The Hoarding Card

January 30, 2012 by  

There is no question that the effects of hoarding are tragic: animals wallow in their own waste, are denied food and water for long periods of time, do not get necessary veterinary care, are sometimes crammed into cages and do not receive walks or regular exercise, all of which results in tremendous suffering and death. Hoarding is cruel, painful, and abhorrent. But what does it have to do with rescue access laws and the No Kill movement? The answer is, not much. Nonetheless, it is a card those that are opposed to such laws like to play, as part of their fear mongering to defeat them. Their real concern is not the animals (if it was, they wouldn’t be neglecting and abusing the animals themselves or putting them under the constant threat of a death sentence). Instead, they are opposed to empowering rescuers who would be protected as whistle blowers if the laws are passed. Without such laws, rescue groups are afraid to complain about inhumane conditions or practices at shelters because if they did complain, they would not be allowed to rescue animals, thus allowing those inhumane conditions to continue.

Unfortunately, when hoarding cases are brought to the attention of authorities and these cases make the news, some hoarders claim to be “No Kill shelters” or “animal rescuers” as a means of escaping culpability. And the groups opposed to rescue rights laws exploit that. In reality, however, hoarders have nothing in common with true animal rescuers, individuals who have founded non-profit organizations, who must report annually to the Internal Revenue Service, their state’s Attorney General, and often a State Department of Charities bureau. They have a Board of Directors which oversees them, they maintain a network of volunteer foster homes, and make animals available for adoption to the public, unlike hoarders who refuse to let their animals go. Non-profit rescue organizations seek to provide animals with care that is the opposite of that inflicted on animals by hoarders; and often inflicted by shelters themselves, which are rife with neglect, abuse, and killing as well. (Imagine a place where animals do not get fed. Imagine a place where animals with painful injuries do not get the veterinary care they need. Imagine a place where animals are stuck in cages and forced to wallow in their own waste. Imagine a place where the animals’ food is dirtied by cat litter and even fecal material. Imagine a place filled with dead and dying animals simply discarded in the garbage. These behaviors are the textbook definition of hoarding, but they also adequately describe conditions animals across this nation must endure when they enter their local “shelter.”)

But that has not stopped organizations such as PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and others from protecting these shelters by making the argument that rescue groups are nothing more than hoarders in disguise in order to oppose the rescue rights laws currently pending in states across the country, which would make it illegal for shelters to kill animals when rescue groups have offered to save them. They propose continued killing (the final solution) to a problem (rescuers might be hoarders) which, it turns out, isn’t really the problem.

Animal hoarding is the result of mental illness and is not as common as many animal protection organizations would have us believe. Psychologists estimate that only 2% of the population suffers from hoarding, and of those, not all of them “collect” animals—many collect inanimate objects. By contrast, killing is endemic to animal shelters in the U.S. In fact, killing is the number one cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States. At your “average” shelter, an animal has a 50% chance of being killed, compared to the rare chance of ending up with a hoarder. Of course, in places like Memphis, Tennessee, the odds are more extreme: as high as 80%. And when it comes to animals which are sent to rescue, they all have a 100% guarantee of being killed because rescue groups are only empowered to save those animals scheduled to be killed. So, there is a 100% chance the animal is killed vs. a slim to none possibility, they’ll end up with a hoarder. Is it really a difficult decision?

To suggest that we must protect animals from rescuers is backward thinking. If we care about saving animals, we must save them FROM shelters by putting them in the hands of RESCUERS. Moreover, logic and fairness—both to rescuers and the animals—demand that altruistic people who devote their time and energy to helping the animals who end up in our nation’s shelters stop being equated with mentally ill people who cause them harm. Animal rescuers seek to deliver animals from the type of cruelty and abuse that characterizes not only the care or lack thereof given to animals by hoarders, but, in reality, by many of our nation’s shelters as well.

Despite such fear mongering over a decade ago when California was the first state in the nation to consider such legislation, that provision has been an unqualified success, increasing the number of animals saved, without the downsides opponents claimed. Indeed, coupled with other modest shelter reforms, the number of dogs and cats killed in California shelters dropped from over 570,000 animals the year before the law was passed to roughly 328,000 the year after, a decline of almost 250,000 dogs and cats. And, the number of small animals saved, such as rabbits, also spiked according to an analysis by one of the largest law firms in the world. Indeed, that analysis not only concluded rescue rights in California was incredibly successful, it concluded such laws were necessary in other states.

Despite the fact that killing in shelters is so common and hoarding so rare, nonetheless the various bills and laws that make it illegal for shelters to kill animals when rescuers are willing to save them have plenty of safe guards. These laws often exclude 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, the bills pending in the U.S. this year require 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 state agencies, including in some cases, the Department of State, the Attorney General’s Office, and Department of Agriculture Division of Consumer Services, providing a number of oversight and checks and balances.

In fact, statewide surveys have found that over 90% 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 if these laws passed. Moreover, some of these laws specifically allow shelters to charge an adoption fee for animals they send to rescue organizations, which would further protect animals from being placed in hoarding situations. And, in New York, the bill would empower shelters to investigate these groups if there is reasonable suspicion to believe that there is neglect or cruelty going on. Finally, nothing in these laws require 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.

It is simply unethical to condone animals having a 100% guarantee of being killed because there is a rare possibility they might end up with hoarders. No one who cares about the lives of animals would believe that to be otherwise. So the conclusion is inescapable: the organizations that fight these bills are led by individuals who, quite simply, do not care. But if they do not care about animals, they should care about money. In the City and County of San Francisco, the cost savings associated with less killing and more live outcomes by partnering with rescue groups topped $450,000 in just one year. And that should appeal to even the small-minded, hard-hearted bureaucrats who run animal protection organizations for what appears to be one purpose and one purpose only: to make as much money as possible by hoarding the money meant to save animals. Or, as Captain Jack Sparrow says, to take what they can and give nothing back.

Not all pirates sail the seven seas.

A No Kill Nation for Just One Day

January 29, 2012 by  

Calling all animal lovers: We need advocates to promote Just One Day, our campaign for a national No Kill day on June 11, 2012. We are asking animal shelters across the USA to take a pledge not to kill any savable animals on that day. For Just One Day, “Euthanasia Technicians” will put down their syringes and pick up cameras. Instead of injecting animals with lethal doses of sodium pentobarbital, they will photograph them and post them on the Internet, on Facebook, on twitter. On June 11, 2012, they will market their animals to the public, they will reach out to rescue groups, they will host adoption events with discounted rates, they will stay open for extended hours, and they will ask their communities to help them empty the shelter the good way.

Instead of going into body bags in freezers, the animals will go out the front door in the loving arms of families. At the end of the day, the shelters will be emptier than when the day started with no one being killed in order to make that happen. And if they can do it then, they can also do it on June 12 for Just Another Day. . .

All but 10 states are represented by at least one shelter. We need Arkansas, Hawaii, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Maine, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Vermont to step up to the plate. Help us fill these remaining states on the map!

Learn more: www.justoneday.ws

I Love New York(ers)

January 26, 2012 by  

When you read the Maddie’s Fund reports on their New York City project, you’ll find no mention of the rabbit who was picked up by infected ears and cruelly put to death a few weeks ago. You’ll not read about the puppy whose leg was recently broken by staff at Animal Care & Control of New York City (ACC) or the dog who was “mistakenly” killed because he looked like another dog they wanted to kill. There will be no mention of the cats in severe pain who are not afforded pain medication, the volunteers who are banned for trying to improve conditions, or the rescuers who are threatened for exercising their First Amendment rights. You won’t see any mention of animals lying in their own filth, chewing off their own tails, or going long periods without food or water. There will be no discussion of the telephones at ACC which do not get answered, costing animals their lives or that people who want to adopt animals actually have to wait as long as nine hours to do so. Nor will there be a mention of the witch hunt ACC director Julie Bank engages in when evidence of this systematic neglect, abuse, and killing is leaked; a hunt not to find the perpetrators of animal abuse, but to punish and ban the whistle blowers trying to improve conditions.

Even while ACC staff admits they kill healthy animals and even while healthy animals are put on the kill lists, and they subsequently cook the books to claim falsely that none are, Maddie’s Fund will remain content to look the other way. Instead, you’ll read that New York City is a national model; that those who lead the effort are lodestars of the movement; that no healthy animals are being killed; and that other communities should emulate their efforts.

If the seminar I attended last weekend in New York City is any indication, and I believe that it is, New York advocates aren’t buying it and the rescue and volunteer community care little for such self-serving, disingenuous works of fiction. When Priscilla Feral, head of the Connecticut-based animal rights group Friends of Animals, told attendees that things in New York City weren’t so bad, that the leadership of ACC (Bank) and Mayor’s Alliance (Jane Hoffman) should be embraced, and that people should stop criticizing and start volunteering, the 175 New Yorkers in attendance drowned her out. They “explained” (that is New York speak for stating in no uncertain terms in a tone designed to confer seriousness) that they do volunteer, but are prevented from helping many animals and are banned if they try to improve conditions. They explained that they rescue animals, but have to pay thousands of dollars because the animals get sick at the facility as a result of filth and being forced to languish with little care to the point that some of them do not survive. They explained that they have tried working with the leadership of those organizations, only to find them petty, vindictive, and hostile to their efforts. They let Ms. Feral know that simply because she found Bank and Hoffman “delightful” dinner guests is no reason to ignore the abuse and killing that goes on at ACC with their full knowledge and, in the case of Bank, consent. They told her that simply because she found Bank and Hoffman “nice” during a shared meal does not give her credibility to stand before a room of hard-working, dedicated animal rescuers who have suffered for years and who have watched animals suffer under their disastrous leadership, that Bank and Hoffman are the real victims, that animal advocates are the problem for criticizing them, and that they are the ones that need to change. Sadly, once again, companion animals were betrayed by a group who claims it won’t compromise its “ethics” when it comes to wolves, deer, chickens, or cows, but holds an entirely different standard when it comes to dogs and cats, and their most basic and fundamental right to live. But New Yorkers were having none of it.

The claims by Friends of Animals were more than foolish naivety. They were heartless, designed to wound people who have bled for the animal victims of ACC’s daily neglect and abuse. Day in and day out, these rescuers show tremendous courage and compassion—visiting what is often the one place on earth hardest for them to go as animal lovers: their local shelter. And yet they go back, again and again. They endure the hostile treatment. They endure the heartbreak of seeing the animals destined for the needle. They endure having to jump through unnecessary and arbitrary hurdles set by shelter directors who are holding the animals they want to save hostage. They endure having to look the other way at abuse of other animals, because if they don’t, if they speak out, they will be barred from saving any animals. And Friends of Animals had the audacity to tell them to shut up, to toe the line, and to work with those who perpetuate these conditions. But New Yorkers said “No” in no uncertain terms and I love them for it.

I loved the City when I lived and worked in Ithaca, New York and visited frequently. I loved the City when I visited it every year since I left. And now I love the City even more. New Yorkers were not willing to play games, mince words, or engage in the false promise of collaboration for collaboration’s sake. They were not willing to engage in an empty display of decorum in order to get through an awkward moment. They’ve been there and done that and the time for empty gestures and excusing complacency was over. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was a beautiful sight, the united chorus of hundreds of animal lovers speaking truth to power. I was witnessing the No Kill movement all grown up. No more talk of collaboration with people who refuse to collaborate. No more talk about all of us wanting the same things when the evidence proves otherwise. No more talk of empty gestures and grand pronouncements of No Kill by some date whose deadlines come and go without success. Are you listening Maddie’s Fund?

The message was clear: New York City officials—and, I might add, their enablers at the ASPCA, Mayor’s Alliance, and Maddie’s Fund—have not only failed to deliver, but conspired to keep the movement shrouded in darkness. Not only was that the conclusion of attendees, it was the conclusion of all the other speakers: Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer who condemned the atrocities at ACC in the strongest possible terms, Assembly Member Micah Kellner and Linda Rosenthal who echoed the sentiment, and, of course, me. But, more importantly, it was the conclusion of 175 animal lovers who have come too far and have seen too much to believe otherwise.

Normally, when I go into a community, I talk about the history of No Kill. I start with the great Henry Bergh who founded the ASPCA, and who would be deeply hurt at what it has become. I discuss the “Great Experiment in Compassion” that occurred in San Francisco which pioneered most of the programs that create No Kill communities. I discuss the creation of the nation’s first No Kill community in Tompkins County, New York, over 10 years ago and how it came about. And I explain why the 19th Century model of animal control of “adopt some and kill the rest” which still reigns in too many communities across the U.S.—including New York City—is not appropriate in 21st Century America.

But I did not do that. The people there know clearly where the problem lies and who is to blame for it. We were in New York City:

  • Home to the wealthiest animal protection organizations in the nation: The ASPCA which takes in over $140,000,000 per year, The Humane Society of the United States which has an office there and takes in over $130,000,000 a year, Best Friends Animal Society which also has an office in NYC and takes in over $40,000,000 a year, and of course, the Mayor’s Alliance, the beneficiary of Maddie’s Fund largesse, which has taken in over $20,000,000;
  • Home to the single, largest adoption market in the nation;
  • The center of the nation’s wealth;
  • A community with a shelter per capita intake rate that is a fraction of the national average (1/8 that of communities which are No Kill).

But in a city where the animals should have everything going for them, they have this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And still this:

The nation’s most cosmopolitan, sophisticated, wealthy, and animal loving city in the nation has a barbaric, regressive pound that can only be described one way: Medieval. And it is medieval by design. Medieval by mandate of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (and before him, Rudy Giuliani), Thomas Farley, the Health Commissioner, and Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn. In the end, the buck stops with them. Julie Bank is a creature, the Frankenstein monster who certainly deserves our wrath and condemnation, but who, as one commentator so forthrightly put, is merely the patsy brought on to toe the party line and, if need be, to take the fall for them.

And then we talked about how to change that. Not by the empty promise of collaboration that has never created a single, No Kill community and which has led to 11 years of failure from Maddie’s Fund despite over $100,000,000 in expenditures, but by learning from history. By not only speaking truth to power, but by becoming the power; by fighting and becoming a political force.

In short, by engaging not only in politics 101—personal relationships, campaigning, and lobbying—which is what the Mayor’s Alliance and ASPCA have done to enforce their own will at the expense of the animals; but by also engaging in what I call Politics 102.

The Mayor and the City Council Speaker are champions of the downtrodden, when the cameras are there. How do we know this? They take photographs of it, lots and lots of photographs.

But when it comes to the downtrodden in shelters; when ACC systematically neglects, abuses, and kills animals; when Bank threatens to fire volunteers and even sue people; when the New York Times isn’t there with a photographer, the concern doesn’t exist. The smiles disappear. The flag waving stops. The clapping ceases. And the heart hardens.

We need to take the neglect and abuse out of the shadows and into the light. To make the systematic neglect, abuse, and killing they both condone and perpetuate an issue at all of their photo ops and one which will not go away. In short, we need to bring the fight to them.

The current ACC director has a history of killing, a history of poor care of animals, and a history of hostile relationships with rescuers and volunteers. That was true in Maricopa County, AZ where she was part of the team that drove the agency into financial ruin while lying to the community about its alleged success. That was also true in Escondido, California as well. And it is true in New York City. The current Mayor has chronically underfunded ACC and has appointed and retained cronies who look the other way at the neglect, abuse, and killing. The Health Commissioner who controls the ACC Board ignores—indeed is the cause—of immense suffering of animals. And the Speaker of the City Council has shown herself to be a two-faced, duplicitous politician who will betray the animals and stab animal loving New Yorkers in the back in order to promote herself as the heir-apparent to the small-minded, hard-hearted Bloomberg.

When people show you who and what they are over and over and over and over again, we must believe them. And we must respond accordingly, elevating experience above hope, reality above foolish sentimentality. The time for campaign promises by politicians, empty gestures by bureaucrats, misleading, glossy reports from Maddie’s Fund, and empty talk of collaboration by Friends of Animals is over. We fight. Because when we don’t, the animals pay the ultimate price.

For further reading:

The Banality of Evil

Hayden Fights for the Hayden Law

January 24, 2012 by  

Former Senator Tom Hayden asks Governor Brown to think about his own dog before he proceeds with repealing parts of the Hayden law which will mean certain death for animals in California shelters indefinitely. Today, only one state has a holding period lower than California. Many animals are killed before their families have a chance to find them.

A vital law to protect animals in California shelters is under siege. When Governor Brown recently announced his intent to repeal parts of the Hayden Law, he claimed that the provisions designed to protect animals from quick killing were no longer needed, an ugly falsehood designed to mask his effort to set the clock back for California’s shelter animals 15 years.

Specifically, the Governor is asking the Legislature to repeal several provisions of the Hayden Law including the increase of California’s holding period from 72 hours to four days; the requirement that other species such as rabbits and guinea pigs be given the same protections as cats and dogs; the posting of lost and found lists so that more animals get home to their families; and the mandate to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care for sick and injured animals. If the Governor succeeds, he will rob these animals of any hope for a brighter future. That would be unconscionable.

But we stopped it once before when the former Governor tried to do it and we can do so again. In 2004, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to repeal the provision, but was forced to relent. When the Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 that “The hectoring barks of animal lovers convinced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reverse himself … and keep California’s law protecting stray dogs and cats at shelters,” they were reporting on the power of the people. We must teach the current Governor the same lesson. This is our state, these are our shelters, these are our values, and this is our will.

Rise, Californians. Rise and be heard before it is too late. Because if you don’t, the animals won’t stand a chance.

CALL Gov. Brown at (916) 445-2841 (9 am to 5 pm)

FAX your letter of opposition (916) 558-3177

EMAIL the governor’s office at http://gov.ca.gov/m_contact.php (choose BUDGET as subject).

POST to his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/jerrybrown

CONTACT him through his Twitter page at @JerryBrownGov

Building a No Kill Community

January 19, 2012 by  

I’m off to New York City for a January 21 day-long seminar on Building a No Kill Community. Once again, I apologize to everyone who was not able to attend before it sold out. Although we also sold out in Tampa for February 4, the organizers have managed to secure a larger venue and more seats are now available. Please register soon by clicking here.

Here are additional dates and cities for 2012:

  • Phoenix, AZ, February 18.
  • Dallas, TX, March 10.
  • Los Angeles, CA, March 13.
  • Albuquerque, NM, March 24
  • Toronto, Canada, April 14.
  • Topeka, KS, May 5.
  • Washington, D.C., August 11-12. (No Kill Conference)
  • Cincinnati, OH, September 14.
  • Lansing, MI, September 20.

For more information, click here.

Come to the seminar that has been called “a prerequisite for animal lovers, rescue groups and organizations that are serious about changing their communities to No Kill.”

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Join the conversation on Facebook at facebook.com/nathanwinograd:

California Shelter Animals Under Attack

January 18, 2012 by  

A vital law to protect animals in California shelters is under siege. If the Governor succeeds in repealing parts of the Hayden Law, animals will be sentenced to certain death in shelters. But we can do something about it. We succeeded once before when the former Governor tried to repeal the law and we can do so again. Please contact the Governor’s Office and tell him, that as a California taxpayer and animal lover, you do not want the Hayden Law provisions to be repealed. (Contact information at the bottom of the post.)

If there was any doubt that the Humane Society of the United States has a singular mission when it comes to animals shelters, the Governor’s proposal to repeal part of California’s Hayden Law, shelter reform provisions to orient shelters toward lifesaving, should bring that doubt to an end. Its position on the Governor’s proposal is merely a continuation of a decades-long effort to defend poorly performing shelters and make the task of killing easier.

Whether it was helping shelters “construct and use a simple and inexpensive cabinet for [killing] dogs and cats with carbon monoxide,” telling shelters not to work with rescue groups, arguing that “being dead is not cruelty to animals,” fighting shelter reform in communities across the country, calling for the killing of two-week old puppies, legitimizing the killing of animals in “shelters,” lobbying to have the victims of abuse killed, or coordinating the defeat of state legislation that would have banned the gas chamber and outlawed discrimination against pit bulls and older animals, HSUS has been no friend to animals in shelters. And given that they opposed the initial enactment of the Hayden Law in 1998, it is no surprise that they are celebrating the repeal of some of its provisions.

When Governor Brown recently announced his intent to do so, he claimed that the provisions designed to protect animals from quick killing were no longer needed since shelters are doing everything they can to save animals already and would continue to do so even if the law mandating some of these things were repealed. And while he was offering that false rationale, there was HSUS, as they always are, applauding in agreement, embracing the Governor’s effort to set the clock back for California’s shelter animals 15 years.

Specifically, the Governor is asking the Legislature to repeal several provisions of the Hayden Law including the increase of California’s holding period from 72 hours to four days; the requirement that other species such as rabbits and guinea pigs be given the same protections as cats and dogs; the posting of lost and found lists so that more animals get home to their families; and the mandate to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care for sick and injured animals.

According to Jennifer Fearing, California coordinator for HSUS, these laws are not needed. She told the Sacramento Bee that, “The vast majority of shelters have adjusted to the new, longer holding periods, and they added space. Most of them are going to do those things anyway, because the paradigm has shifted.” Anyone who has ever visited the shelter in, say, Devore, California, the Central Valley which boasts some of the highest killing rates in the nation, or any of the other California shelters that kill animals before they can be reclaimed by their families or adopted into new homes, would know this is nonsense. And, I suspect, so does Fearing. But, in the end, whether she does or she doesn’t matters little. Regardless of whether her motivation is uncaring or ignorance, the fact remains that she has offered the Governor the political cover he needs to ensure that progress for shelter animals will never occur in California. By contrast, when former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to repeal the provisions in 2004, animal lovers across the state flooded his office with telephone calls, shutting down the switchboard until he relented.

Perhaps Fearing is trying to win him over for her own California bill, AB 1279, which would do nothing more than change California’s animal shelter laws to replace the word “pound” to “animal shelter,” “poundkeeper” to “animal shelter director,” and “destroy” to “humanely euthanize.” She is fighting for that law even though it wasn’t designed to help animals at all. In fact, it has the opposite intent: to excuse and exonerate those who harm them by codifying euphemisms that are designed to obscure the gravity of what we are doing to animals as a society, and thus make the task of killing easier. That bill has been held since last year. Whether that figures into her calculations or not, her position on the Hayden Law is unconscionable. And, once again, where HSUS refuses to protect shelter animals, California’s animal lovers must step up to the plate in their place. (See the call to action below.)

Here is what is at stake: Over ten years ago, then-Senator Tom Hayden, from the greater Los Angeles area, wanted to reform animal control shelters around the state, particularly those shelters in his home district of Los Angeles. His legislation had the potential to become the most significant piece of companion animal protection legislation in years. As one of its supporters noted:

With some notable exceptions, shelters have failed to provide hours the working public can visit the shelters for adoptions or redemptions of their companion animals. They have failed to provide adequate lost/found services. They have failed to keep records adequate to find pets within the system. They have failed to use freely offered microchip scanning services. They have failed to provide adequate veterinary health care for many animals. They have resisted working with the rescue/adoption community. They have failed to raise funds aggressively to promote lifesaving methods to spare the lives of placeable companion animals. They have used tax dollars to kill animals they didn’t have to accept in the first place (“owner-relinquished” pets) and to kill animals whose companion humans never even had a chance to locate them.

 

Our shelters have a very bad track record when it comes to adoption. In California in 1997 with a statewide human population of close to 33 million, only 142,385 cats and dogs were adopted from our shelters. The vast majority—576,097—were killed.

The legislation required, among other things, that animal control shelters in California give animals to rescue groups and No Kill shelters instead of killing them; provided incentives for shelters to remain open at least some evening or weekend hours so that working people and families with children in school could get to the shelters to reclaim lost pets or adopt new ones; set a statewide preference for adoption rather than killing; and sought to end the practice where animals surrendered by their “owners,” including healthy and highly adoptable kittens and puppies, were killed within minutes of arriving. It also modestly increased the time shelters were required to hold stray animals before killing them so that lost animals had an opportunity to be reunited with their families.

Shelters mired in killing, afraid of public scrutiny, and unwilling to work with rescue groups predictably opposed the measure. In addition to their desire to avoid being held accountable, their main objection was that the law made it illegal to kill an animal if a rescue group or No Kill shelter was willing to guarantee that animal a home through its own adoption program. This threatened to open up shelter killing and other atrocities to public scrutiny. As frequent visitors to the shelters, rescuers saw systemic problems and inhumane treatment of animals, but their access to animals was tenuous and many times hinged on not publicly disclosing concerns. Under the 1998 Animal Shelter Law, their right to take these animals is no longer legally premised on silence as to shelter practices and violations of the law.

Despite the opposition of shelters and their allies like HSUS, it made no sense to state legislators that taxpayers were spending money on killing animals when No Kill shelters and other private rescue agencies were willing to spend their own money to save them. Legislators also found that public shelters did not reflect the humane values of their constituents. And with holding periods among the lowest in the nation, too many animals were needlessly being killed before their families had a chance to reclaim them. Not surprisingly, the proposed bill passed the legislature with overwhelmingly bipartisan support—ninety-six to twelve—and the state’s Republican governor signed the measure into law.

The reaction was strong and swift. The County of Los Angeles fought the measure through a regulatory challenge, replete with bloated figures and misleading claims. The County claimed the law would be too expensive to implement, a claim debunked by the California Department of Finance. In fact, financial analyses by the California State Legislature, the Governor’s Office, and the California Department of Finance showed that implementation of the Hayden Law would reduce sheltering costs because of cost-savings attributable to increased adoption and reduced killing.

Nonetheless, kill shelters claimed that the “longer” holding periods, which would give people a chance to find their lost pets or for the pets to be adopted into new homes, would lead to the increased killing of other animals. That argument was also a red herring: the law did increase the holding period from a paltry seventy-two hours from the time of impound to four days if the shelter was open one evening a week or one weekend day.

When California’s holding period was 72 hours, there was only one state with a shorter holding period—Hawaii—with a 48-hour holding period. When California increased the holding period, it joined the bottom six states in the country in terms of holding period. By national standards, California’s new holding period was far from generous. Nonetheless, HSUS joined the chorus of killing shelters against the longer periods, even though the four day holding period was less than their own recommendation of five days it had long suggested shelters voluntary follow.

Tragically and illegally, some shelters simply refused to implement either the letter or spirit of the new law. Kern County’s municipal animal control shelter, an agency tasked with enforcing animal-related laws, for example, chose to ignore and violate the law. There, killing illegally continued until a local activist filed a lawsuit to stop it in 2004, six years after passage of the 1998 Animal Shelter Law. Unfortunately, Kern County does not appear to be an isolated incident. Sacramento County animal control was also the target of a lawsuit for illegally killing animals before their caretakers could find them, for not making them available for adoption, and for failing to keep records on thousands of others. And the County of Los Angeles signed a stipulation in a lawsuit against it that it would no longer thwart it. Since some shelters had to be sued to follow the provisions when they had the force of law, how can HSUS claim that shelters will continue to follow them even if they are repealed?

But it was the regulatory challenge filed by Los Angeles that may prove the law’s death knell. In California, the State Legislature cannot impose an unfunded mandate. Despite the analyses by the Legislature, Governor, and Department of Finance, the Commission on State Mandates ruled that some provisions of the law were not enforceable unless the State paid for them. While some of the provisions of Hayden survived the challenge (the provision making it illegal to kill animals if rescue groups are willing to save them is not at risk because it was found to be revenue-positive), other provisions did not.

And until the recent budget crisis, those provisions have been funded by the state, even though local shelters have been submitting bloated figures as part of a feeding frenzy of the public treasury for years. In 2009, the State suspended payments, making the provisions unenforceable during the current budget crisis. Citing a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommending repeal, those are the provisions which the Governor now seeks to actually repeal, and do so with HSUS’ blessing.

But the LAO analysis favoring repeal is based on a fundamentally flawed premise. It says the provisions relating to the increased holding period are not necessary because holding animals longer does not lead to increased adoption because of pet overpopulation. Specifically, it says “Throughout the United States, there are many more animals in shelters than there are households looking to adopt pets. Partly because of this imbalance between supply and demand, roughly one–half of the animals entering shelters are euthanized.” Why hold animals if there are no homes available to adopt them?

The problem, of course, is that the opposite is true. Over 23 million people are looking to adopt pets, while three million are killed but for a home. If there is a supply-demand imbalance, it runs in the other direction. Moreover, even if the LAO analysis was right, the longer holding periods were designed for other reasons as well. The modest increases would increase the number of owned animals reclaimed by their families since, for example, some cat owners do not start looking for their cats for several days and arrive at the shelter too late under the 72 hour rule. The lost and found lists would do the same. They also give rescue groups more time to find foster homes for their animals so they can take them into their own adoption programs. And, in practice, the LAO analysis is wrong notwithstanding their erroneous assumption. Longer holding periods do lead to more adoptions, as evidenced by a sample of over 1,000 shelters nationwide. (Moreover, medical care for sick and injured animals is basic decency for suffering animals and meet a shelter’s obligation to return animals to their families in reasonable condition. In fact, California shelters have been required to provide basic medical care to animals since 1969.) Nonetheless, there was HSUS again citing the analysis as incontrovertible proof that the law is not needed. Fearing also told the Sacramento Bee, “That LAO analysis, it’s hard to overcome, because I agree.” She could not be more wrong.

But what does it matter if the provisions are repealed, if they have been suspended since 2010 and are unenforceable? Quite simply, as Professor Taimie L. Byrant of UCLA Law School stated, “permanently removing the ability for animals to share in future brighter economic times in California is unconscionable.” In other words, suspension is temporary, repeal is permanent. The latter would remove any chance that California’s sheltered animals would ever have of improved care and conditions even when the economy improves. When things do get better, shouldn’t animals share in that? Why should the blood bath continue indefinitely?

If the Governor succeeds, he will rob these animals of any hope for a brighter future. That would be unconscionable. That HSUS is nodding in agreement on the sidelines is also unconscionable. But we can do something about it. While HSUS champions the demise of Hayden, we can stand up and be the animals’ voice they now only pretend to be. We succeeded once before when the former Governor tried to do it and we can do so again.

In 2004, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to repeal the provision, but was forced to relent. When the Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 that “The hectoring barks of animal lovers convinced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reverse himself … and keep California’s law protecting stray dogs and cats at shelters,” they were reporting on the power of the people. We must teach the current Governor the same lesson. This is our state, these are our shelters, these are our values, and this is our will.

Rise, Californians. Rise and be heard before it is too late. Because if you don’t, the animals won’t stand a chance.

CALL Governor Brown at (916) 445-2841 (9 am to 5 pm)

FAX your letter of opposition (916) 558-3177

EMAIL the governor’s office at http://gov.ca.gov/m_contact.php (choose BUDGET as subject).

POST to his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/jerrybrown

CONTACT him through his Twitter page at @JerryBrownGov

A Den of Abuse in NYC

January 13, 2012 by  

Rabbits have relatively fragile backs and they are prone to injury, especially if the rabbit is not held or picked up correctly. Read any rabbit rescue group website, read any article on rabbit care, do an online search, read the literature of any adoption agency and you’ll get the same answer: “a rabbit can seriously injure themselves if they struggle too much when being picked up, so it is important to lift them carefully, supporting both their front and hind ends so that they do not twist around or kick out with their back legs and hurt their backs.” A broken back is very painful.

But when a rabbit was surrendered to Animal Care & Control of New York City (ACC) recently, and staff decided to kill the rabbit, the “experts” there did not heed this advice. Instead, the staff member picked the rabbit up by just the ears (ears which were filthy, probably infected, and painful to the touch to begin with), causing the rabbit, as one volunteer described it, to start “crying and coughing.” After possibly breaking the rabbit’s back, the staff member plunged the needle into the body and then tossed him away like yesterday’s trash.

But no one is going to complain. No one is going to come forward so that this staff member isn’t allowed to abuse other animals. Because if they do, they are the ones who will be punished. They are the ones who will be banned. Julie Bank, the ACC director, will not tolerate criticism. Neglect, cruelty, killing, that is endemic and acceptable. But the crime, according to Julie Bank, is bringing attention to it. The crime is to suggest that animals should not be treated that way. And if you commit that “crime,” your punishment is exile. Your punishment is that you will no longer be allowed to help animals. You have to sit by and helplessly watch as the very few animals you could do anything for at ACC are killed instead. You face Sophie’s Choice.

That is the choice faced by those who have to silently endure watching animals languishing in their own filth, going long periods with no food and water, and other basic care. That is the choice faced by those who face the heartbreak of watching animals suffer, with no medical care or pain medications of any kind. That is the choice faced by those who rescue animals and pay, out of their own pockets, enormous sums for medical care because ACC’s own neglect and institutional uncaring got the animals sick and then allowed them to deteriorate further before threatening to kill them if rescuers did not step up to the plate.

Julie Bank’s tenure in New York City has been marked by neglect, abuse, needless killing, and vindictive retribution to those call it into question and want it to end. She has singled out for retribution the animal lovers in order to protect the animal abusers. Despite the fanciful and dishonest claims by Maddie’s Fund, the Mayor’s Alliance, and the ASPCA, all of whom have conspired to hide the truth, the latter two in order to enrich themselves and all of whom deserve our fierce and unequivocal condemnation because of it, New York City is in chaos. And animals are suffering greatly.

Webster’s dictionary defines euthanasia as “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.” Unfortunately, at ACC, animals are not solely being killed because they are hopelessly sick or injured, but rather as “population control.” No one who cares one iota about animals would call this euthanasia. It is killing, pure and simple, and denying that mocks the cause of both the truth and of our humanity.

I have repeatedly and unceasingly called for an end to killing. It is not ethical. It is not necessary. It should not be legal. But today, it is done routinely. It is systematized. Our so-called “shelters” often do little more than kill animals. They are slaughterhouses. Without minimizing that, in an arena of killing, it is crucial that “shelters” at the very least meet the second prong of the analysis which requires killing to be done in “a relatively painless way.” As one agency has noted,

The euthanasia process must result in a painless, rapid unconsciousness followed by respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest and ultimate death. For euthanasia to be truly euthanasia, the animal should be as free from stress and anxiety as possible.

Unfortunately, the use of sodium pentobarbital, even if properly administered, does not in and of itself ensure a “humane” death. While method is one of the most important factors, nonetheless simply requiring lethal injection does not guarantee that the process is either humane or compassionate.

Shelters who kill, particularly those which kill large numbers of animals as ACC does, are obligated to ensure that employees are technically proficient, competent, skilled, compassionate, properly trained, and doing everything in their power to make sure the animals are as free from stress and anxiety as possible. A “relatively painless” death can only occur in an environment where sensitivity, compassion, skill and environment all combine with efforts to “minimize distress and anxiety,” as required by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (2000) Panel on Euthanasia.

A former manager in one of the nation’s largest animal control departments stated that,

[E]uthanizing requires an enormous amount of compassion, kindness and emotional strength. During euthanasia I witnessed little care toward the animals. Considering this was to be the last contact the animal would have with the real world I found this rather disappointing.

Sadly, this is true at ACC. But it more than true. ACC appears deliberately trying to swing the pendulum as far as possible in the other direction to make it as difficult, uncaring, and painful as possible for the animals.

How do we change this?

On January 21, at a sold-out conference in New York City, I intend to tell people not only how communities across the country have achieved No Kill, what programs are necessary, how to increase adoptions, and what standard to hold themselves up to, but also what experience has shown to be the truth: that if they want to achieve a No Kill New York City, they need to elevate experience above hope, reality above foolish sentimentality that we can reform those who do not want to be reformed, and fight. A fight is what has created No Kill in other communities and a fight is what it will take in NYC.

Unfortunately, things just got more complicated. I had hoped my visit to New York City would be a source for greater lifesaving. Julie Bank, however, appears intent to turn it into a source for more killing. One of the formerly scheduled speakers at the day-long seminar, Peter McKosky of Empty Cages Collective, was threatened with being banned if he said anything critical of ACC at the event. The irony is that Peter never intended to spend his time criticizing ACC, but empowering New Yorkers to save more feral cats by reevaluating how they did their work with cats in the field and cats in the shelter. Nonetheless, the threat was the last of a long line of abuses he and his organization and, of course, the animals he has tried to save have suffered at the hands of ACC under the “leadership” of Julie Bank and he asked for my assistance. These abuses are outlined in the following letter to Julie Bank which I wrote on behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center:

Dear Ms. Bank,

 

We have been informed that you are threatening to violate the civil rights of P.J. McKosky who runs the Brooklyn-based rescue group, Empty Cages Collective. Specifically, you stated that if Mr. McKosky says anything critical about Animal Care & Control of New York City (ACC) at a January 21 conference on how to reform the troubled New York City pound system where he is a speaker/panelist, that his right to rescue animals from ACC will be rescinded. This is an illegal attempt to intimidate and silence Mr. McKosky which cannot be allowed to stand. Rescuers like Mr. McKosky are the voice of the animals and the conscience of the community. Silencing rescuers allows ACC to continue neglecting animals and killing them needlessly.

 

In 2007, the No Kill Advocacy Center successfully sued the County of Los Angeles for retaliating against a volunteer who publicized inhumane conditions in that facility. We are, therefore, putting you on notice that any attempt to remove Mr. McKosky’s ability to rescue animals from ACC will not be tolerated. Federal law (42 U.S.C. Section 1983) prohibits a state or municipal government to take action designed to prevent or intimidate people from exercising their First Amendment rights, or punish them for doing so, and there can be no dispute that complaining about inhumane conditions at animal shelters is a constitutionally protected right.

 

While New York City has claimed that ACC is an independent non-profit, federal courts have ruled that applicable civil rights laws apply to a private agency performing the function of a municipal animal shelter. In reality, however, ACC is a government agency. It was created by the Giuliani administration, has a singular mission of running animal control for the City, operates under city-owned and controlled facilities, and has a governing structure dominated by the City. While ACC was formed as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, it is controlled by the Mayor and Health Commissioner.

 

As you well know, Mr. McKosky has saved countless animals that your agency intended to kill. When the ASPCA recently returned an asymptomatic cat who tested positive for Feline Leukemia to be killed at ACC, Mr. McKosky saved the cat’s life. When a small puppy contracted parvovirus and canine influenza, he saved the dog, incurring almost $9,000 in medical bills because ACC failed to keep the shelter clean, failed to protect the puppy from disease, and beyond prescribing some antibiotics, refused to treat him thereafter. When a sick, dehydrated cat needed heat support and fluids which ACC refused to provide, he saved the cat even as the cat went into shock because of lack of prompt and necessary care. In addition, as one of the few rescuers who also saves avian and other non-dog and cat species, he has rescued animals such as a chicken who was allowed to languish in pain with a fractured wing with no medical care of any kind provided at ACC. And he has tried to rescue others who died in your agency’s custody, before he could save them, because of lack of care. If these conditions existed in a private home, the individuals involved would have been subject to charges of neglect and/or animal cruelty.

 

Ms. Bank, ACC fails to employ basic standards of care to keep animals healthy and it fails to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care, including pain medication. The cost in animal suffering and animal lives is staggering. But in order to silence those who want to bring these practices to an end, ACC has also created a culture of fear among those who truly care about animals (the volunteers and rescuers) that if they speak out, they will be banned.

 

In 2010, for example, you unveiled a new volunteer policy that threatened to expel volunteers for doing so. Specifically, the policy stated that volunteers may not “publicly criticiz[e]” or cast the agency “in a negative light” without permission from ACC. It also prohibited them from “[p]osting [criticism] on any internet site such as Facebook, My Space, Craig’s List, etc.” It further stated that “[v]olunteers are prohibited from distributing their personal information, or opinions in regards [to ACC] volunteers, staff, animals, and/or policies to the public.” Those who do, the policy stated, “will be terminated.” That policy came after complaints by volunteers and others about inhumane conditions at ACC including animals wallowing in their own waste, cats and kittens going without food and water for extended periods of time, dogs not being properly socialized, ongoing killing of healthy animals, and failure to treat medical conditions.

 

To downplay the severity of these problems, ACC continues to deceive New York City taxpayers by falsely claiming to adopt out over 20,000 animals a year. In actuality, ACC adopts out a small percentage of that total. It is the work of organizations like Empty Cages Collective that is saving the majority of these animals. Without their intervention, ACC would have put those animals to death, as the agency threatens to do every day unless Mr. McKosky and others like him save their lives.

 

Yet, it appears you are willing to casually dismiss those contributions and put all the animals he saves to death if he tries to better their plight by exercising his First Amendment rights. This is not only intolerable, it also illegal.

If Julie Bank wants a fight, a fight is what we’ll give her.

Reaching Higher

January 8, 2012 by  

The City of Austin finished 2011 with a 91% rate of lifesaving for dogs and cats, the largest community in the nation to do so. Williamson County, TX finished the year with a 91% rate as well. They join a host of other communities who have crossed the 90% threshold including Allegany County, MD, Arlington, VA, Berkeley, CA, Reno, NV, Shelby County, KY, and many, many more, and the end is nowhere in sight.

Not only are more communities saving at least 90% but many are pushing the envelope even further in three ways:

  1. They are increasing lifesaving past 90% and hitting save rates of 95% and even higher;
  2. They are bringing non-dog and cat species into their safety net including rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, and others; and,
  3. They are putting in place programs to save “the other 5%” such as hospice-based foster programs.

That is part of an effort I call No Kill 2.0. And it is the theme of this year’s No Kill Conference:

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.

We are the generation that questioned the killing. We are the generation that figured out how to stop it. And we will be the generation that does.

A No Kill nation is within our reach…

It’s a Crime

January 7, 2012 by  

Should shelters be allowed to kill animals? An Associated Press poll found that over seven out of 10 Americans say “No,” unless the animal is suffering. The No Kill Advocacy Center sent a camera crew to interview people on the street and every single person said the same thing.

To be continued…

Best Friends Wants You to Pat the Bunny

January 4, 2012 by  

By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

Yesterday, Gregory Castle of Best Friends posted a blog in which he asserted that several communities that they are involved with are poised to achieve No Kill success. They included New York City (and Los Angeles). In reality, the prospect for No Kill at any time in the near future is dire, as there are serious, institutional roadblocks to success that must be overcome in order for No Kill to be achieved – work that Best Friends is not doing, and which, in some cases, it is actually helping to sustain. In other words, if Best Friends were responsible and sincere in wanting to bring about No Kill in those communities, they would be working to tear such barriers down. Yet, instead, they celebrate the architects of those obstacles and those whose inept and uncaring leadership causes great animal suffering and cruelty. Why?

When I first took over as the Executive Director of the Tompkins County SPCA, I did everything possible to ensure that our organization was continually in the public eye, and that anyone and everyone living in Tompkins County, New York knew that we were committed to ending the killing of animals in our shelter, and that their help was needed. When I first arrived, I did a media blitz announcing our No Kill ambitions. I began writing my own column in the local newspaper, began a weekly spot on the popular morning radio show, and even began filming my own cable access program with a local newscaster who was committed to our cause.  I introduced myself at every council meeting of the cities that contracted for our services and informed them of our goal. I spoke to the local Rotary Club chapter and other service organizations. I met with local business people, veterinarians and the Chamber of Commerce. And I never turned down an opportunity to speak at any community club, no matter how small. I was not only committed to the goal of ending the killing in the abstract, I was determined to succeed by laying the necessary, concrete groundwork for that success to actually occur: primarily motivating the community – so vital to our endeavor through their volunteerism, fostering, adoptions and donations – to assist us in our cause.

As a result, the TC/SPCA became well-known in the community and soon after, when we began to show amazing results for all our bold pronouncements, much beloved. So much so that we were able not only to end the killing – but to raise enough money to replace our old, dilapidated shelter, literally an old house that had been bequeathed to the organization decades before, into a stunning, state-of-the-art, green-certified shelter – the first of its kind in the nation. Within a very short time, by systematically addressing the causes of the killing and by working with the people of Tompkins County to systematically put into place life-affirming alternatives, we became the most successful shelter in the nation and the nation’s first No Kill community.

Although common sense would dictate that our immediate and total success would no doubt have thrilled the Board of Directors that had hired me, that was not the case. While a precious few were truly grateful for the transformation, others were not as supportive. One Board member actually complained to me that we had achieved success too soon – lamenting how we would never be able to raise all the money necessary to build the new shelter and create an endowment when we had already arrived at our goal. “You created No Kill too soon,” she told me, “How will we ever be able to raise money for a new shelter if people think we already solved the problem?”

I was, of course, stunned. Was she really telling me that I should have continued to kill animals even though we could find them homes so that we could lament the “necessity” of their killing in order to raise money? I knew the Board had many detractors in the community for years of neglect and killing that had gone on under their watch and that they had a hostile relationship with the volunteers who wanted reform, but was it possible that this Board member was so out of touch with our core mission that she really thought our goal was to raise money rather than save lives?

Sadly, aside from the lack of ethics revealed by her comment, what her statement also revealed was a terrible underestimation of the community. In the end, the fact that we had achieved success was what helped us to fundraise as never before. The people of Tompkins County saw our success, and ever grateful, rewarded it with tremendous generosity.

Not long after that conversation, I received another eye-opener that further enlightened me about how many non-profits lose sight of their mission, its urgency, and the desire to address the real and concrete obstacles that stand in the way of truly solving the problem they theoretically exist to combat. Having noticed our organization’s popularity, the Executive Director of a local children’s literacy organization asked if I wanted to participate in a joint campaign that she said would be a “win-win” for both our organizations. She wanted the TC/SPCA to assist in the purchase of thousands of Pat the Bunny picture books to be given to every newborn baby at the local hospital. When I asked her how this would help our organization, there was what appeared to be stunned silence on the other end of the line. She then managed to choke out, “Well, you know, it’s Pat the Bunny.” Further confused, I told her I still didn’t get it. More silence, then timidly, “You’re the SPCA and it’s about a bunny.” I asked her how – given that people donated to the SPCA for the specific purpose of ending the killing of animals – my spending those donations on a picture book for newborn babies would translate into lives saved.  Again, stunned silence. I of course declined, but never asked her the equally salient question: how on Earth would it help her mission, either? Sure, it might make for a cute photo op, the head of the local SPCA and the head of the local literacy organization delivering a fuzzy picture book about an animal to the new parents at a maternity ward of the local hospital. But would it save a single life? Would it help a single child learn to read? In the end, it might be cute, but that was it: to quote the great Howard Cosell, “Another example of whimsy over substance.” And yet, tragically, I have come to realize, this is not an uncommon phenomenon in the non-profit world.

Sadly, the larger and more powerful an organization gets, the more timid it often becomes in challenging the status quo it became wealthy lamenting. Fix the problem, and how do you fundraise; pay the rent, pay pensions, salaries, distinguish yourself. I’ve asked the question before, “What happens to the dream merchant when the dream becomes a reality?” And for Best Friends, there can be little doubt. Their goal is not really about fixing the problem of shelter killing. They abandoned their plan for a No Kill Utah. They abandoned their plan for a No Kill Atlanta. And, in opening a New York City office, they did not even bother pretending otherwise. They were opening a fundraising office, pure and simple. In fact, they have never succeeded in creating a single No Kill community for the simple reason that achieving one is not the goal. It is about selling a dependency model whereby you give them money and they will work toward a time when there will be no more homeless pets. Even the name of the campaign reflects that focus. They do not envision a No Kill nation. They do not even envision no more killing of homeless pets; just a mythic time in the future where the need for rescue groups, for shelters, for refuge, for sanctuary won’t exist. There is no finish line so that they can keep fundraising forever. It is about the money.

As another No Kill activist once sagely told me, “Once an organization gets an office, the mission is lost.”  And I am reminded of the comment made on my Facebook page recently by Kerry Clair of Pets Alive in New York about how she lays awake some nights considering what safeguards she could possibly put into place now to prevent her organization from ever becoming a bloated, uncaring, ineffective organization should it ever become wealthy.

In truth and to be fair, I am not so cynical as to believe that such corruption is inevitable.  While it is certainly true that, for the most part, power corrupts – or, more accurately, the fear of a loss of power corrupts – in reality, the true success of an organization, that is, whether or not it strategically and effectively battles the evil it exists to combat, comes down to the choices made by its leader. Organizations reflect the personalities of those who lead them. And there are good and bad people in every field. Yet having said that, I do believe that as a society, we need to learn to be far more discerning about which non-profits we trust with our donations. Right now, we are naive and too trusting of the non-profit world. I, too, was once guilty of that.

For years I spoke at Best Friends conferences, and believed that they were an organization committed to ending the killing of animals in our shelters. But as Best Friends has grown larger, they have become more and more ineffective, and more and more timid and content with the status quo that has made them so large and so powerful. Yes, they run a sanctuary, and I would never suggest that this wasn’t worthy. But what I do argue is that for an organization that takes in 40 million dollars a year by claiming to support an end to the killing of animals, they have very little to show for it. Like the ASPCA and HSUS, they take in a large sums of money donated for a cause they do not actively or effectively champion, and which, in some cases, they have actually worked to oppose.

For all their millions, they have never succeeded in creating a single No Kill community, while the No Kill Advocacy Center and it’s No Kill Equation have assisted in or inspired the creation of over 25, on a tiny fraction of Best Friends’ budget. They could choose to leverage their millions and their influence to fight alongside grassroots activists working to create No Kill communities, but they do not. Instead, as in Austin, they wait on the sidelines until the dust settles to see who is the victor, and then they swoop in, highlight the activists, and portray the work of others as their own – calling the effort a “No More Homeless Pets” campaign so they can confuse people into thinking they were involved, thereby taking credit and raising even more money to hoard in their bank accounts.

As I mention in a recent blog (which there can be no doubt that Gregory Castle’s recent pronouncement is a response to), they have threatened to withhold funding from smaller grassroots organizations that spoke out when they worked behind the scenes to kill legislation in New York mandating collaboration between small rescue groups and animal control agencies, an effort that tragically succeeded and condemned 25,000 New York animals to death every year. And while we have vital legislation pending in several states to codify No Kill policies and procedures -  legislation that is at the heart of our cause and needs powerful allies in order to succeed – Best Friends does precious little to see it get passed (although we shamed them into writing a letter of support in Florida this week.) The introduction of these laws is some of the most significant work we can be doing to bring about a No Kill nation, and Best Friends is not actively working to ensure their passage. Put this into context: imagine legislation to ban child labor not being supported by a large, wealthy child protection organization. Imagine a law to limit greenhouse gas emissions not being supported by a large, environmental organization. Imagine a law to ensure equal pay for women not being supported by the National Organization for Women. The equivalent is happening with Best Friends’ failure to actively champion the Companion Animal Protection Act and ensure its passage against hostile, entrenched forces.

Tragically, like HSUS and the ASPCA, Best Friends has become another voice protecting poorly performing shelter directors rather than the animals those directors are killing. When fighting to defeat Oreo’s Law in New York, Best Friends defended their failure to publicly support that bill by calling the requirement that shelters notify rescue groups about animals they are planning to kill “unrealistic.” And, as a favor to Ed Sayres of the ASPCA who killed Oreo and pledged to likewise kill the legislation named in her honor, they called No Kill activists who supported the bill and asked them to please oppose it.

When it suits them, such as when they speak to the grassroots, they speak the language of No Kill. But when it comes to actually working to bring it into existence in this country, they do not support activists fighting for it, they do not actively work to see that legislation mandating that is brought into existence, and they attempt to confuse and mislead people about that.

After 150 years of large, national animal protection organizations that have been essentially given a free ride, which do little more than pander to animal lovers but do not actively seek concrete changes to better the lot of animals, many people do not even know what they should expect from wealthy animal protection organizations. By highlighting the tremendous success that small, grassroots organizations and the No Kill Advocacy Center has had in 2011 on the tiniest fraction of the budget of the large groups in a recent blog, I hoped to educate people to expect and demand more from the groups that have a lot of money, and therefore, a lot of influence. If we can achieve what we have with our limited means, imagine what they could do with their vast wealth if they were sincere. We must demand that these organizations stop hoarding millions in their bank accounts that are donated with the specific purpose of bringing about substantive change which they fail to truly pursue.

In the field of animal protection, with large, national organizations taking in the lion’s share of resources for the stated purpose of helping animals even as they use that money and influence to undermine the No Kill cause – the need for the public and activists to become more savvy – to learn to read between the lines of cleverly worded press releases and fundraising appeals – is, in fact, an urgent need. We need to learn to separate whimsy over substance, to demand results, and to be intolerant of those organizations which never evolve their approach to overcome obstacles to success, that endlessly fundraise on a problem they do not strategically combat, and which sacrifice the best interest of animals to their merciless, greedy fundraising machines.

Yesterday, Gregory Castle of Best Friends posted a blog in which he asserted that several communities that they are involved with are poised to achieve No Kill success. They included New York City. In reality, the prospect for No Kill at any time in the near future is dire, as there are serious, institutional roadblocks to success that must be overcome in order for No Kill to be achieved – work that Best Friends is not doing, and which, in some cases, it is actually helping to sustain. Castle writes that, “New York City is well on its way to achieving its no-kill goal under leadership of Maddie’s Fund and the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.” In reality, the Mayor’s Alliance has been a roadblock to No Kill success. They have fought legislation that would have saved the lives of animals, and they have looked the other way, while the animals are systematically neglected and abused. The city pound kills healthy animals, intentionally sickens healthy animals to create an excuse to kill them, allows them to languish in pain while they slowly die, does not provide basic care, and bans anyone who tries to reform these practices. In fact, the Mayor’s Alliance has paid rescuers with Maddie’s Fund money to take animals to the pound where they are killed. Meanwhile, Best Friends not only holds up the leadership of the Mayor’s Alliance as experts and models of compassion, giving them a forum at their national conference to excuse killing and teach people how to silence volunteers (Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance once famously stated at a seminar that shelters should not be made to feel guilty about killing), they are also raising millions through the Best Friends New York City fundraising office, while the animals of the city pound go without basic needs. In other words, if Best Friends were responsible and sincere in wanting to bring about No Kill in New York City (and, say, Los Angeles*) they would be working to tear such barriers down. Yet, instead, they celebrate the architects of those obstacles and those whose inept and uncaring leadership causes great animal suffering and cruelty. Why?

Anxious to highlight some semblance of relevance in a movement that is steam-rolling ahead without the participation of his organization — an organization that once saw itself as the chief mouthpiece for the cause and became very wealthy claiming such — Gregory Castle is willing to not only sell out the animals who are, in reality, suffering terribly in these communities, but to willfully undermine activists who are working for true reform by portraying tragic circumstances as hopeful. In short, Gregory Castle is asking you to Pat the Bunny with him, to smile vacuously and feel the fuzziness, while, in reality, his organization and the activists in these communities should be storming the gates, demanding real reform.

Over the years, I have worked with activists in literally dozens if not hundreds of communities across the U.S. who are working for No Kill in their hometowns. Often, I visit and give my “Building a No Kill Community” presentation which is intended to educate and inspire members of the community to reach higher, reject the excuses of their local shelter leadership, and to demand change.  And I end every presentation with the warning that in most cases, in the battle for No Kill, prevailing requires what Ryan Clinton called “a marathon, not a sprint.”

Frequently, the No Kill Advocacy Center provides advice and guidance to these activists, as well as ground support: writing letters to local politicians, talking to the media to set the record straight, highlighting their efforts to other activists and animal lovers, meeting with public officials, writing policies, recruiting staff, and more. In many of these communities, we invest significant time and energy. And we do so in the hopes that each of these efforts will eventually succeed. But not all of them do.

In some cases, such as in Allegany County, Maryland or Shelby County, Kentucky, the activists do succeed, and they have the facts and statistics to prove it: concrete save rates in excess of 90%, a transformation of the local shelter from a house of horrors where animals went to die, to places of hope and second chances. But, tragically, sometimes, the effort doesn’t fully succeed. Sometimes people burn out, give up, and stop trying. Sometimes I’ve put my faith in people who have stabbed me and the animals in the back. And I’ve been very candid about that. In fact, despite highlighting Philadelphia Animal Control in Redemption, I admitted that it faltered in the introduction to the second edition.

As the Executive Director of a national companion animal advocacy organization that has successfully created No Kill communities or assisted activists working to achieve it in their own community, I am always disappointed when efforts falter, or face such formidable institutional obstacles and resistance that success, at least for the time being, seems unlikely. But to pretend otherwise simply because my organization and I were in some way involved would be incredibly irresponsible.  No matter how much time or energy we have invested in a community, to ever publicly suggest that the situation was more hopeful, the animals in less peril than they really were, in order to tout success – and therefore fundraise — would be unethical and a betrayal of the animals and the efforts of future activists in that community. But that is exactly what Best Friends is doing by claiming that the communities they are involved with are poised to achieve success. They are not. And to say so, is, quite simply, a lie.

Gregory Castle writes in his blog that, “We hope that the old-line shelters and national organizations that are dithering or are on the wrong side of the fence will listen to the public and step over to no-kill.” To which the only rational, informed response is Physician, heal thyself.

Best Friends is quite simply the biggest ditherer of them all.

For further reading, click here.

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* Thanks to an adverse court ruling, every cat classified as “feral” in Los Angeles city shelters is systematically put to death. TNR is illegal because of a court injunction prohibiting the city pound from working with TNR groups. And like they did in Austin, Best Friends sat on the sidelines during the fight. When the No Kill Advocacy Center tried to intervene, Best Friends opposed it. And when the City decided not to appeal the ruling and opposed the No Kill Advocacy Center trying to appeal, Best Friends supported the City there, also.

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