Live Online Q&A

February 26, 2010 by  

Join me live tonight at 7 pm PST/10 pm EST for an online Q&A about the role of law in helping create a No Kill nation. I’ll answer your questions live via streaming audio.

According to,

Nathan Winograd is one of the most passionate and controversial voices in animal welfare today. As part of this year’s Chat Month focus on “Ending Pet Homelessness,” he’ll be speaking with Christie Keith [tonight] about the role the law can play in saving animal lives, and how legislation and litigation can help create a No Kill nation.

Nathan will answer questions about how to fight back in the courts and in the legislature, about New York State’s proposed Oreo’s Law, the feral cat lawsuit in Los Angeles, how the Civil Rights Act can come to the rescue, using the Freedom of Information Act, and more.

Nathan will be joining us via streaming audio, and you’ll be able to comment and ask questions in our text-based chat room.

To learn more or to join the discussion, click here.

Update: Due to illness, Mike Fry & Beth Nelson of Animal Wise Radio will be filling in for Christie Keith as hosts to talk with me.

Saturday Update: The interview was recorded and a link to it will be available soon. Please check back!

Reno Leads the Pack

February 25, 2010 by  

As a tourism-based economy, Reno, Nevada, in Washoe County, has been very hard hit by the economic downturn. Loss of jobs and loss of homes are at all-time highs. In fact, the state of Nevada has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Reno and surrounding communities also have other challenges. A recent national survey called it the second “drunkest” city in the United States based on a number of factors including DUI arrests. Nevada has per pupil education funding levels that rival the lowest in the U.S., right down there with historically impoverished states like Mississippi. And its animal shelters have a per capita intake rate five times higher than San Francisco, over three times higher than Los Angeles, and over twice the national average.If there was any place where No Kill would not work based on traditional dogma, that place would be Washoe County, Nevada. And, of course, past leadership of the two largest shelters in the county—Washoe County Regional Animal Services (WCRAS) and the Nevada Humane Society (NHS)—exploited those problems to suggest that they had no choice but to kill homeless animals, even during times of relative economic prosperity. And that is exactly what they did, by the thousands.

But those “leaders” are gone, removed under ethical and performance based issues. Ironically, the former head of NHS was a leading voice attacking San Francisco’s pioneering No Kill work in the 1990s, a darling of the regressive Humane Society of the United States and a member of their exclusive national sheltering committee. Since new leadership has taken over at both agencies and while facing the same challenges, the excuses are gone. And the results have been dramatic. Since 2007, adoptions have more than doubled. Reclaim of lost strays are up, hitting 60% for dogs. And despite taking in over 15,000 dogs and cats per year, lifesaving has reached 90% of all impounded animals, near the top in the nation.

How does a community go from killing to No Kill level save rates? “We changed basically everything,” said Bonney Brown, the Executive Director of NHS and the winner of two awards from the national No Kill Advocacy Center. She was Animal Shelter Director of the Year in 2007 and a recipient of the Henry Bergh Leadership Award in 2009.

Most shelters blame the community for not caring.  But not Brown. “I’ve not read the studies,” said Brown. “But regardless of what they say, every community has its challenges and of course we are no exception. Reno bills itself as the ‘Biggest Little City’ and there is a lot to be said for that. We may be small compared to cities like New York and Los Angeles, but our community has a big heart. And our results prove it.”

Another person who agrees is Mitch Schneider, who runs WCRAS. Given the high intake of animals compared to other communities (which some would suggest is evidence of high rates of “public irresponsibility”) one would expect WCRAS to have a very low reclaim rate for stray animals. But it doesn’t. In fact, Schneider has been dubbed the “King of Redemptions” for returning six out of ten stray dogs to their homes and 7% of the cats. By contrast, the national average hovers around 25% for dogs and only 1-2% for cats. He credits the success to the proactive efforts of his agency, rather than blaming the community. At WCRAS, staff is “encourage[ed] to ‘think outside the box’ to find ways to safely return animals to their owners.”

Brown echoes the sentiment. “People care very deeply about their animals here in Reno. Every time we ask for the community’s help, they respond overwhelmingly,” said Brown. And she has the results to prove it. When the road in front of her shelter was closed for repairs, making it impossible for people to see and get to the shelter over the weekend, she did not resign herself to losing all those adopters. She enlisted the help of the construction company, who agreed to put a half-page ad in the local newspaper to promote adoptions, and Brown and staff set up tents and cages in an empty lot in full view of the street and had a weekend adoption event, complete with people dressed as animals holding signs on the other side of the street. This event resulted in over 200 adoptions—over two times a typical weekend!

When Schneider’s officers seized dozens of dogs or cats in cruelty raids, he enlisted Brown’s help in placing them. The result: “The Great Orange Cat Rescue” and other promotions that find the animals new homes. “We turn challenges into opportunities,” says Brown. Last year, the NHS found homes for 9,184 animals—up front 4,539 the year before she started. That’s an increase of 102%.

And when a tent city for homeless people popped up in the community, NHS was there offering to help. “We already have a program with the Reno Area Alliance for the Homeless to provide free spay/neuters and transport to our clinic for pets of the homeless,” said Brown. “We also have a pet food assistance program to help people who are having temporary issues providing food for their pets. We decided to go one step further.” NHS medical crews went in to provide free vaccinations and care.

The end result of all these programs is not only one of the highest save rates in the nation, but also great public perception of the agency. Before the changes, No Kill Solutions did a series of Town Hall-type meetings and surveys to determine how the Washoe County (Reno), NV community felt about its shelter, the Nevada Humane Society. Those efforts revealed deep dissatisfaction in the community, especially among animal welfare stakeholders (rescue groups, feral cat caretakers, No Kill shelters, and others) with the job being done. The vast majority did not believe the humane society was doing enough to save lives.

Not surprisingly, public perception today stands in sharp contrast to what it was. With the help of the Reno Gazette Journal, a 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.

And recognition has gone beyond Washoe County’s borders. Because of these efforts, the leadership of both WCRAS and NHS have been asked to speak at national conferences. Both Brown and Schneider will be speaking at the No Kill Conference in Washington DC this summer. And both are leading a workshop at a conference on Transforming Local Government, put on by the Alliance for Innovation.

That success can be every community’s success. And the only thing standing in the way of it is the commitment and follow-through of its leadership. If there is one piece of advice Bonney Brown has for other communities, it is to follow proven methods, rather than relying on outdated and ineffective conventional wisdom: “The programs that create lifesaving success are no mystery. They are outlined in the No Kill Advocacy Center’s No Kill Equation model, and are being implemented in a growing number of communities.”

To learn more about Washoe County’s success, read “How We Did It,” by clicking here.
To learn more about the No Kill Equation, click here.
To learn more about the No Kill Conference, click here.

By the Numbers (Source: NHS & WCRAS)

NHS Save Rate for 2009: Dogs – 93% Cats – 95%
WCRAS Save Rate for 2009: Dogs – 91% Cats – 89%
Countywide Save Rate (NHS and WCRAS combined) for 2009: Dogs –  90% Cats – 89%.

Save Rate

Washoe County: 90%
Western Region of U.S.: 61%
National: 50%

Per Capita Animal Deaths in Shelter

Washoe County: 3.8 animals killed per 1,000 residents
Western Region of U.S.: 6.9 animals killed per 1,000 residents
National: 10.2 animals killed per 1,000 residents


2009: 9,184 up 549 animals, 6% increase over 2008
2008: 8,635 up 605 animals, 7% increase over 2007
2007: 8,030 up 3,436 animal, 75% increase over 2006
2006: 4,539 (pre-no-kill initiative)

Building a No Kill Georgia

February 23, 2010 by  

Join me on Friday, April 16, in Douglasville, GA (near Atlanta) for an inspirational two-hour multi-media presentation followed by a book signing for Irreconcilable Differences. The seminar has been called “a prerequisite for rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.” The seminar is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.

For more information or to register, click here.

For other dates and locations, including Washington, Florida, New Jersey, and more, click here.

Building a No Kill Community

February 21, 2010 by  

Join me on Tuesday, April 20, in Jersey City, NJ for an inspirational two-hour multi-media presentation followed by a book signing for Irreconcilable Differences. The seminar has been called “a prerequisite for rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.” The seminar is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.

For more information or to register, click here.

For other dates and locations, including Washington, Florida, Georgia, and more, click here.

Power to the People

February 13, 2010 by  

Understanding why Ed Sayres, Jane Hoffman, and now Laura Allen oppose Oreo’s Law, even though their opposition means animals will continue to be needlessly killed.

Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… the fear of a loss of power. –John Steinbeck

When Oreo’s Law was introduced, it quickly gained the support of leaders of the No Kill movement. On behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center, I wrote in support applauding the “common sense and compassionate approach to protecting animals’ lives and empowering those who want to save them.” The most successful shelter directors in the country, those running open admission animal control shelters saving over 90 percent of the animals, uniformly embraced it, including Bonney Brown, Susanne Kogut, and Abigail Smith. The nation’s top shelter reform advocates, including FixAustin, wrote letters of support. The nation’s top law professors uniformly embraced it. The media, including Christie Keith of the San Francisco Chronicle and Animal Wise Radio, have called for every state to pass such a law. New York-based rescue groups including Pets Alive, Empty Cages Collective, and others, are pushing for its passage. And progressive animal rights groups like Friends of Animals came out in strong support.

Predictably, Ed Sayres—Oreo’s killer—opposed it, even though he supported identical rescue group access rights in California. In fact, given that Oreo’s Law has recently been amended to provide for additional protections, there is no basis on which Sayres can legitimately explain why he supports rights for rescue groups in California, but not for rescue groups in New York State—other than his own unethical motives to bury his killing of Oreo, even at the expense of thousands of animals being killed every year because of it. And to kill Oreo’s Law, as easily as he killed Oreo for which the law is named, Sayres now has two others supporting his position that animals in New York State (NYS) shelters should continue to be killed, while rescue groups willing to save them should be turned away: (1) Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, and (2) Laura Allen of the so-called “Animal Law Coalition.”

If Ed Sayres is motivated by sheer self-preservation and spite against those who dare question his unfettered discretion to kill animals, what, then, is motivating these two?

For over a hundred years, animal shelters in this country and their allies working at large, national animal protection organizations have argued that the killing of animals in shelters is unavoidable, and that the irresponsible American public is to blame. Without an alternative model to challenge the assumptions upon which these calculations were based—animal shelters were, by default, granted almost unequivocal discretion to kill millions of animals a year, while blaming others for the need to do so.  Not only did this stymie any innovation seeking to reduce the numbers of animals killed, but, having been unchallenged in this course of action for so long, it had the unfortunate side effect of creating the expectation among shelter directors that they should be able to operate without public scrutiny, comment or accountability for their actions and decisions.

In the late 1990’s, when the burgeoning No Kill movement proved that many of the assumptions upon which traditional sheltering were based were, in fact, untrue, and that nearly all animals entering shelters can be saved, traditional sheltering models had by that time become so firmly entrenched—and those championing them so large and influential—that any challenge to their hegemony was met with recrimination and hostility. And since that time, animal advocates throughout the country, working to reform their local shelters by demanding innovation, modernization and greater lifesaving, have almost universally found themselves at cross purposes with not only their local shelters which refuse to reform, but, just as often, the large, national groups, such as the ASPCA and HSUS, which come to the defense of their local shelter and its archaic, regressive policies which favor killing, and, therefore, a continuation of the paradigm upon which their power is predicated.

As a result, it is not uncommon for shelters to refuse the assistance of grassroots rescue organizations willing to save the animals they are determined to kill. Time and again, these organizations hold the animals hostage, ignoring the requests of local sanctuaries and rescue groups willing to assume responsibility and liability for their care, even as they then turn around and kill them, just as the ASPCA did to Oreo.

But these rescue groups are not going away quietly, as the furor over Oreo’s killing has proven. Despite the entrenchment of groups like the ASPCA, the widespread success of the No Kill movement has invigorated animal lovers nationwide, and one of the results of that success has been an exponential increase in the number of rescue organizations. Their efficacy, their dedication, and their willingness to do the lifesaving that shelters and the large national organizations have for so long argued is impossible threaten to expose the lies upon which the historical inaction of shelters and the large national groups is based. It is why Ed Sayres chose to kill Oreo rather than give her to an organization that was willing to go the extra mile for her, when the ASPCA was not, despite raising over $100 million dollars last year from an animal loving American public after promising to do just that in such circumstances, and for such animals.

And it is why Jane Hoffman, who now keeps the rescue groups of New York City under her regressive rule of thumb, is also opposed to Oreo’s Law. Her opposition is, at its core, about fear—a fear of losing power. A fear that Oreo’s Law—by eliminating her role as the unnecessary “middle man” between shelters and rescue groups will render her obsolete, as it should.

Follow the Money

As head of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, Jane Hoffman wields a tremendous amount of power, with tens of millions of dollars flowing through her hands. Her group has received over $5 million from Ed Sayres at the ASPCA, and over $13 million to date from Maddie’s Fund. She also received an additional $250,000 from Sayres in 2009.

Given the money that flows from Sayres to Hoffman, is it any surprise that she supports his position in opposing Oreo’s Law? Is it any surprise that she immediately wrote a letter in defense of the ASPCA after the furor erupted over Oreo’s killing? To understand Hoffman’s opposition, one need only follow the money. And, more importantly perhaps, follow it to where it dries up.

While Sayres continues to write checks to Hoffman’s group, such as the additional $150,000 given in 2009 for her discretionary use, the initial $5 million from the ASPCA has been spent. And the Maddie’s Fund project ends this year. The Mayor’s Alliance and her role as its head cannot survive in New York without grant funding from the ASPCA. And there lies the rub. Hoffman needs Ed Sayres’ money and control over the rescue groups to stay in power, and Ed Sayres needs Jane Hoffman’s support to fight a law which will forever memorialize his betrayal of an abused dog. It is an unholy alliance based on greed, naked self-interest, and the preservation of near unequivocal power the two currently enjoy over the smaller non-profits in New York City.

Right now, Hoffman has the power to remove the rights of rescue groups to get animals from New York City’s animal shelters, and she is not shy about telling groups who oppose her of that. In order to be allowed to rescue animals who are on the kill list, Hoffman has to approve them. Like the old “Ward Bosses” of the 19th Century, her power is based on the largess and her unfettered discretion to take away a rescue group’s ability to save animals from death row. But when the Maddie’s funding dries up and without an influx of money from the ASPCA, the power she yields as a result of control over the purse strings also dies. As a result, Hoffman has hatched a plan to expand the alliance to a statewide organization that will have the power to regulate all rescue groups, with—drum roll, please—herself as its head. If Oreo’s Law passes and rescue groups have a legal right to shelter animals, her plan is rendered impotent and consequently, she loses all the power she currently has. Rescue groups will no longer be beholden to her “certification” of their fitness. Subject to law (including an IRS designation, a mission of animal rescue or adoption, and no record of convictions for neglect or abuse), rescue groups can cut out the middle man and Hoffman goes from Ward Boss to persona non grata.

All of the power in the humane movement is consolidated in the hands of the very few, like Hoffman and Sayres, and it is to their advantage to keep it that way. Laws which grant a legal right of shelter access to small, non-profit rescue organizations level the playing field and empower the grassroots, giving them the same rights, privileges and access to animals they exist to protect as the large non-profits enjoy. And that is deeply threatening to people like Sayres and Hoffman. And in their fear of losing power, they deceptively seek to play upon our fears—by arguing that dedicated rescue groups are the real threat—they are what we should fear, because they are hoarders and dog fighters in disguise. And sadly, these deadly, dangerous, and antiquated views have found a champion in another so-called animal activist—and friend of Jane Hoffman—in Laura Allen of the “Animal Law Coalition.”

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas

Laura Allen runs a New York-based group she calls the “Animal Law Coalition.” A coalition, however, is “an alliance of distinct organizations or parties.” But the Animal Law Coalition is a coalition in name only. It is one person: Laura Allen. And Laura Allen has come out in opposition to Oreo’s Law by arguing that shelters should be trusted when making behavioral determinations, by misrepresenting the law relating to California’s Hayden Law upon which Oreo’s Law is based, and by arguing that animals are better off dead than in the arms of the rescue groups which she says are most likely animal abusers anyway.

According to Allen and her anti-Oreo’s Law propaganda, we need to “respect” the decisions made by shelters about which dogs are aggressive. In her latest salvo, despite the fact that the ASPCA refuses to provide the videotape of Oreo’s alleged aggression and Oreo’s Law will primarily save kittens and puppies and healthy/ friendly dogs and cats, Allen writes that:

After months of care and evaluation, the dog was determined to be “unpredictably aggressive,” biting even caregivers.

According to Allen, that is good enough. Rescue groups should not be allowed to second guess these decisions, should not have access to these dogs, should not be allowed to bring in their own evaluators, should not be allowed to employ efforts at rehabilitation, and in light of her opposition to Oreo’s Law, this is true even at shelters that give dogs only the minimum time according to law before they are killed—a paltry five days for strays and zero days for owner relinquished animals.

But while Allen argues that such determinations are adequate for the dogs of NYS—even when it means those dogs are killed while rescue groups willing to save them are turned away—it is not good enough for her own dog. When it comes to the life of her own animal, Allen has an altogether different standard. In opposing Oreo’s Law, she is opposing legislation mandating action which saved her own dog from death.

Allen has never worked in an animal control shelter, and perhaps has never even been to one—except in Seattle, where her and her husband’s dog was impounded after biting someone, was determined to be dangerous, and was sentenced to death. Instead of respecting the decision of the shelter as she admonishes others to do, Allen and husband Russ Mead enlisted a rescue group, Best Friends, to save their own dog’s life from a shelter determined to kill him. And Best Friends did, on condition that the dog never be allowed to leave a lifetime care facility. It sounds remarkably similar to Oreo, where Pets Alive offered lifetime care. The difference of course is that Oreo was not adjudicated to be dangerous by a court and never attacked anyone. The other difference of course is that, in the case of Allen’s dog, the rescue group was given the ability to save a life by being rescued from the shelter, while Oreo, and the thousands of anonymous dogs and cats unknown to her at shelters throughout NYS, Allen’s viewpoint seeks to condemn to death.

The praise and confidence she places in shelter directors throughout NYS does not extend to those who judged her own dog dangerous because when Best Friends invited Seattle Animal Control director Don Jordan to speak at their conference, Allen’s husband Russ Mead called Best Friends and let fly a string of epithets against them for inviting that “*&^%#$” who was going to kill their dog.

Yet in spite of this experience, Allen published an opposition piece when Oreo’s Law was first introduced arguing, of all things, that it should be opposed because it goes “too far” and saves “too many” animals. Allen actually opposed Oreo’s Law because the law was not limited to “adoptable” and “treatable” animals the way she claimed the California law on which it is based is. In other words, she was essentially arguing that the law had the potential to save too many animals. As unethical as that position is, it was also a misreading of California law.

According to UCLA Law Professor Taimie L. Bryant, the Hayden Law’s primary author,

The California version of Oreo’s law did not limit rescue groups’ right of access to shelter animals to only “adoptable” and “treatable” animals as defined in the public policy statutes of the Hayden Law. The specific statutes of the law that give rescue groups rights of access (Food and Agricultural Code sections 31108 and 31752) explicitly exclude from rescue groups only those animals who are irremediably suffering from a serious illness or severe injury such that immediate euthanasia is the only humane alternative.

Language about “adoptability” and “treatability” do appear in public policy statutes that are part of the Hayden Law. However, the purpose of those statutes is to assert the preference of the people of California for adoption and rehabilitation instead of killing shelter animals. There are no specific duties in those statutes, and they do not constrain the application of the specific statutes that provide for release to rescue groups.

Of course, one would expect an “Animal Law Coalition”—even a coalition in name only as her group is—to celebrate, rather than condemn, expanding the scope of the bill to save animals such as feral cats, as well as neonatal kittens and puppies. But equally disturbing is that even after being informed of her misreading of the law, Allen refused to correct the error on her website. To this day, she continues to intentionally promote the misinformation in order to derail Oreo’s Law from passage. And she has even gone so far as to ask people to write the legislature in opposition based on her false assertions and false comparisons to Hayden.

Allen also recently posted another call for opposition to Oreo’s Law, claiming rescue groups cannot be trusted and the animals are better off dead, another equally offensive misrepresentation: Day in and day out, animal rescuers show tremendous courage and compassion—visiting what is often the one place on earth hardest for them to go as animal lovers: their local shelters. And yet they go back, again and again. They endure the hostile treatment. They endure the heartbreak of seeing the animals destined for the needle. They endure having to jump through unnecessary and arbitrary hurdles set by shelter directors who are holding the animals they want to save hostage. They endure having to look the other way at abuse of other animals, because if they don’t, if they speak out, they will be barred from saving any animals. And this law would make their lives easier—their work less difficult. It would empower them, tip the balance more in their favor, and lessen their daily burden. That Allen would fail to support such a law, or worse, would dare oppose it by claiming that these dedicated, hard working rescuers are, in reality, dog fighters and hoarders in disguise not only is offensive, but a betrayal of these selfless, compassionate individuals, and true animal lovers.

Moreover, after all the evidence of abuse, cruelty, neglect and killing that is rampant in our nation’s shelters, how can Allen oppose Oreo’s Law by deferring to their authority? By arguing that animals are better off killed by shelters, who often neglect and mistreat them in the process, than in the protective embrace of rescue groups made up of people truly dedicated to their well-being?

In the No Kill movement, our mission is two-fold. First, we must reform our nation’s broken animal sheltering system so that the animals who enter them will get the chance at life millions are now so cruelly denied. But reforming a shelter, wearing down the opposition, forcing the replacement of a regressive director with one dedicated to saving lives—all of these things take time. And time is one thing that animals entering shelters today do not have. To help these animals, we need to offer something more immediate. They need a way out. They need rescuers who want to save them to have the power to do so even when a director says, “No.” And they need that now, because tomorrow will be too late.

The second goal of the No Kill movement is therefore to arm those who want to save animals with the power to do so. Like the network of “safe houses” which protected runaway slaves as they fled north to freedom, the thousands of rescue groups, No Kill sanctuaries and No Kill shelters throughout our nation are our movement’s own safe houses. And they must be supported, and empowered through law. That goal is, in fact, fundamental to what our movement is all about, because that is what the animals most desperately need. And not only will doing so save animals today, but it will save them in perpetuity since the power of one director to say “Yes” to saving lives can be taken away by the next director who says “No,” absent a law to the contrary. That is why a shelter can be progressive one day, and moving in the opposite direction the next. Animals should be saved regardless of who is running our shelters and legislation like Oreo’s Law gives rescuers the power to do so.

But Allen is no champion of No Kill. In this case, she is a proponent of killing and a prophet of doom. And in the process, she attempts to derail progress by opposing legislation which would empower others to save them, and by throwing up smokescreens such as fears about hoarders and dog fighters to portray greater lifesaving as a threat to the animals. The animals are, in her own self-serving, delusional, and antiquated thinking, better off dead at the hands of even under-performing and even cruel shelter staff than in the protection embrace of animal rescuers: all ideas that successful, progressive, and forward thinking animal activists now wholly reject.

Laura Allen’s Myopia

It is an inevitable part of working in the animal protection movement that one is exposed to dogmas and mythology built up to rationalize and explain the killing in shelters. Too often, activists become blinded by these explanations. Slowly, they stop listening to their common sense, and let their fears and phantoms guide their advocacy. They become lost in the wilderness of their own making, unable to see the forest through the trees, and tragically lose sight of what they—and our movement—should be striving for. As a result, they hinder, rather than promote, the welfare of animals, by advocating bizarre, irreconcilable propositions that make no sense whatsoever: such as arguing that animal rescuers should be denied the right to save animals on death row because they might be hoarders or dog fighters in disguise. In doing so, they advocate positions that are the antithesis of those they should be championing as people who claim to speak on behalf of animals. They fail to do what is required of them as animal activists—recognizing and hailing success, such as the introduction of Oreo’s Law, and helping to ensure its passage.

And, despite Allen’s hair splitting, Oreo’s Law has significant protections that even the California version does not have. And yet even without these protections, the California law has not led to an epidemic of hoarders and dog fighters exploiting it, as was predicted by fear mongers who opposed it then. In fact, it has led to thousands of animals being saved, rather than killed. And while Allen cites Taimie Bryant and law professor Rebecca Huss for her baseless proposition, she ignores the fact that both of them not only support Oreo’s Law, they have written letters to the NYS legislature in support of the law.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself

As a movement, we must be guided by our greatest hopes, and not our darkest and unsubstantiated fears. And when it comes to hoarders, the irrational and at times hysterical phobia of them within the humane movement is wholly out of all proportion to the actual threat. Only 4% of animals in shelters nationwide are impounded because of neglect or abuse (and even a smaller percentage of these are the victims of dog fighters or hoarders). And while that is still too much, it is by comparative standards, rare compared to the 96% of animals who are not. As the comment someone posted on Allen’s website indicated:

The question is, are there more unreputable 501c3s hoarding? Or [shelters] killing animals unnecessarily? I think most people know the answer to that one…So, we must ensure that the minute possibility of an animal making its way into the hands of a hoarder is prevented instead of preventing the REAL probability the animal will die in a shelter?

In short, Allen’s rationale for opposing Oreo’s Law comes down to the disturbing notion that we must kill animals to keep them safe, the very kinds of insidious arguments the “catch and kill” sheltering establishment has been peddling for decades to justify their paradigm of high rates of killing. In 1968, then HSUS Vice-President of Companion Animals, Phyllis Wright, wrote,

I’ve put 70,000 dogs and cats to sleep… But I tell you one thing: I don’t worry about one of those animals that were put to sleep… Being dead is not cruelty to animals.

She then described how she does worry about the animals she found homes for. From that disturbing view, HSUS coined a maxim that says we should worry about saving lives but not about ending them and successfully propagated this viewpoint to shelters across the country. And after turning away both adopters and rescuers, these shelters turn around and kill these very animals.

Despite wrapping opposition in legalese based on a misreading of California law, trying to confuse the issue by discussing other aspects of Hayden, by claiming California passed right of shelter access because of a “crisis” in killing in California which she claims does not exist in New York State (since when did New York State become No Kill?), and by citing both Professor Bryant and Huss out of context and ignoring that both actually support Oreo’s Law, Allen’s opposition amounts to nothing more than: Let’s kill the animals now to keep them safe from possible future harm. An inherently unethical and deeply disturbing contradiction.

But she does not stop there. Allen goes further, by offering three other red herrings. Beyond the fear mongering about hoarders and dog fighters, Allen claims that Oreo’s Law could lead to a future crackdown on dogs  because rescue groups will release dangerous dogs all over the state, which will go on to attack people. Not only has this not occurred in California based on the law which has been in effect for 11 years, it is pure fear baiting.

Second, she cautions that it could undermine the Mayor’s Alliance of NYC, costing animals their lives, without any evidence of how Oreo’s Law would do that. In fact, all Oreo’s Law does is set minimum standards. Shelters and rescue coalitions are free to add more expansive protections if they so choose. Moreover, Oreo’s Law will strengthen rescue groups, and lead to more collaborations of shelters and rescue groups throughout the state. According to Professor Bryant,

In addition to expanding the opportunities for animal adoption, rescue groups have opportunities at adoption events to educate members of the public about various animal-related topics such as development of local dog parks or where to find low-cost spay/neuter services. Rescue group presence in pet supply stores greatly increases public access to information that can reduce relinquishment to shelters. Group members regularly provide information about solutions to common problems such as inappropriate barking or urinating.

Finally, the greater confidence rescue groups have in their continued existence to perform their mission has resulted in increased networking among groups to solve problems or share such information as good deals on pet food and supplies, experiences with veterinarians, and proposed laws that affect rescue group activity. For instance, recently members of different cat rescue groups in California have shared information about and written letters in support of proposed laws to ban non-therapeutic declawing of cats and other animals. Those groups know firsthand the terrible consequences of cat declawing, and their input has been helpful to legislators considering bans.

Now, ten years after it went into effect, it is possible to say that the right of access provision in the Hayden Law was very important to the development of a vibrant network of animal rescue and adoption groups that function more efficiently and optimistically than they could when their ability to rescue animals from shelters was insecure. Animals have benefited directly from their life-saving activities and indirectly from the education and other services they provide.

These are all very positive features of a law that met vehement opposition while going through the legislative process. The stated bases for opposition are similar to those expressed by those who oppose Oreo’s Law: the risk of hoarding of shelter animals, the risk of dogs ending up in dog fighting circles, and increased risks to the public due to irresponsible release of unsuitable dogs to adopters. Despite such dire predictions of increased incidence of public harm and cruelty to animals as a result of passing the right of access provision in the Hayden Law, there is no evidence of increased incidence of either.

Truth be told, Oreo’s Law will undermine Jane Hoffman’s dictatorship over rescue groups in New York City. If Oreo’s law passes, every rescue group in New York will enjoy the privilege she now possesses, and her stranglehold on power will disappear. But that is a good thing and should be actively encouraged. Hoffman’s power in New York is an accident of history and serves no needed purpose. Throughout the nation, there are communities which have greater rates of lifesaving than New York City and have achieved No Kill without a self-serving middle man wielding arbitrary power. They have no intermediary such as Hoffman dictating which rescue groups can save animals, while taking a cut of the funding available to those groups. The Mayor’s Alliance is Jane Hoffman’s personal fiefdom which now exists to serve Jane Hoffman, and not the animals of NYC.

Finally, Allen closes her opposition to Oreo’s Law by suggesting that despite the killing, despite documented cases of shelters killing animals while rescue groups are turned away, Oreo’s Law is not even needed. She says “there is every indication that in New York[,] public shelters are already placing animals with rescuers.”

I love New York City as much as the next person. I used to live in upstate New York and took every opportunity to visit when I could. And since moving to California in 2004, I continue to visit New York City every year. But I am not deluded, like some New Yorkers, who believe that New York City is New York State; that beyond its borders is a vast emptiness that does not matter. Sure, in New York City, animal control does transfer some animals to some rescuers, if Hoffman approves. Yet, that is definitely not true throughout the state, and certainly not enough even within NYC.

I also ran an animal control shelter in the state, the first to achieve a No Kill community. I know firsthand that many New York shelters aren’t doing nearly enough to save the lives of the animals they are pledged to protect, at the same time they turn away the lifesaving assistance of rescue groups who would offer the animals they kill a lifesaving alternative. Oreo’s Law would help remedy this tragic result.

But what does Allen care? She got her dog back, who was given the second chance by a rescue group she would deny Oreo, and insists on denying to the thousands of other animals like Oreo.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

In the end, neither Sayres, nor Hoffman truly fear that the legislation will put animals in harm’s way, because such a claim is nonsensical. Rescue groups take animals out of harm’s way by saving them from certain death. What Sayres and Hoffman fear is a loss of power, and they have now have a puppet—Laura Allen—as a mouthpiece for their cause.

The grassroots of this movement—the small non-profits which do the lion’s share of life-saving and would be able to do much more if not hindered by those in positions of power—must demand the rights that are their due, and which are the animals’ saving grace.

As I write in my book Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters,

The goal of every social movement is legislation to gain and then protect the rights of its members or the focus of its efforts, and the No Kill movement must stop acting like it is the exception. The suffrage movement wasn’t just seeking discretionary permission from elections officials to vote, an ability that could be taken away. Its goal was winning the right to vote, a right guaranteed in law. The civil rights movement wasn’t just seeking the discretionary ability to sit at the front of the bus or to eat at the same lunch counters (and so much more). Its goal was winning the right to do so, a right guaranteed in law. The movement for marriage equality isn’t just seeking the discretionary opportunity to marry despite sexual orientation. Its goal is winning the right to do so, a right guaranteed in law. Because without legal rights, one’s fate is contingent on who the election official is, who the restaurant owner is, and who the mayor is. And just as quickly as permission is given, it can be taken away.

However, whenever legislation is passed empowering the grassroots, those in power lose out, including those who claim to desire the very things the legislation seeks to create. In the case of people like Sayres and Hoffman, they claim to want rescue groups to be able to save animals, but only so long as they take a cut of the funding and maintain the imperious power to decide who lives, who dies, who does the saving, and when. They know and fear the truth: That once the power shifts to the rescue groups, animals will be saved in skyrocketing numbers and the sky will not fall as a result. And we will see more clearly than ever that the emperors have no clothes. And neither Sayres nor Hoffman will allow that to happen without a fight.

Learn more at:

More No Kill News

February 11, 2010 by  

The Ball is in Ed Sayres’ Court

Despite the fact that the ASPCA’s opposition to Oreo’s Law has nothing to do with the merits of the bill and everything to do with ASPCA President Ed Sayres’ own unethical motivation, Assembly Member Micah Kellner, Senator Tom Duane, and a growing list of cosponsors have amended Oreo’s Law to win over any opposition.

The law has been amended to:

  1. Exclude dangerous dogs;
  2. Release a shelter of any liability for animals transferred to rescue groups;
  3. Exclude rescue groups with charges or convictions involving neglect, abuse, or dog fighting;
  4. Provide  notice to rescue groups of animals scheduled to be killed; and,
  5. Require rescue groups to take custody of the animal within a reasonable period of time.

This addresses all of the ASPCA’s alleged “concerns.” If Sayres has any integrity, he would withdraw his opposition and embrace the bill because of the potential to save thousands upon thousands of animals across the state.

Indeed, any group who continues to oppose Oreo’s Law—or any group who fails to champion Oreo’s Law, as amended—does not have the best interest of animals at heart. They are taking the position that shelters should kill animals, despite a lifesaving alternative at virtually no cost to taxpayers.

Find out who supports Oreo’s Law by clicking here.

For further reading:

The ghost of Ed Sayres’ past come back to haunt him

Courage & cowardice in the fight for a no kill nation

Nation’s top law professors endorse Oreo’s law

Another 5-Star Review for Irreconcilable Differences

Midwest Book Review just published a review of Irreconcilable Differences calling it a “must read” and slamming the “inhumanity” of killing homeless animals.

Find out why The Bark, Animal Wise Radio, and No Kill leaders like Bonney Brown call Irreconcilable Differences “clear and rigorously reasoned,” “excellent reading,” “a real page turner,” “the perfect follow-up to Redemption,” and a “grand slam” by “the voice of America’s displaced pets and the conscience of the animal sheltering industry.”

Purchase Irreconcilable Differences by clicking here.

No Kill Conference Sold Out

Barely a month after announcing it, and almost six months in advance, the No Kill Conference has sold out, a testament to the power of compassion, the strength of the movement, and the draw of its list of excellent speakers.

The Butcher of Norfolk

Killed by PETA & thrown away in a supermarket dumpster

As we roll toward March, it is almost time when PETA publishes it annual killing statistics for the prior year. In 2008, they announced a staggering 96% rate of killing. That sparked calls for the state to reclassify PETA from a “shelter” to a “slaughterhouse.” The total body count from 2000 – 2008: 19,326. Once the 2009 figures are released, the number will skyrocket past 20,000: that’s roughly 2,000 animals a year that PETA has killed every year for the last decade; or over five animals killed by PETA every single day of the last ten years. While No Kill was coming into its own and shelters across the country were saving better than 90% of all animals on a fraction of their budget, PETA continued to move sharply in the other direction. PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk spent the decade not only attacking No Kill, but actively seeking out animals to kill (roughly 90% of them).


Join me Sunday morning on Animal Wise Radio, Sunday evening on All Paws Pet Talk Radio, or in person at one of my Irreconcilable Differences book tour cities. Click here for more information.

A good book, a great conference, and the power of pictures

February 8, 2010 by  

Irreconcilable Differences

The reviews are in: “another grand slam,” “a real page turner,” “wonderful,” “life changing,” and a “must read for anyone who cares about the plight of animals.”

The Bark, one of the most influential dog magazines in the nation, calls Irreconcilable Differences “excellent reading” and “rigorously reasoned.” And nationally syndicated Animal Wise Radio calls it “The perfect follow-up to Winograd’s outstanding first book Redemption.”

The collection of essays covers the ethics of end-of-life “euthanasia,” feral cats, adoptions, the achievability of No Kill, aggression in dogs, spaying pregnant animals, and more.

Irreconcilable Differences Book Tour:

For Redemption’s 29-city book tour in 2007-08, I visited many major cities: Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Las Vegas, Portland, Reno, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Austin, San Antonio, Naples, and more. This year, I am going to communities outside of those cities.

Join me for an inspirational multi-media presentation on Building a No Kill Community, followed by a book signing. All proceeds from the sale of books benefit local No Kill shelters and rescue organizations.

  • Shelbyville, KY. March 6, 2010.
  • Melbourne, FL. April 3, 2010.
  • Douglasville, GA. April 16, 2010.
  • Jersey City, NJ. April 20, 2010.
  • Whidbey Island, WA. June 18, 2010.

For more information, click here.

To purchase the book, click here.

Due to a book project on deadline, a trip to New Zealand to speak at their national conference and our own national No Kill Conference in Washington D.C., I’ve had to decline other cities until the Fall. My apologies to groups who wanted me to come to their community.

No Kill Conference 2010

Last year’s No Kill Conference was the sold-out, must-attend event of the year! And it is very close to selling out again this year, barely a month after announcing the event. In fact, it is at 95% capacity and will sell out very shortly. If you are planning on attending, register today – as once the conference sells out, there are no waiting lists and no exceptions.

To register or for more information about speakers, workshops, location, and more, click here.

Pictures Truly Worth 1,000 Words

In a shelter

In foster care

In a loving new home

Rescue groups rock! Let’s empower them:

For Further Reading

Read “Who is Rich Avanzino?” by clicking here.

Read “The Ghosts of Ed Sayres’ Past Come Back to Haunt Him” by clicking here.

The Bark barks about Irreconcilable Differences

February 5, 2010 by  

The Bark reviews Irreconcilable Differences, my new book, and says it is “clear and rigorously reasoned,” “excellent reading,” and offers “keen insights” across issues including the achievement of a No Kill nation, adoptions, feral cats, animal rights, “euthanasia,” and more by “the voice of America’s displaced pets and the conscience of the animal sheltering industry.”

Irreconcilable Differences is available through Signed copies are available through the No Kill Advocacy Center.

To purchase, click here.

No Kill News from Around the Country

February 2, 2010 by  

HSUS Spokesman Michael Vick a Role Model? Tragically, Yes.

When Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle embraced Michael Vick, the most notorious dog abuser of our time, he said he hoped Vick would become a role model. Tragically, he was right. A teen arrested on dog fighting charges in North Carolina stated that he hoped to become “the next Michael Vick.” The animal protection movement has no business getting in bed with monsters.

While Pacelle, through HSUS, testified that the dogs Vick abused should not be given a second chance and should all be killed, Pacelle said that their abuser should be. Vick became a spokesman for HSUS. Or was it the other way around? In the process, Pacelle rides Vick’s blood-stained coattails to his favorite destination—the front pages of the New York Times, 60 minutes, and other media.

Read more by clicking here.

Did the ASPCA Cover up Abuse?

According to a recently filed lawsuit in federal court, the ASPCA abusively killed a man’s dog and then covered it up. That is tragic enough. The fact that the hospital where the abuse and killing occurred is called “Bergh Memorial” after the great Henry Bergh makes it all the more obscene. Ed Sayres is not fit to run an animal protection organization.

Read more by clicking here.

West Hollywood Votes to Ban Sale of Animals from Pet Stores

After an expose showed that a West Hollywood pet store was getting their dogs from puppy mills and then lying to the public about the source, the City of West Hollywood, CA voted to ban their sale. There is an exception for animals from rescue groups and shelters, which will hopefully lead to greater cooperation between public and private, the kinds of relationships that have saved countless animals in other communities, the model employed by pet supply stores such as PetSmart, and the basis of pet store owners Paula and Lewis Turner’s “modest proposal” to turn all pet stores into rescue havens:

Irreconcilable Differences Book Tour

Next month, I will begin a nationwide tour to promote my recently released book, Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters. Unfortunately, because of project commitments, I will not be able to do the 30 cities I did for Redemption and I am trying to concentrate on cities I was not able to visit on that tour. Already, nearly 200 people have registered for  the first City on the tour!

Join me for an inspirational multi-media presentation on Building a No Kill Community, followed by a book signing:

•    Shelby County, KY. March 6, 2010.
•    Melbourne, FL. April 3, 2010.
•    Greater Atlanta Area (Carroll County), GA. April 16, 2010.
•    NYC/NJ Area. April 20, 2010.
•    New Zealand. April 30-May 2, 2010.
•    Greater Seattle Area (Whidbey Island), WA. June 18, 2010.
•    Washington D.C. (No Kill Conference). July 31-August 1, 2010.

I will be adding a few more cities in the next several weeks. Learn more by clicking here.

A Tour of U.S. Shelters

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune describes yet more abuse at the hands of shelter workers which are supposed to be the animals’ protectors. This time, the director is accused of breaking the necks of kittens. Combined with other scandals in other shelters, such as starving animals to death in Memphis, the conclusion is clear: America’s animal shelter system is broken.

Take a tour of U.S. shelters by clicking here.

No Kill Conference

Last year’s No Kill Conference was the sold out, must attend event of the year. And it is happening again! The only national conference that says we can and must stop the killing and we can and must do it today.

New speakers and workshops have been added including Michael Mountain, founder of Best Friends Animal Society, on fundraising; Richard Avanzino of Maddie’s Fund on using the law to save animals; Ginny Mikita on defending dogs; and more.

Join No Kill advocates nationwide at this ground-breaking event. A No Kill nation is within our reach!

What: No Kill Conference 2010
When: July 31-August 1, 2010
Where: Washington DC

Since being announced less than a month ago, the No Kill Conference is now at about 80% of capacity. If you are considering attending, do not delay. Once sold out, there are no waiting lists and no exceptions.

Learn more or register by clicking here.

Opposing Oreo’s Law: Why the ASPCA is Willing to Condemn Animals to Death

An amended version of Oreo’s Law is due this week which incorporates additional protections against hoarding and dog fighting, excludes dangerous dogs, and gives rescue groups a specific period of time to take custody of an animal.

Named after Oreo, a dog the ASPCA killed despite a rescue group’s offer to save her, the bill would make it illegal for any New York State shelter or pound to kill an animal if a legitimate rescue group is willing to save the animal’s life. But Ed Sayres, the President of the ASPCA, wants to kill the proposed law, the way he killed Oreo, for which the new law is named.

Though the ASPCA couches its opposition by claiming the animals are better off dead because they might go to hoarders, the argument is not sincere due to the many protections already in the proposed legislation. In addition, Ed Sayres defended similar legislation in California when he was President of the San Francisco SPCA, against such facile arguments.

In reality, the ASPCA’s President does not want people remembering the killing of Oreo. In fact, the notion that a New York State legislator in the ASPCA’s own district would have to pass a law to protect animals from an animal protection organization is a scandal that threatens to define Ed Sayres’ tenure at the ASPCA. He has threatened to kill the bill as a result. This is unethical, an abuse of his power, and a betrayal to the animals he is paid half a million dollars a year to defend.

While the animal loving people of New York State flood the legislature with calls of support, while the most progressive voices in the companion animal movement have embraced and endorsed Oreo’s Law, and while rescuers anxiously await legislation that will empower them to save the lives of thousands of animals every year, the leader of the nation’s wealthiest SPCA stands alone in defiant opposition, thumbing his nose at them all.

Because of revelations that he supported similar legislation in the past while in California and because of new amendments excluding groups who are being investigated or have been convicted of neglect, cruelty and dog fighting related crimes, Sayres is fear mongering that the law will lead to dangerous dogs being released into communities. Once again, this is nothing more than a diversionary tactic. And once again, history proves him wrong.

Oreo’s Law is based on nearly identical California legislation which has been in effect for over a decade. Despite similar dire predictions in California, there is no evidence this has occurred. The reasons for this are many:

1. Like Oreo’s Law, the California law on which it is based, did not amend the state’s dangerous dog laws. In fact, Oreo’s Law excludes dogs deemed “dangerous” under New York State law.

2. It is not appropriate to needlessly kill dogs due to fear that only the most docile of dogs will be safe in adoptive homes. Most institutional shelter employees are less able than rescuers to assess dogs because of differences in their training and the settings in which they test dogs’ temperaments. And rescuers who provide foster care for animals can more easily and accurately assess animals’ behavior than can most institutional shelter employees. Animals in foster care have a longer time to adjust, and they can receive attention that they do not normally receive in shelter environments. In contrast to foster homes, shelters are very loud, crowded, and stressful environments. Combined with pressure to make quick decisions, animals are not given time to settle/calm down in the new environment which would allow more accurate evaluation. As a result, it is not uncommon for animals to be deemed “aggressive” or having behavior issues in a shelter environment, only to be found to be loving, friendly animals out of the shelter.

In a shelter

In a foster home

3.    Rescue groups often have among their members (or ready access to) behavior specialists who can provide better evaluation and rehabilitation options for dogs than can most shelters. In the case of animals with true behavioral problems that make them less suitable for most adoption opportunities, rescue groups work collaboratively to seek the best possible circumstances for each animal.

4.    There is no evidence that rescue groups take undue risks by adopting out dogs that pose a safety risk. Rescue groups have the same disincentives to adopting out truly aggressive dogs as shelters do and are well aware that doing so would risk continuity to their ability to rescue and find homes for animals. They are careful to preserve their right of access and their goodwill with the public.

5.    On the other hand, there is evidence that shelters over-kill animals, denying them adoptive homes and denying their would-be adopters the ability to adopt them. Many shelters claim dogs are “aggressive” without using a specific test that has been shown to have predictive validity. In fact, some shelters as a rule label all dogs who they say look like specific breeds to be “aggressive,” regardless of their true temperament. Other shelters bang on the sides of cages and “fail” every dog who cowers. In other cases, shelters will simply claim dogs are aggressive when they are just shy or scared by the shelter environment. And still others claim dogs are aggressive, even when they are not in order to avoid public scrutiny and condemnation for the killing.  The puppy below was only a few weeks old and could not even eat on his own. Yet the agency argued that he was “vicious” and should be killed. The puppy was put to death even though rescue groups offered to save him.

6.    In California, the original version of the legislation did have an exemption for dogs a shelter claimed were “aggressive.” This was written in because the legislative sponsor did not believe he could pass the law without it, even though it was understood this would eviscerate the intent of the law by giving shelters an almost unlimited discretion to continue killing dogs despite a lifesaving and cost saving alternative. It was the shelters and municipalities that oversaw those shelters which asked legislative proponents to remove the provision because it opened a shelter up to liability. By specifically excluding dogs they deem “aggressive,” shelters and municipalities did not want the corollary to be assumed: that the dogs they did give to rescue groups were certified to be safe.

7.    There is no established temperament evaluation for cats (this is also true of hamsters, rabbits, and other animals covered by Oreo’s Law.) Cats have been labeled “severe” and “aggressive” in shelter environments only to commonly calm down and blossom in a foster care environment. Since a behavior evaluation of cats is largely pointless, reputable shelters do not evaluate cats for aggression. Moreover, cats deemed “unsocialized” or “feral” are routinely placed with cat rescue and feral cat groups by these shelters, since these cats do not attack, but hide. As such, they do not pose a public safety risk. The cat shown below, cuddling up to someone, was deemed “aggressive” by a shelter and sentenced to death.

Also: Click here to watch a short video of a cat deemed “severe” (high levels of agression) and “feral” at New York City’s Animal Care & Control.

8.    The law will primarily save kittens and puppies, and healthy and friendly animals who make up the vast majority of animals entering—and being killed—by shelters. That is because rescuers will be able to place holds on animals who will then not be killed because “no one wanted them” in the short period of time that is available under the holding laws and policies. To oppose a law with such vast lifesaving potential for all animals entering a shelter based on dire predictions about aggressive dogs which have not materialized despite 11 years of experience in California is unethical and indefensible.

To learn more about Oreo’s Law, including who supports it and how you can help, visit the all-new:

More Shelter, No Kill, and Animal Related News

Don’t forget to read kcdogblog‘s “Weekly Roundup,” yesbiscuit‘s “Treats on the Internet,” and petconnection‘s weekly updates.