity, improving public relations, increasing a shelter’s public image, rehabilitating sick and injured or behaviorally challenged animals, and saving lives.

V. Comprehensive Adoption Programs
Adoptions are vital to an agency’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice. If shelters better promoted their animals and had adoption programs responsive to the needs of the community, including public access hours for working people, offsite adoptions, adoption incentives, and effective marketing, they could increase the number of homes available and replace killing with adoptions. Contrary to conventional wisdom, shelters can adopt their way out of killing.

VI. Pet Retention
While some of the reasons animals are surrendered to shelters are unavoidable, others can be prevented—but only if shelters are willing to work with people to help them solve their problems. Saving animals requires communities to develop innovative strategies for keeping people and their companion animals together. And the more a community sees its shelters as a place to turn for advice and assistance, the easier this job will be.

VII. Medical and Behavior Programs
In order to meet its commitment to a lifesaving guarantee for all savable animals, shelters need to keep animals happy and healthy and keep animals moving through the system. To do this, shelters must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies before animals get sick and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, unweaned, or traumatized.

VIII. Public Relations/Community Involvement
Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to one thing: increasing the shelter’s public exposure. And that means consistent marketing and public relations. Public relations and marketing are the foundation of all a shelter’s activities and their success. To do all these things well, the shelter must be in the public eye.

IX. Volunteers
Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.

X. Proactive Redemptions
One of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims. Primarily shifting from passive to a more proactive approach—has proven to have a significant impact on lifesaving and allow shelters to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families.

XI. A Compassionate Director
The final element of the No Kill Equation is the most important of all, without which all other elements are thwarted—a hard working, compassionate animal control or shelter director not content to continue killing, while regurgitate tired clichés or hiding behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes.”

It is clear that No Kill is simply not achievable without rigorous implementation of each and every one of these programs and services. These programs provide the only model which has ever created No Kill communities. It is up to us in the humane movement to demand them of our local shelters, and no longer to settle for the illusory excuses and smokescreens that shelters often put up in order to avoid implementing them.

Comprehensive Implementation
To fully succeed, however, shelters should not implement the programs piecemeal or in a limited manner. If they are sincere in their desire to stop the killing, animal shelters will implement and expand programs to the point that they replace killing entirely. Combining rigorous, comprehensive implementation of the No Kill Equation with best practices and accountability of staff in cleaning, handling, and care of animals, must be the standard.

In 2004, for example, the Pennsylvania SPCA conducted fewer than 200 free spay/neuter surgeries for the pets of the community’s low-income population. Shelter leaders can boast of a low-cost and free spay/neuter program, but 200 surgeries in a city of nearly 1.5 million people, with one in four of them below the federal poverty line, will not impact the numbers of animals entering Philadelphia shelters. By contrast, the San Francisco SPCA, in a city with roughly half the population of Philadelphia, performed approximately 9,000 surgeries a year throughout the 1990s, roughly 84 percent of those were free.

Similarly, animal control in Austin, Texas allows only employees to participate in its foster care program. The shelter can say it is implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, but it is excluding thousands of animal lovers from participating in the lifesaving effort, seriously limiting how many lives they save.

A shelter committed to No Kill does not send neonatal orphaned kittens into foster care “sometimes,” but rather every time. A shelter committed to No Kill does not merely allow rescue groups access to animals “some of the time,” but every time a legitimate rescue group is willing to take over care and custody of the animal. Indeed, a No Kill shelter actively seeks these groups out and contacts a particular rescue organization whenever an animal meets its criteria.

Shelters must also put forth more effort to reunite lost animals with their families. Traditional shelters do little more than have people fill out lost pet reports. As a result, in a typical shelter, less than two percent of cats and roughly 20 percent of dogs are reclaimed by their families. This is unfortunate because being more proactive and comprehensive would have a significant impact on lifesaving.

Those rare communities who have systematized their approach and become more proactive have more than doubled this rate of redemption. Washoe County Animal Services in Reno, Nevada, for example, returned seven percent of lost cats and 60 percent of lost dogs to their homes in 2007. Given the high per capita intake of animals (which some suggest would evidence high rates of “public irresponsibility”) one would expect the agency to have a very low redemption rate. Instead, it is very near the top in the nation. Why? The shelter is proactive in finding the people whose companion animals have become lost.

Before impounding stray dogs, Washoe County animal control officers check for identification, scan for microchips, knock on doors in the neighborhood where the animal was found, and talk to area residents. They also carry mobile telephones so that they can immediately call the missing animal’s family and facilitate a quick reunion. While this may seem an obvious course of action, it is, unfortunately, uncommon in American shelters–often with tragic outcomes. The more traditional approach is simply to impound any animals found wandering the streets and to transport them immediately to the pound. Once there they can get lost in the system, compete for kennel space with other animals, and are often put to death.

In Washoe County, impound is a last resort. But if animals are impounded, shelter staff is equally as proactive as field officers are in facilitating redemptions. They immediately post on the shelter’s website photographs, identifying information, and the location of where the animal was found. People can search for the animals from their computers at home or at work.

These efforts in Washoe County, combined with an over 50 percent increase in the adoption rate in the community thanks to the Nevada Humane Society, has resulted in a 93 percent communitywide rate of shelter lifesaving for dogs and almost 90 percent for cats year-to-date in 2009. The difference between the average community and Washoe County is striking, but even more so because this latter community is still only scratching the surface of what can be accomplished in terms of redemption rates. Some communities in the United States have achieved a nearly 65 percent reclaim rate for stray dogs; even higher rates have been achieved in other countries. The reclaim rate for cats can—and should—match these, rather than remain at deplorably low national averages.

This not only shows how the achievement of a No Kill community is well within our reach, it demonstrates how modernization of shelter practices by bringing them in line with the No Kill Equation can yield dramatic declines in killing virtually overnight.

In short, shelters must take killing off the table for savable animals, and utilize the programs and services of the No Kill Equation not sometimes, not merely when it is convenient or politically expedient to do so, but for every single animal, every single time. A half-hearted effort isn’t enough. It is primarily the shift from a reactive to proactive orientation and from a casual, ad-hoc, limited implementation to a comprehensive one, which will lead to the greatest declines in killing, and fix our broken animal shelter system.

NHS Wants You!

August 20, 2009 by  

NHS Logo

If you have strong leadership skills, a passion for saving lives, and a commitment to the No Kill philosophy, the Nevada Humane Society (NHS) invites you to apply to become a key player at one of the leading No Kill animal shelters in the country.

Nevada Humane Society is now accepting applications for: ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR. Prior sheltering experience is not required.

This is a unique opportunity to become a key player in leading a No Kill organization with a community campaign, and to work closely with a skilled and dedicated team of paid staff, large volunteer base, and committed board of directors in a very civic-minded and engaged community.

Since 2007, NHS has achieved dramatic results:

  • Increased the adoption rate 53% for dogs and 84% for cats in 2007 (compared to 2006), a higher increase than any other community in the nation.
  • Decreased the number of dogs killed by 51% and the number of cats killed by 52% in Washoe County animal shelters in 2007 (compared to 2006). This was the greatest decline of any community in 2007.
  • Achieved a county-wide save rate of 90% for dogs and 82% for cats despite a high per capita intake rate, effectively making Washoe County one of the safest communities for homeless animals in the United States.
  • Found loving, new homes for over 8,600 animals in 2008.
  • As of July 31, 2009, NHS is leading the initiative saving 93% of dogs and 89% of cats county-wide.

The Associate Director of Nevada Humane Society (NHS) is responsible for assisting the Executive Director in overseeing the organization’s consistent achievement of its vision, mission, and financial objectives. This includes taking responsibility for specific aspects of organizational planning, program implementation, and operational supervision, as well as the achievement of fundraising and lifesaving goals.

This is the number two position in the organization and reports directly to the Executive Director. For a job description and application instructions, click here.

No Kill News from Around the Country

August 18, 2009 by  

Wayne Pacelle: Dog Abuser Deserves a Second Chance; Abused Dogs Do Not

Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, wanted each and every victim of Michael Vick put to death. He lobbied the court to kill them. Pacelle believed they did not deserve a second chance.

Wayne Pacelle wanted each and every victim of dog fighters in Wilkes County, North Carolina put to death, including puppies born in the shelter after their mothers were “rescued.” He lobbied the court to kill them. Pacelle believed they did not deserve a second chance.

Wayne Pacelle suggested that the dogs rescued from dog fighters in Missouri and other states be put to death, as well.

Wayne Pacelle does not believe in second chances for abused dogs. But he does believe in giving dog abusers and dog killers second chances. Pacelle recently became a spokesman and HSUS has become a P.R. agency for the most notorious dog abuser of our time.

For more reading:

Riding on Michael Vick’s Bloodstained Coattails

In Bed with Monsters

No Kill Advocacy Center Letter to NFL Commissioner

S.F. Animal Lovers Continue No Kill Fight

With the Animal Welfare Commission waffling and savable animals still being killed, San Francisco animal lovers continue their fight for shelter reform legislation which will mandate a No Kill San Francisco. Although many No Kill advocates are increasingly pessimistic that the Commission will rise to the occasion, all of them pledged to continue the fight to save San Francisco’s neediest animals and have begun taking it directly to the Board of Supervisors.

Read the article by clicking here.

Dog Lover With Passion for Saving Lives Wanted

The Nevada Humane Society is leading an incredible lifesaving initiative which is saving 93% of all dogs, despite a countywide intake that is five times the rate of San Francisco, three times the rate of Los Angeles, and over two times the national average. (They are also saving roughly 90% of cats!)

The person in charge of their dog saving effort has left to become the Director of Operations for the Pennsylvania SPCA. The Nevada Humane Society is looking to fill those big shoes and they want you—if you are committed to the No Kill philosophy, have a passion for saving lives, and the skills to see it through at one of the nation’s premier animal shelters.

Read the job description by clicking here. (If you want to apply, send a cover letter and resume to info@nevadahumanesociety.org.)

No Kill Equation Invasion of Australia

Next month, I am heading “down under” for the No Kill Equation ground invasion of Australia. An airstrike of 800 free copies of Redemption for rescue groups and shelters has softened the ground for the inevitable victory. Their national animal shelter conference is on the Gold Coast at the end of September and includes four workshops by me: Saving All the Lives At Risk, The No Kill Matrix, TNR, and Reforming Animal Control.

Going Under the Radar

I just came back from an onsite assessment of a shelter in Texas and have signed on to help create a shelter in the Northeast. Combined with the Australia conference, followed by the Best Friends conference in October, my second book going into print and coming out by Christmas, and the third under production but facing a deadline, I am going to be under the radar for awhile.

I will continue to periodically send news through twitter, and will stay active with my weekly interview on Animal Wise Radio. You can also stay connected by:

  • Reading the new version of my book Redemption, expanded and updated for 2009, by clicking here.
  • Getting bi-weekly announcements of blogs, appearances, and more, by clicking here.
  • Following the work at the No Kill Advocacy Center, by clicking here.
  • Subscribing to the No Kill Advocacy Center’s free e-newsletter, by clicking here.
  • Staying up-to-date about upcoming books, by clicking here.
  • Attending a public seminar and/or booksigning, by clicking here.
  • Reading local and national shelter news with a San Francisco Bay Area angle in the examiner by clicking here.

HSUS Spokesman Michael Vick: ‘Not My Fault’

August 12, 2009 by  

vickhsus

When Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States embraced  the most notorious animal abuser of our time as an HSUS spokesman and agreed to help him improve his image and get back into the NFL, he told us that Michael Vick was reformed and wants to be “part of the solution.” As insincere and obscene as that rationale was, it turns out that it isn’t even part of Vick’s talking points, as he recently claimed to students that he isn’t responsible for the brutal abuse, torture, and killing of dogs.

According to ESPN,

Vick told a crowd of about 250 to “use me as an example for your dreams.” Vick also told them that after accomplishing his goals he “allowed someone who didn’t have my best interests at heart to take all that away from me,” according to a release from the school.

So someone else made him kill dogs:

  • By hanging: “by placing a nylon cord over a 2 x 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed.”
  • By drowning: “by putting the dogs’ heads in a 5 gallon bucket of water.”
  • By beating: “by slamming [dogs] to the ground several times … breaking the dog’s back or neck.”
  • By shooting: “by shooting the animal with a .22 caliber handgun.”
  • By electrocution. According to one of the people Vick paid “to live on the property, take care of the dogs, and arrange dog fights,” “He admitted killing numerous dogs after ‘testing’ and after fights by shooting and electrocuting the dogs and then burying them on the… property.”

Someone else made him kill dogs who would not fight  rather than give them away even though his coconspirators wanted to give them away but “Vick stated ‘they got to go,’ meaning they needed to be killed.” Someone else made him further brutalize dogs that would not initially die from hanging:

  • “One dog that did not die from hanging was taken down and drowned in a 5 gallon bucket of water.”
  • In another case, “Vick took down one of the dogs that would not die from hanging and tossed the dog to the side. He later hung the same dog until it died. He wore overalls, which were hung in the garage, when he killed the dogs, so he would not soil his clothes.”

This is the sadist who is now an HSUS spokesman (or is it the other way around?), and who Pacelle is asking the American people to embrace as “reformed.” This is the man Pacelle wants to go into classrooms to tell young children the lesson he has learned: That if you are caught torturing and killing animals for fun, do not take responsibility. You can do whatever you want. You can take great pleasure in watching family pets be torn to shreds.You can electrocute, hang, shoot, drown, and beat dogs to death yourself. You can lie to federal investigators. You can shift the blame to others. Because, in the end, you’ll get everything you lost back in the process—including playing in the NFL.

And HSUS, the nation’s largest animal protection group, will help you do it.

Riding on Vick’s Bloodstained Coattails

August 10, 2009 by  

Where’s the Quid Pro Quo?


Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, says the American people—like HSUS itself—should not only forgive Michael Vick, we should embrace him. And as part of HSUS’ campaign to make that happen, Wayne Pacelle recently accompanied Michael Vick in a limousine to an Atlanta neighborhood where Vick spoke to some children.

But HSUS did not publicize the event, the media was barred by police from entering, windows were blocked so no one could look in, no one was allowed to ask questions, and the community was locked out. The whole purpose was to capture footage for an upcoming interview of Vick on 60 Minutes. As a result, the Associated Press noted that the “plan laid out by Vick’s handlers … meant missing the chance to make a real impact” with kids.

It reminds me of the fake town hall meetings that started under the Bush Administration where the questions were written by the Administration and the people turned out to be actors (and in some cases, lobbyists). It was never about making a “real impact.” It wasn’t about the kids. It wasn’t about the message of stopping dog fighting. It was a propaganda event to reform Michael Vick’s image. It was about carefully orchestrated sound-bites.

We were told Michael Vick was coming on as an HSUS spokesman—with a goal of stopping dog fighting—but it appears to be the other way around; that, in fact, Pacelle is coming on as a Vick spokesman. The whole enterprise, according to the Associated Press, is driven by “Vick’s handlers” with a goal that has nothing to do with dogs and everything to do with creating an image of Michael Vick as “reformed,” so he will be signed by an NFL team. Vick’s public relations team is setting the agenda and telling Wayne Pacelle when and where to show up to help sell the “new” Michael Vick. And Pacelle is obliging. As his new spokesman and on cue, Pacelle tells an Atlanta newspaper that Vick “now wants to be part of the solution.”

There is a difference between sincere remorse and being used. If Michael Vick was sincere, this wouldn’t be about getting back into the NFL. This wouldn’t be about barring the public, keeping the media out, and blocking the windows. This wouldn’t be about meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or hiring “handlers” and public relations consultants. Michael Vick would be talking to anyone who would listen that he is truly sorry and will make it right. But, most importantly, he would be talking to federal investigators. And while the victims of his crimes—the dogs he tortured and killed—can never be brought back; while they can no longer think and feel and run and play and eat and sleep and bark and love and be loved; while their only life has been taken from them; while it is over, because they are gone, forever; there are dogs being killed and torn apart to this very day and Michael Vick has the power to stop it.

Michael Vick has the information which can deal a crushing blow to dog fighters and dog fighting in the United States. He can make a profound impact on the lives of dogs being abused and tortured today. In fact, there could be a dozen arrests and closures of dog fighting rings by now thanks to the information he could potentially provide to HSUS and federal investigators. He knows who the dog fighters are. He knows where the dog fights are held. He knows where they are getting the dogs. He knows where they are getting the animals used as “bait.” He knows where they live. He knows where they keep the dogs. He knows where they buy and keep the instruments of torture. He can stop it. A person as deeply involved in the U.S. dog fighting racket as Vick could implicate many other dog fighters and provide valuable information that could shut them down.

This is the commitment Wayne Pacelle should have extracted from Michael Vick. Once the investigations were complete, once the arrests were made, once Michael Vick testified against them in court, once they were convicted, once the dogs being tortured were rescued, once the whole bloody enterprise was shut down, then and only then, should anyone listen to talk of remorse.

At the same time, HSUS would have been getting ready to do its part by using the money it raised and raises off its association with Michael Vick to build kennels across the country specifically for victims of dog fighting and all the dogs to be rescued from their campaign of dog fighting eradication, as is their job and so that local shelters aren’t left to do it alone. Those kennels would be staffed with HSUS employees whose jobs would not only be care, feeding, socialization and, for those dogs who need it, rehabilitation, but ultimately, it would include rescue transfer, adoption, and, if necessary, lifetime sanctuary care.

That is what I hope is happening behind the scenes. And that is what I hope they will announce on 60 Minutes: the simultaneous arrests of dog fighters all over the country thanks to information supplied by Michael Vick and an announcement by HSUS of the kennels they have been constructing to get ready in response, so none of the rescued dogs will be killed, as HSUS recommended for all of Vick’s victims.

But without any evidence of this—and given HSUS’ history of killing victims of dog fighting and defending poorly performing and abusive animal shelters; and given Vick’s sadistic history and history of lying to federal investigators—it would be naïve and irresponsible to believe that is what is going on. Instead, we are left with what the facts show so far. And what they show, instead, is this:

That instead of demonstrating true remorse by trying to make things right, Vick is doing the time-honored tradition of the scoundrel: hire a P.R. team to reform his image, issue a “mea culpa,” speak softly about his “remorse” to a national media, do some carefully orchestrated appearances with kids, and then get his old life back. And HSUS is undermining an important precedent by helping him do it.

Right now, not a single NFL team is willing to sign Vick because of the public’s anger and condemnation. But that may change. It may change after the Vick P.R. campaign achieves its goals; after the spectacle that is likely to be 60 minutes where we will be treated to a soft-spoken, softly dressed Michael Vick saying things like “mistake,” “reformed,” “sorry,” “forgiveness,” and claims of “making peace with god;” Of Pacelle talking about Vick “being part of the solution,” and “turning at-risk kids around.” But most of all, we will be told that Vick “paid his dues” and “received his punishment,” and therefore deserves a “second chance.” And the viewers who are not aware of HSUS’ own untoward history and who erroneously think they speak for the movement will say, “If HSUS believes in him, I guess I should too.” And the anger will dissipate. And the punishment will be removed. And despite the fact that none of it is true, we will be greeted with the obscene spectacle of a sadistic animal torturer playing in the NFL before a cheering crowd courtesy of HSUS; of Michael Vick getting everything back, while the dogs got—and get—nothing of substance in return.

And so without the arrests, without the convictions, without the information that Pacelle could have extracted from Michael Vick as a condition of helping him get back into the NFL, why should we give Vick the “second chance” he refused to give dogs? In one case, a dog Vick tried to hang “by placing a nylon cord over a 2 x 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed” refused to die. Wearing a pair of overalls he donned so he would not get blood from the dogs on his expensive tailored suits, did Vick give that dog a second chance? No. According to the Special Investigator, the dog “was taken down and drowned in a 5 gallon bucket of water.”

Vick had another opportunity to give a dog a second chance when that dog “would not die from hanging.” Did he? No. According to the Investigator, “Vick took down one of the dogs that would not die from hanging and tossed the dog to the side. He later hung the same dog until it died.”

Vick had yet another opportunity to give dogs a second chance when they were “rolled” or “tested” to see if they would fight. Did he? No. Even when some of his co-conspirators wanted to give away dogs who would not fight rather than kill them, the Special Investigator says “Vick stated ‘they got to go,’ meaning they needed to be killed.”

Vick may have been convicted and served prison time, but he walked away after less than two years. Those dogs are still dead. Moreover, the fact that he served time in prison does not magically absolve him of what he did and, more importantly, who he really is. Not only did he savagely abuse and kill those dogs, he took great enjoyment in it, finding it funny to watch family pets being torn apart.

And 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, Pacelle is helping “Vick’s handlers” to undermine that precedent. Ultimately, the lesson Pacelle’s 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. And for what? So Pacelle can ride Vick’s bloodstained coattails to the New York Times and 60 Minutes?

That is what Pacelle gains. But what does the movement gain? 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?

I keep waiting for the announcement of the substantive quid pro quo: of the mass arrests and mass rescues thanks to information and evidence supplied by Vick as a condition of his embrace by HSUS. Without that, how has he proven he is reformed? Because he conveniently said so? Without more than a few P.R. events where children are nothing more than props in “Vick’s handlers” image reform campaign, we cannot believe that Michael Vick now cares about the dogs. Without an end to the whole bloody enterprise Vick has the power to help federal agents achieve, he isn’t part of the solution. And unless that announcement comes on 60 Minutes, we are left with one, and only one conclusion, that Vick is now what he always was: a brutal sadist. Nothing more, nothing less. And instead of greeting him in his limousine and at public relations events, Pacelle and HSUS should organize protests to greet this criminal with the condemnation he deserves and with the intent of preventing him from ever being signed by an NFL team.

On July 28, as Wayne Pacelle was doing the media circuit arguing for a “second chance” for Vick and I was condemning it, I received a twitter post from Sarah, HSUS’ marketing spokesperson, asking me whether it wasn’t our role to give people second chances, to prop them up when they are down. Sadly, I had to remind her that that was not the mission of an animal protection organization. The mission of an animal protection organization is (drum roll please) to “protect animals.” To protect animals, Sarah. Not to help reform the image of sadistic animal abusers.

I hope HSUS and Michael Vick prove me wrong. I hope they make the startling announcement on 60 Minutes. I hope we get to watch videos of federal agents busting operations thanks to information supplied by Vick. I hope they show the kennels HSUS has constructed to save those dogs. I promise this if they do: if they commit to saving all the rescued dogs, if things turn out to be what they should be, it won’t “erase” what Vick did, but no one will cheer louder than me.

For Further Reading:

In Bed with Monsters

No Kill Advocacy Center letter to the NFL

Down the Rabbit Hole

August 5, 2009 by  

Warning: This blog is very graphic.

After almost twenty years working to reform the humane movement, to bring it back to its original mission of saving lives, I have experienced many unexpected and heartbreaking moments of animals being betrayed by their so-called protectors. But last week was especially brutal, when not only the Humane Society of the United States, but other national groups released statements  supporting the reinstatement of Michael Vick, the most notorious animal abuser of our time, into the National Football League (NFL).

Wayne Pacelle of HSUS defended Vick’s right to get his life back together and play in the NFL again.

Ed Sayres, the President of the ASPCA, praised the Commissioner of the NFL for reinstating Vick:

…[T]he Commissioner has been particularly thoughtful and has weighed every factor in his deliberations. The ASPCA can only offer him our gratitude for the gravity to which he has lent the issue of animal cruelty, as well as the provisions that the Commissioner has set forth to ensure that Mr. Vick has a positive impact on the NFL and his community.

Opportunities for redemption are rare—but that is exactly the opportunity that awaits Mr. Vick…

Other national groups, while withholding judgment on Vick’s repentance, nonetheless failed to condemn the NFL in their own statements. One of those groups writes:

Any person who is released from prison is allowed to seek and hold employment. The National Football League today decided to give Mr. Vick a chance to return to work as a professional football player. He says he understands the mistakes he made in the past, and we can only hope that he is sincere and able to take steps to turn his life around.

For me, the facts speak for themselves:

The Investigator in charge of the Michael Vick case writes that Vick “thought it was funny to watch the dogs… injure or kill the other dogs.” He also writes that Vick and his associates killed dogs in many ways:

  • By hanging: “by placing a nylon cord over a 2 x 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed.”
  • By drowning: “by putting the dogs’ heads in a 5 gallon bucket of water.”
  • By blunt force trauma: “by slamming [dogs] to the ground several times … breaking the dog’s back or neck.”
  • By shooting: “by shooting the animal with a .22 caliber handgun.”
  • By electrocution. According to one of the people Vick paid “to live on the property, take care of the dogs, and arrange dog fights,” “He admitted killing numerous dogs after ‘testing’ and after fights by shooting and electrocuting the dogs and then burying them on the… property.”

This sterile, though brutal, rendition of the facts does not nearly tell the story of what the dogs went through. According to Bad Rap, one of the groups who rescued the victims of Vick’s brutality:

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.

The government investigator continues: According to one of Vick’s associates, “After the testing, he observed a person driving an all terrain vehicle (ATV) with dead dogs stacked in the bed of the ATV. He did not see anyone kill the dogs. However, he heard noises when the dogs were being killed.” Investigators found decomposing dogs buried on the property, they found pieces of plywood flooring covered in dog blood, spent bullet casings, clothing with blood stains, syringes, and burned carpet. The cause of death was determined to be “hanging, drowning, and being slammed to death.”

Even when some of the abusers wanted to give dogs who would not fight away rather than kill them, “Vick stated ‘they got to go,’ meaning they needed to be killed.” “One dog that did not die from hanging was taken down and drowned in a 5 gallon bucket of water.” In another case, “Vick took down one of the dogs that would not die from hanging and tossed the dog to the side. He later hung the same dog until it died. He wore overalls, which were hung in the garage, when he killed the dogs, so he would not soil his clothes.”

At first Vick denied killing any dogs. But “Vick was administered a polygraph examination by the FBI. Vick failed the examination as it related to the killing of the dogs… Ultimately, Vick recanted his previous statement wherein he said he was not actually involved in the killing… Vick admitted taking part in the actual hanging of the dogs.”

Their brutality was not limited to dogs: “They used live chickens and rabbits as bait when training dogs…”

There are many, many words that come to mind to adequately describe Vick’s reinstatement by the NFL—intolerable, obscene, outrageous, and shameful. But as for the words chosen by the large, national organizations—redemption, a positive impact, mistakes, sincere, thoughtful, gratitude, hope, right—I can only shake my head in disgust.

For further reading:

Read the No Kill Advocacy Center’s letter to the NFL by clicking here.

Read “In Bed with Monsters” by clicking here.

Read “And the Monster Went Free” by clicking here.

When all that stands between death and freedom…

August 4, 2009 by  

… is a ride.

Some people take issue with the term “kill-shelter” — asserting that this terminology unfairly indicts individuals who participate in the grim task of euthanizing completely adoptable animals. But even a softer term like “euthanizing shelter,” if it were to be used, cannot provide a thick enough gloss to conceal the disturbing, awful truth.

Animals who are euthanized or “put to sleep” do not wake up, ever. Whether they are euthanized by lethal injection, gassed or destroyed by other unspeakable means, they are no longer with us when the process of euthanizing them is complete. They cease to drink, cry, bark, meow, play and feel. They are gone.   –Bonnie Silva, Fifteen Legs.

The award-winning documentary, which was inspired by the book, Fifteen Legs, tells the story of heroes who go the extra mile (often thousands of miles) to save the lives of dogs and cats from shelters that kill.

It is now airing on PBS stations across the country and includes extended commentary by me.

For more information on the documentary, click here.

For broadcast schedule at the major PBS stations, click here.

You can also check the listing at your local PBS station for airing dates and times. To find your local PBS station, click here.