The ASPCA’s Trojan Horse, Redux

December 30, 2011 by  

New Yorkers: Please contact Rep. Amy Paulin and politely ask her to withdraw her bill, to cosponsor A. 7312 (Micah Kellner’s Companion Animal Access & Rescue Act), and to work to enact real and substantive reforms of shelter practices that are costing too many animals their very lives.

Once again, the ASPCA and its progeny have convinced Rep. Amy Paulin to reintroduce Assembly Bill 5449 in New York as an alternative to real shelter reform. Although some changes have been made, like last year, it doesn’t require shelters to do anything they find not “practicable.” In addition, while it asks shelters to work with rescue groups, it does not require them to do so, giving them discretion to deny rescue groups based on a wide range of unenforceable criteria and giving them the option of not working with any rescue groups outside of their county. This blog, written last legislative session about A.5449, still largely applies:

Pride and Prejudice in Shelter Reform
March 5, 2011

Ms. Elizabeth Bennet reading from Black’s Law Dictionary?

There is a word in the English language that you can go your whole life and never hear used in speech or in contemporary writing. The word is “practicable.” It is a throwback, the kind of word you might read in a Jane Austen novel: “Why my dear Miss Bennet, that sounds positively diverting, but is it practicable?”

It literally means capable of being done or reasonable, but there are so many alternatives to it—reasonable, feasible, practical—that no one uses it anymore. That is, no one outside the law. It survives today in the jurisprudence of this nation. You will find it in law where it has only one meaning: you do not have to do this if you don’t want to. Its singular purpose is to mollify opposition by enacting reform, but then providing a loophole big enough to drive the proverbial Mack truck straight through it.

When you read legislation and you see that dastardly word, you will know that the legislator is not serious about reform. You will know that the bill is meant to ride popular sentiment on an issue but not upset the powerful interests who are vested in the status quo. So you can have legislation, for example, that is called the “Climate Change Prevention Act.” It might have policy statements that sound ambitious: “Whereas, today climate change is threatening to destroy economies, cause species extinction, and result in irreversible harm to the planet and all living things.” It might then put the blame on use of non-renewable sources of energy. And then, in what sounds very promising in today’s political climate, it might “mandate that utilities must purchase 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2015.” And you might think that this is something you can get behind. You will vote for this and vote for the legislator who introduced it. But wait, you search the text of the law, and there it is, one tiny word, the kiss of death that potentially renders the whole thing a paper tiger. It goes on to say, “if practicable.” In other words, if it isn’t too much trouble. And it always certainly is. Or we wouldn’t need a law to force them to do so in the first place.

The word “practicable” is a wink, a nod, a slight head tilt to special interests by legislators that no one really expects change, that those the law pretends to regulate will be able to continue doing what they have always done as long as they make the claim that following the law is not “practicable.” By then, the public will be mollified, they will go on to something else, be distracted by the next call to arms, and forget that the status quo has not been changed.

I’ve written elsewhere about the ASPCA’s Trojan Horse bill meant as an alternative to Oreo’s Law true right of rescue access. I’ve written how it gives the power to killing shelters to determine whether a rescue group is fit to save animals, how it says non-profit rescue groups are presumed guilty of wrongdoing, how shelters do not have to work with rescuers outside their own county, and how they have wide latitude to kill animals, such as a whining puppy, by claiming those animals are in “psychological pain” and therefore not subject to rescue.

But while the ASPCA may be trying to sabotage Oreo’s Law with fake reform, they knew we were watching, so they loaded their gift of a lump of coal with other provisions, with lots of shiny wrapping designed to entice people into supporting it. The Trojan Horse pretends to be a more comprehensive shelter reform bill, like the Hayden Law or the Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act, by including three new “requirements” for shelters, and through a campaign of distortion to label it “better than Oreo’s Law.” But is it?

According to the ASPCA and its supporters, the Trojan Horse bill will require shelters to make better efforts to return lost animals home. This is accomplished by requiring shelters to keep lost and found reports, scan for microchips and other means of identification, compare information on found animals with lost reports, and post the information on the internet to help people find their animals. It provides animals with veterinary care, shelter, food and water during the state mandated holding period. You would think shelters would do this anyway, but we know better. And it cleans up language about which animals can be killed immediately by changing current law which allows shelters to kill animals right away if they are “unfit for any useful purpose” to those animals “suffering irremediable physical or psychological pain” or to “alleviate a contagious, deadly health condition.”

Of course, these changes raise the issue of motive: Why didn’t they introduce these things before? And why did they choose to put them into a controversial law? The answer, of course, is that they didn’t care enough to do so and here, it serves a more useful purpose. They are looking to bait and switch. But that aside, the provisions, as expected, are riddled with loopholes.

I’ve written before that the term “psychological pain” is capable of wide interpretation. A puppy who whines can be said to be in “psychological pain” and thus put to death, even when non-profit rescue organizations are willing and able to save him. And puppies whine all the time because, quite simply, that is what puppies do. In addition, a shelter could claim that URI in the shelter is a non-rehabilitatable condition that is “contagious” and “deadly” and thus kill kittens with colds, even though a bit of time and space, and perhaps a course of antibiotics, is all it takes to cure them. (This is what shelters in California did after the Hayden Law was passed. In the absence of a strict definition, they also claimed animals with conjunctivitis were “irremediably suffering,” as were animals with diarrhea.)

But it gets worse. In fact, shelters do not have to do any of the things the bill says they do. Why? That dastardly loophole: “practicable.” At the same time that the ASPCA Trojan Horse says shelters should post information on found animals to the internet to help people find their lost pets, it turns around and gives them an out:

“The notice required by this paragraph may be made by means other than the internet if use of the internet is impracticable.”

While the bill claims it requires posting of photographs, this is also so only “if practicable.”

When dealing with shelter directors who find killing easier than doing what it takes to stop it, it is never practicable. For example, the New York City pound system recently stopped matching lost with found animals by eliminating the staff responsible for that duty. Would they have to start if the ASPCA bill passes? They would not. Since they do not have staff to do so, it would not be “practicable.” If a shelter does not have a website or a digital camera, how can they post photographs of stray animals to the internet? It would not be “practicable.” The status quo will remain the status quo.

We can’t allow the continued killing of 25,000 animals because of the intractable pride of the ASPCA which is trying to save face for their killing of an abused dog. And we accept their Trojan Horse of a bill only at great prejudice to our lifesaving efforts. What New York animals, rescuers, and animal lovers need is true rescue access. They need posting to the internet, veterinary care, and transparency not when someone says it is “practicable,” but as a matter of right. In short, they need real shelter reform.

Top Blogs of 2011

December 20, 2011 by  

In 2011, I wrote 137 blogs. These are the ten most important ones:

There Are No ‘Alien’ Species on Planet Earth: On a tiny planet surrounded by the infinite emptiness of space, in a universe in which life is so exceedingly rare as to render every blade of grass, every insect that crawls, and every animal that walks the Earth an exquisite, wondrous rarity, it is breathtakingly myopic, arrogant, and quite simply inaccurate to label any living thing found anywhere on the planet which gave it life as “alien” or “non-native.”  There is simply no such thing as an “invasive” species. We must turn our attention away from the futile effort to hold or return our environment to some mythic state of perfection that never existed toward the meaningful goal of ensuring that every life that appears on this Earth is welcomed and respected as the glorious, cosmic miracle it actually is. Read the blog by clicking here.


As Blue as the Summer Sky: Austin, Then & Now: There was a time, and not so long ago, when just being a kitten got you killed in Austin, Texas. Reformers fought back and they won. It took several years, but they did not waver. They did not tire. They did not retreat a single inch. As Fix Austin’s Ryan Clinton, the insurgent who spearheaded the fight, stated, “It is a marathon and not a sprint.” They stayed in it for the long haul, and today, the clouds have parted, and the only thing as “blue as a summer sky” is the sky itself. The future looks very bright indeed. Admittedly, there is still work to be done. Some savable animals are still dying. But the end is within reach. Read the blog by clicking here.

A Culture of Cruelty: This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. Read the blog by clicking here.

Understanding the Culture of Cruelty: A cat was allowed to slowly die of starvation after becoming trapped inside the wall of an animal shelter in Dallas, Texas. The cat could have easily been saved. Instead, every single employee of that “shelter” allowed him to die. The question of course is why? How is it that agencies filled with people who are supposed to protect animals from harm and rescue them when they are in trouble, people who are paid to care for animals in need, are in fact abusive? Read the blog by clicking here.


The Great Abortion Non-Debate: For a movement founded on the rights of the individual, ending the lives of unborn puppies and kittens is indefensible. Indeed, the more widespread No Kill becomes, the more we will find significant ethical dilemmas within our own practices and beliefs. Dilemmas that will challenge some of our deeply held convictions, which we may find—if we address them honestly—are still rooted in traditional apologia: killing for space, killing to prevent possible future suffering, killing as a population management tool: the unethical practices we thought we rejected when we challenged the status quo with our No Kill ideals. We have certainly come a long way as a movement, but we still have a long way to go. Read the blog by clicking here.

Images That Will Haunt You Forever: Sadly, as I traveled the nation visiting filthy, abusive shelter after filthy, abusive shelter, and as word of my work spread and I was increasingly contacted by activists and rescuers nationwide who were battling the cruel and regressive shelters in their own communities, I came to realize that I had as much to learn about the state of animal sheltering in the U.S. as I had hoped to teach the animal sheltering industry. And what I learned was that the reality was much worse than even I could have ever imagined. Read the blog by clicking here.

Unobvious Choices: The Animal Protection Movement’s Fourteenth Floor: Those of us who embrace a brighter future, those of us who seek to finally bring some accountability to a field that has historically lacked it, have found we must work to overcome the false perceptions the public, legislators, and the media have regarding these individuals, simply because they have the names “humane” or “SPCA” in their titles. They believe these organizations represent the best interests of animals, even though they are little more than the equivalent of a corrupt labor union–protecting incompetence and fighting innovation at all costs. They believe they are run by “experts” even if all they have to substantiate their alleged “expertise” is letterhead that looks legitimate, but nothing else. Read the blog by clicking here.


Good Homes Need Not Apply: When people decide to adopt from a shelter—despite having more convenient options such as buying from a pet store or responding to a newspaper ad—they should be rewarded. We are a nation of animal lovers, and we should be treated with gratitude, not suspicion. More importantly, the animals facing death deserve the second chance that many well intentioned Americans are eager to give them, but in too many cases, are senselessly prevented from doing so. Read the blog by clicking here.


A False Debate:  An “open admission” shelter does not have to, and should not, be an open door to the killing of animals. In fact, using the term “open admission” for killing shelters is misleading as they are CLOSED to people who love animals. They are CLOSED to people who might have lost their job or lost their home but do not want their animals to die. They are CLOSED to Good Samaritans who find animals but do not want them killed. They are CLOSED to animal lovers who want to help save lives but will not be silent in the face of needless killing. And so they turn these people and their animals away. Read the blog by clicking here.


No Kill 2.0: When I was the director in Tompkins County, our save rate was 93% As some communities have since proved, we can push past even that—to 96%, 97%, and higher. But even then, given not just continual advances in veterinary and behavior medicine and the more widespread opportunities for sanctuary and hospice care, as well as our own moral evolution, until we save each and every animal who enters a shelter, there is no finish line. Even as we succeed in more and more communities, we must not simply sit back and wait for the others to catch up. We must update our efforts to reflect the changing nature of the No Kill debate within our own movement. We must upgrade to No Kill 2.0 with open and loving arms. The animals who are currently falling through the cracks that continue to exist also deserve our protective embrace. Read the blog by clicking here.

Phyllis Wright Awards 2011

December 19, 2011 by  

While the No Kill Advocacy Center celebrates the recipients of its Henry Bergh Leadership Award, given annually to a handful of individuals with an unwavering commitment to ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters, I am giving my own “award.”

Named for the late-Phyllis Wright of the Humane Society of the United States, the matriarch of today’s “catch and kill” paradigm, Wright once famously wrote, “I’ve put 70,000 dogs and cats to sleep… But I tell you one thing: I don’t worry about one of those animals that were put to sleep.”

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

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

The pound in Marlboro County, SC.

There were many, many contenders. In Waycross, GA, dogs were allowed to die of heatstroke because the shelter has no electricity for fans. Marlboro County, SC officials call it a “shelter,”but it looks more like a medieval dungeon. Not to be outdone, Janelle Dixon of the Animal Humane Society appears committed to raising more and more money but saving fewer and fewer animals, even killing animals in violation of law and holding the remains of a cat they killed hostage. The Michigan Humane Society told supporters it was saving all “adoptable” animals even while killing 68% of kittens and puppies and over 70% overall. It also took in animals from outside its jurisdiction from rescuers and other shelters as part of its “rescue” program, animals who in some cases were not in danger, only to put some of the poor creatures to death. And there are new allegations of widespread torture in the Calhoun County, AL pound. I could have also easily given the award to the uncaring bureaucrat who runs the Carroll County, GA “shelter” or any of the others across the country who find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it and who look the other way at widespread neglect and even abuse in their facilities. Chances are that such a person running such a “shelter” exists in your community. Such is the tragic state of animal sheltering in the U.S.

Nontheless, ten recipients will share the dishonor in 2011. Each represents a different ugly side of our broken animal “shelter” system. They are:

1. Ingrid Newkirk of PETA for seeking out and killing roughly 2,000 animals a year; for promoting the killing of animals based on arbitrary criteria, such as perceived breed; for defending poorly performing and even abusive “shelters;” for being the No Kill movement’s most vociferous enemy; and for convincing a generation of “animal rights” activists to embrace the “right”of people like her to kill animals.

One of many dogs found dumped in a trash can after being killed and thrown away by PETA several years ago. Some of the animals were healthy and in no danger of being killed, but PETA claimed they would find them homes only to put them to death within minutes. In 2011, all indications are that PETA’s deadly reign of killing continued unabated. Thanks to PETA, animal rights activists argue that it is wrong to kill cows and chickens, but it is perfectly acceptable–even necessary–to kill dogs and cats. Ridiculous.

2.    Wayne Pacelle of HSUS for working with pro-killing organizations in Texas to help coordinate the defeat of legislation which would have mandated lifesaving collaboration and ended the cruel gas chamber; for being a cheerleader for killing shelters when he’s been tasked with being their watchdog; for embracing the most notorious dog abuser of our generation while calling for his canine victims to be killed (in 2011, Pacelle stated that Michael Vick would make a “good pet owner” and thus should be allowed to have access to dogs again); for preying on the emotions of animal lovers who are being misled into supporting his organization; and for betraying the cause he’s pledged to protect.

A spokesman for HSUS, Michael Vick shot dogs, drowned dogs, electrocuted dogs, hanged dogs, and beat dogs to death. He has never expressed remorse. Wayne Pacelle has championed Vick, said he would make a good dog owner, fraudulently fundraised off of Vick’s victims while calling for them to be killed.

3.    Ed Sayres of the ASPCA for killing animals who have a place to go; fighting shelter reform legislation thus ensuring the deaths of tens of thousands of animals who also have a place to go; for claiming to “save” animals, then fundraising off of them before shipping them off to kill shelters; for fighting No Kill reform efforts in communities across the country such as Austin and referring to those working to fix our abusive shelter system as “extremists;” and also for defending and even promoting killing shelters and preying on the emotions of animal lovers who are being misled into supporting his organization.

The number of animals put to death who rescue groups could and would have saved since Sayres and his team at the ASPCA killed legislation which would have made it illegal for New York shelters to kill animals who have a place to go would fill every seat at Fenway Park.

4.    Sam Parker, Sheriff of Chesterfield County, SC for overseeing a pound where dogs were alleged to have been used for target practice and cats were alleged to have been beaten to death with pipes. He has also allowed animals to languish in cruel conditions.

Sheriff Parker’s team used dogs as target practice, beat cats to death with pipes, and allow cruel conditions to continue. From the standpoint of the animals who depend on him, he may just be the worst sheriff in America.

5.    AC Wharton, Mayor of Memphis, TN for overseeing a pound rife with neglect, abuse, staffed by felons and those with ties to dog fighting rings. And rather than reform the shelter, he violates the constitutional rights of critics and removes the cameras which were the only form of external oversight that kept animals from being more viciously neglected and abused. From the standpoint of the animals, he may just be the worst mayor in America.

Under Mayor Wharton, the pound is a badly mismanaged house of horrors where roughly eight out of every 10 animals are put to death; where known felons have committed animal cruelty; and where animals have been neglected and abused by those who were supposed to protect them.

6.    Roseann Trezza of the Associated Humane Societies of New Jersey for overseeing a shelter with horrendous conditions, as documented over the years by state inspectors; for refusing to implement lifesaving programs such as foster care; and in 2011, for betraying “Patrick,” the abused pit bull who captured the heart of a nation, by referring to him as a “a very valuable brand for commercial exploitation and fundraising” and suing those who want to give him the life and love he deserves.

A dead dog, teeming with blood and maggots, at the Associated Humane Societies “shelter.” Although this photograph was taken by state inspectors in 2009, the “shelter” has a history of neglect and corruption dating back years. In 2011, they sued those who want to give the abused dog Patrick the life he so richly deserves, arguing that he is not a dog, but a “trademark” who is a “very valuable brand for commercial exploitation and fundraising.”

7.    Dawn Blackmar of Harris County TX Animal Control for overseeing a pound that allows animals to suffer and die, despite lifesaving alternatives, kills animals cruelly, and kills animals in front of other animals, including puppies in front of their mother. Hope’s Law, which would have protected animals from Blackmar’s abusive brand of sheltering, was named after an injured dog Blackmar allowed to suffer and die, despite rescue group offers to rescue him and/or pay for his medical care. In another case, a live dog was thrown in the trash and chewed his way out of several garbage bags he was tied up in. Despite offers to save him, Blackmar put him to death.

There was no hope of saving “Hope” because of Blackmar’s uncaring and medieval brand of sheltering.

8.    Patty Mercer of the Houston SPCA for overseeing a shelter that kills animals based on arbitrary criteria; “rescues” animals for fundraising purposes from disasters outside her jurisdiction only to put some of them to death or kill local animals to make room; and for an inexcusable commitment to killing in the face of alternatives. Hope’s Law, the Texas Companion Animal Protection Act, would have stopped her from killing dogs because she claims they look like “pit bulls,” killing animals when rescue groups are willing to save them, and would have required her to make her killing statistics public, which she refuses to do. In 2011, the Houston SPCA was part of a group of killing organizations which successfully defeated this vital lifesaving legislation (the law would have also ended the use of the cruel gas chamber in Texas).

Under Mercer’s leadership, any dog who “looks” like a pit bull is summarily executed.

9.    Monica Hardy, on behalf of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, of which she serves as Executive Director. THLN was the primary force behind the defeat of Hope’s Law in Texas which would have mandated collaboration (Texas pounds would not have been able to kill animals if rescue groups were willing to save them), transparency (taxpayers and donors would have had a right to know how the shelters they fund are doing by requiring them to post their statistics), fairness (it would have been illegal to kill animals based on arbitrary criteria such as breed, color, and age) and would have ended horrendous suffering (it would have been illegal to kill animals using the cruel gas chamber). Thanks to THLN, the bill died, and the animals continue to die along with it, often cruelly.

Thanks to THLN, where Hardy serves as Executive Director, Texas shelters are allowed to use cruel methods of killing. A bill which would have made it illegal, and also made it illegal for them to kill animals based on arbitrary criteria such as how they look or when rescue groups were willing to save them, was defeated by Hardy’s organization.

10.    Bruce King who oversees the horrendous shelter in Detroit, MI. In 2011, an abused dog named “Ace” was rescued by a good Samaritan who thought he was doing the right thing by calling the local shelter. Despite the fact that Ace had a place to go, with rescue groups offering to save him, and despite a court order prohibiting King and his team from killing Ace, the dog was put to death anyway. King claimed that if he allowed Ace to be rescued, rescuers would want to save other dogs and he could not allow that to happen. King appears to be a hard-hearted, small-minded bureaucrat who finds killing easier than doing the minimum amount necessary to stop it, including letting others save dogs he simply refuses to.

Ace was put to death despite rescue group offers to save him and a court order which demanded that King not do so. King stated that if Ace is allowed to be rescued, rescuers would expect to be allowed to save other dogs, too and he could not allow that to happen.

Someday soon, as the No Kill movement becomes more successful, the number of recipients of the Henry Bergh Leadership Award will balloon, while those who receive the Phyllis Wright Award will plummet. Sadly today, we have the inverse. And there were many more contenders.

Conditions in New York City’s abusive pound. While this continues, pound director Julie Bank fires volunteers who speak out.

Killing is the norm. And as long as those like the recipients above hold the regressive views that they hold, champion the draconian policies that they champion, and defend the needless slaughter they defend, animals will continue to pay the price with their very lives, long past the time we discovered the keys to ending their plight.

The “Great Meddlers” of 2011

December 18, 2011 by  

Five individuals were awarded the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Henry Bergh Leadership Award today for unwavering commitment to ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters. The recipients are:

  • Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Austin Pets Alive, whose efforts to end the systematic killing of animals resulted in one of the highest save rates in the nation and the largest community in the U.S. to achieve save rates around 90%. She has also worked to expand that effort to neighboring communities. (Read more by clicking here.)
  • Larry Tucker, City of Austin Animal Advisory Commission, was not only one of the initial founders of Austin’s successful No Kill movement, he was also one of the primary architects and chief legislative proponent of the Austin No Kill Plan which resulted in save rates in around 90%, the largest community in the nation to do so. (Read more by clicking here.)
  • Aimee Sadler, Longmont Humane Society, is changing the concept of “adoptable” to include upwards of 98% of all dogs, redefining our relationship with America’s most maligned breeds, and working to end their killing in “shelters” across the nation. Her 97% save rate for dogs continues to set the standard nationwide. (Learn more by clicking here.)
  • Peter Masloch, No Kill Allegany County, helped spearhead the No Kill movement in Allegany County, MD, by walking in and announcing “There will be no more killing in the shelter.” Masloch worked diligently to reform a shelter that was killing 85%, resulting in a save rate of roughly 94%. Thanks to his unyielding advocacy, the shelter celebrated its first full No Kill year. (Read more by clicking here.)
  • Michael Kitkoski, Rockwall Pets, spearheaded a No Kill effort in Rockwall, Texas. Despite intense opposition and open hostility from shelter leadership and staff, he convinced the Council to pass a unanimous No Kill resolution and has seen save rates dramatically increase, at one point hitting 97%. (Read more by clicking here.)

The announcements were made in a special two-hour national radio program on Animal Wise radio.

Henry Bergh was a 19th Century animal advocate who launched the humane movement in North America. He gave the first speech on animal protection in the U.S., incorporated the nation’s first SPCA, and enforced anti-cruelty laws with passion. Every night, Bergh would patrol the streets of his native New York City looking for animals in need of protection. Upon his death, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of him:

Among the noblest of the land; Though he may count himself the least; That man I honor and revere; Who, without favor, without fear; In the great city dares to stand; The friend of every friendless beast.

To those who opposed Bergh’s attempts at saving the lives of animals, he was known as “The Great Meddler.” The recipients epitomize the unwavering commitment of Bergh to save lives, even in the face of criticism and opposition.

Past winners include Bonney Brown of the Nevada Humane Society, Ryan Clinton of FixAustin, and Robyn Kippenberger of the Royal New Zealand SPCA.

What is True Euthanasia?

December 16, 2011 by  

I just received a call from a dog lover across the country. She has a 16-year-old dog who has nerve damage and has no ability to use his back legs or hind quarters. For the last year or so, she had him going on walks with a doggy wheelchair, but he no longer has the strength. She can’t leave the house for long periods because he can’t be left alone. She hasn’t gone on a vacation in years. Every other week, he gets blocked and she has to help him defecate, an ordeal that keeps her up all night with him and causes him to howl (scream?) in pain. But most days, he just goes. Sounding embarrassed, she told me her house smells like pee. But… he has a good appetite, has more good days than bad, and is genuinely excited and happy to see her. He still has the spark. But the day when he doesn’t may come. The day when he has lots of bad days. The day when he no longer finds comfort in her gaze or caress. Is that when you know for sure it is time, she asked me? It is the one question I don’t know I’ll ever have an answer to. And as she told me her story, I told her mine.

This essay first appeared in Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters. To learn more and/or purchase a copy, click here.

Two members of our family died this year of cancer. We lost our cat, Gina, to squamous cell carcinoma. And my wife lost an uncle, Steve,* to lung cancer. Both were surrounded by people committed to minimizing any pain or discomfort during the last weeks of their life. Both were surrounded by the people they loved and who loved them when they died. But their deaths could not have been more different. We “euthanized” Gina. Steve was allowed to die naturally. And this difference has raised significant ethical issues, which I am trying to sort out.

In the past, I’ve never had an ethical dilemma with euthanasia for end of life in my irremediably suffering animal companions. I never hastily made the decision and have always waited until the very end, using “euthanasia” to prevent my companion animals from experiencing what I hope are only the last hours or, at most, day or two of suffering before they would die naturally. I do not believe it is acceptable to kill an animal at the point of a grave diagnosis or when death is not imminent; the open question is at the end-stages of a terminal disease when the animal deeply suffers. Only under those circumstances have I ever believed in the morality of such a decision. In other words, it is only when I have been certain that death was truly imminent that I have chosen to “euthanize”—to spare my animals the last, painful moments of their bodies shutting down.

And in my advocacy for a No Kill nation, I have often said that our goal in sheltering is to bring “euthanasia” back to its dictionary definition: “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” I’ve tended to focus on the first part: “the act of killing” as opposed to the second, “permitting the death.” But the vivid contrast between the deaths of two members of my family, from the same disease simultaneously, has sharpened this issue for me.

That doesn’t mean that I am second guessing the goals of the No Kill movement at this time in history. Today, the No Kill movement seeks to save all healthy and treatable animals, including ferals. Together, they comprise roughly 95 percent of shelter intakes in the United States. But the fact that the others are hopelessly ill, irremediably suffering, or vicious dogs doesn’t mean their killing isn’t ethically problematic. Truth be told, some of those in the remaining small percent are not suffering, so their killing raises a host of ethical issues. Some of these animals are living without pain, and can continue to do so, at least for a time.

Right now, our great challenge in sheltering is between No Kill advocates who seek to modernize shelters and the archaic voices of tradition that say “killing is kindness.” Once those latter voices are silenced and No Kill’s hegemony is established, we will have to confront ethical quandaries within our own philosophy. These ethical quandaries include: killing dogs who are aggressive but can lead happy lives in sanctuaries where they cannot harm the public; and killing hopelessly ill animals rather than giving them hospice care. At the end of the day, we deceive ourselves when we think our ethical analysis will not change as our society offers greater compassion and rights for animals.

I believe one of the debates we must have on a larger scale is the issue of “euthanasia,” even when it meets the dictionary definition. The question being: Is the idea of mercy killing always ethical? That it is not may be difficult to grasp when healthy animals are killed under the notion of “euthanasia” with the full support of groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society of the United States, and even self-proclaimed animal lovers and animal activists. But the question should be proposed and evaluated thoughtfully, without a knee-jerk dismissal, or the regurgitation of platitudes that obscure more than they illuminate and provide apologia before real reflection begins.

When Gina was nearing the end of her life, I faced a new dilemma that we haven’t really fully debated as a society or as a movement, although compassionate people are asking those questions more often—and some people have been asking them for a very long time. When human medicine determined that nothing more could be done for Steve, they turned to hospice care: to keeping Steve pain-free, as comfortable as possible, and in his home, surrounded by people he loved and who loved him. His hospice care nurse was well-trained and compassionate, and when she knew death was near, she asked that family come to say good-bye. Steve died peacefully, and without pain, surrounded by the people he loved.

As they did when Steve learned he had cancer, we were very aggressive with treatment when Gina was diagnosed, including chemotherapy, steroids, antibiotics for the secondary infections, and fluid therapy. And as they did with Steve, when the disease progressed and Gina stopped eating altogether, we sought comfort measures only, including pain killers. In fact, in doing research about how people make the decision to take humans off of life-support to see if there was an analog for Gina, I found the decision making process in that context lacked rigor. We are clumsy in terms of making the decision for people; I shouldn’t have been surprised to find we are even clumsier in making these decisions for our animal companions. Platitudes about “quality of life versus quantity of life” lack integrity when they replace critical and scientific analysis. And that—along with pre-emptive absolution that end-of-life euthanasia was a “gift”—is all I seemed to find. I was unprepared to make the call to end her life, as I had with other companion animals. Part of the dilemma was that Gina was the most resolute cat I’ve ever known. She was adamant. No, she would not use a litter box. No, she would not stay upstairs. No, she would not stay downstairs. No, she would not stay indoors. No, she would not stay outdoors. No, she would not stop using the couch to sharpen her claws. Gina was the ultimate in personality and mischief: an individual with a set beliefs and practices that made her uniquely Gina. And that made her full of life. How can you take that away? But the best laid plans…

On a day when she looked really bad, when she had not eaten in a week, when she stumbled while walking, when she urinated and defecated on herself, when she no longer wanted to get up, when she no longer took comfort in being petted or held, and with a fear raging that we were prolonged her suffering by keeping her alive with fluids, long after she would have died on her own of dehydration (though no such concerns were presented about Steve despite the fact that he stopped eating weeks earlier), our determination to let her die naturally slipped away. There would be no “permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” We would follow the traditional “act or practice of killing,” although for the same reason.

The veterinarian was compassionate in our taking of what remained of Gina’s life, as she had been during her entire illness. And as we held her, and told her how much we loved her, and thanked her for sharing her life with us, we watched as her veterinarian administered the fatal dose. And she drifted away from us. And I felt like I not only left my beautiful cat in that room, but a little part of my humanity.

It has been said that rare is the individual who can see beyond the mores of his or her own time. I’ve always admired such people and try to emulate them. Even if I never get there, I strive to. I struggle to. That is why I read history; to remind myself that those in our past who have moved us forward were those who continually questioned the accepted values and beliefs of their time, and never let custom or the pervasiveness of a practice deter them from championing what they deduced to be right . In doing so, they laid out a vision for a more compassionate and ethical future for all of us. And so I continually question, and will continue to question, regardless of what may seem like a practical imperative, whether we go far enough in our actions for and in defense of our companion animal friends and family. It is a tremendous responsibility to speak for the interests of someone else—especially when that someone else cannot speak for themselves, especially when it involves life and death, and especially when it is someone you love, relying on you to champion their best interests.

I continue to struggle about the decision to end Gina’s life, and hope I did the right thing. I have been assured by others that I did, but, for the first time in my life, I am not so sure. And I also can’t help but think of larger implications; that if hospice care were the norm and people no longer killed their companion animals even at the end-stages of their lives, or at the very least, if doing so was not the common choice, the ramifications for the sanctity of animal life would be tremendous. If the discussion were to unfold as a movement, as a society, within the veterinary community, and carried the same weight and gravity that it evokes when the topic relates to the same issue, but concerns our human family members, the impact on society’s tolerance for the mass killing in what we euphemistically call “shelters” (but are often little more than death camps) would be sea-changing. I believe that is what we owe the Ginas who allow us to share our lives with them.

If only she could have answered me that day when I whispered in her ear as we said goodbye to her for the last time, “Sweetheart, is this what you would have wanted?”


* Steve’s name has been changed to protect the privacy of his immediate family.

Forbes Magazine Calls Out ASPCA, PETA

December 13, 2011 by  

Forbes Magazine just published “15 Key Insights From 2011 From 15 Key Thinkers And Writers.” Here’s insight number 8:

Most people assume that the ASPCA, one of the largest and most well-funded animal-rights groups in the world, who profess to prevent cruelty to animals, would be all for advocating that homeless cats and dogs not be killed at animal shelters. Not so. A big eye opener: The ASPCA has actively fought to prevent cities from establishing no-kill shelters and aggressively fights bills proposed in local city councils that aim to reduce the number of innocent animals being killed. Another shocker? PETA, does too. The true protectors of animals are not the bureaucracy-rich animal rights organizations, but smaller groups and individuals. Nathan Winograd, author of Redemption, and Stanford-law-educated ex-criminal prosecutor and corporate attorney, is the founder of a growing no-kill-shelter movement—and gets my vote for most important intellectual this year. His no-kill actions challenge the status quo by thinking beyond the box. He’s developed a creative and realistic plan that many cities are successfully using to save most of their homeless animals. New York City’s ACC, who murders hundreds of cats and dogs each week needs to reform and implement his ideas.


The Great Meddlers of 2011

December 13, 2011 by  

The No Kill Advocacy Center to Announce Henry Bergh Leadership Awards

On Sunday, December 18, the No Kill Advocacy Center will announce the recipients of the 2011 Henry Bergh Leadership Award, for unwavering commitment to ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters. The announcement will be made in a special edition of Animal Wise Radio. Five recipients will share the honor.

Henry Bergh was a 19th Century animal advocate who launched the humane movement in North America. He gave the first speech on animal protection in the U.S., incorporated the nation’s first SPCA, and enforced anti-cruelty laws with passion. Every night, Bergh would patrol the streets of his native New York City looking for animals in need of protection.

To those who opposed Bergh’s attempts at saving the lives of animals, he was known as “The Great Meddler.” The recipients epitomize the unwavering commitment of Bergh to save lives, even in the face of criticism and opposition.

Past winners include Ryan Clinton of FixAustin, Bonney Brown of the Nevada Humane Society, and Robyn Kippenberger of the RNZSPCA.

What: Special edition of Animal Wise Radio to announce and interview 2011 recipients of the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Henry Bergh Leadership Awards.

When: Sunday, December 18, 2011, 1 pm to 3 pm EST.

Where: Listen live on the Animal Wise Radio Network by clicking here.

Reaching Higher

December 11, 2011 by  

Last year’s groundbreaking No Kill Conference was the sold-out, must-attend event of the year. And the No Kill Advocacy Center is doing it again! Join the nation’s most successful shelter directors, animal lawyers, shelter veterinarians, and shelter reformers for an inspiring and empowering conference that will help you save lives. This is the only national conference that says we can end the killing and we can do it today!

No Kill Conference 2012: Reaching Higher. Because saving 90% of all the animals is not enough. With new workshops on redefining “adoptable” to mean 98% of all dogs and better than 95% of all cats, and workshops on sanctuary and hospice care to save “the other 5%,” we are striving to save them all.

Save the date: August 11-12, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Registration begins in January.

To find out more and stay up-to-date, join the No Kill Conference Facebook community by clicking here.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Kill Dogs

December 8, 2011 by  

What the court decision in Medlen vs. Strickland teaches us about dogs, love, and who has our backs.


On June 2, 2009, Avery escaped from his yard and was picked up by an animal control officer. His family went to animal control to pick up Avery but they did not have enough money to pay the fees. If this was Washoe County, Nevada, animal control would have put the family on a payment plan and given them their dog back. As Mitch Schneider of Washoe County Regional Animal Services explains,

Accidents happen, so we treat the dogs and their owners the way we would want our pets and ourselves to be treated. If the person is truly irresponsible, we’re going to issue citations, but we aren’t going to threaten to kill their dogs or make it more likely that their dogs will be killed.

Moreover, Schneider notes that holding the dog only ties up kennel space and increases costs, and in “shelters” which kill “for space,” that simply does not make sense.  But this was not Washoe County, Nevada. It was Fort Worth, Texas. And animal control would not release Avery. However, they did agree to hold Avery and told his family to come back with the money. But Avery was killed anyway. When the family returned for Avery, he was already dead.

The family sued but the case was dismissed. Avery had no real “market value” and the trial court ruled that even though Avery was irreplaceable to his family, they were not entitled to emotional or what courts call “sentimental” damages. In other words, to the trial court, Avery wasn’t worth anything. The family appealed. And in a seminal decision that should be cheered by anyone who has ever loved an animal, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and reinstated their lawsuit. The three-judge panel ruled that the family was entitled to emotional damages for the loss of their irreplaceable companion. And why shouldn’t that be the case?

Throughout history, art and literature have depicted humans in all walks of life and social strata with dogs, illustrating their widespread acceptance in everyday life. Closer to home, our own culture is populated with examples of the well-established place dogs have found in our hearts and homes. People of all ages, but particularly the elderly and the young, enjoy their companionship. For single people, dogs offer a welcome relief from loneliness. For children, an animal in the home contributes warmth and unconditional love, and teaches responsibility and consideration for the needs of another creature. Those who suffer from disease or injury experience a therapeutic, even emotional, benefit from their presence.

Dogs do so much good for the community: they give us a sense of optimism, safeguard us from depression and loneliness, and break down the barriers that isolate us from one another. Their presence improves our health, protects us from danger, and teaches us about caring and responsibility. And they ask for so little in return.

In 1869, when the late-Senator George Vest of Missouri was a young lawyer, he represented a client who was suing a neighbor for killing a pet dog. This is what he argued to the jury:

The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and good name, may become traitors to their faith.

The money that a man has he may lose. It files away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wing and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives his master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even unto death.

And nothing captures that timeless truth better than this cartoon from the New Yorker, which still makes me weepy-eyed every time I look at it:

So why is the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA), the American Kennel Club (AKC), Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), Animal Health Institute, American Pet Products Association, and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council—the very organizations whose members are enriched because of how Americans feel about their companion animals—fighting the decision alongside animal control and other similar groups? The answer, of course, is—as it always is—follow the money.

Fear Mongering by Industry Operatives

The AVMA claims that its goal is to “advance the science and art of veterinary medicine” while its counterpart in Texas says the goal of the TVMA is “to promote animal well-being and public health” among other things. Semantics aside, do their actions reflect their claims? As industry associations, they may do these things in part, but their main concern appears to be profits. They advocate for veterinary profits, even when it hurts the animals those veterinarians are pledged to protect. For decades and in various circumstances, the AVMA has put industry profits ahead of the animals.

In the 1970s, the AVMA opposed the endorsement of municipal- or SPCA- administered spay/neuter clinics that provided the poor an alternative to the prohibitively high prices charged by some private practice veterinarians. Despite the fact that low-cost spay/neuter services aimed at lower income people with pets had a well documented rate of success in getting more animals altered and reducing the numbers of animals surrendered to and killed by “shelters” in a community, the AVMA would not agree to any program that threatened the profits of veterinarians, even though poor people were not, and were unlikely to ever be their customers. In 1986, it also asked Congress to impose taxes on not-for-profits for providing spay/neuter surgeries and vaccination of animals at humane society operated clinics. And it has successfully opposed legislation that would allow families to get damages beyond market value even in cases of wrongful injury and death because of veterinary malpractice.

In their bid to get the Medlen decision overtuned, the AVMA and TVMA argued that other people who love their animals—be they cats, gerbils, or horses—will also seek sentimental damages if those animals are wrongly injured or killed. To which I can only reply, I certainly hope so. Because while veterinarians are not shy about acknowledging what the AVMA and TVMA call “the deep bond humans develop with their pets,” that only seems to matter when we are writing the checks to them.

Veterinarians know this, which helps explain why the average cost of a veterinary visit is now somewhere North of $500 per visit, with some spending over $1,000. When we rescued an injured bird this year, we spent nearly $3,000 for his surgery. But when a veterinarian proves incompetent, when he or she performs below a standard of reasonableness and wrongly injures, kills, or allows your beloved companion to die, the AVMA and TVMA think he has no real value. All the pretty talk about the “human-animal bond” is forgotten. Their claim that “The attachment humans can develop with animals is beyond dispute” becomes nothing more than foolish sentimentality. It’s a one way ticket, folks. And the AVMA and TVMA want to keep it that way.

But it is the other groups—the AKC, CFA, and those other industry groups who collectively make billions on the backs of pet owners—whose fear mongering about the impact of this decision is taken to new heights. According to a local fancier’s group which parroted the opponent’s brief, “This court decision represents a reversal of more than 120 years of settled law relating to what kind of damages that an individual may collect as a result of the loss of an animal.” “Traditionally,” they claim, “courts have followed the reasoning of the 1891 Texas Supreme Court case of Heiligmann v. Rose, which held that the value of a dog may be determined by either a market value, if the dog has any, or some special or pecuniary value to the owner, that may be ascertained by reference to the usefulness and services of the dog.”

In other words, the 19th Century Texas Supreme Court got it right and we should not revisit that decision. Of course, in 1891, the courts of the United States also held that laws banning interracial marriage were valid, that drinking fountains and restaurants and other places with sections “for whites only” and separate sections “for colored people” were constitutional as long as they were “separate but equal,” that forced sterilization of political dissidents was acceptable, that women did not have a right to vote, that jailing those who spoke ill against the government was consistent with the First Amendment, and as late as fifty years later, would authorize the round up of all Americans of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps. Somehow, however, we are supposed to accept the wisdom of an 1891 decision when dogs, like women and minorities, were largely an afterthought. We are supposed to ignore the changing nature of our relationship with animals, the fact that spending on our companions is now the 8th largest sector of our economy, and that most of us consider them members of our family.

Allowing the Medlen decision in place of the one decided in 1891 to stand, they argue, will lead to bedlam. Even though they too pay lip service to the “human-animal bond” in their brief by acknowledging “the love and affection owners and pets give each other and the real sense of loss owners feel when a pet is wrongly injured or killed,” that shouldn’t matter. According to their brief, the decision will (I kid you not):

  1. Advance the “animal rights” secret agenda of giving animals “rights of their own” (as far as I know, neither Avery’s family nor their lawyer is even vegetarian, not that it matters one way or the other);
  2. Result in many families not treating ill animals or killing them to avoid paying for their care;
  3. Spay/neuter clinics will close;
  4. Shelters and rescue groups will stop taking in animals;
  5. Shelter staff will quit their jobs;
  6. More pets will be abandoned;
  7. Fewer pets will be adopted;
  8. Dog walkers and dog boarding facilities will close;
  9. Friends will stop watching your pet for you;
  10. Rabies and other zoonotic diseases will increase;
  11. Police officers will be less likely to protect public safety from aggressive dogs; and,
  12. Auto insurance rates will also rise.

And parroting the veterinarian groups, the industry trade groups claim that families whose “cats, hamsters, rabbits, parakeets” are wrongly killed will also feel entitled to sentimental damages. And again, I say, it is high-time we stopped treating cats, hamsters, rabbits, and birds as second and third class pets. For those of us blessed with having shared our lives with them, we love them as much as we love our dogs.

But here’s the rub: The Court of Appeals did not ignore Heiligmann. In fact, they did not even disagree with Heiligmann. Even in that case, the 1891 Court noted the “dogs were of special value to their owner.” More than that, the Court has repeatedly held that where personal property “had little or no market value, and its main value is in sentiment, damages may be awarded based on this intrinsic or sentimental value.” Texas courts have allowed such damages for the wrongful destruction of family correspondence, family photographs, keepsakes, a wedding veil, a watch, even the shade from trees and the sky has not fallen as the AVMA, AKC, CFA, and the other organizations claim will happen if we extend that to dogs. Of course, these groups do not argue we should overturn all those rulings, just the one which extends this well-settled law to dogs. Thankfully, the Court of Appeals did not agree.

Given “the special position pets hold in their family,” the court wrote, “we see no reason why existing law should not be interpreted to allow recovery in the loss of a pet at least to the same extent…” The law, they argued, “should reflect society’s recognition that animals are sentient and emotive beings” and consider family dogs at least as valuable as a photograph. In fact, the Court of Appeal correctly observed that “to treat a dog differently” than photographs “would be irrational.” Otherwise, “intrinsic damages could be awarded for a sentimental photograph … [of a] dog, but not for the dog itself.”

To understand why they’ve taken this position, once again, all you have to do is follow the money. If animal control shelters are financially liable for wrongly killing a beloved companion—Google “pet mistakenly euthanized” and you’ll get 1.4 million hits—it provides an important incentive for them to stop making these “mistakes” over and over and over and over (read “over” a few more hundred thousand times) which they have historically done with no ramifications of any kind. But if people who dearly love their animals can get more than market value, when the pet food industry poisons our animals as they do periodically do with their chemical-laden tainted food, they’ll have to pay, too. When the members of the Animal Health Industry which manufacture pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and feed additives allow contaminated products to further harm animals, they’ll have to pay as they should. If a breeder sells you a dog with chronic issues because of genetic defects they knew or should have known about, they’ll have to pay for your suffering. For all the talk of the “human-animal bond” which enriches them, they only want to hear about it when you are at the cash register handing them money. They no longer care to hear how much you loved your pet if it means they have to pay for having wrongly injured or killed him.

Though the groups have vowed to push for an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court and, failing that, seeking legislation to overturn the decision, the Court of Appeals was not impressed with their arguments and thankfully denied their motions for rehearing.

Friends to a Point

In the 1990s and early 2000s, before Redemption, before the nation’s first No Kill community in Tompkins County, New York, before our movement catapulted onto the national scene, the fledgling No Kill movement’s efforts to embrace compassion in our nation’s so-called “shelters” had few allies. When California’s groundbreaking Hayden Law which, among other things, makes it illegal for “shelters” to kill animals if rescue groups are willing to save them, was making its way through the legislature, when every “shelter” in California opposed it, when groups like the Humane Society of the United States were fear mongering against it, only a small number of rescue groups, along with the Cat Fanciers’ Association, supported it. I was then and still am grateful for that support which helped to propel our message against the powerful, entrenched forces within the animal protection movement itself, who either ignored or condemned it. When HSUS was arguing that TNR was “subsidized abandonment,” they supported us, too. In fact, when the No Kill Conference was first kicked off, they provided valuable financial sponsorship. But that support has its limits.

Moreover, because I have argued for years that mandatory spay/neuter does not work, results in increased impounds and killing, and that pet overpopulation is (thankfully) a myth, I’ve been accused of being “in league with puppy millers” and groups like the AKC. Shelter killing advocates like Pat Dunaway and others, and even Wayne Pacelle, have made the false claim that I must have some nefarious intent. Now that I have been shown to be right, now that the voices opposing such punitive laws include some of the most recognized names in the No Kill movement precisely because these regressive laws do little more than empower dysfunctional “shelters” to write citations and round up and kill even more animals. Now that we definitely know that the demand for animals exceeds the supply of animals being killed in “shelters” almost ten-fold, those arguments have lost their cache.

But here we are, with a court decision that recognizes how we truly feel about dogs and in doing so, puts some teeth in our efforts to hold those who wrongly harm them—including animal control “shelters” when they kill them illegally—accountable, and the groups who “support” No Kill and even promoted my book are lining up with the opposition. They are lining up with neglectful and even abusive shelters. They are lining up with pet food companies which sell tainted products. They are lining up with puppy millers. Given that opponents of No Kill also support this decision (HSUS and the ASPCA are, of course, deafeningly silent), does that mean they are all in league with abusive puppy millers? By the logic of those who accused me of the same thing, they are.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to that (il)logic. But it does go to show that politics makes strange bedfellows. And while they may fight with us on some issues, they will oppose us on others when their own money is at stake. In the end, it seems that the only people we can rely on every single time the animals truly need us are each other. Those of us who love animals and do not want them to see them harmed or killed, not because we can make money off of them, but because we truly love them. So the next time someone, say your veterinarian, tells you that they love dogs, ask them “How much?” Ask them if they love dogs more than they love a photograph of that dog?

Because if they oppose the Medlen ruling, they are in fact arguing that “intrinsic damages could be awarded for a sentimental photograph … [of a] dog, but not for the dog itself.” And if that is their belief, what they are really saying is they may love dogs to a point, but they love making money off of dogs even more. At least, that is the logic of the arguments made to the Texas Court of Appeals.


Update: In January 2013, the Texas Supreme court will hear the case. The No Kill Advocacy Center has filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that the Court of Appeals correctly ruled that dogs are worth more than market value for a replacement. In other words, while the family can get another dog, they cannot get another Avery.

The No Kill Advocacy Center is being opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Kennel Club, the American Pet Products Association and other industry groups. And, of course, the large national groups like the Humane Society of the United States, remain silent because their friends at shelters will also be held accountable for wrongly harming and killing people’s animals.

For a copy of the No Kill Advocacy Center brief:


To read Nathan Winograd’s article about the case:

Once again, we are grateful for the support of attorney Ryan Clinton, who freely gave of his time and expertise in writing the brief, as well as attorneys Sheldon Eisenberg and Kathi Cover.

Further Update: In April 2013, the Texas Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeal. Avery’s family and animal lovers throughout Texas whose companion animals are harmed will now find the doors of justice shut to them.

The Real ASPCA Challenge

December 6, 2011 by  

A Shell Game, Hush Money, and the ASPCA’s Motivated Blindness in Austin.

For those who participated in the No Kill flash mob on the ASPCA Facebook page over the Thanksgiving weekend, you may have noticed the posting about the grants that the ASPCA gave to several organizations. With its financial largesse, the ASPCA chose to reward some of the most regressive humane societies in the United States. It was, in reality, nothing more than a gift to friends of the ASPCA, to organizations that are filled with people who mirror the mindset of the people at the ASPCA.

There is a tendency to view organizations as separate from those who work there. Too often, even critics of groups like the ASPCA give lip service to the employees, suggesting that they do care about animals, but the leaders of those organizations are somehow failing them. But organizations reflect the cumulative decisions of not just their leadership, but also of those who are willing to carry those decisions out. As I’ve written before, the kind of concerted effort to fight No Kill across the country that the ASPCA engages in 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 Sayres 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.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when the ASPCA gives awards to “shelters” like the Houston SPCA, which kills healthy and friendly animals because they look like a pit bull or so they can impound animals in disaster areas from outside of Houston and fundraise off of them, only to kill some of them too. We shouldn’t be surprised when they reward the Humane Society of Broward County which takes in dogs from the high kill shelter in Tallahassee which is partnering with the ASPCA (so the ASPCA can announce an increase in the “live release rate”), even though the Humane Society of Broward County has an even higher kill rate than Tallahassee, and kills local dogs to take in the Tallahassee dogs. Like the ASPCA, the ASPCA’s “partners” do not value life. For the ASPCA, it was never about “saving” the animals. It was always about separating people from their money.

The ASPCA’s Shell Game

Despite what their cleverly crafted press releases and slick fundraising solicitations imply, when the ASPCA assists in a large-scale “rescue,” either a hoarding bust or a natural disaster, they often do not care for and find homes for the animals themselves. Despite their $140,000,000 annual revenues, after they are done with the photo-ops and the fundraising solicitations have been sent out, the animals get shipped off to kill shelters across the country, either to be put to death or to have local animals put to death so they can take them in. That kind of fraud requires hush money; payola for participating in the shell game. The ASPCA takes in millions, the local organizations get some of the cut, and everyone is happy, except the animals. They’re dead; like the beagle puppy “rescued” from Hurricane Katrina who ended up at a shelter in Michigan, where he was killed.

What the hell kind of rescue is that? The answer, of course, is the ASPCA kind. The ASPCA needs those organizations to do their bidding. The ASPCA relies on the cooperation of local shelters when they do these sorts of “rescues” because once the media has moved on and the solicitations have been sent out, the animals’ efficacy to them is at an end. The local shelters they pay off serve as a dumping ground. If the ASPCA were to actually hold these shelters accountable for how they operate, they would lose their very valuable allies in these lucrative fundraising schemes. Until very recently, this was a tidy, efficient arrangement, and no one thought to ask where the animals ended up, or what ultimately happened to them. It’s nothing more than a game of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

The ASPCA Adoption Challenge

While the ASPCA was promoting its “rescues” which were not really rescues and announcing grants to its friends on its Facebook page, over on the ASPCA Pro page, there was a different rubric being used to decide who would be rewarded. The ASPCA Professional page is geared to shelters and it had a “challenge grant” to see which organization could increase adoptions the most based on a prior year’s baseline. The group with the greatest increase over last year would get $100,000. Given the criteria, the ASPCA Pro group could not reward their cronies like the Houston SPCA, the Broward County Humane Society, or the pound in Tallahassee. Those agencies are a dismal failure who would win nothing if the criteria involved not killing. The winner was—no surprise—Austin Pets Alive. Last week, Austin Pets Alive was given the $100,000 check in a ceremony by ASPCA functionaries Bert Troughton and Karen Medicus.

Ironically, just a few weeks earlier, Troughton, who runs the ASPCA Pro page, released documents calling No Kill reformers like Austin Pets Alive “extremists.” The documents were written by Medicus who was the ASPCA point person in Austin working to defeat the No Kill Plan promoted by Austin Pets Alive that led to the success the ASPCA was forced to recognize. Included in the documents Troughton released was a power point guide to stopping No Kill reform written by an ASPCA consultant, a man who called Austin Pets Alive a “terrorist organization” at a recent national conference. Yet here they were (with what one attendee called “pained” looks on their faces) having to reward those same individuals when the statistics of those communities revealed that, in fact, those No Kill “extremists” and “terrorists” had actually created one the most successful adoption communities in the country.

Are Troughton and Medicus really so isolated from the No Kill movement’s tremendous success that they couldn’t see this coming? Couldn’t they realize that by setting up a contest that was based on objective and measurable results, rather than giving kill shelters hush money for a shell game that has characterized the ASPCA’s prior grants, they were placing themselves in the position of having to publicly recognize at an award ceremony those they considered a threat, called “terrorists,” and worked so diligently to defeat while they were fighting for a No Kill Austin?

Motivated Blindness

Psychologists have coined the term “motivated blindness” to describe some people’s reluctance to see what they do not want to see. In the recent scandal involving the rape of children by Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, dozens of Penn State students and boosters took to the street protesting the firing of football coach Joe Paterno, because they did not want to acknowledge that their beloved football coach was a pedophile-enabler. As the New York Times recently described it,

Some people suffer from Motivated Blindness; they don’t see what is not in their interest to see. Some people don’t look at the things that make them uncomfortable.

Last week in Austin, the No Kill movement saw its own textbook case of motivated blindness. While everyone in attendance at the award ceremony saw the large elephant standing in the middle of the room that was the unmentioned opposition to the effort the ASPCA was now being forced to recognize, that did not stop Troughton, while giving the award, to actually suggest that other communities had nothing to learn from Austin’s success. Though they’ve looked long and hard for a solution to shelter killing, stated Troughton, there is no existing road map for No Kill, even though each of the people responsible for the success the ASPCA was lauding would tell you they got there by following the one and only model that has ever achieved success: the No Kill Equation.

The No Kill Equation is the same road map that allowed Tompkins, Reno, and every other community in the U.S. to achieve similar success. In other words, according to Troughton, you can have the check, but you’ll get no credit as a beacon of hope for animals, and you’ll certainly not be allowed to suggest that Austin, like Reno and 20 other communities before it, have something to show the others. If the model gets recognized by the ASPCA, that would require shelters in Tallahassee, Houston, and Broward to actually be accountable themselves. And once accountable, the ASPCA’s shell game comes to an end. As dutiful ASPCA functionaries who toe the party line, Troughton and Medicus are paid to make sure that is not allowed to happen, even though they both know better. Medicus, an Austin resident, knows full well that success there is a result of Austin Pets Alive’s No Kill Equation model of sheltering. She also knows that the City crossed the 90+% save rate threshold shortly after the Council passed the No Kill Plan, mandating that the city shelter do the same. And Troughton came up with her own dead-on-arrival promotion modeled after the No Kill Equation earlier this year which she called the Recipe for Lifesavin’.

Given this, it is enough to make you gnash your teeth to imagine Bert Troughton telling a room full of determined people who followed a very specific path to success that their achievements are enigmatic and devoid of larger significance or lessons for others. But it is also very telling to imagine her doing so: To imagine how it must have felt for the world to have shifted so dramatically beneath her feet, knowing she was finally being held accountable to the rhetoric she spouted with one side of her mouth, even as the other side fiercely condemned those who were sincerely devoted to it.

Beaten, humiliated, shown to be disingenuous, and then forced to get on a plane and fly half way across the country to reward those she had called “extremists” and whom she labeled as the enemy just a few weeks before, it is no wonder she refused to see and acknowledge the truth; that she chose instead to act like the proverbial blind person in a room full of sighted people, insisting that it is dark, when the room is flooded with sunshine.

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