Get “Crazy”

May 24, 2011 by  

An Open Letter to Managers at Pounds Across the Country

I am one of those individuals you have dismissed as “crazy” for daring to suggest that you end the killing and you do it today. I have spent years and traveled across the country to show why ending the killing of animals is not only possible, it isn’t even that complicated. I did it as head of an open-admission animal control shelter. I have helped others do it. And many communities—from California to New York, from Nevada to Virginia, from Minnesota to Kentucky—have done it, also. In short, it is far from “crazy” as you suggest. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it is “crazy.” My response to you is: So what? Embrace it. Because it is time to get “crazy.”

Mitch Schneider runs Washoe County Regional Animal Services. I once made the mistake of calling him a “former marine.” As he barked at me, “Once a marine, always a marine.” He is definitely not what you would call “soft and cuddly.” But if you were a dog or cat and you found yourself entering animal control, he’s the guy you’d want as the head of the facility. Combined with the open-admission Nevada Humane Society, Washoe County shelters take in about 15,000 dogs and cats per year, that’s about 35 dogs/cats per 1,000 people, a per capita intake rate seven times higher than New York City. As a function of the population, Reno has a “bigger” problem than New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston. But in 2010, 91% of animals were saved. It wasn’t always like that.

In fact, the Washoe County municipal shelter had two staff members whose job it was to kill animals every day; 15 barrels full. Every day those barrels would be emptied, and every day they would be filled up again. When I first met Mitch, I told him that the Nevada Humane Society hired me to help overhaul their shelter. Mitch is very quick to point out how much he loves Reno and surrounding communities, especially since he is an avid poker player. But this is what Mitch had to say about it:

I didn’t believe it could work, at least not in Reno. I did the math and remember thinking that maybe it would work in a more affluent community but we had a more transient population and a high intake rate.

His skepticism was not a problem, because he also had an open mind:

No matter what any of us believes, we ultimately won’t know if we don’t try. On top of that, if in fact No Kill failed, I didn’t want it to be because our agency refused to think outside the box or because I didn’t like the term. Even if we didn’t achieve the ultimate goal, I knew it could still be better than now. We could save more animals. And that would make thousands of animals pretty happy, and it would make thousands of animal lovers pretty happy.

As Mitch notes, you have to be willing to take risks. If you are to succeed, you have to try new things. Even “crazy” things. When San Francisco became the first community in the nation to take animals offsite, rather than wait for people to come to the shelter to adopt, the Humane Society of the United States was quick to condemn the “crazy” program as “Sidewalk giveaways,” claiming it would lead to impulse adoptions. HSUS was essentially arguing that the animals were better off dead because offsite adoptions would lead to a low-quality home. But twenty years of data has proved them wrong. Many good, caring people will not visit a pound which kills the bulk of its occupants. Getting them to adopt the animals facing death means taking the animals to them. And even if it does lead to impulse adoptions, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People are capable of many good and noble impulses. What started as a “crazy idea”—rather than wait for people to come to the shelter, let’s take the animals to the people—has not only saved tens of thousands of San Francisco animals, it is saving animals across the country.

When cat lovers began implementing the “crazy idea” of Trap-Neuter-Release programs for free-living cats, rather than trapping and having them killed at the local pound, HSUS not only condemned it as “subsidized abandonment,” they asked a criminal prosecutor in a North Carolina community to arrest the cat lovers and charge them with cruelty, an offense that carried a jail term. Today, municipal shelters, health departments, communities, even entire states are encouraging and embracing TNR as a humane alternative to killing.

When North Shore Animal League went “crazy” and waived adoption fees altogether in order to place more animals, once again, groups like HSUS, the ASPCA, and other champions of killing quickly condemned them for “reducing the quality of adoptive homes.” Recently, a multi-state study confirmed what true animal lovers running progressive shelters already knew: reducing or waiving fees does not reduce the quality of the home but it does increase the number of animals getting adopted. Indeed, when the Nevada Humane Society did a “pick your price” adoption event, not only did more animals get adopted compared to a typical week, but the average donation exceeded the standard adoption fee.

In 1974, HSUS, the American Humane Association, and the ASPCA decreed that all animals under the age of six weeks should be killed as a matter of policy. In fact, a former HSUS staff member once claimed that “foster care is a sham that just delays killing.” Not too long ago, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria in Virginia fired staff and volunteers for fostering underaged kittens and puppies. The director, a darling of HSUS who sat on their national animal sheltering committee which advised HSUS on policy, did not want a foster care program despite years of proof that saving the lives of underaged animals was more difficult, if not impossible, without it. Tired of seeing them killed, volunteers and staff decided to take matters in their own hands and take them home at their own expense, bringing them back when they were ready for adoption. When the director found out, she fired them—for saving lives. What was the “crazy idea”? Sending them to temporary homes to bottle feed them, socialize them, treat them, and care for them, until they are old enough or well enough to be adopted.  That director is no longer there. And that “crazy” idea—foster care—has saved countless animals in communities across the country.

In the early 1990s, when rescue groups asked shelters and pounds to partner with them, HSUS condemned that too, saying “shelters” should not work with rescue groups because the transfer would “stress” the animal, even though the alternative was death. Working with rescue groups was considered “crazy.” But not only were they ignored, in 1998, over HSUS objections, the State of California made it illegal for a pound to kill an animal if a rescue group was willing to save the animal. That has saved tens of thousands of animals every single year since. In just one of California’s 58 counties, the number of animals rescued went from zero to 4,000 a year. That is why in 2010, the State of Delaware also passed a similar law. And now, New York, Minnesota, and Rhode Island are trying to also. (Earlier this year, Texas was considering similar legislation, but HSUS and its pro-killing colleagues succeeding in killing the legislation, effectively sentencing tens of thousands of animals to certain death.)

All of the programs of the No Kill Equation, the programs that have revolutionized sheltering and brought death rates to all time lows were once dismissed as “crazy” by groups like HSUS. (Ironically, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle now takes credit for many of those programs in his book, The Bond, his new work of historical revisionism and fiction; but as we saw in Texas, he continues to fight against them when asked to do so by his killing colleagues.)

When San Francisco landlords would not rent to people with pets because they were concerned about damage to the apartments and homes, the San Francisco SPCA had the crazy idea that it would pay for any damage above and beyond security deposit caused by an SF/SPCA adopted pet. The end result? A doubling in the number of “cats ok” rental units and a 35% increase in the number of “dogs ok” units. The cost? Zero.

People won’t come to the shelter? Do offsite adoptions. People won’t come to the offsite adoptions? How about “Dial-A-Cat,” where people can phone in their cat orders which are delivered to their homes? Thankfully, we are not out of “crazy” ideas yet, and those ideas are going to make the differences between where we are today in the most progressive communities and where we hope to be years from now.

In Austin, Texas, Austin Pets Alive allows people to adopt out sick and injured animals where they can treat the animals at home, rather than in a shelter. When appropriate, these animals are even taken to offsite adoption events. In Jacksonville, animal control will not allow unsocial, free-living cats to come through their doors; TNR is the only option. In Austin, it is illegal to kill animals if there are empty cages in the shelter, and Animal Ark is not only trying to make that state law in Minnesota, they want to make it illegal to kill animals if they can also share cages or kennels with other animals.

And sanctuary and hospice care will become the next two programs of the No Kill Equation so that we not only save all healthy and treatable animals (upwards of 95% of all intakes and about 98% of dogs), but zero out the killing altogether.

As Mitch Schneider says, “We’ve always done it this way” never justifies anything. And if a staff member complains that, “Everyday I come in something’s changed,” he reminds them that it takes a desire to be better today than you were yesterday to run a caring and committed program that is responsive to the needs of the animals, animal lovers, taxpayers, and the community at large. Washoe County’s success is a result of a willingness to embrace “continuous process improvement,” which requires not fearing change. If all you’ve ever done is all you ever do; then all you’ll ever get is all you’ve ever gotten.

What will you accomplish? What’s your crazy idea?


I’ll buy you an Amazon Kindle if you have a new and crazy idea to move the No Kill movement forward. Click here to learn more.

Dogged Determination

May 19, 2011 by  

On Friday, May 27, FixAustin’s Ryan Clinton will lead a web-based seminar on how to reform animal control through political advocacy. Today, Austin is saving roughly 9 out of 10 dogs and cats entering its facility. There was a time when that would have been unthinkable. In fact, there are now communities across the U.S. saving upwards of 96% of all animals. If your community is not one of them, this is a must-attend primer on political advocacy to force your local pound to embrace No Kill. You will learn how they did it and how you can, too. The No Kill movement has always been a grassroots movement and it remains so today. Change will come when the American people stand up and say enough and that starts with people like you. You can “attend” though the comfort of your own home or office computer. Click here for more details. [The webinar was originally scheduled for May 20, but is postponed to May 27, as Ryan is ill.]

As Blue as a Summer Sky: Austin Then, & Now (Reprinted from January 17, 2011)

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.

End Convenience Killing in MN Pounds

May 17, 2011 by  

Animal Ark, Minnesota’s premier No Kill shelter, has seen it time and time again. Minnesota pounds “that profess to use so-called ‘euthanasia’ [killing] as a last resort often reach for a bottle of sodium pentobarbital labeled ‘Fatal Plus’ as the first choice, and without seeking any other alternatives. The killing of healthy animals in shelters is so common place that it is considered the leading killer of healthy dogs and cats in the United States.”

Shelters kill when they have ample numbers of empty cages. Shelters kill without seeking foster homes for pets. Shelters kill without notifying area rescue groups there are animals needing rescue. Shelters kill animals with treatable medical conditions, without those animals ever being seen by a veterinarian. And, shelters kill owner-surrendered animals on arrival, without giving the owners an opportunity to change their minds.

According to Animal Ark,

Unnecessary killing of animals in shelters is so common throughout Minnesota that a family pet taken in by a shelter in the Twin Cities has only about a 50% chance of making it out alive. Compare that figure to the growing number of communities in the United State that have live-release rates in excess of 90% and it becomes easy to see that a lot of unnecessary killing is taking place in Minnesota animal shelters.


However, a proposed new law could help motivate Minnesota animal shelters to save more lives. The Minnesota Companion Animal Protection Act (MN CAPA) will be introduced in Minnesota within the next week and would provide needed regulation of animal shelters throughout the state, if passed into law.


MN CAPA is based on model legislation prepared by the No Kill Advocacy Center, the same model legislation that was used in the preparation of the Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act, which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, and which was signed into law in 2010.

To learn more about MN CAPA, click here.

To learn how to introduce and pass similar legislation in your state or county, click here.

No Hope for Hope’s Law

May 13, 2011 by  

HSUS Headquarters

Who could possibly be against collaboration, transparency, decency, and fairness? Wayne Pacelle, for starters. “The Bond” author is breaking bonds in Texas where his Humane Society of the United States led a group of pro-killing supporters to defeat “Hope’s Law,” the Texas Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA). Named for a dog that was cruelly denied needed care and refuge despite offers from a rescue group, CAPA would have transformed the kill-oriented pound system of Texas.

Yesterday, Public Health Committee Chair Rep. Lois Kolkhorst let the bill die, despite over 5,000 letters and hundreds of telephone calls in support. The reason? Opposition from the Humane Society of the United States, the Texas Humane Legislation Network, the Texas Animal Control Association, Houston Humane Society, the Texas Municipal League, and a whole host of killing apologists. And although Houston Mayor Annise Parker was elected on a shelter reform platform, the City of Houston also opposed the measure. The ASPCA was deafeningly silent, although its “Mission/Agent: Orange” supporters such as the Austin Humane Society, participated in a meeting of opponents to ensure CAPA would not be passed.

Initially ambitious, the bill was subsequently amended to do four simple, common-sense things. “Hope’s Law” would have mandated:

  1. Collaboration: Texas pounds would not have been able to kill animals if rescue groups were willing to save them;
  2. Transparency: taxpayers and donors would have had a right to know how the shelters they fund are doing by requiring them to post their statistics;
  3. Decency: would have made it illegal to kill animals using the cruel gas chamber; and
  4. Fairness: would have made it illegal to kill animals based on arbitrary criteria (breed, color, age, etc.).

Thanks to opponents,  pounds* in Texas will continue killing animals cruelly (gassing them to death). Thanks to these groups, they will continue turning away rescue groups and then killing the animals those rescue groups offered to save. They will, like the Houston Humane Society, systematically slaughter dogs they claim are “pit bulls” for just being dogs. And they will continue to lie to the public, claiming they are doing all they can to save lives; even as they have shown they will do whatever is necessary to defend their ability to kill animals and to protect that ability for others, even in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives they simply refuse to implement.


* On my Facebook page, I wrote:

A shelter is a refuge, a haven. Given that many U.S. animal “shelters” are little more than assembly lines of death; given that many animals experience neglect and cruelty for the first time in the so-called “shelters” that are supposed to protect them from it; given that these shelters not only kill animals in the face of readily available alternatives they simply refuse to implement, but they fight to defend their ability to do so; we need a new name to describe them. I prefer “pounds.” But I am open to other suggestions.

The suggestions, though colorful were not inaccurate. A pound is “an enclosure maintained for confining stray or homeless animals.” To impound means to “imprison.” Act like a dog catcher, and you are a dog catcher. Act like a pound, and you are a pound.

I will no longer use the word “shelter” to describe these facilities. It is merely one more euphemism that obscures what we are doing to animals as a society and legitimizes abuse. It is also offensive to true shelters. It will join “euthanasia” in the dustbin of my vocabulary. Except, of course, when describing those that truly live up to its meaning.

Art imitates life. Walt Disney pulled no punches when it came to depicting dog pounds and the cruel dog catchers who staffed them. Lady’s captor could have easily been a card carrying member of the Texas Animal Control Association.

Wish You Were Here

May 10, 2011 by  

By Jennifer Winograd

Studying history and the work of social justice movements that came before ours is a good way to learn strategies for effecting change. To peer back in time is to see into the future – to learn to anticipate and recognize predictable patterns of human behavior that occur when the status quo is challenged. The past provides lessons on how to harness what is best in humans, as well as how to overcome what is worst, such as the habit of allowing our limited experiences to validate false and misleading dogmas that justify oppression as the inevitable, or natural, state of the world.

Pet overpopulation, an idea that is used to explain the killing of millions of animals every year, is not unlike other false dogmas in history that fostered circular logic in order to justify and explain the status quo. For instance, the ideas of white and male supremacy once predominated and therefore fostered consequences that were then used as “proof” that the ideas themselves were true.

Consider that when the abolition movement began, even the vast majority of people who opposed slavery believed that white people were nonetheless superior to African Americans, and that black and white people could never live as equals. Where did this idea come from? It was the dominant paradigm, so people were raised to believe it. But they also used the consequences resulting from the oppression of African Americans as evidence that they were inferior. Seeing black people living in poverty, unable to read or write and held in submission, racists reasoned backwards that that was the natural condition of black people. They used all of the facts – and results – of the oppression itself to justify the oppression as the obvious and natural state of the world. And even though there were examples in their midst of exceptions, of educated and even brilliant African Americans such as David Walker or Frederick Douglass, they were reasoned away as the exception, or their example, inconveniently inconsistent, was simply ignored.

The same is true of the women’s rights movement until the 20th century. For most of human history and in virtually all cultures, women have been regarded as inferior to men and were therefore kept in circumstances that never allowed them to flourish or reach their inherent potential. Human history is until very recently, the story of great men, and few women. Is this because until recently there were no great women born? Or until recently women lacked the capacity to do significant things? Of course not – throughout history, women with talent and potential to do remarkable things were there all along, but their potential was suppressed. Considered inherently inferior, they were denied the opportunities afforded to men, and the resulting lack of female accomplishment, or resulting lack of evidence of the capability of women, was used to justify the idea that they were inferior, that women should not hold jobs outside the home, or that they lacked the intelligence to be responsible citizens and vote. Again, circular logic.

Likewise, in the humane movement, too many people fall into the trap of citing the killing that occurs in our shelters as proof that that killing is inevitable. They make the assumption that it would not be occurring unless it had to occur, unless that killing was the result of the natural state of things: human irresponsibility and the number of animals entering shelters being greater than the number of available homes, or, in a nutshell, “pet overpopulation.”  To those with first-hand experience either working or volunteering at a traditional, high kill shelter, “pet overpopulation” is a logical explanation for the situation at the shelter with which they are acquainted. Not only have they been given this explanation by the shelter itself and every large, national animal protection organization confirms it, but the circumstances they see around them do as well. They see a lot of animals coming in, few adoptions, and conclude: what choice is there? And hence, the inevitable question, and the logical one, that is constantly asked of No Kill advocates: Just what are we supposed to do with all of the animals?

But as history shows, our perceptions do not always match the facts – that is, often the experiences we have not had shape our perceptions as much as those we have.  Achieving No Kill requires a shelter to put into place programs and services that provide alternatives to killing. At a well run No Kill animal shelter, there are a variety of ways to respond to animals, depending on the reason that animal is in the shelter in the first place. There is not a one-size fits-all strategy of impound, holding period, adoption or killing, as is common in traditional, poorly run, high kill shelters. Each animal is treated as an individual, and the needs of every animal are addressed and met on a case-by-case basis.

For instance, a well-run No Kill shelter goes to great lengths to keep animals from coming in the door in the first place. When their animal control officers find lost animals in the field – they knock on doors or call the numbers on tags so that they can take the animal home instead of impound him/her. If the animal is impounded, shelter staff is efficient at cross checking lost and found reports, so that the number of lost animals that are reclaimed by their people is much higher, and they have hours that allow people with lost pets to conveniently visit the shelter to reclaim them. Alternatively, traditional shelters simply impound stray animals and do not cross-check lost and found reports with diligence, if at all. Their hours make it difficult for working people to visit to reclaim their animals. And so many lost animals who should find their way safely back home are killed instead.

Some animals entering a shelter are free-living cats. A No Kill shelter will spay/neuter and release those cats instead of kill them.  Likewise, injured animals will receive medical attention, and then go into foster homes, as will other sick animals, orphaned neonatals, and dogs with behavior issues that need rehabilitation. And, lastly, further reducing the number of animals a shelter has to find homes for are local rescue groups. These groups take some of the animals entering the shelter, and a well-run No Kill shelter considers such organizations valuable allies, and has a friendly, cooperative relationship with them.

All of these programs – the programs and services of the No Kill Equation – are important because they lessen the pool of animals needing adoption. At a well run No Kill shelter, the pool of incoming animals that actually need adoption is in the end, much smaller than the total intake of animals entering the shelter. It is a much more reasonable number of animals to find homes for, made all the easier by having good adoption hours, and a well run adoption program that takes animals out into the community daily to find them homes through offsite adoption venues, especially if the shelter is in a remote or inconvenient location.

A volunteer from a well-run No Kill shelter, going to a traditionally run shelter with a high kill rate that lacked all of the alternatives to killing mentioned above, would be able to see all the roads not taken. They would see lots of animals coming in the door, and then going into the kill room, without any of the other options they know to be possible ever being considered, and they would understand clearly where the problem lies:  the lack of programs, the lack of alternatives to killing. They would see that the problem is not “pet overpopulation,” but a lack of imagination, commitment, and determination to treat each animal as an individual with distinct needs that must be met.

But a volunteer who has no experience to the contrary, a volunteer at a high kill shelter, lacks this experience. And so they see lots of animals coming in, and lots of animals going out the backdoor in body bags, and without an understanding of all the alternatives that should have been chosen instead, erroneously conclude that there are more animals coming in than there are homes for, and that pet overpopulation is to blame. But it isn’t true. That person is reasoning backward, and allowing the tragic outcome around them – a reality that could be changed with effort and didn’t need to be but of which they cannot conceive because they never experienced it firsthand – to justify the tragic outcome: the killing is necessary because there is no choice, and because the outcome proves it to be so.

Those of us who have seen a shelter turn around quickly and dramatically when shelter leadership with the will to implement the alternatives replaced one who didn’t, we have seen with our own eyes what is possible. In short, we have been to the Promised Land, and have first hand-knowledge, and experience, that those who justify the killing, who insist in the existence of pet overpopulation – are living in Plato’s cave, mistaking shadows for reality. And it is our job to reach those within the humane movement whose hearts and minds are open to celebrating this good news, so that they can become our allies in the fight for the brighter future we know – and has already been proven time and again – to be possible.

The Fight for Patrick

May 5, 2011 by  

A little dog named Patrick, discarded and left for dead, has captured the heart of a nation. His plight, and the outpouring of concern from all regions of the globe, also reverberated within city hall where Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced his desire to build “Patrick’s Place,” a No Kill shelter for the city in his name. According to the Mayor,

Recently a heinous incident of animal cruelty took place in our city and shocked the world. On March 16th, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, a 1-year-old pit bull was found inside a trash bag, starved and near death after having been thrown down a trash chute. At the time of his rescue by a heroic and caring maintenance worker, he weighed only 20 pounds — less than half of what doctors considered normal weight. He was quickly transferred to a trauma unit at Garden State Veterinary Specialists in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, where they found him to be severely anemic and malnourished, requiring a blood transfusion in order to survive. For his miraculous recovery and the holiday on which he was found, he has been dubbed “Patrick the miracle dog.” Despite his horrific abuse, Patrick is expected to recover fully into a happy, healthy dog.


Patrick’s story is one of countless instances of animal cruelty taking place daily around the world. It is a reminder that many animals suffer appalling abuse, and without our help, cases like this will end even more tragically. It is my hope that through spreading awareness and working together, we can help save many of these defenseless animals from abuse and neglect.


For almost two years, my administration has been working hard to establish a state-of-the-art animal shelter in Newark. Thus far, we have identified and are preparing a site, and have architects working on the design. This facility seeks to serve other New Jersey municipalities in Essex and Hudson counties that desperately need other options for housing and caring for homeless animals. By working to build a modern, state-of-the-art shelter through public and private funding, and by employing innovative policies to improve responsible pet care, decrease birthrates, increase adoptions, and help keep animals with their responsible caretakers, we believe that Newark’s animal shelter operations can become a model for the rest of the nation. Our ambitious goal is to one day be able to save every savable dog and cat in this new shelter.


For my birthday, my wish is that you join our cause to help spread awareness of Patrick’s story and animal abuse, and, if possible, contribute toward the construction of “Patrick’s Place” — the animal shelter which we hope to build in Newark. Patrick’s abuser claimed she could no longer care for her dog — it is our hope that by providing this additional facility in our city, more animals can be rescued from unnecessary neglect and abuse. Any money we raise not used for this project will be donated to a local organization for the protection and care of animals.


Newark will be known as a city that cares not only about its people, but its animals, too.

There is every reason to take Mayor Booker at his word.  Under Mayor Booker’s leadership, the City of Newark has been dedicated to caring for and providing opportunities for the people of the city and in the process has become a national model of urban transformation. The Booker Administration completed a $40 million overhaul of the City’s parks and playgrounds. Affordable housing production has doubled. Model programs for returning ex-offenders have been created. And a dramatic transformation of the Newark Police Department has led to Newark helping set the nationwide pace for crime reduction since 2006. As a result, Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

It is those same principles of dignity, compassion, effectiveness, transparency, and accountability which he appears to want to bring to the new shelter. And he is on solid ground. Today, in communities across the country, there are cities which are saving all healthy and treatable animals. They are providing medicine for those who are sick, TLC for those who are traumatized, a loving, new home for those who have lost theirs. These shelters are saving over 90% of all animals in their open admission municipal shelters, reserving killing for those who are hopelessly ill or injured, irremediably suffering, and in the case of dogs, truly vicious with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation. What they are not doing is simply killing animals because someone says they are “unwanted” or there are “too many.”

There are some who say it cannot be done. Experience proves they are wrong. There are successful No Kill communities across the country. And they have become successful by implementing programs like low-cost spaying and neutering, partnering with rescue organizations, utilizing volunteers and volunteer foster homes, comprehensive adoption programs including using the Internet, social media, and offsite adoption locations, pet retention programs to help people overcome the medical, behavioral, and environmental conditions which cause them to relinquish their animals, and more. But most of all, they are doing it because they believe in their community and the power of the public’s compassion.

But not everyone is applauding. In fact, one group is fighting back: The Associated Humane Society (AHS) in New Jersey, the shelter which originally took custody of Patrick. They are threatening litigation against those who use Patrick’s likeness or photographs to save lives, even while they fundraise relentlessly on his case. They have condemned Mayor Booker for trying to build a No Kill shelter, saying No Kill is a sham and equating it with “warehousing.” And they have recently filed a motion in court demanding custody of Patrick even though he is in the care of a veterinarian who has nursed him back to health and he is wanted by a caregiver there who bonded with him.

Their position is ironic for three reasons. No Kill communities exist so it is hard to argue it is impossible in the face of success across the country. But even if they were right, even if we were to ignore history and the success of others, what is wrong with trying? What is wrong with moving toward the goal? We would save thousands of animals who would otherwise be killed. The public’s response to Patrick’s plight shows people to be kind, caring, and generous. And for the animals of Newark, and the people who love them, it is worth trying.

It is ironic, too, because accusing No Kill advocates of promoting “warehousing” is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black given that AHS has a long, sordid history of warehousing and killing animals. In 2003, The State Commission of Investigation “released the results of a wide-ranging investigation into waste and abuse by one of New Jersey’s leading nonprofit animal-shelter organizations, Associated Humane Societies (AHS). The Commission found that AHS officials over the years have engaged in questionable financial practices, conflicts of interest, mismanagement and negligent animal care to the extent that the organization effectively lost sight of its core mission. Despite huge and highly successful fund-raising campaigns, the Commission found, “the history of AHS’s shelter operation has been dominated by deplorable kennel conditions, inhumane treatment of animals by workers, mismanagement and nonexistent or inadequate medical care.” The Commission’s findings, going back to the 1980s, included: “Accountability so lax that millions of dollars accumulated in AHS cash and investment accounts while the care and feeding of sick and injured animals went begging” and “Deplorable shelter conditions and inadequate or absent veterinary care for shelter animals.”

Despite the 2003 findings, state animal welfare inspectors found even more deplorable conditions for animals in 2009, including “severe fly and maggot infestation,” “overwhelming malodorous smell,” “large amount of blood was found splattered on the floor, walls, and viewing window,” sick and injured animals “not being treated.” Animals “exhibiting signs of severe bloody, watery diarrhea and lethargy … not separated or receiving treatment.” Of the 4,296 cats taken in, 2,721 were put to death. Another 616 either died or are missing. Of the 3,423 dogs taken in, 806 were killed. Another 60 either died or are missing.

And while AHS takes great pains to say that these conditions are all in the past, this year, given the widespread and abusive problems going back to the 1980s as documented in the State Commission of Investigation inspection of 2003 and the 2009 inspection, state investigators should have found a pristine shelter. They did not. Even in 2011, kennel staff were still hosing down the kennel hallway with chemicals and water with the dogs still inside their cages, “further exposing them to contaminates and spray from the hoses.” Even in 2011, there is evidence that they do not clean or disinfect the automatic feeders because there are layers of caked on food. Even in 2011, “Some animals displaying signs of illness are not being provided with prompt medical care.” Even in 2011, “[S]ick shelter animals [are] intermixed with owned animals in the public medical room.” In addition, some of those who were in charge in 2003, who were in charge of 2009, and who allowed those conditions to occur, are still in charge in 2011. Even in 2011, while communities across the country have invested in modern housing facilities, AHS continues to house the animals in dilapidated, even dangerous, conditions. You do not wait for a roof to collapse to replace it. You do not wait for a state inspection report to tell you rotted food in the automatic dispensers is bad to discard it.

Even if one were to accept the premise that things are better, they are not great. The animals deserve great. And with over $8,000,000 in revenue annually, they can afford great. In addition, the goal is not just keeping them comfortable before they are killed. The goal is also to save their lives. While communities across the country have achieved 90% and better rates of lifesaving, AHS continues to kill animals because it will not employ common-sense, innovative, cost-effective programs like foster care. This is a death sentence for too many animals.

And, finally, it is ironic because as a “humane” society, they should desire what is best for Patrick. And, in my humble opinion, that is to stay with those who brought him back from the brink of death, who patiently cared for him, nursed him, loved him, who desire to give him a lifelong, loving home, and with whom Patrick has bonded. Hasn’t Patrick suffered enough?

And so while Patrick has captured the heart of his nurse and the heart of a nation, he appears to have hardened that of the Associated Humane Societies. The shelter has launched a campaign of intimidation, fear-mongering about No Kill, threatening lawsuits, and demanding custody of Patrick. But the Mayor of Newark is fighting back. According to an attorney for the City, the Mayor has ordered Associated Humane Society to take no further action with regards to Patrick. Patrick should stay with the veterinarian who is caring for him and should be adopted by the caregiver who he has bonded with. That is what is best for Patrick, even if it is not in the best interests of Associated Humane Society’s pocket book.

A photograph from the 2009 state inspection of AHS in Newark: a dead dog, bleeding, whose body and floor is teeming with maggots. To view the rest of the photographs, click here. (Warning: Very graphic.)

Understanding the Epidemic of Cruelty

May 4, 2011 by  

In light of the rampant abuse in shelters being uncovered by activists all over the country: in Newark (warning: very graphic images), in Memphis, in Harris County, and elsewhere, I am rerunning the following blog which tries to explain why cruelty is both endemic and epidemic to animal control. In fact, the first time most animals who enter shelters experience abuse is at the very shelters which are supposed to protect them from it. We have to stop listening to national organizations like the Humane Society of the United States that champion those abusive shelters, like the ASPCA which fights laws to reform them, and like Maddie’s Fund which accuses us of “bash and trash” if we try to hold them accountable. We must fight, because that is what the situation calls for. And we will fight until every last vestige of the “catch (neglect, abuse) and kill” paradigm they protect and promote is upended. To reform your local shelter, visit Rescue Five-O, a joint project of the No Kill Advocacy Center and No Kill Nation.

In January, 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.

Redemption Now Available as an E-Book!

May 2, 2011 by  

Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America is now available as an e-book for your Nook, iPad, Kindle, or other e-reader. You can purchase it on iTunes or the B&N Nook store.

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, saving pit bulls, and more, you’ll have it all at your fingertips.

Redemption is called “powerful and inspirational,” “ground-breaking,” and “a must read for anyone who cares about animals.” Winner of USA Book News Award for Best Book (Animals/Pets), a Best Book Muse Medallion winner by the Cat Writers Association of America, a Best Book nominee by the Dog Writers Association of America and winner of a Silver Medal from the Independent Publishers Association, the book shatters the notion that killing animals in U.S. shelters is an act of kindness.

To purchase the e-book of Redemption for your B&N Nook, iPad, etc., click here. (You can also purchase on iTunes.)

To purchase it as a regular print book, click here.

Redemption for your Kindle is available by clicking here.

You can also purchase Irreconcilable Differences, the follow-up to Redemption, as a print or e-book. Learn more by clicking here.