Memphis: A Public Trust Betrayed

August 28, 2011 by  

From YesBiscuit

August 25, 2011

The Honorable Robert E. Cooper, Jr.
Office of the Attorney General and Reporter
P.O. Box 20207
Nashville, TN 37202-0207

Dear Attorney General:

Because of widespread malfeasance at Memphis Animal Services (MAS), which implicates the staff, the director, the city council, the city attorney, and the Mayor, we are calling for your office to initiate litigation with the goal of placing the agency into receivership. The revelation that the President of the Memphis Rotary Club was arrested for drunk driving, reckless driving, and public intoxication, and repeatedly asked to see Memphis Mayor AC Wharton during his arrest, is only the latest embarrassment to plague the Wharton Administration and implicate MAS. (See attachment 1.)

The Rotary Club had offered to do a management audit of MAS at no cost in response to sustained controversy involving neglect, abuse, and rampant killing at MAS. Given the Rotary Club’s apparent lack of expertise, we were suspicious of the impartiality of the review. But the recent scandal involving the Rotary Club’s President reveals the offered review to be a partisan ploy, a favor between two friends.

Tragically, MAS is a badly mismanaged house of horrors where roughly eight out of every 10 animals are put to death; where animals have been starved to death; where known felons are hired who then turn around and commit animal cruelty; and where animals have been neglected and abused by those who were supposed to protect them. Unfortunately, neither the Mayor’s Office nor the City Council appears willing or able to protect the animals from further neglect and killing.

During Wharton’s tenure and despite promised reformed, the City has embarked on an illegal campaign to intimidate and silence critics by threatening them with spurious litigation in violation of their federal civil rights. (See attachment 2.) And rather than correcting widespread problems, the Mayor announced he was removing the cameras at MAS’ shelter that allowed the nation to see what the animals there must endure, violating his promise of transparency and leaving the animals at the mercy of those who have demonstrated, time and time again, that they do not care about them. (See attachment 3.) Any hope that the City Council could fill the lack of oversight has proved to be without basis. Despite the rampant neglect, abuse, deaths, disappearances, criminal behavior, and killing, as the pound’s controversial director announced his resignation, the city council commended his leadership, said he was doing a “great” job, and requested that he withdraw his resignation. (See attachment 4.) In addition, the City’s Advisory Board which helps set policy for MAS has closed its meetings to the public, which we believe is not only illegal, it shows a disregard for transparency and democratic principles of government. (See Tenn. Code. Ann. 8-44-101 et seq.) In short, city officials are complicit in hiding the mistreatment and needless killing of animals when they should be fixing it.  Because of that, we believe the city is not qualified to run the animal services program.

Placing an institution in the control of a receiver, a person “placed in the custodial responsibility” for the agency, is appropriate and warranted when the agency falls below minimally acceptable standards of conduct, repeatedly fails to make needed reforms, and causes ongoing irreparable harm. In California, for example, a receiver has been appointed to oversee the state’s prison health-care system after years of promised reforms that were not made. We are requesting your assistance as it is the job of the state Attorney General to investigate malfeasance and misuse of taxpayer funds by municipalities and their agencies. As repeated entreaties to local officials have been ignored, we believe the only effective recourse would be for your office to begin an enforcement action in order to place the agency into receivership. Quite simply, the neglect and abuse of animals constitutes irreparable harm, and the killing of thousands of animals needlessly every year can never be undone.

In October of 2009, for example, Sheriff’s deputies raided MAS after a puppy was “non-accidentally” starved. (See attachment 5.)


Puppy at the time of impound at MAS. Puppy after several weeks in the MAS shelter.

This was not an isolated incident. Citizens had been complaining of neglectful conditions in the facility for years.  (See attachment 6.) In fact, a live dog was buried beneath dead dogs, and sent to the incinerator to be burned alive. (See attachment 7.) Hundreds of animals die in their cages at MAS every year, and hundreds of others simply go missing. In 2009, 255 animals were found dead while in the custody of MAS. In 2010, that number rose dramatically to 357. In 2009, 282 animals disappeared. In 2010, it was 155. In 2007, after dogs were seized from dog fighters, the dogs disappeared from MAS. According to reports, “There were no obvious signs of a break in from the outside. No broken glass or windows, but police said the break in happened over the weekend and was discovered Monday morning.” (Fox News Memphis, November 12, 2007.) Installed webcams have also captured mistreatment of animals and inappropriate conduct including puppies being tossed into a trash can before being wheeled to the kill room and staff poking late-term pregnant cats with sharp objects.

Problems plaguing MAS include

  • Inappropriate, neglectful, and even abusive handling. Dogs are lifted off the ground by a hard-wired noose around their necks, cats are lifted by the neck using tongs, and dogs are dragged to the kill room to be put to death.

  • Rampant killing. In 2010, despite only taking in 17 animals for every 1,000 human residents, MAS killed 11,930 of the 15,404 animals it took in, nearly eight out of 10 animals. (See attachment 8.) By contrast, many communities with higher overall intake rates and higher per capita intakes (as high as 35 animals for every 1,000 human residents) are saving over 90% of the animals. (See By refusing to follow basic protocols for finding animals homes, thousands of animals are being needlessly killed.
  • Animal cruelty. MAS hires known felons, fails to train them appropriately, and then fails to supervise them adequately. Kapone, a family dog, “disappeared” after being picked up by MAS staff. Although the staff member, hired despite past convictions for crimes of moral turpitude, has been charged with two counts of animal cruelty for allowing one dog to die of heatstroke by leaving the dog in extreme temperatures and in relation to Kapone’s disappearance, the whereabouts of Kapone and 155 other missing animals remain unknown.  (See attachment 9 and attachment 10.)

  • Failure to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care. Just as examples, a suffering, emaciated dog was not provided any veterinary care for three days before being killed, and   another dog (pictured earlier) came in healthy but was starved by MAS. Failure to provide food and necessary veterinary care would violate anti-cruelty laws by private citizens. Such conduct by MAS is no less reprehensible and no less a violation of such laws.

  • Failure to train and hold staff to minimally acceptable standards of care. Because of incompetent cleaning, handling, and care, frequent disease outbreaks lead to mass killing. For example, one distemper outbreak that cost 60 animals their lives. (See attachment 4.) It has also led to fights. By way of another example, a staff member not only allowed two unrelated dogs in the isolation ward to come into contact and fight, he also showed no knowledge in how to respond appropriately. In fact, another employee became abusive by repeatedly hitting one of the dogs with a pole.

While initially giving lip service to reform, the Mayor now excuses and defends the agency, arguing that all the incidents of neglect, abuse, criminal behavior, and rampant killing are the result of isolated incidents of poor judgment or are even necessary and proper. Rather than investigate conditions or fix widespread problems, the City has chosen instead to intimidate concerned citizens into silence, in violation of their constitutional and federal civil rights. The City Attorney recently threatened spurious litigation against a public critic of the agency, in violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983.  (See attachment 2 and attachment 11.) This followed revelations that the City attempted to intimidate another blogger in a separate incident. (See attachment 12.)

At MAS, tens of thousands of animals have been either neglected, abused, killed, have died, and/or come up “missing.” The Mayor, the City Attorney, the City Council, and agency staff seem unable and unwilling to reform MAS. The City has attempted to cover up agency malfeasance by violating the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. And its current plan to remove webcams will further conceal ongoing neglect and abuse. As a result, we believe that an investigation and litigation in the hopes of placing MAS under the control of an outside party is warranted in this case.  If the Attorney General’s office fails to act, animals will continue to suffer, the taxpayers will continue to have their money squandered, and further criminal behavior will likely continue, while the City condones, rather than corrects widespread problems.

Very truly yours,

Nathan J. Winograd

Shirley Thisthethwaite

Size Matters, But So Does How You Use It

August 27, 2011 by  

This little dog is most likely feeling the warmth of the sun for the very last time. As an “owner surrendered” dog, there is no holding period. No requirement that he be made available for adoption. No law that says he must be offered to rescue groups. In all likelihood, he was put to death within minutes of being turned in.


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s conditional veto of legislation that would have, among other things, allowed shelters across the state to kill animals if “the age, health, or behavior of the animal warrants euthanizing it before seven days have elapsed,” resulted in a outcry of relief from animal lovers across the state. Even with New Jersey Office of Animal Welfare regulations limiting a broad interpretation, the provision would have created a loophole big enough for the proverbial Mack truck to drive through it. In other words, it would have meant cherished companions would have been slaughtered within minutes of arrival, before aggrieved families had an opportunity to reclaim them simply because someone arbitrarily deemed them too old, too sick, or too aggressive without any substantive basis for doing so.

That an animal may lack objective beauty, or be older in years, does not mean that that animal isn’t deeply loved by his or her family; it does not mean someone else might not deeply love that animal if they were offered for adoption; and, it certainly does not mean that the animal isn’t worthy of compassion and lifesaving. Killing for convenience is never compassionate, no matter how many times the “catch and kill” proponents at HSUS and PETA tell us it is. In fact, it is the ultimate form of violence, a violation of the animal’s most basic rights.

In his veto message, Governor Christie stated that the provision “creates the potential that older or mildly injured animals could be [killed] immediately and before even a diligent search by an owner could locate a lost pet.” He is absolutely right. The offending provision was stricken by the Senate and the Governor signed the bill into law without it. It was a triumph of public will. Not only did the Governor’s Office get thousands of e-mails asking him to veto the bill, but both the New Jersey Office of Animal Welfare and the Mayor of Newark opposed the provision.  It helps for the animals to have friends in high places.

Because most people were not aware of the provision until it reached the Governor’s desk and, by necessity, advocacy focused on getting the provision stricken, an important discussion surrounding holding periods did not occur. In fact, missing from any discussion of holding periods in New Jersey was a very important question: Does size really matter? Or, as the old quip tells us, is it how you use it that counts?

Rethinking Holding Periods

As most states do, New Jersey requires stray animals to be held for a minimal period of time (seven days) before they can be put to death. Animals relinquished by their families can be killed immediately upon impound, and many are, within minutes of arrival. Only California has a holding period for “owner relinquished” animals. But with pounds across the country doing a poor job of helping lost animals get home (only 25% of dogs and 2% of cats are reclaimed), many stray animals will just be held for their holding periods and then killed. Some will be offered for adoption, but overall 40% of dogs and 60% of cats will lose their lives. How can we do better?

In 1998, as part of a comprehensive shelter reform bill known as the “Hayden Law” after its Senate sponsor, California increased the state mandated holding period from a paltry 72 hours to four or six business days, not including the day of impoundment. Groups mired in killing, like the Humane Society of the United States, opposed the measure, arguing that increasing the holding period would cost other animals their lives because it would reduce available kennel space. Even if this argument were true (it is not), HSUS’ argument missed the boat because California built in incentives to maximize reclaims, transfers to rescue groups, and adoptions freeing up cage space above and beyond other strategies like foster care. In other words, it created the infrastructure to increase the chances animals would leave the shelter quickly and alive. In addition to making it illegal for shelters to kill animals if rescue groups were willing to save them, one of the ways it did that was by bifurcating the holding period in order to force California pounds to make animals available for adoption or transfer to rescue groups. Rather than simply hold animals for six days and then kill then, California required shelters to make those animals available to rescue and adopters during the hold period. The new holding period read, in relevant part, that animals “shall be held for owner redemption during the first three days of the holding period, not including the day of impoundment, and shall be available for owner redemption or adoption for the remainder of the holding period.” In other words, after three days, the animal could go to rescue groups or be adopted, but not killed. And therein lies the rub.

We should not shorten holding periods ever. In fact, in states like Hawaii (at a paltry 48 hours), they need to be longer. Much, much longer. But they also need to be smarter. Because while size does matter (bigger is better), so does what you do with it. California’s bifurcated holding period which mandated that animals not just be held so that their families could reclaim them, but also that they be made available for adoption and to rescue groups meant animals normally killed without those opportunities now had them, even if only minimally.

That groundbreaking tenet was the basis for one of the most important provisions of the Companion Animal Protection Act model legislation. CAPA reads, in relevant part,

The required holding period for a stray animal impounded by any public or private sheltering agency shall be five business days, not including the day of impoundment, unless otherwise provided in this section: (1) Stray animals without any form of identification and without a known owner shall be held for owner redemption during the first two days of the holding period, not including the day of impoundment, and shall be available for owner redemption, transfer, and adoption for the remainder of the holding period;

For relinquished animals, CAPA reads, in relevant part,

The required holding period for an owner relinquished animal impounded by public or private sheltering agencies shall be the same as that for stray animals and applies to all owner relinquished animals, except as follows: (1) Any owner-relinquished animal that is impounded shall be held for adoption or for transfer to a private sheltering agency or rescue group for the purpose of adoption for the entirety of the holding period; (2) Owner-relinquished animals may be adopted into new homes or transferred to a private sheltering agency or rescue group for the purpose of adoption at any time after impoundment.

New Jersey, Revisited

In the case of New Jersey, the required holding period thankfully remains seven days, but it should be bifurcated so that animals do not sit for seven days waiting for a family who may not come, without being made available for adoption or transfer to rescue groups in the process. While shelters are, first and foremost, bailees for people’s lost companions, their goal should be to get all the animals out alive. That means not only maximizing the number who go back to their original families, but it should also mean maximizing their chances of going to rescue groups or newly, adoptive homes. Out of embarrassment that they are surrendering an animal or because some pounds do not accept “owner relinquished” animals, some people turn their companion animals in and claim they are strays. In those cases, those animals will be sitting in a kennel, often outside of public view, “waiting” for someone who will not come because that someone is the one who turned the animal in. By bifurcating the holding period, families still have ample opportunity to find their lost animals, but those animals who will not be reclaimed will have some opportunity to be saved by rescuers or adopted into new homes.

I’d rather a dog or cat get adopted and a family who did not come to the shelter for four days to look for their lost pet miss out, than a number of relinquished animals be killed because strays are in those kennels. I am not naïve, and I am not excusing pound killing. As I’ve argued numerous times, we can save all the stray animals and we can save all the relinquished animals. We could be a No Kill nation today. But we aren’t. And we aren’t because pound directors are uncaring and lazy, mired in failed philosophies, bogged down in defeatist excuse-making, institutional inertia, and/or because the staff is not held accountable to results. That is what the New Jersey bill’s sponsors failed to realize. They thought they were creating “a humane way to quickly end animals’ suffering.” But given that pounds are not humane, they were consigning savable animals to death. We need to remove the discretion pound directors have to kill animals, not give them more because they abuse the discretion they already have to kill animals without ever making them available for adoption or available to rescue organizations. A state mandated, bifurcated holding period which requires animals to be made available for reclaim, adoption, and transfer, will help do that. It will increase reclaims, it will increase rescues, and it will increase adoptions. A win for the animals and a win for municipalities not only looking to cut costs (of killings) but to find new sources of revenue (adoptions).

But while the blame for most killing lies at the feet of the staff at killing “shelters,” I also cannot deny that municipalities, protected by the myth of pet overpopulation and defended by pro-killing organizations such as the ASPCA, American Humane Association, National Animal Control Association, PETA, and HSUS, have not invested in lifesaving. The excuse of pet overpopulation and the need to kill is what allowed corrupt Philadelphia city officials in the Health Department to open a new municipal pound back in 2002 with few cages and a paltry budget. That is why Philadelphia had less kennels despite a population of 1.4 million people and an intake rate of 25,000 animals a year, than Charlottesville, Virginia with only 250,000 people and a fraction of the impounds. In that environment, we need to give every animal a chance because too many across the country are simply not being offered for adoption at all. Too many are killed within minutes of arriving as in the case of relinquished animals while pound directors say they have no choice because they have run out of cages.

A bifurcated holding period would require pounds to make all animals—both stray and “owner relinquished”—available for adoption and transfer to a rescue group. In addition, municipalities should go further than even the current version of CAPA. Rather than sit in a dirty pound where the animal may get sick, the bifurcated holding period should allow the animal to be transferred to the rescue group immediately upon impound, with the same rights of reclamation for the “owner” as if the animal was still in the shelter. This not only allows animals to remain healthy, but it frees up scarce kennel space, without giving pounds a “quick kill” provision as New Jersey tried to do. And it shifts the cost of care from taxpayer to private philanthropy. In other words, the animals would remain in the “constructive” custody of the pound while being held in a foster home, private shelter, or rescue group during the reclaim portion of the state mandated holding period; but taxpayers would incur none of the cost.

That is what I would propose to New Jersey. That is what I would propose in all fifty states. It would save lives and it would save money—a “win” for municipal bean counters and a “win” for the animals. In other words, it would solve problems rather than just create new ones. But does government do that anymore?

Maddie’s Fund’s Parting Shot?

August 20, 2011 by  

Maddie’s Fund was founded over a decade ago, with the stated purpose of delivering a No Kill nation within five years by “infusing megabucks into every community.” When the promised No Kill nation did not materialize, we were subsequently told it would take an additional five years, and then, after that, we are told it would take five more. But after 11 years and $100,000,000, and with not a single No Kill community—let alone the promised No Kill nation—to its credit, it appears that Maddie’s Fund is throwing in the towel. Maddie’s fund is telling people it will not fund new No Kill initiatives. To justify the abandonment of their commitment to create a No Kill nation, Maddie’s Fund is now saying that there is no longer any “need” for them to do so because achieving a No Kill nation is a “slam dunk” by 2015.

As anyone who has been following the No Kill movement can tell you, there is much to be confident about. There are now No Kill communities across the U.S. (notably, none of them were funded by Maddie’s Fund). The architects and defenders of the “catch and kill” paradigm, such as the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, are on the defensive. And we’ve reduced killing from what is claimed to be 17-plus million in the 1970s to about four million today. In fact, this last assertion is the basis for the Maddie’s Fund claim. According to Maddie’s Fund, all we have to do is keep up the momentum because we’re in the home stretch now. And all we have to do to eliminate the rest of the killing is for shelters and rescue groups to adopt out a little less than four more dogs and cats each week. Only it doesn’t really work like that, and Maddie’s Fund knows it.

A Flawed Premise

It is true that the numbers have been steadily declining over the years. If you were to plot it by decade, the arrow would be pointing down, down, down. The problem is that just because it goes in one direction for 30 years doesn’t mean it will continue to go in that direction. Moreover, if you plot it by year and you look at the last few, it’s relatively flat. And the reason for that explains why saving the last 4,000,000 is nothing at all like the first 16 million.

The problem with the last 4,000,000 is that killing shelters—organizations staffed by neglectful, abusive, uncaring directors and their equally uncaring staff—which already have the tools to save lives today but simply refuse to, have already had the low hanging fruit taken care of for them. They haven’t contributed much of anything. The public did most of the heavy lifting in getting us to where we are now. By spaying and neutering. By adopting from shelters.  By becoming sophisticated, networked rescuers. With some notable exceptions, much of the lifesaving has been because of reduced impounds, not increased adoptions.

Ten years ago, most people would have called animal control when they saw a stray cat. Now, most people know that would be a death sentence and won’t participate in the slaughter. If they do not take the cat in, and many will, they’ll either feed the cat or do TNR, and, they’ll often do this despite opposition from their local pound. Today, for instance, North St. Paul animal control officials are prosecuting a man and threatening him with jail time for feeding and sterilizing feral cats.

Of course, the public can always do more. They can adopt more animals, rather than getting them from commercial sources, and I’ve long argued that we can largely adopt our way out of killing. In fact, plenty of communities have proven so, but that again requires the shelter to do some lifting. It requires them to market their animals, to promote their services, to have good customer service, and public friendly adoption hours, in addition to fair adoption criteria. Many shelters don’t have that and there are plenty of examples of people who have tried to adopt from a shelter but have been turned away for entirely arbitrary reasons. Indeed, some shelters don’t do any adoptions.

Why is Shelby County, Kentucky celebrating its third No Kill year, while Macon County, Kentucky has a slaughter of animals with no conceivable end? I would think the fact that Macon County officials allow adoptions only from noon to 2 pm has something to do with it. It certainly is why the pound in Vermillion Parish, LA kills. They recently posted on Facebook that “they hate to kill animals but they’re full.” But they do not allow adoptions. No one can adopt. They don’t hate to kill animals or they wouldn’t. They’d allow adoptions, instead. Realistically, they just hate animals. They will not be No Kill in 2015. And neither will Macon County if left to their own devices.

And not only do many shelters not do their part, they thwart the attempts of others to help by holding the animals hostage. Maddie’s Fund funded the opposition that killed Oreo’s Law in New York State which would have made it illegal for shelters to kill animals who rescue groups were willing to save. And the people they funded killed the law, despite the fact that over 70% of rescue groups reported being turned away by shelters, who then killed the very animals they offered to save. These pounds and their allies, like the ASPCA and the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City Animals, do not want to achieve No Kill, because they make their money by holding the power over life and death, a power they misuse to enrich themselves to the detriment of the animals.

To save the last four million requires these organizations to do their part and that they have proven themselves unwilling to do. So we should not give credit to them for the decline and we should not expect the declines to continue without a fight, because it is the public that did it willingly, and now that it is the “shelters” turn to do their parts, they refuse.

It’s Not a “Slam Dunk”

We know a No Kill nation is inevitable. It is inevitable not because we are on a self-generating trajectory. Not because it’s a “slam dunk.” But because of people. People like Ryan Clinton who fought against a regressive director, an uncaring bureaucracy, and the ASPCA in Austin and won, and is now using the knowledge he gained to help others fight in their communities. People like Jeff Daniels, whose dog was brutally killed by corrupt people hiding behind a corrupt system, and who stood up, spoke out, and reclaimed government of the people, by the people, for the people. People all over the country who are rising up and fighting for the right to life.

But we don’t know the date. And clearly neither does Maddie’s Fund. Why? Right now, none of the large national organizations support the goal of a No Kill nation. They fight us in every state. Shelter reform legislation, a key and indispensible part of achieving and sustaining a No Kill nation, lost in New York State, stalled in Rhode Island, and was soundly defeated in Texas without so much as a hearing. We won in Delaware, but we’ve got a long way to go elsewhere. And Maddie’s Fund, in addition to being wrong twice before (they’ve promised a No Kill nation twice before and failed to deliver even a single No Kill community), by announcing they no longer feel the “need” to fund new No Kill initiatives, is throwing in the towel and misrepresenting the facts to provide political cover for their failure.

What happens when the Maddie’s Fund deadline of 2015 comes and the pound in Memphis, Tennessee or Macon County, Kentucky, or Vermillion Parish, Louisiana or New York City or Maricopa County, Arizona or Miami-Dade or Chesterfield, South Carolina are still killing? Will they set a new date—five years down the road again as they do every five years—when we will magically become No Kill for the fourth time? And if the latter, do they care that people will grow weary of ever achieving it and sadly (and falsely) conclude it is not achievable because they will have heard it three times before?

We can achieve a No Kill nation. We can do it today. We can do it in 2012. We can do it in 2013. We can do it in 2014. We can also do it in 2015. But just because it is technically possible to achieve it so soon in no ways means it is even remotely probable in so short a time span given the obstacles that stand in the way of that possibility. There’s no doubt we’ll have many more No Kill communities. But we are not going to achieve a No Kill nation without a fight because 3,000 killing shelter directors refuse to do it willingly and they are protected and defended by the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States. If we want to achieve it, we cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend we are all on the same team, that we all want the same things, that groups like HSUS are our partners when they actively fight our shelter reform efforts or that it’s a “slam dunk” with a set date.

So far they’ve only made the claim that there is no longer any “need” to fund new No Kill initiatives quietly. But what they are basically saying is that we don’t have to fight, we don’t have to do anything. Once again, they are ripping the rug from under us and undermining our efforts to fight for what is right. In fact, if we don’t have to do anything, what were they created for? What was the purpose of the last 11 years and $100 million they’ve spent? Five million dead animals a year were worth creating a foundation for, but four million a year don’t deserve their attention?

A Failed Experiment

Sadly, what is really going on is that Maddie’s Fund is conceding that their collaboration model has been a complete failure, but trying to camouflage it with a distraction. It’s absurd. The fight has just begun in earnest. We are finally being heard. And they want us to lay down our arms and coast? If they were honest, they’d simply acknowledge that their model is a failure. That after 11 years and $100,000,000, their failure to achieve even a single No Kill community, let alone the promised No Kill nation, proves it doesn’t work. They would look at their most highlighted programs, like Maricopa County and New York City and admit that they are rife with neglect, abuse, rampant killing, and fraud, and they would change course, rather than walk away.

When all is said and done, I am actually grateful that they’ve bowed out because Maddie’s Fund has undermined the work of the reform advocates who are fighting to save the lives of animals, blaming them for failing to collaborate, even as their outreach to killing directors fell on deaf, defiant ears. Maddie’s Fund has funded the opposition and they’ve held up those who defend killing as icons, including Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance in New York City and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle. Yet, I cannot help but lament that Maddie’s Fund has chosen to turn their back and walk away, rather than shift strategies from those that have failed, to those which have proven to be effective.

But given that they have, the best scenario for an exit for their failed experiment would be if they just quietly faded away into obscurity. The worst thing they could do, which is what they appear committed to doing, is to continue the charade, inflicting one final wound on their way out the door in order to excuse their own failures. A slam dunk? If only…

The Worst of the Worst

August 16, 2011 by  

Every year, the No Kill Advocacy Center gives an award, named after the great Henry Bergh, for those who epitomize the unwavering commitment of Bergh to save lives, even in the face of criticism and opposition. Past winners include Bonney Brown who took a community with a per capita intake rate seven times that of NYC and turned it into a No Kill community. They include Ryan Clinton who fought a sustained campaign to make Austin a No Kill Community. The target of a smear campaign by the ASPCA and its acolytes, Clinton persevered and his efforts culminated in a 90+% save rate for dogs and cats at the Austin pound. And they include Robyn Kippenberger, the former member of the New Zealand Parliament who took over as CEO of the Royal New Zealand SPCA and is working to make New Zealand a No Kill nation.

This year, I am soliciting nominations for my own “award,” named after Phyllis Wright. Over forty years ago, the late-Phyllis Wright, the Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States and the matriarch of the “catch and kill” paradigm, wrote in HSUS News,

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.

She then described how she does worry about the animals she found homes for. From that disturbing view, HSUS coined a maxim that says we should worry about saving lives but not about ending them and successfully propagated this viewpoint to shelters across the country. The essay created an emotionally acceptable pretext for killing animals: shelter workers “were now ‘putting animals to sleep’” and the charade that “killing is kindness” became a national fixture.

The “award” will be given to those who epitomize everything that is wrong with our broken animal “shelter system”: the pound directors who kill in the face of readily available alternatives they simply refuse to implement, the bureaucrats who excuse neglect and abuse in the pounds they “oversee,” or those who run organizations that fight lifesaving reforms, protecting and defending killing “shelters.”

The trophy is a model of the human heart, as it is clear that the recipients lack one when it comes to defenseless animals. You can nominate someone by telling me who they are and why they should win.

Click here to do so.

To Wayne Pacelle Supporters: You Don’t Love Animals and You Know It!

August 15, 2011 by  

Last week, I wrote a blog called “The Indictment of Wayne Pacelle” where I laid out ten examples of how Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States has used his position in the animal protection movement to harm animals:

  • In count one, I argued that Wayne Pacelle betrayed the victims of Michael Vick by lobbying to have them killed, even as he embraced their abuser, to the detriment of the animals and our cause.
  • In count two, I showed how in 1993, Wayne Pacelle’s group, the Fund For Animals, sought legislation to round up and kill cats in California. Despite only a couple of cat rabies cases per year, and some years none, one of those bills would have empowered animal control officers to kill cats on sight in the field if they didn’t have proof of rabies.
  • In count three, I discussed how in 2007, Wayne Pacelle lobbied to have Michael Vick’s victims killed, falsely claiming that “Officials from our organization have examined some of these dogs and, generally speaking, they are some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country.” In fact, following their actual assessment, only one dog was deemed too vicious to save. He thus lied, perjuring himself as an advocate for the mass slaughter of abuse victims. But he almost succeeded in having them killed.
  • In count four, I wrote how in April of 2008, the town council of Randolph, Iowa announced a bounty, offering $5 to anyone who brought a cat to the pound. In most cases, those cats would be put to death. While cat lovers cried foul and tried to stop the initiative, Pacelle’s handpicked Vice-President of Companion Animals at HSUS, the man who himself killed animals as the director of a pound in Florida, defended the Randolph effort saying that HSUS doesn’t have a problem with killing stray cats.
  • In count five, I demonstrated how in August of 2008, the pound in Tangipahoa Parish, LA ordered the killing of every animal in their facility. The culprit: a mild corona virus that caused diarrhea in just a handful of dogs, which is not contagious to cats, and is self-limiting, meaning it resolves on its own without any medical intervention.  More than 170 dogs and cats were killed. HSUS came to the pound’s defense, blaming the killing on pet overpopulation and that people do not care enough about animals, thereby exonerating the pound.
  • In count six, I showed how in February of 2009, over 150 Pit Bull-type dogs and puppies were seized from a dog fighter in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Each and every one was systematically put to death over the opposition of rescue groups, dog advocates, and others. Some of the puppies were born after the seizure. And a foster parent was even ordered to return two-week old puppies she had nursed back to health to be killed. As with the Vick case, HSUS staff perjured themselves before the court, testifying that all the dogs, including the two week old bottle feeders, were irremediably vicious and should be put to death. The court sided with Pacelle’s “experts.” 150 victims lay dead, not by a dog fighter, not by an abuser, but because of Wayne Pacelle’s insistence that they should be put to death.
  • In count seven, I explained how in March 2009, a San Francisco, CA Commission took up the issue of a No Kill city by considering shelter reform legislation to mandate the types of lifesaving programs the pounds in that community were refusing to implement voluntarily, killing animals for being “too fat,” “too old,” “too playful,” and “too shy.” But the law, and the No Kill reform effort, was be tabled after Pacelle himself wrote a letter insisting on the right of “shelters” to kill animals in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives they simply refuse to implement, arguing that pet overpopulation prevented more lifesaving, and arguing that “shelters” should not be regulated.
  • In count eight, I showed how a 2010 survey of New York State rescue groups found that 71% of them were being turned away by at least one “shelter,” and those “shelters” then turned around and killed the very animals they offered to save. The end result is that tens of thousands of animals are being killed in New York State pounds even though they have an immediate place to go. Legislation to mandate collaboration which would have saved those lives at no cost to taxpayers, was not supported by HSUS. And when animal advocates tried to mandate shelter reform in Texas, including banning the cruel gas chamber, HSUS helped coordinate the opposition, which argued that shelters are the experts and should be left to decide how they operate.
  • In count nine, I explained how every year, Wayne Pacelle’s organization calls for a celebration called “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week,” where we are asked to reward animal shelters and the “dedicated people” who work at them. According to the annual press release, HSUS is “the strongest advocate” for shelters. But at the same time as HSUS proclaims itself the Number 1 cheerleader for killing shelters in the country, there is an ever-increasing amount of nationwide media coverage revealing widespread animal neglect and outright abuse at these very institutions. And when it does come out, HSUS either is silent, looks the other way, or, more egregiously, defends the abusive and/or poorly performing “shelters,” as they did in King County, Washington, Miami-Dade, Florida, Eugene, Oregon, New York City, Rockland County, New York, Paige County, Virginia, and elsewhere.
  • In count ten, I demonstrated a deliberate strategy of fraud in HSUS fundraising under Pacelle’s leadership. When Wayne Pacelle misled donors by asking for money for the care of the Michael Vick dogs even though HSUS not only wasn’t caring for the dogs, but was actively seeking to have them put to death, it wasn’t the first time he did so. Misrepresentation is a recurring pattern and deliberate part of Pacelle’s fundraising strategy: Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustav, deliberately confusing donors that they are the local humane society, and the “Faye” debacle, are just some of the scandals I discussed.

HSUS responded in part and self-proclaimed “animal rights” defenders of HSUS responded in part, in a combination of “explanatory” e-mails directly from HSUS and on “animal rights” list-serves and discussion groups. Not a single one of them, however, has responded to the allegations. How could they? They offer damning, irrefutable evidence that Pacelle and his acolytes at HSUS have engaged in a consistent pattern to kill animals or cause animals to be killed, to defraud donors, and to thwart reform efforts in local communities across the country designed to improve neglectful and abusive killing pounds. In fact, both HSUS and its supports have essentially conceded them. It is one thing to ignore the “indictment” altogether. It is quite another to issue a response and not mention why they committed fraud in fundraising, why they called for the killing of bottle feeding puppies, why they fight for the right of shelters to kill animals, and why they opposed legislation banning the cruel gas chamber. That is tantamount to an admission on all counts.

Instead, HSUS and its killing apologists argued that:

  1. Michael Vick deserves a second chance.
  2. HSUS does so much good.
  3. I’m anti-animal because in 2007, I answered some questions posed to me in an e-mail from an organization called the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is funded by agribusiness.

‘Michael Vick’s Victims Should be Killed; Their Abuser Deserves To Abuse Even More Dogs’

The argument that Michael Vick deserves a second chance, even as HSUS argued that his victims did not, speaks for itself. To this day, Vick claims that his beating dogs to death, electrocuting them, hanging them, shooting them, drowning them, and burying them alive was his way of expressing “a different kind of love” and Wayne Pacelle has agreed. Tragically, not only would Michael Vick still be doing those things if he could, Pacelle has tried to help him do it by claiming that “Mike,” as he calls the most notorious animal abuser of our generation and the newest spokesman for HSUS, would make a good dog owner and should be allowed to have dogs again. Indeed, by giving Vick his old life back, Pacelle has undone the lesson every kid in American learned: abuse a dog and you’ll lose everything. Instead, with the embrace of Vick, he gave them a very different lesson: if the lives of animals don’t matter much to the Humane Society of the United States, why should they matter to you.

‘HSUS Deserves a Blank Check to Harm Animals’

The argument that we should all ignore the “crimes” Pacelle has committed against animals, because HSUS does so many good things for animals would be ludicrous, if it wasn’t so disturbing. But it is an argument that appears to have resonated with some animal rights activists; arguments also being made both about the ASPCA’s pro-killing policies and PETA’s campaign not only to seek out and exterminate thousands of animals a year, but to give pounds the ability to slaughter even more than they already do. In short, they are saying that, “HSUS does so much good, they should have carte blanche to do terrible, irreversible, life ending things, too.”

Even if it were true that HSUS does “so many good things” for animals (and I am not so sure that they do), it does not entitle them to a blank check to call for the killing of two-week old puppies. It does not entitle them to thwart the efforts of animal lovers trying to end the killing of dogs and cats in their communities. It does not entitle them to perjure themselves in court so that 150 dogs, including bottle-feeding puppies, are put to death. It does not entitle them to defraud donors by misrepresenting the work of rescue groups as their own. Nor does it entitle them to excuse the mass killing of cats in response to diarrhea in a small handful of dogs. Yet that is HSUS’ argument, and that is the argument apologists for HSUS (and ASPCA and PETA) are making on behalf of the organization.

‘We Can’t Attack the Message So We Are Going to Attack the Messenger’

The final argument being made in defense of Wayne Pacelle was first made by a woman who defends pounds that savagely abuse animals, a woman named Pat Dunaway. Dunaway defended a shelter where a puppy was beaten with a baton by an animal control officer because he was too scared to go into a kennel, where the director returned a dog who was lit on fire back to his abuser because he didn’t want to pay for the dog’s medical care as required by state law while the criminal case was pending, a pound that killed animals rescue groups had requested as retribution for exposing inhumane conditions, and a pound that forced animals to remain in filthy conditions, including algae-covered water bowls. This is a woman who also allegedly has a history of neglecting or abusing dogs herself. Nonetheless, her absurd claim that I am a front for the Center for Consumer Freedom has been reiterated by “animal rights activists” who claim to be motivated by a love of animals.

As a fierce critic of the pro-killing policies of HSUS, PETA, and the ASPCA, I have been the target of many untrue allegations and rumors by Pat Dunaway, including that I am in league with puppy mills and that I work with and have accepted money from the Center for Consumer Freedom. In the past, I have written blogs refuting each of these allegations, explaining that I do not breed animals, that I have worked to expose and oppose puppy mills, and that I have hosted anti-puppy mill workshops at each No Kill Conference that my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, has sponsored.

While my blogs refuting the puppy mill rumors has quieted those allegations, people continue to spread the rumor that I am a front for the Center for Consumer Freedom, that, in fact, my efforts to publicly expose the actions taken by HSUS and PETA that result in direct harm to animals are motivated not by a desire to stop that harm and reorient those organizations back to life-saving, but by a desire to harm the animal rights movement. Anyone who has read my books on sheltering (Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences) or any of the other extensive writings I have done would know how hollow these assertions are. These writings demonstrate that my goal is to end the unnecessary killing of four million animals in our nation’s pounds every year. They also reveal that the biggest roadblock standing in the way of that success is the animal protection movement itself:  primarily the regressive kill-oriented directors of roughly 3,000 “shelters” across the country, and the leadership of the large, national organizations that protect and defend them and their “right to kill,” namely, Wayne Pacelle, Ingrid Newkirk at PETA, and Ed Sayres of the ASPCA, organizations and individuals I have no choice but to fight out of tragic and dire necessity.

The basis of their claim that I am a front for the Center for Consumer Freedom is that in 2007, I received an e-mail from one of their representatives relating to my book Redemption, asking me if I would answer roughly half a dozen questions about it. I agreed to answer their questions in an e-mail back to them on one condition. I told them that if I did answer their questions, they could not edit them for content. And they had to print them verbatim or send them to me for review, where I will exercise veto power over their right to publish them. They agreed. And I answered the questions. I have never met the Center for Consumer Freedom people, do not and have not ever received any money from them, and do not agree with their other views about animals. In fact, All American Vegan, my vegan cookbook coauthored with my wife, promotes a vision for society fundamentally at odds with the Center for Consumer Freedom mandate. They do not support the book and they’ve not promoted it.

Ironically, about the same time, HSUS asked if they could interview me about the No Kill movement, and I agreed with the same caveat, knowing that they have printed outright lies about the No Kill movement in their publications in the past. I told them they had to print my answers verbatim or send them to me for review and I would exercise veto power over their right to publish them. They refused. And I did not do the interview. But had they agreed, had they done so, no one could claim I was in league with HSUS. Such a claim would be absurd, given my vociferous opposition to their policies which favor killing.

And though I do not agree with the Center for Consumer Freedom on their larger platform, on the issue of HSUS and PETA hypocrisy over their embrace of killing, and in the case of PETA their actual killing, they are correct. It is not the Center for Consumer Freedom which is thwarting our effort to achieve a No Kill nation, it is Wayne Pacelle and Ingrid Newkirk. In fact, it is also those individuals who seek to shield HSUS and PETA from public accountability for their actions, or as in the current situation, who imply that those of us who expect that the people who staff those organizations have a duty to authentically represent our cause and not misuse or abuse their power, that are harmful to the animal protection movement.

Every time the Center for Consumer Freedom places an ad in a newspaper that exposes the grisly and deeply disturbing truth about PETA’s killing, or the truth about HSUS’ fraudulent fundraising claims, our anger should be directed at those committing the “crimes” being reported, not those reporting it. Our anger should be against Pacelle and Newkirk not only for harming animals, but for misrepresenting our movement. The longer we seek to shield Newkirk and Pacelle from their “crimes” and from a public accounting for their decisions which harm the well-being of animals, the more emboldened their corruption will become, and, in the case of PETA, the more animals they will continue to seek out to kill.

Were we to simply clean house as a movement, and expel from our ranks those who seek to subvert the very goals we exist to promote, we would eliminate one of the sharpest weapons anti-animal organizations have to fight the cause of animal protection: the hypocrisy of our so-called leaders. That the Center for Consumer Freedom has chosen to fight by working to expose the corruption of the animal rights movement is, in many ways, a Catch-22. Should they prevail in forcing reform of HSUS and PETA—a cause I fully endorse as should every true animal lover—they lose a powerful weapon, and the broader animal protection movement benefits as a result. By defending HSUS and PETA, self-proclaimed “animal rights” activists are also subverting our cause.

We are, and should be, first and foremost a movement of ideals, a belief in the right of animals to be free of suffering and abuse, and, most importantly, to be free to live their lives. These values are the heart of our cause, the reason we exist. Organizations and leaders exist to promote ideals. As I have written so many times before, it is not who is right, but what is right that should dictate our behavior and our allegiance. When individuals and organizations authentically represent the goals of our movement, we should stand by them. When individuals and organizations fail to do so, as HSUS and PETA have done over and over again, not only should we expose them for the frauds that they are, our duty to animals dictates that we do.

I wrote Redemption because my pleas to shelters and my pleas to the large national organizations that the key to ending the killing had been discovered was falling on deaf or defiant ears. The movement chose to ignore that success and continue killing, despite the lifesaving alternative represented by the No Kill philosophy and made a practical reality by the No Kill Equation. So I chose to go over their heads and take my message directly to the people.

To that end, I chose to speak—and will continue to speak—with anyone who wants to listen about how the organizations that are supposed to champion animals in reality cause them great harm. I believe that by talking to anyone and everyone about shelter killing and the hypocrisy of groups like HSUS and PETA, we will eventually reach a critical consensus against killing and in favor of No Kill and fix our nation’s cruel and dysfunctional animal shelter system.

Because if wait for those who claim to be motivated by a love of animals but who blindly follow Pacelle and Newkirk, animals will continue to be neglected, abused, and needlessly killed in perpetuity. We must reach a larger audience because our so-called “friends” refuse to educate themselves and learn the truth about who they’ve given their allegiance to (it is certainly not the animals). They are intellectually lazy and looking for a convenient excuse to ignore the No Kill message in favor of the status quo which is comfortable, familiar, and does not require re-orienting their world view. They’ve found their identity intertwined with their association with HSUS or PETA and the animals can be damned before they’ll give that up.

But I’ve got a message for them, for anyone who would dismiss me because I chose to answer some questions in an e-mail: As an activist, as someone who claims to care about animals, you have a choice as well. You can choose to listen to that message and help us end the unnecessary killing of millions of animals every year, or you can choose to believe untrue rumors and allegations that give you a convenient excuse not to, and become a roadblock to saving four million animals a year, a killing which is being supported by organizations you embrace. The choice is yours.

But if you continue to embrace Wayne Pacelle despite his own embrace of the most notorious animal abuser of our generation, even after he lobbied to have that abuser’s victims killed; If you embrace Wayne Pacelle despite all he has done to harm animals under the theory that his organization is entitled to a blank check because they do other “good things” for animals; If you give your allegiance to an organization because it claims to be for animals welfare or animal rights, even though they actively undermine the rights of animals and, in fact, work to kill them; you do not really care about or value animals. You certainly do not love them, because there is no way to torture the definition of “love” enough to encompass an embrace of someone who promotes killing, is an apologist for killers, an accomplice to killing, a defender of abusive pounds, a thief, a bully, and a liar, with “crimes” against animals going back over 15 years. If you support him despite that, you are a fake. And you know it.

Henry Bergh Leadership Awards 2011

August 10, 2011 by  

The No Kill Advocacy Center has issued a call for nominations for the Henry Bergh Leadership Awards. Who are the top No Kill advocates? They could be shelter directors or shelter refomers, rescuers or reporters, photographers or legislators. Anyone who stands up to those who would keep our movement shrouded in darkness. Do you know someone who deserves to be recognized for their commitment to saving lives?

Henry Bergh was a 19th Century animal advocate who launched the humane movement in North America. He gave the first speech on animal protection in the U.S., incorporated the nation’s first SPCA, and enforced anti-cruelty laws with passion. Every night, Bergh would patrol the streets of his native New York City looking for animals in need of protection. To those who opposed Bergh’s attempts at saving the lives of animals, he was known as “The Great Meddler.”

The recipients of the No Kill Advocacy Center’s annual Henry Begh Leadership Award epitomize the unwavering commitment of Bergh to save lives, even in the face of criticism and opposition.

To see last year’s winners, click here.

To nominate someone for this year, click here.

The Indictment of Wayne Pacelle

August 9, 2011 by  

In the past, I have written many blogs showing how Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, has betrayed the animals he is pledged to protect. From calling for the deaths of the victims of Michael Vick and then championing Michael Vick himself, from opposing No Kill in San Francisco and other communities and working to defeat progressive animal protection legislation in Texas, to publicly maligning and then calling for the death of cats, to his numerous fundraising scandals, time and again Pacelle has proven he is not fit to be head of the largest animal protection organization in the nation. Indeed, he is not fit to have any role in this movement.


With this blog, I set out to do something different. I have catalogued Pacelle’s misdeeds, one after another, so that there is a clear, thorough, and concise public record. While each of the sordid actions I have detailed are powerful enough in and of themselves to expose Pacelle as a dishonest and inauthentic advocate for animals, it is my hope that when considered as a whole, these incidents connect the dots to further reveal an unmistakable, deliberate, and consistent pattern to Pacelle’s behavior: one that shows a disregard for the animals welfare, a determination to undermine the work of progressive reformers, and the use of fraudulent and dishonest fundraising schemes.


I am a former Deputy District Attorney. As a DDA, I prosecuted all kinds of cases, either as the trial attorney, the motions deputy, the preliminary hearing deputy, or as the charging attorney. That includes rape, child sexual assault, domestic violence, animal cruelty, burglary, robbery, murder. Which is why I’ve chosen to lay out a case against Wayne Pacelle as if I was arguing before a judge or jury. I’ve written it with an opening statement, allegations and evidence, and a summation. Obviously, this is not a criminal complaint. And it is for the authorities to decide whether Pacelle’s actions amounts to legal fraud in, for example, the way Pacelle and his team intentionally mislead people to separate them from their money. Whether it is legal fraud or not, I believe it is unethical, irresponsible, and moreover, deliberate.


But as for the claims I make against him, you are the judge and jury, and I will leave it to each and every one of you to decide whether you believe, as I do, that he is guilty of the allegations I’ve laid out. This is my ten count “indictment” against Wayne Pacelle. And I am trying it in the court of public opinion.

I want to start by discussing, not Wayne Pacelle, but his associate, the notorious dog fighter Michael “Monster” Vick. Calling Michael Vick a dog fighter does not paint the picture adequately or accurately. Michael Vick took a dog and hung him by the neck “by placing a nylon cord over a 2 x 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed.” When the dog didn’t die, Vick put on the pair of overalls he wore when he did not want to get blood from the dogs on his expensive tailored suits, and drowned the dog in a 5 gallon bucket of water. He took a second dog that would not die from hanging and tossed the dog to the side, later hanging him again, this time until he did die. Even when some of his co-conspirators wanted to give away dogs who would not fight rather than kill them, Vick refused, stating “they got to go,” meaning the dogs needed to be killed. Vick beat dogs to death. He watched dogs drown in his swimming pool, he shot them, he electrocuted them, he buried them alive, he savagely abused them, he took great enjoyment in it, and he found it funny to watch family pets being torn apart.

Here is what one person involved wrote about her experience:

I just can’t get myself away from the swimming pool in Vick’s yard. I first learned about it while riding in the back seat of a federal agent’s car that sweltering Tuesday back in Sept 07. The agent was assigned with escorting us to the various Virginia shelters so we could evaluate “the evidence” otherwise known as 49 pit bulls – now known as cherished family pets: Hector, Georgia, Sweet Jasmine and the rest. I’m not sure if sharing insider information with us was kosher, but you know how driving down long country roads can get you talking. I imagine she just needed to get some things off her chest. She said she was having trouble sleeping since the day they exhumed the bodies on the Moonlight Road property. She said that when she watched the investigators uncover the shallow graves, she was compelled to want to climb in and pick up the decomposing dogs and comfort and cradle them. She knew that was crazy talk, and she was grappling with trying to understand such a surprising impulse.


Her candor set the tone for this entire saga. Everyone we worked with was deeply affected by the case. The details that got to me then and stay with me today involve the swimming pool that was used to kill some of the dogs. Jumper cables were clipped onto the ears of underperforming dogs, then, just like with a car, the cables were connected to the terminals of car batteries before lifting and tossing the shamed dogs into the water. Most of Vick’s dogs were small – 40lbs or so – so tossing them in would’ve been fast and easy work for thick athlete arms. We don’t know how many suffered this premeditated murder, but the damage to the pool walls tells a story. It seems that while they were scrambling to escape, they scratched and clawed at the pool liner and bit at the dented aluminum sides like a hungry dog on a tin can.


I wear some pretty thick skin during our work with dogs, but I can’t shake my minds-eye image of a little black dog splashing frantically in bloody water … screaming in pain and terror … brown eyes saucer wide and tiny black white-toed feet clawing at anything, desperate to get a hold. This death did not come quickly. The rescuer in me keeps trying to think of a way to go back in time and somehow stop this torture and pull the little dog to safety. I think I’ll be looking for ways to pull that dog out for the rest of my life.

And Michael Vick would still be doing those things if he could, but he can’t. Not because he knows better. Not because he has learned his lesson. Not because decency, and conscience, and compassion dictate that he can’t. But because he was caught. Michael Vick has never expressed any remorse for what he did. In fact, when he and Wayne Pacelle recently appeared together on a radio show, Vick said his was and is “a different kind of loving dogs.” And rather than condemn Vick for it, Wayne Pacelle, the head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization, agreed. He said: “obviously people who are involved in dog-fighting … they really do value the animals in certain ways.” And then, for the second time, he went on to suggest that we are all guilty. We are all “sinners.”

Michael Vick continues to avoid any responsibility for his crimes by claiming shooting dogs, drowning dogs, hanging dogs alive, electrocuting dogs, beating dogs to death and watching them tear each other to shreds is his way of expressing a “different kind” of love. And Wayne Pacelle has publicly stated that that man, that monster, would make a good pet owner and thus should be given the opportunity.

Over the years, Pacelle has shown how little he appears to care for animals. Time and time again, he has taken positions that are the antithesis of what you would expect from the head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization. Time and time again, he has sided with regressive and even cruel pound directors, championed the killing of dogs and cats, and worked to hinder the progress of the No Kill movement.

Given a history of anti-animal positions he has taken, it would seem unlikely that Pacelle could choose to do anything that would still have the power to shock us. But I must admit that Pacelle stunned me with how truly low and vile he has sunk with his embrace of Michael Vick. With his making Vick a spokesman for HSUS. With his claiming that Vick would make a good dog owner. And with his fighting to give Vick his old life back, thereby undoing the lesson every kid in American learned: abuse a dog and you’ll pay dearly. You’ll lose everything. Instead, he chose to give them a very different lesson: that if the lives of those animals don’t matter much to the Humane Society of the United States, why should they matter to you?

To Wayne Pacelle, Vick’s victims—the dogs who were still alive when he was arrested—did not deserve a second chance. He lobbied the court to have each and every one put to death. But the abuser, the killer, the man who shot and hung and electrocuted and drown and beat dogs to death, did and does. And to Wayne Pacelle, that’s valuing animals. That is love.

Can you imagine the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence embracing wife killer O.J. Simpson as a spokesman? Can anyone imagine the National Organization to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children embracing notorious pedophile John Geoghan as a spokesman? Can anyone imagine the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network embracing rapist Josef Fritzl as a spokesman? And yet the head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization did this very thing: embraced our version of Simpson, Geoghan, and Fritzl. It is beyond obscene. It is unthinkable. But that is what Wayne Pacelle did. And with Pacelle, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Count One: Wayne Pacelle betrayed the victims of Michael Vick by lobbying to have them killed, even as he embraced their abuser, to the detriment of the animals and our cause.

Count Two: In 1993, Wayne Pacelle’s group, the Fund For Animals, was seeking legislation to round up and kill cats in California. A coalition of TNR and rescue groups lined up in opposition to AB 302 and AB 1000. The latter was the most draconian of the two. Despite only a couple of cat rabies cases per year, and some years none, AB 1000 would have empowered animal control officers to kill cats on sight in the field if they didn’t have proof of rabies. Though tragic, it was unsurprising. In the Funds for Animals legislative wrap-up, they supported an ordinance that would have made it illegal to trap cats in Santa Cruz with two exceptions, one of which was “for proper disposal,” as if the cats were nothing more than yesterday’s trash. I wrote Pacelle and asked him to please stop the pro-killing advocacy. He failed to reply. His response, not to me but to a mutual friend, was that cats kill birds.

Count Three: In 2007, while Wayne Pacelle was lobbying to have the Vick dogs killed, he was fundraising off of them by telling donors that they were caring for them, when they were not.  He falsely claimed that “Officials from our organization have examined some of these dogs and, generally speaking, they are some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country.” In fact, following their actual assessment, only one dog was deemed too vicious to save. He thus lied, perjuring himself as an advocate for the mass slaughter of abuse victims. But he almost succeeded in having them killed.

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 and then used these photographs to fundraise. Not only was that a lie. Not only did they want the dogs dead. Not only were they not going to use the money for the Vick dogs, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office felt so betrayed that they did not want to work with any animal groups. If they hadn’t, if they were not convinced otherwise, Hector, Jasmine, and the other victims would be dead right now.

Count Four: In April of 2008, the town council of Randolph, Iowa announced a bounty, offering $5 to anyone who brought a cat to the pound. In most cases, those cats would be put to death. This is the kind of pro-killing public policy that started Henry Bergh’s fight with the dog catchers of New York City. In 19th Century New York City, children were paid 50 cents for every dog they brought to the pound to be killed, leading to a profitable trade in dogs. Dogs were stolen from people’s yards, from people’s homes, taken from the arms of their families, so that they could be taken to the pound and ultimately drowned in the East River. Roughly 150 years later, officials in Randolph wanted to reinstate a 19th Century policy that favored killing, this time for cats. While cat lovers cried foul and tried to stop the initiative, Pacelle’s handpicked Vice-President of Companion Animals at HSUS, the man who himself killed animals as the director of a pound in Florida, defended the Randolph killing, saying that HSUS doesn’t have a problem with killing stray cats, but said the money spent on the bounty would be better spent hiring someone who knows what he or she is doing.

Count Five: In August of 2008, the pound in Tangipahoa Parish, LA ordered the killing of every animal in their facility. The culprit: a mild corona virus that caused diarrhea in just a handful of dogs, which is not contagious to cats, and is self-limiting, meaning it resolves on its own without any medical intervention.  More than 170 dogs and cats were killed. A former employee of the pound says she’ll never forget the image: “I did walk back there at one point and they were all piled on top of each other, just lying there dead.”  HSUS came to the pound’s defense, blaming the killing on pet overpopulation and that people do not care enough about animals, thereby exonerating the pound.

Count Six: In February of 2009, over 150 Pit Bull-type dogs and puppies were seized from a dog fighter in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Each and every one was systematically put to death over the opposition of rescue groups, dog advocates, and others. Some of the puppies were born after the seizure. And a foster parent was even ordered to return two-week old puppies she had nursed back to health to be killed. As they did in the Michael Vick case, HSUS once again led the charge to have all the dogs, including the puppies, slaughtered. And like in the Vick case, they perjured themselves before the court, testifying that all the dogs, including the two week old bottle feeders, were irremediably vicious and should be put to death. The court sided with Pacelle’s “experts.” 150 victims lay dead, not by a dog fighter, not by an abuser, but because of Wayne Pacelle’s insistence that they should be put to death.

Count Seven: In March 2009, a San Francisco, CA Commission took up the issue of a No Kill city by considering shelter reform legislation to mandate the types of lifesaving programs the pounds in that community were refusing to implement voluntarily, killing animals for being “too fat,” “too old,” “too playful,” and “too shy.” San Francisco has the lowest intake rate of any major urban community in the U.S. but is still killing savable animals despite the fact that communities which have over five times the per capita intake rate have achieved No Kill success. Why? San Francisco pounds find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. But the law, and the No Kill reform effort, was be tabled after Pacelle himself wrote a letter insisting on the right of “shelters” to kill animals in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives they simply refuse to implement, arguing that pet overpopulation prevented more lifesaving, and arguing that “shelters” should not be regulated. The killing continues.

County Eight: A 2010 survey of New York State rescue groups found that 71% of them were being turned away by at least one “shelter,” and those “shelters” then turned around and killed the very animals they offered to save. The end result is that tens of thousands of animals are being killed in New York State pounds even though they have an immediate place to go. Legislation to mandate collaboration which would have saved those lives at no cost to taxpayers, was not supported by HSUS. And when animal advocates tried to mandate shelter reform in Texas, HSUS helped coordinate the opposition. In Texas, the law would have mandated:

  • Collaboration: Texas pounds would not have been able to kill animals if rescue groups were willing to save them;
  • 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;
  • Decency: would have made it illegal to kill animals using the cruel gas chamber; and
  • Fairness: would have made it illegal to kill animals based on arbitrary criteria (breed, color, age, etc.).

It is difficult, for example, to overstate just how abhorrent and revolting gassing is. The process can take as long as 30 minutes after multiple animals are placed or thrown into a metal box, sometimes piled on one another or on the dead bodies of those gassed before them. The gas is turned on, the animals gasp for breath, their insides burning. They claw at the floor and throw themselves against the walls of the chamber in an attempt to get out. Sometimes the process doesn’t work, and is repeated on animals who survived. The law would have also stopped pounds across the state that kill all dogs they claim are pit bulls. It would have made it illegal for “shelters” to kill animals when a rescue group was willing to save those animals. But HSUS brought all those cruel directors together for a meeting with the legislative sponsor in order to derail its passage.

So if Wayne Pacelle’s HSUS does not support that kind of lifesaving legislation, what kind of legislation does it support? One of HSUS’ legislative initiatives this year was California’s AB 1279. It will not save a single life. The law will not improve conditions in pounds and other killing shelters one iota. And not one animal will benefit from it. In fact, it isn’t designed for the animals at all. It has one purpose: to excuse and exonerate those who harm them. AB 1279 changes California’s animal shelter laws to replace the word “pound” to “animal shelter,” “poundkeeper” to “animal shelter director,” and “destroy” to “humanely euthanize.” In other words, it legislates doublespeak and codifies euphemisms that are designed to obscure the gravity of what we are doing to animals as a society, and thus make the task of killing easier.

Count Nine: Every year, Wayne Pacelle’s organization calls for a celebration called “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week,” where we are asked to reward animal shelters and the “dedicated people” who work at them. According to the annual press release, HSUS is “the strongest advocate” for shelters. But at the same time as HSUS proclaims itself the Number 1 cheerleader for killing shelters in the country, there is an ever-increasing amount of nationwide media coverage revealing widespread animal neglect and outright abuse at these very institutions. These exposes show a strikingly different reality than the fantastical and mythical description of these pounds portrayed by the very agency that is supposed to be their watchdog. And when it does come out, HSUS either is silent, looks the other way, or, more egregiously, defends the abusive and/or poorly performing “shelters.”

You would expect that the head of the nation’s largest and wealthiest animal protection group would condemn shelter atrocities like those occurring in Los Angeles county “shelters”:

  • A staff member at Los Angeles County’s animal control shelter kicked a dog forcibly held upside down with a catch-all pole and a hard-wire noose wrapped around his neck; and,
  • When another at this same shelter dragged a dog with a broken back; and,
  • When another dragged two dogs across hot asphalt; and
  • When others allowed a dog to starve and die in a filthy kennel; and
  • When they allowed rabbits to go without food and water. In fact, in what has come to be known as “Spinal Monday,” rabbits were forced to cannibalize one another because they were starving. When staff finally checked in on the rabbits, one of them had his spine exposed as he was being eaten alive by the others; and,
  • When a sick puppy was allowed to languish and die without any care; and,
  • When 80% of cat cages were kept empty while the shelter killed 80% of all the cats it took in.

But not a word of concern, condemnation, or protest from Pacelle, who the director of the pound calls a friend. In fact, Pacelle rarely, if ever, condemns killing shelters for neglect and abuse. In fact, quite to the contrary, Pacelle even came to the defense of Miami-Dade’s regressive director (since forced to resign) even after video surfaced showing abusive killing, with cats screaming in terror as they were put to death cruelly.

Count Ten: When Wayne Pacelle misled donors by asking for money for the care of the Michael Vick dogs even though HSUS not only wasn’t caring for the dogs, but was actively seeking to have them put to death, it wasn’t the first time he did so. Misrepresentation is a recurring pattern and deliberate part of Pacelle’s fundraising strategy. In 2005, for example, after the most devastating Hurricane in modern history, HSUS raised roughly $30,000,000 to help the animals impacted by Hurricane Katrina. HSUS spent a paltry $4,000,000 of that money on Hurricane Katrina animals in the aftermath of the devastation. And after sending the animals “rescued” by HSUS to killing shelters around the country, he declared “Mission Accomplished” and left with tens of millions which he socked away in HSUS bank accounts, earning HSUS an investigation by the Attorneys General of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Adding insult to injury, 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.

In 2009, HSUS set a goal of raising one million dollars in one month on the back of an abused 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 this 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.

To this day, HSUS has a strategy of deliberately confusing donors that HSUS is their local humane society and refusing to let local humane societies clarify it if they want any assistance from HSUS (HSUS spends roughly ½ of 1% of what they raise on actual care of animals in U.S. shelters). In fact, when the State Humane Association of California cried foul and asked the Attorney General to investigate the ASPCA’s fraudulent fundraising, ostensibly fearing that HSUS might be the next target, Wayne Pacelle sent them a bullying letter of condemnation.

There is more. While the World Health Organization was telling people cats did not pose a health risk during the heightened frenzy over bird flu, Pacelle’s organization was fanning the flames of misinformation and fear mongering by telling people not to help, feed, or touch stray cats but to call animal control when they see them, agencies with a history of mass slaughter. They lobbied to stop No Kill legislation in King County, Washington. They supported breed discriminatory legislation in Indianapolis, Indiana that would have led to the round up and killing of Pit Bulls. Pacelle told USA Today and Newsweek that killing in “shelters” is acceptable and that No Kill was warehousing. He and his team lied to the public, falsely claiming an epidemic of dog bites to convey the view that trying to save Pit Bulls was irresponsible and put children at risk.

His organization has falsely blamed cats for every conceivable social ill, including:

  • Being a public rabies threat: “cats are now the most common domestic vectors of rabies”;
  • Decimating wildlife: “free-roaming cats kill millions of wild animals each year”;
  • Being invasive, non-native intruders: “cats are not a part of natural ecosystems, and their predation causes unnecessary suffering and death;” and,
  • Causing neighborhood strife: “they also cause conflicts among neighbors.”

In Austin, HSUS supported the effort of former pound director Dorinda Pulliam (since forced to resign) who presided over 100,000 deaths, to move the facility from the vibrant community of downtown Austin which is the daily destination for thousands of Austinites to a more remote, industrial location where it would have led to decreased adoptions (and thus more killing), but would have meant bigger offices for shelter bureaucrats. In 2009, his group told people not to adopt animals during the holidays, effectively accepting the deaths of 1,000,000 animals as the alternative. Pacelle allowed PETA to give a presentation at his national conference equating a movement to save the lives of animals in “shelters” with the mental illness which leads to animal cruelty, despite the fact that PETA slaughters over 90% of the animals they take in and dumps the bodies in  supermarket trash bins. In Oregon, his representative slammed No Kill and supported a pound which left all but six cat cages intentionally empty so that staff did not have to clean the cages or work hard, killing the remainder. And he continues to claim that killing is kindness.

When someone shows us, tells us who and what they really are, over and over and over and over again, we should believe them. Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, is an embracer of killers, an apologist for killers, an accomplice to killing, a defender of abusive pounds, a thief, a bully, and a liar, with “crimes” against animals going back over 15 years.

The Court is Now in Session

August 8, 2011 by  

All rise, the Honorable Rusty Newton, presiding. An interview with the Deputy County Judge.

Shelby County Deputy Judge-Executive Rusty Newton (right) with Animal Control Supervisor Bradley King (left) in front of the Shelby County Animal Shelter. Shelby County recently celebrated its third No Kill year during Judge Newton’s tenure.

When people think of the No Kill movement, they might think of me, Ryan Clinton, Bonney Brown, Mike Fry, or any of the advocates and directors across the country, and indeed across the world, including many of this year’s No Kill Conference speakers, all of whom are helping pave the way for the inevitable conquest of a No Kill nation. Few people think of Rusty Newton. But they should.

In many ways, that they don’t is how Rusty Newton likes it. He did not set out to become a role model and he does not seek the national limelight. As he says,

I really don’t think about it that way. Our intent is to do our part to help the animals within our jurisdiction. Any animals outside of that we can help is just an added benefit.

And it makes sense. Rusty Newton is not seeking glory or fame. He is not looking to make a national splash and you won’t see him making big speeches about why No Kill is the way to go. In fact, I had to keep on him for over a year just to get him to answer a few questions for me. His duty is to Shelby County, Kentucky and the many he serves there in various capacities. He’s a busy man who wears many hats. He is the Deputy Judge-Executive. He sits on Shelby County’s Fiscal Court. And he runs the “pound” as director of Shelby County Animal Control. And those are just his “official” duties.

Newton is a Southerner’s Southerner. A man who believes in law and order. Proud of his community. Glad to lend a hand to a neighbor. In some ways, he reminds me of Andy Griffith. Ever the gentleman, he is quick with a smile, has a tight gripped handshake while he looks you in the eye, he welcomes you to Kentucky with open arms and the best of what his community has to offer. And you do not go home empty-handed: In our household, we keep ourselves warm while watching television with a Shelby County, KY throw blanket. We celebrate with a drink of Maker’s Mark in a shot glass with the seal of Shelby County, KY. As we read the newspaper and plot our day in the morning over a cup of coffee, we do so with a Shelby County, KY mug. And when we reach for the keys, they are attached to a keychain emblazoned with the seal of, you guessed it, Shelby County, KY.

But it isn’t his charm or his generosity that should make Newton a household name within our movement. What defines Newton is that he and his team are responsible for the first No Kill community in Kentucky, which recently celebrated its third No Kill year. They have proved that a municipal-run shelter in the South can be No Kill. And they have rejected the excuses that continue to define not just most Southern shelters, but also their counterparts in the North, East, and West.

I recently interviewed Judge Newton about Shelby County’s success and how the rest of the country can benefit from his “can do” outlook. Here’s what he had to say.

Nathan J. Winograd: First of all, congratulations on three years as a No Kill community. Historically, shelters have claimed that No Kill could not be achieved in the South. They claimed people were more irresponsible, had more antiquated views, and more poverty and that these factors prevented shelters from saving lives. Having lived in Georgia, I knew this to be false, but it was a tough sell to some. Thankfully, you’ve proved that these are all unfair stereotypes. In fact, you’ve proved that despite whatever things may separate us as Americans, people of all walks of life want to build a better world for animals. And that it isn’t geography that matters, but hard work and perseverance. What do you say to the Naysayers who continue to think No Kill is an impossible dream? And how did you successfully achieve No Kill in Shelby County?

Judge Newton: I say, it’s time to stop thinking old school and realize that there are a lot of people out there in your community that are more than willing to put forth the effort needed to achieve No Kill. You must use the resources that are available. And the number one resource that any community has is people. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Our shelter wouldn’t have the level of success we have without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers. Once the community notices the positive changes that are being made within the shelter, more and more volunteers will jump on board to assist you in achieving your goals.

You must also have the right people in the right positions, from the Shelter Director down to the Kennel Attendants. The Shelby County Animal Shelter also works closely with other local animal advocacy groups. These groups are also a huge asset. It is the united effort of each animal advocacy group, working along with our shelter that has helped us to achieve and maintain our No Kill status.

NJW: At the No Kill Conference in Washington DC in 2010, a representative of Shelby County told people from 39 states and four countries about your success and received a thunderous applause. What advice do you have for other communities across the world about how to achieve Shelby’s level of success?

Judge Newton: To achieve and maintain No Kill status requires dedication. It also takes a tremendous amount of effort, patience, and organization in order to persevere. It’s not something you can do by yourself. In our case, we are a government-run shelter. We had to have the support of our government officials who accepted Shelby County No Kill Mission’s offer to assist the shelter in 2008 in becoming No Kill. We also had to have the support of the organizations that were willing to raise money and help with programs such as our spay/neuter program; where every animal that leaves our shelter is sterilized. The Shelby County Animal Shelter, Shelby County No Kill Mission, Operation Catsnip, Woodstock Animal Foundation, and the Shelby County Humane Society together participate in onsite as well as offsite adoption events and community awareness programs.

NJW: You yourself have to wear a hundred different hats in your official county role, tell me about the role as savior of feral cats? I’ve heard stories about you bringing sterilized feral cats to a local farmer’s association and telling people to take them home and release them in their barns. And do you ever sleep?

Judge Newton: I support Trap, Neuter, Release. TNR is essential in any county. Shelby County is a rural farm community. This allows us the opportunity to find homes for our feral cats, without altering their natural habitat. These cats are able to live freely, while the farmers get barn cats who contribute as cats do on farms. And yes, I do sleep occasionally.

NJW: When I went to Shelby County, I was greeted with open arms. In fact, I drink my coffee from a Shelby County mug, my keys have a Shelby county key ring, and when we watch T.V. on those chilly evenings, we are covered with a Shelby County throw. In fact, you introduced me to the hundreds of people who came out to hear the message of hope of the No Kill philosophy. Why did you embrace the No Kill message so openly when others continue to claim it is impossible?

Judge Newton: It was a win/win situation for the animals and the county. We had the Shelby County No Kill Mission and others who were willing to help. All we needed to do was to be open to change and let them.

NJW: Did you believe you could become a shining light to the nation so quickly? And at what point did you know that you were going to succeed?

Judge Newton: I really don’t think about it that way. Our intent is to do our part to help the animals within our jurisdiction. Any animals outside of that we can help is just an added benefit. We have a staff that works hard to see that the day to day operations are handled appropriately, so that we can maintain our status. Our staff works diligently to be a role model facility that volunteers and the community want to help, and want to adopt their family pet from. We knew we would succeed when all of the volunteers and advocate groups came forward with a willingness to work toward our ultimate goal. We also know that this is an ongoing project that we have to work at daily. We cannot become complacent.

NJW: If you could give just one piece of advice, the one thing you wish you knew a few years ago before starting this initiative, what would it be?

Judge Newton: Years ago, I wish I knew all of the people that work so hard, from the kennel attendant to the transport coordinators, the vets, the volunteers, the advocacy groups and rescuers, and all the rest. I wish I had known them and knew their abilities years ago because this would have become a No Kill county much earlier than it did. The advice I would give officials in other communities is to start looking for those people out there who can help. Embrace your community. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Without help, it can’t happen.

NJW: Any final thoughts?

Judge Newton: I would like to thank everyone who has made Shelby County the success that it is today. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Always the gentleman. The court is now adjourned.

Please note: Some of the answers were edited for space.

The No Kill Revolution Starts with YOU

August 3, 2011 by  

Reforming Animal Control in Your Community through Effective Political Advocacy

Guest Blog by Ryan Clinton

It is a story as old as our movement. The shelter in your community is killing large numbers of animals, the quality of care in the shelter is low, and the bureaucracy that oversees the shelter appears indifferent. A group of advocates wants the shelter to stop the needless killing and to start treating the animals as they deserve. But everywhere they turn—to the City Council or County Commissioners, to the media, to the large national organizations like the ASPCA or Humane Society of the United States—leads to nowhere.  They get excuses, “It’s pet overpopulation,” “It’s the public’s fault,” “There is nothing we can do.” But someone has to do something, you think. That someone is you.

There was a time when Austin’s municipal animal shelter was a very dangerous place for lost and homeless pets. In 2005, the shelter put to death 14,304 animals. That’s almost 40 dogs and cats killed every single day of the year. The shelter director at the time had no interest in increasing the number of animals leaving the shelter alive and opposed common-sense alternatives to killing, such as a foster program and offsite adoptions.  In other words, Austin was a typical animal control shelter that killed more animals than it saved. And there was no internal desire to change, except for lip-service to a mythical time in the future when they would not have to kill because the “irresponsible public” would have become responsible.

All told, the then-director of the shelter killed over 100,000 animals during her tenure. And she did so after refusing to implement common-sense alternatives to killing. She refused to stop killing even after a state inspection report noted that the shelter routinely had hundreds of empty cages. She argued 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 kittens.

Worse still, a failed late-1990s campaign to become a “No Kill” city was forgotten, invisible even in the rear-view mirrors of animal advocates and policy makers. And some who were advocates for change in the 1990s learned the wrong lesson from their failed effort: instead of researching and advocating for proven lifesaving programs to reduce Austin’s shelter killing (programs they had not demanded in the late 1990s), they abandoned hope and became entrenched in an effort to defend the status quo they subsequently joined. For example, after resigning from the Austin Humane Society in the late 1990s, the then-Executive Director of the organization switched sides and led an ASPCA-sponsored effort against shelter reform in 2007. Even as the shelter director was killing well over a thousand animals each month, the ASPCA was publicly backing the shelter director, opposing reasonable reform efforts, defending the killing, attacking advocates, and blaming the animals themselves for their own fate. In their own words: “The problem is not getting adopters to the shelter, but rather, having enough desirable and placeable animals to choose from.”

There was no foster care program, no offsite adoption program, no progressive director, no “No Kill Equation.” There were just a lot of excuses and a lot of killing—14,304 animals in one year alone. But those days are no more—a bygone era of a tragic past.

Today, more dogs and cats are leaving Austin’s shelter alive than at any time in its history; roughly nine out of ten animals are going out the front door in the loving arms of families. A successful reform effort led by animal-welfare advocates succeeded despite heavy opposition from the former shelter manager, the local humane society, some policymakers, and the ASPCA. How it happened is a lesson for other communities whose pounds and shelters are overseen by regressive directors—communities in which  No Kill advocates must fight not only institutional inertia and uncaring within health departments, police departments, or other bureaucratic agencies of government, but also the large national organizations—like the ASPCA—that inexplicably and indefensibly want the old-guard, high-killing paradigm to continue.

Austin’s success was not the result of “community collaboration,” as others have suggested. It was the result of a fight. A fight against the powers-that-be. A fight against indecency and uncaring that took place every time an animal was injected with poison from a bottle marked “Fatal-plus.” It was also a fight over community values and priorities, and it was a fight for access to the animals that the shelter deemed “unadoptable” and “unwanted.”

How Austin went from a community that killed over 14,000 animals a year to a fraction of that provides a road-map for your community. How they did it is how you can do it, too.

Step One: Arm Yourself

Nothing happens without leadership. Achieving No Kill success in your community depends on individuals willing to take on the difficult task of fighting for change. But do not go out looking for “someone to do something.” That “someone” is you. In Austin, a handful of people with busy, hectic lives including full-time jobs, companion animals, relationships, and more, fought for a No Kill Austin and ultimately prevailed. You can do it, too.

Do Your Homework

The first step in your advocacy efforts is to prepare yourself for the battle ahead: do your homework and get to know the No Kill movement. Familiarize yourself with the programs and services of the “No Kill Equation.” This is the only model that has successfully created a No Kill community, and it is a model that has also been replicated in multiple cities across the country with the same successful results. The programs of the No Kill Equation are basic, common-sense policies to replace killing that even the staunchest No Kill opponents have trouble countering:

  1. A TNR Program
  2. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
  3. Working with Rescue Groups
  4. A Foster Care Program
  5. Comprehensive Adoption Programs
  6. Pet Retention Efforts
  7. Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation
  8. Public Relations / Community Involvement
  9. Working with Volunteers
  10. Progressive Field Services & Proactive Redemptions
  11. A Compassionate Director

But it isn’t enough for a shelter to have each of these programs and policies.  No Kill is only achieved when they are rigorously and comprehensively implemented so that they replace killing entirely. All neonatal kittens and puppies, for example, should be sent into foster care; not just some of them.

Thankfully, there are now No Kill communities in California, New York, Kentucky, Virginia, Michigan, and elsewhere. Familiarize yourself with them, such as Washoe County (Reno), Nevada. In Reno, the Nevada Humane Society led a successful No Kill initiative that has resulted in a countywide save rate better than 90%, despite a per-capita intake rate that is over twice the national average. Reno is a shining example of a community that could rely on excuses for shelter killing, but instead chose to fully embrace the No Kill Equation.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the opposition’s purported alternative strategy: Legislation, Education, and Sterilization (LES). The opposition will say that the real keys to saving lives are tough mandatory laws (like pet-limit laws, licensing, bans on feeding outdoor cats, and mandatory spay-neuter laws), humane education, and sterilization. It’s a strategy they’ve been pushing for over 30 years, but that has never created a single No Kill community.

Remember, while increasing spay and neuter rates is an important part of saving lives, and community outreach is a fine goal in theory, “LES” has never achieved No Kill success anywhere in the country. In fact, most communities that have achieved No Kill success did so even before a comprehensive, high-volume spay/neuter program was in place. Moreover, some programs of this strategy—like mandatory pet-limit laws or mandatory spay/neuter requirements—have actually increased shelter killing by increasing the number of animals surrendered to or seized by animal-control authorities. What works is the proven, cost-effective programs and policies of the No Kill Equation. It represents a future of lifesaving success, not the history of failure resulting from “LES.”

Get to Know the Players In Your Community

Once you’ve conquered the basics of the No Kill philosophy and understand how America’s shelters can dramatically reduce unnecessary shelter killing, it’s time to figure out what precisely is going on in your community. After all, you cannot know what change to ask for if you do not know what your shelter and community are doing—or not doing—for companion animals already.

Take some time to speak with all of the significant animal-welfare stakeholders in your community. Go meet with the leaders of the rescue groups. Go meet with representatives of your local humane society or SPCA. Go meet with your local low-cost spay/neuter and veterinary-care providers. Find out whether these stakeholders are open or hostile to No Kill programs and policies. The answers may surprise you, and unfortunately not in a good way.

Also, go meet with your shelter director and give him or her a chance to be a hero. Let him/her know that all you want to do is save lives, and that your goal is to give him/her the tools to dramatically reduce shelter killing. There are some shelter directors who, given a chance, will embrace No Kill reforms and the necessary changes to save lives at municipal shelters. Most won’t, and don’t make the mistake of delaying progress by allowing them to placate you with years of empty promises. But don’t walk away without first giving him or her at least one chance to demonstrate a commitment to lifesaving.

When you’re meeting with your community’s animal-welfare stakeholders, use these meetings as an opportunity to gather important information for your efforts:

  • What are the shelter’s adoption hours? Is it open on evenings and weekends when working people are more likely to adopt?
  • Does your shelter have an offsite adoption program? Seven days a week in multiple locations?
  • Does your shelter have a foster program? How many animals were fostered last year? How does that compare to successful No Kill communities?
  • Does your shelter have a TNR program? Volunteer program? Pet retention program?
  • Does your shelter director embrace lifesaving policies? Or does your shelter director blame the public and reject all responsibility for shelter outcomes?

Go through the steps of the No Kill Equation and determine which, if any, your shelter and community members are already implementing and how comprehensively they are. In addition, find out your shelter’s funding sources, budget, and workforce. All of this information will help you figure out what needs to be changed in your community, what programs need to be added, and what barriers and obstacles you need to overcome.

Step Two: Prepare for Battle

Identify Your Goals

Now that you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start building a No Kill campaign. The first part—identifying your goals—is an easy one. Your goals are:

  • New Leadership. The single, most important factor that will determine a community’s success or failure is passionate, hard-working leadership that is not content to hide behind the “myth of pet overpopulation” or regurgitate tired clichés about “public irresponsibility.” You want and the animals deserve a shelter director who takes responsibility, demands accountability, and gets the job done humanely.
  • Comprehensive implementation of each and every program of the No Kill Equation.
  • Legislation. You want to codify animal protection through passage of the Companion Animal Protection Act.

Together, these three goals will allow you to achieve and sustain a No Kill community (a community which saves over 90% or more of all animals).

Identify Your Audience

As an animal advocate, you likely won’t have unlimited resources. Many advocates have full-time jobs that don’t allow them to spend every minute of every hour on No Kill efforts. That’s why you have to target your efforts to be as efficient as possible with both your money and your time. And part of that is targeting your message to the right audience: you don’t have to convince everybody; you just have to convince those who can make a difference for animals in your community.

Your primary audience should be the persons who have the most direct ability to save lives: (1) the shelter director—who single-handedly holds the keys to implementing lifesaving policies and programs, and (2) the shelter’s governing body (this could be either a governmental body or a private board of directors)—which holds the ability to hire, fire, and heavily influence your shelter director. If your shelter is run directly by a municipal government, then your shelter’s governing board will likely be a City Council or County Commission. If your shelter is run by a non-profit entity, then the shelter’s governing board is the private entity’s board of directors. Please note, however, that if a private entity runs your shelter through a contract to perform the government’s animal services, then the shelter remains accountable to the government—meaning that you can still effect policy change by directing efforts towards the municipality’s governing body, in addition to the non-profit Board of Directors.

Secondary audiences are those who can influence the decisions of the primary audiences. Your secondary audiences should include the local press and the public. There will be times when your direct efforts to influence the primary audience are ineffective; you must also target this secondary audience so they can pressure the first.

Craft Your Message

People care about animals. But they do not spend their days and nights thinking about what happens to them in shelters. It is a cliché but it bears repeating: people live busy, hectic lives. This includes media representatives, politicians, and their staff. They will not read a 50-page treatise on everything that is wrong with the shelter. They will not cull through a 10-page press release giving every example of what the shelter has done wrong over the last year. Too often, advocates make the mistake of trying to be overly comprehensive in their information, thinking that if officials learn everything that is going on, they will support shelter reform. Unfortunately, that means they will learn nothing, because they won’t read it. You have to be parsimonious.

You must focus your message to be as powerful, precise, and clear as possible. The basic rules for communicating a No Kill message are: (1) keep it simple; (2) use high-impact language; (3) target your message to your goals; and (4) repeat, repeat, repeat. Each of these communication goals requires preparation. Plan your communication strategy and then stick to your message.

Keep it simple by using high-impact language. Focus your message so succinctly that you could tell a complete stranger everything they need to know in 60 seconds (this is sometimes referred to as an “elevator speech”). It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. For print media, you might have three to five minutes to communicate your message. For television news media, you’ve got about five to seven seconds. For print ads, people might read one or two sentences before flipping the page. You’ve got to keep it very simple. Our message in Austin: “Under the current shelter manager, Austin has killed over 100,000 dogs and cats. That’s over ten thousand every year, thousands per month, hundreds per week, dozens per day, one every 12 minutes the shelter was open to the public. It does not have to be this way.”

Austin reformers also fought an ASPCA-led effort to move the shelter from its centrally located downtown location to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind location in an industrial area on the edge of town. The message to keep the shelter in its current location was simple but powerful: “If the City moves the shelter, even more animals will die.” About six months into the controversy, the press started using that theme as their own, completely changing the debate.

Finally, repeat, repeat, repeat. Pick your message and stick to it. It takes a long time for a message to stick, and you’ll need to stay focused in order for your message to get through the noise of everyone else’s. One consistent message is key to getting noticed.

Step Three: Fight Smart

Be Professional

One of the most important aspects of No Kill advocacy is to be professional at all times, including in your appearance, preparation, presentations, and communications. When you meet with government officials, wear a suit; look like you’ve been there before and you’ll be there again. Come prepared with materials when you speak to officials, leaving behind professionally bound color copies.

To be effective, you’ll need officials to believe that you’re not going away—no matter how long it takes or how hard the journey is. If you lose a battle, take it on the chin and move on. Live to fight another day. And remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Be honest, be strong, and always tell the truth. If you lose your credibility, you may never get it back.

Build Relationships

Advocates on any issue can easily get caught up in protests, marches, Facebook debates, e-mail exchanges, and public speeches—things that are no doubt important in spreading your message to your audiences. But politics is about relationships. It is about “shaking hands” and “kissing babies.” If you truly want to effect change, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way—by getting to know the decision-makers and those who can influence them in a personal way. Protests and blogs have their role, but real change happens when people want to help you, not when they feel that you are forcing them to.

So what does this mean for you? It means that instead of firing off an angry e-mail or shouting at a public meeting, take a decision-maker or stakeholder to lunch. Meet them over a cup of coffee. Get to know them and, perhaps more importantly, let them get to know you and see you as a reasonable person with valid concerns. Real relationships are far more valuable than anything else in politics.

Get Social

In addition to building relationships with policymakers and stakeholders, there are many other advocacy tools available to No Kill advocates. The key is to use as many tools as possible to efficiently and effectively advocate for No Kill reforms.

Online Advocacy

The easiest advocacy tool accessible to every animal advocate is the internet, and your use of the internet will be at the center of your No Kill communications campaign. First, you’ll need a website with your own domain name because this is where people will go to learn about you. As with all of your communications, make sure your website is professional and easy to use. On your website, be sure to include an “about us” page that describes your mission, a “contact us” page for people to communicate with you, a frequently-asked questions page, a “how you can help” page, and a place for people to sign up for your e-mail list to keep themselves advised of ongoing issues and events. To encourage frequent visits, keep your “news” content as current as possible.

Another powerful advocacy tool is a blog. You can create your own blog through any number of free blog services, like and These sites are designed for frequent updating; so be sure to add timely content frequently. When you set up a blog, be sure to add a spot on the main page of your website to link to your blog. Every time you update your blog, share it with your Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

These are just a start. Stay current and learn from others. New social media tools are becoming available all the time and each can help you broaden your message and expand your reach.

Traditional Media

In No Kill advocacy, the news media must be viewed both as an audience and as a potential ally in promoting your lifesaving message. Getting the press to publicize your viewpoint and talking points will help you reach a far larger audience than you would likely otherwise would. Look to television news, newspapers and magazines, online media, and radio stations.

Focus first on members of the media who have already reported on animal welfare as they are more likely to help you than a reporter who has never shown interest in animal issues. This does not have to be a news reporter— it could be a news reporter, a public-interest or charity reporter, or even a sports reporter. Second, also add to your list the general “news tip” e-mail addresses of all of the local media outlets that you will also target with your press releases; these e-mail addresses are available on their websites.

A well-crafted press release is one of the most effective ways to circulate your message to the media. Your one-to-two page press releases should look like professional press releases: include your logo and address, a media contact, an attention-catching headline, and text with stakeholder quotations. Press releases should read like news stories, complete with quotations and attributions; sometimes they will even be printed—without changes—in local newspapers or online. Take a look at other organizations’ press releases for ideas.

But like politics, it’s not just about identifying potentially interested and sympathetic media members; it’s also about getting to know them, and getting them to know you. Meet them for coffee; take them to lunch. Invite them to come to your group’s event, or offer to give them a tour of your shelter if you have one. When you’ve developed a relationship with a media member, don’t necessarily expect that a reporter will interview you for every animal-welfare story; you can be equally—or perhaps even more—effective by being a background resource for reporters every time they want to report on animal-welfare issues. Gain their trust. Never oversell yourself or your story because you can lose your credibility with just one mistake. Don’t be emotional or irrational; being effectively passionate means being calm, informed, and helpful.


Although getting press through a press release is very cost-effective, you should also consider purchasing advertisements in your local newspapers. Wait until you can afford a large ad as small advertisements do not have a significant impact. Call your newspapers’ advertising departments and ask for discounted non-profit and political rates. Use humor in your ads when possible. Advertisements can both make a statement of strength and professionalism, and spread your No Kill message.

Step Four: Be Political

Using the media and spreading your message online are tools for political change. They are meant to expand your campaign. They are not the campaign itself. Ultimately, all of your advocacy efforts are intended to sway those decision-makers who can actually implement or mandate the implementation of lifesaving programs and policies. Spreading your message from afar (through websites, advertisements, articles, etc.) helps, but nothing substitutes for face-to-face politics. Call and ask for a meeting with your City or County representatives (you may have to meet with a staff member first). Be prepared, be reasonable, be precise, make your case, and leave informative materials behind. Develop helpful and positive relationships with government officials and their staff. Ask them if they will commit to helping support your efforts to implement lifesaving reforms.

Part of your job as you develop relationships with government officials is to help teach and inform them about lifesaving No Kill programs and policies, and to be a resource for them as animal-welfare issues come before them. One of your best opportunities to develop such relationships is when a new candidate is building coalitions and support for a first-time campaign. Call prospective candidates and ask for meetings with them. Teach them about No Kill successes and about the failures in your community, and ask for their support. Ask them to commit to supporting No Kill reforms, introduce them to potential supporters and stakeholders, and help draw attention to their campaigns.

Finally, directly engage in the democratic process by openly supporting candidates who commit to implementing No Kill reforms—and by opposing candidates who mindlessly defend unnecessary shelter killing. Ask candidates to fill out No Kill questionnaires and rate their answers (and their record, if any) in a full-page advertisement in the local newspaper. There’s nothing like a full-page ad to show candidates you are serious. Candidates who receive high animal-welfare ratings will often turn around and use those ratings in their campaigns—a win-win for all parties.  (Please note that some non-profit organizations cannot engage in electioneering.)

Step Five: Anticipate the Opposition

The Status Quo

In any public-interest arena, the status quo has an inherent advantage, however unfair that is. Whatever is already occurring is the norm, and it is difficult to change. In the animal-sheltering arena, the status quo is comprised of shelter management, the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), city and county officials, the current major animal-welfare stakeholders (local SPCAs and humane societies), and uninformed members of the press.

It is highly likely that these groups will oppose your efforts. They will see you as a threat and an outsider with no right to question their authority. They will fight your efforts. And they will give predictable excuses for killing and predictable responses to your efforts. The status quo will:

  • Protect itself and consolidate power;
  • Deny any problem exists;
  • Attack you personally;
  • Blame the public for the killing;
  • Claim they are already doing what you’re demanding, or claim it won’t work (or both);
  • Use scare tactics;
  • Claim credit for successes and deflect blame for failures;
  • Falsely claim reform and change;
  • Expect you to give up and go away.

Responding to Common Anti-Reform Arguments

Thankfully, the status quo is very predictable and generally comes up with the same pro-killing arguments all over the country. This will make it easy for you to respond if you anticipate and prepare for them. These arguments include:

“It’s pet overpopulation.”

Blaming shelter killing on “pet overpopulation” is how the status quo primarily deflects blame for the results of their mismanagement. After all, if there is “pet overpopulation,” there is nothing they can do… right?

Wrong. There is no peer-reviewed study demonstrating “pet overpopulation,” and all recent analyses indicates that there are, in fact, far more homes for pets in America than there are animals entering shelters. In fact, there are over seven times more people acquiring pets every year than there are animals being killed in shelters for “lack of a home.” Even if most people get an animal from somewhere other than a shelter, we could still zero out the killing. It’s not about “overpopulation”; it’s about shelters competing in the market for shelter animals. When shelters compete with commercial sources of animals, animals live.

“It’s the irresponsible public’s fault.”

Shelters and politicians love to blame the public for shelter killing, even as they fail to make animals available for adoption and rescue. But however popular blaming the public is, it is just an excuse for killing; it is not a strategy for lifesaving. That’s why it’s your job to offer an alternative to shelter killing in the form of the No Kill Equation.

Second, remind your audience that there is a “public” in communities that stopped shelter killing virtually overnight. The public didn’t change in that time; it was the shelters’ programs and policies that changed. And while perhaps some bad members of the public are responsible for some animals entering shelters, the shelter itself is responsible for what happens to the animals once they arrive there. Finally, turn this against them. Let the public know how much disdain the director and certain politicians have for the people of their community, the people who pay their salaries.

“We don’t have the money.”

Lack of financial resources is another tool to deflect blame—“if we only had more money,” they will argue, “we could be No Kill.” While more resources is always preferable, a national study found that per capita spending on animal control did not account for the difference between No Kill communities and those who kill animals at disturbingly high rates. In fact, the study concluded that there is no correlation between the amount of money a shelter has and how many lives it saves. The difference, instead, is leadership. When leaders reject excuses and embrace lifesaving reforms, more animals leave shelters alive.

Moreover, remind your audience that many of the programs and policies of the No Kill Equation are free, low-cost, or even revenue positive. Permitting rescue groups to save animals saves both money and lives. Volunteers can provide much-needed support for free, and additional adoptions can bring in additional revenue. Offsite adoptions (which can be run by volunteers) not only increase adoptions, but they also increase shelter publicity and donations.

Remember: the shelters that have rigorously embraced No Kill policies and practices did not do so after they received a lot of money; the public in those communities responded with more donations and volunteer time after the shelter demonstrated its commitment to lifesaving by embracing the No Kill philosophy and the programs and services that make it possible. And that makes sense: do good things for animals, ask for the public’s help, and the public will support you.

“Our community is different; No Kill can’t work here.”

The No Kill Equation has worked to create No Kill communities in all types of communities—rich and poor, urban and rural, northern and southern, politically liberal and politically conservative. Claiming that something won’t work when your shelter hasn’t tried it is not only irrationally pessimistic, it’s morally indefensible. And again, blaming the public is an excuse—not a strategy for success.

“How dare you criticize animal shelter employees who work tirelessly every day to save animals!”

Focus on the shelter’s management and strategies rather than its employees (although in cases of animal abuse by shelter employees, don’t be afraid to criticize them, too). Compare the policies and the results of those policies (i.e., killing rates) in your community with those of more successful ones. The facts will speak for themselves. Although it will take many months (if not years) to change the press and politicians’ instinctual bias in favor of the shelter, you can cut into that bias by publicizing and documenting instances of abuse, neglect, and shelter mistakes that led to unnecessary lives lost. Over time, things will change.

Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

Even though the status quo is and will be against you, you are not remotely alone in wanting lifesaving shelter reform in your community. In fact, when you start publicly voicing your concerns, don’t be surprised if a number of people reach out to join you in your efforts. The animal-loving public supports you, too. “No Kill” efforts may not be popular with shelter directors and the status-quo animal-sheltering community, but lifesaving reforms are very popular with the public once you explain No Kill policies and programs to them. It’s your job to help them understand and to get them to embrace your efforts.

Realistically, however, a small group of you will do most of the work and because of that, there will be days when you might feel you are alone, but know that you aren’t. The public, armed with the facts, will support you. And no matter how hopeless things may look, they aren’t. Your sustained, unrelenting advocacy will eventually wear down the opposition. Forcing regressive shelter leaders to publicly account for harmful decisions that cause the needless deaths of animals will eventually show them for who and what they are. If you run a smart, focused campaign, if you harness the public’s inherent compassion, and if you project strength, professionalism, and confidence, you will eventually succeed.

Step Six: Become the Status Quo

Ultimately, your job is to break into, reform, and become the status quo because you want No Kill reforms not only to be implemented, but to become the norm for your community. This is a long-term project, not a short-term battle. Do this by getting involved with politics (donate to campaigns, host events, get to know officials, politicians, and press members). Act like you belong (dress professionally, communicate professionally, leave bound materials when meeting with officials). Stick around (it is those who quit who fail; only those who persist will prevail). Build relationships (with stakeholders, press members, and decision-makers). Define the debate (being against No Kill is being for shelter killing). And do not forget to seek laws that mandate how the shelter must operate, even if you succeed at creating a No Kill community without them. You want to codify your success into law so that things do not backslide when leadership changes again.

In Austin, the City Council passed a law making it illegal for the shelter to kill savable animals when there are empty cages. It mandated a foster care program and offsite adoptions. And it required the shelter to reach a 90% save rate. The impact was immediate.

Likewise, for No Kill success to be long lasting, you should focus on institutionalizing No Kill by giving shelter animals the rights and protections afforded by law. We need to regulate shelters in the same way we regulate hospitals and other agencies that hold the power over life and death. The answer lies in passing and enforcing shelter reform legislation that mandates how a shelter must operate. Laws that make it illegal for shelters to kill if there are empty cages, that require shelters to work with rescue groups, and that increase opportunities for lifesaving and adoption save lives regardless of who is running the shelter.

Step Seven: Never Give Up!

There will be a day when the systematic killing of animals in shelters is viewed as a cruel aberration of the past; a day when No Kill programs and policies are the norm rather than the exception. Our job is to make that happen sooner rather later. And that won’t happen until someone in your community steps up to the plate. That person is you.

It took Austin advocates five years to end the routine killing. Others are having quicker success, but do not expect it to be easy. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Our entire system of government is designed to make dramatic change difficult to effect. They expect you to give up and go home. Stay in the game for the long haul and you’ll prevail. Think about it this way: Killing is entrenched in this country. You will be ignored, dismissed, ridiculed, and attacked. They may appear invincible, but they are not. Because you have the truth, you have compassion, you have something worth fighting for, and you have the hearts and minds of the people.

If you work hard, fight smart, and never give up, you will prevail. When you do, the animals in your community will finally find in shelters a new beginning, instead of what they currently face—the end of the line. And they will find it, thanks to you. Advocates in Austin, Texas did it. Advocates in other places have, too. So can you.

For a fully formatted PDF of Ryan Clinton’s guide, click here.

Fixing Memphis’ Broken Shelter System

August 3, 2011 by  

Memphis Animal Services is a badly mismanaged house of horrors where roughly eight out of every 10 animals are put to death; where animals have been starved to death; and where animals have been neglected and abused by those who were supposed to protect them from it. In addition, Memphis Mayor AC Wharton promised reforms but the city has instead embarked on an illegal campaign to intimidate and silence critics by threatening them with spurious litigation in violation of their federal civil rights. You can read the sordid details at YesBiscuit by clicking here.

According to the website of the Memphis Rotary Club,

The Memphis Rotary Club will be performing as management study for the Memphis Animal Services shelter. This study will be free of charge and our recommendations will be posted here when complete. We are seeking input from all interested parties and those familiar with shelter operations. Please send any information to

The following is my submission:

Members of the Rotary Club Memphis Animal Services Management Study:

In the last decade and a half, several shelters in numerous communities have comprehensively implemented a bold series of programs and services to reduce birthrates, increase placements, and keep animals with their responsible caretakers. As a result, they are achieving unprecedented results, saving upwards of 95 percent of all impounded animals in open admission animal control facilities. Some of these communities are in urban communities, and others are in rural communities. Some are in very politically liberal communities, and others are in very conservative ones. Some are in municipalities with high per capita incomes, and others are in communities known for high rates of poverty. And some are run by municipal shelters and others by private ones with animal control contracts. These communities share very little demographically. What they do share is leadership at their shelters who have comprehensively implemented a key series of programs and services, collectively referred to as the “No Kill Equation.”

The fundamental lesson from the experiences of these communities is that the choices made by shelter managers are the most significant variables in whether animals live or die. Several communities are more than doubling adoptions and cutting killing by as much as 75 percent—and it isn’t taking them five years or more to do it. They are doing it virtually overnight. In Washoe County, Nevada, local shelters  began a lifesaving initiative that saw adoptions increase as much as 80 percent and deaths decline by 51 percent in one year, despite taking in over 15,000 dogs and cats.

In addition to the speed with which it was attained, what also makes their success so impressive is that the community takes in over two times the number of animals per capita than the U.S. national average and as much as five times the rate of neighboring communities and major U.S. cities. (Indeed, Washoe County shelters are taking in roughly 35 animals for every 1,000 people, over two times the Memphis rate of 17 animals for every 1,000 people.) In 2010, however, 91 percent of dogs and cats were saved, despite an economic and foreclosure crisis that has gripped the region. They are proving that communities can quickly save the vast majority of animals once they commit to do so, even in the face of public irresponsibility or economic crisis. This is consistent with the results in other communities. There are now No Kill communities in California and New York, Michigan and Texas, Kentucky and Virginia, and elsewhere. In Austin, Texas, the municipal shelter takes in roughly 25,000 animals a year but is saving over 90% of dogs and cats. In short, there are no valid excuses as to why Memphis cannot do the same if it chooses to.

Memphis officials, however, remain steadfast in their refusal to embrace the No Kill paradigm. Among the various excuses for why it cannot be done are that the shelter* does not have adequate funding to get the job done without killing and such funding is not available in this economic climate, there are simply too many animals for the available homes (“pet overpopulation”), No Kill is not feasible in a municipal sheltering context, and the No Kill philosophy is inconsistent with their public safety obligations. These excuses are just that, excuses.

Excuse: “We Can’t Afford It.”

To begin with, many of the programs identified as key components of saving lives are more cost-effective than impounding, warehousing, and then killing animals. Some rely on private philanthropy, as in the use of foster homes and rescue groups, which shifts costs of care from public taxpayers to private individuals and groups. Others, such as the use of volunteers, augment paid human resources. Still others, such as adoptions, bring in revenue. And, finally, some, such as neutering rather than killing feral cats, are simply less expensive, with exponential savings in terms of reducing births.

In addition, a 2009 multi-state study found no correlation between per capita funding for animal control and save rates. One shelter saved 90 percent of the animals. Another saved only 40 percent. One community has seen killing rates increase over 30 percent. Another has caused death rates to drop by 50 percent. There was, however, no correlation between success/failure and per capita spending on animal control. In other words, the difference between those shelters that succeeded and those that failed was not the size of the budget, but the programmatic effort of its leadership. The amount of per capita spending did not seem to make a difference. What did make a difference was leadership: the commitment of shelter managers to saving lives and their follow through by holding their staff accountable to results.

Excuse: “It’s Pet Overpopulation.”

The second reason often cited for failure to embrace and/or achieve No Kill is the idea of pet overpopulation, but the data here has also not borne out the claim. It is important to note that the argument that there are enough homes for shelter animals does not also include any claims that some people aren’t irresponsible with animals. It doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be better if there were fewer of them being impounded. Nor does it mean that shelters don’t have institutional obstacles to success. But it does mean that these problems are not insurmountable. And it does mean shelters can do something other than killing for the vast majority of animals.

In the United States, current estimates from a wide range of groups indicate that approximately four million dogs and cats are killed in shelters every year. Of these, given data on the incidence of aggression in dogs (based on dog bite extrapolation) and save rates at the best performing shelters in the country from diverse regions and demographics, better than 90 percent of all shelter animals are “savable.” The remainder consists of hopelessly ill or injured animals and vicious dogs whose prognosis for rehabilitation is poor or grave. That would put the number of savable dogs and cats at roughly 3.6 million.

These same demographics also tell us that every year, roughly 23 million Americans are considering bringing a new dog or cat into their home, and 17 million of those households have not decided where they will get that animal and can be influenced to adopt from a shelter. Even if the vast majority of those 17 million (upwards of 80 percent) got a dog or cat from somewhere other than a shelter, U.S. shelters could still zero out the deaths of savable animals. On top of that, not all animals entering shelters need adoption: Some will be lost strays who will be reclaimed by their family (shelters which are comprehensive in their lost pet reclaim efforts, for example, have demonstrated that as many as two-thirds of stray dogs can be reunited with their families). Others are unsocialized feral cats who need neuter and release. Some will be vicious dogs or are irremediably suffering and will be killed. In the end, a shelter only needs to find new homes for roughly half of all incoming animals.

Memphis Animal Services (MAS) serves Shelby County, Tennessee which has a population of 920,000 people. MAS intake for 2010 was 15,400. They killed 11,900. By contrast, Washoe County, Nevada saves 91% of animals even though they take in the same number of animals despite half the population. In other words, MAS takes in about 17 pets per 1,000 people, while Washoe County takes in about 35 pets per 1,000 people. Comparing for population with Washoe County and then comparing adoptions per capita, if MAS did the same level of adoptions as they do in Washoe County, they would adopt out about 21,349 per year, more than total impounds.

From the perspective of achievability, therefore, the prognosis for No Kill success in Memphis is very good. But let’s put all this aside. Let’s assume “pet overpopulation” is real and insurmountable. To do that, we have to ignore the data. We also have to ignore the experiences of successful communities. In the United States, to accept the “No Kill is impossible” argument requires pretending the knowledge and the results do not exist.

How does this change our support for the No Kill philosophy and the programs and services that make it possible? Even if “pet overpopulation” were true, it doesn’t change the calculus. In Memphis, the pound is killing roughly 77% of all incoming animals. To borrow an overused sports analogy: that puts the save rate at its own 23-yard line. And although the evidence is overwhelming to the contrary, let’s say that shelter can never cross the 90% save-rate goal line because of “pet overpopulation.” What is wrong with moving the ball forward? If Memphis Animal Services put in place the programs and services that brought rates of shelter killing to all-time lows in communities throughout the United States, they can save thousands of additional lives, regardless of whether they ever achieve an entirely No Kill community. That is worth doing and worth doing without delay. Because every year they delay, indeed every day they delay, the body count increases as does public dissatisfaction.

Excuse: “We’re a Municipal Shelter.”

A No Kill shelter is one which saves all healthy and treatable animals, roughly 90% and more of all incoming animals. It does not matter if the shelter is public or private, municipal or a contract facility, “open-admission” or “limited-admission.” What matters is who is running the facility and how dedicated that person is to implementing the programs and services which make lifesaving possible. What matters is whether the political establishment is willing to hold that director accountable to results, rather than allowing him or her to hide behind overused clichés about “public irresponsibility” and the “need to kill.”

As indicated above, there are now communities saving in excess of 90% of dogs and cats and many of those communities are being led in that initiative by the municipal shelter. The pound in Austin, Texas takes in roughly 25,000 animals a year and is saving 90% of all dogs and cats. Shelby County, Kentucky’s municipal pound has been saving over 90% of dogs and cats for three years. In other communities, the initiative is run by private shelters with animal control contracts. They are also “open-admission” shelters, acting as municipal shelters under contract. To suggest it cannot be done when it, in fact, has been done across the country is a non-starter. [As an aside, the term “open-admission” is used normatively to imply a “better” shelter than one which does not kill animals by limiting admissions. The argument being made is that some shelters are derelict because they refuse to kill animals. Aside from this absurdity, it is important to note that such use of the term is misleading as many communities have proven that “open-admission” does not have to be an open door to the killing of animals as it is in Memphis. Moreover, the term “open-admission” is itself a misnomer as these facilities are actually closed to compassionate people who do not want to see animals killed.]

Excuse: “We Must Protect Public Safety.”

And finally, a No Kill community is one where no savable animals are killed. Unfortunately, there are some animals who are hopelessly ill or injured, irremediably suffering, or in the case of dogs, vicious with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation. These animals are not adoption candidates and sadly, at this time in history, they are often killed, unless hospice care and sanctuaries are available. But since the No Kill philosophy does not mandate that vicious dogs or irremediably sick animals be made available for adoption, it is wholly consistent with public health and safety.

In fact, today, No Kill is a humane, sustainable, cost-effective model that works hand in hand with public health and safety, while fulfilling a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. The success of this approach across the country proves the viability of the No Kill model and the above principles. And in every community where it is a reality, it has been achieved through rigorous implementation of programs and services which have come to be known as the “No Kill Equation.”

The No Kill Equation

The first step toward lifesaving success is a decision, a commitment to reject kill-oriented ways of doing business. No Kill starts as an act of will.

Following a commitment to No Kill is the need for accountability. Accountability requires clear definitions, a lifesaving plan, and protocols and procedures oriented toward preserving life. But accountability also allows, indeed requires, flexibility. Too many shelters lose sight of this principle, staying rigid with shelter protocols, believing these are engraved in stone. They are not. Protocols are important because they ensure accountability from staff. But inflexible protocols can have the opposite effect: stifling innovation, causing lives to be needlessly lost, and allowing shelter employees who fail to save lives to hide behind a paper trail. The decision to end an animal’s life is extremely serious, and should always be treated as such. No matter how many animals a shelter kills, each and every animal is an individual, and each deserves individual consideration.

And finally, to meet the challenge that No Kill entails, shelter leadership needs to get the community excited, to energize people for the task at hand. By working with people, implementing lifesaving programs, and treating each life as precious, a shelter can transform a community.

The mandatory programs and services include:

I. Feral Cat TNR Program
Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs allow shelters to reduce death rates of free-living cats.

II. Rescue Groups
An adoption or transfer to a rescue group frees up scarce cage and kennel space, reduces expenses for feeding, cleaning, and killing, and improves a community’s rate of lifesaving. Because millions of dogs and cats are killed in shelters annually, rare is the circumstance in which a rescue group should be denied an animal.

III. Foster Care
Volunteer foster care is a low-cost, and often no-cost way of increasing a shelter’s capacity, caring for sick and injured or behaviorally challenged animals, and thus saving more lives.

IV. Comprehensive Adoption Programs
Adoptions are vital to an agency’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice. If shelters better promoted their animals and had adoption programs responsive to community needs, including public access hours for working people, offsite adoptions, adoption incentives, and effective marketing, they could increase the number of homes available and replace killing with adoptions. Contrary to conventional wisdom, shelters can adopt their way out of killing.

V. Pet Retention
While some surrenders of animals to shelters are unavoidable, others can be prevented—but only if shelters work with people to help them solve their problems. And the more a community sees its shelters as a place to turn for advice and assistance, the easier this job will be.

VI. Medical and Behavior Programs
To meet its commitment to a lifesaving guarantee for all savable animals, shelters need to keep animals happy and healthy and keep animals moving efficiently through the system. To do this, shelters must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies before animals get sick and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, unweaned, or traumatized.

VII. Public Relations/Community Involvement
Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to increasing the shelter’s public exposure. And that means consistent marketing and public relations. Public relations and marketing are the foundation of a shelter’s activities and success.

VIII. Volunteers
Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.

IX. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
No- and low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter reduces the number of animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives. While spay/neuter is important, it is also important to note that virtually every community that has achieved No Kill success has done so before a comprehensive spay/neuter program has been in place.

X. Progressive Field Services/Proactive Redemptions
One of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims. Shifting from a passive to a more proactive approach has allowed shelters to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families.

XI. A Compassionate Director
The final element of the No Kill Equation is the most important of all, without which all other elements are thwarted—a hard working, compassionate animal control or shelter director who is willing to be accountable to results by implementing these programs instead of regurgitating tired clichés about “public irresponsibility,” hiding behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes,” and the “need to kill.”

Comprehensive Implementation

To succeed fully, however, MAS should not implement the programs piecemeal or in a limited manner. If they are sincere in their desire to stop the killing, MAS will implement programs to the point that they replace killing entirely. Combining rigorous, comprehensive implementation of the No Kill Equation with best practices and accountability of staff in cleaning, handling, and care of animals, must be the standard.

Prior to 2011, before it embraced the No Kill philosophy, animal control in Austin, Texas allowed only employees to participate in its foster care program. The shelter claimed it was implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, but it was excluding thousands of animal lovers from participating in the lifesaving effort, seriously limiting how many lives they save. When they finally began implementing the programs in earnest, their save rate hit 90%.

A shelter committed to No Kill does not send neonatal orphaned kittens into foster care “sometimes,” but rather every time. A shelter committed to No Kill does not merely allow rescue groups access to animals “some of the time,” but every time a legitimate rescue group is willing to take over care and custody of the animal. Indeed, a No Kill shelter actively seeks these groups out and contacts a particular rescue organization whenever an animal meets its criteria.

Shelters must also put forth more effort to reunite lost animals with their families. Traditional shelters do little more than have people fill out lost pet reports. As a result, in a typical shelter, less than two percent of cats and roughly 20 percent of dogs are reclaimed by their families. At MAS, the percentage of animals returned to their families is a paltry 6%. This is unfortunate because being more proactive and comprehensive would have a significant impact on lifesaving.

Shelters in communities that have systematized their approach and become more proactive have more than doubled this rate of redemption. Washoe County Animal Services in Reno, Nevada, for example, returned seven percent of lost cats and 65 percent of lost dogs to their homes. Given the high per capita intake of animals (which some suggest would evidence high rates of “public irresponsibility”) one would expect the agency to have a very low redemption rate. Instead, it is very near the top in the nation. Why? The shelter is proactive in finding the people who have lost the pets.

Before impounding stray dogs, Washoe County animal control officers check for identification, scan for microchips, knock on doors in the neighborhood where the animal was found, and talk to area residents. They also carry mobile telephones so that they can immediately call the missing animal’s family and facilitate a quick reunion. While this may seem an obvious course of action, it is, unfortunately, uncommon in American shelters–often with tragic outcomes. The more traditional approach is simply to impound any animals found wandering the streets and to transport them immediately to the pound. Once there they can get lost in the system, compete for kennel space with other animals, and are often put to death. In Washoe County, impound is a last resort. But if animals are impounded, shelter staff is equally as proactive in facilitating redemptions. They immediately post to the Web photographs, identifying information, and the location of where the animal was found. People can search for the animals from their computers at home or at work.

This not only shows how the achievement of a No Kill community is well within our reach, it demonstrates how modernization of shelter practices by bringing them in line with the No Kill Equation can yield dramatic declines in killing virtually overnight. In short, shelters must take killing off the table for savable animals, and utilize the programs and services of the No Kill Equation not sometimes, not merely when it is convenient or politically expedient to do so, but for every single animal, every single time. A half-hearted effort isn’t enough. It is primarily the shift from a reactive to proactive orientation and from a casual, ad-hoc, limited implementation to a comprehensive one, which will lead to the greatest declines in killing, and fix Memphis’ broken animal shelter system.


* Please note: in my submission, I used the term “shelter” in the colloquial sense. MAS is not a “shelter.” It is a pound facility. But including this distinction would not have served the ends sought and I chose to refer to it as a shelter in my submission.

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