The Real Elephant in the Room

May 30, 2010 by  

When the news was announced, animal lovers throughout Austin, Texas rejoiced. Some of them went out to celebrate. Some of them wept. One of them said they woke up the next morning and it was like standing on the deck of the Ark and seeing sunshine after 40 days of rain. Years of campaigning, years of fighting, years of grief and heartache, and she was finally gone. She was gone, she was gone, she was gone and good riddance. The director of Town Lake Animal Control, a woman who killed over 100,000 animals, who killed tens of thousands a year, hundreds per month, dozens per day, one animal roughly every 12 minutes the shelter was open to the public, was gone. And, with her, hopefully the era defined by killing despite readily available lifesaving alternatives, killing despite empty cages, killing despite a refusal—an ugly, selfish, unethical, indefensible refusal—to do what is necessary to stop killing.

This is a shelter director who killed kittens while refusing to allow the larger public to foster animals. This is a shelter director who said her staff did not have time to adopt out more animals; presumably because they were too busy killing them in back. This is a shelter director who illegally refused to provide care to sick animals, allowing them to suffer after the City Council unanimously ordered her to stop killing savable animals when there were empty cages to house them (hundreds per day according to state inspection reports). And she was gone. Forced into another job so she could vest in her retirement away from the animals she had the power to kill, a power which she exercised with ruthless efficiency.

But not everyone was celebrating. Ed Sayres, the head of the ASPCA, lamented her departure. Sayres, no stranger to killing in the face of lifesaving alternatives himself called her departure “horrible.” And why shouldn’t he? Sayres defended her even when she was killing kittens she refused to allow the public to foster. He defended her even when she was killing despite over 100 empty cages. He defended her even when she refused to implement common sense alternatives to killing. And he defended her with political and financial support he called “Mission: Orange,” but which local animal lovers called “Agent Orange” because it carpet bombed their efforts to reform the more egregious practices at the shelter under her watch.

On May 27, at an event for a local spay/neuter group, Sayres made it clear where he stood on the issues, and it was not on the side of No Kill advocates or the animals. “All right,” he said in the middle of his speech. “I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room.” He then went on to describe how “horrible” it was that “divisive incivility” in Austin led to the shelter director’s resignation. He stated that people who criticized her “wasted the time of everyone actually helping animals” and then went on to blame No Kill advocates, people working to stop the director from killing, for the killing of animals at the pound.

Sayres lamented her loss because he claimed that “Austin is Mission Orange’s most successful city” and the job will be more difficult without her. Successful? Under the first year of Agent Orange, killing actually went up 11%. Under the Sayres plan, Austin’s shelters impounded more animals, killed more animals, and saved fewer animals after the first year. While killing did decline the second year, it did so only because Austin Pets Alive saved those animals after the Sayres-backed shelter director ordered them to be killed.

Ed Sayres, who is using the might of the ASPCA to kill a law that will save more animals in New York for his own selfish ends, who defended the right of San Francisco shelters to kill animals, who kills animals himself, who said that killing is the moral equivalent of not killing, actually has the hubris to blame No Kill advocates for killing; has the gall to defend a shameless killer of animals rather than demand atonement for the 100,000 deaths she is responsible for; dares to lament her forced resignation which has the potential to create a new era of lifesaving; and, dares to call a movement to end killing, which directors like her refused to embrace, “divisive incivility.”

The storm has passed, the clouds have parted, and there is glorious sunshine. Everywhere in Austin there is now light after a long dark decade of night. And Sayres calls it “horrible.” That is the true “divisive incivility.” That is what is actually “horrible.” What Sayres saw as the elephant in the room was actually a mirror, his own reflection. His own “horrible” “divisive” reflection of “incivility.”

It is not civil to kill in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. It is not civil to kill kittens when people are willing to foster them. It is not civil to kill animals despite empty cages. It is not civil to complain about people wanting to adopt because it is too much work. It is not civil to oppose a moratorium on convenience killing. It is not civil to fight citizens who want to help create a more progressive shelter. It is not civil to withhold treatment from sick cats and allow them to suffer in order to falsely claim that No Kill amounts to warehousing. And it is the most divisive incivility to tell true animal lovers they can’t complain about it, that they can’t fight for the animals, that they should sit down and shut up and allow the killing to continue.

On a positive note, Sayres did reveal the only true elephant in the room. While the former shelter director’s boss was careful to say that she had been given a different job, while the “agent orange” partners pretended it was all voluntary, while the City bent over backwards to say that she chose to move on, Sayres is the first person to admit she was forced out.

But let us focus on silver linings and not dark clouds, lest we be guilty of “incivility.” Over the objections of the ASPCA-backed shelter director, the City Council unanimously embraced a No Kill plan. Over the objections of the ASPCA-backed shelter director, they forced her to provide medical care to sick cats. Over the objections of the ASPCA with all its money and all its might, they forced her out. Madam Director, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. To my friends in the No Kill movement, raise your glasses and pass the scotch!

The bumper sticker on a car in the employee parking lot of the Austin pound. Is this civil?

“I Was There”

May 27, 2010 by  

In 2001/2002, Tompkins County became the nation’s first No Kill community. I chronicled that milestone in my first book, Redemption. Because of Tompkins County’s seminal achievement, No Kill took the country by storm. The success in other communities–such as Charlottesville, Virginia–is a direct result of the success in Tompkins. In fact, the future director of Charlottesville came to visit us in Tompkins to learn about our success so she could implement it back home. But, tragically and unethically, that is not how most directors responded. Most shelter directors sought to denigrate, downplay, ignore, and dismiss the success.

All of their malicious and false attacks were motivated by a desire to avoid accountability—to avoid having to answer the question, “if they can achieve No Kill in Tompkins County, why can’t we do it here?”—here, being in the community where shelter directors were still butchering animals by the hundreds or thousands in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives they simply refused to implement.

But they aren’t making those claims anymore. Not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. It was easier to dismiss and ignore No Kill when Tompkins was the only No Kill community. But I’ve not been in Tompkins since 2004 and they are still saving over 90% of the animals (at least 92% each year for the last eight years). And Tompkins is not alone. There are now No Kill communities all over the U.S., and abroad—in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And our numbers continue to grow. As a result, shelter directors mired in killing are increasingly being seen for who and what they are.

Read a former volunteer’s poignant and powerful account of the Tompkins County transition to No Kill, and the agony she experienced before it happened.

Read “I was there” by clicking here.

Seven Minutes in Heaven

May 21, 2010 by  

After some pretty heavy blogs, something light and sweet. Very sweet. And delicious. In fact, the makers of Rescue Chocolate say it is “the sweetest way to save a life.” That’s their tag line and it is appropriate because 100% of all net profits are donated to No Kill groups. And during the month of May, my favorite charity, the No Kill Advocacy Center, is the beneficiary. But more importantly, my package of Rescue Chocolates—one of every flavor—arrived today.

At the risk of sounding like a commercial, there are so many great things about them. First of all, the chocolate bars come wrapped in a beautiful box. They really are stylish to look at; you almost don’t want to break into the packaging. Second, they support only No Kill groups, so animal lovers can buy with a clear conscience. Third, they are cruelty-free, as the chocolates are vegan (without sacrificing taste) so you can eat with a clear conscience. All great reasons to buy, gift, and consume Rescue Chocolate. But, of course, when it comes to chocolate, it’s not the packaging or anything else that makes you want to buy it, it’s the taste. And when it comes to taste, I have two words: Oh my.

Our plan to have one per day disappeared as soon as we opened the first and took a bite. Within seven minutes, the four of us (my wife, two kids and I) had tasted (“devoured” is the more appropriate word) Foster-iffic Peppermint which is a minty dark chocolate with crunchy cocoa nibs, Peanut Butter Pit Bull which is a dark chocolate bar with crispy peanut butter, Pick Me! Pepper, a dark chocolate bar with pepper after tones (“just the right amount of heat”), The Fix, a pure, rich dark chocolate, Bow Wow Bon Bons in four different flavors, and Wild at Heart, heart-shaped filled with raspberry ganache.

Our favorite was Peanut Butter Pit Bull. Since becoming vegan some 20 years ago, I’ve been in search of the perfect vegan peanut butter cup because Reese’s used to be one of my favorites. I no longer miss them. Peanut Butter Pit Bull didn’t last 20 seconds, with normally thoughtful kids and thoughtful parents pushing other hands away and tearing the candy bar apart in a mad frenzy. My other favorite was Pick Me! Pepper, which did have just the right amount of heat, but don’t just get those at the expense of the others. My advice: do what we did and get one of each.

Learn more at
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Buy them online or find a retailer near you.

If you order before May 31, you’ll also help the No Kill Advocacy Center work to end the systematic killing of animals in shelters. What could be sweeter than that?

The Rot at the Heart of the Movement

May 19, 2010 by  

The last decade has proved to be one of the more remarkable in the history of animal sheltering in the U.S., right up there with the period following Henry Bergh’s incorporation of the ASPCA. In fact, the last decade saw the No Kill philosophy, its realization, and its spread, solidify; ensuring its future hegemony over the entire nation. And the first year of this new decade is no exception: with both No Kill ambitions and No Kill achievements here at home (such as in Kentucky, Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota), and across the globe, in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

We’ve learned we do not have an animal problem (too many for the too few homes), we have a people problem, but not all people. Specifically, people in shelters, best summarized by the last two paragraphs of my book, Redemption:

In the end, there may be an overpopulation problem in the United States, but it is not the one we traditionally define. What we are actually suffering from, what is actually killing a high number of animals, is an overpopulation of shelter directors mired in the failed philosophies of the past and complacent with the status quo. As a result, a culture of lifesaving is not possible without wholesale regime change in shelters and national animal protection groups. Consequently, the most important single act—and the crucial first step—in achieving a No Kill nation is firing the current leadership of shelters across the country.

In the final analysis, animals in shelters are not being killed because there are too many of them, because there are too few homes, or because the public is irresponsible. Animals in shelters are dying for primarily one reason—because people in shelters are killing them.

The killing is the fault of uncaring bureaucrats, lazy and inept shelter managers, and national organizations committed to ensuring that the killing paradigm is not upended. Right now, today, roughly 3,000 shelter directors, backed by their cronies at the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States, and PETA, are holding back the will of the American people.  And no amount of spin, no amount of revisionist history, and no amount of trying to encourage through the “carrot” rather than the “stick” will change that unassailable fact. But there is no shortage of people trying. And, irrespective of whether their motivations are nefarious, benign, forgiving or strategic, they are not truthful. And the sooner we stop pretending otherwise, the sooner we can focus our efforts on overcoming what is really killing shelter animals. Two recent articles highlight this issue.

HSUS’ Legacy: Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward (and that is being generous)

Last week, while the Royal New Zealand SPCA announced it has formally embraced the No Kill Equation model of sheltering, as communities in New Zealand announced they have crossed the goal line, as communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota made formal announcements of achieving No Kill through the No Kill Equation model, as Duluth, MN announced it is very nearly there (88% rate of lifesaving and climbing), as several Canadian communities announced that they are aggressively moving in that direction (one community went from a 16% rate of lifesaving to 76% and climbing), as Australian communities have announced saving 100% of baby kittens, 93% of all dogs, and more, the Humane Society of the United States held its annual conference in Nashville, TN.

Aside from the main conference, which was largely business as usual, Maddie’s Fund held their second all-day workshop at Expo (though separate from the rest of the conference) on creating a No Kill community. They didn’t use that term, HSUS would not allow it (among other things), highly symbolic but perhaps a minor point. The workshop is a very welcome addition, as the people who attend Expo are the ones who need to hear the message the most. These are people who cheered and gave thunderous applause when HSUS’ resident expert on shelter killing announced—at Expo 2006—that shelters are “not killing” animals, that “they are ending their life, giving them a good death, humanely destroy—whatever” and then subsequently said since they are not killing, she “can’t stand the term No Kill shelter.”(Listen to the Orwellian rant—and the response to it—by clicking here.)

Progress? To be sure. To have Bonney Brown, Susanne Kogut, Mike Fry, and others provide living testaments to the ability to achieve No Kill and to do it overnight at HSUS Expo is a sign of the times. But to suggest, as the Richmond SPCA does, that groups like HSUS “have all embraced clearly articulated visions of adoption guarantee as the appropriate model for our nation’s communities and have committed to working for that outcome” and that Wayne Pacelle has “taken courageous steps to help push this issue as a part of a healthy national dialog and to make it safe for so many other organizations and communities to now embrace it” is simply indefensible. It is a lie. It is a lie to write that Ed Sayres and the ASPCA are doing this also. In killing Oreo and Max, in allowing young dogs to be killed, in trying to derail legislation that would create the infrastructure for a No Kill nation; he is actively fighting against it. Providing crumbs with one hand and taking them away with the other is hardly courage and it is hardly a “clearly articulated vision.” It is just that, crumbs. We’ll take them, but we shouldn’t celebrate the mediocrity, especially when we already hold the keys to ending the killing now and forever. And in many communities we have, despite Pacelle and Sayres, HSUS and ASPCA, denying that those communities even exist.

Neither Pacelle, nor Sayres, nor the respective organizations have ever articulated a vision in sheltering out of love of animals or a passion for saving lives. Any concessions—and that is what they are—have been the result of face saving necessity borne of public humiliation over their indefensible posturing in favor of killing. Pacelle has taken hits for supporting and lobbying for mass killing of dogs, of cats, for embracing the most notorious animal abuser of our time even while he lobbied to have the victims killed, and for stealing money from shelters and rescue groups through outright fraud in fundraising. He has no choice in the matter. No choice at all.

That Bonney Brown was able to present at a separate workshop held in conjunction with HSUS Expo that she turned her community right side up (in a community that the former director—a darling of HSUS and member of their national sheltering committee—said was impossible) is the very definition of poetic justice. That Mike Fry, who has two No Kill communities to his credit and who is an unapologetic champion of my work, was able to tell the truth at Expo is also a marvelous sign of the times. But “separate” is not equal, and more than that, not all of the workshop speakers were truthful.

In fact, one of the speakers at the workshop, the last of them, was Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City animals. Besides admitting that even after six years and tens of millions of dollars, they are still failing by killing healthy animals, she told the assembled crowd they should not be made to feel guilty about killing healthy animals. Spit-take! Two steps forward, one giant step backward.

Even if a shelter manager or employee is going to ignore all evidence to the contrary in order to believe that pet overpopulation is real and insurmountable, even if they believe that no one will adopt animals, that they have no choice but to kill them, the very least they could do is feel bad about it. They are, after all, robbing an animal of his or her only life. All the animals have—their very lives—prematurely taken away. If they don’t feel guilty, they should not be working in a shelter, because to kill healthy animals without remorse, is to be cavalier and unfeeling. It is to be a butcher. But that is the message Hoffman was giving them. No remorse. No guilt. Self-medicating absolution for her efforts to undermine Oreo’s Law; to back the ASPCA even when they needlessly kill animals, allow animals to go hungry, allow puppies they are responsible for to be killed, abuse animals in their custody and then try to cover it up, and allow NYC shelters to kill healthy animals, because they write the checks to Hoffman’s group; and for her own failures to achieve No Kill despite tens of millions of dollars and a shelter system with some of the lowest per capita intake rates in the nation and the highest potential adopter base (8 million people).

In the end, the separate, day-long workshop was not the result of a clearly articulated vision of HSUS, courageous leadership on the part of Pacelle, or anything of the sort. It was forced upon Pacelle and HSUS, and while that is “progress,” it is a baby step when we could be at a full sprint; and even that step is undermined every time Pacelle backs killing, as he routinely does and did at the very same Expo. One of his experts and presenters in Nashville was from Multnomah County Animal Services. Under current leadership at MCAS, fewer animals are going home alive than before. The trend is to more killing, not less. And the trend is to greater punitive enforcement, rather than community-based programs intended to make it easy for people to do the right thing—exactly the opposite of what is needed to save lives. In other words, while Brown, Fry, and others were trying to build a bridge to the future, people like Hoffman and the leadership at MCAS dug trenches to the past. And it is costing animals their lives.

Ironically, I use MCAS as a case-study in my presentations on how shelters misuse temperament testing to justify killing healthy, friendly dogs and make it appear that they are doing a better job than they are. Here is just one example: A 35 pound puppy was evaluated by MCAS staff. According to their own reports, the puppy performed as a puppy should:

  • Kennel Presentation: “Easy to leash from kennel doorway” “whole rear end wagging”
  • Collar Put On: “Gets excited/playful”
  • Entering Stranger: “Readily approaches everyone with [friendliness]”
  • Handler: “Readily approaches everyone with [friendless]”
  • Pet Back: “No guarding seen”
  • Ears/Cheeks: “No guarding seen”
  • Remove Bowl: “No guarding seen”
  • Tail Stroke: “Mouthiness” “Whirl”
  • Pick up Two Paws: “Mouthiness”
  • Teeth Exam: “Allows exam”
  • Hug: “Allows exam” “Interested in attention”

All those results are consistent with normal puppy behavior. This is a clearly a little fellow who loves people, is friendly and eager to please, and as Cyndi Lauper once sang, just wants to have fun. But the puppy was killed for being “vicious.” And it was not an isolated incident. Can you guess what breed the puppy was identified as? These are predetermined conclusions which have led to a rapidly expanding killing rate for these dogs, even while they tell the public the animals are “unadoptable.”

When these facts were brought to the attention of HSUS prior to Expo by Portland rescuers and No Kill advocates, HSUS threw the full weight of their support behind the shelter. John Snyder, a former kill shelter director himself who is now in charge of companion animal programs at HSUS, wrote them back saying that MCAS had HSUS’ unqualified endorsement. The American people and the animals deserve more from the nation’s largest, wealthiest, and arguably, most influential animal protection organization. But they are not getting it, despite the Richmond SPCA’s fantastical view to the contrary.

PETA’s Three Kinds of Lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

The Animal Rights movement deserves better, too. At its core, the movement for animal rights is based on the principal that animals have a right to live and that we give it expression through laws to promote and protect that right. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to PETA. The largest “animal rights” group believes that people have a right to kill animals. As such, they have more in common with the industry groups they claim to be fighting than they admit. And they certainly practice what they preach with a relish unmatched except by the slaughterhouse industry. Last year, they killed 97% of all animals they sought out, the year before it was 96%, and the year before that, 91%. In 2009, less than ½ of 1% of the animals at PETA were adopted. They kill healthy, adoptable animals. They advocate for the mass slaughter of dogs someone says looks like pit bulls. They advocate for the mass killing of free living unsocialized cats. They routinely defend some of the most abusive and draconian shelters in the nation. And they even support breed bans in communities that turn around and forcibly take family pets, and then sell them for animal research. They are, quite simply, the worst of the worst.

They lie to people saying all the animals they kill are irremediably suffering or hopelessly ill. They lie to people by saying that breed bans and rounding up and killing free roaming cats are both necessary and proper. And they claim the animals want to die—that killing them is a “gift.” And then they lie to people through manipulative use of statistics to claim that animals in pounds are being killed because there are too few homes for them.

Actually, by PETA’s own data, there are plenty of homes for shelter animals. In a newly released May 2010 report, PETA says that 8 million animals enter shelters and of these, half are already being saved through a combination of adoption and reclaim. That leaves, by their own admission, “3 to 4 million cats and dogs” being killed, many of them healthy. But the conclusion they reach that they are being killed “because there simply aren’t enough good homes for them” is a fabrication. Moreover, the reality is that the number is closer to, and even well below, the low end of 3 million.

If shelters did a better job returning lost animals home, they could, for example, increase the percentage of dog reclaims from an average of about 25% to 60%. If shelters ignored PETA’s anti-TNR policy, they could release these cats to their habitat, rather than kill them. If they had pet retention programs to help people overcome the behavior, medical, and environmental conditions which cause them to surrender animals, they could reduce by as much as 30% the number of animals coming in to the shelter. If they utilized foster care programs, they wouldn’t kill the underaged animals entering their facility. And if they had good customer service, employed basic marketing principles, and comprehensively implemented an adoption program, they’d have little trouble finding homes for the 2 to 3 million animals being killed in U.S. pounds and shelters who need adoption. That’s potentially 2 million dogs and cats competing for the 17 million people who are looking to bring a new dog or cat into their homes, have not decided where that animal will come from, and can be influenced to adopt from a shelter.

So, once again, animals are being killed in shelters not because of pet overpopulation, but because people in shelters—and butchers like Newkirk—are killing them. But too many people and organizations such as Pacelle and Sayres, HSUS and the ASPCA, who should know better are still speaking PETA’s dead language of pet overpopulation, giving Newkirk and shelter directors across the country the excuse and political cover they need to kill. And they are using it today. They are telling people not to feel guilty about killing healthy animals. And they are writing 10 year plans for what should occur overnight, as it has in communities across the globe.

An Absence of National Leadership

Right now, neither HSUS or the ASPCA has taken a true and comprehensive leadership position on creating a No Kill nation. We best serve the animals by holding them accountable, not by whitewashing the truth in the hopes that they can be gradually influenced in a more life affirming direction through carrots. History proves the latter view wrong, as every gain in this movement, has been fiercely fought for and hard won. But even if people or organizations believe the carrot is better than the stick, it does not warrant misrepresentations of whom and what Ed Sayres and Wayne Pacelle, the ASPCA and HSUS, truly stand for. And what they stand for, pure and simple, is death. There is no courage in that. It is, in fact, the coward’s way, a refusal to stand up for what is right, because they don’t care enough about the animals to do what is in their power to do: demand an immediate end to the whole bloody mess.

It is the rot at the heart of the animal protection movement, and no amount of spin, sanitizer or perfume can eliminate the stink. It must be cut out and discarded. By calling them visionaries, we only embolden them. The end result is both a tragic embrace of incrementalism that needlessly increases the body count of dead animals; and cooption of the language of No Kill, which they then turn around and willfully use to undermine it.

We can end the killing and we can do it today. But that requires leadership, which neither is willing to provide. Their size, their wealth, their influence could be a game changer for the animals. But aside from a few crumbs, neither is offering it. In fact, what they offer with one hand, they take away with the other. Tell the animals needlessly ending up in landfills that these groups are courageous and visionary. And it will literally, very literally and tragically, fall on deaf—indeed, dead—ears.

Will the Empire Strike Back?

May 18, 2010 by  

The No Kill Equation has invaded the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. We now have communities across these countries saving in excess of 90% of the animals. And our numbers continue to grow. Will Europe be next?

I will be in London, England this winter. If any group there is interested in hosting a free Building a No Kill Nation seminar, please get in touch with me. The seminar has been called “a prerequisite for animal lovers, rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.” No travel fees, no speaker fees, only a venue, presentation equipment (PowerPoint), and promotion.  Click here to learn more.

Mother England: Your former colonies and members of the Commonwealth are succeeding. You can, too. Together, we can create a No Kill world.

A Great Week for No Kill

May 16, 2010 by  

MN & WI Join the No Kill Club

Today, Animal Ark formally announced the formation of the first No Kill communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This news comes as a result of an agreement signed by Animal Ark and the local agency which provides animal control sheltering services to Hastings and Rosemount, Minnesota and Prescott, Wisconsin. The agreement provides an adoption guarantee for any and all healthy and treatable homeless animals in these communities.

They join other No Kill communities across the country: in California, Virginia, New York, Utah, Indiana, and more. But the good news does not stop there. Duluth, MN is close, with an 88% save rate and climbing…

According to the official announcement,

While the cities of Hastings and Rosemount may be the first official No Kill cities in Minnesota, [Mike] Fry hopes they will not be the last.  “Now, all eyes are on Duluth,” he said.

A few years ago a leadership change occurred at the Animal Allies Humane Society.  Since then the organization has been actively implementing the various programs and services often referred to as “The No Kill Equation”.  During that time, the community-wide save rate has climbed from to 88% of all animals.  With improvements continuing, it is commonly expected that Duluth could exceed a 90% save rate in 2010…

“While the US population has been growing, deaths in shelters have been dropping dramatically because shelter directors across the nation are implementing the programs called The No Kill Equation,” said Fry.  “Programs like comprehensive adoption programs, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter, trap-neuter-release services for feral cats and others are making a huge difference.”

Saving 100% of Baby Kittens

For the last few years, Michael Linke, the head of the RSPCA in the Australian Capital Territory, an open admission animal control shelter, has been implementing the No Kill Equation and has saved 93% of all dogs. Last October, he attended a workshop I did at the national conference in Australia on lifesaving programs for cats, including setting up a foster care program for motherless neonatals kittens. This week, I got an e-mail from Linke which included what may be the understatement of the year: “I did what you said regarding infantile kittens, i.e., saving them.  100% saved this year.” 100% saved! Let me say it for him: “wooooooooooooooooooooooo-hooooooooooooooooo.”

Austin Sees Light at the End of the Tunnel

Congratulations are due for Austin, Texas No Kill advocates at who have overcome a major hurdle in their fight for a No Kill city. The director at the pound responsible for killing animals with ruthless efficiency—over 100,000 animals during her tenure—while saying “No” to the programs and services that make ending the killing possible, has been relieved of her duties.The shelter director routinely ordered animals killed despite state inspection reports that found hundreds of empty cages on any given day. Simple requests—such as an end to convenience killing (killing when space is available)—were rebuffed time and time again.

Their uphill battle for decency and compassion included opposition from the ASPCA, which tried to undermine reform efforts and backed the kill-oriented director; and HSUS, which wrote a letter of support to move the shelter from a centralized location close to where people live, work, and play to a remote “out of sight, out of mind” part of the city so that managers could get bigger office spaces.

In spite of the opposition, they won unanimous passage by the City Council of their No Kill plan. The plan includes what may be the first ever moratorium that makes it illegal to kill savable animals when there are empty cages. And that is just one of the many provisions, which closely track the No Kill Equation. However, the director tried to sabotage that plan by allowing animals to languish without care, and then claiming the moratorium on convenience killing was leading to warehousing.  Now she has been forced out, and Austin is conducting a nationwide search for a progressive director.

Looking to the Future

We are the generation that questioned the killing. We are the generation that discovered how to stop it. And we will be the generation that does. A No Kill nation is within our reach.

And with communities in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada achieving No Kill level save rates, it has become a race to see which will become the first No Kill nation. The future looks very bright indeed.

Irreconcilable Differences Wins Bronze

May 14, 2010 by  

Following in the footsteps of Redemption, Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters wins a bronze medal for Best Book in the Animals/Pets category by the Independent Publishers Association, which will be given at an event at Book Expo America in New York City. Almost 4,000 entrants from 42 states, 7 Canadian provinces, and 6 countries overseas competed for honors.

Read the reviews by clicking here.

Buy the book by clicking here.

It’s the “Can Do” Within Us that Will Save Lives

May 11, 2010 by  

At their annual animal shelter conference, I sat listening to the welcome address by the President of the nation’s largest humane organization. He said that ending the killing of savable animals was within reach across the country, called upon all shelters to commit themselves to doing so, and he gave them the prescription to do it: the programs and services of the No Kill Equation.

“Our first step,” he said, “must be a commitment and an acceptance of the philosophy that saving lives is totally achievable. With that in place, the second step is to implement an infrastructure with each and every individual SPCA to achieve just that… The infrastructure involves ten initiatives, and the ultimate success of the program depends on the implementation of each and every of missions contained therein… by resolve and the rigorous implementation of the full program.”

He called it “Saving Lives,” a campaign to achieve a No Kill nation. He didn’t use the term “No Kill,” that wasn’t their language, but what did it matter. The underlying philosophy was the same: “Every life is precious” he said and for the animals, it was the job of the humane movement “to promote and protect their right to life and happiness.”

I heard him dismiss the different excuses: “Ringworm is not a reason to kill animals,” respiratory infection “is not a reason to kill cats,” claims of lacking space “should never be an excuse.” He described these as “cases where extra effort is made to save their lives whereas in the past death would have been the easier choice.” He called upon shelters to “steadfastly ensure that the ingredients of the Saving Lives philosophy are embraced and executed in their entirety in the honest belief that ‘we can do it!’” He was unapologetic, emphatic, and without ambiguity: “We can adopt our way out of killing,” he stated. And “we will.”

He then presented different shelter managers who had embraced this effort so that they could speak about their experiences: Like the one who came into an open admission facility with a 65% rate of killing and reduced it to under 4% in one year. And another who took over a shelter once described as “hopelessly overcrowded” but now has a 97% save rate. And still another that has seen enforcement decline 70% after going from a punitive philosophy to one that makes it easy for people to do the right thing, through a series of community based incentives such as free and low-cost spay/neuter. It was like a dream.

Up is down, down is up

But it was not Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States at the podium. It was not Ed Sayres of the ASPCA. The shelters with better than 90% save rates were not in cities with names like Charlottesville, Reno, or Tompkins County. Instead, they were in cities called Wellington, Waiheke, and Waihi. I was over 6,000 miles from the U.S., in New Zealand. The speaker was Bob Kerridge representing the Royal New Zealand SPCA, the national organization that oversees all SPCAs in the country. And he was providing that which Pacelle and Sayres, staunch proponents of shelter killing in this country, have proven themselves incapable of: leadership.

We think of New Zealand as being in the bottom of the planet, but in space there is no up or down. The map of the world in places like New Zealand is the opposite of what ours looks like. There, New Zealand is on top and the U.S. is on the bottom. And when it comes to how the large national animal protection organizations in those countries behave today, that is more appropriate.

One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is the education I get. Traveling promotes perspective, not just for the place you are visiting, but for home as well, by allowing you to see, and often appreciate, those things to which familiarity has made you blind. And that is what my most recent trip to the national conference in Rotorua, New Zealand did for me. For those who continue to parrot the idea that “HSUS is changing” or “HSUS has changed,” take note. By contrast to the bold path launched by the RNZSPCA, Pacelle’s begrudging and feeble efforts to appease his critics, or Ed Sayres’ cynical and disingenuous “No Kill” plan, Mission: Orange, pale in comparison.

Imagine for a second if what occurred at the national conference in Rotorua, New Zealand occurred in Nashville, TN at this week’s Expo conference by HSUS. I am not talking about a “separate” day-long workshop by Maddie’s Fund, which Pacelle agreed to as long as Maddie’s Fund coughs up money, does not use the term No Kill, and I am not allowed to speak (these are the terms Pacelle extracted for agreement to allow the workshops).

I am talking about Wayne Pacelle himself telling the assembled shelter workers, managers and animal control officers that the days of killing are finished, that shelters must save lives, that they can and should adopt their way out of killing, and that HSUS was ready to help, with resources and with expertise. Imagine HSUS providing a handbook on how to do it, as the RNZSPCA did at their national conference.

As I write in Irreconcilable Differences,

The only thing standing between today’s system of mass killing and the No Kill nation we can immediately achieve is the leaders of the large national organizations who refuse to seize the opportunity. Instead, they are determined to fail—to ensure that the paradigm they have championed for so long is not upended—by blocking reform efforts that challenge their hegemony; by protecting and defending both draconian shelter practices and uncaring shelter directors; and by squandering the potential represented by the great love people have for companion animals…

Only time will tell how long allegiance to their kill-oriented colleagues, to their antiquated philosophies, and to their failed models, will hold them back from the success they and this movement can achieve the moment they decide to embrace it.

Instead, the ASPCA fights a law to save lives, HSUS calls for animals to be killed in shelters, and the American Humane Association continues to fade into oblivion. Up is down, down is up.

My turn at the podium

I was in New Zealand as a guest of the Royal New Zealand SPCA. I was there to deliver the keynote at their national conference, and to hold day long workshops in shelters across the country. With hundreds of people from shelters across New Zealand, I did not stand before them waving the American flag. I shared with them our successes, our failures, our hopes, our dreams, the path we are forging in spite of HSUS, the battle not with the many but with the few: the ASPCAs and SPCAs intent on killing despite rescue alternatives, the obfuscation of groups that claim to support No Kill but are willing to sacrifice animals to retain positions of power or in deference to their killing cronies. And then, on a tour prearranged by the RNZSPCA, I spent the week flying throughout the country: to Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, meeting with shelter leaders and staff, holding day long workshops on adoptions, saving shelter dogs, reforming BSL, embracing TNR, overcoming the claims of Invasion Biologists who want to scapegoat free roaming cats for the habitat destruction and wildlife decline as a result of one species and one species alone—humans.

The U.S. is still ahead of the pack, the movement that was born here is still very much a U.S.-led effort now spreading around the globe—to Australia and New Zealand. And while our pioneering spirit has shown the way, the likelihood of the U.S. being first to cross the goal line is in doubt, despite our 15 year head start. The reason comes down to leadership.

The RNZSPCA is providing it. The ASPCA is not. The American Humane Association is an irrelevancy. Other groups which claim to do so are long on rhetoric and short on substance. HSUS, the closest equivalent to the RNZSPCA, says we aren’t killing animals, says they can’t stand No Kill, and has been one of the primary roadblocks to the achievement of a No Kill nation in the United States. Time and time again, progressive activists in communities across the nation working to reform their cruel and antiquated shelters must overcome the national organizations which are working against them.

By contrast, the RNZSPCA says the goal can be reached and, in their 2009 annual report, wrote that:

SPCAs that have already applied many of the principles and practices of Saving Lives (as presented in outline form at last year’s annual conference) are experiencing unprecedented success in all aspects of caring for and rehoming the animals that are brought to them. Saving Lives is our way to a revolution for unwanted and homeless animals in New Zealand. Properly applied, it will enable us to save thousands more animals each year…

It is a cliché but it bears repeating: these are insecure times and many people feel nervous. Change is a bit scary for some, even under the best of circumstances. And too often, those in positions of power exploit these fears to maintain the status quo. The status quo is the known. It is comfortable, even if indefensible ethically. But our adaptability, our ability to change is a hallmark of our species. And most people will change; institutions can be reformed, when someone shows us a better and kinder way. But that takes leadership. The most important element of the No Kill Equation. That is what is being provided in New Zealand. And that will make all the difference in the world.

Will it be a seamless transition? Will it be without roadblocks? Of course not. Even while I was there, I read in the local paper that the local pound in Rotorua took in about 450 dogs so far this year, killing half. But after 176 were reclaimed by owners, they found homes for only 32. The animal control officers don’t take responsibility for that meager result, they blame the public. Clearly that has to change.

In many ways, New Zealand is further behind us. Legally, all Pit Bull-type dogs are considered “dangerous,” a law that is screaming for repeal. Animal Control officers end the lives of animals by shooting, and some shelters are still gassing. Cats identified as “feral” can be killed on impound. Some pounds are regressive and won’t work with SPCAs, content to pass the blame to others, to fear monger about dogs and put them to death. Some SPCAs won’t work with the pounds despite the ability to transfer dogs to reduce killing, and despite endowments valued in the millions. And shelters kill despite empty cages.  Sound familiar? It should.

These are issues we face in the U.S. In the U.S., slowly but surely we are overcoming them as they will in New Zealand. But in New Zealand, they have what we don’t.  Traveling with me across the county, organizing the effort, providing support and guidance to local shelters was Robyn Kippenberger, the CEO of the RNZSPCA, the Kiwi equivalent of HSUS’ Pacelle: “What do you need?” “How can we help you?” was the question I heard her ask shelter staff time and time again. That is what she asks, and she has plenty to offer. In fact, after receiving an unexpected but sizable grant to the RNZSPCA to help with the campaign, Kippenberger did what is inconceivable to imagine Pacelle—with his sordid history of fraudulent fundraising by taking credit for the hard work of local organizations—doing: she split it equally between every SPCA in the nation and mailed out the checks that very week, without fanfare or self-aggrandizing press releases.

RNZSPCA Chief Executive Robin Kippenberger steers New Zealand toward No Kill. At the 2010 national conference, she described the movement’s underlying philosophy: “Every life is precious.”

As the RNZSPCA said to the nationally assembled groups at the conference in Rotorua, “what must be done, can be done, and will be done.” And the RNZSPCA is willing to help in any way they can. In the end, that is why New Zealand is likely to cross the goal line first. And when it does, the country at the bottom of the world will be on top—and help lead the way to our inevitable and collective No Kill future.

For further reading:

RNZSPCA Saving Lives campaign

Compare to HSUS’ Asilomar Accords