The No Kill Flash Mob

November 22, 2011 by  

Introducing a New Tool for No Kill Advocacy: The No Kill Flash Mob

Beginning November 23 at 6 pm ET and continuing over the holiday weekend when our posts are less likely to be deleted, please join us in a No Kill flash mob on the ASPCA facebook page. Please share.

The ASPCA Facebook page is filled with uninformed animal lovers who erroneously believe that the ASPCA is a legitimate force for good. We must educate these people about what the ASPCA really represents: a continuation of killing in our nation’s shelters and the neglect of animals in the New York City pound just down the street from the ASPCA, the wealthiest animal protection organization in the nation.

Although single comments can be deleted, and although single comments can be easily dismissed by their Facebook followers, a flood of comments posted by No Kill advocates is harder for the ASPCA to manage, and less likely to be ignored by their Facebook followers as an aberration.

Beginning November 23 at 6 pm ET and continuing over the holiday weekend when our posts are less likely to be deleted, please join us in a No Kill flash mob on the ASPCA facebook page. Please comment on the 5 most recent wall postings, not just the most current one. Although you will have to “like” the page to comment, you can “unlike” it after the flash mob ends. Let’s educate their followers about what supporting the ASPCA really means!

The Real ASPCA

Over the past several weeks, the ASPCA has released a playbook on how to fight No Kill reform efforts and has referred to animal lovers who want to end the killing as “extremists.” At a national conference of shelter directors, one of their paid consultants referred to No Kill groups as “terrorist” organizations, and No Kill advocates as “psychos.” And they are fighting shelter reform legislation in New York and Florida which would save shelter animals on death row who have a place to go—all while taking in roughly $140,000,000 per year through commercials that prey on the emotions of animal lovers with the false message that the ASPCA will fight for animals, rather than against them.

Although the pace of the ASPCA’s anti-no Kill efforts seems to have accelerated over the past few weeks, the ASPCA has a long sordid history of not only fighting reform efforts nationwide, but of neglecting the needs of the animals suffering in the city shelter down the street, even sending animals to be killed there. As they muster their forces against our expanding No Kill efforts nationwide, we need to fight back by hitting them where it matters most: in the pocketbook. We need to reach out to their donors with the truth. And the best place to do that is to go where they are: the ASPCA Facebook page.

Following are some talking points and links you can consider providing in your post:

A Blank Check

November 19, 2011 by  

When you point out that HSUS or the ASPCA or PETA or even Best Friends have done things to harm animals and have betrayed the cause they are pledged to protect, invariably someone responds with the claim that they should not be criticized because they do “so much good for animals.” The argument that we should ignore all the bad things organizations have done because they allegedly also do good things is disturbing. In effect, they are saying that, “HSUS/ASPCA/PETA/Best Friends do so much good, they should have carte blanche to do terrible, irreversible, life ending things, too.”

Even if it were true that these groups do “so many good things” for animals, it does not entitle them to a blank check to call for the killing of two-week old puppies or to fight a bill that would have ended the cruel, painful gas chamber as HSUS did. It does not entitle them to fight progressive legislation that would have saved 25,000 animals a year who had a rescue group ready, willing, and able to save them as Best Friends did. It does not entitle them to send kittens to their deaths because they have a cold as the ASPCA did, or to kill dogs like Oreo and Max who had a place to go. It does not entitle them to seek out and kill 2,000 animals a year as PETA does.

And yet that is the argument apologists are making on behalf of those organizations. Moreover, the paradigm of killing continues as long as we give it such legitimacy. So my questions to those who make these arguments:

  • How much killing is acceptable to you?
  • How many deaths are you willing to allow them before you draw the line?

I’ll start: zero. First, do no harm.

Learn More:

The Truth About HSUS

The Truth About the ASPCA

The Truth About PETA

The Truth About Best Friends

Rise, Sleeping Giant

November 17, 2011 by  

A seminal moment in time, a fight for the future, and once again, we must ask: will Best Friends ever rise to the occasion?

A nod,
a bow,
and a tip of the lid
to the person
who coulda
and shoulda
and did.
~Robert Brault

Sometimes, the importance of certain moments in history are so obvious as to inevitably create awareness among those who participate in them that what they are experiencing will forever be remembered as a momentous and unforgettable turning point in history. On July 4, 1776, when representatives of each of the colonies signed their names to the Declaration of Independence; when Neil Armstrong lowered his foot onto the surface of the moon; and when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, no doubt the people who were there or watched these events unfold knew they were privileged to bear witness to such a singular and historic moment in time.

More often, however, we are able to recognize significant moments only in retrospect, after the consequences that result from them play out and we can connect the dots back to discover that a turning point had taken place. As a result, truly important moments in time may seem, at the moment they occur and to those who experience them, as merely curious, or even, unfortunately, somewhat mundane. On October 29, 1969, when Leonard Kleinrock sent the first message from one computer to another and then smiled to himself, locked up his office and went out for a dinner of fast food to celebrate, he did not begin to comprehend that he had just used, for the first time, a tool that would become the most transformative means of communication in human history: the internet. What to him no doubt seemed like a mere professional victory was, in reality, one of the most significant moments in the evolution of human technology. And yet he celebrated alone with a soda and some French fries.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. And yet there is a way of focusing our vision to help us better understand and interpret the present: by reading history. Because human nature is so predictable, history is a story that is always repeating itself. And for those of us who work in a social justice arena like the No Kill movement, it can provide inspiration, hope and motivation.

When you are working to change the status quo, it is easy to become discouraged.  Sometimes, it can feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall that will never, ever move, despite how hard you push on it, especially when your opposition is big, powerful, wealthy, and seemingly invincible. And yet history shows us that the people who prevailed in transforming our world for the better and who we now regard as heroes in the ongoing struggle for greater justice, once faced the same seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles that we do. We can see that while they may have felt that they were pushing against an impenetrable wall, with each push they were creating fractures and fissures that, in the end, destroyed the structural integrity of the wall they were bashing, and ultimately brought a seemingly solid monolith tumbling down. At this point in our movement, when those who oppose us are still so powerful, so pervasive, and still retain unwarranted credibility with many people, we must learn to celebrate those fractures and fissures, to recognize their meaning, to feel empowered by their significance, and to exploit them to the fullest extent possible.

This past week marked just such an important turning point in the history of the No Kill movement. We were witness to the unfolding of several events that demonstrate just how vulnerable our opposition is feeling: beginning with a series of documents released by the ASPCA that referred to No Kill advocates as “extremists” and which gave kill shelters a step-by-step playbook on how to fight No Kill reform efforts; from reports that a speaker at the annual SAWA conference presented a talk on that same theme; to news that the ASPCA and HSUS are teaming together to host a series of workshops for shelter directors in Florida about how to kill vital shelter reform legislation pending there. We also learned that the ASPCA has been buying up “No Kill” domain names so that they are not available to advocates for true reform and that HSUS is launching a campaign to counter the growing trend of shelter reform laws being introduced in states throughout the country by preempting their introduction with their own watered-down and loophole-filled versions.

All this evidence points in the same direction: the heads of the large national organizations are now actively colluding together, and taking pro-active steps to defeat us. We are no longer a mere nuisance they can largely ignore: we are an active and growing threat. And while, at one time, playing defense was all that was required, they are now on the offense. They are wide awake, on their feet, hostile, and ready for outright war. And, ironically, that is good news.

When the status quo can no longer ignore you and is forced to debate you openly, the public becomes more aware that a problem exists, that there is a solution, that some groups stand in the way of that solution, and they are inevitably forced to choose sides. Given that it is our movement that truly reflects the American public’s values when it comes to companion animals, we will invariably win that debate. Moreover, groups like HSUS and ASPCA will be forced to reveal their regressive, antiquated views, making the choice that much easier for the American people. As the saying goes, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Over the last week, members of the status quo animal sheltering community have publicly referred to No Kill activists—people who simply want to end the abuse and killing of animals—as “psychos,” and “minions,” and the organizations we have formed to reform the cruel and deadly kill shelters in our hometowns as “terrorist organizations.”  We are drawing them out, and more than ever, they are revealing their true, sordid selves to the American public, and proving the validity of our assertions about their true nature.

Reaching this point was inevitable. Although some critics of this behavior chose to categorize the ASPCA’s behavior last week as “paranoid,” the reality is that given the threat our movement poses to the cozy relationship the ASPCA and HSUS have enjoyed with the generous, deep-pocketed American public over the last 50 years, we are a threat, and a threat of the highest order. They grew rich, powerful and respected parroting a fiction we are now proving to be false, and through our successes, we are proving that we—and not them with all their millions—are far better equipped and qualified to do the job that has historically and without question been their field of “expertise.” They are truly under siege, and given that their allegiance is not to the animals but to power and money, their backlash is tragically predictable, though no less morally reprehensible for it. As yet another saying goes, “some people have things to be paranoid about.”

Over the last five years, the number of No Kill communities has increased from one to well over 25. The number of communities across the country where activists are taking on the struggle to reform their deplorable local shelter are growing exponentially. The number of average Americans who are becoming educated about the tragic truth of the American sheltering system is growing as well, and these organizations are hearing from outraged, savvy donors who no longer buy into their lies. With the introduction of our legislative shelter reform campaign, Rescue Five-0, which reached out to every single state legislator in America about the need for shelter reform legislation and has resulted in the introduction of the Companion Animal Protection Act in Texas, Florida, New York, and Minnesota (and announcements pending about similar legislation in two other states), we are not just educating Americans and then arming with the tools they need to succeed. In community after community, we are also winning. Hairline fractures and fissures of the status quo are increasing in number, and growing larger and wider. And our opposition is terrified, and mobilizing to fight us as never before.

So much so, HSUS and the ASPCA, the nation’s two largest self-proclaimed “animal protection” organizations, which, for the last 50 years have seen each other as the biggest threat to their massive, well-tooled fundraising machines, are actually teaming together to fight us. HSUS is no longer the biggest threat to the ASPCA fundraising, nor is the ASPCA the biggest threat to HSUS fundraising. We are. The question is: what are we going to do about it? As they commit to join forces and cover each other’s backs, we must ask the question: who has our back? Who can we rely on for reinforcement?

There are those in our movement who consider Best Friends to be part of our cause. And there are those like me, who, after having followed the tragic events that unfolded in New York when Oreo’s Law was first introduced and Best Friends not only worked with the ASPCA behind the scenes to kill that bill but tried to use their considerable resources to blackmail other organizations into silence about that betrayal, had their faith in that organization shattered; a loss that more recent events have vindicated even further.

A few months ago, the Companion Animal Protection Act was introduced in Minnesota. And the Animal Humane Society—one of the states’ most powerful kill shelters with a long, sordid history of fighting No Kill, immediately went on the defensive. They sent out a mailing to their donors equating No Kill with hoarding, and citing Best Friends’ original opposition to Oreo’s law as proof that such a law was a bad idea. On my Facebook page, I asked No Kill advocates to contact Best Friends and ask them to clarify their position on the bill, to publicly condemn Animal Humane Society for using their name to defeat it, and to insist that Best Friends actively support CAPA in Minnesota.

Instead, they chose to confuse their supporters and those who contacted them asking for clarification on their position by responding with a clever but thoroughly misleading statement. After being blasted by their supporters, Best Friends no doubt searched the archives of their byzantine No More Homeless Pets volunteer posting site, and were relieved to find that a volunteer had, at some earlier point, reposted the original press-release about Minnesota CAPA sent out by Rescue Five-O. Citing this obscure and buried post which the leadership at Best Friends had nothing to do with, and, in fact, were most likely unaware even existed prior to their search, they offered it as evidence that they supported the bill. And many activists, trusting that Best Friends would not act in bad faith, and meant what they said, thought that settled the matter, and dropped it.*

Then, just a few weeks ago, when No Kill activists in Florida succeeded in getting shelter reform legislation introduced there, and again, Best Friends was asked whether or not they supported it, they attempted the same sleight of hand, relying on volunteers who said they support it. But you won’t find any mention of it on their Facebook page. You won’t find any mention of it on their blog page. You won’t find any mention of it on their legislation page. Although such legislation is a crucial step on the road to a No Kill nation, and although these laws are being introduced around the nation, Best Friends is not actively working to get them passed, except the New York law, and then only after massive public discontent shamed them into doing so. They are not working to ensure the passage of CAPA laws against the hostile and entrenched forces of the status quo in Florida or Minnesota, nor did they do so when CAPA was introduced in Texas last year, and was soundly defeated by an HSUS-led coalition of kill shelters.

While achieving No Kill involves three areas: 1. leadership (getting No Kill directors to take over kill shelters); 2. shelter reform through political advocacy; and, 3. fighting for shelter reform legislation, by introducing and passing CAPA, the fight for a No Kill nation usually involves only the last two. These are the two most important areas for community advocates wanting to end the killing of animals in their local pounds. And as much as we all wish otherwise, it involves a fight. Political advocacy is important because it is crucial to convince those with political power to join the side of reform, as they did in Austin, Texas. Legislative advocacy is important for No Kill success to be widespread and long lasting. We must move past the personalities and 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.

As it relates to the latter, CAPA is our most important tool because too many shelters are not voluntarily implementing the programs and services and culture of lifesaving that makes No Kill possible, killing animals needlessly. To combat this, CAPA mandates the programs and services which have proven so successful at lifesaving in shelters which have implemented them, programs such as foster care and offsite adoptions; 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. 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.

In Texas, CAPA would have banned the cruel gas chamber; ended killing based on arbitrary criteria such as age, color, or breed; ended convenience killing (making it illegal for a “shelter” to kill an animal if a rescue organization was willing to save the animals); and would have mandated transparency (the reporting of life and death rates). But Best Friends was nowhere to be found. All told, the organization that has historically assured us it supports No Kill, it supports the rescue community, that it supports rescue access legislation, has either opposed progressive shelter reform legislation, or has thoroughly ignored it, even though they want us to believe otherwise, and are willing to intentionally mislead us in order to do so.

And failing to support No Kill legislation is not the only way Best Friends is failing our cause while trying to cleverly and deceptively lead us to believe otherwise. Last week, in response to the release of the ASPCA document, “Tactics of the Extremist Agenda,” as the entire grassroots of the No Kill movement was inflamed with outrage, Francis Battista of Best Friends also weighed in, condemning the handbook as “paranoid,” and urging the ASPCA to stop fighting No Kill reform efforts. He wrote:

Instead of cooking up fevered fantasies about an Al-Qaeda-like no-kill operation that is on the loose and may be coming to a community near you, one would hope that the ASPCA would be rattling the cages of local SPCAs and shelters and using their considerable influence in those circles to get such organizations to address the actual cause of public unrest, which is not an extremist agenda, but the killing of healthy, treatable pets.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, this of course, begs the question, why doesn’t Best Friends use their considerable influence in those circles to get such organizations to address the actual cause of public unrest? As one of the largest, wealthiest animal protection organizations in the nation, Battista is blasting Ed Sayres of the ASPCA for not doing what he and his organization are not doing, either. It is sheer hypocrisy. But, again, Best Friends wants us to believe otherwise, and is just clever enough to get many of us to think they actually are.

Several months ago, Best Friends highlighted the successful campaign of Fix Austin and Austin Pets Alive which succeeded in ousting the ASPCA-protected shelter director in that community and passing progressive, shelter reform legislation which transformed that community, leading to save rates in excess of 90%. Although Best Friends referred to the effort as a “No More Homeless Pets” campaign, in reality, Best Friends had nothing whatsoever to do with the success in Austin. While the David and Goliath battle was raging between grassroots No Kill activists and the ASPCA, and the support of Best Friends could have made a profound difference—a quicker victory, a smaller body count—they were nowhere to be found. They did not back the activists and when the shelter director there tried to sabotage No Kill by intentionally withholding medical care from animals so she could blame their illness on the No Kill initiative, Best Friends did not condemn her, but was deafeningly silent. It was only after the dust settled, and a clear victor was declared, that they weighed in, swooping into Austin to highlight the activists who prevailed, and, misrepresenting their efforts as somehow a part of a larger, nationwide “No More Homeless Pets” campaign, which—despite Best Friends’ $40 million in annual revenues—has yet to create a single, No Kill community.

If the events of the last week are an indicator of things to come—and I believe they are—we are entering one of the most exciting and potentially fruitful, though difficult, chapters of our movement’s unfolding history, and we must demand more from each other and from those who claim to support our cause. As for Best Friends, we must demand what we have the right to expect: that they put actions behind the pretty words they have whispered in our ears for so many years—to fiercely come to our defense, to finally give something back to the cause and the animals which have given so much to them; to actually do the work they have already been paid for. They must pick the right side of this fight—the grassroots—then support it with action, and not just empty rhetoric.

Sadly, I long ago gave up the hope that determining what is in the best interest of animals is the criteria by which those who run Best Friends make their decisions. I long ago gave up expecting that they will ever do the right thing for animals if it requires upsetting the status quo or taking bold and decisive action. And I don’t believe they will do so now. I no longer believe in Best Friends, but I believe in you, the grassroots. And I believe that collectively, the grassroots has tremendous power when it comes to influencing—that is, forcing—Best Friends to do the right thing, as happened when they caved into pressure and finally supported New York shelter reform legislation. The motivating effect of your collective ire on the leadership of Best Friends is not to be underestimated. Francis Battista has stated that he is terrified of the grassroots regarding Best Friends the way it now regards the ASPCA. Let them know that the only way to avoid that dreaded calculation is for them to stop acting like the ASPCA—a giant, bloated organization that fails to truly champion the cause it has grown fat feasting upon.

Our enemy is evolving, mustering its forces and forming a new battle plan. The question is whether we will respond in kind. As we prepare to meet their challenge, will the organization that has grown rich and powerful pandering to our cause ever begin to use that money and influence to help us achieve our goals? Will they ever fight in the trenches by our side, cover our backs, and help us achieve victory? Or will they remain as they are now: shallow, idle and insincere cheerleaders, standing on the sidelines doing nothing while the grassroots gets bloodied and beaten on the field before them, cheering only when we glance their way or, as in Austin, after we achieve victory without them? Will future generations, remembering the historic and tragic moment in time when the nation’s two largest animal protection organizations joined forces to fight those working to further the cause of animal protection, also remember it as the glorious moment when the other, large national animal protection organization finally put their money where their mouth is and came to its desperately needed defense? Or as the predictably tragic moment when, once again, they betrayed them?

Best Friends, at $40,000,000 per year in revenues, we expect more than pretty, but hollow words. The time for talk is over. Do something. In the name of decency, in the name of compassion, and most importantly, in the name of the defenseless animals whose plight has made you rich and powerful, join us in the trenches in earnest and fight.


* After Best Friends released it’s non-endorsement endorsement, Minnesota activists chose to promote Best Friend’s insincere statement the way Best Friends wanted activists to perceive it—as an actual statement as support, therefore placing Best Friends in the untenable position of having to deny that they supported the law if kill shelter colleagues took them to task for it—an action that they would be disinclined to do, given how it would once again raise the ire of the grassroots they were trying to quell and mislead.

For additional reading:

Where Have You Gone Best Friends?

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

The Best Friends “Spin” Machine Goes Into Overdrive

Best Friends Tells Rescuers to Shut Up

Hope for New York City Animals

November 16, 2011 by  


SOS: Save Our Shelter Animals, Invites You to Attend: “Hope for New York Shelter Animals: Meeting the Challenge.”

A one-day conference featuring Nathan Winograd and other advocates for shelter reform. Topics and panel discussions include:

  • How to Transform NYC’s Troubled Shelter System into a No Kill Reality;
  • How to Double Adoptions Safely through Innovative Marketing Techniques and Creative Campaigns;
  • TNR and Feral Cat Initiatives for NYC and Beyond; and more.

When: Saturday, January 21, 2012

9:00 am – 4pm (doors open and check-in begins at 8:30am)

4:00 pm – 5 pm: Reception with vegan hors d’oeuvres and wine

Where: Lipton Hall at New York University Law School. 108 West 3rd St. NYC (between Sullivan and MacDougal Streets, near Washington Square Park)

Registration is required. To learn more, click here.

Separating Myth From Fact (FL Animal Rescue Act)

November 15, 2011 by  

S.B. 818/H.B. 597, the Florida Animal Rescue Act (FARA), would make it illegal for “shelters” to kill animals if rescue groups are willing to save them. A statewide survey of Florida rescue groups found that 63% of non-profit animal rescue groups have had at least one Florida state shelter refuse to work collaboratively with them and then turn around and kill they very animals they were willing to save. The most common reason given was shelters either having a policy of not working with rescue groups or being openly hostile to doing so. And, not surprisingly, those “shelters” are trying to defeat the bill by thoroughly misrepresenting its provisions.

Florida animal lovers: NOW is the time to make your voices heard. Please contact your Senator and House Member and ask them to cosponsor and support Senate Bill 818/House Bill 597, the Florida Animal Rescue Act.

You can find out who your Florida State Senator is by clicking here.

You can find out who your Florida State House of Representatives member is by clicking here.

For a copy of the bill, click here.

Arguments in Favor:

FARA saves lives. A 2011 statewide survey of rescue groups in Florida State found that 63% of non-profit animal rescue groups have had at least one Florida state shelter refuse to work collaboratively with them and then turn around and kill they very animals they were willing to save. Studies in other states show that when these laws are passed, lifesaving goes up. In just one county in California, rescue transfers increased 4,000 a year when it passed a rescue access law.

FARA saves taxpayers money. FARA is modeled after a similar law which has been in effect in California since 1998. An analysis of that law found that sending animals to non-profit animal rescue organizations rather than killing them saved the City and County of San Francisco $486,480 in publicly funded animal control costs.

FARA provides whistleblower protections. The same statewide survey of rescue groups in Florida State also found that 45% of respondents are afraid to complain about inhumane conditions or practices at Florida State shelters because if they did complain, they would not be allowed to rescue animals, thus allowing those inhumane conditions to continue.

FARA reduces burdens on shelters. FARA reduces the number of animals they kill. It reduces costs for killing. It brings in revenue, through adoption fees. And it transfers costs from taxpayers to private organizations, funded through philanthropic dollars.

FARA protects public health and safety. FARA specifically excludes dangerous dogs, and animals who are irremediably suffering.

FARA levels the playing field. All non-profit organizations have identical rights and responsibilities before the law. FARA seeks to protect those rights by leveling the playing field between the large non-profits which have all the power and the small non-profits that are prevented from fulfilling their lifesaving mission when these larger organizations refuse to collaborate with them in order to save more lives.

FARA protects animals from harm. FARA specifically excludes organizations with a volunteer, staff member, director, and/or officer with a conviction for animal neglect, cruelty, and/or dog fighting, and suspends the organization while such charges are pending.

FARA puts Florida law on par with best practices. FARA is based on a law in California which was passed in 1998 with overwhelming bipartisan support (96-12), and passed in Delaware unanimously. Similar legislation is currently pending in Minnesota and New York.

Rebuttal to Opponents:

Claim: “The Bill Will Put a Burden on Non-Profit Rescue Organizations”

Fact: In order to defeat FARA, opponents are claiming that it will require rescue organizations to take animals, forcing them to spend money they do not have, and inundating them with animals they do not want. The bill does none of these things. In fact, doing so would be illegal and unconstitutional. FARA simply says that if non-profit rescue organizations choose to save the lives of animals in shelters, shelters cannot kill the very animals they are offering to save. A statewide survey of rescue groups in Florida found that 63% of them have been turned away by shelters after offering to save animals and those shelters then turned around and killed the very animals they offered to save. Taxpayers should not have their money spent on killing animals when private non-profit organizations are ready, willing, and able to save them. That is bad fiscal policy and it is inhumane. Moreover, these false claims show how desperate some shelters are to find something wrong with the bill in that they are willing to thoroughly misrepresent its provisions.

Claim: “The Bill Imposes Unreasonable Burdens on Cash-Strapped Shelters”

Fact: FARA reduces burdens on shelters. It reduces the number of animals they kill. It reduces costs for killing. It brings in revenue, through adoption fees. And it transfers costs from taxpayers to private organizations, funded through philanthropic dollars. For example, rather than kill an animal and dispose of his body, which costs money, the rescue organizations would take custody of the animal and find him a home, saving the municipality those costs. In addition, the bill specifically allows the shelter to charge the rescue group a fee, up to the standard adoption fee. In the end, shelters not only save money, they actually can raise additional revenue. An analysis of a similar provision of California law found cost-savings of over $400,000 to a municipality which sent animals to rescue groups rather than killed them: A separate analysis found that the number of animals saved, rather than killed, jumped by roughly 4,000 per year in just one of 58 California counties:

Claim: “The Bill Will Force Shelters to Release Animals to Hoarders or Other Compromised Situations”

Fact: FARA specifically excludes organizations with a volunteer, staff member, director, and/or officer with a conviction for animal neglect, cruelty, and/or dog fighting, and suspends the organization while such charges are pending. In addition, it requires the rescue organization to be a not-for-profit organization, recognized under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). As a result, they must register with the federal government, and with several Florida agencies, including the Department of State, Department of Revenue, and Department of Agriculture Division of Consumer Services, providing a number of oversight and checks and balances. In fact, a statewide survey found that 100% of survey respondents who rescued animals but were not 501(c)(3) organizations would become so if this law passes, effectively increasing oversight of rescue organizations in Florida. Moreover, FARA specifically allows shelters to charge an adoption fee for animals they send to rescue organizations, which would further protect animals from being placed in hoarding situations. Finally, nothing in FARA requires shelters to work with specific rescue groups. They are free to work with other rescue organizations if they choose and they are also free to adopt the animals themselves. What they cannot do, what they should not be permitted to do, is to kill animals when those animals have a place to go.

Claim: “The Bill Will Cause More Problems than it Solves”

Fact: The opposition is simply fear mongering, hoping to confuse legislators about the intent and scope of FARA. They have misrepresented its tenets and are hoping to frighten legislators into doing nothing. FARA is based on a law in California which was passed in 1998 with overwhelming bipartisan support (96-12). The same arguments made against the Florida bill were made in California, but 11 years of experience have shown that the alleged “concerns” did not materialize. In fact, an analysis of the bill found it to be an unqualified success, saving both lives and money, and creating a robust non-profit sector in partnership with shelters across the state: Similar arguments in opposition were also unimpressive to Delaware legislators who passed a similar provision unanimously in 2010.

The ASPCA’s War on Animal Lovers

November 13, 2011 by  

In Memory of Oreo. Killed: November 13, 2009.

Two years ago in New York City, a then-one-year old dog named Oreo was intentionally thrown off a sixth floor Brooklyn roof top by her abuser. Oreo sustained two broken legs and a fractured rib. Oreo also appears to have been beaten in the past—several of the neighbors in the building where Oreo lived reported hearing the sounds of the dog being hit. The ASPCA nursed her back to health and arrested the perpetrator. They also dubbed her the “miracle dog.”

The miracle was short-lived. According to the ASPCA, when Oreo recovered from her injuries, she started to show aggression. After a series of temperament tests (which were videotaped but they refuse to make public), the ASPCA made the decision to kill her. The New York Times reported the story the day before Oreo’s scheduled execution. A sanctuary in New York offered to take Oreo, explaining that they had experience rehabilitating dogs deemed aggressive and offering her lifetime care, including plenty of socialization and walks if the rehabilitation was not successful.

They were ignored, hung up on and lied to. And the ASPCA—reputed to have raised millions of dollars off of Oreo—chose to kill the dog instead. Two years ago today, Oreo laid dead, the victim not of her former abuser, but of an overdose of poison from a bottle marked “Fatal-Plus,” at the hands of a shelter bureaucrat, and at the behest of ASPCA President Ed Sayres.

Following the furor that erupted over Oreo’s killing, New York State legislators introduced a bill to prevent animals from being killed by shelters when there is a lifesaving alternative offered by rescue groups. “As a dog owner and a foster parent for an animal rescue group, I was heartbroken to learn that Oreo was [killed]. When a humane organization volunteers their expertise in difficult cases, a shelter should work with them to the fullest extent possible,” said one of the legislative sponsors. “I am hopeful that Oreo’s Law will ensure that no animal is ever put to death if there is a responsible alternative.” (A few weeks later, and despite the furor that had erupted over Oreo’s killing, Ed Sayres did it again, killing a dog named Max whom a rescue group had offered to save.)

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

Sadly, we cannot bring Oreo back and give her the second chance the ASPCA denied her. And we will forever remember her killing at the hands of those who were supposed to protect her from further harm as many things: tragic and heartbreaking, chief among them. Nothing can alter that calculus. But we can lessen the futility of Oreo’s death if we learn from it, and alter our society in such a way as to prevent such a betrayal from ever happening again.

While Oreo is the most famous of all the animals killed in New York State despite a rescue alternative, sadly, neither she, nor Max, are alone nor unique. New York State shelters routinely turn away rescue groups and then turn around and kill the kittens and cats, puppies, dog, rabbits and other animals those rescue groups offered to save. A statewide survey of rescue groups found that 72% of rescue groups reported being denied animals, and 71% reported shelters turned around and killed those very animals instead.

Today, we are trying to bring sanity to New York State’s shelter policy by passing legislation to make this illegal. But the ASPCA is committed to not letting that happen. To defend its position, Ed Sayres accused rescue groups of being hoarders and dog fighters in disguise. And to legitimize that position, he recruited Francis Battista of Best Friends, Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance, and killing pounds across New York State to parrot those claims. And they succeeded. Like its namesake, Oreo’s Law was killed by the ASPCA. And the body count has been unthinkable.

Since the ASPCA succeeded in defeating Oreo’s Law, 35,607 animals who rescue groups were willing to save have been killed instead. It is not easy to conceptualize 35,000 dead animals. But if you were driving along the road and each of those bodies was lined up end to end along the side, that monumental trail of dead bodies would stretch approximately 10 miles long. Put another way, they would fill virtually all of the seats at Fenway Park in Boston.

And put still another way, each death is represented by one paw below:

And while Hoffman and Sayres dug in their heels and continue to fight rescue rights of access, Battista and Best Friends, despite their best efforts to paint rescuers as hoarders, eventually caved in to popular discontent. The following year, they supported the legislation. But the damage was done. Not just in terms of animals killed who could never be brought back, but because it emboldened the ASPCA in a way that isolation might have prevented (as we will see below). In fact, the ASPCA opposition to rescue group rights has spilled over to other states. In Texas, Hope’s Law, which would have mandated rescue rights, was defeated by a coalition that includes ASPCA partner organizations, including one of its shelters of the year; a “shelter” which kills most animals, including all dogs who look like “pit bulls.” In Minnesota, one of the state’s most regressive kill shelters is opposing the legislation there, citing the ASPCA’s opposition to legitimize its desire to continue killing even in the face of a rescue alternative. In Florida, the rescue rights law introduced has already encountered opposition, despite the fact that 63% of rescue groups in that state reported being turned away by a shelter and that shelter then killed the animals they were willing to save. In Connecticut, ASPCA-sponsored legislation made it nearly impossible for rescue groups to import animals threatened with being killed in other states to safe homes in Connecticut.

And just this week in Michigan, a scared, skinny dog wandered into an Ace hardware store in Detroit in search of food, warmth, and a loving hand. Named “Ace,” rescue groups offered to save him, but Detroit Animal Control put him to death anyway. Their reasoning? If we allow a rescue group to save one pit bull, they’ll want to save others. And that is something Detroit’s hard-hearted, small-minded Department of Environmental Health Services will not allow to happen. The store owner issued this memorial:

Dear Ace, you came into my lobby, crouched behind my door and stared blankly at the wall, shaking. I could see your pain – I fed you, warmed you and you rewarded me by finally looking into my eyes, and for a moment, we shared your pain. I reached for the phone, thinking that I could find you a better life… Instead I sent you to your death. Please forgive me. You did not die in vain, nor will you be forgotten. This I promise you. Your last but far from only friend. – Mark

I’ve been in touch with the group that was fighting to save Ace about introducing a rescue access law in Michigan that would prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. Will the ASPCA fight us there too? Invariably. Is this the kind of killing they embrace? Absolutely.

While ASPCA intransigence is nothing knew (it has been asleep at the wheel since the great Henry Bergh’s death in 1888), its war on rescue groups, reform advocates, and grassroots activists is a signature policy under the disastrous tenure of the Sayres administration. He fought reform efforts in San Francisco, insisting on the right of shelters to kill animals, despite readily available lifesaving alternatives. He backed a pound director in Austin, Texas, even after she committed animal cruelty by withholding medical care from sick and injured animals, allowing them to suffer. And he continues to allow sick and injured animals to go without needed pain management and medical care in New York City’s pound, while claiming it is a model of compassionate care, even while rescuers and volunteers who speak out are turned away from helping those animals. And it gets worse.

Ed Sayres’ war on animal lovers reached its pinnacle this week with the online publication of a “handbook” for killing shelters on how to fight reform efforts and stave off calls for an end to the killing. The ASPCA admits that “there does exist public attention to the need to reform the sheltering system to increase lifesaving,” but they want to help kill shelters bury it. One of the documents, in particular, caused a firestorm: “Tactics of the Extremist Agenda.” According to the Sayres administration, rescuers and animal lovers who want to end the killing and who engage in the democratic process to do so, are “extremists” and the legislators who agree with them should be handled with “caution.”

The documents are the work of none other than Sayres’ henchman in Austin, Karen Medicus, who was responsible for an 11% increase in killing when she convinced the City to follow her policies; and who has since rewritten history to try to take credit for Austin’s lifesaving success, despite her opposition to it every step of the way. It was Medicus who argued that Austin’s animals were not “desirable” or “placeable” and should be put to death. And it was Medicus who backed the then-pound director, even after she committed animal cruelty by withholding treatment from sick animals.

Medicus’ attack on shelter reformers as “extremists” caused a firestorm on the social media. According to Michael Mountain,

A document entitled The Tactics of the Extremist Agenda, along with advice on how to deal with public officials who may be sympathetic to these extremists, was made public yesterday – and promptly disappeared from sight.


The document began by smearing various grassroots groups as members of the “Extremist Agenda”, and accused them of setting up “proxies” in their communities to act on their behalf, “slandering” local organizations and their directors whom they deemed to be “sympathetic to the status quo,” and “installing a puppet regime.”

He went on to say that “This paranoid view of the grassroots wasn’t coming from the government of Hosni Mubarak or Bashar al Assad in response to the Arab Spring. It was coming from the ASPCA – our nation’s richest and most powerful SPCA.”

Even Sayres-apologist Francis Battista, who once stated that Best Friends would never support legislation opposed by the ASPCA and assisted Sayres in defeating Oreo’s Law, spoke out forcefully against it:

Instead of cooking up fevered fantasies about an Al-Qaeda-like no-kill operation that is on the loose and may be coming to a community near you, one would hope that the ASPCA would be rattling the cages of local SPCAs and shelters and using their considerable influence in those circles to get such organizations to address the actual cause of public unrest, which is not an extremist agenda, but the killing of healthy, treatable pets.

This, of course, begs the question: Why doesn’t Best Friends, with its $40 million in annual revenues, do this? But that aside, in the world of the ASPCA, saving lives is “extremist” but subjecting the animals to daily neglect, cruelty, and the ultimate form of violence—killing—is to be defended and protected. But while both condemnations were forceful, they fell short by pandering to pretensions that this is somehow an aberration among groups otherwise filled with animal lovers. Mountain less so, but he still went on to say that “Large, well-heeled organizations like the ASPCA are staffed by good people who want to help animals. But the leadership has a tendency to become arrogant and paranoid and to see the grassroots as their enemy.” This is wrong. First of all, as to the leadership, it is much more than arrogant and paranoid as addressed below. And secondly, the kind of concerted effort to fight No Kill across the country that the ASPCA takes requires people. It isn’t Ed Sayres sitting alone at his keyboard. He and other leaders of the ASPCA may be calling the shots, but the people of the ASPCA are implementing his regressive policies. Ed Sayes may have ordered Oreo killed, but the people of the ASPCA killed her. Ed Sayres may have ordered Oreo’s Law to be defeated, but the people of the ASPCA walked the halls of the state capitol in Albany and lobbied legislators to vote “No.” Ed Sayres may have ordered the ASPCA to oppose No Kill in San Francisco, but the people of the ASPCA testified against it in front of the San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission. Ed Sayres may have ordered sick kittens sent to New York City’s medieval and abusive pound, but it is ASPCA employees who delivered them there to be killed. Why do we feel the need to apologize for holding them accountable? We can forgive Mountain that error, because everything else he wrote is so spot on. We are, as he says, “fed up with old-guard, do-nothing, establishment organizations that spend much of their time and their donors’ money killing more animals.” But Battista’s conclusion was made up out of whole cloth: “From one organization to another…I know the ASPCA, and I know you can do better than this.”

Really? Where is the proof of that?

This latest assault on those trying to save the lives of animals isn’t an aberration. This is who and what the ASPCA is and has been for a very, very long time. Despite the millions hoarded in their bank accounts raised through emotional commercials that prey on animal lovers by promoting the fiction that they will use donations to save animals, the ASPCA has a long sordid history of not only fighting reform efforts nationwide, but of neglecting the needs of the animals suffering in the shelter down the street, even sending animals to be killed there. In short, why do we feel we have to couch our condemnation in a complement when the ASPCA is committed to killing, to protecting killers, to defending abusers if they happen to run shelters, and to hiding abuse within its own facility as the ASPCA did in trying to protect a veterinarian who kicked a dog to death? Regardless of whether it was run by Roger Caras who called No Kill a “hoax” and a “cancer,” or Larry Hawk, who continued that legacy, or Ed Sayres, who counts over 35,000 dead New York animals as his legacy, there is simply no evidence that the ASPCA “can do better than this” because, when it comes to ending the systematic killing of animals in U.S. shelters, they never have. In fact, they have never even tried, not since the death of their remarkable founder over 120 years ago.

Battista goes on to write, “ASPCA, the train has left the station, and we are en route to a no-kill country. We would love for you to be at the victory party.” And again, Battista misses the mark. The train has left the station and we are en route to a No Kill nation. But the ASPCA won’t be invited to the victory party because when we finally win, it will be because we are celebrating having defeated them. In fact, if it wasn’t for organizations like the ASPCA fighting us, our work would be much less complicated and our conquest of the status quo would be much easier to achieve. We already have the hearts and minds of the American public. It is the entrenched status quo—spearheaded by groups like the ASPCA—that our movement must overcome. We exist to fight them. They are not part of our movement and never have been. They are our antithesis, our nemesis, and the very reason the grassroots No Kill movement must exist in the first place.

I often end my “Building a No Kill Community” seminars with a simple admonition: No more excuses. No more compromises. No more killing. I’d like to add one more: No more apologia. As we remember Oreo’s death on this, the most solemn of anniversaries; as we feel fresh wounds at the killing of Ace, who like Oreo, made the “mistake” of having entered a shelter with a commitment to killing despite a rescue alternative; as we consider the 35,000 additional dead in New York; as we consider the hundreds of thousands similarly killed across the nation because kill shelters refuse to work with rescue groups; and as we fight for the lives of the millions killed every year because of a paradigm, created in part, and defended vigorously by the ASPCA, let us remember that our fight is not against the many, but the few: the heads of regressive shelters like Detroit Animal Services and the heads of the large, national organizations who protect and defend them, organizations like the ASPCA. Let’s not fall into the trap of pretending otherwise because you cannot solve a problem if you do not recognize its cause.

For further information, read Valerie Hayes’ excellent essay on “The ASPCA and the case of the extremely elusive documents,” by clicking here.

Are you an “extremist”? Take the quiz.

  1. I want the killing to end.
  2. I think it is wrong for shelters to neglect and abuse animals.
  3. If other communities can end the killing of savable animals, I believe my community should also.
  4. I care about animals and because I care about animals, I do not want harm to come to them.
  5. I believe in democracy and engaging my elected officials to create social change.

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you are an “extremist” according to the ASPCA. If you answered “No” to all of these questions, the ASPCA thinks you’ll make a great shelter director and they will fight to defend and protect you.


Occupy Dallas Animal Services

November 11, 2011 by  

We are the 99%

In May of 2009, a cat stuck in the wall of Dallas Animal Services (DAS) was allowed to slowly die of dehydration/starvation. Other than complaining to managers who did nothing, not a single employee of that pound did what conscience demanded: smash through the wall and save the cat. Only after the cat died and began to decompose, causing a smell in the employee break room, was a small hole made in the wall and the cat’s lifeless body pulled out and discarded like trash.

In my blog, “A Culture of Cruelty,” I wrote:

Imagine it. Really try to imagine it. A shelter filled with employees whose job it is to care for animals. Imagine a cat calling out in panic or fear, stuck in a wall, where the employees are eating and laughing and not a single one does anything about it. Sure, one of them calls a cruelty investigator and he comes and determines that yes, the cat is stuck in the wall. But he doesn’t rescue the cat. Others ask managers, each other, “will someone rescue the cat?” But no one does. And they keep right on eating their lunches, they keep right on laughing, they keep right on talking and gossiping and doing those things that people do in lunch rooms. And meanwhile, the cats’ cries are getting more desperate, then more weak, and then they finally stop. And a short time later, the smell comes. The smell of a decomposing body. And only then do they complain in earnest. How can we eat lunch in here, how can we laugh and gossip and talk with that smell? And because it now affects them, they do something about it. They cut open a hole in the wall to remove the dead body, while every single one of us wants to scream: tear open the wall! Why didn’t any of them tear open the wall?

This week, I highlighted that blog, and a follow up where I tried to explain why kill shelters like Dallas Animal Services have employees and directors who could allow this, which earned me condemnation from one person, someone who knows the employees at DAS and said I was not being fair. On my Facebook page, she wrote: “We can both agree that more vigorous and immediate action could and should have been taken.” The very thought is absurd. This is not one of those issues where hindsight is 20/20. This is not one of those issues where you do not realize the gravity of the situation or need time to figure out what the right thing to do is. After managers did nothing, the employees should have torn a hole in the wall and rescued the cat. But they didn’t. They didn’t the first day, despite the cat’s plaintive cries and scratching to get out. All of them went home and went to sleep. They didn’t the next day, despite the cat’s more desperate cries. All of them went about their day, and then went home and went to sleep. They didn’t the third day, despite the cat’s continuing cries. All of them went about their day (a day, I should add, like the others, filled with killing animals), and then went home and went to sleep. They didn’t the fourth day, when the cat’s cries became fainter and fainter. In fact, according to news reports, after five days, the cat could still be heard moving in the wall, but was not meowing anymore. A short time later, he died. When his smell impacted the enjoyment of the employee use of their break room, they took him out.

While only one person defended the employees, I did a poll, admittedly unscientific, where I asked people what they would do in the circumstances. Would they:

  1. Ignore the cat’s cries and go on with my day;
  2. Wait until the cat died and complain again; or,
  3. Make a hole in the wall and pull the cat out.

As of this writing, 210 people said they would pull the cat out, while only 1 said they would allow the cat to die and then complain again. Virtually all of us—99.6%—would have done what conscience demanded. In fact, some of the commenters could not even believe it was subject to debate. But it is, if you work at an animal “shelter.” In fact, the first time many animals are neglected or abused is at the very agency that is supposed to protect them from it.

Even before I conducted the survey, the Naysayer challenged all the commenters, including those that said they would have ripped a hole in the wall after the first meow. I myself made the same comment: “[T]he cat was stuck in the wall for days, crying, in the break room. And not one employee did what conscience demanded. That they spoke out against the former director after the fact is welcome. That a cat had to lose his life for it is unacceptable and unforgivable. You do not go to work each day in a place where an animal is starving to death and not TEAR A HOLE IN THE DAMN WALL AND PULL HIM OUT.”

That is what the great Henry Bergh would have done and that is what the great Henry Bergh did. One day, people were walking by a building that was under construction. People could hear a cat meowing but they couldn’t find her. Someone ran to tell Bergh. When he came, he realized that the cat was stuck inside the wall. The cat had crawled into a hole in the wall at night and had fallen asleep. The next morning, workers sealed the hole without realizing there was a cat inside. Bergh wanted to rescue the cat, but the owner of the construction company said it would cost too much money to make a hole in the wall. Bergh didn’t care. He ordered the workers to tear a hole in the wall. They did and the cat was freed.

Of course, that is Henry Bergh, and though I doubt very much the Naysayer was aware of it or that it would have opened her closed mind, she responded predictably by claiming that those of us who claim we would have done the same thing or torn a hole in the wall ourselves say that now, but doubting that we would if faced with a similar situation. In her mind, if her friends and colleagues wouldn’t, than no one would. She ignored the whole purpose of the post she was commenting on, “The Banality of Evil,” which sought to explain how seemingly “nice,” “normal” people are capable of doing horrible, horrible things, such as allowing a cat to die in the wall. I believe those 99.6 percenters. I believe they would have rescued the cat, because I would have done it. In fact, I did.

In 1995, I received a telephone call from my then-girlfriend, and now wife, that she received a call from her former employer, a recycling center in San Francisco. They could hear a cat meowing inside the wall of their building (there was a feral colony there) and as they knew she was an animal person, they asked if she could help. They did not want the cat to die. As I worked in San Francisco and as I was a volunteer investigator and Board Member for the No Kill Palo Alto Humane Society, I went over there and could clearly hear a kitten meowing behind the wall. The wall, unfortunately, turned out to be an old bank vault, one of those solid, thick walls with an old combination and spin lock, long forgotten.
I called San Francisco Animal Control who dispatched an officer. He came, surveyed the scene, and determined there was nothing they could do (sound familiar?). So I did what he and every employee at Dallas Animal Services should have done, I smashed through. In order to rescue the cat at DAS, they either had to cut through the drywall or they had to remove ceiling tiles and come in from the top. They did neither. I chose the latter. Unable to get through the thick steel of the vault, I climbed into the rafters of the building (the animal control officer claimed he was not permitted to follow) and, borrowing his flash light, I found a hole at the top and could see inside the vault, where a tiny gray kitten was sitting on this little piece of old carpet. He had apparently fallen through the hole.

I could smash through and force myself down, but how the hell could I get back out? It was a long way down. But I did it anyway (would they have allowed me to die of dehydration or starvation if I got stuck?). I made the hole larger by smashing away the drywall so it was large enough to accommodate a chair and then me. It took several hours, but the kitten and I got out. And I immediately took him home to my girlfriend. After she gave him a bath, it turned out the gray kitten was white, a diamond in the rough. When the time came to find him a home through the Palo Alto Humane Society, we could not part with “Diamond.” Rechristening him “Tofu” because of his color, he lived with us until he succumbed to heart failure in 2006. In short, I would have never left that facility until he was free. It was not only my duty as a humane society investigator, but as a decent human being. But more than that, it would have simply been impossible for me to go on with my life knowing that a scared, trapped animal was slowly dying of dehydration and that it was in my power to help. So I did what I had to do which was what the situation demanded. That is what you would have done. That is what all decent, compassionate, and humane people do. But not the staff at Dallas Animal Services. And not the animal control officer who was called out to the scene.

Don’t think for a second that Dallas is unique. Don’t think that this is the result of a “few bad apples.” Indifference, incompetence, neglect, and cruelty are epidemic and endemic to animal control. This is Robeson County or Lincoln County or Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC. It is Harrison County, OH. It is Carroll or Floyd County, GA. It is a “shelter” near you. In fact, for many animals, the first time they experience neglect or cruelty is at the “shelter” that is supposed to protect them from it. For an explanation as to why the employees at Dallas Animal Services allowed the cat to die, while the 99% of us who love animals would have saved him, click here.

The Banality of Evil

November 10, 2011 by  

After a cat starved to death at Dallas Animal Services, while each and every employee looked the other way and ignored his cries, I wrote an article that explained the culture of cruelty endemic to our broken animal “shelter” system. You can read that by clicking here. In this blog, I try to explain why shelter directors can seem so normal and even nice, but allow such rampant cruelty and killing in the organizations they oversee. I also explain why that should not deter us from waging a campaign for their ouster.

A few years ago, I was hired by King County’s Council to do a report on whether King County Animal Care & Control, just outside of Seattle, Washington had the capacity to run a humane sheltering program. The Council had mandated a 90% save rate, but advocates were complaining of poor care, systematic killing, and retribution against whistle blowers. In addition to a thorough document review, I spent several days over two visits to the facility reviewing operations and interviewing staff, volunteers, rescue groups, and others.

I arrived on a three-day holiday weekend and immediately went to the shelter. The cats in the infirmary had no food and no water, and according to the paperwork and the conditions I found, had not had any, including medicine, for three days. Tragically, it turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. Whistleblowers told horror stories, of a staff member drowning a cat in a bucket of bleach for being “difficult,” of being threatened with violence if they spoke out about the things they witnessed, of animals allowed to languish with substandard care, of animals intentionally left to die. According to insiders, if staff “euthanized” an animal, that would be counted against the save rate, but if the cat were to die on his own, they did not have to count that animal in the save rate determination. As a result, staff was told to let sick and injured animals die, with no intervention to relieve their suffering.

But while meeting with the then-shelter director who was my age, he seemed normal, even nice. If I did not know better or know what he did for a living, he might have been a friend of mine under very, very different circumstances. He was a talker, and then some. During our meetings, he told me stories of his high school and college days, the bands he went to see, how much he loved music. His experiences tracked mine. We liked similar music, played in similar bands, went to the same concerts. Here was the man that was reputed to order the veterinary staff to let the cats die, who allowed known thugs to mistreat animals, who allowed killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives, and who looked the other way at a union that protected shirkers and whose management staff did little to protect the defenseless animals. But he was normal outside this environment, even interesting. I’ve had other similar moments like this, such as when I was sitting across a director who oversees daily violence towards animals, not only killing in the face of alternatives, but allowing neglect and cruelty to accompany it. Yet, outside the shelter environment, she was normal, smiling, even asking me to sign a copy of my book for her.

As surreal as those moments were, they were never shocking; not shocking because I was one of the few political science students, if not the only one in my undergraduate class, who read not only all the required reading but all the optional ones as well, including Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. I am not interested in cheap “Nazi” analogies. And the book was terrible, a misinformed view of both the trial and Eichmann’s role in turning the world into a graveyard. But Hannah Arendt got one thing right: You do not have to be a raving monster to do horrible, horrible things. “The trouble with Eichmann,” she wrote, “was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.”

This is something that William Wilberforce, the great crusader against the British slave trade, struggled with all the time. What made Wilberforce so unique is that he was a reformer who was also a member of the status quo. He was a wealthy English gentleman, a college friend of a future Prime Minister, and a Member of Parliament.  And that meant that his efforts to abolish the British slave trade affected his friends and colleagues. As the wealthy owners of British sugar plantations in the Caribbean, Wilberforce’s colleagues in and out of Parliament relied on the slave trade to provide them with a constant supply of new slaves because not only were slaves so brutally treated that they often died young, but many of them were too ill and malnourished to bear children.

What was shocking to Wilberforce, what he could not wrap his mind around, was that the face of so much obscene barbarity, killing, and cruelty was not the devil incarnate. The face of all that violence was, in many cases, an English gentleman in the drawing room of his country estate, who was committed to civility and good manners. These individuals owned plantations halfway around the world run by overseers who, at their behest, brutalized, tortured, and killed other human beings. Yet, these very same gentlemen tipped their hats to passersby, opened doors for women, welcomed people into their homes, and with graciousness and gentility, dedicated themselves to the comfort of others. In other words, they were “terribly and terrifyingly normal.”

And so it was also not surprising when a celebrity member of the media visited the same urban shelter the No Kill Advocacy Center recently sued for killing animals in violation of law, for allowing animals to languish and die with no medical care, and for other inhumane conditions, and came away with a very different view of it. Here was a “shelter” overseen by people who allowed the most atrocious conditions; a shelter that was filthy; that hired thugs who were abusive to the animals; that kept cages empty to reduce their workload which meant more killing; that allowed animals to die of starvation; that dragged injured animals along hot asphalt by way of tight, hard-wire noose wrapped around their necks; that physically abused animals; that allowed them to go without food and water and basic care; and that even killed them cruelly. But after spending time with one of the managers, a manager who was soft-spoken, considerate, and accommodating to him, he could not square it with the reports of rescuers, volunteers, and shelter reformers, complete with data, photographs, even video of some of the most heart-wrenching cruelty and needless killing going on under the manager’s watch. The manager was not evil at all, according to the account. He was… nice. And so nice, so “terribly and terrifyingly normal,” that the killing cannot possibly be his fault.

One of my colleagues in the No Kill movement once said to me that he never calls out people by name, as I do, because it creates an expectation that is often betrayed by how “terribly and terrifyingly normal” they are when you actually meet them. But that is true of most people who cause great harm. How many news stories have we watched where someone is arrested for years of abuse, killing, and even torture, and then, like clockwork, we hear the interviews with the neighbors: “He seemed so normal.” “He was quiet, very nice, quick to say hello.” “It is so hard to believe because he was so polite, often willing to lend a hand.”

It is easy to be critical of people who have done horrible things whom we have never met. It is harder to publicly decry those we know, especially when those people—like the former director in King County, like the manager of the large, urban shelter—appear nice, normal, soft-spoken, and accommodating. It can seem harder because we have trouble reconciling the two. And it can seem harder still because we are afraid decision-makers will dismiss us. But stand up we must if we are ever to achieve a No Kill nation. As long as we avoid pointing the finger of blame and calling them out, they continue to get away with “murder.” And if our success as a movement proves anything, it is that eventually we will wear down the prejudices people hold that a “nice” person is not capable of great wrong. Moreover, we do not have much of a choice.

We can focus on promoting programs and policies, but individual people dictate programs and policies. And individual people decide which animals live and die. And individual people decide whether staff will be held accountable or not. What is the difference between shelters mired in killing and those that aren’t? Is it that the directors and staff of the former are all stark, raving mad? No. They are, in so many cases, “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” No matter.

For all the talk of paradigm shifts, infrastructure improvements, the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, we are, in the end, fighting against individual people who hold the power over life and death. These are people who have proven that they are not equal to the task before them. People who do not give us, and the animals, what we have a right to expect. In short, they are people who must be called to account no matter how “nice” they seem when you meet them.

The obstacle to success in Austin was the shelter’s director. The obstacle to success in Reno was the shelter’s director. The obstacle to success wherever there is killing is the shelter’s director. If we are to succeed, they must be removed. In our movement, the battle is not against the many, but the few; those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Right now, a small handful of people—the regressive directors in our nation’s kill shelters (and the heads of the large national organizations who protect and defend them)—continue to hold us back. They, and often they alone, are working to prevent the great success we could achieve and the millions of lives we could save by reforming our shelters. If we are to prevail, we must judge them, not by whether they seem nice, but by the decisions they make and the actions that results from those decisions, often with lethal consequences.

It is what each and every one of us would clearly see as an obvious moral imperative were our own lives on the line, but which custom, convenience, and, too often, a dangerous allegiance to a corrupted notion of “civility” prevent us from doing. In other words, the notion of being civil exists to create a civil society. But when decorum dictates that you remain silent even when individuals behave in uncivil—indeed, violent and cruel—ways, it is at cross-purposes with the goal. We cannot let allegiance to a corrupted notion of “civility,” “humane discourse,” or “collaboration” which asks us to ignore inhumane behavior prevent us from a greater allegiance—and the resulting imperatives—required of us to create a truly civil, humane, or collaborative society. And that requires standing up to injustice and holding people personally responsible for their unethical behavior.

All across this country, individual people are collectively putting to death millions of animals every year, and often allowing their staff to neglect and abuse them in the process, then going home to their friends and families who embrace them with open arms. It is hard for some to reconcile this. But change won’t happen if we ignore the fact that the difference between lifesaving success and the status quo of killing comes down to the choices made by individual people running the shelters. They must be judged and held accountable to those very weighty choices, and not by any other criteria.

As I wrote in Redemption,

In the final analysis, animals in shelters are not being killed because there are too many of them, because there are too few homes, or because the public is irresponsible. Animals in shelters are dying for primarily one reason—because people in shelters are killing them.

People who are “terribly and terrifyingly normal.”

National Animal Shelter Reform Week

November 6, 2011 by  

A dying and uncared for kitten at the New York City pound. The Humane Society of the United States says we should spend this week celebrating this and other similarly cruel and barbaric facilities.

November 6 is the official kick off of “National Animal Shelter Reform Week.” It is a week dedicated to educating the American public about neglect and abuse that is rampant in U.S. “shelters,” the systematic killing that goes on there, and what we can do to bring this tragedy to an end. It is also a week dedicated to celebrating the many animal advocates across the country who are fighting to reform our shelters and winning, so that others can be inspired to emulate their success.

The week is being launched by the No Kill Advocacy Center in response to the call by the Humane Society of the United States to “celebrate” those shelters and turn a blind eye to the neglect, abuse, and killing of animals in their custody. In a Georgia shelter, for example, abusive workers bury shelter animals alive. But there is no word of concern from HSUS, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and individual shelter killing apologists. In a Washington shelter, abusive workers drown a cat in a bucket of bleach as punishment for being skittish (and thus “difficult” to handle), but PETA and HSUS actually publicly defended the shelter, telling County Council members not to pass shelter reform legislation to mandate lifesaving improvements.

In its call to celebrate shelters, HSUS claims to be the nation’s top cheerleader for shelters, rather than the animals’ top advocate. And PETA has vilified me and others working to reform our broken shelter system, promoting and defending some of the worst abusers in the country. It is this very mentality of celebrating shelters and fighting reformers in the face of epidemic uncaring that has allowed shelters to remain unregulated and has given them the hubris to neglect, abuse, and systematically slaughter four million animals a year without a hint of remorse.

From  the No Kill Advocacy Center:

No Kill Advocacy Center Launches “National Animal Shelter Reform Week”

Every day during National Animal Shelter Reform Week, the first full week of every November, the No Kill Advocacy Center will confront poor and neglectful conditions at shelters around the country and contrast them with progressive and innovative No Kill shelters. We will also honor No Kill activists working to end the systematic killing of animals, so that others can be inspired by their efforts. Finally, we will strive to give animal advocates the tools they need to succeed.

In Georgia, shelter workers bury animals alive.

In Mississippi, a shelter starves animals to death.

In North Carolina, an animal control officer shoots a beloved family dog because he did not want to spend the time trying to catch her after she got out of her yard.

In New York State, shelters refuse to work with rescue groups and then kill the very animals those groups offer to save.

In California, an animal control officer beats a puppy with a baton and is not fired, his manager then returns a dog set on fire back to the abuser to avoid the costs of boarding pending trial.

In Texas, puppies are drowned by being flushed down a trench drain.

In Washington, a shelter employee punishes a cat who is fearful of being handled by drowning her in a bucket of bleach, while the whistleblower who brought the incident to light must be transferred to another department fearing retributive violence by shelter employees.

In Pennsylvania, shelter workers neglect and abuse animals, but a whistleblower is outed by the Health Department, only to have his car vandalized and be threatened with violence by other employees.

In other shelters: Prison inmates who work at a shelter throw animals in the incinerator alive for amusement; Cats are left without food or water during a long holiday weekend; and, Rabbits are not fed and forced to cannibalize one another.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Rarely a day goes by that another incident of shelter mismanagement, killing, neglect, and/or abuse isn’t brought to our attention, highlighting and substantiating an epidemic crisis of neglect and cruelty, followed by systematic killing, in our nation’s so-called animal “shelters.” In fact, the first time many animals experience abuse and neglect is in the very institution’s which are supposed to protect them from it.

These are your animal shelters; the ones that blame you for the killing.

The Nation’s Cheerleader Says We Should Celebrate Them

But rather than hold these “shelters” accountable, the Humane Society of the United States asks us to celebrate them. For the last several years, HSUS has promoted a campaign they call “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week” which occurs the first full week in November. According to HSUS, which describes itself as the nation’s “strongest advocate” for shelters, we owe a debt of gratitude to the “dedicated people” who work at them. They claim that leadership and staff at every one of these agencies “have a passion for and are dedicated to the mutual goal of saving animals’ lives.” They tell us, “We are all on the same side,” “We all want the same thing,” “We are all animal lovers,” and criticism of shelters and staff is unfair and callous because “No one wants to kill.” That is why groups like HSUS can boldly publish, without the slightest hint of sarcasm or irony, a picture of a puppy—a young, healthy, perfectly adoptable puppy—put to death with the accompanying caption: “This dog was one of the lucky ones who died in a humane shelter… Here caring shelter workers administer a fatal injection.”

The Nation’s Watchdog Says We Should Reform Them

Roughly four million animals are needlessly killed at these institutions every year, while an epidemic of neglect and abuse goes largely unacknowledged and unchecked by the very organization that has the power and resources to do something about it: HSUS. That is why we are launching “National Animal Shelter Reform Week.”

National Animal Shelter Reform Week is designed to confront the tragic truth about how most shelters in this country operate and to increase public awareness about how animal lovers can fight back. Despite the uphill battle many shelter reformers face, they are succeeding through ingenuity, perseverance, and because the American public loves animals. The No Kill Advocacy Center would like to support their reform campaigns and honor their tireless effort.

We Deserve Better

We are a nation of animal lovers. We spend $50 billion every year on our animals. We miss work when they are sick. We cut back on our own needs during difficult economic times because we can’t bear to cut back on theirs. And when it is time to say good-bye for the last time, we grieve. We deserve shelters that reflect our values. And we deserve large national organizations to fight for, not hinder, reform of our nation’s regressive and cruel animal shelter system.

Only when shelters stop neglecting, abusing, and killing animals in their care will we will have something to truly appreciate and celebrate. But until then, we can celebrate the many animal advocates working to make a lifesaving difference in their cities and, more importantly, give them the tools they need to succeed.

These are YOUR animal shelters, the ones that blame YOU for the killing:

A dead dog, atop a pile of dead animals, is teeming with maggots and blood at the Associated Humane Societies in Newark, NJ in 2009. The white specks on the floor are maggots in a pool of blood. The shelter takes in $8,000,000 a year but has a long, sordid history of animal neglect.

A puppy as he enters Memphis Animal Services. The same puppy near death from starvation after weeks in the shelter’s custody. They refused to feed him.

The “feral cats only” kennel in Collier County, FL’s animal shelter. Terrified cats were forced to watch other cats be killed and many of them defecated in fear as staff hunted them down with catchpoles. They were then lined up dead in neat piles after a mass kill. The director did not believe in TNR because cats “might” suffer on the street.

A kitten lies near death in a filthy carrier at Houston’s BARC. The shelter “lost” this kitten and found him a day or so later, near death.

This photograph is not “graphic” but it speaks volumes. An empty plate, a bone-dry water bowl, a filthy cage: A cat reaches out, begging for food and water. Staff at King County Animal Care & Control outside of Seattle, WA did not provide food or water over a three day weekend.

A 10-month old dog enters Los Angeles County’s animal shelter healthy, and slowly begins to die of pneumonia and starvation. She was subsequently found dead after a period of several weeks. Staff claimed no one noticed that she was not eating.

The feral cat pen in Henry County, GA. Aside from being filthy, cats were found poisoned with antifreeze. Only shelter staff had access to the pen and advocates believed it was retaliation for demanding better conditions for them.

A kitten before and a kitten after. Yet another animal who goes unfed and uncared for while in the “care” of a shelter mandated to protect animals from harm. Sad to say, I can’t even recall what shelter this was.

A rabbit furiously tries to drink water from an empty container in Los Angeles. This follows promised reforms after what has become known as “Spinal Monday.” Staff did not take care of the rabbits who began cannibalizing other rabbits in the face of starvation. When they were discovered on Monday, one of the rabbits had an exposed spine as other rabbits began eating him alive.

A dog owner cries as he recounts how his dog was kicked to death by an employee of the ASPCA in New York. The dog was in the ASPCA’s veterinary hospital getting care. It was not the first time the ASPCA abused an animal, which they tried to cover up.

Blood stains all over the kennel of a puppy who was beaten by an animal control officer with a baton in Devore, California. The officer was not fired or reprimanded.

A puppy left to die on her own, her body covered in urine, nothing soft to lay on, unable to hold up her head, in Houston, TX.

A dog found buried in Chesterfield, SC after staff of the shelter used him for target practice. They also used dogs for fighting and beat cats to death with pipes.

Dead animals thrown in garbage bags in Philadelphia, PA. Sometimes it took an hour for animals to die because of untrained staff and improper “euthanasia” techniques. And more than one staff member admitted that they have seen the bag still moving while en route to the landfill.

Sick puppies huddled just outside of Houston in a Texas shelter. They came in healthy, they were kept in filthy conditions right next to sick dogs, and would eventually die of or be killed for parvo caused by shelter neglect.

It looks like a nice picture: a cat in a spacious “showcase” room at the Shreveport, LA shelter. What made this so tragic is that despite killing 92% of cats and claiming to do so because of “pet overpopulation,” this was the only cat available for adoption when I visited. Every other cage was kept empty so staff did not have to clean them. Even this room could have easily held a half dozen cats.

A puppy languishes in Los Angeles County. Unable to hold his head up, he lays it on filthy and cold concrete. He would ultimately die, while indifferent staff walked by and ignored his plight. He was not the first in the litter to die without care.

A dilapidated, tiny kennel, some of the most inadequate I have seen, in Houston, the fourth largest city in the nation. The dogs could not even stand in them, turn around freely, or lie down comfortably. Many of the kennels had open drains and staff admitted that when the dogs get their legs caught in them, by the time staff finds them in the morning, their legs are so swollen, they cannot be extricated. The dogs are killed on the spot before the leg is sawed off.

A dog ate half of his tail because NYC’s animal shelter did not provide the care he needed for an injury.

A dog’s kennel and the dog covered with fecal matter at the Associated Humane Society in Newark. In 2009, state inspectors found, among other things, “severe fly and maggot infestation,” “overwhelming maladorous smell,” “large amount of blood … splattered on the floor, walls, and viewing window,” as well as sick and injured animals “not being treated.”

In our homes, our dogs and cats are part of the family. We are devoted to them. We give them food and fresh water, a safe, warm place to sleep, needed medical care, and our love and attention.  In the “shelters” we fund with our tax-dollars and our philanthropic donations, animals are routinely denied the most basic of necessities. They are frequently the victims of neglect, and often, of cruelty. In fact, the first time many animals are neglected or abused is in the very shelter that is supposed to protect them from it.

It is time to take our shelters back. It is time to regulate them to ensure that not only are animals no longer needlessly killed at these facilities, but that they are also treated with compassion and decency. We have the right to expect that our shelters reflect our humane values.

But what we do not need are more promises that shelters will do better. We already have such promises and as the above photographs show, and as 4 million dead animals every year prove, those promises are not sincere. What we must demand are strict laws that regulate shelters; laws that force them to live up to their names and mission statements. In short, we must pass the Companion Animal Protection Act in all 50 states.

Read “While Rome Burns, Emperor Pacelle Strums His Lyre,” by clicking here.


Fight the power! Learn how you can fight back and win by clicking here.

Forecast for Florida: Sunny!

November 3, 2011 by  

The Sunshine State just got a whole lot sunnier. Today, Senator Mike Bennett, the President Pro Tempore of the Florida Senate, introduced the Florida Animal Rescue Act. The bill would make it illegal for “shelters” to kill animals if rescue groups are willing to save them. A statewide survey of Florida rescue groups found that 63% of non-profit animal rescue groups have had at least one Florida state shelter refuse to work collaboratively with them and then turn around and kill they very animals they were willing to save. The most common reason given was shelters either having a policy of not working with rescue groups or being openly hostile to doing so.

The high ranking Republican writes:

Combining compassion and business sense, Senator Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, filed a bill today aimed at saving taxpayer dollars along with the lives of Florida’s four-legged friends. Filing the Florida Animal Rescue Act, Senate Bill 818, Bennett explained that by sending animals to non-profit animal rescue organizations instead of killing them, costs are transferred from taxpayers to private organizations, and the burden on publicly funded shelters is reduced. Costs previously used for killing animals can then be focused on revenue-boosting adoptions.


“Florida has an opportunity to join other states setting a nationwide example by passing a bill that could save thousands of animals and help direct dollars toward other important initiatives,” said Bennett. “When we are not using dollars to care for, kill and dispose of animals, there is an immediate cost savings to local governments.”


Calling it both a compassionate and smart decision, Bennett added that killing animals takes an incredible toll on shelter staff members who often experience emotional trauma and exhaustion. This measure would spare them such a burden when animals have lifesaving options available.


The Florida Animal Rescue Act also offers protections for the safety of both the public and animals, excluding dangerous dogs, irremediably suffering animals, and it would also exclude organizations affiliated with a volunteer, staff member, director or officer convicted of animal neglect, cruelty or dog fighting, suspending the organization while charges are pending.

For a copy of the bill, click here.

Florida animal lovers, please contact your Senator and ask him/her to cosponsor and support Senate Bill 818, the Florida Animal Rescue Act. You can find out who they are and get their contact information, by clicking here.