The Butcher of Norfolk (4th Edition)

March 10, 2010 by  

The numbers are finally in. In 2009, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) impounded 2,366 animals. They killed 2,301 and found homes for only 8. Another 31 were transferred to killing shelters and their fates are unknown. That’s a 97% rate of killing. While the No Kill movement is having unparalleled success and with No Kill communities now dotting the American landscape—in California, Nevada, Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Colorado, Utah, Virginia, and elsewhere—PETA continues to move sharply in the other direction. This is the fourth time I have run this very blog. This is my fourth plea to stop the Butcher of Norfolk.

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

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

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

Then came the 2007 numbers showing a 91% rate of killing—the killing of 1,815 of the 1,997 animals they impounded. And so I reran the blog. In 2008, I ran the blog once again (it has now been up continuously for over three years) because the slaughter—the needless, senseless, evil slaughter—continued with an equally staggering 96% kill rate. A paltry seven dogs and cats were adopted. A paltry 34 were transferred to an SPCA whose fates are not known. And out of 2,216 dogs and cats impounded, the rest were systematically put to death by PETA.

Killed: 555 of the 584 dogs.

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

Finally, 2009: only 8 adoptions, less than 1/2 of 1% of the animals they took in. Killed: 2,301 out of 2,366.

In the last ten years, they have killed 21,537 animals: that’s roughly 2,000 animals a year every year for the last decade; or over five animals killed by PETA every single day. PETA has argued that all of the animals it kills are “unadoptable.” In fact, PETA’s attorney stated that in his letter threatening a defamation lawsuit if I did not back down. But this claim is a lie. It is a lie because the numbers historically come from the State of Virginia’s reporting form which only asks for data for animals taken into custody “for the purpose of adoption.” It is a lie because PETA refuses to provide its criteria for making that determination. It is a lie because rescue groups and individuals have come forward stating that the animals they gave PETA were healthy and adoptable. It is a lie because testimony under oath in court from a veterinarian showed that PETA was given healthy and adoptable animals who were later found dead by PETA’s hands, their bodies unceremoniously thrown away in a supermarket dumpster. And it is a lie because Newkirk herself admitted as much.

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

Why does the animal protection movement tolerate this woman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here it is again: Round 4. Munchausen by PETA. My opinion.

Munchausen by PETA?

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

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

By the numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

Said the killing apologist to the killer

Who loves PETA?

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

How Can We Help?

March 10, 2010 by  

Two cats stuck on a power pole in two different cities highlight the good and ugly side of animal shelters.

How can we help?

It should be the underlying philosophy of every humane society and SPCA. The answer to that question manifests itself in myriad ways: A staff member staying late to process an adoption application. An officer knocking on the doors of a neighborhood to return a lost dog, rather than impounding him into the shelter. Helping to rescue a stranded kitten.

Day in and day out, the question “How can we help?” has big dividends: in Reno, Nevada, it has paid off big in terms of adoptions, reclaim rates, awards, donations, and for the animals, the numbers of lives saved. Today, Reno has one of the highest lifesaving rates in the nation.  The approach isn’t novel. It is, in fact, what our movement was founded to do.

Henry Bergh, the 19th Century founder of our movement, was once flagged down by a number of people who heard a cat crying at a construction site. Bergh determined that the cat had been entombed inside a wall and ordered the construction crew to open the wall. The foreman balked, saying doing so would cost money and suggesting that the cat be left inside. Bergh took a sledgehammer to the wall himself, freeing the cat to the delight of passersby. Far fetched? Not really.

Houston, Texas, for example, has long been criticized by animal lovers in that community for deplorable conditions in its shelters and high rates of killing. Historically, those job seekers who scored the lowest on city aptitude tests were placed in animal control by design, and it showed. What did it matter if that meant animals would be neglected and tens of thousands would be needlessly killed? Not their problem. And don’t even think about calling local groups and agencies for help—even when the life of an animal hangs in the balance, as a frantic person learned when she called to get help after her cat got stuck on a power pole.

According to KHOU News in Houston,

The owner of a kitten that died after getting stuck up on a power pole wants to know why no one would help her save her pet. Lauren Kutac’s 8-month-old kitten spent 47 hours on the pole located in the backyard of her home in southwest Houston before she was electrocuted in the middle of the night.

“You just heard, ‘pow,’ and all the electricity went out,” said Lauren Kutac. “I scaled my back fence and she was, she was just fried.” The cat lover said she called several agencies including the Houston Fire Department, the SPCA, the Houston Police Department, and [the local electric company] while she was sitting on the pole. They all declined her request for help. “Not one person could help me,” she said.

Is it any wonder that Houston, Texas, has one of the highest rates of killing not just in Texas, but anywhere?

Ironically, the same thing happened in Reno: A frightened cat got stuck on a power pole. But instead of saying it wasn’t their problem, as the local SPCA, city agencies, and even the power company told the kitten’s caretaker in Houston, they asked the question “How can we help?” And the results show it.

According to the Nevada Humane Society,

What goes up must come down—whether it wants to or not. Such was the case with a cat who climbed near the top of a 40-foot-high power tower in Washoe Valley on Friday, March 5. The five-year-old male tuxedo cat became frightened and couldn’t climb back down the pole. Washoe County Regional Animal Services Officer Cindy Doak came to the rescue and through the use of a boom truck, the kitty was soon lowered to safety.

Sparky, affectionately named by his rescuer Officer Doak, is now under the care of Nevada Humane Society and after being neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, is ready for adoption.

“Sparky is a sweet, cuddly and affectionate kitty, in addition to being quite handsome,” explained Kiersten Phillips, Lead Cat Caregiver for Nevada Humane Society. “He shows no negative signs from being trapped at the top of the pole and is eager for a loving home.”

Such a different outcome in Reno provides a stark contrast to the dark underbelly of regressive and draconian animal shelters in this country. A community’s animal shelters are part of the service industry, and leadership and staff should be determined to faithfully serve the community which pays their salaries through philanthropic and tax dollars. They are there to help the animals, and to help people with animal related issues. And the most successful shelters do that really well: from proactive efforts to help people reclaim lost pets, to an animal help desk designed to resolve animal related conflicts, to public access adoption hours, to low-cost spay/neuter, holiday events so families can do good deeds together, to making it easy for people to do the right thing, the most successful shelters in terms of lifesaving are also the most service oriented.

But you wouldn’t know that if you called most shelters for help. You’d be lucky if they answered the phone. And if they did, you’re likely to be treated rudely. A trip to the shelter would be a tour de force of poor customer service, dirty facilities, and a tidal wave of bureaucratic indifference. You are there to adopt? It doesn’t matter to them if you do or you don’t, it’s not their problem. You’d like to volunteer. Again, not their problem. You are part of a rescue group and you’d like to pull animals off of death row, but you expect them to notify you before killing an animal? “Unreasonable” they say. And, don’t even think about offering to bottle feed kittens around the clock at no cost to them in order to save lives. Meanwhile, all the animals you’d be trying to help by this will be put to death. And the staff who does so will blame you for the killing. You are, after all, part of the “irresponsible public.”

As a woman learned when she tried to save the life of a scared cat at her local shelter:

I tried to adopt from my local shelter, but they weren’t open on the weekend, it was almost impossible to reach them on the telephone and when I did, I was treated rudely. Nonetheless, I raced down there one day after work, and the place was so dirty. It made me cry to look into the faces of all those animals I knew would be killed. But I found this scared, skinny cat hiding in the back of his cage and I filled out an application. I was turned down because I didn’t turn in the paperwork on time, which meant a half hour before closing, but I couldn’t get there from work in time to do that. I tried to leave work early the next day, but I called and found out they had already killed the poor cat. I will never go back.

If 2009 symbolized anything, it showed the dual and disparate nature of animal sheltering in the U.S. On the one hand, anti-No Kill organizations like the ASPCA insisted on their right to kill animals even in the face of a rescue alternative by putting dogs to death who had lifesaving opportunities. They then used their war chest, which includes their Sarah McLachlan “Arms of an Angel” commercial (that generates roughly $30 million per year for the ASPCA), to vilify rescue groups and fight legislation that would save the lives of these animals.

Recent scandals included shelters who starved animals to death, who poured bleach on them while staff laughed, who specifically killed animals rescue groups were on their way to save, who allowed animals to go without medication so that they died in their cages, and who beat puppies to death. These scandals and other not only showed that rampant killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives is the norm, but that the killing is too often preceded by neglect and abuse, some of it of the most horrific kind.

But 2009 also saw the increasing success of other communities who asked the question: “How can we help?” and then faithfully saw to it that they followed through. New communities that did so hit 90 percent level save rates, including San Francisco Bay Area cities Berkeley, Piedmont, and Emeryville, California, Reno, Nevada, Shelby County, Kentucky, as well as communities in Kansas, Indiana, and others. And those communities which have been historically successful, repeated those successes, including Tompkins County, New York, which has now saved at least 92% for each of the last seven years, Charlottesville, Virginia, and still others.

How can we help? It is music to the animal lover’s ears.

Said the killing apologist to the killer

March 8, 2010 by  

A writer for PETA gives a shelter director on the defensive for staggering levels of killing advice on how to attack No Kill generally, and me specifically.

I recently uncovered an e-mail exchange, dated June 2008, between Ed Boks, the then-General Manger of the brutal Los Angeles Animal Shelter system, and Lisa Towell, a writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It provides a rare glimpse into the desperate lengths “catch and kill” apologists will go to reject that which does not fit their preconceived point of view that the killing of animals in shelters is both necessary and acceptable, even in the face of overwhelming—and personal—experience to the contrary.

During his tenure in Los Angeles, Boks oversaw a shelter system that killed roughly 20,000 dogs and cats a year, and thousands of other species of animals. In fact, during the period that marked his disastrous leadership, the number of animals impounded and killed increased for the first time in better than a decade. Not only did his draconian policies cause more animals to be intentionally put to death, but the number of animals missing and who simply died in kennel—a reflection of poor care—also skyrocketed. Due to one scandal after another, the City Council finally gave him a unanimous vote of “No Confidence” and he resigned shortly thereafter. The results caused even his initial supporters to bolt, but they were easily anticipated. Boks came to Los Angeles by way of both Maricopa County in Arizona and New York City, both agencies he left under tenures that were marked by high rates of killing that put the lie to his public claims of success. While running the Maricopa County animal shelter system into financial ruin (opening up a $600,000 a year structural deficit), Boks never achieved better than a 50% save rate—the national average—that saw tens of thousands of animals lose their lives annually. In New York City, independent audits found poor and hostile treatment of animals, as well as increasing rates of animals dying in kennels that culminated in a unanimous vote by his Board not to renew his contract. To the dismay of No Kill advocates, the Mayor of Los Angeles hired him anyway.

Towell is a writer for PETA, an organization which seeks out thousands of animals every year to kill. In fact, from 2000-2008, PETA killed 19,328 animals. Once the 2009 figures are released, it will put the total body count well in excess of 20,000 for the decade. In some years, PETA’s rate of killing was as high as 97%, and 2009 promises to be another bloodbath despite over $30 million in revenues annually and millions of animal loving supporters. The rate of killing has led to calls to reclassify PETA from a shelter under Virginia regulations to a slaughterhouse, since its death rates are so far above even the worst performing shelters in the state. In 2006, for example, of 1,997 animals they sought out, only seven dogs and cats were adopted into homes and another 34 were transferred to a kill shelter whose fates are unknown. The rest were put to death. In some cases, PETA has killed animals in the back of a van within minutes of being taken in, despite promises of finding the animals a home to those relinquishing them. Not content with their own mass killing, PETA also advocates policies around the country to encourage the killing of even more animals, including a call to slaughter every dog someone labels a “Pit Bull” who enters a shelter, calls for the continued killing of free-living unsocialized (i.e. feral) cats, and coming to the defense of some of the most abusive shelters in the country. Indeed, PETA supported a Pit Bull ban even in Ontario, which mandates the pound seizure of animals from shelters by companies who use them for animal experimentation—the fate that ostensibly awaited some of the family pets seized under the PETA-supported breed ban. Those policies have earned PETA’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, who directs PETA’s assembly line of killing and who freely admits that that PETA kills “healthy” and “adoptable” animals, the nickname the “Butcher of Norfolk.”

Towell opens her e-mail to Boks by saying she was glad to have met him at a legislative hearing in Sacramento in support of AB 1634, the mandatory spay/neuter law which would have given Boks’ shelter, and others like it throughout the state, the power and authority to impound and kill even more animals. But giving shelters this power was not the only topic of conversation between Boks and Towell. The e-mail suggests they spent time at their meeting talking about me, too. In the e-mail, Towell embraces the PETA position that No Kill is to be opposed, rather than embraced. She talks openly about how “great” their views are in this regard and, in fact, offers additional strategies to combat No Kill generally and me specifically: “Here is the information I wrote up on problems with no-kill,” she writes to Boks. “You’ll see that I quoted from your blog posts!” She then writes how she is also sending her comments to Daphna Nachminovich, PETA’s Minister of Killing Propaganda, who routinely defends abusive killing shelters and equates No Kill with hoarding. The rest of the e-mail is an attack against my book Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America.

Apparently, Boks—a man who was chased out of Maricopa County, removed from New York City when his Board unanimously voted not to renew his contract, and who resigned in Los Angeles after a unanimous vote of “No Confidence” from the City Council—and Nachminovich—a killing apologist who lies about PETA’s killing and then justifies it by disparaging the No Kill alternative—are worthy of quoting and trusting, but Redemption, a book which champions a philosophy that says we can and should end the killing, which asks for a more compassionate shelter system, is not to be believed or trusted.

Ironically, even though Towell calls PETA’s attacks against me “great,” she realizes after reading Redemption that their attacks are dishonest. In the end, she admits that she agrees with much of what I brought to light in Redemption: “many shelters would benefit greatly from implementing policies and programs that Winograd advocates in the book,” she writes. Programs, ironically, that the organization she holds out as the standard bearer on how society should relate to animals, opposes.

Towell nonetheless does take a break from drinking the Ingrid Newkirk Kool-Aid by admitting that “there is room for improvement at many shelters (even those short on money and resources), and as a volunteer at one of those shelters, I found parts of Winograd’s book quite compelling.”

Towell gives the following example:

At my own shelter, I and other volunteers tried to work with the staff to implement more aggressive adoption outreach for the cats… Problems we tried to fix: unwillingness to use volunteers more extensively (foster, adoption outreach, etc.), insufficient use of media and internet to promote cats, poor customer service, poor proactivity in managing the less adoptable cats. (As it happens, all of these programs/policies are discussed in Winograd’s book).

We had very little long-term success, despite a positive reception from staff for our proposals. I became convinced that you’d have to fire the supervisor and most of the staff to get a different attitude. So, this part of Winograd’s message really resonated for me—some of the cat killings in the last year were the direct outcome of the shelter staff not making straightforward changes that could have saved their lives.

She then openly acknowledged that she “doesn’t know how common this is across the country” even though a simple Google search would have provided the answer. In fact, it is endemic to animal control. In addition to killing in the face of alternatives, the last year alone has seen a significant amount of nationwide media coverage revealing widespread animal neglect and outright abuse at these very institutions. These exposés show a strikingly different reality than the mythical description of heroic shelters portrayed by PETA for whom Towell writes for:

  • In Memphis, TN, shelter workers not only intentionally starved animals to death, they took animals who were still alive to the incinerator.
  • In King County, WA, an animal control officer turned whistleblower not only confirmed the neglect and abuse uncovered in three independent assessments of the shelter, but indicated that things are worse than ever for the animals, despite the denials of the guild/union that blindly defends itself and its members.  The whistleblower described “cats dying in their cage for lack of treatment, a dog so sick [he] nearly drowned in a stream of water in its kennel and animals of all types in need of veterinary attention, but not getting it.” This is a shelter PETA defended and, in an effort to sabotage reform, painted concerned animal lovers as “radicals” in a letter to the Council.
  • In Lucas County, OH, the local dog warden—an incompetent hack given the job out of nepotism—routinely allowed dogs to get sick and then killed them, despite rescue groups offering to save them.
  • In Los Angeles County, a news investigation team uncovered officers physically abusing animals.

The list goes on and on and on and on.

These and other cases show shelter workers and Animal Control Officers (ACOs) who kick, beat, baton, and kill puppies. ACOs who cause animals to suffer and die. ACOs who cause animals to cannibalize other animals in their cages because they go unfed. And the very animal control officers who cause these travesties suffer no repercussions because they are “supervised” by their fellow union and bureaucracy-protected shirkers.

But despite evidence of this pervasive and troubling reality nationwide, and after admitting that the shelter she volunteers for finds killing cats easier than doing what is necessary to stop killing, after admitting that for changes to occur, leadership must be replaced with people who care, and after admitting her ignorance about how truly pervasive and endemic this is in shelters across the country, Towell turns around and suggests that Boks, she, and PETA must work together to “discredit Winograd’s philosophy” by painting me as “well-intentioned but naïve,” because trying to paint me as a liar as PETA has done has fallen on deaf ears.

But who is naïve? Towell herself admits she is ignorant of trends in shelter policy, even as the one experience she has—that of a volunteer at her local shelter—confirms what I write in Redemption. And her claims about how wrong I supposedly am are not based on data, analysis, or experience, but her own wild speculation: always prefaced with “I think,” and “as far as I know,” which she later freely admits later not so much.

Towell also admits that the “open admission” shelters I cite in my book as evidence of the potential we have to achieve a No Kill nation are “among the best-performing shelters in the country.” She further writes that they “must be doing something right” and what she “thinks” they are doing right is implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation—“all programs that Winograd advocates.” But she then follows-up with the mother of all non-sequiturs: disparaging the No Kill Equation as “naïve.” It is naïve she writes, because even with the comprehensive implementation of those programs, shelters would still be forced to kill because pet overpopulation is real.

Barfing out sheltering dogma before real reflection begins, ignoring the success of communities nationwide even in communities with high intake rates, and thoroughly ignorant of the data, she avers that shelters can’t “adopt their way out of killing” as I claim in Redemption. Ironically, she comes to this conclusion by doing her own back of the envelope calculations. The only problem is that even her own (inaccurate) statistics prove my point.

Towell says that her “own calculations …. suggest” there are homes for 12 million dogs and cats every year. She then admits that “in theory that’s enough to absorb the 3.7 [million] killed in shelters each year.” In other words, she proves that the issue is not one of “too many animals, not enough homes,” but of market share, exactly as I argued in Redemption. But then concludes from that data that her own calculations “topple Winograd’s overpopulation argument.” The basis of this non-sequitur is a profound ignorance of statistical analysis and trends in sheltering to suggest we can never expect 3.7 million of those 12 million to adopt rather than buy.

First of all, national data show that every year over 21 million homes become available and the trend is toward increasing numbers. Some are already committed to adopting from shelters and they will do so, even with poor customer service, dirty facilities, and other endemic problems. Others got their last animal from a commercial or other source and are committed to getting their next animal from the same or similar source. But the data also shows that roughly 17 million are open to adopting from shelters and can be convinced to do so. These are the people shelters need to reach with proactive marketing and public relations, and by modifying policies and procedures in line with those of the No Kill Equation to successfully adopt more animals to them.

In addition, of the roughly 4 million killed, not all of those need new homes. After backing out free-living unsocialized (feral) cats who need neuter and release or should not be allowed to enter shelters in the first place, after switching from passive to proactive redemption efforts thereby increasing by three-fold the number of stray dogs who are reclaimed by their families, and seven-fold the stray cats who are reclaimed by their families, after removing—at this time in history—those animals who are truly and tragically hopelessly ill, irremediably suffering, and vicious dogs with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation, we can cut the number of animals entering shelters who actually need new homes significantly. What that means is that even if roughly 90% of that 17 million got their animal from somewhere other than a shelter, we could still zero out the killing of savable animals. Or put another way, if shelters increased the market of new and replacement homes (a combination of what statisticians call “stock” and “flow”) over the existing pool of homes by 3%, we would empty all the shelters.

Despite this, she then goes on to downplay adoptions, dismissing their importance in ending the killing, and creating a false “either-or” by stating we must focus—indeed deify—spay/neuter. But this ignores four crucial issues devastating to the overly simplistic, indefensible, and ultimately unethical argument she makes. To begin with, adoptions and spay/neuter are not mutually exclusive. Second, communities that have achieved No Kill success did so despite some of the highest intake rates in the nation before a fully functioning sterilization program was even in place (with the exception of feral cats). Spay/neuter is important to reduce the numbers of animals entering shelters, but it is not a prerequisite before the lifesaving endeavor begins or No Kill is achieved (though it certainly makes it easier and easier to sustain). And third, working solely to prevent future killing through spay/neuter but ignoring the animals alive today and condemning them to death is inhumane and unethical. But what is most devastating to her case, even while high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter is a central tenet of the No Kill Equation, even though I am an advocate for low-cost, no-cost and high-volume sterilization, and even while I offered free sterilization at the shelters I oversaw is this: It is naïve to assume that draconian shelter directors will stop killing even when spay/neuter efforts pay off in the form of lower impounds.

Shelter directors kill because it is easier to kill than do what is necessary to stop it. They kill despite rescue groups willing to save those animals. They kill despite empty cages. They kill while turning away adopters with regressive policies, poor customer service, and lack of public access shelter hours. In fact, too many of them neglect or abuse the animals in the process before killing them, some in the most inhumane manner imaginable. In short, as long as they are allowed to stay in their leadership positions, as long as uncaring government bureaucrats treat municipal shelters as nothing more than “jobs programs” for equally uncaring and incompetent staff who are not employable in the private sector or other government agencies deemed more important, and as long as groups like PETA provide them political cover by falsely painting them as “heroic despite pet overpopulation,” they will continue to kill indefinitely. Towell naively and ignorantly assumes that killing is always the result of supposed “space” issues—when the evidence reveals that most of the killing is a result of shelter directors willfully ignoring readily available lifesaving alternatives.

The organization she writes for proves it, an organization with a global reach, tens of millions in annual revenues, and a support base of millions of animal lovers, that kills over 90% of animals they seek out. The shelter she volunteers for whose staff kills cats because they refuse to implement what she acknowledges are simple, straightforward, common sense alternatives to killing which already exist. Ed Boks, the man she admires and quotes, the recipient of her e-mail, also proves it. As head of the Los Angeles pound, he oversaw the killing of roughly 20,000 animals annually despite a per capita intake rate a fraction of No Kill communities and despite one of the best funded shelter systems in the nation.

Towell ends her attack against me by saying that “Winograd disparages the traditional approach of LES (legislation, education, and [mandatory] sterilization).” And then goes on to conclude that the decline in killing nationally—which she fails to realize coincides with the introduction of the programs and services of the No Kill Equation—is, in her words, a result of LES: “I think at least some of it is due to the very LES he dislikes (e.g., differential licensing fees, mandatory S/N, etc.)” But once again, Towell’s conclusion is betrayed by her ignorance and failure to do the most rudimentary of research on the issue.

In the U.S., these approaches have always been and continue to be a failure. In fact, the irresponsible and disastrous legislative foray she supported for the entire State of California, but was passed only in Los Angeles is responsible for the first increase in killing there in a decade. At a time when other communities were seeing death rates plummet—Towell championed and Boks ushered in a legislative scheme that resulted in a 24% increase in dog killing and a 35% increase in cat killing. That is the standard to which Towell aspires. But it is not compassionate, humane, nor effective. In fact, despite calling me naïve a number of times, it is Towell who deserves the moniker—both in terms of buying into Newkirk’s and Nachminovich’s dark, twisted embrace of killing and her lack of understanding as to what happens when the types of laws she champions are passed.

In the end, however, what Towell does prove in her determination to undermine the No Kill philosophy as championed in Redemption, is how very Orwellian this movement has become. That two individuals—one with a sordid history of killing, and the other a writer for an organization whose leader freely admits to rounding up and killing thousands of animals every year—are capable of a communication implying to one another that they are championing the animals’ best interest by seeking to undermine the message of hope and promise in Redemption shows the level of self-delusion the old party line of the “catch and kill” movement both sanctions and encourages.

Likewise, I found it fascinating to glimpse a communication about me between two individuals who, judging from the tone and content of the e-mail, labor under the illusion that Redemption is a slick, carefully crafted attempt at subterfuge, rather than what it is—a sincere and heartfelt plea for greater compassion towards the animals entering our nation’s abysmal and broken sheltering system. But judging by both Boks’ sordid history of killing animals and Lisa Towell’s association with PETA, perhaps it is no surprise that they cannot conceive of honest dedication to the cause they are, by the nature of their jobs, pledged to promote, but which through their actions, they actively seek to undermine.

Of course, given their reaction to Redemption, there is obviously nothing I can say or do which will change their minds. Their opposition is not born of genuine, though misguided, concern.  In Boks’ case, it is nothing more than naked self-preservation, and in Towell’s, a blind devotion to the murderous vision of the Butcher of Norfolk. In this case, proving them wrong—and laying their true motivations bare—is a job best left to the workings of time and its eventual realization of a No Kill nation. And when that day arrives—as it invariably will—I’d love another insider glimpse such as that afforded by this e-mail. I predict that the self-delusion Boks and Towell will need to employ then in order to reconcile their historical desire to undermine No Kill with a society that has fully embraced—and realized—its tremendous promise, will be equally, if not more, fascinating and fantastical.

Ed Boks E-Mails Reveal Mandatory S/N Law Failures

March 2, 2010 by  

During his tenure as General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS), Ed Boks made headlines in his support of a failed California mandatory sterilization law, Assembly Bill 1634. During legislative hearings, Boks admitted that the legislation was more about expanding the bureaucratic power of animal control than saving animals when a Senator asked: “Mr. Boks, this bill doesn’t even pretend to be about saving animals, does it?” To which Boks responded: “No Senator, this is not about saving dogs and cats.” The bill was defeated.

But Boks convinced the City of Los Angeles to pass its own version. He also demanded more officers to enforce it, and was granted over $400,000 in enforcement money to do so, money that was taken away from truly lifesaving programs. The end result was predictable. Almost immediately, LAAS officers threatened poor people with citations if they did not turn over the pets to be killed at LAAS, and that is exactly what occurred. For the first time in a decade, impounds and killing increased—dog deaths increased 24%, while cat deaths increased 35%. In the process, he also fed the backyard breeding market for more (unaltered) animals.

Boks made further headlines when he abolished the subsidized spay/neuter voucher program a short time later, a program that was aimed at helping poor people comply with the law. A public outcry led to the program’s reinstatement but the subsequent embarrassment, among others, led to a unanimous vote of “No Confidence” by the City Council and Boks resigned shortly thereafter.

Despite public claims of success and the touting of the L.A. law in a bid to pass A.B. 1634 statewide, recently released e-mails show that Ed Boks knew that his much touted mandatory sterilization law was harmful to animals for another reason. According to the e-mails, after the mandatory sterilization law was adopted, veterinarians across the City of Los Angeles sought to exploit the captive market by raising their prices. Veterinarians wanted a windfall, even though cost was—and is—the primary barrier to spay/neuter. The end result was that while spay/neuter was now the law, the effect of the price increases in response to the law put sterilization increasingly out of reach for those at the bottom rung of the economic latter, forcing them to surrender their animals, which the shelters under Boks’ command put to death.

In a 2008 e-mail to Ed Boks, a supporter writes to Ed that “we can’t hide from the fact that veterinarians are raising their prices to a point where people cannot afford the services regardless of the vouchers or financial assistance.” (To help defray these rising costs, the City was offering $30 vouchers, and in a smaller number of cases, $70 vouchers, toward the cost of sterilization.) By August 2008, Boks admitted a problem and indentified what he called the “unintended consequence of s/n law is vets raising prices,” though he did not share this information with legislators he was lobbying to pass statewide mandatory spay/neuter.*

By early 2009, however, Boks could no longer ignore the failure. In an e-mail to his managers and the Mayor’s Office, he admits that the voucher program’s attempt to stem the increases in impounds was largely a failure, saying,

[T]he use of coupons is not cost effective because of our inability to control co-payments. The same is true of the $70 coupons. While they are targeted in a modest way, I doubt that even a subsidy this size brings pet sterilization within the reach of caretakers living in poverty because coupons don’t guarantee that the amount they have to pay themselves, the co-payment, is affordable to them.

Boks concludes that “the failure of our programs… explains why no progress has been made in reducing cat intakes in recent years.” (While he discussed trying to more effectively target indigent people with spay/neuter assistance, less than two months later he simply abolished the program.)

Instead, to defray blaming the spay/neuter law for increased impounds, Boks and his killing apologists in Los Angeles publicly (and sometimes privately) blamed the economy. But the data did not bear out the claim. While the City of Los Angeles had one of the lowest foreclosure rates (1.79) at the time, it saw killing increase following the passage of its spay/neuter law. By contrast, communities with higher rates like San Diego (2.51) and Alameda (2.41), saw killing nonetheless decrease.  In fact, some of the California counties with the highest foreclosure rates during this period saw killing decrease.

Moreover, Washoe County, Nevada provides a striking contrast. As a tourism-based economy, Washoe County (Reno and surrounding communities) 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, second only to Michigan. At the same time that LAAS was impounding and killing more animals, Reno increased adoptions rates, increased reclaim rates, and despite taking in over three times the per capita rate of animals than Los Angeles, saved nine out of every ten dogs and, at the time, about eight out of ten cats. Today, 90% of all cats and dogs are being saved.

In addition to the e-mails about the failure of the mandatory spay/neuter law, recently uncovered e-mails were found between a PETA writer and Boks trying to undermine my arguments in Redemption. I will write up a response to those claims in the near future, including an admission by the PETA writer that the shelters I cited for good results, in her words, are “Not perfect… but they are open-admission … and they’re among the best-performing animal shelters in the country.” The PETA writer also goes on to admit that I was right in another regard, citing the example of shelter management at the shelter she volunteers for, which ignored pleas for more comprehensive adoption efforts because they found killing of cats easier than doing what was necessary to stop it. Her conclusion: management should be fired!

Despite these admissions, she (a woman who writes for an organization that wants to see every dog who enters a shelter and is labeled a “Pit Bull” systematically slaughtered, and which also seeks out and kills 2,000 animals a year) and Boks (a man who has made a career around killing animals and misleading the public about No Kill progress) conspire to undermine my philosophy and approach.  Stay tuned…


* Judie Mancuso, another proponent of mandatory spay/neuter, was, however, made aware of the price increases by L.A. veterinarians, information she too has buried.

Building a No Kill Kentucky

March 1, 2010 by  

Join me this Saturday, March 6, 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. Sales of books benefit Shelby County’s No Kill mission.

For more information or to register, click here.

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