The ‘Albatross’ About Our Necks

June 30, 2011 by  

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1798.

The ASPCA runs one shelter in New York City. Despite an adopter base of about 8 million people, the largest in the nation, it adopts out less animals than the Nevada Humane Society with its 425,000 residents. It adopts out less animals than many shelters in communities with 100,000 residents. In fact, it adopts out less animals than some rescue groups. And yet it takes in over $100 million a year because people think that it is adopting out animals all over the country.

In fact, many people think they are donating to their local shelter when they donate to the ASPCA. And they think that way, in part, because that is what the ASPCA wants them to think. Not long ago, the ASPCA went door-to-door in Seattle, Washington, trolling for donations. ASPCA solicitors were told to bring a dog, and they were given an “Adopt Me” vest to put on the dog. The purpose was clear: confuse people into thinking the agency was local and its mission was to save lives locally. The volunteers were given a very specific script and they were told not to deviate from it. Like the dog with the “adopt me” vest, it was designed to obscure the fact that the ASPCA was not in Seattle, did not save lives in Seattle, but ran one shelter in New York City that saves very few animals given its $100,000,000 a year revenue stream. When one of those hired suggested it was misleading, she was asked to leave. The fundraising continued. The Seattle Humane Society, of course, objected, writing in the local newspaper,

Right now, solicitors hired by the American SPCA (ASPCA) located in New York are knocking on doors and approaching people on the streets of Seattle asking for donations to help save the lives of shelter pets. Some of these solicitors have been accompanied by dogs wearing jackets that say “adopt me.” The Seattle Humane Society is not affiliated with the ASPCA in any way. The ASPCA is a large organization located in New York City. The ASPCA does not provide any financial support to local agencies nor do they provide shelter or adoption services in our area… Every donation made to the ASPCA goes out of town.

But this type of duplicity isn’t limited to Seattle. Nor is it limited the ASPCA. And at least two large organizations—the California State Humane Association of California (SHAC) and the Massachusetts SPCA—have complained, with the former asking the Attorney General of their state to open an investigation. The ASPCA will likely weather the storm, as they are no strangers to investigations by attorneys general for fraud. It happened, for example, when the ASPCA and HSUS defrauded donors during their Katrina debacle, with HSUS being the worst offender, raising over $20,000,000, spending only $4,000,000 before Wayne Pacelle stood on his own version of an aircraft carrier, announced “Mission: Accomplished” and then headed out in his own Flyboy outfit, leaving behind thousands of animals in need and sticking the rest of the money in HSUS’ already bloated coffers. But even if they survive the investigations, even if nothing comes of it, even if the Attorneys General find that there is no law violation that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, make no mistake about it: the fraud and the deception are intentional. (It is no coincidence that HSUS has chosen the name “humanesociety” rather than “HSUS” for their twitter name.)

For a significant fee, HSUS sells its donor list for one time use by shelters, but the list comes with caveats. In addition to others (such as not mailing it out until HSUS sent their appeal to those same donors), the one primary stipulation is that: “In order to rent the list, you would need to submit the complete mail piece to the list owner for approval.”

Over the years, the Nevada Humane Society has learned that people are often confused by fundraising appeals from HSUS. Local residents think they are donating to the local humane society when they give money to HSUS. In fact, NHS has been told by local residents that they have already donated to them, when in fact they gave to HSUS. This confusion goes beyond fundraising: NHS was publicly criticized for “embracing Michael Vick”—which they did not—because people thought HSUS (“the humane society”) was NHS. In order to clarify the confusion and to help raise funds for local programs, they tried to buy a list from HSUS to do so. And they submitted their proposed mailing for HSUS approval which included the statement:

Nevada Humane Society is a nonprofit organization. We rely upon donations to make our lifesaving work possible. We do not receive funding from national groups or the government. Your contribution is tax-deductible. Please return this reply slip in the enclosed envelope to Nevada Humane Society. Thank you.

After doing so, HSUS denied the request, stating that unless NHS “remove[d] ‘national groups’ from this copy,” they could not use the list. In other words, HSUS did not want NHS informing these individuals that when they give to groups like HSUS, they are not giving money to local lifesaving efforts. Put simply, HSUS was committed to keeping its supporters in the dark as to where their money was going. (In fact, when SHAC sent a letter to legislators informing them that HSUS and ASPCA are not umbrella groups, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle sent SHAC a letter condemning them for it.)

Surprised, the leadership at NHS sent the following message to the HSUS representative:

Does HSUS really wish to use the sale of their mailing list to control the messages of smaller humane organizations—those that are doing the work on the ground and struggling under the public misperception that if they give to a large national group that they are helping animals locally?

The answer was “yes.” Notwithstanding the take it or leave it response, NHS decided to remove the offending message and resubmit the fundraising appeal. But that was not enough. It did not matter if it was just on the appeal being used with the HSUS list, HSUS was insistent that this factually clarifying language had to be removed from all NHS mailings, even to those not involving HSUS mailing lists. Furthermore, NHS was told they had to agree to refrain from using it in any future communications to anybody, something NHS would not agree to do: “Are you are asking us not to mail factual information that we are not funded by large national organizations to our own supporters?”

Once again, the answer was “yes.” Conferring with HSUS officials, the HSUS list manager replied that it did not matter if the appeal involved HSUS lists or not, or if the appeals were “going to our names or otherwise—because you are mailing language that we do not approve, [HSUS] will not approve you.  For that reason, NVHS has been denied.”

NHS went ahead with its mailing and continues to let its donors know it is not affiliated with HSUS or its draconian policies. But some local humane societies don’t do themselves any favors financially, even if they themselves agree with and practice the same regressive, pro-killing policies as the ASPCA and HSUS. When I arrived to take over the Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca, New York, it was a killing shelter with a shelter manager who fully embraced the ASPCA’s 19th Century policy orientation. In fact, the lobby was filled with literature from the ASPCA, which quickly found its way into the recycling bin the day I arrived. Why assist groups like HSUS and ASPCA steal money meant for their organization. They do a fine job themselves even without the help of local shelters.

HSUS did it during Muttshack’s Hurricane Gustav rescue. In 2008, MuttShack Rescue completed a large-scale rescue of animals in New Orleans because of Hurricane Gustav. Instead of supporting the effort, HSUS claimed the rescue as their own. According to MuttShack:

[We] just completed the largest animal evacuation in the history of New Orleans. After its completion, HSUS drove their trucks up in front of the whole deal, shot some footage and has posted it [on their website] as their own rescue.

HSUS then sent out another deceitful fundraiser asking people to donate to them because of another organization’s rescue.

They did it with the rescue of an abused dog named Fay in 2009. The goal was to raise one million dollars in one month on the back of an abused fighting dog rescued in the largest bust of a dog fighting ring in U.S. history. According to the HSUS fundraiser, ‘Faye’ was now safe, in a loving home, recovering thanks to HSUS. But none of it was true: HSUS was not involved in caring for Fay. HSUS, in fact, suggested that Fay should be killed. In further fact, they could not even get her name right. And while Fay was being cared for, and needed surgery, the costs and care were being provided by a small rescue group.

In response to the criticism and condemnation of HSUS fraudulent fundraising appeal—on blogs, on twitter, including calls for a criminal investigation of HSUS—and with the memory of an investigation for fraud by the Louisiana and Mississippi Attorneys General for Hurricane Katrina fundraising still fresh, HSUS announced that they were going to give $5,000 for Fay’s surgery, ½ of 1% of what they hoped and expected to raise from the appeal.

In fact, these two fraudulent appeals followed Wayne Pacelle’s lobbying to have all the surviving dogs abused by Michael Vick killed, despite the fact that he was fundraising off of them and lying to donors about it. Shortly after the case broke, HSUS contacted the U.S. Attorney prosecuting Vick and asked if they could be “involved” and see the dogs (then being held at six animal control shelters in Virginia). The U.S. Attorney agreed but only on condition that they take no photographs and not publicly talk about the dogs (citing fears of compromising the case, sensitivities involved in the prosecution, and issues surrounding rules of evidence). HSUS agreed and then promptly violated that agreement. HSUS staffers took photographs of the dogs with people wearing “HSUS” shirts to make it appear that HSUS was directly involved in the case and their care.

They then sent out an appeal for money containing a photograph of someone wearing an HSUS shirt with one of the dogs. In the appeal, HSUS asks for money “to help The Humane Society of the United States care for the dogs seized in the Michael Vick case” and promises to take the money and “put [it] to use right away to care for these dogs.” A caption underneath the photograph states: “This dog was one of 52 pit bulls seized from Michael Vick’s property—dogs now being cared for by The HSUS…”

Wayne Pacelle himself reiterated this in his July 18, 2007 blog in which he stated that HSUS was “working with federal authorities from the start, and assisting with the care of 52 dogs taken from Vick’s property.” It was a lie. HSUS was not caring for the dogs as they claimed, they were not going to use the money to care for the Vick dogs, in fact, they were lobbying to have them killed.

The fact is, the truth about the ASPCA and HSUS doesn’t sell, so in order to continue filling their already over bloated coffers, they must rely on fraudulent misrepresentation, on keeping the lie going that they are somehow affiliated with local humane societies and SPCAs and that when you give to HSUS or the ASPCA, you are saving lives locally. In a three year period, over $10,000,000 flowed from Massachusetts donors to the ASPCA’s bank account in New York City, with some donors complaining that they did not realize that the ASPCA was not the local SPCA. That, of course, was the intention.

And that is one reason why the Marquette, Michigan decided to do something about it. The Marquette, County Humane Society is a success story. And part of the reason is that it is no longer the Marquette County Humane Society. YesBiscuit describes the transition:

During the period from 1999-2006, the private open-admission shelter was killing 60% of the pets in their care.  Their administrator had been in place for decades and was very resistant to change.  The shelter operated under policies rooted in myths and fallacies.  Numerous complaints were brought before the Board.  In the summer of 2006, they were very close to ceasing operations when a longtime volunteer introduced the Board to Nathan Winograd’s book Redemption.  The Board decided to implement some major changes to the shelter and things started to improve dramatically.  From a recent letter sent by the Board President Reva Laituri to the No Kill Advocacy Center: “Although we were still fearful, the results spoke for themselves and we realized we could save lives and do it without condemning animals to fates ‘worse than death” as we had been routinely warned. As more animals went into homes instead of garbage bags, the direction we had chosen to take was validated and many of the fears and premises we had based our policies on were proven to be invalid.”

 

The letter outlines the changes at the shelter over a 2 year transition period (2006-2008).  During that time, the Board began investigating complaints and made greater use of volunteers.  The shelter torched their blame-the-public philosophy, replacing it with a let-us-help-you-find-the-right-pet, adopter friendly attitude.  The administrator and some staff members who could not get on board with the changes were replaced by people dedicated to saving lives.  A new manager expanded shelter hours as well as the foster program.  Rescue groups were welcomed, Petfinder and social media sites were utilized, offsite adoption events were held and interactions with the public were significantly improved.

Today, the shelter is saving 93% of all animals. And the staff, volunteers, and community feel—and have the right to feel—very proud of what they have accomplished. But changing the way they operated wasn’t the only changes they implemented. They also changed their name. Good-bye Marquette County Humane Society. Hello Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter! Their Board President explains that there was a widespread misconception “that we are a part of, or in some way affiliated with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  This leads to two problems.  First, they think we receive funding from our ‘parent’ organization and second, they believe we subscribe to all the same views and stances taken by HSUS.  Neither of which is true.”

Those views, of course, are the very practices UPAWS has rejected. While HSUS and the ASPCA continue to support killing, continue to fight progressive legislation to end the most egregious practices of local pounds (HSUS fought a law to end the gas chamber in Texas; the ASPCA killed a law to make it illegal to kill animals who a qualified rescue group was willing to save), UPAWS is now a member and supporter of the No Kill club. Indeed, their Board President will be speaking at this year’s No Kill Conference in Washington, D.C.

Too many shelters are afraid that if they give up the name “humane society” or “SPCA,” they will lose donations. In fact, UPAWS explains that they almost went bankrupt with the name “humane society” because donations meant for them were ending up in the coffers of HSUS. But legally, one can keep that name and not use it, or downplay it, or ad it as small print in their fundraising appeals. They can still cash the checks made out to “humane society” or “SPCA” by long-time donors.* The good news is that when people now write checks to support their local shelter, they write them to “UPAWS” because there is no confusion as to who it is meant for and what it should be used for. And that is something UPAWS can take to the bank.

————

* The albatross comes in other forms. Recently, Best Friends Animal Society put out an article highlighting the work of Austin advocates who succeeded in fighting off the ASPCA, who succeeded in fighting off the regressive-kill oriented pound director who was protected by the ASPCA, and who succeeded in getting the save rate up to about 90%. The timing of the article begs a whole host of questions: Why now? Where was Best Friends when the fight was on? When the animals were being killed and the ASPCA was trying to keep it that way and they needed national allies? Of course, they were nowhere to be found, an implicit endorsement of the ASPCA (which they do not mention at all in the article). But worse than the timing is the content. Aside from ignoring the fact that the success in Austin was a result of a fight against the ASPCA, at the beginning of the article they call the campaign in Austin a “No More Homeless Pets” campaign, creating the illusion that Best Friends was and is somehow involved, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Precisely because the water is being siphoned off by the large, national organizations, diverting money meant for local shelters and local efforts to their already bloated coffers.

Veganism for the Rest of Us

June 26, 2011 by  

My wife and I are happy to report that our cookbook is now available and we’ve launched an all new website to go with it. It was inspired by our friends in the No Kill movement. Here’s how it came about:

In the Fall of 2007, our family set out on a three month, 20 city book tour throughout the United States to promote my book, Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America. We began on the East Coast and ended on the West, with many stops in between. And in each city, we met dedicated animal activists working to save the lives of dogs and cats in their communities by rescuing them from, and working to reform, their local pounds.

Because we were often asked to dine, the subject of our family’s veganism came up time and again. And while many of these activists had a lot of questions about our diet, rarely were we asked why we were vegan. As animal lovers, they understood that not killing animals is a good idea. Some of them went on to explain why they themselves were not vegan, with their responses falling into what became three predictable categories. There were those who confessed having tried being vegan themselves, but of having fallen off the wagon because they believed it was too difficult. There were those who confessed that while they had thought about being vegan, they couldn’t imagine giving up some particular product, usually cheese. And then there were those who said they would love to be vegan if it weren’t for the fact that they hated vegetables.

These responses made us realize three important things about veganism. First, many of our colleagues in the No Kill movement did not need to be convinced that being vegan was a good idea. Second, veganism is misunderstood, being generally regarded as a lifestyle of deprivation, requiring a daily diet of vegetables and other “healthy” foods like brown rice or bean sprouts. And third, and most significantly, those misperceptions were squandering its vast potential. Because while a great many people readily admit that not eating animals or their products is a good idea in theory, their perception about what that means in practice—choking down a daily diet of unappealing foods and forsaking their favorite dishes—is not.

It is generally regarded as gospel within the movement to promote veganism that one of its greatest selling points is health. And it is true. Lower in saturated fats and pesticide residues, and entirely lacking in cholesterol, the vegan diet is good for you. Studies show that vegans have lower rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other life-style disease states associated with eating animal products. But we believe that in the zeal to promote these benefits, the vegan movement has lost sight of its audience: a nation of fast food devotees who aren’t all that interested in eating healthier. Too often taste, familiarity and convenience are sacrificed on the altar of health and a version of veganism that appeals to the narrowest possible demographic of Americans—people who want to eat “health” foods like whole grains, flax seeds and leafy greens—is promoted. While the vegan diet that our family, and the other vegans we know—a diet that is very different and far more appealing than the one that springs to mind when most Americans think “vegan”—is downplayed and, in some cases, even criticized within the vegan community, with detrimental effects to veganism’s public image and wider appeal.

We don’t like vegetables, either. And we don’t live without cheese. And we are not health food nuts. In fact, our family and most of the vegans we know have a diet very similar to that of most Americans. We eat pancakes with “sausage” links or scrambled “eggs” for breakfast. We enjoy macaroni and cheese or BLTs for lunch, and for dinner, we eat fried “chicken” with mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits with chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. When we go to see a baseball game, we gobble up hot dogs, fries, and sodas. After a movie, we stop and have a pizza with extra cheese. We are addicted to our overpriced lattes, and every holiday is an excuse to over indulge in some childhood favorite: nogs, pies, and candies. We eat all of these iconic American foods, all the time and at every meal. Our tools are cans, jars, packages, microwaves, and take-out. In fact, our diet resembles the menu you find at most diners, with one crucial difference: the ingredients we use to make these foods do not come from animals. They look the same, and, in most cases, taste just the same. But no one is killed to make them. We enjoy all of the pleasure these foods afford, but suffer none of the guilt.

Nor do we spend hours in the kitchen preparing our meals, soaking beans or sprouting grains. In fact, like most Americans, our diet relies heavily on pre-packaged convenience foods, such as veggie burgers and veggie dogs, vegan lunch meats, vegan cheeses and other options from the vast array of vegan analogs now available which imitate the meat, dairy and egg based staples of the American diet. The foods we enjoy are convenient, familiar, and delicious. And we aren’t the only ones enjoying them given the billion dollar a year industry of vegan convenience foods.

And so we decided to set the record straight for all of our vegan-curious, animal-loving comrades in the No Kill movement. We set about writing a cookbook that would redefine for you what veganism means, by showing you how familiar and delicious, convenient and satisfying vegan food can really be. You can eat just like you always have, but in a delicious vegan version.

To this end, our cookbook meets most of you where you already are. You love animals and are willing to embrace actions that spare them harm. You don’t have three hours every night to cook. And you certainly do not believe that adopting cauliflower as a staple is a sustainable lifestyle change. We get it. Our goal is to make it easy for you to adopt a more humane diet. We don’t want to replace your hamburgers with mung beans over a bed of alfalfa sprouts. We want to replace your hamburgers with hamburgers. To do that, we have veganized the American diet. The recipes will look familiar, will sound familiar, will be convenient, and for the most part will not require much preparation. Most importantly, they will be delicious. We believe that approaching dietary change this way will inspire you, and more people like you, to become vegan and thus help build a better world and a brighter future for our animal friends.

With over 90 recipes for familiar American favorites that introduce the concept of vegan substitution and the great vegan convenience foods now available, a one week and holiday menu planner, light-hearted humor and—we promise—no vegetables (unless smothered in a rich, creamy dressing), All American Vegan is veganism for the rest of us. It is veganism for you and other cheese-loving, vegetable-hating, supersize-me hungry Americans!

Please do check out the new website. Happy humane eating!

 

–    Jennifer & Nathan Winograd

It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

June 21, 2011 by  

It’s 5 am in Maricopa County, Arizona. It’s the killing time at the pound and the animals will be rounded up and put to death. Their 72 hours are up and, according to officials, it is time for them to die. Maricopa County and Maddie’s Fund claim none are healthy. That is a lie. Meet Lilly. Lilly was at full term with 12 healthy puppies. They are now all dead. Each was cut out of her and given an injection of “Fatal plus.”

A very pregnant Lilly at the Maricopa County, AZ pound.

Like New York City, Maricopa County, Arizona, is a Maddie’s Fund collaborative project. We were promised that no healthy animals would be killed starting in November of 2006, nearly five years ago. And although project funding ended in 2009, Maricopa County is required to report its data until 2012 as a condition of keeping unspent funds. Like in prior years, in April of this year, just a couple of short months ago, they reported and Maddie’s Fund announced on its website that no healthy animals were killed in community “shelters.” Like New York City, the Maricopa County pound is prohibited from killing healthy animals as a condition of the grants. Like New York City, the Maricopa County pound kills healthy animals but lies about it. And like New York City, Maddie’s Fund promotes the lie.

How do we know it is a lie? We know it is a lie because Maricopa County killed 51% of all animals, about the national average. If Maddie’s Fund is to be believed, the entire USA is filled with communities saving all healthy animals by virtue of the fact that they are killing half of all animals.

We know it is a lie because as the pound began charging to take in stray cats (as high as $96 per cat), thus reducing the number of cats it took in by over 3,000, the cats were taken to the Arizona Humane Society (a kill “shelter”) instead which saw a corresponding increase in killing. It doesn’t matter who is killing them, it matters that they are still being killed.

We know it is a lie because as the number of animals killed who are claimed to be healthy dropped to zero, the number of so-called “untreatable” animals killed has increased. For example, the number of animals killed deemed “untreatable” increased from 576 to a whopping 3,486. Likewise, the number of “treatable” animals killed also spiked, from 31,568 to 37,888. Maricopa County officials also excluded 4,107 animals who they claim were killed at the request of the people surrendering them. Their lives were not counted in reporting results, the statistics—and the animals—swept under the rug. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: pounds and “shelters” do not create No Kill by killing as they always have, but simply recategorizing animals as “unadoptable” or “untreatable” and then killing them. We achieve No Kill by actually saving their lives. In fact, the latest report is an analysis in failure. From 2010 to 2011,

  • Killing is up at the Arizona Humane Society 19%, an increase of over 4,000 animals
  • Killing of animals claimed to be treatable has increased a whopping 42%
  • Killing of animals claimed to be untreatable increased 13% at AHS and 9% at the pound

We know it is a lie because Maricopa County shelters deem the “vast majority” of pit bull-type dogs and pit bull-mixes to be “unadoptable” in order to justify killing them, despite predictable pass rates of 90% in progressive shelters.

We know it is a lie because the Maricopa County pound kills all animals after a paltry 72 hours at 5 am every day. They claim none are healthy, a claim which strains credulity. And a lie rescue groups describe as “pure B.S.” (It also begs the question of why it is ok to kill animals with simple colds just because they are classified as “treatable” when Washoe County, NV is saving all of them, despite a per capita intake rate higher than Maricopa County; 26 animals per 1,000 people in Maricopa County vs. 35 animals per 1,000 people in Washoe County.)

And we know it is a lie because of Lilly.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog called, “The Anatomy of a Lie,” about the killing of Ginger’s healthy puppies in the NYC pound:

In late March, a pregnant lab-mix given the name of Ginger entered the New York City pound system. She was full term, within a day or so of giving birth. Spaying a dog in the peak of health is considered major abdominal surgery. Spaying a pregnant dog increases the risk as the blood vessels of her reproductive tract become large and more difficult to tie off during pregnancy. Spaying a pregnant dog at full-term is the riskiest of all: the risk of excessive bleeding is greatest and complications more likely. And, of course, spaying a pregnant dog means killing the puppies. Nonetheless, Ginger was spayed, and her fully viable litter of puppies was killed.

In order to kill them, each and every one of the healthy puppies had to be individually injected with poison. The killing of the puppies was, in point and fact, no different than if they had already been born since they had been born: by the equivalent of a C-section. They were able to survive on their own and, in fact, did survive, but not for long.

One by one, they were injected in the stomach with an overdose of barbiturates. One by one, they went limp and then died. One by one, their lifeless bodies were discarded in the trash, revealing the great hypocrisy of the broken pound system in the U.S., a system which chastises people for treating their companion animals as “disposable” even while they treat them exactly the same way: by killing them and then literally disposing of their bodies in landfills. The new lives of Ginger’s puppies, which should have held nothing but promise, instead were wiped out by callous indifference. It was a tragedy, but it should have surprised no one.

Ginger, make room for Lilly. Like Ginger, Lilly was pregnant and full term. And like Ginger, the Maricopa County pound decided to spay her and kill each and every one of her puppies, which they did. One by one, each was injected in the stomach with an overdose of poison. Or as the notes indicated, “Fatal Plus used” on all twelve of them.

Like Ginger’s puppies, the new lives of Lilly’s puppies, which should have held nothing but promise, instead were wiped out by callous indifference. And like Ginger’s puppies, Lilly’s puppies were not given record numbers or counted in statistics. Maricopa County did not report their lives or their deaths. They simply never existed. That way, they can continue to tell Maddie’s Fund that no healthy dogs have been killed, and Maddie’s Fund can continue to tell all of us the same thing. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. If New York City is any indication, don’t expect Maddie’s Fund to tell the truth in their glossy annual reports. Don’t expect them to correct the lies posted about Maricopa County on their website. In fact, don’t expect them to do a damn thing about it.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

Waiting for Superman

June 17, 2011 by  

We believe in the importance of transparency and the open sharing of accurate, complete animal-sheltering data and statistics in a manner which is clear to both the animal welfare community and the public. –Asilomar Accords, Guiding Principles, written by Maddie’s Fund and signed by the ASPCA and others.

In light of the tragedy surrounding the cruel death of a suffering kitten this week; it was tempting to believe New York City’s pound system could not get any worse. It is about to. Julie Bank, the regressive director, has taken away the volunteers’ access to Chameleon, the shelter management software database of animals. The access to that information is essential for the animals facing death so that rescuers can try to save them or put out public pleas through their social networks in hopes of getting someone to adopt them.

In addition, as Bank continues eroding the volunteer program and firing those who speak out or complain about neglect and cruelty in her care, the eyes and ears of the animals are going dark. No longer will volunteers know who is in the system. No longer will they know why the animals are there, whether they need medical care and if they are getting that care, or even what happened to them when they are gone. All they will know is what Julie Bank tells them. And given her history of lying, given that she has made a career through fraudulent misrepresentation of conditions in her previous stints as a director, the truth has just become a casualty.

The only thing that forced them to make some effort, that modified their desire to trample completely the principles of compassion and decency, was the court of public opinion. As long as they couldn’t hide the suffering they inflicted, as long as the information made its way to the public, as long as the revelations of animals being killed, of sick animals going without pain relief and basic medical care, of hungry kittens hovering around empty food bowls, there was hope. “Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” Animal lovers in NYC are now effectively blind.

The animals of New York City need a champion. They won’t find it in Ed Sayres of the ASPCA, one of their most ardent foes. They won’t find it in Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, an accomplice to the abuse who not only looks the other way, but fights legislative efforts to reform the system that condones, even perpetuates the killing. And they won’t find it in the great Mayor himself Michael Bloomberg, a callous, hard-hearted individual. Will they find it in David Duffield of Maddie’s Fund?

Maddie’s Fund claims that all its grantee communities must honor its “core values of honesty, integrity and mutual respect.” It claims a commitment to transparency. When it wrote and signed the ill-fated Asilomar Accords, it went far to sacrificing some of those values, but in its defense it claimed it had to compromise in order to get buy in from the regressive groups at the table, such as the National Animal Control Association, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States. For several years, all those core values have been on life-support in New York City without a word from Maddie’s Fund leadership. In fact, quite to the contrary, they have continued to defend the Mayor’s Alliance against any criticism, lashing out at animal lovers who took them at their word about honesty, integrity, mutual respect, and transparency.  Transparency is now dead. And as long as that is allowed to continue, there is little hope for the animals. Where there is no insight, where there is no cleansing light of public accountability, the animals perish.

In my blog “Losing My Religion,” I wrote that,

David Duffield may have started Maddie’s Fund in memory of his little dog, but the rescuers and activists working to reform our nation’s broken animal sheltering system also do so in the name of those animals that likewise touched their hearts as Maddie touched his. What they don’t have is $200 million dollars to honor them.

 

So, instead, in their name, and in the name of the four million animals needlessly killed in our nation’s shelters every year, they battle insurmountable odds. They endure the heartbreak of witnessing abuse and cruelty and killing at their local shelters. They endure hostile and abusive treatment by shelter employees and directors who undermine and fight their lifesaving efforts every single day; efforts at collaboration and cooperation that fall on deaf, defiant ears. And Maddie’s Fund is financing the person that worked to (successfully) kill a law that would have empowered them, would have saved the lives of tens of thousands of animals, and given that they bankroll her, it was within their power to make her stop. But they didn’t.

 

More than that, they continue to shield her from any criticism and accuse those who do of “bash and trash.” They even champion the New York City shelter system that is rife with neglect and cruelty, a system which violates the constitutional rights of volunteers by threatening to fire them if they try to help the animals by exposing inhumane conditions to the public, as a national model, protecting and legitimizing that which causes harm. This cannot be the will of David Duffield. I don’t believe this is what he intended.

I am not so sure anymore. Despite all the exposes, despite the pain, despite the immense suffering, despite the lies of the Mayor’s Alliance, despite the defense of killing and the sabotaging of legislative reforms to curtail it, he has been deafeningly silent.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a volunteer at NYCACC. “She” asked if “she “should go public with what “she” sees and get banned as a volunteer or continue to look the other way at neglect and suffering in order to continue at least helping some of the animals. A “Sophie’s Choice.” And one I could not answer. At great personal and emotional cost, but out of great love and compassion, “she” and others like “her” spend their days at a place where they are often not wanted and in fact mistreated, a place that is the hardest for them to go because they care so much: a regressive pound where they are forced to watch animals neglected, abused, suffer, and be killed.

Ebony was one of those animals. She was scheduled to be killed in New York City’s pound, right down the street from the richest SPCA (the ASPCA) in the nation which last year took in over $100,000,000, despite the Mayor’s Alliance receiving over $20,000,000 in Maddie’s Fund grants, despite the largest adopter pool in the U.S. (8,000,000), and despite a per capita intake rate 1/7th that of the No Kill Washoe County (Reno), NV. And while she waited for her death, she was kept in the filthiest conditions possible. Rescuers called the “rescue line” offering to save her life, but their telephone calls went unanswered. Despite the fact that they were ready, willing, and able to save her, no one answered the rescue line because no one is held accountable when they don’t. Ebony was killed, even though she had a place to go. And not a word from Maddie’s Fund.

The above kitten was also one of those animals. She was forced to suffer and die, when the most minimal of care would have saved her. And not a word from Maddie’s Fund.

They continue to lie on their website by claiming “New York reached a major milestone in 2009 with an adoption guarantee for all healthy shelter pets” even though staff at ACC admit they kill healthy animals, even though we have proof they kill healthy animals, even though ACC intentionally misclassifies healthy animals by claiming they are sick, even though they put healthy animals in sick wards in order to make them sick so they could kill them with impunity.

For over ten years, we’ve listened to the Maddie’s Fund bravado about “revolutionizing the status of companion animals” despite their complete and utter failure to create even a single No Kill community, let alone a No Kill nation which they have promised three times now. We no longer want to hear it. We’ll do it ourselves and, in fact, we are doing it, without their millions.

Our plea to Maddie’s Fund is now much more plebeian. We know Maddie’s Fund won’t save them. We know the ASPCA won’t save them. We know that the City pound won’t save them. We just want the information so that we can. Rescuers need access to the database. Is that asking too much from the mighty David Duffield?

With control over the purse strings comes the influence and power to help us. David Duffield entered the No Kill movement saying he wanted to help animals, even as the Foundation he started to national fanfare and worldwide acclaim has instead become a force that defends and protects the status quo in New York City. If this isn’t what he wants, in the name of decency, he needs to stand up and act. Now.

This is his last chance to make it right.

Just Another Day? Hardly.

June 11, 2011 by  

I woke up this morning to a typical Saturday, and went through my normal routine. I went outside so the dog can do his business and to grab the newspaper. I greeted all the cats with an Andy Griffith-like “Howdy Do” and gave each one a pat on the head. I gave everyone their breakfast. And made mine: a tall soy latte. I did the dishes from the night before. I cleaned the litterboxes. And then, while my wife and kids slept, I sat down to my computer. That’s when I got online and found this little ditty on the No Kill Revolution facebook page:

NKR Pop Quiz: Ten years ago today, a very important event in No Kill history occurred. What was it?

I looked down at the little corner of my computer screen and saw the date: June 11, 2011. What happened ten years ago on June 11, 2001? That “11th” didn’t happen for another three months. June, June, where was I June 11, 2001? And sure enough, though slow as molasses as the coffee had not kicked in yet, it occurred to me.

Ten years ago today, at about the exact time I was reading the question, I started my job as the Executive Director of the Tompkins County SPCA. Here’s how I told it in Redemption:

As I drove into the parking lot for the first time as the agency’s new chief, I was met at the front door by a truck driver with five kittens he didn’t want. Spaying his cat was not a priority. To him, the kittens were no longer “his problem.” Whether they lived, died, or anything in between was not his business. By handing them over to us, in his estimation he had done his duty. He had brought them to the Tompkins County SPCA, the animal control authority for the entire county, and they were now our responsibility.

 

For most shelters, this is the point at which the breakdown that leads to killing occurs. The current view is that killing the kittens is, in large part, a fait accompli, and that the fault for the killing belonged to the truck driver at the front door. It was his failure to spay his cat, his failure to make a lifetime commitment to the kittens. But this view, while endemic to the culture of animal control, is not accurate.

 

First, it is because of this irresponsibility that shelters exist in the first place. Second, it is often the practices of the shelter itself that lead to killing. If a shelter does not maintain adequate adoption hours or has poor customer service, refuses to work with volunteers, foster parents, or rescue groups, fails to treat and rehabilitate sick, injured, or traumatized animals, or does not offer TNR as an option, the shelter is not doing much to prevent killing… These problems plague shelters nationwide, and the Tompkins County SPCA was no exception.

 

Thankfully, on June 11, 2001, the truck driver did not live in a community whose shelter still subscribed to those views. On that day, the Tompkins County SPCA explicitly rejected the policies legitimized and championed by most shelters nationwide. Having been director of operations for the most successful SPCA in the country, I knew what worked and what didn’t work. Clearly, killing those kittens was not going to be an option. Not surprisingly, we found all of them homes…

 

Like so many shelters with animal control contracts, the Tompkins County SPCA had relied on the fiction that the only solution to the influx of homeless animals was killing. Staff would shake their heads and continue to blame “irresponsible owners” for the fact that so many animals would go out the door in body bags rather than in the loving arms of families. Like so many other shelters, the team that made up the Tompkins County SPCA upon my arrival never once saw the killing as its own failure to find solutions, meet its real mandate to be an animal welfare organization, or live up to the very real but often ignored shelter credo that “every life is precious.”

On the wall, above my desk, is a single clock, set to the time in Ithaca, New York. Ground zero in the fight for a No Kill nation. On June 10, 2001, there was not a single No Kill community in the U.S. On June 11, Tompkins County became the first. And it started with a truck driver and a box of kittens in a pot hole-filled parking lot in Ithaca, New York. Today, there are No Kill communities in California, as well as New York, in Nevada and Kentucky, in Michigan and Virginia, and elsewhere.

There have been other notable changes. Again from Redemption:

The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) favorite misnomer “euthanasia” has lost its cache. Rescue groups and animal advocates have stopped using it and other HSUS euphemisms such as “putting them to sleep” to describe the abhorrent practice of systematic shelter killing. People are more aware of widespread mistreatment of animals in shelters. And they are less tolerant of the poor care and the killing, the excuses built up over the decades to justify it, and the legitimacy that groups like HSUS give to it. This has put the large national humane groups on the defensive, trying to take credit for the decline in killing nationally even as they opposed and in some cases continue to oppose the programs responsible for it, and by softening their anti-No Kill positions.

 

[The No Kill movement] debunks the myth of pet overpopulation and puts the blame for the killing where it belongs: on the shoulders of the very shelter directors who find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it, on the local governments who continue to underfund their shelters or place them under the regressive oversight of health and police departments (and even under sanitation!), and on shelter managers who protect uncaring and even cruel staff members at the expense of the animals.

 

More than all of that, average people are now aware that shelters kill. And they are aware that there are some shelters and communities that do not kill. […As] one animal lover in Los Angeles, California, told me: “At least now we know what—or more accurately, who—the problem is.” We also know how to make them stop. And in more communities nationwide, we have.

The No Kill movement is not only here to stay, it has become the only legitimate standard for sheltering and it is quickly becoming the new paradigm. We’ve come a long way baby!

Today is our 10th year anniversary. Tonight, we are meeting friends for dinner and drinks. And I will raise a glass to all the animals alive today because of this movement. I will toast to what we’ve done in communities as diverse as Reno, Nevada and Shelbyville, Kentucky. Because of what all of you do every day in word and deed. But mostly, because of what transpired ten years ago. Because of Ellie, Allison, Sandy, Joan, Cathy, Valerie, Brian, Bob, Serena, and each and every person within and outside the organization who made No Kill happen. Once again, I turn to Redemption:

All I did was to create the framework in which they could do so—and ensured that staff supported, rather than impeded, those efforts. Volunteers not only helped us care for, adopt out, and place the legions of kittens and puppies who made their way to the shelter every spring and summer, they helped us save blind pets, pets missing limbs, animals hit by cars, and those with behavior problems.

 

The animals who came to us also found homes because we were supported just as passionately by the public: adopters who took home older pets with special impediments because they believed in our lifesaving mission, donors who helped us double the average gift, and the media who told our story 406 times in one year alone.

A No Kill nation is within our reach.

——-

Thank you No Kill Revolution for remembering. Click here to read the events of what happened from a volunteer’s perspective. No Kill Revolution’s own Valerie Hayes was a volunteer in Tompkins County before and after I got there and her account, “I Was There” is one of the single, best essays ever written about No Kill to date.

Anyone who donates $10 today to the No Kill Advocacy Center will get a signed copy of Redemption.

Unobvious Choices: The Animal Protection Movement’s Fourteenth Floor

June 8, 2011 by  

Understanding Samantha Mullen and Other Opponents of Shelter Reform Legislation. Those of us who embrace a brighter future, those of us who seek to finally bring some accountability to a field that has historically lacked it, have found we must work to overcome the false perceptions the public, legislators, and the media have regarding these individuals, simply because they have the names “humane” or “SPCA” in their titles. They believe these organizations represent the best interests of animals, even though they are little more than the equivalent of a corrupt labor union–protecting incompetence and fighting innovation at all costs. They believe they are run by “experts” even if all they have to substantiate their alleged “expertise” is letterhead that looks legitimate, but nothing else.

The late John DeLorean’s personal transgressions aside, his insights in the book, On a Clear Day, You Can See General Motors, might well have been written about the humane movement. The book could have easily been called, On a Clear Day, You Can See the Humane Society of the United States. Or the ASPCA. Or the American Humane Association. Or, given their recent opposition to the Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act, the New York State Humane Association.

Chances are, even if you live in the Empire State, you’ve never heard of the New York State Humane Association. It is no surprise. The organization is an irrelevancy, taking in less than $10,000 a year in donations and user fees for its barely attended annual conference where the heads of kill shelters tell the other heads of kill shelters to stay the course, before they all go out for cocktails. The telephone number of the organization, listed on its letterhead, complete with clip art logo borrowed from the 1970s, is registered to a private individual also now in her 70s, with little to show for her decades of tenure in this movement.

In fact, the NYS Humane Association serves no useful purpose. When I took over as Executive Director in Tompkins County, NY, and I began to cut unnecessary and wasteful spending, annual “dues” to the NYS Humane Association was on the chopping block. We sent them a check every year because, well, that is what we always did. In return, they sent us absolutely nothing and did absolutely nothing.

Today, other than a conference filled with empty chairs, the NYS Humane Association has only done one thing of note in recent memory. It dusted off the cobwebs of its typewriter, and it wrote out an opposition memo to the Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act (CAARA). The typist? The notorious Samantha Mullen whose title “Chair of the Legislative Committee,” intimates (incorrectly) that these views belong to others beside herself. Mullen, like Ed Sayres of the ASPCA, like Wayne Pacelle of HSUS, like Dori Villalon of the American Humane Association, is what DeLorean used to call an “unobvious choice.”

DeLorean left a $650,000 a year salary at General Motors because of those “unobvious choices” on the Fourteenth Floor of GM Headquarters in Detroit, the floor that not only housed the office of the CEO and all his Vice-Presidents, but where innovation, quality, and safety went to die. DeLorean decried GM’s tendency to recruit people of little or no demonstrated talent to the highest echelons of leadership: mediocre yes-men and sycophants, men who lacked a knowledge of the business and refused to keep pace with the changing times. “If the question were asked,” DeLorean said, “’Would a man of these [few] qualifications be chosen from outside the company for this post?’ the answer would always be a resounding, ‘No!’”  In other words, GM hired cronies, rather than talent, people who were already part of the culture of failure, who lacked vision and foresight, who lacked basic knowledge of their own field, and thus surrounded themselves with others who shared these traits because they were not a threat.

Mitch Schneider, the head of Washoe County Regional Animal Services, who last year posted a countywide save rate of 91% despite an intake rate seven times that of New York City, and who is himself championing a CAARA-type law in Reno, says it this way: “A-level” managers hire people at their level or above because they want to improve the organization. “B and C-level” managers hire people below their level because they fear A-level people as a threat to their power. The end result in sheltering is that incompetent directors hire incompetent people so that they can feel safe, sustaining a culture of incompetence within the organization.

That is what we see in the humane movement. That is why Dori Villalon was hired as the “unobvious choice” to be Vice President of Animal Protection for the American Humane Association, the oldest national organization focused on companion animals in the United States, after being chased out of California shelters in Sonoma County and San Francisco for competency issues. And that is why she publicly stated that in order to end the killing, we need to adopt out 2.4 billion animals—six hundred times the number being killed. Or as she said it, in her own words, “every person in America right now [would have to] adopt eight animals” and they would have to do so every year. (Hear it for yourself by clicking here.) But her ignorance does not stop there. When asked how we should measure a shelter director’s effectiveness, she said she didn’t know. When asked how many people were looking to adopt animals, the demand side of our movement, she said “Gosh, um, I don’t know that number.” These are the “experts” shelters and public officials have been turning to for decades.

Ed Sayres was given the half-million-dollar-a-year job to run the ASPCA, the wealthiest SPCA in the nation, after destroying the San Francisco SPCA, opening up record deficits in excess of $3 million per year and plunging the agency, once the crown jewel of the No Kill movement, into disarray. His tenure was marked by lawsuits, evisceration of lifesaving programs, and lavish expenses on nonsensical personal fetishes, such as a retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to ask the question: “Are insects messengers of our soul?” Another “unobvious choice.”

I was once asked by a city to sit on their community panel to review the leading candidates for animal control director, after they had already been vetted and passed muster with city staff. A “community panel” was the last step to being hired. Also sitting at the table where heads of neighboring kill shelters. I was the proverbial black sheep in the room. I rejected all the candidates. Why? While the others asked softball questions about their style of management, I asked each one four questions:

  1. Did they accomplish what they set out to accomplish at their current shelter job? The answer was invariably, “Yes.”
  2. What was their save rate? The answer was invariably, very low (in other words, they killed most of the animals);
  3. If their save rate was so low and yet they accomplished their objectives, what was it they set out to accomplish if it wasn’t to save the lives of animals? The answer involved stunned silence, stuttering, and an incomprehensible stream of consciousness. And finally,
  4. If they failed to save lives at their current job, what made them believe they would succeed in the new one?

In fact, when I asked the second question, without fail, the candidates were shocked. One of them actually responded, “Why do you want to know that?” And said that no one had ever asked him that before in an interview. In other words, I was asked to rubber stamp an “unobvious choice,” because that was the safe choice. They were already members of the Fourteenth Floor of the humane movement and that was all that mattered, even if they lacked the qualifications to actually do the job competently. I had dared to ask, as DeLorean did, “‘Would a man of these [few] qualifications be chosen from outside the company for this post?’” knowing, like DeLorean, that “The answer would always be a resounding, ‘No!’” Not surprisingly, I was not asked to sit on the panel again and they hired someone I would have rejected.

To this list of “unobvious choices,” add Wayne Pacelle to head the Humane Society of the U.S. despite never having worked in a humane society, calling for the killing of 2-week old puppies as dangerous, and defending pounds that kill all animals for no credible reason, and you start to understand why poorly run shelters are the norm. You start to understand why 4,000,000 animals a year are being butchered in pounds across the country in the face of readily-available lifesaving alternatives they simply refuse to implement. Why 71% of rescue groups are being turned away by “shelters” which then turn around and kill the very animals those groups have offered to save. And why we need laws like the Companion Animal Access & Rescue Act.

Like GM, the “unobvious choices” of shelters and the large national organizations have become a self-perpetuating cycle of what DeLorean called insecure executives looking for “methods and defense mechanisms to ward off threats to their power base.” Is it any wonder that GM needed a bail out after losing $23.5 billion in one year (nearly $45,000 per minute, every minute of the day and night, for a full year!) And is it any wonder we have to contend with the likes of Samantha Mullen?

In fact, the culture of “unobvious choices” in the humane movement is why Mullen can make claims about CAARA that are based on a bungled reading of the law (making at least seven false claims about it), calling basic common-sense measures such as not killing a savable animal when there is an empty cage “unreasonable,” and suggesting that asking shelters to do what they have been entrusted to do is “burdensome.” (See below.) The culture of “unobvious choices” is why Mullen can claim that CAARA will lead to hoarding and that the animals are better off dead, 11 years after those arguments were proven false in California. Mullen’s claims are a rehash of the arguments made in 1998 in California when the rescue access provision of the Hayden Law was being debated, a claim that did not bear out. What did happen was that the law forced regressive pounds to collaborate with rescue groups saving tens of thousands of lives killed in years past. In fact, in just one county (of 58 in California), the number of animals transferred, rather than killed, went from zero to about 4,000 a year. The hoarding never materialized.

But how would Mullen know this? Mullen has made a career out of clinging to the past, out of refusing to admit problems in “shelters” exist, out of refusing to have standards and benchmarks that would hold them accountable, out of refusing to acknowledge failures and refusing to correct even the worst of their deficiencies. In other words, she has failed to keep pace with the dynamic and innovative changes in the field as a result of the No Kill movement, choosing instead to fight those changes by embracing those who have no skills, training, or desire to do a good job even as they are entrusted to do so by an animal loving public which pays their salaries. In short, Mullen is the NYS Humane Association’s “unobvious choice” to be their Legislative Chair.

Mullen’s move to the do-nothing, know-nothing NYS Humane Association came by the way of the Humane Society of the United States, where, as program coordinator, she made a career out of defending the “right” of pounds to kill animals. In 2002, Mullen rallied around the New York City animal control shelter even after the comptroller’s audit found a number of incidents involving “animal neglect and abuse.” The report found that not only were animals wrongly killed, but “many animals didn’t have regular access to water and were often left in dirty cages.” Despite nearly 70 percent of dogs and cats being killed, HSUS defended the shelter, calling those statistics “useless.”

In 2003, Mullen supported the pound in Rockland County, New York, even after an auditor substantiated allegations of high rates of shelter killing and other deficiencies that were not corrected after a year. She wrote a letter opposing a No Kill group’s proposed takeover of the shelter. In her letter to the Rockland County County Executive on behalf of HSUS, Mullen underscored her commitment to killing as a preferred treatment of shelter animals, arguing against a No Kill orientation for Rockland County. Although the County Executive was inclined to turn operations over to the No Kill group, Mullen succeeded in swaying the decision in favor of retaining a traditional kill-oriented facility. Mullen’s intervention harmed the potential for animals to receive the care of a No Kill service provider.

Where did she get these views? Mullen was a long-time protégé of another “unobvious choice,” the late-Phyllis Wright of HSUS, the matriarch of today’s killing paradigm, who as Vice-President for Companion Animals at HSUS, wrote:

I’ve put 70,000 dogs and cats to sleep… But I tell you one thing: I don’t worry about one of those animals that were put to sleep… Being dead is not cruelty to animals.

Wright then described how she does worry about the animals she found homes for. From that disturbing view, Wright coined a maxim that says we should worry about saving lives but not about ending them and it fell upon Mullen to propagate this viewpoint to shelters across the country as program coordinator for HSUS, a job she did with relish. In short, Mullen’s job at HSUS was to fight progressive programs to save lives by defending abusive and poorly performing shelters against those pushing for reform, a mandate she continues to this very day.

You’re doin’ a heckuva job, Samantha…

The New York State Humane Association’s Memorandum of Opposition makes a number of illogical and patently incorrect assertions regarding the mandates of the Companion Animal Access & Rescue Act:

  1. It claims to be an “umbrella organization” representing animal advocacy organizations statewide. It is not. It is a self-proclaimed “association” with little support, taking in less than $10,000 a year, such as through user fees for its poorly-attended conference.
  2. It claims that a shelter “must hand over an animal to a rescue or adoption organization that comes forward to request that animal.” This is also false. The law does not mandate that a shelter give an animal to a rescue organization. It states that a shelter may not kill an animal if a qualified non-profit organization, recognized under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3), that meets a host of conditions, including a relationship with a veterinary provider and a track record of adoptions, requests that animal. The shelter can choose to adopt out the animal itself. The shelter can choose to work with a different rescue organization. And the shelter can charge the rescue group an adoption fee. It simply cannot kill an animal that has a place to go. In addition, the law allows the shelter to inspect the facilities of the non-profit organization.
  3. It claims that shelters will be forced to adopt out aggressive dogs. This is also false. The law specifically excludes dangerous and aggressive dogs with sufficient clarity and safeguards to protect both dogs and people.
  4. It claims it supports laws focusing on the “births of animals.” Supporters of CAARA also support laws curtailing the activities of puppy mills, but we recognize that we owe a duty not just to prevent future suffering by curtailing puppy mills, but also to protect animals alive today threatened with being killed. This argument is, therefore, a red herring as protecting animals today and preventing future suffering are not mutually exclusive, and support for laws against puppy mills has nothing whatsoever to do with the provisions of the lifesaving CAARA does mandate.
  5. It claims the requirement that shelters not kill savable animals if there are empty cages is unreasonable, even though this policy is in place in the most progressive shelters across the country, has been mandated statewide in Delaware, and is law in Austin, Texas, to great effect.
  6. It claims that animals may not be killed unless “irremediably suffering,” suggesting that this will force shelters to keep animals alive who are sick or injured without care. This is also false. The law requires shelters to provide care. But more to the point, it simply says that unless the animal is irremediably suffering, it cannot kill animals who are sick or injured if a non-profit rescue organization which has a relationship with a veterinary provider, is willing to provide that care at private expense.
  7. It claims that requiring shelters to charge abusers with a crime when they discover it would task overburdened court dockets. This is also false. However, if shelters discover neglect and abuse, they should file charges. To the extent that CAARA encourages shelters to follow the law and closes loopholes that have allowed known abuse to continue, this is good policy.
  8. It claims that mandating collaboration with qualified rescue organizations will lead to hoarding, 11 years after California’s rescue access provision have proved such fear-mongering to be false.

Not only is the NYS Humane “Association” basing its opposition based on a bungled reading of the law, but it is making claims about CAARA that are a rehash of the arguments made in 1998 in California when the rescue access provision of the Hayden Law was being debated, claims that did not bear out. What did happen was that the law forced regressive pounds to collaborate with rescue groups saving tens of thousands of lives killed in years past. In fact, in just one of 58 California counties, for example, the number of animals transferred, rather than killed, went from zero to about 4,000 a year. The hoarding, and other associated fear-mongering, never materialized. (See http://www.rescue50.org/pdf/haydenreport.pdf)

Building a No Kill Ohio

June 2, 2011 by  

Join me on Saturday, September 10, 2011 for the “Great Shelters Conference” in Cincinnati, OH, followed by a book signing for both Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences. This is my first visit to Ohio and my only other presentation this year besides the sold-out No Kill Conference.

In addition to other speakers, I will be giving three workshops including Building a No Kill Community, High-Volume Adoptions, and Leadership. The workshops have 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.

The Anatomy of a Lie

June 2, 2011 by  

How the pound, the Mayor’s Alliance, the ASPCA, and Maddie’s Fund conspire to hide the truth about New York City’s abusive pound system, allowing immense animal suffering to continue.

In late March, a pregnant lab-mix given the name of Ginger entered the New York City pound system. She was full term, within a day or so of giving birth. Spaying a dog in the peak of health is considered major abdominal surgery. Spaying a pregnant dog increases the risk as the blood vessels of her reproductive tract become large and more difficult to tie off during pregnancy. Spaying a pregnant dog at full-term is the riskiest of all: the risk of excessive bleeding is greatest and complications more likely. And, of course, spaying a pregnant dog means killing the puppies. Nonetheless, Ginger was spayed, and her fully viable litter of puppies was killed.

In order to kill them, each and every one of the healthy puppies had to be individually injected with poison. The killing of the puppies was, in point and fact, no different than if they had already been born since they had been born: by the equivalent of a C-section. They were able to survive on their own and, in fact, did survive, but not for long.

One by one, they were injected in the stomach with an overdose of barbiturates. One by one, they went limp and then died. One by one, their lifeless bodies were discarded in the trash, revealing the great hypocrisy of the broken pound system in the U.S., a system which chastises people for treating their companion animals as “disposable” even while they treat them exactly the same way: by killing them and then literally disposing of their bodies in landfills. The new lives of Ginger’s puppies, which should have held nothing but promise, instead were wiped out by callous indifference. It was a tragedy, but it should have surprised no one.

Enter Julie Bank

The New York City pound is run by Julie Bank whose tenure there has been marked by the firing of anyone who disclose inhumane conditions, the violation of the first Amendment and civil rights of volunteers, the scaling back and elimination of programs designed to save animals, and the creation of a culture that tolerates chronic neglect and abuse. That, too, should have surprised no one. Because, in fact, this was also how she ran the “shelter” at her previous job.

Bank was part of the executive team under Ed Boks which ran Maricopa County, AZ animal control into the ground. (Boks was also Bank’s predecessor at New York City’s pound before he was fired.) Bank’s job was to “sell” Boks’ failures as success, by lying to supporters, to elected officials, and to the media that the agency was a model of compassionate care, even as she and Boks knew full well that the agency was in trouble. Under her tenure, the Maricopa pound slaughtered tens of thousands of animals a year, opened up a $600,000 a year structural deficit, and forced the agency into receivership. Volunteers were forced to walk dogs with ropes because the agency was not allowed to buy leashes, even while Bank was telling anyone who would listen that they were the most progressive adoption agency in the nation and on the verge of achieving No Kill (they never did better than a 50% save rate, less than the national average). She abandoned ship while the agency was sinking under the twin pillars of Boks-Bank ineptitude and neglect.  Given her history and the conditions in the pound she currently oversees, why would she ever give so much as a second’s thought to Ginger’s puppies? In fact, she wouldn’t and didn’t and that is why she ordered them killed.

Enter Jane Hoffman

After the surgery, Ginger began to bleed internally, a fact that AC&C noticed almost too late. Ginger underwent a second surgery at a private veterinary clinic to save her. That surgery was paid for through donations made to the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals. In turn, Jane Hoffman who runs (owns?) the Mayor’s Alliance put out a fundraising appeal based on Ginger’s case.

In the piece, Hoffman writes of Ginger in Ginger’s “voice”:

AC&C staff named me Ginger, and took me in to get me ready to meet new adopters. But as luck would have it, my adoption debut had to be postponed when a vet at AC&C discovered I was bleeding internally.

To read the appeal, you would think Ginger came into the pound needing critical surgery. In reality, AC&C caused Ginger’s internal bleeding through a wholly unnecessary and risky surgery in order to kill her puppies, almost killing her in the process. But Hoffman has to obfuscate to separate money from donors as the truth, in this case, would not likely have brought in the big bucks. Had she been honest, she would have written it this way:

AC&C decided to perform an unnecessary surgery in order to kill my puppies. I never got to love them, never got to nurse them, never had a chance to lick their tiny bodies, to take in their warm breath which smells of bubble gum. I never even got to see them because someone cut me open, took them out, and then poisoned each and every one of them before throwing their bodies in the trash.They didn’t even give them names. In fact, no record of them exists. Following the surgery, I began to bleed internally. Thankfully, AC&C did not do the surgery. They sent me out to a private veterinarian who saved me. Of course, that cost money, which you are now being asked to pay even though I wouldn’t have needed the surgery if AC&C didn’t botch the first one in order to kill my puppies.

Hoffman isn’t interested in truth. But others are. Urgent Part 2, a Facebook page designed to save the animals AC&C is determined to kill and to reform the agency, posted the story:

In addition, a comment on the Facebook page of the Mayor’s Alliance notes that Ginger’s internal bleeding was caused by AC&C after they killed her puppies:

Within an hour of posting, Hoffman  deleted the comment. Here is the same page two hours later with the comment removed:

Others soon took up the call for truth:

Within two hours, those comments were also deleted by Hoffman:

Why did Hoffman delete those posts which tell the truth about what happened to Ginger? Because telling the truth exposes it. In exposing it, Hoffman would have been required to respond appropriately. And in defense of the tragic and needless neglect, abuse, and killing within the NYC pound, that she has proven herself unwilling to do.

The truth doesn’t bring Hoffman the big bucks. And censoring truth is just the tip of the iceberg. In the New York City pound system Hoffman champions, animals are left to wallow in their own waste; nursing mothers and kittens are left with no food and water for extended periods of time; animals in chronic pain are not given anything to relieve their suffering. Here, a dog chewed off his own tail due to disregard by underperforming, abusive staff:

These are the kinds of practices that are illegal under state anti-cruelty laws and would lead to prosecution if it was done by anyone other than staff at the pound. Rather than seek jail sentences for these abusers, Hoffman seeks to protect them. And anyone who questions it, who tries to reform it, who works to protect the animals, is banned. Those who volunteered their time to save animals—who were, in fact, successful at it—have been fired. Meanwhile, Jane Hoffman continues to proclaim to anyone who will listen that the City is on pace to become a No Kill community, a claim she had made twice before (promising one as far back as 2008), both times failing to deliver.

Enter Maddie’s Fund

In fact, killing Ginger’s puppies violated the terms of the Maddie’s Fund grant for New York City. In order to continue receiving funding, New York City is not allowed to kill any healthy dogs and cats. Despite the fact that AC&C staff has admitted doing so, as long as the pound reports no healthy deaths, the Mayor’s Alliance is content to go along with the charade. Banks did not give Ginger’s puppies a record number, did not count them in statistics, did not report their lives or their deaths. They simply never existed. That way, Jane Hoffman can continue to tell Maddie’s Fund that no healthy dogs have been killed, and Maddie’s Fund can continue to tell all of us that New York City is a model of compassionate care. Bank looks the other way, Hoffman looks the other way, Maddie’s Fund looks the other way. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. And those in the greatest position of power to actually do something about it, refuse to even acknowledge its existence.

In April, I wrote a blog about how I lost my faith in Maddie’s Fund. In it, I described how, in financing Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance in New York City,

Maddie’s Fund is financing the person that worked to (successfully) kill a law that would have empowered [rescuers], would have saved the lives of tens of thousands of animals, and given that they bankroll her, it was within their power to make her stop. But they didn’t.

More than that, they continue to shield her from any criticism and accuse those who do of “bash and trash.” They even champion the New York City shelter system that is rife with neglect and cruelty, a system which violates the constitutional rights of volunteers by threatening to fire them if they try to help the animals by exposing inhumane conditions to the public, as a national model, protecting and legitimizing that which causes harm.

Last year, I reached out to Maddie’s Fund and asked Richard Avanzino to use the leverage of his funding of Hoffman’s group to insist she drop all opposition to a badly needed law that would have saved the lives of 25,000 animals a year. I did not suggest Maddie’s Fund walk away from the animals of New York City. There are others who can take the lead for a No Kill NYC, groups that would not use the position that Maddie’s Fund funding gives them to also fight progressive No Kill reforms, costing so many animals their lives.

So desperate for some success given that they have spent $100 million and utterly failed to create a single No Kill community despite promises of a No Kill nation by now, Maddie’s Fund refused; willing to take the lie of success over actually achieving it. They not only increased Hoffman’s funding by an additional $3,000,000, they accused those of us who stood up to her of “bash and trash,” even as she worked to condemn 25,000 New York State animals to death. They called New York City a national model even in the face of rampant neglect and cruelty occurring there. They claimed they were saving all healthy dogs and cats in the face of outright lies by the pound and Mayor’s Alliance about progress within the city. That defense of killing and of someone who champions killing, who fights legislation to ensure that the paradigm of killing is not upended, is why I wrote “Losing My Religion” and why I walked away from them. Adding insult to injury, Jane Hoffman was a featured speaker at the day-long Maddie’s Fund workshop at HSUS Expo in 2010, where she told the assembled crowd as a representative of Maddie’s Fund that they should not be made to feel guilty about killing healthy animals.

In defense of Hoffman, Maddie’s Fund says that since they began funding New York City, 20,353 less animals are being killed within the city pound system. Of course, many of these animals would have been saved by the rescue groups Hoffman wants to keep disempowered and claims are “hoarders” and “dog fighters” in disguise anyway, as even Avanzino himself admits. And communities have achieved far greater success in reducing killing, have done it faster, and have achieved No Kill without Maddie’s funding. Case in point: Washoe County shelters take in seven times the per capita rate of animals as New York City “shelters” do, but saved 91% of all the animals.

But irrespective of that, even taking the claims at face value, roughly 25,000 animals are being killed every year throughout New York State because shelters are turning away rescue groups willing to save those animals. A law which would have prevented this outcome was defeated by Hoffman, who Maddie’s Fund keeps in power through their funding. At the end of the day, Maddie’s funding of Hoffman means 4,647 more animals are losing their lives every year in New York State than are being saved thanks to Hoffman’s desire to maintain power and control. And she isn’t the only one doing so at the expense of the animals.

Enter the ASPCA

Every year, the ASPCA takes in well over $100,000,000, promising to help care for the homeless animals in the city, promising donors that when animals need help, the ASPCA is there. It too fought the law to save 25,000 of them in New York State, a law that was in fact sparked by the ASPCA’s callous killing of an abused dog despite offers to save her from rescue groups.

And while Ed Sayres of the ASPCA also defends the city pound, champions it as a national model, and while he continues to hoard the ASPCA’s millions, the animals who are unfortunate enough to enter the city’s pound go without basic care, suffering neglect and abuse in the process—just down the street from the nation’s wealthiest SPCA and one of the richest charities overall. Just down the street from the agency that raises $30,000,000 a year from a single Sarah McLachlan commercial which promises to use those donations to protect animals from the type of neglect and harm they must endure at the NYC pound, where the ASPCA itself sends animals it does not want to spend money on.

There is no doubt that the Mayor of New York City is a callous, hard-hearted individual when it comes to the homeless animals of that city. There is no doubt that the Department of Health which oversees the pound is staffed by uncaring, mean-spirited bureaucrats who have no business with power over defenseless animals. And there is equally no doubt that Julie Bank is cut from the same cloth. But when it comes to money, New York City’s animals should never go without. New Yorkers have proven themselves to be extremely generous, overflowing the already bloated coffers of the ASPCA.

Despite those hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues every year, the ASPCA claims it is doing all it can. In other words, it could not save Ginger’s puppies. The Mayor’s Alliance could not. The pound could not. None of the other millionaire organizations fundraising on the backs of New York City’s homeless animals could either. But rescue groups, despite shoe-string budgets, could and would have, had they not been callously prevented from doing so by those in positions of power.

Learn More:

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Listen to 77WABC in New York City on Sunday, June 5, at 6 am ET for a 1 hour expose on the cruel cages of New York City’s abusive pound.