Building a No Kill Community

January 26, 2011 by  

High volume adoptions, saving shelter dogs, leadership, and more. Join me Saturday, April 30, 2011 for an all-day Building a No Kill Community seminar in Houston, TX, followed by a book signing for both Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences.

The event is sponsored by No Kill Houston, with support from the No Kill Advocacy Center, Spay Houston, Alvin Friendswood Veterinary Clinic, Friends for Life, The American Dog Magazine, the Pet Studio, No Kill Nation, Urban Paws, Pets & People Alliance, Animal Wise Radio, Texas Dogs and Cats, Operation Pets Alive, Hope, and Pups Scout.

The seminar has been called,

A prerequisite for rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.

For more information and to register, click here.

Always Have the Facts At Your Fingertips

January 24, 2011 by  

Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart and Soul of America’s Animal Shelters is now available as an e-book for your Kindle or other book reader.

Now when someone challenges you on No Kill, the myth of pet overpopulation, why the cages are empty, PETA’s reign of terror, why feral cats have a right to live, whether we can adopt our way out of killing, the hows, whens, and whys of transport programs, whether it is ethical to spay pregnant animals, saving pit bulls, and more, you’ll have it all at your fingertips. Kindle also allows “book sharing,” giving you the ability to loan it to someone for a couple of weeks.

The Bark magazine calls Irreconcilable Differences “clear and rigorously reasoned,” “excellent reading,” offering “keen insights” across a wide range of issues including the achievement of a No Kill nation, adoptions, feral cats, animal rights, and more. Animal Wise Radio calls it “The perfect follow-up to Winograd’s outstanding first book Redemption.” And Midwest Book Review calls it a “must read.” Irreconcilable Differences is the winner of an Indie gold medal and a bronze medal from the Independent Publishers Association.

You can purchase the e-book of Irreconcilable Differences for your Kindle by clicking here.

You can purchase the e-book for your Nook, iPad, or other e-reader by clicking here.

You can also purchase it as a regular print book by clicking here.

The book will also be available as an .epub for your Sony Reader, B&N Nook, iPad, & others shortly. (Links coming soon!)

An e-book version of Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America is coming soon!

Can We Find Homes for 2.4 Billion Animals A Year? Ask the “Experts” at AHA

January 23, 2011 by  

Early this morning, I did an interview with WABC 77 in New York City, the most popular talk radio station in the country about shelter killing under the guise of “pet overpopulation.” It was 3:30 am for me and so I am not sure I was at my best, but I can say this for sure: the guest promoting the idea that pet overpopulation was real was even worse. Before I was on, they talked with Dori Villalon, Vice President of Animal Protection for the American Humane Association, the oldest national organization focused on companion animals in the United States.

Villalon’s assertions about the existence of pet overpopulation were stunning; and in light of the changing landscape as a result of the No Kill movement, displayed such incredible ignorance that she revealed even further how truly little we have to learn from groups like AHA.

The Vice-President of AHA argued that pet overpopulation was responsible for the killing of “four to six million animals” by shelters every year. But when asked how many people were looking to get a dog or cat this year, the “demand” side, she said “Gosh, um, I don’t know that number.” And when further asked how she could be so adamant that pet overpopulation was real given that she didn’t know, she said that it was because we are killing four million, a hopeless tautology. But she went further, claiming that for us to end the killing “every person in America right now [would have to] adopt eight animals” and they would have to do so every year. My jaw hit the floor. (You can listen by clicking here.)

Today, the human population in the U.S. is just over 300,000,000. If everyone adopted eight animals, that would be 2.4 billion animals—six hundred times the number of animals being killed in shelters every year. Here was a leader of the first national companion animal advocacy organization in the U.S. which has claimed a leadership position since 1877, and not only did she demonstrate a profound ignorance on the core issue of the humane movement which is used to justify the needless slaughter of almost four million animals a year, but she was willing to go on the radio and do so, apparently unaware of just how ignorant she was.

She doesn’t know the demand side: “I don’t know that number.” The fact of killing is rationalized backward: We kill animals, therefore there is pet overpopulation. Wildly exaggerated numbers are thrown out: to end killing we have to adopt out 2.4 billion animals a year in the U.S. How can a so-called “professional” in her field be so out of touch? And how is it possible that she is so out of touch, she doesn’t even know that she is out of touch?

The answer is rather obvious. Our nation’s large national animal protection organizations have had a free ride for over a century. Until recently, no one challenged AHA, or for that matter, HSUS and the ASPCA, on their positions and sloppy logic, on their wildly exaggerated claims and false assurances, on their myths and their lies. That is why the Vice-President of AHA can claim pet overpopulation is real without knowing the demand side of the equation, by ignoring the fact that many communities across the U.S. have proved it is a myth, and by suggesting without embarrassment that every person in America has to adopt 8 animals a year to end killing! (I’ve tried to find a way to make this more rational. It was early, maybe she meant each household? That would still be over 900 million animals. Maybe she meant they had to adopt one animal, not eight. That would still be 300 million. There is simply no way to salvage this.)

In reality, if 4,000,000 are being killed (2010 preliminary figures actually put the killing closer to 3.5 million) and roughly 90% are healthy or treatable, that is 3.6 million that need to be saved. We could bump that number down if shelters did a better job of matching lost with found animals, thereby increasing owner-reclaims and if they sterilized rather than killed cats identified as “feral.” And it would drop even more if shelters had pet retention programs that kept many of those animals out of the shelter in the first place or worked fully with rescue organizations. But even with the 3 million who remain, it means we only need to find homes for an additional 1 million dogs and 2 million cats at the high end. And with roughly 23.5 million homes becoming available each year for dogs and cats, that is eminently doable. In fact, it is already being done in many communities.

Elsewhere, I’ve discussed those communities across the country that have proved we can adopt our way out of killing; some of which were hard hit by the economic downturn and which take in seven times the per capita rate of animals than New York City. I’ve discussed how if there really weren’t enough homes, pet stores and puppy mills wouldn’t be in business. I’ve discussed the role of programs, accountability, and even more basic considerations like how the number of kennels and cages in a shelter impact lifesaving. I’ve even discussed how basic caring—such as in comparing Austin to Dallas, TX—play a part in whether animals live or die.

But none of that played a role in Villalon’s calculations as she claimed boldly that pet overpopulation is real even as she did not know the data, was blind to actual experience, and claimed that to save 3 million animals we have to find homes for 2.4 billion of them every year. And when asked how the performance of shelter directors should be gauged in light of their killing millions of animals every year, she, likewise, had no answer. As scandals unfold nationwide underscoring a crisis of cruelty and uncaring at our nation’s pounds and “shelters,” the Vice-President of AHA could respond only with anecdotal evidence that most shelter directors she knows “care.” (How about judging them in light of their performance?)

Sadly, rather than advocate for the animals being killed by these shelter directors as is their duty, leaders at national animal protection organizations like Villalon defend the massacre with circular reasoning, fuzzy math, and their regressive, antiquated dogmas. This ignorance is a betrayal, and this ignorance kills. But if there is a silver lining, it is that its depth—revealed in instances like Villalon’s absurd claims—reveals just how vulnerable they actually are. They reveal how ill equipped and unprepared they are to defend their positions, which, when challenged by data, and the experience of communities which have already proved them wrong, slip like sand through their fingers.

Today, the American public and media regard these organizations as “experts” because of their long and illustrious reputations. Yet they are reputations earned not through the tireless devotion to furthering the cause they exist to promote, but through the largesse of an animal loving culture which for decades has naively believed their slick solicitations and their heart-wrenching but dishonest commercials which exploit the public’s goodwill and compassion and have made them rich and powerful as a result.

As we continue to call them out and they are publicly forced to defend their positions, they cannot effectively do so. And as Villalon’s performance today reveals, they have yet to even realize that they are expected to. Armed with facts, logic, and the experience proving unequivocally that pet overpopulation is a myth, No Kill activists are rapidly redefining the movement which AHA, HSUS, ASPCA and other organizations claim to lead.  Believing their leadership positions to be solid and secure, Dori Villalon, Ed Sayres, and Wayne Pacelle sit idle and ignorant, blithely unaware that we are dismantling, brick-by-brick, the very foundation beneath their feet.

For further reading: Lessons from an Andy Warhol Tote Bag

A Culture of Cruelty

January 21, 2011 by  

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

If you were a cat and you happened to be stuck in a wall, where is the worst place for that to happen? Is it, say, a prison filled with criminals? Is it a construction site where tearing up a wall to free the cat would cost money and impact profits? Or is it, say, an animal shelter filled with people who are supposed to protect animals from harm and rescue them when they are in trouble, people who are paid to care for animals in need?

If I were to have asked this question just a few short years ago, most people would have answered the first. Some would have answered the second. None would have said the third. Today, only those who have been living under the proverbial rock would not answer the so-called “shelter.” Not only because there are prisons with TNR programs and prisons with foster care programs. And not only because despite the profit motive, we know that most people do care about animals and will help them if they are in need. But also because we are no longer naïve. We no longer believe that animal shelters are filled with animal lovers, people who would leave no stone unturned to save their lives. We no longer believe that “we are all on the same team” and that we are “all dedicated to the mutual goal of saving animal lives.” We now know that working in a shelter is a “job” for too many—a job no different that working for the department of sanitation and picking up the trash every week, with a difference. The latter job actually helps people, is actually honest labor, and fulfills a necessary function to improve society.

But for a cat stuck in a wall in a U.S. animal shelter, a cat who was stuck near the employee break room, where every employee could hear his cries while they sat and drank coffee, and ate lunch, and gossiped, and laughed, and regaled each other with what movies they’ve seen, how much they had to drink, who was dating who, there was no help. They later told a newspaper reporter that they “pleaded” with their superiors to do something about it. But none of them did what compassionate dictates. None of them took action themselves. They looked the other way while their superiors did nothing. And because of that, the cat paid the ultimate price.

Imagine it. Really try to imagine it. A shelter filled with employees whose job it is to care for animals. Imagine a cat calling out in panic or fear, stuck in a wall, where the employees are eating and laughing and not a single one does anything about it. Sure, one of them calls a cruelty investigator and he comes and determines that yes, the cat is stuck in the wall. But he doesn’t rescue the cat. Others ask managers, each other, “will someone rescue the cat?” But no one does. And they keep right on eating their lunches, they keep right on laughing, they keep right on talking and gossiping and doing those things that people do in lunch rooms. And meanwhile, the cats’ cries are getting more desperate, then more weak, and then they finally stop. And a short time later, the smell comes. The smell of a decomposing body. And only then do they complain in earnest. How can we eat lunch in here, how can we laugh and gossip and talk with that smell? And because it now affects them, they do something about it. They cut open a hole in the wall to remove the dead body, while every single one of us wants to scream: tear open the wall! Why didn’t any of them tear open the wall?

That is what happened at Dallas Animal Services, a badly mismanaged house of horrors with an indifferent and incompetent shelter director, underperforming uncaring shirkers for staff, and a “cruelty investigator” who allowed cruelty to happen right under his nose and looked the other way, while the cat slowly starved to death. And each and every one of them, without exception, should be fired. Every single one.

And it gets worse. Dallas takes in roughly the same number of animals as Austin, Texas. But while Austin is now saving nine out of ten animals, Dallas is killing more than seven out of ten. And Dallas has a bigger population, which means they are taking in less animals per capita than Austin. This is YOUR animal shelter. The one that blames YOU for the killing. In fact, in response to the cruelty within their facility, the Division Manager did just that. He said that we need “public responsibility” to fix the problems that afflict Dallas Animal Services: If the public just sterilized their animals, if they licensed their dogs, Dallas Animal Services would be a model of compassion.

As if we are to believe they care about spay/neuter or adoption or increasing owner reclaims or any effort to improve lifesaving when they are capable of such mind-numbing, heart-wrenching indifference in the face of a terrified, starving cat that they had the power to save, but chose—chose—not to. As if the public is to blame for their own neglect, cruelty, indifference, and incompetence. As if the public in Dallas is somehow different than the public in Austin. Or the public in Reno or the public in Tompkins or the public in Marquette or the public anywhere shelters are embracing accountability and saving 90% or better of the animals. There is only one solution: Fire every single one of them.

And don’t think for a second that Dallas is unique. Don’t think that this is the result of a “few bad apples.” Indifference, incompetence, neglect, and cruelty are epidemic and endemic to animal control. This is Robeson County or Lincoln County or Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC. It is Miami-Dade, FL. It is Harrison County, OH. It is Carroll or Floyd County, GA. It is a shelter near you. In fact, for many animals, the first time they experience neglect or cruelty is at the “shelter” that is supposed to protect them from it. And it has to end by firing every single one of them.

But how can you run an animal shelter with no staff? You don’t have to. Go to the nearest dog park and hire the first person you see. And tell them to bring all their friends. Hand them the keys, hand them the $6.5 million dollar budget, and tell them to go forth. I guarantee they will do a much better job than the two-bit thugs who stuffed their mouths with food, grinned at the off-color jokes, and tried to one-up each other with stories about who had the most to drink at which party, while a cat—a terrified, hungry, cat—cried out for help while they ignored him and he slowly starved to death.

We are a nation of animal lovers. We spend $50 billion every year on their care. We miss work when they are sick. We cut back on our own needs during difficult economic times because we can’t bear to cut back on theirs. And when it is time to say good-bye for the last time, we grieve. We deserve shelters that reflect our values.

And I would bet it all that that poor cat, crying out for compassion inside the lunch room wall at the Dallas House of Horrors which has the audacity to call itself a “shelter” would still be alive today if the first person we see at the dog park and all his or her friends were running it instead.

For more reading: Dallas taxpayers have every right to be pissed about the goings on at the city’s animal shelter.

For more reading: As Blue as The Summer Sky: Austin, Then & Now.

As Blue as the Summer Sky: Austin, Then & Now

January 17, 2011 by  

There was a time, and not so long ago, when just being a kitten got you killed in Austin, Texas. A local newspaper did a story a few years ago about life and death at Town Lake Animal Center, the city’s pound:

A 7-week-old kitten weighs about a pound; its veins are the size of vermicelli. So if you’re administering a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital, an anesthetic agent blue as a summer sky, you’ll probably inject directly into its round, spotted belly. If you have five cages of kittens to kill this morning, you don’t have time to go looking for slippery little veins.

A kitten with a hand gripping the scruff of its neck and a needle in its belly will squeal in terror, but once you’ve pulled out the needle and placed it back into a cage with its siblings, it will shake its head and start to get on with its kittenish business. Then it starts to look woozy, and begins to stumble around. It licks its lips, tasting the chemical absorbed into its system. Soon, it becomes too sedated to stand. The animal collapses, and when its lungs become too sedated to inflate, it stops breathing.

The euthanasias begin shortly after 10am on a Wednesday in early October; by 10:32 the shelter is down about a dozen cc’s of pentobarbital, and 20 cats are dead.

That was the world of Dorinda Pulliam, the then-pound director who oversaw the carnage with ruthless efficiency. During her tenure, she killed over 100,000 animals, tens of thousands a year, hundreds per month, dozens per day, one animal roughly every 12 minutes the shelter was open to the public. And she did so, after refusing to implement common sense alternatives to killing. Refusing to stop killing even when a state inspection report noted that the shelter routinely had hundreds of empty cages. Arguing to the press that she did not have time to focus on adoptions, did not want to do offsite adoptions, did not trust the public enough to foster those kittens. Complaining that too many people were calling to adopt and she and her staff were busy; busy killing the animals in the back.

That was also the world of the ASPCA which—through its spokesperson, Karen Medicus—not only backed, defended, and promoted Pulliam, but worked to ensure that progress would not be made. As Pulliam and her team were killing them in the back, Medicus was telling anyone who would listen up front that increasing adoptions was a waste of time, that efforts to save more of them would not be successful, that the animals were not worthy of being saved. In her own words: “the problem is not getting adopters to the shelter, but rather, having enough desirable and placeable animals to choose from.” In other words, to justify high kill rates at Town Lake Animal Center and its failure to save more lives, the ASPCA’s Medicus argued that the animals were being killed because they were not “desirable” or “placeable.” Not to kill them was “warehousing” animals. A fate, she argued, that was worth than death. And Ed Sayres himself, the head of the ASPCA, a man no stranger himself to killing in the face of lifesaving alternatives, praised Pulliam, protected her, called her a “great” director.

He 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 a progran 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 pound under her watch, by providing her political cover from one of the nation’s largest animal “protection” organizations.

Thankfully, after five years of fighting against her, of fighting against the ASPCA, and five years of non-stop killing on their part while communities across the country achieved No Kill success, the city finally stopped listening to Pulliam, to Medicus, to Sayres. And it happened. Dorinda Pulliam was gone. Forced out. Fired. In political parlance, “reassigned.” But whatever her manner of leaving, it was not voluntary, it was not by choice. The voices of darkness—Pulliam, Medicus, Sayres—were vanquished. And she was finally, finally gone.

Almost immediately, everything changed in Austin. Today, animals are no longer killed while the cages sit empty. The staff is no longer “too busy” to do adoptions because they are busy killing them in the back. And today, kittens go home alive. No injecting “sodium pentobarbital, an anesthetic agent blue as a summer sky” directly into their “round, spotted bellies.” No more “squealing in their terror.” No more “wooziness” and “stumbling around.” No more “tasting the chemical absorbed into its system.” No more collapsing. No more death for the crime of being a kitten in Austin, Texas—a kitten unfortunate enough to enter a pound dominated by people—cold, heartless, uncaring people—who found killing easier to do than what was necessary to stop it.

In December, almost nine out of ten animals went out the front door, to rescue groups, back to the people looking for them, in the loving arms of families; rather than out the back door in body bags. And Town Lake Animal Center is closer than at any time in its history to earning the distinction, the privilege, the right to be honestly called a “shelter” rather than a “pound.” Today, Austin, Texas is on the verge of becoming a No Kill community.

How it happened is a lesson for other communities whose pounds are overseen with their own version of Dorinda Pulliam, who must fight not only institutional inertia and uncaring within health departments, police departments, or other bureaucratic agencies of government that oversee their local shelter, but the large national organizations—like the ASPCA—which want that paradigm to continue. Because as much as you are going to hear otherwise in the coming months and years, its emerging success is not because of a “partnership” with the ASPCA and its “Agent Orange” program that defends, rather than challenges the status quo. It is not the result of “community collaboration,” as others will rewrite history to have you believe. It is the result of a fight. A fight against the powers-that-be. A fight against indecency and uncaring that took place every time one of those kittens (or other animals) was injected with a barbiturate “blue as a summer sky” and “squealed in terror” before they stopped breathing.

It was because of Fix Austin and Austin Pets Alive. Because of the work of the Animal Advisory Committee and other reformers. Because every day animal lovers took it upon themselves to stand up to the forces of darkness, to the uncaring bureaucracy that oversaw the pound, to the ASPCA which defended it, to the whole damn paradigm of killing, when others were telling them to “get along,” “we are all on the same team,” to stop the “bash and trash,” to “collaborate” even when Pulliam steadfastly refused; and finally said, “Enough.” It is enough. No more killing. That world is finished. And they prevailed.

We live in a tragic version of the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day,” where we have to keep living the same scenario over and over, only in different cities, where the pound director has a different name, where the national group that is protecting them might be different, but where the story is exactly the same. Animal lovers want No Kill. The pound wants to keep killing. And the large national organization defends their “right” to do so.

In San Francisco, the ASPCA successfully derailed No Kill by claiming No Kill was radical and insisting, along with HSUS, on the right of shelters to kill animals. In New York, the ASPCA killed Oreo’s Law, again insisting on the right of shelters to kill animals despite a readily available rescue alternative. It was HSUS that fought reformers in King County, Washington, Paige County, Virginia, and Eugene, Oregon. In other places, it is PETA. But everywhere there is systematic killing, there is a regressive pound director, a large national organization defending him/her, and animal lovers who need to take up the fight if they are going to bring the killing to an end. Because that is what the situation calls for. And that is what it takes to change the status quo.

It took a fight in Austin, Texas. The finger of blame had to be pointed where it belonged. The public needed to be informed. A political campaign had to be waged. Legislation had to be passed. And in March of last year, they prevailed.

The City Council unanimously embraced their No Kill plan, which mandated the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, which set a 90% save rate as their goal, and which imposed a moratorium on convenience killing (killing when there is space in the shelter), despite the pound director’s objections and despite the opposition of her patron, the ASPCA.

And by boxing her in, by taking away her power, by neutering the ASPCA, she was forced to reveal her true nature. Dorinda Pulliam conspired with No Kill opponents to “prove” that No Kill equals hoarding by refusing to provide veterinary care to sick and injured cats. Cruelly, unethically, and illegally, she allowed animals to suffer. And that was the last and final straw. She was out.  And with her forced departure, so was the era defined by killing despite readily available lifesaving alternatives, killing despite empty cages, killing despite a refusal—an unethical, indefensible refusal—to do what is necessary to stop killing. Only Ed Sayres and the ASPCA, the Karen Medicus’ of the world, lamented her firing, calling it “horrible.”

In the post-Pulliam/post-ASPCA era, Austin Pets Alive is allowed to flourish, their work richly rewarded with the climbing save rate. Rescue groups are the backbone of lifesaving in this country. And if the powers-that-be get out of their way and allow them to fulfill their mission, they can thrive. That doesn’t happen everywhere. In New York State, over 70% of rescue groups are turned away while the shelters kill the very animals they offered to save, a tragic state of affairs, Ed Sayres and the ASPCA are working hard to maintain. But not so in Austin, Texas. Today, thanks in large part to Austin Pets Alive, Fix Austin, the Advisory Committee’s No Kill Plan, 88% of all animals are being saved.

Reformers fought back and they won. It took several years, but they did not waver. They did not tire. They did not retreat a single inch. As Fix Austin’s Ryan Clinton, the insurgent who spearheaded the fight, stated, “It is a marathon and not a sprint.” They stayed in it for the long haul, and today, the clouds have parted, and the only thing as “blue as a summer sky” is the sky itself. The future looks very bright indeed.

Admittedly, there is still work to be done. Some savable animals are still dying. But the end is within reach. All the incoming new TLAC director has to do is reach out and take it.

There Are No ‘Alien’ Species on Planet Earth

January 11, 2011 by  

They were beautiful. A row of Monterey Cypress trees that lined a path to the ocean. They provided respite from the winds, a home for birds, shade, and oxygen in exchange for our CO2. They were part of the walking trails at Fort Funston in San Francisco and every time we reached them, the dogs would get excited. They would start vocalizing and surging ahead. They knew. Because the trees, or at least I liked to believe the trees, foretold of what was to come: The ocean was within reach. There was sand to kick up, balls to chase, water to frolic in. I don’t know if the trees meant anything to the dogs, but I loved those trees. And they exist no more. Each and every one was cut down, leaving a row of stumps, an ugly scar on the beautiful seascape of one of San Francisco’s open space treasures.

They were not cut down by loggers trying to profit from their timber. They were not cut down to make chairs or tables or copy paper or toilet tissue. They were cut down by so-called “environmentalists.” They were killed by those whose mission was supposed to be their protection. According to the local chapter of the Audubon Society, the trees were not “native” and had to be destroyed.

Invasion Biologists believe that certain plants or animals should be valued more than others if they were at a particular location “first.” When the species that were there “first” are competing for habitat with a species that came later, they assert that the latter should be eradicated. In championing such views, the movement paradoxically has embraced the use of traps, poisons, fire, and hunting, even when these cause harm, suffering, and environmental degradation. And the destruction of a beautiful tree lined path to the sea.

In Fort Funston, it was not long before the dogs were unwelcome. Before the birds declined in number. Before the plants were ripped out and the rabbits disappeared. What was left was row after row of “caution” tape, telling people to keep out. In San Francisco, on the Channel Islands, all across the United States, plants and animals are being trapped, poisoned, hunted, burned, and destroyed by people who claim the mantel of environmentalism; by groups like the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the Sierra Club.

And it is getting worse and increasingly violent, both in rhetoric (fish they don’t value are called “missiles with fins”) and in deeds. When Illinois spent $3,000,000 dumping tons of chemicals into Lake Michigan to kill one fish, and ended up killing hundreds of thousands of others, the Natural Resources Defense Council cheered. Even the science writer for the New York Times has weighed in, suggesting mass killing and the eating of animals that do not pass the arbitrary litmus test of worthiness by environmentalists.

In a losing battle to return North America to a mythical state that existed before European colonization, they are proposing a slaughter with no end. Is this really what environmentalism should be? And is this the best we can aspire to when we examine what our role should be in relation to the other species of plants and animals who inhabit our planet?

To assert that the world must remain as it is today and to act on that assertion by condemning to death those species who threaten that prevailing order, does not reject human interference in the natural world, it reaffirms it.  Simply because we are suddenly aware, as never before in our history, that change is occurring and that our presence on Earth has influenced that change, does not mean that suddenly, through that awareness, we can somehow stop it.  Nor should we want to.

An authentic environmentalism would not advocate that humans seek out and destroy living things for simply obeying the dictates of the natural world, such as migration and natural selection.  It would not condone the killing of those plants and animals who find themselves in parts of the world where, for whatever arbitrary reason—be they economic, commercial, or aesthetic—some humans do not want them to be. An authentic environmentalism would recognize that such determinations are not for us to make, because in seeking to undo what nature inevitably does, we merely exacerbate suffering, killing and the destruction of natural places we claim to oppose, with no hope of ever gaining the ends we seek. It is to declare an unending war on nature and our home.

When we rip out plants, when we spray toxic herbicides and pesticides, when we poison, electrocute and booby-trap natural habitats to kill those species merely acting in accordance with nature, we not only destroy habitats and beautiful natural places,  we put all living creatures, including ourselves, in danger as well. And just as disturbing, we open the floodgates of expression to our darker natures, by teaching others disdain and suspicion of the “foreign” and reverence for the familiar and the “native.”

The same forces of nature which created the world we live in today are shaping it even now. They always have, and they always will. Our actions, and our presence, being as much a part of that system as any other living thing that ever was, will shape and mold how that future will look. That, too, is inevitable. Yet there is no compelling reason to assert that any one outcome would be more preferable than any other. Why is the starling less worthy of life and compassion than the spotted owl? Why does the carp swimming gracefully in a Japanese Zen garden inspire peace and serenity, but when swimming with the same grace and beauty in Lake Michigan, such horror, disdain, and scorn?  Because some humans among us say it is so? Because they impact narrow aesthetic or commercial interests?

As perhaps the most intelligent and without a doubt the most resourceful species yet to evolve on our planet, humans have a moral obligation to ensure that we use our unique abilities for good, and not harm. We are obligated to consider how our actions impact the other earthlings who share our home. And to determine, with all of our gifts of intellect and compassion, how we can meet our needs in the most generous and considerate means possible. Sadly, as a species, we have yet to comprehensively and collectively determine how we might do this. But that, in truth, is our most solemn duty, and the end every environmentalist should be seeking.

On a tiny planet surrounded by the infinite emptiness of space, in a universe in which life is so exceedingly rare as to render every blade of grass, every insect that crawls, and every animal that walks the Earth an exquisite, wondrous rarity, it is breathtakingly myopic, arrogant, and quite simply inaccurate to label any living thing found anywhere on the planet which gave it life as “alien” or “non-native.”  There is simply no such thing as an “invasive” species.

We must turn our attention away from the futile effort to hold or return our environment to some mythic state of perfection that never existed toward the meaningful goal of ensuring that every life that appears on this Earth is welcomed and respected as the glorious, cosmic miracle it actually is.

For further reading: Biological Xenophobia

An Interview with AR Zone

January 8, 2011 by  

Today, I participated in a live chat on Animal Rights Zone with animal rights advocates from Argentina, Finland, Australia, South Korea, and elsewhere. I was asked questions about the No Kill movement and how it fits in with the larger animal rights philosophy. Here is a transcript of the questions I was asked, and my answers.

1.    Hi, Nathan, and welcome! The concept of “no kill” has been around for many years, why do you think many people credit you with its inception?

Thank you for having me. I am very excited about this opportunity. I’ve long believed that the No Kill movement and the animal rights movement are natural allies. In fact, I believe that No Kill is an animal rights issue in that the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. Once dead, all other rights are irrelevant. You can’t be animal rights and believe in the right of humans to kill animals, regardless of the justification or just because our “friends” (PETA, shelters, animal protection organizations) are doing the killing, rather than our enemies.

That aside, you are right, No Kill has been around for a very long time. In fact, better than a century. Since we started sheltering animals, there have been No Kill shelters. I am not sure I am credited with its inception and have never sought to be. But I was the first to create a No Kill community. I was the first to create a No Kill open admission animal-control shelter. And since that time, I’ve worked with communities all over the country, and in Australia and New Zealand, to replicate that success. In the process, I took a series of programs and services that were pioneered in San Francisco by others, expanded them in Tompkins County, to create a replicable model that has also created not just No Kill shelters, but No Kill communities in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

2.    Your writing focuses almost exclusively on the United States, although you’ve mentioned no-kill efforts in Australia and New Zealand as well. Do you have any advice for people in other countries such as the Republic of Korea, where animal rescue is more of a grassroots endeavour and there aren’t many (if any) large, well-funded animal charities?

I don’t begin to pretend that I know the culture of South Korea. But I also cannot deny that the world is a lot smaller than it once was because of technology and human mobility. I also cannot deny shared human experience. We are people, and despite the ugly things that people are capable of, we are also capable of great compassion. I agree with abolitionist Theodore Parker that the arc of history may be long but it bends toward greater compassion. So, my initial caveat aside, I do not see why a model that works in the U.S. and works in Canada and works in Australia and works in New Zealand cannot work elsewhere.

It is also hard for me to see how the absence of “large, well-funded animal charities” in South Korea would be a bar to No Kill success. In the U.S. No Kill began and continues as a completely grassroots effort. In fact, in the U.S., the “large, well-funded animal charities” have been a roadblock to success. Without exception, the large national organizations like the Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, the ASPCA, and PETA have been hostile to No Kill, championing killing and fighting reform efforts. Today, the biggest barrier to more widespread No Kill success in the U.S. is not “pet overpopulation.” It is not an absence of spay/neuter. It is not the “irresponsible public.” It is not a lack of funding. The single biggest barrier to No Kill is the fact that 3,500 shelter directors are mired in killing and they are legitimized, protected, and promoted by the large national organizations.

PETA seeks out and kills over 2,000 animals a year—roughly 97% of all animals they take in. They admittedly kill healthy animals. They admit they could be No Kill overnight. But they refuse. More than that, they actively fight reform efforts, choosing to back some of the most regressive, dirty, neglectful and even abusive shelters in the country. They advocate that all dogs who look like “pit bulls” be killed. And they call for the mass extermination of unsocial cats.

The Humane Society of the United States has lobbied to have victims of cruelty killed. They have lobbied for puppies to be killed. They have also fought  efforts to reform abusive shelters. And they went so far as to lobby the City of San Francisco which was considering shelter reform legislation not to pass it, insisting on the “right” of shelters to kill animals.

The ASPCA fought reformers trying to replace a draconian shelter director, a director who killed over 100,000 animals during her tenure—one every 12 minutes the shelter is open to the public. This is a director who refused to implement common sense alternatives to killing such as foster care or offsite adoption programs. She was finally removed after it came to light that she was committing animal cruelty—intentionally withholding medical treatment from sick and injured cats. Even then, the ASPCA called her firing “horrible.” Last year, the ASPCA successfully killed legislation which would have saved 25,000 animals a year at no cost to taxpayers, a law which would have made it illegal for a shelter to kill an animal if a qualified rescue group was willing and able to save that animal’s life.

On the issue of No Kill, the lack of an HSUS, ASPCA, or PETA equivalent in South Korea is actually a good thing. It just means one less organization you have to fight for animals to be treated with decency and compassion.

3.    Some would say Tompkins County has been a success; some would say a failure. Would you please give us your interpretation and explain why?

I do not know anyone who truly loves animals who would say it is a failure. We ended the killing of healthy animals, including rabbits, hamsters, mice, rats, gerbils, and others. We ended the killing of sick and injured animals who were medically savable. We ended the killing of traumatized animals and motherless neonatals. We ended the killing of unsocial cats. In the process, we reduced the death rate by over 75%.

During my tenure, every dog was required to get out of kennel exercise and socialization four times a day. And every cat was required to get out of cage exercise and socialization two times a day. And, during my tenure, we also ended up eliminating cages and kennels and replacing them with home-like environments.

Our average length of stay was eight days. The percentage of animals who died in their kennels dropped by over 90%. No animal every celebrated an anniversary there. Our failed adoption rate was less than 2 percent. And we had the lowest death rate of any community in the U.S.

In fact, we became what all shelters should be—a temporary way station for animals until they can be reunited with their families or a new home is found.

By what criteria can anyone claim that as a failure?

What naysayers and those vested in killing have seized on is that four years after I left, despite the fact that they were still saving at least 92% of all animals every year, the shelter got jammed for a few weeks during the summer. Rather than kill the animals, the shelter set up temporary cages in a laundry room. The cats there were still kept clean. They were fed nutritious food. They were given access to clean water. And they were socialized regularly. In fact, the cats who were in that room did not have any conception that they were in a different cage in a different room than the other cats. And after a couple weeks, they were adopted into loving homes.

The only group that had the audacity to complain, to actually suggest that the cats should have instead been killed, was of course PETA. But this is a group with a 97% rate of killing, despite $30 million in annual revenues and millions of animal loving members around the world. A group that calls killing a “gift” to the animals. A group that supports forced seizure and killing of dogs who look like Pit Bulls even if the dogs are friendly and even in communities that have pound seizure—meaning these loving, family dogs are forcibly taken from their families and sold to laboratories for vivisection. A group who advocates for the mass slaughter of animals, even if they are healthy. A group that actually fought the reform of a shelter where cats were not fed for days, where animals were left sitting in their own waste for extended periods of time, where injured animals were left to bleed out in their kennels, where employees were told to let sick animals die because then they wouldn’t count in “euthanasia rates.” And, in fact, a shelter where an employee punished a traumatized cat who would not allow himself to be picked up by drowning the cat in a bucket of bleach. That is PETA. And they had the audacity to complain that Tompkins County refused to kill cats during a busy summer.

4.    Given that you are vegan, and you state in your no kill declaration “Whereas, the right to live is every animal’s most basic and fundamental right”, does it follow that you do not condone the feeding of other animals to the animals in shelters?

Our nation’s humane organizations, our nation’s SPCAs, were founded by people who were passionately dedicated to furthering the rights of all animals. Henry Bergh, the great founder of the ASPCA, fought against hunting and vivisection and fought for all animals, including those some humans unfortunately regard as “food.” These were animal rights advocates. When New York City asked the ASPCA to run the dog pound, Bergh replied that the ASPCA could not “stultify its principles so much as to encourage the torture to which the proposed gives rise to.” In other words, he saw his ASPCA as a tool to save lives, a tool to further the rights of animals, not to end lives and to subvert the animal’s most fundamental and basic of all rights—the right to live.

It was not until these passionate and dedicated founders died and subsequent leadership took over these agencies that they abandoned their animal rights platforms to take over running dog pounds for the municipalities in which they were located. In the process, a movement founded on the highest ideals was replaced in nearly total with national organizations and thousands of SPCAs who not only became champions of killing, but the leading killers of dogs and cats themselves. And good, caring people were driven out of these organizations, people who refused to kill animals.

What is left is this false notion that these agencies are for “animal welfare” under the Orwellian concept that killing is kindness. Working at the ASPCA or HSUS or a local humane society is no longer a mission for many people, it is a job.

My goal, and the goal of the No Kill movement, is to reclaim these organizations and to bring them back to their roots, back to the vision of the movement’s early founders. Animal control derailed our movement and rather than have thousands of animal protection organizations saving animals in their communities and being progressive, stalwart, rights-oriented advocates for all animals, these organizations have become agents of maintaining the status quo, of killing.

While I do not believe it is ethical to feed animals to animals, given that these individuals won’t even save the dogs and cats who are already alive, trying to convince them that they should not feed animals to animals would be a non-starter. By contrast, the No Kill movement seeks to replace the regressive leadership at these agencies and in the large national organizations like the ASPCA, HSUS, and PETA which are hostile to the call that they save the very animals in their immediate care, with progressive, passionate animal lovers who would save them. And in doing so, we would be creating a new generation of leaders who would be open-minded about such discussions. And all species of animals will regain advocates in their communities, including animals historically raised to be eaten.

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, the most effective thing we can do to address these issues is to ensure that these shelters are operated by people who actually care about animals. And I believe that this is just one more example of why it is so vital to support the reform of our nation’s broken animal shelter system. Doing so is an avenue through we can begin to more effectively advocate for all species.

5.    You mention on your blog that despite the no-kill policy at Tompkins County, no animal ever celebrated an anniversary there. That is really amazing and I wonder if you have any ideas that could help a handful of long-term shelter dogs who are still waiting after three, four or more years at the small private shelter where I adopted my dog almost three years ago. They’re Korean Jindo dogs–not purebreds, but at least part “National Treasure.” Some are skittish, but I have no doubt that they’ll make wonderful companions for the right humans. Two of them are known to be dog-aggressive and will need very responsible homes to make sure they don’t get into fights. I’ve asked some Canadian rescuers if they can help me, and they want to help, but it’s going to be a real struggle. We’ll also have to be VERY sure about the adoption or foster placement if we pursue an overseas rescue.

There are a number of things that reduce length of stay and maximize the number of adoptions. And sadly, too many shelters are not doing those things. These include making the shelter fun and inviting, utilizing social networks like Facebook and Twitter, getting the right people on board, offering incentives to adopt especially with animals who have impediments or special challenges, marketing and promotion, and more. Rather than go into a long explanation, I will refer you to the adoption guide from the No Kill Advocacy Center called “Adopting Your Way Out of Killing.” You can find it on their website at www.nokilladvocacycenter.org under “Reforming Animal Control.” I think the more interesting part of the question involves the idea of what constitutes a good home.

One of the arguments that Naysayers have made to denigrate No Kill success is the idea that in order to increase adoption quantity you have to decrease the quality of the adoptive home. This claim has been used to justify high kill and low adoption rates. But nothing could be further from the truth. Increasing adoptions means public access adoption hours when working people and families with children (two important adopter demographics) can visit the shelter. It means greater visibility in the community, working with rescue groups, competing with pet stores and puppy mills, marketing, offsite adoptions, special events, adoption incentives, foster care, alternative placements, a fun and friendly shelter environment, setting and meeting goals, and a good public image. It has nothing to do with reducing quality. But a word of caution. While some shelters have no qualms about killing animals even after they turn people away, some shelters on the other side have no qualms about keeping animals for months and even years after turning people away. Not just any people, good people, caring people, people who would provide that animal a lovely home. They believe that no one is good enough and would rather keep them in a cage for three years or put them to death.

Unfortunately, too many shelters go too far with fixed, arbitrary rules—dictated by national organizations—that turn away good homes under the theory that people aren’t trustworthy, that few people are good enough, and that animals are better off dead. Unfortunately, rescue groups sometimes share this mindset. People who do rescue love animals, but they have been schooled by HSUS to be unreasonably—indeed, absurdly—suspicious of the public. Consequently, they make it difficult, if not downright impossible, to adopt their rescued animals.

I recently read the newsletter from a local cat rescue group. There was a story about two cats, Ruby and Alex, in their “happy endings” section. Under the title, “Good things come to those who wait,” the story explained that Ruby and Alex were in foster care for 7½ years before they found the “right” home. I wondered what was wrong with the cats. If it took seven years to find them a home, surely they must have had some serious impediments to adoption. But I couldn’t find anything in the story. Under another section in the newsletter listing the cats in their care that still needed to find “loving homes,” I found the answer.

The first one I looked at was Billy. Billy was a kitten when he was rescued in 2001. He was still in a “foster” home as of 2009. Does it really take 8 years to find the “right” home? Surely, I thought again, something is wrong with this cat. But Billy is described as “easy going, playful, bouncy.” It goes on to say that “Billy loves attention and loves to be with his person. Mild-mannered and gentle with new people, he’s also a drop-and-roll kitty who will throw himself at your feet to be petted.” They also note that he likes dogs. In other words, Billy is perfect.

Clearly, the pertinent question wasn’t: “What’s wrong with the cats?” The real question was: “What’s wrong with these people?” Not surprisingly, the rescue group does not believe families with young children should adopt. They claim that if you have children who are under six years old, you should wait a few years. In reality, this rule is very common in animal sheltering. But it is a mistake nonetheless. Families with children are generally more stable, so they are a highly desirable adoption demographic. They also provide animals with plenty of stimulation, which the animals crave. Children and pets are a match made in heaven.

So if families with children shouldn’t adopt, who does that leave? Unfortunately, this group also states that kittens ‘require constant supervision like human babies do.’ My family frequently fosters kittens for our local shelter. When fostering, we live our lives like we always do: we visit friends, take walks, dine out. We often leave home for hours at a time. Obviously, I would have never done that with my kids when they were babies. That isn’t a statement on loving children more than animals. A kitten can sleep, eat, drink, use the litter box, play with a toy, and more at only six weeks of age. A human baby would starve to death surrounded by food if left alone at that age. Kittens are not “like human babies.” They are more advanced, skilled, smarter, and cleaner. But that’s not the point. The point is that the “constant supervision” rule eliminates potential adopters who go to work, too, but would otherwise provide excellent, loving, nurturing homes. That leaves the two minority extremes: unemployed people and millionaires—although my guess is the former would be ruled out, too.

Having eliminated the two most important adopter demographics (working people and families with children), is it any wonder that Billy—an easy going, playful, cuddly, gentle, drop-and-roll kitty—has been in foster care for eight years?

Shelter animals already face formidable obstacles to getting out alive: customer service is often poor, a shelter’s location may be remote, adoption hours may be limited, policies may limit the number of days they are held, they can get sick in a shelter, and shelter directors often reject common-sense alternatives to killing. One-third to one-half of all dogs and roughly 60 percent of cats are killed because of these obstacles. Since the animals already face enormous problems, including the constant threat of execution, shelters and rescue groups shouldn’t add arbitrary roadblocks. When kind hearted people come to help, shelter bureaucrats shouldn’t start out with a presumption that they can’t be trusted.

In fact, most of the evidence suggests that the public can be trusted. While roughly eight million dogs and cats enter shelters every year, that is a small fraction compared to the 165 million thriving in people’s homes. Of those entering shelters, only four percent are seized because of cruelty and neglect. Some people surrender their animals because they are irresponsible, but others do so because they have nowhere else to turn—a person dies, they lose their job, their home is foreclosed. In theory, that is why shelters exist—to be a safety net for animals whose caretakers no longer can or want to care for them.

When people decide to adopt from a shelter—despite having more convenient options such as buying from a pet store or responding to a newspaper ad—they should be rewarded. We are a nation of animal lovers, and we should be treated with gratitude, not suspicion. More importantly, the animals facing death deserve the second chance that many well intentioned adopters are eager to give them, but in too many cases, are senselessly prevented from doing so.

6.    Further to the above, in Irreconcilable Differences you suggest that rescuers may be turning perfectly acceptable adopters away because their requirements are too strict. I see your point, but when I had to find a home for my foster cat recently I felt as if I had the opposite problem. I asked several experienced rescuers for help in screening applications, but even with their help the cat came back *three times* for various reasons that struck me as incredibly flaky. What kind of procedures do you suggest to get animals adopted into trustworthy homes *without* driving potentially good applicants away? Another issue to consider is that most potential adopters who use the adoption website I use are foreigners in Korea … so if the adoption didn’t work out and the animal needed a new home several years later, the adopter and I could very well be living on different continents. Of course we always ask people about their travel plans, requirements to take animals back to their countries, anticipated costs, etc., but some people have proved unreliable. I’m hesitant to take on more foster animals now because I’m not a professional and don’t know if I can handle the consequences of any more failed adoptions.

I feel like I answered this question above. I would again point you to the NKAC’s guide on adoptions. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes the animal comes back. That is going to happen. But while you want to minimize it, you shouldn’t fear it. I would rather the animal come back to me where I can find him or home a home he/she deserves, than stay in a marginal situation where he/she doesn’t get the love and attention that is his/her birthright. But if you are doing the job, that number will be low. In Tompkins County, it was less than 2 percent of all adoptions. And while broken bonds are never good, in the end, we found those animals other homes, so no one was killed.

7.    You’ve been quoted as saying  there are sufficient homes to accommodate all animals who enter shelters. Does this take into account human behaviour. For example, some humans refuse to take a shelter animal into their lives, opting instead for a “cute” puppy or kitten, or a pre-determined breed. These people make up a significant portion of those bringing a dog or cat into their homes, yet I’ve not heard you address this problem. Do you see this as a problem? Why or why not?

I have addressed it, numerous times. Roughly 8 million animals enter shelters every year.  Can we find homes for that many shelter animals? The good news is that we don’t have to. Some animals need adoption, but others do not. Some animals, like unsocialized cats, need neuter and release. Others will be reclaimed by their families. Some animals will go to rescue groups. Others are irremediably suffering or hopelessly ill. And many more can be kept out of the shelter through a comprehensive pet retention effort. While about four million dogs and cats will be killed in pounds and shelters this year, roughly three million will be killed for lack of a new home. Can we find homes for those animals? Yes we can.

Using the most successful adoption communities as a benchmark and adjusting for population, U.S. shelters combined should be adopting almost nine million animals a year. That is almost three times the number being killed for lack of a home. In fact, it is more than total impounds, and of those, almost half do not need a new home. But the news gets even better.

There are over 23 million people who are going to get an animal next year. Some are already committed to adopting from a shelter. Some are already committed to getting one from a breeder or other commercial source. But 17 million have not decided where that animal will come from and research shows they can be influenced to adopt from a shelter. That’s 17 million people vying for roughly 3 million animals. So even if 80% of those people got their animal from somewhere other than a shelter, we could still zero out the killing. And many communities are proving it.

There are communities with extremely high per capita intake rates who have done it. There are now No Kill communities across the U.S. and abroad: in the North and in the South. In urban communities and in rural ones. In states we classify as liberal or progressive and even in the reddest part of the reddest state. Washoe County, Nevada, for example, 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 the highest unemployment rate in the nation. As a result, the two major shelters (Washoe County Regional Animal Services and the Nevada Humane Society) together take in four times the per capita rate of Los Angeles, five times the rate of San Francisco, seven times the rate of New York City, and over two times the national average. If there was ever a community which could not adopt its way out of killing, it is Washoe County. But they are doing just that.

And it didn’t take them five years to do it. All these communities did it virtually overnight, by adopting their way out of killing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the other programs and services of the No Kill Equation aren’t crucial. They are. Some, like foster care, keep animals alive long enough to be adopted because, quite simply, some animals are not ready for adoption when they first arrive at the shelter. But, in the end, all these animals found loving homes.

8.    It appears that advocating no-kill shelters is a “bandaid solution” only to a much larger problem… what about registered and backyard breeders, what about society’s commodification of nonhumans?

I disagree wholeheartedly that it is a “bandaid” solution. We are talking about ending the killing of millions of animals every year. Regardless of any other issues, that is an important and worthy goal in and of itself. In fact, far from being a bandaid solution, it is also key to achieving larger animal rights goals. It is the public’s love and compassion for companion animals that could support laws banning killing in animal shelters altogether right now.

The legally guaranteed right to life for a species of non-human animals will be a crossing of the Rubicon from which our society will never return. History and the human rights movement indicate that the door, once opened, will with time be opened ever wider to accommodate other species of animals currently being exploited or killed in other contexts.

It is also through people’s relationships with dogs and cats that, with the right message and the right information, we can get them to see that other animals also have individual personalities, are also capable of great joy and sadness, and are also not only worthy of our protection, but of individual rights.

Some theorize that the first animals to be given legal rights will be great apes, specifically bonobos. I disagree. I believe it will be dogs and cats. How can you convince the American public that we shouldn’t kill chickens, when we are telling them it is ok to kill dogs and cats, those animals who are members of their family. We animal rights people like to often say, “why is one called a pet, and the other is called dinner?” It is a good question. I would also add that the converse, “it is wrong to kill chickens or pigs, but it is ok to kill dogs and cats,” also shows hypocrisy. No Kill is the bridge to the larger animal rights platform.

9.    You say in Irreconcilable Differences that you hope nonhuman animals will some day have the legal right to live. (Or something close to that.) Is this possible while they’re still the property of humans?

Yes, I believe it is. In the 19th Century, you could abuse or kill a dog and it would not be illegal so long as the dog was “your property.” That, of course, is now illegal. Laws and mores are changing all the time, and while not fast enough or comprehensive enough as we would like, we are making progress toward that goal. Today, we have laws governing a companion animal’s legal right to food, shelter, and veterinary care. It is just a matter of time before we have laws that focus on the psychological well-being of animals. And in fact, we can see the seeds of that today, such as anti-continuous confinement or tethering provisions. So it is hardly a stretch to eventually see laws that add the right to live, to make it illegal for shelters to kill them, for veterinarians to kill them, for people to kill them. And, in fact, as to the latter, in some ways it already is short of going to a shelter or veterinarian.

Does that mean they should always be considered legal property? Is that the ideal? Of course not. But the question presupposes the belief that until we have animal liberation, we cannot have progress. And I don’t buy into that. Every gain makes the ultimate goal more attainable. Every evil we overcome not only has immediate impact on animals, but helps make the other and larger goals closer within reach. We can tackle evil one at a time. Some people would suggest that unless we gain complete animal liberation today, we are compromising our principles. I disagree. I believe that while we keep our eye on the goal, pragmatism bent on success must also be considered, rather than unyielding dogma that might do a lot to make us feel superior to others, but has no language for progress or success and gets us nowhere closer to the ultimate goal.

10.    You argue against the existence of an over population of “companion” animals and use statistics from American Veterinary Medical Association and the Pet Food Manufacturers Association. Do you think it might be possible that these organizations have a financial interest and strong motive in denying the existence of an over population?

As far as I know, those organizations never claimed pet overpopulation as a myth, nor do I believe they say so now. So I do not know what their motivation could be in this regard. But it doesn’t matter since I had multiple sources and I only used their data for the number of animals in homes, the surveys they did on how many people were thinking about adding an animal to their home, life expectancy and other rates of attrition (an animal disappears or runs off) to determine how many households were opening up for animals every year. I was looking for what statisticians call “stock” and “flow” to compare to the number of animals being killed in shelters but for a home and I collated it from these and other sources to make sure I could eliminate as much variability in the data as possible. In layman’s terms, I was looking at how many homes open up which are “replacement” homes (a dog or cat dies or runs away) and how many homes are a result of “expanding” homes (someone doesn’t live with a dog or cat but wants to, or someone lives with a dog or cat but wants to live with another one).

But that is old information. Since that time, I’ve had access to a database of 1,100 shelters, a sampling size of about 1/3 of all shelters in the U.S. I’ve used peer reviewed journals, I’ve used the data of groups who actually have a motivation in maintaining the myth of pet overpopulation because it gives them an excuse to kill. I’ve looked at national surveys. If anything, the data from the sources you named showed I was being conservative.

In fact, using the logic of motivations, who says pet overpopulation is real? Shelters that kill animals because it gives them an excuse. In fact, the idea of pet overpopulation did not come from analyses of data or study. It came from backward rationalization. The fact of killing was rationalized backward to suggest there are too many animals not enough homes (if that were true, we wouldn’t have a puppy mill problem to begin with because there’d be no money in it, we wouldn’t have pet stores which sell animals, and we wouldn’t have No Kill communities.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line is that shelter killing is unnecessary and unethical. And pet overpopulation is nothing more than an excuse for poorly performing shelter managers who want to blame others for their own failures.

11.    You’ve written about long-distance rescues in the United States. How do you feel about international rescues? For example, my foster dog was easy to place in Toronto because he’s tiny and cute, but here in Korea he was competing with a very large population of equally cute dogs–many of whom were even tinier, younger and able-bodied. (Pedro has a disability that limits his mobility.) Some would say Toronto has its own problems and that Canada should become no-kill first–before Canadian rescuers agree to accept dogs from Korea or anywhere else. Is that a legitimate position?

I have always supported transport programs. As director of Tompkins County’s animal control shelter, and as a No Kill community, we imported animals from killing shelters outside our jurisdiction rather than allow the cages to sit empty during off-peak periods. We also worked with out-of-county breed-specific rescue groups and No Kill organizations to transport some of our animals.

When exporting animals, we never sent them to killing organizations. In fact, I always asked the rescue groups we worked with why they didn’t just take animals from their own community shelters. Some were very breed-specific and had greater care capacity than supply. Others had tried to work with their own shelters, but were rebuffed.

In No Kill communities where the demand for animals truly does outstrip supply, it is a non-issue and a welcome effort. It is also a non-issue and welcome effort when breed rescue groups in other areas are involved and capacity once again exceeds local supply. But, even beyond these, we may be missing the bigger picture when we ask if transferring animals from killing jurisdictions to other killing jurisdictions is ethical—without considering the context of transports.

If shelter managers were passionate about saving lives and implemented the programs and services that make it possible, there would be little debate about high-volume transports. They would make sense, as some parts of the country (and some countries) are more populated and naturally have a higher demand for animals. And if local governments were committed to a high level of service in animal care and sheltering, again, there would be little debate about transports. Everyone would support it, though the need would not be so great. It would simply become what it should be: part of a flexible strategy dedicated to saving the lives of animals.

The reality is that too many shelters in too many communities are not doing their jobs. Consequently, they are unnecessarily killing a large number of animals. In addition, it is never entirely cut and dried whether one particular rescue animal will result in the killing of another (local) animal. When the transported animals face certain death because they are in the hands of shelter managers who aren’t interested in saving them, it would be wrong to say they shouldn’t be saved by transport. Our first duty is to the animals who face certain death today. There can be no blame, therefore, for the rescue groups in high kill rate jurisdictions that are sending these dogs across the country or to other countries.

While they are working to save animals by transport, however, they and others should be working equally hard to reform their local shelters or those shelters will be killing or threatening to kill animals in perpetuity. As long as animals are regarded by shelter managers as cheap and expendable; and as long as rescuers ship them elsewhere, there is no incentive to change. That doesn’t mean the transports should stop. They shouldn’t. An animal’s life is not a bargaining chip. But the problem is not inevitable; it can be fixed.

From a larger No Kill perspective, however, Canadian rescue groups should be saving animals from their own communities. Taking the long view, if they focused on creating a No Kill community, they would save animals beyond their borders by increasing the pressure for neighboring communities to do the same. The old environmental slogan of the 1970s—think globally, act locally—is apt. San Francisco’s success in the mid-1990s was the catalyst for the entire No Kill movement. Tompkins County’s success a few years later forced surrounding communities to reevaluate leadership and practices and aspire to more lifesaving. It also ended the fiction that animal control could not be No Kill, and therefore increased the pressure on other animal control shelters to do the same.

Once one community achieves No Kill, people in surrounding communities begin to ask the question: “If they can do it there, why can’t we do it here?” And the pressure to do so begins to mount. But the long view is difficult to reconcile with animals facing mass extermination today.

So what is the solution? What ended the need for the “Underground Railroad” in the Antebellum South here was the elimination of the problem: the elimination of slavery. While No Kill advocates work to save the victims of a broken animal shelter system, they must also replace their broken system with one equal to the task with which it has been entrusted.

If Canadians demanded and received passionate leadership committed to saving lives, they could have it all. They could save local animals. They could also help animals from other places and even other countries. If South Koreans did the same, there would be less pressure to transport because they’d be saved at home. At the same time, they could transport to their heart’s content, without displacing animals in some receiving communities. In the end, the answer to both problems, and to all the previous questions, is two-fold: Regime change in the leadership of shelters. And shelter reform legislation that removes the discretion shelter managers have to needlessly kill animals. We need to regulate shelters the same way we regulate other agencies that hold—and in this case, abuse—their power over life and death.

Sadly, because of built in excuses like pet overpopulation, the irresponsible public, and the economy; because of weak and even hostile leadership on the issue from the large, influential national animal protection organizations; because of underperformance at shelters and rampant uncaring in government bureaucracies, that may be easier said than done. But while these interests may be entrenched, they are not insurmountable. It is a battle we are capable of winning—and will ultimately win. And the sooner we do so, the quicker we can end this needless killing.

12.    By claiming there is no overpopulation, despite over 8 million dogs and cats entering shelters across the US each year, is it possible you’re sending a message that breeding dogs and cats is acceptable, and allowing humans an excuse not to spay/neuter?

What has made the No Kill movement so successful is the rejection of old dogmas that once defined the paradigm under which we all operated.  We have rejected the excuses. We have accepted—not always without heartbreak—the bitter reality that many of the emperors in the humane movement have no clothes. And after decades of killing and decades of spin to justify it, all of this became possible only when the truth came to light.

It is the truth, after all, and not our wishful thinking, that determines the course of history. Without it, we are groping in the dark, fighting phantoms, and, as history as shown, misplacing our faith and allegiance in those who abuse that trust by undermining and misrepresenting our cause, its solution, our urgency, and our unequivocal determination.

I believe in telling the truth.  Truth is a weapon and truth is armor. And given the strong, moneyed, and entrenched forces we must battle to achieve success, we need all the power and protection we can get.

I think if you were to turn this question into a statement, it would be suggesting that we should lie to people in order to get them to act in ways we want them to. I am not saying that is what is wanted, but that would be the implication of taking it to its logical conclusion. In addition, if you look at the data from a number of sources, if you look at the actual experience of communities which have achieved success, the idea that the availability of homes far exceeds the number of animals being killed is unassailable. Regardless of how much mileage someone feels they can get by continuing to perpetuate fiction, it is dishonest and dishonorable to do so.

The idea that the threat of killing is necessary to get people to spay/neuter has also not been borne out by experience. In those communities which have ended killing of healthy and treatable animals, people still spay/neuter and in fact, impounds are declining, not increasing. That stands in sharp contrast to those communities still killing, who continue to rely on the fiction of pet overpopulation. It is not lying to the public or threatening to kill animals, a violent and ugly thing to do in and of itself, that gets them to spay/neuter, it is making spay/neuter services affordable and widely available and appealing to their often inherent desire to do right by animals by explaining why spay/neuter is important using the good and truthful reasons for doing so. Make it easy for people to do the right thing, and most people will.

We have to stop perpetuating this idea that people are inherently bad and cannot be trusted. In fact, quite the opposite when it comes to companion animals is true. Most people love them. When I first began my work in the animal rights movement some 20 years ago, I was overwhelmed when I learned about the widespread killing and abuse of animals in various contexts. I was bitter and tended to believe that people were uncaring and cruel. My indignation was fueled by the daily dose of bad news I received through my work in animal rights.

I lived in the trenches, and as can often happen when your vision is hindered in such a way, I became myopic. I focused primarily on the bad things people did to animals, and became blind to the good. As a result, I lost an accurate perspective. I lost the ability to perceive how most people really feel about animals, and with that, a sense of the animal protection movement’s potential for success.

But then something happened that changed me. When I began to focus my efforts on ending shelter killing, I began to see a different side of the story—a more positive, hopeful, and I now believe, accurate measure of humanity. Through my work in the No Kill movement, I have encountered people from all walks of life—every demographic imaginable: every age, class, culture, and political leaning—united, in spite of their other differences, by their love and concern for animals. I have witnessed, time and time again, how the public rallies to the call for reform of their local shelter, and how, with their assistance, No Kill is now succeeding in various and diverse communities across this country.

I also came to see how this transcends companion animals as well: the passage of Proposition 2 in California to ban some of the cruelest conditions in factory farms, and the growth and mainstreaming of vegetarian restaurants, vegetarian foods, and cruelty-free and environmentally-friendly products.

In fact, as I said earlier, while roughly eight million dogs and cats enter shelters every year, that pales to the 165 million in people’s homes who are loved and cared for. And as to the former, some people surrender their animals because they are irresponsible, but others do so because they have nowhere else to turn—a person dies, they lose their job, their home is foreclosed. In theory, that is why shelters exist—to be a safety net for animals whose caretakers no longer can or want to care for them. And the majority of animals who enter these shelters can, and should, be saved. Their story does not have to be a tragedy.

Imagine if shelters provided good care, comfort, and plenty of affection to the animals during their stay at these way stations funded through tax and philanthropic dollars by a dog- and cat-loving culture. And imagine if all shelters embraced the No Kill philosophy and the programs and services which make it possible. We would be a No Kill nation today. And in more and more communities, we are.

These experiences have combined to erode my despair and replace it with great optimism. They have helped me understand that when it comes to protecting animals, the battle is against the few who have a vested interest in the status quo; rather than the many, who will reject cruelty and killing and embrace compassion when they are given the information which allows them to see it clearly for what it is, and when a path to a more humane future is cleared before them. Sadly, the leadership of today’s animal protection movement refuses to recognize this reality and the vast potential that already exists to harness that love and compassion to further the rights of animals is squandered.

Quoting historian John Barry, I wrote in Redemption that “institutions reflect the cumulative personalities of those within them, especially their leadership. They tend, unfortunately, to mirror less admirable human traits, developing and protecting self-interest and even ambition.” They try to create order, not by learning from others or the past, but “by closing off and isolating themselves from that which does not fit. They become bureaucratic.” One of the fundamental downsides of bureaucracies is their focus on self-preservation at the expense of their mission. And in the case of animal shelters and the national allies who support them, this bureaucracy kills animals.

And while these organizations, like HSUS and the ASPCA, have become very big and very powerful, they have also become bureaucratic, with none of the zeal and passion that characterized the movement’s early founders. It is perhaps worth noting that this is not unique to the animal rights movement. Every social movement in history had to fight institutional inertia from the large, established organizations. This is exactly what Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail was arguing against. It is what the great Alice Paul had to contend with to gain suffrage rights. What William Lloyd Garrison had to overcome in order to create an abolitionist movement.

And while PETA is a special case, because I actually think that its leadership has some deeply disturbing dark impulses, as to the leaders of HSUS, the ASPCA, and others, like their predecessors in other social movements, they are fighting a losing battle to stop the No Kill revolution from destroying every last vestige of the “catch and kill” paradigm they protect, because we have the hearts and minds of the public on our side.

And I am constantly reminded of how much people truly love animals: From donating tens of millions of dollars when animals are impacted by a disaster to the great lengths taken to care for their own animal companions; from rising to the challenge when their local shelter commits itself to a No Kill goal, to voting for animal protection legislation even when all the powers-that-be tell them doing so will hurt their own economic interests; and, in countless little ways. Recently, for example, I was standing next to an older gentleman at a pharmacy when I asked the clerk for lancets for my diabetic cat. Lancets are used for diabetic testing. It’s the device that punctures the skin to extract blood for monitoring. When the pharmacist asked me what kind I wanted, I said to “give me the finest you have because it is for my cat.” The gentleman turned to me, pumped his fist in the air, and said to the pharmacist: “Yes, give him the finest, because nothing is too good for our pets!” I smiled at him and said, “That is true. Nothing is too good for our pets.” But when I said “finest,” I actually meant “fine” as in the smallest needle point or highest gauge because the blood was drawn from the cat’s ear and I did not want it to be painful. Nonetheless, experiences like that, which I encounter frequently, remind me just how widespread our love for companion animals is as a society.

And it is that love that gives me faith that we will fix our broken animal shelter system. Ultimately, not only will we save lives; but we will also create a future where every animal will be respected and cherished, and where every individual life will be protected and revered.

Thank you.

Best & Worst of Times, Part II

January 2, 2011 by  

The Biggest Successes of 2010

In Part I of my 2010 review, which I posted yesterday, I wrote about last year’s great successes. 2010 was truly an incredible year in so many ways. In another review of 2010, KC Dog Blog noted the change that the new year brought to Lucas County, Ohio, as dog slayer Tom Skeldon, a darling of the anti-“pit bull” crowd, was forced out. His removal was followed by the repeal of “pit bull” discriminatory policies not only in Toledo, but across the country. There is truly much to celebrate.

While we are laying the groundwork in a lot of places and saving lives across the country, our goal is and has always been achieving No Kill. That is why the biggest successes in 2010 were No Kill in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, California, New York, Virginia, Kentucky, and more. I’ve said it numerous times. It is the official tag line of the No Kill Advocacy Center. But I’ll say it again here: A No Kill nation is within our reach.

The Biggest Heartbreaks of 2010

Tragically, there were many contenders. Wayne Pacelle sunk further than ever after selling out the animals and embracing Michael Vick. When Pacelle first contemplated jumping in bed with the monster, I asked:

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

Not only did Pacelle embrace the most notorious dog abuser of our generation, he went further, arguing that he should be allowed to have dogs and that he would make a “good pet owner.” Vick has never shown remorse and he would still be committing that brutality to this day had he not been caught. Monster Vick—the man who hanged dogs, who nailed them to walls, who shot them in the head, who electrocuted them, who drowned them, and who laughed while they were torn to pieces, careful to put on overalls so he did not soil his expensive suits with their blood—is being given opportunities to do it again by none other than Wayne Pacelle, the head of the nation’s largest “animal protection” organization.  It is the equivalent of giving a serial predator complete access to children. Ugly, obscene, and unthinkable. And for what? So that Pacelle can ride Vick’s bloodstained coattails to the New York Times and 60 Minutes, and because Vick’s employer gave Pacelle’s organization $50,000.

Ed Sayres is another contender. His betrayals outnumber Pacelle’s in 2010. In fact, 25,000 animals a year in New York State will be slaughtered thanks to Ed Sayres and the ASPCA after he, and his co-conspirators—most notably, the Maddies-funded Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals—successfully derailed Oreo’s Law, much needed lifesaving legislation. In a statewide survey, over 70% of rescue groups said they have been turned away from a NYS shelter and then had that shelter kill the very animals they offered to save. Oreo’s Law, named for the abused dog Sayres ordered killed despite a lifesaving alternative, would have ended that widespread practice. But Sayres and Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance saw the law as a threat to their power, and they fought back, the animals be damned. Since Sayres succeeded in killing Oreo’s Law, 14,000 animals rescue groups were capable of saving have been killed by shelters instead.

But as obscene as their actions were, we are no longer surprised when Pacelle and Sayres show us their true colors. We have been there many times before. That is why the biggest heartbreaks were those that came out of left field. Those that revealed to us that the emperors we thought were fully dressed were, in fact, naked. 2010 was the year that three organizations we believed championed our cause proved where their true allegiance lies—with protecting the power interests of one another—and not the animals they claim to protect.

The Deafening Silence of Alley Cat Allies

In terms of feral cat advocacy, Oreo’s Law was the most significant piece of legislation ever introduced in the United States. The law would have required all New York State shelters to give—rather than kill—feral cats and kittens to rescue and TNR groups. In other words, Oreo’s Law was a backdoor to codifying TNR as the official policy of one of the most important states in the nation. As FixAustin’s Ryan Clinton correctly observed, “Where New York goes, so goes the nation.”

Let that sink in: it would have been illegal in every shelter in New York State for a feral cat, feral kitten, and all socialized cats and kittens to be killed if a rescue group or TNR group said they would take them. Now imagine a group calling itself the nation’s leader on cat and TNR issues not supporting it. Unthinkable? Think again.

Alley Cat Allies did not support this vital legislation to push the cause of feral cats dramatically forward. Instead, in deference to a friendship with Jane Hoffman, Alley Cat Allies sat on the sidelines and allowed the defeat of a law that would have empowered feral cat advocates throughout NYS to save the lives of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of cats condemned to death in shelters every year. Alley Cat Allies first told supporters they were “watching” the law, a meaningless statement. They then stated that there was “no finalized language to support,” even as the bill was set for a vote. And, finally, they stated they were “working with the legislative sponsor,” even as the bill was voted down without their support over the objection of the legislative sponsor.

Without any support from big national organizations, Oreo’s Law died. And a seminal piece of legislation to further the rights of feral cats in New York and a powerful precedent setting law for other states to emulate was defeated, killed by silence from those who should have been its most outspoken supporters, and those who behind the scenes actively worked to kill it, as was the case with Best Friends.

The Betrayal of Best Friends

While Alley Cat Allies was sitting on the sidelines, Best Friends took an active role in defeating the measure, lobbying a supporter to withdraw. The “most beloved sanctuary in the world” turned out to be run by three callous individuals—Gregory and Julie Castle and Francis Battista—who apparently had no ethical quandaries with betraying both animals and rescue groups. Calling rescuers hoarders and dog fighters in disguise, arguing that shelter directors should not be second guessed when they refuse to work with rescue groups and kill animals, and claiming that notifying rescue groups of available animals is too burdensome despite automated shelter management software available at no cost, Best Friends showed us who they really are in 2010. Publicly, they claimed a cowardly neutrality. Why? Money. They were opening an office in New York City to raise millions from unsuspecting animals lovers and they did not feel they could do so on the ASPCA’s and Mayor’s Alliance home turf and oppose them on the bill.

With “best friends” and “allies” like these, who needs enemies?

Funding the Opposition

Aside from Ed Sayres, the main architect behind the demise of Oreo’s Law was Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City animals. Granting rescue organizations a legal right to save animals, Oreo’s Law would have made her position as the “middleman” between rescue groups and shelters obsolete, which she saw as a threat to her position and power. But the Mayor’s Alliance would not have had the political power to defeat Oreo’s Law if it was just another group in New York City. Its power flows from its wealth. And its wealth is underwritten by Maddie’s Fund.

Maddie’s Fund could have insisted that she stop fighting Oreo’s Law, that she stop working to continue the needless and mass killing of NYS shelter animals, as a condition of continued funding. But they refused and remained silent as she destroyed any hope that 25,000 animals scheduled to be killed this year would be saved. Adding insult to injury, they ignored this betrayal to the animals and held her and New York City up as a national model even as 2010 saw the neglectful and cruel conditions in New York City shelters fully exposed in the media. This includes unassailable evidence that shelters in New York City kill healthy animals, that cats in chronic pain do not receive pain medication, that a dog chewed off half his own tail because he did not receive proper care, that cats and kittens go long periods without food and water, and that dogs are wallowing in their own waste and not getting needed socialization.

Tragically, the most generous donation ever made to the animal protection movement—some $300 million—has become misappropriated to fund a powerful force against the very cause it was intended to champion.

A Voice for Compassion

If an award could be given out to the bravest and most giving people in this movement, it would be rescuers and shelter volunteers. They not only sacrifice their time and money, they are the backbone of lifesaving in this country and often receive nothing but scorn from the national leaders who take credit for their work, and from the shelters who benefit from their largesse. At great personal and emotional cost, but out of great love and compassion, they spend their days at a place where they are often not wanted and in fact mistreated, a place that is the hardest for them to go because they care so much: a regressive pound where they are forced to watch animals neglected, abused, suffer, and die.

But most of them operate under the radar and there are too many of them to highlight. So we have to award others, bearing in mind that the work of people we award would be meaningless if not for the rescuers and volunteers. 2010 was the year of No Kill Nation’s meteoric rise on Facebook. It was the year that everyone made sure to read YesBiscuit’s blog. It was the year of Reforming Animal Control which no one could articulate better than Ryan Clinton of FixAustin. It was the year of the Animal Wise Radio Network. Thanks to social media, the internet, smarts, good deeds, good sense, and even just good writing, the voices for the No Kill movement multiplied exponentially. And while a lot of new faces and new people become national No Kill figures, most notably and not without good reason, one voice for compassion towered above all, a champion of an abused and betrayed dog, a defender of rescue groups, an advocate for shelter volunteers: the Honorable Micah Kellner.

While the large national organizations could not summon the courage to champion the animals and their rescuers, even though that is the very core of their mission, a state assembly member from the very district that includes the ASPCA, the Mayor’s Alliance, and the New York City fundraising office of Best Friends, Assembly Member Kellner did just that. And given that he was the assembly member for their district, it could not have come from someone who had more to lose in doing so. His courageous introduction of Oreo’s Law was the single, most powerful act of 2010 to combat the humane movement’s corruption. And when the NYC pound retaliated by subverting Federal Civil Rights law in order to try to silence volunteers, he fought back on their behalf, too. That is why he was the recipient of the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Henry Bergh Leadership Award, an irony since he won it by fighting the very organization that Henry Bergh founded—an organization that would now be completely unrecognizable to the great Henry Bergh if he were alive today.

I Was There

An elderly gentleman came in to adopt a dog. He selected one, a pointer mix, still on his mandatory stray holding period, hence not yet available. The man returned to the shelter the next weekend, eager to take his new buddy home. He’d picked out a name for his new dog and even bought a dog bed with the name embroidered on it. The employee behind the desk informed him matter-of-factly, that the dog had already been killed. I will not ever be able to forget the look on his face.

Among the reading material left lying around the shelter was a publication from California, a newsletter from a foundation I’d never heard of before… I remember standing in the lobby of the [Tompkins County] SPCA, in front of the desk as I read it. I can picture the room, the angle of the sunlight coming through the window, and where I was standing, perfectly. It told of a day when the entire nation would be No Kill. No shelter in the entire country would kill healthy or treatable animals… It seemed so incredibly impossible as to defy even imagining.

I hold that moment of ignorance perfectly preserved, as if in its own little snow-globe of memory, separated from all else—a silly toy that will one day be placed on a shelf to gather dust. I could not have known then that I was standing exactly where it would happen first.

Valerie Hayes’ personal essay “I was there: one volunteer’s view of a shelter’s transition to No Kill” was the single best thing written about the No Kill movement in 2010.

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

January 1, 2011 by  

Part I: The Year in Review

“No army can stop an idea whose time has come”

Power to the People. That is the how 2010 can be summed up. We did not have the ASPCA’s $130 million in revenues. We did not have HSUS’ $110 million budget. We did not open a New York City fundraising office and take in over $40 million like Best Friends did. And we did not have the $300 million in assets that Maddie’s Fund does. But we, the people, accomplished something that they did not in 2010 and, in fact, have never done. We achieved success. We created No Kill communities.

We achieved a No Kill community in Marquette, Michigan. We achieved a No Kill community in Hastings, Minnesota. We achieved a No Kill community in Prescott, Wisconsin. We achieved a 91% save rate in Reno, Nevada despite the highest unemployment rate in the nation. We reduced the killing by over 70% in Georgetown and Wilmington, Delaware. And we repeated the No Kill achievement in many communities, such as those in Kentucky and Virginia. And that is not all.

We got New Zealand to embrace the No Kill Equation. We successfully passed shelter reform legislation in the State of Delaware. We not only ousted a draconian director responsible for killing over 100,000 animals, we stewarded the unanimous passage of a No Kill ordinance in Austin. And more.

We did those things. Us. Everyday animal lovers lacking big dollars and the support of big organizations. We did those things in spite of opposition from the ASPCA and HSUS. And we did it without any of the large, well-funded national groups that have the hubris to proclaim they are the voice of the movement, that they lead us. Even as they fail while we succeed. And even as they hoard their millions, while we fight for the animals at often great personal cost.

Despite the tremendous success of last year, 2010 was also the year of staggering betrayals. It was the year HSUS completely embraced Michael Vick, the most notorious dog abuser of our generation, and sabotaged No Kill in San Francisco. It was the year Best Friends showed itself willing to sacrifice 25,000 animals a year and the trust of the rescue community for money. It was the year Alley Cat Allies refused to support a bill that would have saved the lives of countless feral cats and kittens in NYS shelters in deference to a friendship with one of the legislation’s chief opponents. It was the year that Maddie’s Fund continued to parrot the fiction that New York City was a national model even as rampant neglect, cruelty, and illegal conduct in the city shelter dominated headlines and the suffering animals there cried out for a champion.

When the animals needed them, the people—the grassroots—came through. And tragically, yet again, the large moneyed organizations did not. In the process, we learned who our real friends were—which groups the animals could truly count on to champion their best interests—and which groups were willing to sell those animals out for more pedestrian interests: money (as in the case of Best Friends), cowardice (as in the case of Alley Cat Allies), heartless uncaring (as in the case of HSUS and the ASPCA), and allegiance to the disproven antiquated notion that community collaborations hold the key to success even as existing success by others born of standing up to those who defend the status quo and their own lack of success despite ten years and $100,000,000 prove them unequivocally wrong (as in the case of Maddie’s Fund).

Although no gain could justify the betrayal, the cruelty, and the killing which the animals suffered, there was a silver lining. After years of trying to reform the large national organizations, we learned we can achieve success without them. We also learned who the real leaders are: You. Me. Us. And this has strengthened and emboldened our resolve. Because rather than show allegiance to organizations, even when those organizations betray their mission (and the animals in the process), we fully rejected old dogmas that once defined the paradigm under which we all operated. We held accountable those individuals and organizations which claim to represent the interests of animals but who, in reality, have very different motives and allegiances. We fully and unequivocally rejected their excuses. And we fully accepted—though not always without heartbreak—the bitter reality that many of the emperors in the humane movement have no clothes.

Here is a month by month look at the highlights and lowlights of a heartbreaking but also incredible year.

January Lowlight: After killing Oreo, an abused dog, Ed Sayres made it his personal mission to kill Oreo’s Law which would have saved 25,000 animals per year needlessly killed in NYS shelters while the rescue groups willing to save them are turned away. The fight to save those animals would dominate much of the year and definitively show that the large national groups cannot be counted on to stand up for the animals.

February Highlight: After an expose showed that a West Hollywood pet store was getting their dogs from puppy mills and then lying to the public about the source, the City of West Hollywood, CA voted to ban their sale. There is an exception for animals from rescue groups and shelters to encourage greater cooperation between public and private, the kinds of relationships that have saved countless animals in other communities.

February Highlight: The economy continues its tumble in Reno, Nevada with foreclosures reaching all-time highs and unemployment among the top in the nation. As tent cities begin dotting the landscape, the Nevada Humane Society steps in to provide food and medical care for tent city pets, showing why Reno leads the pack and the kind of compassion and “can do” attitude that allows it to finish the year with a 91% rate of lifesaving despite a per capita intake seven times the rate of New York City.

March Highlight: The Delaware SPCA, which runs two animal control shelters in Delaware announces that killing has been reduced by 70% since new leadership took over and began implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation. The save rate hits 80% after the new Director oversees an 80% turnover in staff.

March Highlight: Austin, Texas No Kill advocates fight one of the most ruthless and draconian shelter directors in the nation, a person who presided over the deaths of over 100,000 animals during her tenure, even as she refused to implement common-sense, readily-available lifesaving alternatives. The City Council unanimously embraces their No Kill plan setting a 90% save rate as their goal and imposing a moratorium on convenience killing (killing when there is space in the shelter), despite her objections and that of her patron, the ASPCA.

March Lowlight: The Butcher of Norfolk strikes again. Ingrid Newkirk’s dark impulses are revealed in all their barbarism as the State of Virginia releases PETA’s killing rates for the year. Of 2,366 animals they sought out, only 8 are adopted. Newkirk and her cult devotees put 97% of them to death.

March Highlight & Lowlight: Showing the best and worst in animal sheltering, a cat in Houston and a cat in Reno climb a power pole and in both cases, the local shelter is called to help. Houston refuses, letting the cat get electrocuted trying to come down.Reno says yes, rescuing the cat and saving his life. Not surprisingly, Reno has a 91% save rate. Houston shelters are little more than an assembly line of killing.

April Highlight: The Royal New Zealand SPCA embraces the No Kill Equation, launching a saving lives campaign all over the country. After giving a keynote address at their national conference, I am invited to do training in shelters all over the country. With financial, operational, informational, and other support from the national organization, several shelters are now saving over 90% of the animals. If only HSUS, the ASPCA, or Best Friends would show that kind of leadership.

May Highlight: After conspiring with No Kill opponents to “prove” that No Kill equals hoarding by allowing sick cats in the shelter to suffer because she illegally refused to provide veterinary care, 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 finally gone. And with her forced departure, 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. Only Ed Sayres laments her firing, calling it “horrible.”

May Highlight: Prescott, Wisconsin and Hastings, Minnesota announce that they have achieved No Kill by following the only proven model, the No Kill Equation. What more is there to say?

June Lowlight: Despite shutting down NYS Assembly e-mail servers on two occasions, thousands of phone calls and tens of thousands of e-mails in support, the voice of the people are silenced by politics at its worst: backroom deals between state legislators, the ASPCA, and the Maddie’s funded Mayor’s Alliance result in a defeat of Oreo’s Law. Roughly 25,000 animals are needlessly condemned to death in the process, while Ed Sayres and Jane Hoffman continue to enrich themselves at the animals’ expense.

July Highlight: On the heels of Oreo’s Law’s defeat, the State of Delaware unanimously passes comprehensive shelter reform legislation that also includes a rescue access provision, abolishes convenience killing, requires animals to be co-housed in kennels and cages, makes foster care official state policy, requires posting “all stray animals on the Internet with sufficient detail to allow them to be recognized and claimed by their owners,” requires shelters to maintain registries of rescue groups willing to save lives, and requires shelters to post statistics (intake, adoption, reclaim, transfer and killing rate). To legislators, to the Delaware animal loving public, to the shelters and rescue groups who participated in the passing of this bill, there was nothing controversial about it. No fear mongering about hoarders, no fear mongering about dog fighting, no fear mongering about overcrowding, no fear mongering about costs, no fear mongering about notice requirements being unfair to small rural shelters, no fear mongering about anything. The bill mandates that animals be given every opportunity for life, and no one thought that would be a bad or controversial idea. In other words, there was no HSUS, no ASPCA, and no Best Friends.

July Lowlight: While the Mayor’s Alliance, the ASPCA, and Best Friends raise and hoard millions in New York City pledging to help the animals in need, the animals were forced to go without basic care, languish in filth, were denied needed medical treatment, healthy and treatable animals were needlessly put to death, and the shelter warned it was running out of food to feed them. New York City’s pound facility descends into chaos while Maddie’s Fund continues to tout its program there as a national model for others to emulate, holding Jane Hoffman up as its lodestar.

August Highlight: A sold-out No Kill Conference takes place in Washington, D.C. drawing people from 39 states and countries as far away as New Zealand and Australia. A three minute video putting the No Kill movement in historical context says it all:

August Lowlight: After New York City descends into chaos and volunteers begin speaking out about the badly mismanaged house of horrors that is the NYC pound system, the ASPCA’s and Mayor’s Alliance’s handpicked director implements a new policy that violates Federal Civil Rights laws: volunteers who exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech will be summarily terminated. Animal champion Micah Kellner takes on their cause demanding that the City repeal the illegal policy.

September Highlight: Shortly after Austin’s regressive director is forced out, Austin announces its best save rates ever: 8 out of 10 animals are now being saved at the pound.

October Highlight: The No Kill Equation’s invasion of New Zealand is followed by its invasion in Australia. While the RSPCA in the Australian Capital Territory is saving 95% of dogs, and the Animal Welfare League on the Gold Coast approaches 90% for both dogs and cats, new leadership and a new more progressive vision in Tasmania results in a 54% in adoptions virtually overnight. The No Kill movement is global.

November Lowlight & Highlight: In Georgia, shelter workers bury animals alive. In Mississippi, a shelter starves animals to death. In North Carolina, an animal control officer shoots a beloved family dog because he did not want to spend the time trying to catch her after she got out of her yard. In Texas, puppies are drowned by being flushed down a trench drain. In Washington, a shelter employee punishes a cat who is fearful of being handled by drowning her in a bucket of bleach, while the whistleblower who brought the incident to light must be transferred to another department fearing retributive violence by shelter employees. But rather than hold these “shelters” accountable, the Humane Society of the United States asks the public to celebrate them in a campaign they call “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week.” To combat this charade, the No Kill Advocacy Center fights back, launching “National Animal Shelter Reform Week” to confront the tragic truth about how most shelters in this country operate and to increase public awareness about how animal lovers can fight back.

November Lowlight: The San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission sides with the San Francisco SPCA, the San Francisco pound, HSUS, and the ASPCA by voting to continue needless killing “indefinitely,” after tabling legislation that would have mandated No Kill. Every social justice movement represents change, and the status quo always has its champions. In the end, progress depends on challenging the status quo, and that inevitably means challenging those who represent it. This is unpleasant. This requires courage. It takes leadership. But success demands nothing less. And sadly, the Commission was not up to the task.

November Lowlight: It is more dangerous for a dog to be in a U.S. animal shelter than in war-torn Afghanistan. Target, a dog who saved American soldiers from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, is killed by a U.S. shelter. While the shelter director claimed it was a mistake, killing is not a “mistake” when it happens all of the time, all over the place. While our hearts went out to the family of that poor dog, shelter killing is no less tragic because someone says a particular dog (or cat or rabbit or other animal) is unwanted. The killing of four million animals every year in our nation’s regressive pounds and “shelters” is a needless travesty that can and must be brought to an end. Right now, roughly 3,000 draconian shelter directors and the large national organizations who defend and legitimize them are holding back the will of millions of Americans.

November Lowlight: November (13) marked the one year anniversary of Oreo’s death. Sadly, we cannot bring Oreo back and give her the second chance the ASPCA denied her. And we will forever remember her killing at the hands of those who were supposed to protect her from further harm as many things:  tragic and heartbreaking, chief among them.  Nothing can alter that calculus. But we can lessen the futility of Oreo’s death if we learn from it, and alter our society in such a way as to prevent such a betrayal from ever happening again. Oreo’s Law proponents vow to bring the fight for compassion and decency back to NYS in the new legislative year.

November Highlight: November (5) also marked the one year anniversary of the No Kill Nation’s Facebook page; a page “founded on the principles and inspiration found in the book Redemption: ‘The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America’” written by yours truly. 95,000 fans and counting… We don’t have to win the hearts and minds of the people. We already have them.

December Lowlight: Wayne Pacelle and HSUS received a $50,000 check from the Philadelphia Eagles and Pacelle announces that Michael Vick not only should be allowed to have dogs, but that he would make a “good pet owner.” Tell that to Little Mel, one of Michael Vick’s victims, who still goes into convulsions every time he meets a stranger. When he has to go outside, he won’t bark as he is too afraid too. He backs up against the wall, lowers his head, and tries to hide. Michael Vick isn’t looking back. And neither is his enabler, Wayne Pacelle of HSUS, who helped Vick get his job and life back, arguing that he deserved a second chance even as he lobbied the court not to give Mel and others like him that chance. Pacelle wanted Mel killed. Even the ASPCA and Best Friends said allowing Vick to play in the NFL again was the right call. A truly ugly chapter in our movement.

December Lowlight: The Association of Shelter Veterinarians comes out with guidelines for shelters in which they list five freedoms for animals: 1. Freedom from hunger and thirst 2. Freedom from discomfort; 3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease 4. Freedom to express normal behavior, and 5. Freedom from fear and distress. All good stuff. But in deference to their killing colleagues (and some of them being killers themselves), they intentionally leave out the most important one of them all: Freedom to live. Once dead, the other freedoms are irrelevant.

December Highlight: An open admission shelter in Marquette, Michigan reveals the best kept secret in the movement. They write: “While we hated the high euthanasia rates, we believed they were inevitable if we were to remain an open admissions shelter. It was what nearly everyone in the animal welfare field told us.” Then they read Redemption and changed course. The result: they went from a 34% to a 93% save rate. They’ve been No Kill for two years. Who knew?

2010 was the year of No Kill in Michigan, in Minnesota, in Wisconsin, in Nevada, in California, New York, Virginia, Utah, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, and more. It was the year of No Kill in Canada, in New Zealand, and in Australia. And with those successes, we are one step closer to victory. One step closer to achieving our dream. One step closer to redemption.