The Dead Walk the Earth

October 31, 2011 by  

The dead walk the Earth! I’m not talking about kids in Halloween costumes, I’m talking about half-baked schemes that are dead on arrival but won’t stay dead: Imagine Humane, Mission Orange, the Asilomar Accords, No Harm No Kill, Recipe for Lifesavin’, the Five Freedoms, “no-kill” with lower case letters, and now the National Federation of Humane Societies. They die and they rise again with a new name. But their zombie-like attributes are good news for the No Kill movement: they show we are winning.

What is more preposterous than Roland Emmerich’s hypothesis that the great William Shakespeare didn’t pen a single poem or play? Sure, there are the climate change deniers and Harold Camping’s end of the world predictions. But you’d be hard pressed to come up with much more. In terms of rewriting history with no regard for historical accuracy and untroubled by the little things we like to call facts, Emmerich’s Shakespeare-didn’t-do-it view is in a class by itself.

Not to be outdone, however, the people that want to give Michael Vick access to dogs, that think an abused dog who has raised all the money she can for them is better off dead than loved, and who think we need to adopt out 2.4 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) animals a year in order to end the killing are trying to give Emmerich a run for his money. I am, of course, talking about Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States, Ed Sayres of the ASPCA, and Dori Villalon, formerly with the American Humane Association, the unholy trinity of killing apologists. Together with the uber-regressive SPCA of Cincinnati, Michigan Humane Society, and a whole host of other organizations—many of which hoard money, kill animals, fight reformers, and commit fraud on the public—they are proving that no lie is too big for them. Introducing: the National Federation of Humane Societies.

The National Federation of Humane Societies claims they are committed to creating a No Kill nation, they are leading the effort to create a No Kill nation, and—drum roll please—they will make it happen by 2020. None of them have actually succeeded in creating a No Kill community so they have no idea how to do so, but that is not the point. At least not for them. They don’t really care one way or the other. In fact, many of them actually kill the vast majority of animals in their facilities, while refusing to implement common sense alternatives to that killing. Moreover, they continue to preach the dead language of collaboration which is code for “you can’t criticize us, but we can attack you.”And, of course, they have no workable plan. In other words, their latest incarnation is just a renaming and rebranding of all their other failed and cynical (non-)efforts:

  • Imagine Humane which lacked any imagination and failed to create a single No Kill community;
  • Mission Orange which caused more harm than good and actually caused killing to go up in Austin when it was implemented;
  • The Asilomar Accords which banned the term “No Kill” but allowed shelters to reject lifesaving programs like foster care, TNR, offsite adoptions, and even allowed them to continue killing based on breed, age, and color;
  • No Harm No Kill which was a goofy redundancy (you might as well call it “No Kill No Kill” as the central tenet of the No Kill philosophy is to do no harm);
  • Wayne Pacelle’s mind-numbing distinction between “no-kill” with lower case letters and “No Kill” with capital letters, which no one could figure out, including, I suspect, himself;
  • The Five Freedoms which claim shelter animals are entitled to freedom from hunger/thirst, discomfort, distress, pain/disease, and freedom to express normal behavior, but conveniently ignored the most important freedom of all: Freedom from being killed (which they do not support); and,
  • The recipe for lifesavin’ a thinly veiled attempt to distinguish it from the No Kill Equation, and a ham-fisted attempt to make it seem cool by dropping the “g” in lifesaving (I can hear Fonzie now, “Ayyyyyyyy!”).

In Redemption, I wrote,

By the early 2000s, with No Kill rhetoric sweeping the nation, shelter administrators who once openly attacked No Kill realized that it was becoming politically untenable to continue doing so publicly. With the pressure for change mounting, these directors needed a new public image. In a few communities where they dug in their heels, they were forcibly swept aside.


Most directors, however, found another way. They began to say one thing, while they did something else. In short, they learned the art of political double-speak. The supposed effort to save animals deemed “adoptable” began, even by those who were No Kill’s fiercest detractors. These old guard institutions began to use “new” language and promote “new” programs. Leaders who once pledged to stop what happened in San Francisco from spreading to their own hometowns were now seeking to save all “adoptable” animals. In reality, they did nothing of the kind. Instead, they narrowed the definition of “adoptable” to the point of meaninglessness.


The real race was not to save lives, but to end public scrutiny and criticism by co-opting the No Kill movement. Business would continue as usual, but it would come with new terminology. “There are three kinds of lies,” an old saying goes. “There are lies. There are damn lies. And there are statistics.” The move to co-opt the No Kill movement has encompassed all three.

None of those efforts was ever about ending the killing. Each of these efforts was and is about trying to regain control of the humane movement that is passing them by. It is about trying to restore their hegemony over the language and direction of a movement that is being transformed and dominated by the increasing success and spread of the No Kill movement they reject. In fact, they say so right in their mission statement, which argues that they must “[ret]ake ownership of shelter industry messaging.”

In fact, saving animals because it is the right thing to do and because it is the animal’s birthright doesn’t appear anywhere in the vision. To their credit, it says it is the “altruistic” thing to do, but mostly it talks about what it will mean to them, such as how the “Federation can be positioned as the Champion if we launch and promote it.” Why is this so important?

Imagine what it must be like to the be the head of HSUS, the ASPCA, or the American Humane Association, organizations which for the past 50 years have been considered the leaders in the field of companion animal protection, only to have the ground shift completely beneath their feet by a movement which they ridiculed and they opposed. Imagine what it must be like to be the head of these organizations and to once have been lionized, and now to be looked at by an increasing number of people, and the entire grassroots of this movement as cruel and irrelevant dinosaurs. Imagine what it must be like to once have commanded respect by virtue of your position within an organization and only to now have people see through your façade, people who are completely redefining the movement and succeeding without you, in spite of you, and in defiance of you. In short, the heads of HSUS, ASPCA, AHA, and others have glimpsed the future and they clearly see they do not have a place in it and they are scared. And driven by fear, they are desperately trying to reclaim their former glory—not by doing the right thing, but by co-opting the movement they tried to fight and lost. (Ironically, if they actually spent as much time trying to save lives as they now spend covering up their failure to do so, they could be the heroes they now only pretend to be).

The key to ending the killing has been known for 15 years and none of the organizations behind the Imagine Humane, Mission Orange, Asilomar Accords or any of the other half-baked schemes have been interested in it. In fact, each of these efforts specifically says kill shelters are not required to do much of anything. They do not have to have a foster care program, even though you need one to save the lives of underaged animals. They do not have to work with volunteers, even though they are key to socializing animals. They do not have to do offsite adoptions or any of the other programs and services of the No Kill Equation, even though ending the killing is impossible without them. All they say is that you can’t criticize them for not doing so and they will eventually end the killing at some time in the mythical future.

In fact, stalwart members of the National Federation like the Michigan Humane Society and the SPCA of Cincinnati which are tasked with “mentoring” other pounds to achieve success claim they are already saving all “adoptable” animals. The only problem is that it’s a lie. They kill roughly seven out of 10 animals. In other words, they are killing like they always have, only now they excuse it by calling the animals “unadoptable.”

And when reformers try to force lifesaving programs upon them, the leaders of the National Federation actively fight them. In San Francisco, Wayne Pacelle and Ed Sayres fought a No Kill campaign, calling No Kill “radical” and insisting on the right of the SPCA and city pound to kill animals even in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives those “shelters” refuse to implement. How can Pacelle fight No Kill in San Francisco or anywhere else HSUS is an active roadblock to lifesaving success, but claim to be committed to it at the same time? And how can Sayres who chooses to kill animals even when they have a place to go and who sends sick cats to the pound to be killed, claim the same? For them, and for all but a small handful of shelters duped into joining the Federation, it was never about ending the killing.

Aside from a couple of anomalies, the members of the National Federation of Humane Societies are a veritable “who’s who” of regressive, kill shelters who actively fight No Kill reform efforts in their communities. But again, while their vision states they will lead the way to No Kill by 2020, the date first coined by Wayne Pacelle in his own work of fiction, The Bond, getting to No Kill is not the point for them. Nor is it the point of this blog.

The point is that it means we are winning. The fact is that they are under so much pressure they have no choice but to “embrace” No Kill. They can no longer get away with disparaging it. In Dallas, Texas, for example, regressive leaders overseeing regressive shelters have just formed a task force ostensibly to create No Kill, complete with quotes from me. Of course, they aren’t sincere. Nor do they have any real desire to achieve success. But they can’t say so openly anymore. PETA aside because of Ingrid Newkirk’s mental illness, we’re no longer arguing about whether No Kill is or is not impossible, is or is not hoarding, or whether it is misleading, smoke and mirrors, a fundraising scam, not worthy of a passing day dream, or a cancer as these groups have long argued. Instead, we’re arguing over dates, percentages, how to get there, and, of course, their lack of integrity. But the fact that they are forming groups to achieve No Kill and setting a date (after the current crop of dinosaurs running these groups retire and they do not have to account for anything) is good news.

And the more we achieve success, and the more we reject their half-baked overtures, and the more we say NO to crumbs and demand the whole damn pie, the more pressure we put them under until it is just a matter of time and one of them breaks, joining us in earnest. At that point, whether it is a post-Pacelle HSUS, a post-Sayres ASPCA, or AHA trying to rescue itself from irrelevancy and bankruptcy, the rest will have no place to hide. And they know it.

So, even as we rejected Imagine Humane’s shortsightedness, Mission Agent Orange’s carpet bombing of reform activists, the pro-killing Asilomar Accords, the undecipherable no-kill with lower case letters, and all the rest of the dead-on-arrival schemes they put forth; and even as we reject the National Federation of inHumane Societies and its equally half-baked vision that asks us to wait another eight years so they can retire and leave the real work of saving lives to someone else, we should revel in the fact that we’ve pushed them into a corner and sooner or later, we’ll deliver the knock out punch.

Until then, we’ll keep up the pressure and keep succeeding around the country, without them and in spite of them and in defiance of them, knowing full well they will eventually have no choice but to embrace us. Because when we achieve a No Kill nation, they will tell us it was their idea and their vision all along. And knowing that the animals are safe, and that our fight is finished, we’ll just nod and smile and try to hold back the lunch we just had that is trying to make its way back up. But until then, we’ll continue the fight and as it is reeking with desperation, we’ll see the National Federation for what it is: a signpost to our certain, and hopefully not too distant, victory.

Building a No Kill Maricopa County

October 28, 2011 by  

For years, a string of shelter directors have promised animals lovers in Maricopa County, AZ, a No Kill community and for years, they have failed to deliver. Despite their claims that they are now saving all “healthy” animals, we know it is a lie. How do we know?

  • Maricopa County killed 51% of all animals, about the national average. If they are to be  believed, the entire USA is filled with communities saving all healthy animals by virtue of the fact that they are killing half of all animals;
  • When Maricopa County’s animal control shelter began charging to take in stray cats (as high as $96 per cat), it reduced the number of cats it took in by over 3,000. But the Arizona Humane Society saw a corresponding increase in killing. It doesn’t matter who is killing them, it matters that they are still being killed;
  • When the number of animals killed who are claimed to be healthy dropped to zero, the number of so-called “untreatable” animals killed increased. For example, the number of animals killed deemed “untreatable” increased from 576 to a whopping 3,486. Likewise, the number of “treatable” animals killed also spiked, from 31,568 to 37,888. Maricopa County officials also excluded 4,107 animals who they claim were killed at the request of the people surrendering them. Their lives were not counted in reporting results, the statistics—and the animals—swept under the rug; and,
  • Maricopa County shelters deem the “vast majority” of pit bull-type dogs and pit bull-mixes to be “unadoptable” in order to justify killing them, despite predictable pass rates of 90% in progressive shelters.

In fact,

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

The fact that shelter officials are misleading the public and have failed to meet lifesaving goals does not mean No Kill isn’t possible. It simply means that they are doing it wrong, going down the same broken path that is plaguing other failed communities like New York City.

Join me in Phoenix, AZ, on Saturday, February 18, 2012 for a Building a No Kill Community seminar, to see what No Kill really looks like, which communities have achieved it, how they achieved it, and what shelter reformers need to do to make it happen in their own community. The workshop has been called, “A prerequisite for rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.”

It is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a book signing for both Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences. Sponsored by No Kill Maricopa.

For more information, click here.

The Inmates Are Trying to Run the Asylum

October 25, 2011 by  

Anti-No Kill crusaders who fought and killed shelter reform legislation last year in Texas that would have banned the gas chamber and ended the killing of animals based on arbitrary criteria such as color, age, and breed are trying to co-opt the No Kill movement in Dallas by using the thoroughly discredited model which the ASPCA tried to force upon Austin, TX causing killing to rise, before reformers there succeeded in fighting them off. Just days after No Kill Dallas was formed (a group which authentically represents the No Kill philosophy and which I support), the Dallas Companion Animal Project was announced to counter it with a quote from me used without my consent, written 10 years ago, taken out of context, and designed to give them a legitimacy they do not deserve. I do not support the Task Force for the reasons stated in this letter to Mayor Rawlings, asking him to remove my name from their website implying that I do.

October 25, 2011

The Hon. Mike Rawlings, Mayor,
and Members of the City Council
Dallas City Hall
1500 Marilla Street
Dallas, TX 75201

Dear Mr. Mayor and Members of the City Council

I am writing to request removal of my name and an attribution made by me, but taken out of context, on the website and Facebook page of Dallas Companion Animal Project, an organization that claims to be “a task force appointed by the City of Dallas to develop a blueprint to guide our community to no kill of adoptable animals.” If it is truly a governmental commission appointed by the City, it is within your power to order the removal as I am not affiliated with the Task Force, do not support the Task Force, and do not believe it is sincere in its effort to end the killing of savable animals at the hands of Dallas Animal Services. My name is being used to give the Task Force a legitimacy it does not deserve for a platform I believe it does not faithfully represent, which is why I would never consent to its use.

In fact, Rebecca Poling, the Chair of the Task Force opposed lifesaving legislation in Texas last year that I authored which would have banned the cruel gas chamber, mandated collaboration between Texas pounds and non-profit rescue organizations by making it illegal to kill animals when qualified rescue organizations were willing to save them, required transparency in how taxpayer monies were spent by requiring shelters to make their statistics public, and would have made it illegal for shelters to kill animals based on arbitrary criteria. In addition, Poling’s tenure on the Dallas Animal Shelter Commission has been marked by staggering neglect and abuse at Dallas Animal Services, which is not only underscored by the fact that the agency routinely and needlessly puts to death tens of thousands of animals every year (24,793 of the 34,399 animals it took in), but allowed a cat to starve to death within its walls, while every single employee looked the other way at his cries for help. In short, you cannot create a true and authentic blueprint for No Kill success by empanelling a Task Force chaired by a person who has no track record of success and who opposes the very approach necessary to end the killing of savable animals.

The quote Poling attributes to me is that,

No Kill may be defined by what happens to the animals within the halls of the shelter, but it can only be achieved by what happens outside of them.

First, this was written over ten years ago before I created the first No Kill community in the U.S. and it was written while I still believed in a supply-demand imbalance between the number of available homes and number of available animals (“pet overpopulation”). But with over 23 million Americans looking to add a new pet to their households every year and only 3,000,000 being killed but for a home, the facts simply do not support the widespread, but now thoroughly disproven notion that there are too many animals and not enough homes. We are suffering from a marketing share problem, which is unquestioningly the fault of shelters.

In fact, since I made the attributed statement, shelters in numerous communities have comprehensively implemented a bold series of programs and services to save lives. 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 Washoe County shelters are taking in roughly 35 animals for every 1,000 people, higher that the Dallas rate of 29 animals for every 1,000 people. In 2010, 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. 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 is no valid reason why Dallas Animal Services cannot do the same if it chooses to.

As such, while my thinking and understanding have evolved, it is clear that Poling’s have not, as she refuses to keep pace with the dynamic and exciting changes occurring in the field of animal sheltering thanks to the No Kill movement she has opposed.

Second, while the quote is technically still true if read narrowly, Poling uses the quote out of context. Even then, I was speaking to the need of the shelter to embrace the community and making them a part of the lifesaving endeavor, with the kinds of programs we tried to mandate in Texas last year through legislation, which Poling opposed.

Third, Poling is using that quote to imply that Dallas Animal Services is not to blame for the killing. This is demonstrably false. And as such, she ignores my more current writing which more accurately reflects my philosophy and beliefs, based not only on achieving No Kill and assisting other communities to do the same, but on almost 20 years experience as a crusader in the No Kill cause fighting against defenders of the status quo, like Poling. In 2007, for example, I gave a community seminar to the leadership of San Antonio, TX. After hearing the City Manager indicate that he would promote a traditional model of sheltering, such as the kind championed by Poling, I told the people in attendance that they faced two choices over the city’s high rates of shelter killing: following the programs model of the No Kill Equation that embraced the community by reforming the shelter, or following the well-worn path of failure of communities like New York City (whose shelter system is still killing savable animals under conditions rife with fraud, neglect, and abuse) that the City Manager was championing. I also told the group that if they embraced the latter approach, the effort would fail. Tragically for the animals, I was right. The number of animals being killed in San Antonio remains staggering. By contrast, in 2006, I cautioned Austin as well. Initially, they also took the wrong road and killing went up 11% under the kinds of models celebrated by Poling (which she even cites by name and links to on the website). Thankfully, Austin officials took note, redirected the focus, replaced the leadership, and embraced the former model. They’ve never looked back. Last month, while Dallas Animal Services was slaughtering animals, Austin’s shelter saved 94%. The month before it was 96%. That is the choice your city also faces.

To save the animals of Dallas, you do not need a Task Force, endless meetings, or even focus groups. The key to ending the killing is already evident. Dallas, Texas is slaughtering animals by the tens of thousands because Dallas Animal Services is not comprehensively implementing the programs and services and culture of lifesaving that makes No Kill possible. To combat this, the Companion Animal Protection Act should be enacted into law. CAPA mandates the programs and services which have proven so successful at lifesaving in shelters which have implemented them; follows the only model that has actually created a No Kill community; and, focuses its effort on the very shelter that is doing the killing. In this way, shelter leadership is forced to embrace No Kill and operate their shelters in a progressive, life-affirming way, removing the discretion which has for too long allowed shelter leaders to ignore what is in the best interests of the animals and kill them needlessly. If you do this, you will be successful. But you will be opposed by the Chair of your own Task Force, and that alone should speak volumes.

Mr. Mayor and Members of the City Council, I could have simply written and asked you to remove my name, but I believe I would be doing a disservice to you, your administration, and the kind and generous people of Dallas if I did not also take this opportunity to explain in more detail why the Task Force, which claims to represent your administration and the good people of Dallas, is going down the path of failure. I urge you, on behalf of not only the animals, but the people who love them, to scrap the Task Force and put your faith in people who truly have the best interests of animals at heart and who would authentically represent the cause of ending their killing. There are over twenty communities across this nation that have ended the killing and they have done so by comprehensively implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation. The Chair of your Task Force opposes that model, and it is the animals who are paying the ultimate price for it. Moreover, they will continue to pay the price because the Task Force not only has no real desire to succeed, there is simply no hope that it will under Poling’s leadership.

Very truly yours,

Nathan J. Winograd


Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America

Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters

No Kill 101: A Primer on No Kill Animal Control for Public Officials

The Companion Animal Protection Act

There is Truth and There is Untruth

October 17, 2011 by  

Last month, Austin’s public shelter, Town Lake Animal Center, had a 94% rate of lifesaving. The month before it was 96%. In fact, every month this year, it has hovered at or around 90%. By year’s end, Austin, Texas will be the largest community in the nation with an annual save rate in excess of 90%. If you were to believe the ASPCA, Austin’s animals and Austin’s animal lovers owe it all to them. According to Ed Sayres, the CEO of the ASPCA, and Karen Medicus, the ASPCA’s representative in Austin: no ASPCA, no No Kill in Austin. They started it, they led it, they shaped it, they defined it, and they achieved it. In fact, the ASPCA has been telling anyone who will listen, as far away as Rhode Island, that they achieved No Kill in Austin and that shelters and legislators should listen to them on what is best for shelter animals. They have also put out a press release saying that the better than 20% increase in adoptions at Town Lake Animal Center is a result of their efforts in Austin.


It is a lie. It is not misleading, it is not creative spinning, and it is not one interpretation among many. It is a wholesale fabrication that puts the animals at risk in other communities as the ASPCA declares war on rescuers in Connecticut, on No Kill advocates in New York, and on shelter reform all over the country.


So what really happened in Austin? And what role did the ASPCA play in Austin’s road to No Kill? The facts reveal a very different story than the ASPCA’s revisionist history.

In February of 2007, the ASPCA announced a campaign in Austin, Texas, as part of what it called its “Mission: Orange” program.*  The goal was a combined 75% save rate among Austin-coalition partners, including the city shelter, far less than the 90% save rate goal at the city shelter championed by No Kill advocates like FixAustin. To launch the campaign, they hosted a meeting of animal welfare stakeholders. The project was doomed from the start. Rather than follow the successful model of the No Kill Equation, which was responsible for creating No Kill communities throughout the country and was, in fact, the only model to achieve success—which Karen Medicus, who led the meeting, even acknowledged—the ASPCA nonetheless told the assembled crowd that “Mission: Orange” would follow a different model.

The model they would follow was New York City’s model of “collaboration,” a model that was still killing half of all impounded animals and to this day, is rife with neglect, abuse, rampant killing, fabricated data, and ultimately, failure. In fact, it is not even a true collaborative model as New York City’s leadership interprets that to mean they have all the power and rescuers are only allowed to participate if they say so. (A law that would have mandated collaboration and leveled the playing field was defeated by the leadership in New York City because they saw it as a threat to their power.) This was the same model that Medicus used when she was director of the Austin Humane Society and promised Austin a No Kill community by the year 2002. The ill-fated “No Kill Millennium” plan, which initially received Maddie’s Fund dollars to implement, fell apart for failure to reach its goals.

At the meeting, the ASPCA would ignore the elephant in the room: that the city’s shelter director refused to implement programs and services to save lives, choosing to kill the animals instead. Attendees were forbidden from speaking about what was missing. They couldn’t talk about what programs weren’t being implemented or what animals were being killed that needed to be saved. All they could do was “brainstorm” about what they would do over the next three years to help animals, including writing an imagined speech from a future President thanking them for their work.  It was, according to attendees, “surreal.”

Do As I Say Not As I Do

Moreover, Medicus informed the group that no one would be allowed to participate in the initiative if they criticized the city shelter, even if that shelter killed animals despite lifesaving alternatives. However, it would turn out that the rules only ran in one direction: Medicus and the ASPCA would have no ethical qualms about ignoring their own rule, and would spend the better part of the next several years criticizing those who wanted the shelter to employ simple, common-sense solutions to killing, such as foster care and offsite adoptions which the shelter’s director refused to do. The ASPCA condemned reformers, misrepresented who they were, attempted to assassinate their character, and tried to undermine their public support. Indeed, at the start of the campaign, the ASPCA put out a position paper it called its “20,000 [foot] view of Austin” and attacked “Nathan Winograd activists” as one of the single, biggest threats to success in Austin for two reasons:

  1. Animal advocates in Austin wanted to focus on programs at the shelter, while the ASPCA wanted to ensure the director was not criticized for failing to implement lifesaving programs like foster care, even though failure to do so was killing thousands of animals; and,
  2. Animal advocates were opposed to moving the shelter from its prime location conducive to where people worked, lived, and played, to a remote part of the city which would have meant fewer kennels, but more office space for shelter bureaucrats.

The ASPCA consistently defended the shelter director even when she killed savable animals despite empty cages, even when she refused to implement the programs of the No Kill Equation, and in her bid to move the shelter to a remote part of the city. According to the ASPCA, the problem was not getting more adopters to the shelter; the problem was that the animals in the shelter were not “desirable” or “placeable.” In fact, Austin’s shelter director, Dorinda Pulliam, argued that only about 35% of the animals in Austin’s shelter were “adoptable,” and that they were saving more than that already. Austin, according to the leadership of the city shelter, was already No Kill. And trying to save more would just mean keeping unadoptable animals that no one would want alive, leading to “warehousing.” The ASPCA promoted this view both publicly to the media and privately to city officials in their attempt to sabotage the 90% save rate goal of No Kill advocates.

Indeed, while acknowledging that their “collaboration” model had not succeeded in New York and had failed earlier in Austin, Medicus promoted the view that it would succeed this time because of one crucial difference: the ASPCA would bring dollars to the table. That this view was flawed was not hard to see: all the money in the world would not have made a difference at a shelter run by a director who refuses to implement common sense alternatives to killing. In addition, a lack of dollars was not the issue in either New York or Austin during the “No Kill” Millennium” fiascoes. In both cases, Maddie’s Fund had provided a significant amount of money, more than the ASPCA was offering Austin, and in the case of Austin, the city shelter also had a larger per capita budget than the communities around the country which had already achieved success, and did so without either Maddie’s funding or the ASPCA’s promised infusion of money. And finally, the ASPCA did not spend all the promised money on programmatic improvements at the city shelter (it defended the current director’s refusal to implement them), but rather on advertising in Austin to promote itself. The results were predictable.

Rather than see a decline in killing in Austin’s shelter, killing actually increased 11% during the first year of the campaign. An animal had less of a chance of coming out of the shelter alive in Austin, TX under the ASPCA “Mission: Orange” program than it did just one year before. That this is a travesty goes without saying. But what makes it especially tragic, indeed devastating, is that it was neither surprising nor necessary. Reno’s No Kill initiative, based on the No Kill Equation, saw deaths decline by a whopping 53% during the same period, and it was cutting spending in the process. The contrast in both approaches and results proved a stunning indictment of the “Mission: Orange” program. But no one would have known that by reading the public relations coming out of the ASPCA at the time. By simply not talking about the numbers saved or killed, Ed Sayres and Karen Medicus put out a one-year progress report billing the Austin campaign as an unqualified success. And the ASPCA continued to claim that Austin held promise for the rest of the nation, even as over 13,000 animals were being put to death in Austin yearly.

The Animal Advisory Commission Steps In

But Austinites had had enough. Seeing success in Reno (and other communities), seeing the killing increase in Austin, as well as killing despite hundreds of empty cages on any given day, and seeing that the director refused to implement needed programs, the city’s AnimalAdvisory Commission wrote a No Kill plan based on the No Kill Equation and presented it to the city shelter for implementation. The leadership of the shelter refused, arguing that they were “advisory guidelines” only. In short, Pulliam continued killing and the ASPCA continued to defend her. In addition, the ASPCA and Pulliam began picking up allies. Although several local organizations originally supported reforms, the groups began to switch sides and back the Pulliam, which puzzled some reformers until they looked into the public donation fund at Town Lake Animal Center and followed the money.

Over the years, Town Lake Animal Center took in donations from the public, a fund that grew to several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and may even have reached nearly half a million dollars. With no accountability, the then-director was using the money as a “slush fund,” giving grants to groups that supported and protected her. Was the city shelter and the ASPCA buying the silence of community groups? It is certainly a plausible explanation, although no direct evidence exists. Nonetheless, the Commission eventually succeeded in removing the fund from the director’s control in order to provide a process of transparency and accountability. In addition, finally fed up with the director’s failure to follow their No Kill plan, they asked the City Council to give it the force of law.

Although as a representative on the Commission she had no choice but to cast a “Yes” vote for the plan because all other commissioners did and it was certain to pass, behind the scenes, Medicus disparaged the plan, disparaged those who wrote the plan, and continued to defend the director who refused to implement it. Both in private, but also in public, the ASPCA condemned any efforts to increase lifesaving, arguing that the director was doing all she could and that the animals themselves were not “desirable” or “placeable.”

The Moratorium on “Convenience Killing”

One of the key elements of that plan, in addition to mandating programs like foster care and offsite adoptions and officially establishing the 90% goal for the city of Austin, was a moratorium on killing savable animals when there were empty cages. A state inspection report found that the shelter routinely had hundreds of empty cages on any given day, and yet the shelter continued to put healthy and treatable animals to death.

The ASPCA immediately went to work lobbying against the moratorium, arguing it would lead to warehousing of “unadoptable” animals, even though by its very terms, the moratorium allowed the continued killing of animals who were hopelessly ill, injured, or in the case of dogs, vicious. The director also lobbied against it arguing that there was no reason to do offsite adoptions or foster care, because the city shelter was already saving all the animals who could possibly be saved. Despite the lobbying efforts of both the leadership of the shelter and the ASPCA, the City Council approved it unanimously.

After the plan became law, and realizing that she and the ASPCA had lost the support of the City Council, Dorinda Pulliam had no choice but to follow it. But she would make them pay for it. In fact, what she did next revealed such a callous disregard for the well-being of animals that it would cost Pulliam her position. In an effort to show the City Council that they had made a mistake, she stopped killing sick and injured cats, but she also stopped treating them. She wanted to “prove” the No Kill plan was responding for “warehousing” and “animal suffering.” Her actions not only violated the letter and spirit of the moratorium, they were also illegal, tantamount to animal cruelty. Reformers were quick to condemn her. The ASPCA, of course, continued to defend her, calling Pulliam the best advocate Austin animals ever had in their corner.

The Final Obstacle to a No Kill Austin is “Reassigned”

And then just two months later, the news broke that the director was being “reassigned.” Because she was a roadblock to lifesaving success, reformers were elated, though they were understandably concerned—“cautiously optimistic”—about whether her replacement would embrace the No Kill plan wholeheartedly. By contrast, it was news that the ASPCA condemned, calling her departure “horrible” and that the animals would pay the price. Both were, in fact, correct. The animals would pay the price, but not in the way the ASPCA fear-mongered. Theirs would be a one-way ticket to freedom. Immediately, the save rate increased, even during the busy summer months. By October, it had reached 89%. By February 2011, it had reached 92%, under an interim director. In other words, Austin had achieved its goal without having hired a permanent replacement. They have been saving 90% or better ever since. The ASPCA’s systematic attempt to derail the No Kill initiative by disparaging reformers and reform efforts through a defense of the former director’s policy of systematic killing of animals was defeated.

To celebrate, the City held a press conference, inviting all animal welfare stakeholders who played a role in the success to participate. Everyone responsible for the success, in fact, did attend. The ASPCA was not there, a candid admission of their lack of support or participation in the No Kill plan. In fact, none of the “Mission: Orange” partners, including all those who received money from the “slush fund” attended, except for the Austin Humane Society. It was a very telling absence, showing the ASPCA for who they were and what they really stood for.

The ASPCA’s Information Purification Program

Now that the City has continued a 90% rate of lifesaving every month since, has even seen it rise as high as 96%, and more importantly, has electrified the movement nationally, however, the ASPCA is engaging in an equally systematic effort to rewrite history, casting themselves as the saviors of Austin’s animals and the group responsible for the success in Austin, even though they fought the No Kill plan every step of the way. Not surprisingly, the news of the ASPCA’s revisionist account has been greeted by those who fought for No Kill in Austin and won with shock and anger.

So who is responsible for Austin’s success? The very groups criticized and attacked by the ASPCA. FixAustin, who lead the political initiative, but which the ASPCA vilified; Austin Pets Alive, the city shelter’s biggest lifesaving partner, which the ASPCA also criticized; the Animal Advisory Commission who wrote and pushed the No Kill plan, over the ASPCA’s opposition; and the City Council, which mandated a 90% rate of lifesaving, again over the ASPCA’s opposition. Of course, now that regressive leadership has been replaced and a law is in place mandating the programs and services which save lives, the city shelter is an ally in the fight for a No Kill Austin and, in fact, is responsible for much of the lifesaving. But what of the ASPCA?

If there is a lesson in Austin’s road to No Kill as it relates to the ASPCA, it is this: The ASPCA is not on the side of reform. They are not on the side of No Kill. And they are not on the side of shelter animals. They are on the side of regressive shelter directors who do not want to change. And they are on the side of killing, even in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. And for that, they deserve our scorn and condemnation.

Most importantly, the ASPCA information purification program demands our constant vigilance. We must not let them get away with their Orwellian revisionism. By rewriting history and claiming credit for success they did not achieve, they are seeking a voice they have not earned and do not authentically represent. If they are allowed to get away with this, they will use that unearned reputation to undermine No Kill reform efforts in other communities by continuing to endorse counterproductive and harmful means to a supposed end they only pretend to support.  We must stand firm against the ASPCA’s information purification program, as it is often aligned with a campaign to exterminate animals in shelters.

“And if all the others accepted the lie which the [ASPCA] imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the [ASPCA] slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”

* The ASPCA claims that the “color orange is identified with vibrancy and energy.” Indeed, the color orange appears to be a favorite among the “aura” reading crowd who claim that orange signifies “vibrancy” and “innovation.” As a result, the ASPCA hopes that the public will identify the color “with the welfare of animals.” Hence, the name “Mission: Orange.” This type of un-measurable and “feel good” focus that is devoid of substance also marked the San Francisco SPCA tenure of Ed Sayres who is now the CEO of the ASPCA. Under Sayres’ direction, the San Francisco SPCA spent a significant amount of money on esoteric conferences about communicating with dead pets, insects as messengers of the “soul,” and other similar topics instead of focusing all its energy (and resources) on saving the animals actually facing death in shelters. Roughly during the same time period, the San Francisco SPCA underwent its first “forced” lay-offs of staff and cutting of critical programs due to budget problems in 135-years. It has never recovered from Ed Sayres’ disastrous tenure.

Ten Questions for Larry Tucker

I spoke with Larry Tucker, the Chair of the Austin Animal Advisory Commission, about the ASPCA’s role in creating a No Kill Austin. Tucker and his Commission drafted the No Kill plan adopted unanimously by the City Council, which is responsible for tops-in-the-nation save rates.

You attended early meetings and events with the ASPCA as part of its “Mission: Orange” program in Austin. What was your takeaway?

Our views were irrelevant. We needed to listen to the ASPCA. We were clearly not wanted. In short, it was a waste of time.

How did the ASPCA treat local advocates?

They first brushed us aside and then they attacked us when we tried to increase lifesaving, without reaching out for dialog or collaboration.

Did the ASPCA defend the killing in Austin occurring under Dorinda Pulliam?

Yes, the ASPCA circled the wagons. They stated that she already knew what to do, had nothing to learn from No Kill advocates, and was already doing what she needed to do. They also claimed that all the animals who were being killed were unadoptable.

Did the ASPCA support your efforts and the efforts of others to put a No Kill plan based on the No Kill Equation into action?

The ASPCA was against the No Kill plan the entire way. They rallied the troops around the director who was committed to killing. If we did not have the opposition of the ASPCA, we would have achieved success earlier. Every time we wanted to implement a new program, they’d basically go to city officials and say, “You shouldn’t do that.” Although the ASPCA felt it had no choice but to vote for the plan, they fought it behind closed doors.

When the City passed a moratorium on killing savable animals when there was empty cages (e.g., end “convenience killing”), Dorinda Pulliam stopped treating sick and injured cats, did the ASPCA condemn her for it?

No, they continued to defend her. They continued to defend the shelter. They implied that concerned citizens did not understand sheltering. In fact, when she left, they lamented her reassignment, despite the cruelty.

When the City held a press conference and celebration to announce that save rates in excess of 90% were achieved, was the ASPCA there?

It spoke volumes that the ASPCA was not there to celebrate the success of Austin’s No Kill plan.

The results speak volumes, too. You and other reformers were right and the ASPCA was wrong. But now that you have achieved tremendous lifesaving success, the ASPCA is claiming credit. Why is this so offensive?

They were not involved. They fought it. Now, they are trying to take credit? It’s wrong.

Who, in fact, deserves credit for Austin’s success?

FixAustin, Austin Pets Alive, the Commission, the City Council, the Central Texas Animal Alliance, and every day rescuers, animal lovers, and Austinites.

What advice do you have for people in their own communities who are fighting entrenched interests?

Nobody is going to do it for you. Do it yourself. Don’t accept defeat. We could have quit. And at times it seemed insurmountable, but we kept banging against the wall and finally broke through.

Should No Kill advocates consider the ASPCA an ally?

Absolutely not, they are an obstacle.

Citing Best Friends for the Right to Kill Animals

October 16, 2011 by  

The Fight for the Minnesota Companion Animal Protection Act

There was a time when Best Friends represented the future. Unless they support reformers and rescuers in Minnesota, they will now represent the past. This week, the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota launched an all out offensive against the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) currently pending in the Minnesota State Legislature, citing Best Friends as one of the reasons. In 2010, Best Friends opposed shelter reform legislation in New York, helping to kill a badly needed bill which would have saved the lives of 25,000 animals per year at no cost to taxpayers. In a letter to supporters, Janelle Dixon, the President of the Animal Humane Society, wrote this week in her opposition to CAPA,

“[L]ike Best Friends Animal Society who did not endorse similar bills introduced in other states, we cannot support this flawed legislation, and we wanted you to know why.”

And like Best Friends, they proceeded to lie about the basis of their opposition, fear mongering with similarly discredited claims and using the same dirty tricks.

The biggest of those dirty tricks is the hoarding card, arguing that animal rescue non-profit organizations are hoarders in disguise, the same argument Best Friends made to oppose rescue access legislation in New York State, even though MN CAPA has extensive protections:

  1. The group has to be a non-profit organization under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3);
  2. The group is disqualified if any person associated with the group has any record of convictions for neglect or abuse of animals;
  3. The group is disqualified if any person associated with group has been charged with any crime involving neglect or abuse of animals, even if they have not been yet convicted.

Moreover, there is nothing—absolutely, positively nothing—in CAPA that requires a kill shelter to work with any particular rescue group. They can work others. Or they can save the animals themselves. What they cannot do, what they should never be permitted to do, is to kill them out of convenience. And preventing the killing of animals who can and should be saved is good public policy.

In addition, the fear-mongering about hoarding is the same disingenuous argument made about the law passed in California in 1998, on which laws like Minnesota’s CAPA are based. As California now has over a decade’s worth of experience with the law, the lack of harm should end any debate. In California, the law passed despite the opposition of killing shelters, and none of the harm materialized as they predicted. But all of the benefit did. In just one of California’s 58 counties, the number of animals saved by rescue groups jumped from 0 before the law, because the pound had a policy of not working with rescue groups choosing to kill them instead, to about 4,000 per year. Times that by 11 years and that’s tens of thousands of animals saved in one county—one of 58—just on the rescue access provision. And given that it saves taxpayers money for holding and killing animals and passes the cost onto adopters and private rescue groups for saving them, the benefit is also economic. In a neighboring California county, the savings on this provision was calculated at $486,480 per year in 1999.

Of course, the 1998 Animal Shelter Law in California is more extensive, and so is Minnesota CAPA. The number of lives saved would be far greater.  Delaware passed CAPA in 2010. Lifesaving has also increased there, with one shelter very close to No Kill (after a decline in killing of over 70%). And, of course, Austin, Texas passed similar reforms which are credited with the rise of the save rate from half of all animals to as high as 96%.

In fact, while it is true that Best Friends originally opposed rescue access in New York State, they did not do so for policy reasons. They did so to ally themselves with the ASPCA in order to open a fundraising office in New York City. Their original opposition had nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of the law. It was naked self-interest. Because they were resoundly condemned for it, for betraying the animals in order to increase their own wealth, however, they had to justify the opposition. So they tried to defend themselves by attacking me and by attacking rescuers as hoarders in disguise.* In short, they claimed it would put animals into the hands of hoarders and harm them in other contexts. In other words, the animals were better off dead. This was the Best Friends argument in New York. An argument that, combined with the ASPCA’s war on rescuers, proved enough to kill any hopes of passage in New York. And the Animal Humane Society is using the same dirty tricks from the same dirty playbook, hoping to derail it in Minnesota so that they can continue killing in the face of lifesaving alternatives, pocketing the money given to them by unsuspecting donors who erroneously believe they will use that money to leave no stone unturned if it means saving the life of an animal.

But using Best Friends to justify their opposition to CAPA is not only dirty, it is also wrong. In the end, Best Friends did support the New York law. Once their New York fundraising office was open for business, and the dollars began to flow, they reversed themselves and supported the law the following year. They also praised Delaware after it passed CAPA. And, once the dust settled and reformers were victorious in Austin, they praised them as well, a tacit endorsement of their shelter reform law. But, unfortunately, Best Friends is being used by the Animal Humane Society and they need to account for that. And they can do that by taking away Animal Humane Society’s excuse by publicly and without reservation endorsing Minnesota’s CAPA before the fact, not doing what they did in Austin and Delaware: quietly sitting on the sidelines until the dust settles and then embracing reformers only if they win. Moreover, there are plenty of reasons to support reformers in Minnesota now.

Contrary to the arguments made by the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota, if passed:

  1. CAPA would make it illegal for shelters to kill animals within minutes of arrival. That is what is faced by roughly half of all animals who enter shelters. If an animal is owner surrendered, it does not matter if the animal is healthy. It does not matter if a rescue group is willing to save the animal. It does not matter if there is space in the shelter, as we know groups like Animal Humane Society kill animals despite empty cages. It does not matter if the animal is highly adoptable. She can be put to death with no holding period of any kind. And many are in shelters across the state and across the nation. CAPA would require shelters to make them available for adoption or rescue right away, unless those animals were suffering. What they can’t do is take them from the front counter where they are surrendered straight to the kill room where they are then discarded in a trash can before the former owner even has to time to get in his car and leave the parking lot;
  2. It would make it illegal for shelters to kill animals if a qualified rescue organization is willing to save that animal’s life;
  3. It would make it illegal for shelters to kill animals in front of other animals or using cruel methods;
  4. It would require shelters to be transparent so that donors and taxpayers can know if their money is being used to save animals, or to kill them;
  5. It would require shelters to provide basic care;
  6. And it would end “convenience killing”—the killing of savable animals when there is available cage and kennel space.

Who could be against that?

The answer is rather obvious. Shelter directors and organizations that do not have the best interests of animals at heart. Shelter directors and organizations that find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. That would rather kill than employ readily available lifesaving alternatives. That should not have the power of life and death over defenseless animals. In short, Janelle Dixon and the Animal Humane Society. She should be fired. And they should be condemned for their opposition. Thankfully, they already are.

As the Animal Humane Society attacks this badly needed bill, their opposition—like that of Best Friends—is backfiring as donors, supporters, and every day animal lovers are discovering that their shelters are not doing these things already and that the large animal “protection” groups are defending their ability not to.

In fact, the Animal Humane Society has a long, dubious history of killing animals out of convenience, even when rescue groups are offering to save those lives. Indeed, the Animal Humane Society routinely kills despite empty cages, kills animals in violation of state mandated holding periods, kills Minnesota animals while taking in out of state animals, and lies to the public about it. That is not what people want. And it is certainly not what the animals deserve when they enter a so-called “humane society.”

In a national survey, 96% of Americans—almost every single person—said we have a moral obligation to protect animals and that we should have strong laws to do so. CAPA mandates the programs and services which have proven so successful at lifesaving in shelters which have implemented them; follows the only model that has actually created a No Kill community; and, focuses its effort on the very shelters that are doing the killing. As a result, it provides a framework for success unavailable from traditional legislative models such as punitive legislation aimed at the public or through counterproductive national efforts that legitimize the killing.

These are simple, reasonable, common sense policies that most people would be shocked to learn are not being done voluntarily. And because they are not, because animals are needlessly being slaughtered, not just by the Animal Humane Society, but by shelters across the state, we have to give the policies the force of law.

For No Kill success to be widespread and long lasting, we must focus on institutionalizing No Kill by giving shelter animals the rights and protections afforded by law. Every successful social movement results in legal protections that codify expected conduct and provide protection against future conduct that violates normative values. We need to regulate shelters in the same way we regulate hospitals and other agencies which hold the power over life and death. The answer lies in passing and enforcing shelter reform legislation which mandates how a shelter must operate.

That is what CAPA does. And that is why it is so vital to the future of Minnesota’s animals.

What You Can Do:

  1. Please go to the Facebook page of Best Friends and tell them you are deeply disturbed that they are being used to fight progressive shelter reform legislation and ask them to publicly support CAPA in Minnesota. Let them know it is not enough to simply watch No Kill battles from the sidelines—like they did in Delaware and Austin—and then swoop in after No Kill advocates prevail to align themselves with the winning side. They need to put their weight behind those who are in the trenches, especially when their past positions are being used against No Kill advocates, rescuers, shelter reformers, and the animals.
  2. If you live in Minnesota, please contact your state representatives and ask them to support MN CAPA. You can find out who they are by clicking here.

* It was bad enough that they were willing to sacrifice the lives of roughly 25,000 animals a year for money in that state. This is why I find it intellectually and ethically bankrupt to dismiss the anti-animal positions taken by “animal protection groups” by suggesting that it is somehow forgivable because “they do so much other good for animals.” First of all, we have to look at whether they do as much good as they say they do. But even if they did, it does not give them a blank check to harm animals in other contexts. That is what Best Friends did in NYS and it now may cost animals their lives in MN if the Animal Humane Society is successful. While we can never bring the animals killed in New York State back, they can certainly stop the killing in Minnesota by supporting MN CAPA without reservation.

Building a No Kill Community

October 11, 2011 by  

Join me at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, on Saturday, November 5, 2011 for a Building a No Kill Community seminar, followed by a book signing for both Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences. The seminar is free and open to the public.

The workshop has been called,

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

Sponsored by ELSA (Exposing the Lives of Shelter Animals) and the Jacoby Center for Public Service and Civic Leadership. For more information, click here.