ASPCA Offers a Trojan Horse

February 23, 2011 by  

February 23, 2011

Dear friends, colleagues, and rescuers in New York State:

Working with a coalition of New York State shelters, the ASPCA is introducing a rival bill to Oreo’s Law. Claiming that it allows “rescue access” but also seeks to ensure those rescue groups are not hoarders in disguise, the new bill will give shelters virtually unlimited power to decide which animals are subject to rescue and which rescue groups they work with. Not only would this continue current practice, giving the stamp of legislative legitimacy to killing despite a rescue alternative, it would make it more difficult for rescuers to seek real legislative reform in the future. The ASPCA bill would not have saved Oreo. In fact, it would not save the majority of the 25,000 animals currently being killed in New York State shelters every year despite a qualified rescue alternative. For example, the bill specifically says shelters do not have to work with rescue groups outside of their county, even when those organizations have the ability, capacity, and desire to save lives. This allows shelters in rural communities to avoid working with the extensive rescue group network of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, where homes are in greater abundance. It also allows shelters to avoid working with rescue groups and No Kill shelters in neighboring suburbs or counties.

There is no question that a rescue access law is needed in New York State. A 2010 survey found that 71% of NYS rescue groups have been turned away by shelters and those shelters subsequently killed the animals they offered to save. The survey also found that roughly half of all non-profit organizations have been the subject of retaliation, including retaliatory killing of animals, for expressing concern about inhumane conditions in shelters. One bill—Oreo’s Law—seeks to truly end these practices.

While Oreo’s Law empowers non-profit animal rescue organizations to fulfill their missions, a right often denied to them by larger non-profit organizations and shelters, the ASPCA bill paradoxically assumes such organizations guilty of the very problem they were chartered to combat.

Oreo’s Law provides whistleblower protection for rescue groups, creating an incentive for non-profit organizations to help end cruelty or neglect at shelters without fear of retaliation and loss of rescue access. The ASPCA bill gives shelters the authority to refuse working with rescue groups if they determine those groups are hostile toward the shelters, effectively eviscerating any whistleblower protections and conditioning rescue access on silence as to inhumane conditions which may exist in that particular shelter.

Oreo’s Law prevents needless animal suffering by mandating precise, sensible, and objective criteria for determining which animals are irremediably suffering and therefore exempt from rescue access provisions. The ASPCA bill creates a number of loopholes and fails to specifically define the terms of such exemptions, leaving them open to interpretation by the very individuals the law should be regulating. For example, the ASPCA bill allows shelters to kill animals they consider are in “psychological pain” which lacks any objective standards of determination.

Oreo’s Law ensures public safety by mandating precise criteria for determining which dogs are dangerous or aggressive and therefore exempt from rescue access. The ASPCA bill fails to specifically define the terms of such exemptions, again leaving these important and life-determining evaluations open to decisions unrelated to a dog’s true temperament.

Oreo’s Law protects animal well-being by providing specific, sensible, and objective criteria whereby a shelter can refuse to provide rescue access to a particular non-profit for reasons of proven cruelty or neglect. The ASPCA bill allows shelters to refuse rescue access to non-profits even when none of these conditions actually exist.

Under the ASPCA bill, New York State shelters could refuse to give this puppy to a rescue group and kill him instead for any of the following reasons (and more):

  1. The shelter claims the puppy is in “psychological pain” because he whines in the shelter.
  2. The shelter says the rescue group is hostile because it reported publicly that shelter animals are allowed to wallow in filth while staff is not reprimanded for failure to clean.
  3. The rescue group is in a neighboring county.
  4. The shelter states that it does not believe the rescue group can provide adequate care without having to objectively state how or why they arrived at that conclusion.
  5. The puppy has a cold which the shelter determines to be “contagious” and therefore “deadly” to other animals in the shelter.
  6. The shelter claims the puppy is aggressive.

By contrast, under Oreo’s Law, the shelter would not be able to kill this puppy if a rescue group offered to save him unless:

  1. The puppy had a confirmed case of symptomatic parvovirus and the prognosis for rehabilitation was poor or grave.
  2. The rescue group had a volunteer, staff, or board member who has charges of animal neglect, cruelty, or dog fighting pending against them or a conviction for neglect, cruelty, or dog fighting.
  3. The rescue group failed an inspection that was conducted in a timely manner with objective criteria for failing.

The rival bill is an attempt to co-opt the movement for rescue access and to defray criticism by claiming they support ‘rescue access’ without directly challenging the conditions which make true rescue access so vital to saving lives in New York State. But it is still very early in the legislative process, there is no impending committee action, and both I and the No Kill Advocacy Center will continue to monitor these bills and keep you informed. Stay tuned…

Nathan Winograd


“Impounding organizations may but are not required to include on the registry animal rescue organizations or individuals located outside of the impounding organization’s county…” If two shelter employees (“reputable citizens”) say that the animal is in “psychological pain and that humane euthanasia is warranted” the provisions also do not apply. That and more… Click here for the language proposed.

It actually gets worse. The ASPCA included this as part of a larger bill that includes a requirement of microchip scanning by shelters, vaccinations and veterinary care, posting of information on a website and maintaining records to help people find lost strays, and more. So, while I’ve not yet analyzed those other aspects of their bill, they appear worthy of support as a separate bill. But the ASPCA is trying to ramrod false rescue access by forcing animal lovers to say “No” to these other things, unless they also accept their version of “rescue access” which isn’t much access. A Sophie’s choice. To which a commenter on my Facebook page says:

As last year’s defeat of Oreo’s Law by the ASPCA despite thousands and thousands of calls of support from the public demonstrates, they have a lot of power in Albany. So why now? Why now does the ASPCA introduce legislation to require shelters to scan for microchips and more? Why didn’t they legislate all these worthwhile things before if they had the power to do so? And why include them in a bill that is bound to be controversial? To force animal lovers into a corner regarding Oreo’s Law. Shameful.

What Happens to the Dream Merchant When the Dream Becomes a Reality?

February 17, 2011 by  

By Jennifer & Nathan Winograd

In 1832, one of the largest, wealthiest, and most influential anti-slavery organizations in the United States was the American Colonization Society (ACS). Their platform was a simple one: black people, being inherently inferior, could never live as equals among whites. So while they believed slavery was a regrettable institution, it should end only when the means and will could be found to “expatriate” all black people living in the U.S. to Africa. When that time came, it was argued, Americans would finally be free of the scourge of slavery, and black people and white people could live freely but separately as “Nature and Nature’s God” intended.

To our modern sensibilities, that such a notion could have ever been widespread seems simply inconceivable. But at that time in American history, the debate on slavery centered on little else. And the American Colonization Society—promoting an idea that “solved” the slavery issue without challenging racism and, in fact, condoned it—enjoyed immense popular support. That is, it did until a man named William Lloyd Garrison changed the debate forever.*

Garrison argued that to truly realize the American ideals of equality and liberty expressed in the Declaration of Independence, all people must enjoy the same rights and privileges of citizenship. He argued that slavery was immoral, that it should be immediately abolished, and—over 130 years before Martin Luther King, Jr.—that we should live side-by-side as equals. The ACS and other leaders of the “anti-slavery movement” simply ignored Garrison. Having grown large and powerful from the donations of Americans who were troubled by the institution of slavery but had no competing vision about what should be done about it to support, the ACS mistook their popularity and increasing wealth as evidence of invincibility. They regarded Garrison as a mere nuisance with radical ideas so far-fetched and preposterous that the best strategy was to simply ignore him, and eventually, he and his disturbing views would simply go away. How wrong they were.

Garrison’s ideas, with their uncompromising moral clarity and their call for an immediate end to an institution that was inherently evil, struck a deep chord within many people. His writings were widely distributed, and as he traveled the country calling for equality and immediate emancipation, he was greeted by increasingly larger crowds. And so the true abolition movement in the United States was born: a cause that was at the heart of the Civil War, and which, just 31 years after its inception, ended slavery in the United States forever.

Today, few people remember the American Colonization Society and its absurd scheme of colonization. And that is exactly how William Lloyd Garrison wanted it to be. He never did get these early leaders to come out in support of his work. After being derided as “divisive” by the early leaders of the anti-slavery movement when his crusade for abolition first began, he quickly realized that they were too hopelessly dependent on the status quo to ever embrace the truth. He recognized that what they sold was absolution, but not a solution to slavery. And that people donated to them because the ACS made them feel something was being done, at a time when alternative visions did not exist, even as the ACS shared more in common with the slave owners’ views of black people than they cared to admit. They offered a “dream”—future abolition at some mythic time in the future—while Garrison showed that the dream could and should be a reality today.

So Garrison switched course, forsaking his original strategy of appealing to the leadership of what then passed for an anti-slavery movement to one of changing the climate of opinion in which these so-called “leaders” had to operate. In other words, Garrison worked from the grassroots up to make the views of the leadership at that time look dated, immoral, and ultimately, irrelevant. It is a lesson that the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, the American Humane Association, and Best Friends should heed.

Like the ACS, these organizations do not offer moral clarity, nor do they offer a true solution to the problem they theoretically exist to combat. In fact, in their positions on Oreo’s Law—Best Friends is opposed, the ASPCA is opposed, HSUS cowers in silence, and the AHA probably has no idea what it is or what we are talking about—they make it clear that they do not want a solution. What they sell is the same fantasy as the ACS—a time in the future when there will be no more homeless pets, even as they fight the realization of it today.

In the No Kill movement, we are no longer surprised when groups like the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States oppose or fail to champion the cause that is at the heart of their mission. We know why that is. We now understand that these agencies are staffed by individuals who once ran killing shelters themselves. And that until the No Kill movement, these individuals were deferred to as the undisputed “experts” in the sheltering field, and that the alternative model of sheltering that No Kill represents threatens the paradigm upon which their careers are based, upon which their supposed “expertise” is based, and upon which their fundraising and power is based as well. The No Kill movement turns the world in which they have been reigning upside down, and reveals that they are not only wrong about their assertions, but that the killing they have done, and so vociferously defended all these years, was never the necessary evil they portray it to be. And so of course they oppose us at every turn. But what about Best Friends?

I’ve been reading a lot of comments substantively addressing Best Friends’ professed rationale in opposing Oreo’s Law. Although I have written extensively on the real source of their opposition—which in reality has nothing to do with their fears for animals, but their fears related to their fundraising and alliance with the ASPCA—I recognize that many people are dumbfounded by this seeming about-face of Best Friends. But now that they bring in over $40,000,000 a year—now that they are big and powerful—should we really be surprised that they are acting just like the other big, powerful organizations?

Like the ASPCA and others, Best Friends has enriched itself by bemoaning the killing, promising its supporters that it was working toward a time when there would be no more homeless pets. Unlike the ASPCA and HSUS, however, they have, historically, promoted the programs and services which make no kill possible: programs like TNR, foster care, and working with rescue groups. So how is it now, when they have a chance to codify those programs into law as they do with Oreo’s Law, they fight it?

For Best Friends, the goal is not really about fixing the problem of shelter killing. They abandoned their plan for a No Kill Utah. They abandoned their plan for a No Kill Atlanta. They abandoned their plan for a No Kill Los Angeles. And, in opening a New York City office, they did not even bother pretending otherwise. They were opening a fundraising office, pure and simple. In fact, they have never succeeded in creating a single No Kill community for the simple reason that achieving one is not the goal. It is about selling a dependency model whereby you give them money and they will work toward a time when there will be no more homeless pets. Even the name of the campaign reflects that focus. They do not envision a No Kill nation. They do not even envision no more killing of homeless pets; just a mythic time in the future where the need for rescue groups, for shelters, for refuge, for sanctuary won’t exist. There is no finish line so that they can keep fundraising for the same goal forever.

Theirs is a different brand of utopianism than that sold by HSUS and the ASPCA, a new flavor, a new and improved design, but it is in reality the same damn product with the same tragic outcome: the current killing of four million animals annually. Like those other brands, it never was about actually bringing that world into existence. No Kill was a pretty dream to which we all aspired, a mythical utopia that would someday—in the distant future when everyone was finally made responsible pet owners—arrive. And we bought that idea. We sent them money. And they became rich, they became famous, they became powerful, their conferences sold out, and Wayne Pacelle and Ed Sayres started taking their phone calls. Suddenly, the doorway to the halls of power opened at their knocking. And they could continue raising more money every year—$30,000,000, then $33,000,000, now $40,000,000 and more—much of it not being used for its intended purpose but to be hoarded in the bloated coffers of the Bank of Kanab.

But then something happened that they never anticipated: we changed the rules. The nation’s first no kill community happened. And then another, and another, and another. And we learned that there weren’t too many animals and not enough homes. We learned we could be a No Kill nation, today, if we could summon the will to bring it to life, and to overcome the obstacles which stand in our way. And Best Friends was faced with a choice. They could embrace the future they claimed for so many years to want, and which was proven to actually be possible, and, in so doing, work to remove every obstacle that stood in the way of its widespread implementation. They could celebrate the good news, inform their members, and use their power and vast resources to fight alongside the rescue groups, the reformers and activists who were working to make it a reality in their own communities. To give voice to the unequivocal moral clarity of the ideals of the William Lloyd Garrisons of our own time and of our own movement. And, in so doing, they could become that which did not yet exist: a large, powerful, wealthy, national organization championing No Kill and standing up for the unbending vision of a No Kill nation we have the ability to achieve today.

Or, they could take the other road, the safe one, the one most traveled, the one which has worked out so well for groups like the ASPCA and HSUS, but which in the end will be their undoing: don’t rock the boat, champion the status quo, and above all, protect the paradigm which made them all rich to begin with. Like the American Colonization Society, bemoan the current state of affairs but not do what is takes to change it.

Best Friends got rich promoting an idea that we—the grassroots—and not them with all their millions, are making a reality. And it wasn’t supposed to be this way. We are changing the rules by which they became who they are. We are changing the climate in which they have to operate. And no more homeless pets someday is no longer enough. The achievement of a No Kill nation need not be in the mythical future. It exists now, today, at animal control facilities across the country and it wasn’t delivered by angels descending from the heavens on gossamer wings. It was delivered through the hard work and dedication and uncompromising devotion of people with the courage to stand up to those blocking their way. In short, it happened because we stood up to the people with whom, as the leaders of Best Friends grew richer and more powerful, they became “best friends.” Francis Battista has stated that Best Friends will never support a law opposed by the ASPCA, an organization that killed an abused dog with a place to go and an organization with a long, sordid history of fighting animal shelter reform. And in so doing, it isn’t just the 25,000 animals a year who will be put to death Best Friends betrayed; they betrayed us, too.

Best Friends sold us out. In a barter with a man trying to avoid accountability for his own misdeed, Best Friends traded us in for unimpeded access to New York money. They took the power we gave them through our support and our donations—power that made their position on Oreo’s Law relevant to begin with—and they used it against us. And not only did they fail to support a law that would empower us as we have empowered them, but they blamed us for their “need” to do so, arguing that we cannot be trusted because we—the very people who supported them for celebrating a future in which animals are not abused or killed in shelters—are hoarders and dog fighters in disguise.

When William Lloyd Garrison became the nation’s voice for the immediate abolition of slavery, he had more than the opposition of slave owners to overcome. He had to fight the organizations that had become very rich and very powerful selling an “anti-slavery” platform that in reality condoned the status quo.  It was the same battle faced by Alice Paul when she was condemned by the leaders of the suffrage movement for the “indecency” of protesting in front of the White House, actions which, after years of capitulation with politicians by leaders of the suffrage movement, finally ended with the 19th Amendment.  And it was the same struggle faced by Martin Luther King, Jr., who’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail to his fellow clergymen reveals his own struggles with the leadership of the civil rights movement, powerful people within the black community who were threatened by the urgency and immediacy of his calls for equality and his bold actions to achieve it; people who had become power brokers selling an agenda for the future. And so it is with our movement, too.

The unanimous passage of the Companion Animal Protection Act in Delaware—passed without the awareness of a single large, national organization including Best Friends—shows how successful we can be when they are not there to thwart our efforts. We get unanimous votes of support from legislators and we push our agenda, almost effortlessly, through state legislatures. In New York, supporters of Oreo’s Law shut down the servers at the Albany State Capitol twice with their numerous calls of support. What would the legislators there have chosen to do had they not been manipulated by the ASPCA and Best Friends?

When the early founders of our movement died and their organizations took over the job of killing those they had been formed to protect, a fiery zeal was replaced with a smoldering ember that gave little light or warmth, and the humane movement went to sleep. The tireless devotion of ASPCA founder Henry Bergh—a man who spent his days and nights patrolling the streets of New York looking for animals in need of his protection—was replaced with the likes of Ed Sayres, Wayne Pacelle, Julie and Gregory Castle, and Francis Battista; individuals who put the financial needs of their organizations and their own power before the animals off whom they grow rich. “Leaders” who do little more than speak about the human/animal bond, while growing fat on the financial largesse of an animal loving American public which, by virtue of having no alternative vision to endorse until recently, bought their dependency model of activism: send us money, let us handle everything, but don’t expect any real results.

It may be painful for some to recognize that Best Friends is no longer who we thought they were. They may feel the need to fall back on the same clichés many people once used for the ASPCA and HSUS: “But they do so much other good…” But if we don’t face the cold, ugly truth of what they have become and their inability to lead at the level to which we have raised this movement, if we put our allegiance to an organization first, we do so at the expense of our ideals. And that would betray the animals who need us to authentically and courageously stand up for them, as Best Friends refuses to do. Our mantra is not that we are working toward some mythical time, in a dream-like future, when there will be no more homeless pets. Our mantra is more immediate, more direct, more urgent, more compelling, and more achievable. It is straight and true: No more excuses. No more compromises. No more killing.

Like the great William Lloyd Garrison, we need to stop looking to old “leaders” for guidance and become the leaders ourselves. We must take back the voice we gave Best Friends to speak on our behalf—a voice they have abused and misused to their own selfish ends. Best Friends has not created a single No Kill community anywhere in the United States despite all their millions, and they were not involved in passing either the Hayden law or the Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act, the two most progressive companion animal protections laws in the country. We did those things. The grassroots. Without them and in spite of them. In the end, we don’t need Best Friends, we just need them to get the hell out of our way.

* Garrison was not the first voice for true abolition and equality in the United States. He was inspired by the writings of David Walker, the son of a slave father and free black mother, who championed immediate, universal, and unconditional emancipation. Walker died in 1830, only one year after he published his Appeal. And it was left to William Lloyd Garrison to pick up and subsequently carry the baton.

Building a No Kill Community

February 16, 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.

Guilty, Until Proven Innocent

February 15, 2011 by  

Best Friends tells rescuers: YOU are the reason we can’t support Oreo’s Law

Choosing to defend the rights of shelters to kill animals in the face of readily available rescue alternatives, Best Friends CEO Hosni Mubarak, I mean Gregory Castle, says the people cannot be trusted. That corruption and oppression by the current regime should continue. Those in power should stay in power. Rescue groups should continue watching the animals they want to save be put to death. Their pain, their oppression, their hurt, not to mention the needless violence inflicted on the animals, should continue. But he cannot come right out and say that. And so he and Omar Suleiman, I mean Francis Battista, claim that the people are not ready for democracy. And hence lies the real issue: money and power.

The animals do not belong to the ASPCA. They do not belong to killing shelters. They do not belong to Best Friends. They have a right to live. And the people have a right to compel shelters not to kill them. For far too long, those running our animal shelters—agencies funded by the philanthropic donations and tax dollars of an animal loving American public—have refused to mirror our progressive values. For far too long, they have assumed a power and authority to act independent of public opinion, and the will of the people who have entrusted them to do their jobs with compassion, dedication and integrity. In betraying this trust, they have proven that they can’t be trusted, and that we must regulate them in the same way we regulate other agencies which hold the power of life and death: by removing the discretion which has for too long allowed them to thwart the public’s will and to kill animals who should be saved. Oreo’s Law, thankfully, seeks to do just that.

But as Christie Keith notes in her condemnation of those who fight Oreo’s Law,

The shelter industry is essentially arguing it should be allowed to regulate itself, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is being ‘divisive’… But no industry should self-regulate; not agriculture, not drug companies, not restaurants… not Wall Street. The more we have relied on self-regulation in these industries, the more catastrophic have been the outcomes.

Because besides saving lives, besides saving taxpayer money, besides providing whistleblower protections for rescuers, besides reducing burdens on shelters, besides putting New York State on par with the most progressive states in the country, Oreo’s Law would level the playing field and that is a threat to the power elite, as democracy always is. All non-profit organizations have identical rights and responsibilities before the law. Oreo’s Law seeks to protect those rights by leveling the playing field between the large non-profits which have all the power and the small non-profits who are prevented from fulfilling their lifesaving mission when these larger organizations refuse to collaborate with them in order to save more lives.

In so many ways, this law is not about Oreo, although her killing was the impetus. The law is about saving kittens and puppies, cats and dogs. It is about saving healthy and treatable animals being killed despite a rescue alternative shelters simply refuse to allow. But Oreo’s tragic killing does highlight the incredible hypocrisy of the autocrats running Best Friends. Oreo was abused and was killed despite a sanctuary alternative because the ASPCA claimed she was aggressive, although they refused to release the videotapes and evidence exists to the contrary. Nonetheless, even if she was, Best Friends would deny to Oreo and others like her, what Wayne Pacelle and Ingrid Newkirk wanted to deny Michael Vick’s victims. But Best Friends argued that those dogs should not be killed. Why? Because they had a rescue and sanctuary alternative. Why would they insist on denying other abused dogs the same rights and privileges they allow for themselves?

Because to Castle and Battista, the rules should only run in one direction. They are not to be held accountable. They are not to be held by the same rules as the small non-profits. They are above accountability and they are above everyone else. That, again, is the very definition of corruption.

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.

But to prevent that, Castle-Battista have to paint the alternative to killing as even darker. Just like PETA and HSUS and the ASPCA have in their historical and continued opposition to the No Kill philosophy generally. Just like HSUS and PETA, opposed by Best Friends, argued for the Vick dogs. Killing is better, because the alternative is hoarding. Rescuers, according to Best Friends, are hoarders, despite the fact that California proves them wrong, their lauding of the Delaware Law proves them insincere, their consistently changing rationale for why they don’t support it reveals that their alleged “concerns” are hollow, and the fact that Oreo’s Law is not the free-for-all they pretend undermines their claims.

First, there is a 501(c)(3) delegation. A 501(c)(3) requires a certain level of organizational development. It requires a board of directors. It requires annual filings. In NYS, these organizations are also under the oversight of the NYS Attorney General. Once again, people can “believe” that isn’t relevant but that was the only requirement in California and it has worked. We don’t have the problems Castle-Battista fearmonger will occur from the NYS bill. Experience, not personal belief, is how we should look at this bill. These same arguments were made in California as the 1998 Animal Shelter Law was moving through the legislature and, despite these alleged “concerns,” they have not been borne out by experience.

Thankfully, the legislature was also not impressed by these theoretical concerns as the bill overwhelmingly passed by a huge margin: 96 to 12, about as close as we will ever get to unanimity in a state as large as California. In Delaware, the law passed unanimously. And Best Friends supported both.

And because shelters can charge rescue groups an adoption fee, this also protects against hoarding, as hoarders are less likely to pay for animals than get them from free sources. There is the requirement that they not be charged with neglect or cruelty or have been convicted of those statutes. There is also the ability to inspect the rescue group if there is reason to believe a shelter would not take care of an animal properly.

If you start adding subjective qualifications as Best Friends insincerely insists, shelters will be given discretion to turn rescues away, effectively giving them the power they have now and eviscerating the whistleblower provisions of Oreo’s Law. And Best Friends knows this. Three times before, Best Friends said they would support the bill if only changes were put in. And three times before, after those changes were in fact added, they reneged. Nothing can be added to Oreo’s Law to make them support it. As Francis Battista has unequivocally stated, Best Friends will never support a bill opposed by the ASPCA.

Moreover, conveniently absent from their list of “concerns” is the most egregious harm, the one that happens every single day, tens of thousands of times per year in New York and millions of times per year across the U.S. As I said in my original post,

In New York State as elsewhere, the leading killer of healthy dogs and cats in the U.S. is the local animal shelter. That is the single, greatest source of harm, of violence, or neglect and abuse. And every year in New York State, rescue groups are trying to prevent that harm. But 71% of them reported being turned away from shelters and then those shelters killed the very animals they offered to save. If you truly care about animals, your mandate is clear: Get the animals out of shelters!

That doesn’t seem to matter to Best Friends. That harm, which is not theoretical, which is not rare, which happens 10,958 times a day is ignored. Which is why I do not believe Castle and Battista are motivated by the best interests of animals. Theirs is an indefensible position. According to Best Friends, the presumption should be death. Shelters should not be second guessed in their decisions and should be allowed to continue killing animals, unless the rescue group proves to their subjective satisfaction that they can be trusted. In other words, rescue groups are “guilty, until proven innocent.” And meanwhile, animals continue to be killed. By contrast, Oreo’s Law says the presumption should be for lifesaving, absent evidence to the contrary. Innocent, until proven guilty. That is good policy. That means life to animals, not death as the norm.

But, as Ryan Clinton of FixAustin once said, power never concedes without a fight. Which is why Best Friends, the ASPCA, and the Mayor’s Alliance will fight, ignoring the one huge hole in their argument that undermines all of their insincere arguments against Oreo’s Law, which they cannot overcome, so they effectively ignore: the law would not compel any shelter to give any animal to any rescue group. They can give the animal to a rescue group they want. Or they can adopt the animal themselves. What they cannot do is kill the animal in the face of a rescue alternative. That is what they have now. That is why too many animals are losing their lives. That is just bad policy. And shame on Best Friends for working to defend it.

Learn More:

With Best Friends Like These…

Where Have You Gone Best Friends?

The Best Friends “Spin” Machine Goes Into Overdrive

The Value of an Animal’s Life

The Hoarders of NYC

On the Heels of Defeat, A Great Victory

Best Friends Tells Rescuers to Shut Up

February 11, 2011 by  

Best Friends to Rescuers: Keep your mouth shut or we won’t help you save lives.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It is a story as old as history itself. Wealthy, powerful people believe they are above the normal rules of decency and accountability. It is called corruption. On the heels of finding out that Best Friends will once again oppose Oreo’s Law and allow the continued killing of 25,000 animals every year in NYS who rescue groups are willing to save, we find out that Best Friends is now using money donated to them to help animals to try to intimidate people into silence.

Best Friends agreed to help Pets Alive with a rescue center to save animals on death row. But after planning and negotiation, Gregory Castle told them there is only one thing left to agree on and then threatened them that they will only help the animals if they shut their mouths and never publicly criticize Best Friends.

Kerry Clair of Pets Alive writes,

I was warned. They would help us, but not if I did this. Spoke out against them again like this. And as I write this, the blood in my veins goes cold, with fear over that threat. Without their help, Elmsford may have to close down. We can’t fail there, what would happen to all those animals? We CAN’T fail and we have such HUGE plans for the future for that place – to do mass rescues and really make an impact for animals.

They either play by Best Friends’ rules or the animals be damned. That is what Best Friends has become. How the mighty have fallen.

With “Best Friends” Like These…

February 10, 2011 by  

There was a time, before television, before radio, before the internet, when a politician could ride into an American town that was against railroad expansion and tell the towns’ people to vote for him, that he would fight against the railroad to preserve their way of life. That same politician could them ride into the next town, a town very much in favor of the railroad, and tell them to vote for him, that he would fight for the railroad project. Those days are gone. But Best Friends Animal Society apparently doesn’t know it.

In the age of the internet, you can’t be against one thing and for it at the same time. John Kerry learned that the hard way with his rambling, disingenuous explanations that were self-contradictory and smacked of sophistry: “I was against it, before I was for it.” “I am against it, but I would do the same thing all over again.” You can’t be against using the “hoarding card” and then use it yourself. You can’t be in favor of rescue access and then oppose it somewhere else. And you can’t laud a new law and then attack another which does the same thing. But that is exactly what Best Friends is doing.

The ink is not even dry on the newly reintroduced Oreo’s Law and Best Friends has already posted their intent not to support it again this year. Why? Rescuers are hoarders in disguise. They can’t be trusted. But just a few short weeks ago, just like the 19th Century politicians in the age of the robber barons, their feckless CEO, Gregory Castle, was singing a different tune. In a blog, Castle decried PETA’s use of the “hoarding” card as unfair and disingenuous. Hoarding, he said, was a mental disease. It had nothing to do with the No Kill movement. The popular piece was widely circulated on the internet, was posted to people’s Facebook pages, was sent out on twitter. But there was no cost to him then. In fact, there could only be benefit. Here was the great Gregory Castle, the CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, standing up for the animals, for the little guy, for No Kill, for rescuers. But not now. Now there is a cost.

Best Friends is intimately tied into the ASPCA and Mayor’s Alliance in New York City, having opened up a fundraising office there, and together the big three have carved out a healthy niche that brings in millions of dollars from unsuspecting New York donors after they falsely promise to help animals in need in New York State. To support Oreo’s Law, to fight for the rights of rescuers, and to stand up for the animals would earn the wrath of Oreo’s killer, Ed Sayres, and would earn the wrath of Jane Hoffman, whose power base is threatened by its passage. So there will be no denouncing the hoarding card this time. No standing up for the animals, for the little guy, for No Kill, for rescuers.

Their latest statement in opposition, more toned down and nuanced than the one last year which earned them the wrath of the No Kill community, doesn’t use the word hoarding anymore. It doesn’t blame the Hayden Law for hoarding in California anymore. It doesn’t state that shelters should not be second guessed in their decisions to kill animals anymore. It doesn’t complain that asking shelters to notify a rescue group before killing an animal is an unreasonable burden anymore. That was last year’s strategy for them and it was a resounding failure. They lost the trust and faith of a lot of their supporters over those claims. But the message is the same: shelters should be allowed to continue killing 25,000 animals a year because rescuers, the very people whose money they are willing to take and who attend their conferences, cannot be trusted.

Today, in New York State as elsewhere, the leading killer of healthy dogs and cats in the U.S. is the local animal shelter. That is the single, greatest source of harm, of violence, or neglect and abuse. If you care about saving animals, your mandate is clear: Do everything in your power to remove animals from the threat of killing that is the local shelter. And every year in New York State, that is exactly what rescue groups are trying to do. But 71% of them are turned away from shelters and then those shelters kill the very animals they offer to save. By contrast, a ten year analysis of the Hayden Law in California, which does provide rescue access, found that this situation is no longer the norm here as it once was. In California, the rescue access law has forced shelters to allow lives to be saved, and claims that rescue groups can’t be trusted (which were made in 1998 while it was going through the legislature) have not materialized. In fact, one shelter which refused to work with rescue groups in California before Hayden now does because they have to. In 1997, before the Hayden Law, they did not transfer a single dog or cat to rescue. They chose to kill them instead. Today, they transfer about 2,500 a year. But it is still “1997” in New York and rescue groups are still being turned away; Not because they aren’t qualified, but because the shelters are hostile to rescue groups, have policies against working with rescue groups, and because of vindictive staff members. Best Friends would allow this to continue.

Gregory Castle, Julie Castle, and Francis Battista, the three blind mice leading Best Friends off a cliff, will not stand up for the animals if it means standing up to Oreo’s killer and the power-hungry Jane  Hoffman. Because doing so means impacting their bank accounts, which is getting fatter by the day because of their New York City association. As I’ve said before, these are the real hoarders. But instead of animals, they hoard money and power. Best Friends takes in over $40,000,000 a year but only rescues about 600 animals a year. Do the math. Put aside the $4,000,000 it takes to run the sanctuary. That is $60,000 per animal. In other words, into the bank it goes, while the animals of New York City go without basic care, while 25,000 animals throughout the state who rescue groups are willing to save are killed instead, and while Francis Battista says shelters should not be second guessed.

To cover the cold, ugly truth of their self-interested calculations, Best Friends says they would support it if there were assurances that rescue groups could be trusted. (They’ve said this before, asking for amendments in return for their support, only to break their commitment once those changes were put in).  But claiming that the “hoarding card” is unfair when they blog against PETA, and then using PETA’s tactics when it impacts their bank accounts isn’t the only bit of the Battista-Castle hypocrisy.

When Delaware unanimously passed its rescue access law, it did so without any opposition from the ASPCA, Mayor’s Alliance, or Best Friends. Why? They didn’t know about it. It seems that in order for progressive animal legislation like Oreo’s Law to be passed, it has to be kept from the large national organizations including the ASPCA, HSUS, and Best Friends. I blogged about it when it did pass and Best Friends scrambled to issue a statement where they congratulated Delaware animal lovers, assuring them that they supported the law. According to Best Friends, the difference between the Delaware law and Oreo’s Law last year was that Delaware had a provision that the shelter could inspect the rescue group. And for Best Friends, that made all the difference. Really?

Oreo’s Law now gives shelters the ability to inspect the rescue group when they have reason to suspect that the animal might be put in harm’s way. That was one of the changes put into the law during the legislative recess. So why won’t Best Friends support it? According to their statement, “the language has not changed since last year…” Not true. In fact, that is not the only change this year. There is also an exception for truly aggressive dogs, too, another so-called “concern” by Battista & Company. Just like the politicians of yore, Best Friends will say one thing in one forum and the opposite in another. In other words, Best Friends will never support the animals of New York and they will never support the rescue groups. Not as long as their real friends Ed Sayres and Jane Hoffman do not support it. Perhaps that is the true meaning of “Best Friends.” They were talking about each other and we all thought they were talking about the animals.

The “experts” have failed us. Gregory Castle writes in his blog about what is needed to achieve No Kill. Of course, there is no mention of reforming shelters. There is no mention about empowering rescue groups. There is no mention of standing up to bullies who kill in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. There is no mention of removing the discretion that shelter directors have to avoid doing what is in the best interests of animals and kill them needlessly. There is no mention of getting large, national organizations to stop hoarding the money they raise to help animals and to actually use it for its intended purpose.* Instead, Gregory Castle tells us basically to shut up and send them more of it.

Seeing that the ASPCA is taking in $120,000,000 per year; seeing that HSUS can afford to send its CEO to a private chateau in Italy at donor expense, while Best Friends “only” takes in $40,000,000 or so every year, they have decided to become HSUS and the ASPCA, and to begin peddling what those groups have been peddling for years: a dependency model where we write the checks, shut the hell up, and allow the “experts” to take care of everything. Settle down little people, settle down. You do not have to be empowered by law. No need for the Magna Carta, the King has spoken; from God’s lips to the King’s mouth.

Prostrate yourself before him rescuers of New York, King Gregory Castle is in the room, followed by his Lordship, the Duke of Self Interest, Francis Battista. They know what is best, as we are all serfs who must continue doing as we are told. And how has King Castle’s vision worked out? The same way it always works out for Kings and Subjects. From the standpoint of their bank accounts, it has been an unmitigated success. They are rich and getting richer. Just like the ASPCA, AHA, and HSUS. But how has it worked out for the animals? How has it worked out for rescuers who must endure the horror and torment and pain of watching animals they are willing and able to save be killed instead? That, of course, is another matter. The same way as it has under the paradigm promoted by the ASPCA and HSUS: more neglect, more abuse, more death.

In fact, Best Friends’ promise of a No Kill Utah did not achieve the goal. Their No Kill in L.A. program is a failure. They left Atlanta, one of their “Tier One” No More Homeless Pets cities, with lots of money in the bank but their tails between their legs. The ASPCA insists on the right of shelters to kill animals in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. And Wayne Pacelle, the leader of HSUS, is busy promoting the most notorious dog abuser of our time and fighting to give him access to more victims; He doesn’t have time to worry about dogs and cats being killed in shelters. Yes, the “experts” have failed us.

Best Friends is now firmly in the same category as the ASPCA, HSUS, and AHA. When we talk about the do-nothing, anti-animal large, national organizations that are more interested in their own power, their bloated bank accounts, and each other than the animals they are pledged to protect, we have no choice but to include Best Friends among them. With “best friends” like these, who needs enemies?

Learn More:

Where Have You Gone Best Friends?

The Best Friends “Spin” Machine Goes Into Overdrive

The Value of an Animal’s Life

The Hoarders of NYC

On the Heels of Defeat, A Great Victory

* For all their bluster, for all their supposed pro-No Kill rhetoric, despite their net worth in the tens of millions of dollars, Best Friends has never—not once—created a No Kill community. How are they qualified as “experts” on something they have never been able to achieve?

An Act of Will

February 9, 2011 by  

On my Facebook page, I received the following comment:

I LOVE what you are doing and I know that the No-Kill approach is the only real solution and is the wave of the future. However, I don’t understand the attitude that “any shelter that has ever euthanized has people who just didn’t try and don’t care.” I know from experience that that is NOT true. I volunteered for quite awhile at a rural Georgia shelter (a few years ago). It was open-admission. We had a large foster network and were constantly advertising for more fosters (and every single foster home was always SLAM full); we took animals to adoption events EVERY weekend; we had a “pet of the week” article every week in the local newspaper; we kept our “petfinder” site meticulously detailed; we utilized every “no-kill” approach that I know of; and still, the flow of animals into the shelter ways always MUCH greater than the flow out. Because of lack of donations, we were forced to share space with the county-run Animal Control; when Animal Control got a call to pick up a stray, the law required that they HAD to go get it and bring it to the shelter—space HAD to be made. We did as much shuffling and pleading and wrangling on these days as much as possible; but these were the days that led to healthy animals getting euthanized. When this happened, it broke the hearts of the ladies involved, who would cry for days. It was a tragedy. But I know that we tried as hard as anyone could, and we were simply unable to be no-kill—even though that’s what we all would have wanted more than anything. It’s not true that people involved with kill shelters don’t try and don’t care. Anyone who thinks that should spend at least a month volunteering at a rural shelter in the South.

It was a comment worthy of a comprehensive response. My response is not mean to attack, so it should not be read that way. I’ve had a very productive dialog with the commenter. I only wanted to share it more widely because I think a lot of people who care deeply about animals also buy in to the belief of the inevitability of killing.

I, too, believe that No Kill’s full conquest of the status quo is inevitable. But I disagree with all the other assumptions and conclusions in the comment. I disagree with any insinuation, either overt or implied, that while No Kill is the “wave of the future,” we can’t be a No Kill nation today. There are now plenty of communities that prove otherwise and it didn’t take them five years or ten years to do it. They did it virtually overnight. These communities also once had shelter directors and staff who said they had no choice but to kill and perhaps some really believed that. But history has proven them wrong. And even if they firmly believed it, and even if they cried when they did it, from the standpoint of the animals killed, I don’t think it matters whether those were real tears or crocodile tears. I suppose perhaps we should judge them differently or forgive them for what they did in ignorance. But I can’t shake the feeling that it is not for me or anyone else to forgive them for believing in the inevitability of killing, however wrong they were or are, when we are not the ones paying the ultimate price for that belief. The reality is that the animals were still killed needlessly, their lives taken from them based on a myth of too many animals, not enough homes. And whether sincere in their belief or not about the “need” to do so, the animals are still dead. I guess I’d rather have the sincerity than the laziness and uncaring, but those aren’t the only two choices are they?

I’ve said this often, but it bears repeating, that there is nothing unique about those communities which have achieved No Kill. They, too, once killed. They, too, once claimed it was inevitable. In some cases, they, too, were regressive, neglectful, and even cruel. The only thing that changed was that someone took over and said “enough.” I guarantee that if the commenter visited one of those communities today, she would see that the shelter she describes did not do everything they could. They might have thought they did, but the reality is that when you take killing off the table, it forces you to be incredibly creative and innovative and that is what these shelters are. It is one thing to say “we had a volunteer program.” It is quite another to have 3,000 active volunteers. It is one thing to say “we foster animals.” It is quite another to say that 1 out of every 4 animals spent time in foster care because that is what was needed to prevent killing and so that is what was done. In fact, because she says the shelter had a “lack of donations,” as if that was imposed rather than a result of their own lack of comprehensive marketing and fundraising efforts, I say this confidently. For too long, shelters have had this reactive mindset, as if all they can do is respond the best they can to what is imposed on them from outside. “We ran out of foster homes.” “We ran out of volunteers.” “We ran out of adopters.” “We ran out of cages.” “We ran out of money.” Not enough foster homes, volunteers, adopters, money are just typical excuses used to justify killing. And none of them need be true.

The ASPCA, an organization which does very little for animals relative to their ability, which in fact fights to allow killing to continue despite alternatives, takes in over $120,000,000 per year. HSUS spends $100,000,000 every year and keeps getting richer, even while Wayne Pacelle takes fully funded trips to private villas in Italy, paid for by the philanthropic contributions of unsuspecting donors. The money is out there.  The homes are out there—over 23 million people looking to get a new pet every year compared to 4 million being killed in U.S. shelters, of which many do not even need a new home. They need other things, such as TNR, pet retention, or proactive reclaim efforts. The volunteers and foster parents are out there, too. Ask the shelter in Reno or Charlottesville. By being proactive, you can decrease the number of animals coming in, you can increase the number reunited with their families, you can increase the number of adopters and rescue partners, the number of volunteers, the number of foster parents, and yes, the number of dollars coming in to allow you to do more of everything.

That is why I will never accept the false notion that anyone HAS to be kill. I took over an open admission “rural shelter” where I was told people didn’t care, that they didn’t adopt, that they saw animals as disposable, that they refused to spay/neuter, where the number of animals coming in exceeded the number of animals going out, in a shelter that was running a $124,000 a year deficit due to “lack of donations.” But I refused to kill, could not bring myself to do it, did not want to do it, could not make the walk from kennel to morgue with a creature who thought we were going for a walk and so would not order any of my staff to do it either.

I won’t underplay it. That first year was incredibly challenging. But having taken killing off the table, it was also a year of incredible creativity, of will, of heart, of guts, of long hours and lots of stress, of being on-call 24/7. But the volunteers rose to the occasion (they were the ones that first said enough!), the foster parents rose to the occasion, and the rescue groups rose to the occasion. Some of the staff didn’t, so we had to replace them—a 50% turnover in the first six months. But the rest of them did, as did the new ones we brought on. We built up the infrastructure, we built up our programs, we reached out to a community that supposedly didn’t donate, care, spay/neuter, foster, or adopt and they rallied behind us. Because when the community saw that we didn’t kill, that we rejected killing, that we refused to kill, they also rose to the occasion. They did donate and they did volunteer and they did adopt. And we reduced killing by 75% to become the safest community for homeless animals in the U.S., in the process also erasing the deficit in one year, finishing the following year with a $23,000 surplus. That community has been No Kill ever since—for eight years running now. And it was as bad as any shelter when I started. Just read one volunteer’s account of the Tompkins County SPCA before I got there by clicking here.

I’ve also worked with, consulted for, assessed, and/or visited shelters in every region of the country. That is why I have no reservation stating that uncaring and neglect is endemic and epidemic in animal control. But, although the commenter claimed it as a direct quote, I have never said what was attributed to me that “any shelter that has ever euthanized has people who just didn’t try and don’t care.” I never said it, for one, because I would never use the word “euthanized” to describe killing, as the word “euthanize” cannot provide a thick enough gloss to conceal the disturbing, awful truth. Nor have I ever said that every, single person who works in a killing shelter is uncaring. And I also don’t agree that the South has it on other parts of the country in terms of sheltering challenges. All one has to do is visit the Central Valley of California or the “shelter” in King County (Seattle), Washington to know that.

We must also face the fact that even kind-hearted people who work hard might not be fit to run shelters where lives are at stake. Hard work is a prerequisite to running a shelter, caring about animals is a prerequisite, but neither is sufficient by themselves. Running a shelter requires people who refuse to compromise their principles, who have the requisite skill set to get the job done without killing, who never reach for the needle when the animal is neither hopelessly ill or injured, irremediably suffering, or a vicious dog with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation—no matter how many there are and no matter how long it takes to find them a home. Each and every one of them is an individual with a right to life, and each and every one of those animals deserves individual consideration that gives that right meaning. Not everyone is cut out for that. Just because someone loves animals and works hard doesn’t mean they would make a good shelter director. I’ve no doubt that they’ll do a better job than most of the directors out there because those directors don’t love animals and don’t work hard. But better than what we have now is not enough to overcome the historical problems and institutional inertia that exists in most animal shelters.

Unfortunately, some people are accustomed to such a terribly low standard of performance that they feel satisfied with efforts far below those needed to truly achieve No Kill. It sounds like the shelter in Georgia did more than most. But it didn’t do enough. And saying it did better than many, even most, isn’t necessarily saying much. Nationwide, our shelters are little more than poorly run, mismanaged, assembly lines of killing. There has never been accountability. Historically, when shelters turned to the large, national organizations for guidance, they’ve not received assistance in order to effectively gauge their performance. They have not been given life-affirming protocols to follow in order to improve their lifesaving results. They’ve been told that they are doing a good job, that they are heroes, and that the killing is not their fault. In other words, the advice that does come from the ASPCA, the American Humane Association, and HSUS is harmful and counterproductive. In fact, to this day, HSUS, the ASPCA, and AHA refuse to admit that No Kill communities exist. They have no idea how to achieve it themselves. And when given the opportunity to do so, they actively fight against it.

Indeed, just two weeks ago, I did a radio interview in New York City where the Vice-President of Companion Animals for AHA was also interviewed. As those who read my blog know, it was a jaw dropping experience for many reasons, not the least of which was her claim that we need to adopt out 2.4 billion animals—six hundred times the number being killed—to end the killing. But her ignorance did not stop there. When asked how we should measure a shelter director’s effectiveness, she said she didn’t know but that most shelter directors she knows “care.” How are we to judge whether a shelter is doing all it can? AHA can offer nothing but meaningless platitudes.

These are the “experts” shelters have been turning to for decades. These are the organizations whose advice is considered the gold standard. That is why poorly run shelters are the norm. Why killing is the norm. And local activists—lacking personal experience of a truly well run shelter—settle for too little, and accept the outcome of inadequate efforts as proof of the impossibility of the goal, rather than as what it really is—an inadequate effort.

So they accept the killing as inevitable. They accept the piecemeal, stymieing, ineffective approach of the large national organizations that continue to push the goal line five years out after every five year plan fails to achieve the promised results. And, as a consequence, some advocates do not have an accurate sense of the widespread potential for a No Kill nation that exists today and which is the birthright of every animal who enters a shelter.

As a result, killing is accepted as a “solution” even when it is the most extreme and violent of all possible responses to an animal who ends up in a shelter. It is seen as a logical outcome when its mere suggestion should inspire shock, horror, and incredulousness, as well as resourcefulness. As long as shelters keep it as an option, the necessary alternatives—the work necessary to create those alternatives—will not be realized.

As I’ve stated so many times before, No Kill starts as an act of will—a bold assertion that killing is no longer an option, and that humane, life-affirming solutions will be employed instead. And in more and more communities, that is exactly what is happening. It is an incredibly exciting time in the No Kill movement. The number of shelter directors who are seizing this opportunity and transforming their shelters is truly inspiring. It is the goal of the No Kill Advocacy Center, and our No Kill Conference, to continually bring their success to the public’s attention in order to both inspire other directors to do the same and highlight to activists what is truly possible, what they should be fighting for in their own communities, and how they should settle for nothing less. As the large, national organizations sit idle and listless, fighting our efforts at reform, denying the problems in our nation’s shelters that are so glaring and overt to animal lovers, continuing to deny that No Kill communities exist despite their increasing numbers, we are building an alternative consensus without them. And we are building the necessary infrastructure to move all our shelters out of their dark, regressive orientation and into the brighter future we know is possible.

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.

Austin, Revisited

February 7, 2011 by  

It is only February, but already we know who is going to win the 2011 award for historical fiction. The winner is Karen Medicus of the ASPCA. She recently took issue with an article I wrote which took her and the pro-killing ASPCA to task for their failed attempts to sabotage the shelter reform effort in Austin, Texas. In response, Medicus writes that she has always championed No Kill, that the ASPCA champions No Kill, and that Dorinda Pulliam, the disgraced former director in Austin who was forced out after refusing to provide necessary veterinary care to sick and injured cats in violation of state law, was a driving force behind No Kill.

This is historical revisionism at its worst. Pulliam killed over 100,000 animals during her tenure. She refused to embrace foster care. She refused to embrace other programs of the No Kill Equation. She killed despite hundreds of empty cages. And she refused to focus on adoptions, telling a reporter she didn’t have time because her staff was too busy (killing the animals in the back room). And every time Pulliam reached for the needle, killing in the face of alternatives she simply refused to implement, Medicus was there every step of the way legitimizing and defending it. According to FixAustin’s Ryan Clinton,

In an editorial submitted to (but never printed by) the Austin American-Statesman in February 2007, Karen Medicus of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) said that there was no reason to be alarmed by the fact that Austin, Texas’s municipal shelter killed roughly 12,000 pets in 2006 because—in Medicus’s judgment—each animal put to death was not sufficiently “desirable and placeable” to merit an alternative sheltering strategy.  She has consistently, vehemently, and unsuccessfully lobbied against calls for meaningful and reasoned shelter reform in Austin.*

That same year, while Medicus was blaming the victims in Austin by suggesting they deserved to be killed because they were too old or too ugly to be worthy of life,  her boss at the ASPCA, Oreo’s killer Ed Sayres, was telling the USA Today that killing was the moral equivalent of not killing. Or, as Sayres himself said: “There is no room in this movement for No Kill as morally superior.” Indeed, Sayres’ career at the ASPCA has been marked by fighting reform efforts and insisting on the right of shelters to kill animals even in the face of alternatives.

But why the turnaround from No Kill equals hoarding, from the animals deserved to be killed because they aren’t “desirable,” to the claim that she and the ASPCA always supported No Kill in Austin? The answer is obvious. Now that there is real success, now that Pulliam is out and lifesaving is in, now that 88% of all animals are being saved and No Kill is on the horizon, Medicus and other killing apologists at the ASPCA can’t keep claiming it is impossible. So they need to save face. They need to take credit for the reform effort that succeeded despite of their vehement efforts to stop it. And rewriting their own sordid, shameful history is the the only way to do that.

Medicus, Sayres, and Pulliam certainly deserve each other. But the animals of Austin deserve better. And now that Pulliam is out, and Medicus and Sayres have been relegated to an irrelevancy, that is exactly what the animals are getting: today almost 9 out of ten animals are going home alive. And they are going home alive because reformers won, and the Medicus-Sayres-Pulliam paradigm of killing was defeated. As I stated earlier,

[T]he end is within reach. All the incoming new TLAC director has to do is reach out and take it.

Learn more:

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

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The Real Elephant in the Room


* While Medicus was a vocal proponent of killing, when Pulliam was committing animal cruelty by intentionally withholding medical care from sick cats in order to blame No Kill for warehousing, Medicus was deafeningly silent. This is not surprising as Medicus has often parroted the “No Kill equals hoarding” argument.

Irreconcilable Differences for Your Nook, iPad, or Kindle

February 5, 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 B&N Nook, iPad, 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.

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 of Irreconcilable Differences for your B&N Nook, iPad, etc. by clicking here.

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

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

Understanding the Culture of Cruelty

February 3, 2011 by  

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog called “A Culture of Cruelty” about a cat who was allowed to slowly die of starvation after becoming trapped inside the wall of an animal shelter in Dallas, Texas. The cat could have easily been saved. Instead, every single employee of that “shelter” allowed him to die. In that blog, I wrote:

[D]on’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.

The question of course is why? How is it that agencies 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, are in fact abusive? There are a lot of answers to that question. They include a combination of the following:

  1. Working at a municipal pound is a job, not a mission;
  2. Animal control lacks accountability;
  3. Applicants who score the lowest on city aptitude tests get placed in animal control;
  4. Some agencies are staffed by prison inmates with no oversight;
  5. Employees who fail in departments deemed more important by uncaring bureaucrats are not fired, but placed in animal control;
  6. City officials sign draconian union contracts that make it difficult to fire neglectful and abusive staff;
  7. Lazy managers won’t do the progressive discipline necessary to fire them (and workers know this!);
  8. Some people just don’t care; and,
  9. Some people are just abusive and cruel.

I recently went to hear an author talk about his book on the neuroscience behind morality. He described how normally circumspect people turn off their natural compassion when placed in unnatural contexts. People we might consider “kind” or “decent” could be cruel when placed in a context in which cruelty is the norm. And what could be more unnatural than a typical U.S. animal control shelter which is little more than an assembly line of killing?

Indeed, studies of slaughterhouse workers have found that in order to cope with the fact that they are paid to kill day-in and day-out, slaughterhouse workers had to make the animals unworthy of any consideration on their behalf. And the two most common methods of achieving this are indifference and showing sadistic behavior toward the animals. They actually became cruel, increasing the suffering of the animals. And in too many communities, the implications for shelters are frightening: shelters are too often little more than slaughterhouses.

But while all of the following contribute to needlessly high rates of killing and a culture of neglect: working at a shelter is a paycheck and nothing more to employees, no accountability, poor candidate screens, criminals, lazy and inept managers who refuse to terminate lazy and inept employees, uncaring workers, and the unnatural environment; they alone or even in combination do not fully explain how it is that every single person at Dallas Animal Services, without exception, was complicit in the death of a cat because they failed to take the necessary action to save his life. In other words, they failed to do what every single one of us would have done. The answer to that question can be found in the very nature of shelters themselves and the kind of people who apply to work in them.

The fact is that as much as we want to believe shelters are supposed to protect animals from harm and rescue them when they are in trouble; and as much as want to believe that the people who work in them care deeply for animals in need; and as much as that is what those places can and should be; the ideal and the reality are worlds apart.

The good news, of course, is that an increasing number of these shelters do align the ideal and the reality. In others, they are aggressively trying to do so. There are now No Kill animal control shelters all over the U.S. and many are striving diligently toward the goal. When a shelter director says “I don’t want to kill animals,” and then works very hard to change that reality, as they are doing in places as diverse as Williamson County, Texas and Wilmington and Georgetown, Delaware, we celebrate with them. But the naked, unvarnished truth is that these places, those directors, the staff they allow to remain are an aberration.  And to get there, many of them had to fire most of the existing staff; because the tragic fact is that animal shelters in the U.S. are designed for violence and the people in them are largely hired specifically to commit it.

Employees Wanted: To Commit Daily Violence Towards Animals

Killing is the ultimate form of violence. While cruelty and suffering are abhorrent, while cruelty and suffering are painful, while cruelty and suffering should be condemned and rooted out, there is nothing worse than death, because death is final. An animal subjected to pain and suffering can be rescued. An animal subjected to savage cruelty can even become a therapy dog, bringing comfort to cancer patients, as the dog fighting case against football player Michael Vick shows. There is still hope, but death is hope’s total antithesis. It is the eclipse of hope because the animals never wake up, ever. It is the worst of the worst—a fact each and every one of us would recognize if we were the ones being threatened with death.

And not only do people in shelters work at a very place that commits this ultimate form of violence, they have, in fact, been hired to do exactly that. Can we really be surprised when they don’t clean thoroughly, don’t feed the animals, handle them too roughly, neglect and abuse them, or simply ignore their cries for help while they slowly to starve to death or die of dehydration? How does shoddy cleaning or rough handling or skipping meals compare with putting an animal to death? Because shelter workers understand that they have the power to kill each and every one of these animals, and will in fact kill most of them, every interaction they have with those animals is influenced by the reality that their lives do not matter, that their lives are cheap and expendable, and that they are destined for the garbage heap.

The reality is that truly caring people, people who actually love animals, either do not apply to work at these agencies or if they do, they do not last. They realize that their efforts to improve conditions and outcomes is not rewarded, their fellow employees are not being held accountable, neglect isn’t punished, and in fact, too often they are for trying to improve things, and they quit. And when they do stay and, tired of watching abuse while shelter managers look the other way, they come forward and become whistleblowers, what happens to them?

In Philadelphia a number of years ago, a whistleblower not only got his car vandalized, but he was threatened with physical violence by a union-protected thug. Who outed him? The then-City of Philadelphia’s Health Commissioner who oversaw the shelter and wanted to silence critics. In King County, Washington, a whistleblower was transferred to another department for her own safety. In Miami, the whistleblower who stood up to cruel methods of killing was simply fired by the director.

Tragically, in the U.S. today, we have a system of facilities where animals are routinely neglected and abused, places where the normal rules of compassion and decency toward animals to which the vast majority of people subscribe simply do not apply. And most ironic of all, given that we are told that these facilities protect animals from our own neglect and abuse, is that this system of death camps is defended and celebrated by the nation’s largest animal “protection” organizations: HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA. These organizations tell us that the killing is not the fault of the people in shelters who are actually doing the killing. But it is their fault. They are the ones who do it. It is right in their job description. They signed up for it. And that is not what kind-hearted animal lovers do. And because kind hearted animal lovers won’t do it, they don’t work in these agencies. Or if they do, they don’t last. That leaves animals, like the trapped cat in Dallas, at the mercy of an entire department of employees who do not care enough to do anything about it.

In fact, a recent study found that 96% of Americans, almost every single person surveyed—said we should have strong laws protecting animals. They also said we have a moral duty to protect animals. As scandal after scandal unfolds in our nation’s “shelters” across the country, it often seems like the remaining 4% are the ones who go to work in killing shelters.

The systematic killing of animals in U.S. shelters is not a “necessary evil.” It is not “lamentable.” It is not “morally acceptable.” And it is certainly not a “gift” as the heads of the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and PETA have indicated to one degree or another. It is nothing short of an ugly, broken, regressive, wholly unnecessary, and violent system and it is so by design. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can focus all of our energies on ending it. But it is taking far too long, and too many animals are being subjected to systematic and unrelenting violence—including neglect, abuse, and intentional killing—because the large, national animal “protection” organizations are defending and protecting them.

They fight progressive legislation to save tens of thousands of animals every year from those brutal environments, as the ASPCA did in defeating Oreo’s Law. They send letters and staff members to fight shelter reform, as both HSUS and ASPCA did in San Francisco, or as they have in other places such as Austin, Texas, Eugene, Oregon, and Page County, Virginia, insisting on the right of “shelters” to kill animals in the face of readily-available lifesaving alternatives. They defend the massacre with circular reasoning, fuzzy math, and their regressive, antiquated dogmas as the American Humane Association recently did. Or, like HSUS, they celebrate these agencies when they should be holding them accountable by holding “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week,” abdicating their mission as watchdogs to be cheerleaders.

And not one by one or two by two or a thousand by a thousand or even in the tens of thousands, but millions upon millions of animals are marched to their needless deaths while these national organizations, just like every single employee in the Dallas “shelter,”  continue to ignore their plight.