Ryan Clinton & The Deathly Hallows

March 27, 2012 by  

“You’ve got a great location. An unparalleled location! So why would you even think about moving it?” –Ryan Clinton, FixAustin, Austin Chronicle, 2007.

 

“I am 100 percent convinced that moving the animal shelter will have no impact on adoptions,” Dorinda Pulliam, Animal Control Director, Austin Chronicle, 2007.

 

“[T]he problem is not getting adopters to the shelter, but rather, having enough desirable and placeable animals to choose from.” –Karen Medicus, ASPCA, Unpublished Letter to Editor, 2007.

The gun shots rang out in the early evening. It wasn’t the first time, but it would be the last that some volunteers at Austin’s new animal shelter building would be hearing them. City officials determined that it was not safe for volunteers to be at the new shelter after dark and so the call went out. According to an e-mail sent to volunteers by city staff:

We had another incident of gun shots fired near the animal shelter this evening… This also happened last Saturday. About fifteen minutes after tonight’s incident, [Austin Police Department] reported more shots fired on a street behind the shelter… [Y]ou all are encouraged to take measures that will make you feel safer about being here (walking in groups, not volunteering after dark, etc.).

During the winter months, when the sun sets as early as 5:30 pm, if volunteers heed the call to end their shifts before dark, this would effectively eliminate essential volunteer support during the workweek for many. As tragic as that is for dogs waiting to be walked, cats looking for socialization, and all the other benefits volunteers bring to sheltering; what makes it all the more so is that it isn’t the only legacy that will continue to haunt Austin’s effort to remain the largest community in the U.S. with a 90% save rate or better.

The new shelter reduced the number of cages and kennels for the animals in order to build larger offices and more administrative space, and it is already feeling the pinch (there are roughly 60 fewer kennels just for large dogs than the old shelter at Town Lake). On top of rumors of fewer people venturing to the shelter because of its remote location, the shelter is not only difficult to find (it abuts a State highway and the State will not allow the shelter to put up signs along the freeway), it is difficult to navigate once you’re inside of it.  Even when you turn into the driveway, you’re not sure whether you are in the right place because the “front” of it is actually facing the opposite direction of the road and the driveway. As a result, adoptions are rumored not to be keeping pace with the growing need. The shelter remains perpetually full, and has found it necessary to send overflow animals to the old facility at Town Lake.

While those hostile to the No Kill initiative are questioning whether No Kill is “sustainable” because the city shelter claims to be in perpetual crisis mode, this view misses the point entirely. The problem was entirely predictable and avoidable and has nothing to do with No Kill. In fact, it has everything to do with those who tried to prevent No Kill from being embraced by Austin city officials. In 2007, Austin had what other communities coveted: a centrally located facility in an area that is a daily destination for thousands of Austinites. And while most communities were struggling with trying to increase foot traffic to their shelters through offsite adoptions, satellite adoption centers, and other strategies because they were located in remote parts of their community and were not designed with lifesaving in mind, plans were underway to do the opposite in Austin. Supporting the then-shelter director regardless of the outcome, the ASPCA took on the role of spearheading the effort to move Austin’s shelter from its centrally located facility to a remote part of the city, far away from where people live, work, and play.

There was no doubt that the existing facility was run down and needed significant capitalization. But instead of embracing improvements to the existing facility or building a new one at the existing location, Dorinda Pulliam, the then-shelter director, enlisted the support of anyone who would listen to move the shelter, pushing for the remote location with fewer cages and kennels, even in the face of rampant killing, which was at the time the status quo in Austin. It was a call that would be answered by Karen Medicus, the ASPCA’s bureaucrat whose legacy in Austin includes one failure after another, and Ed Sayres, her detached boss who rubber stamped her actions, including those which cost animals their lives. Medicus and Sayres urged the city of Austin to do Pulliam’s bidding and take a giant step backward; fighting No Kill advocates like Ryan Clinton of FixAustin and others who were against the plan of taking the shelter from its prime location and placing it in a more remote location.

While admitting that the proposed location was not centrally located, Medicus and Pulliam claimed that it would be more “central” to those who surrender animals. But that claim showed how desperate they were to find a rationale for the move. To the extent that they proposed moving the shelter away from prime retail, commercial, and residential corridors, they were trying to undermine the ability to save lives, increase adoptions, improve volunteerism and keep the shelter in the public eye. The “customers” of Austin’s shelter—the animals who faced life and death at the shelter, the adopters, taxpayers, and animal lovers who did not want them killed—would not be served by the move. But by claiming it was best to relocate the shelter to where intakes were occurring, Medicus and others were trying to make it easier for people to surrender their animals at the shelter, even if it made it more difficult for other people to adopt them. This was a clear admission that the priority was not on lifesaving. And she enlisted the support of another regressive agency to support her view: the ever-willing-to-protect-incompetents-even-if-it-means-animals-will-pay-the-price, Humane Society of the United States. HSUS chimed in, telling Austin officials that locating a shelter in areas where the shelter is likely to see the most adoptions should not be the primary factor in considering a shelter’s location. In other words, HSUS supported the move, not because logic compelled it, but because a kill shelter asked them to.

More importantly, it wasn’t even true. None of the zip codes surrounding the proposed site were even among the top seven highest-intake zip codes. The original shelter location was located where adoptions and intakes were both highest, making it the preferred one. In other words, the existing location was closer to the areas of Austin where most strays came from and where most adopters came from. It was closer to the city’s geographic and population centers. In short, it was perfectly situated and Medicus knew it.

Instead, she argued that the new location would allow new people to volunteer, people who had not historically done so because of the shelter’s current location. But in making that claim, she was undermining her other arguments. If these people were not willing to go to the existing location to volunteer, didn’t that underscore the claim of opponents of the move that if the shelter is not centrally located, it will reduce volunteerism? In other words, they were admitting that the move had the potential to lead to fewer volunteers and, by logical extension, fewer adoptions.

No Kill advocates also expressed concerns about the reduced number of kennels and cages in the plans for the new facility. But once again Medicus dismissed them, claiming that more space wasn’t needed because the animals weren’t “desirable” or “placeable.” More kennels would only result in “warehousing animals.” The animals, she argued, were better off dead.

Although the City split the baby, keeping the old facility open as a satellite adoption center (which is the subject of new debate), it approved the relocation. And it is now paying the price. That does not mean that Austin is in danger of falling below the 90% threshold it set when it enacted the No Kill Plan. This simply puts the city where most communities are, with a shelter in a remote location. And as long as the Austin shelter maximizes the programs of the No Kill Equation, aided by groups like Austin Pets Alive and other private rescue groups, the future continues to look bright for Austin’s animals. But there is little doubt that the effort is more challenging than it needed to be because the shelter itself has one hand tied behind its back by virtue of the smaller-than-needed, ill-designed and remotely-located facility championed by the ASPCA.

Ryan Clinton’s “FixAustin” put No Kill on the map in Austin. FixAustin put the city-enacted No Kill plan on the map. FixAustin helped remove Pulliam who found killing easier than doing what was necessary to stop it. FixAustin succeeded in marginalizing the ASPCA and removing their corrupting influence on shelter policy. While the ASPCA tried to sabotage the No Kill plan; while the ASPCA embraced a leader who committed animal cruelty in Austin and lamented her departure; while the ASPCA championed indefinite killing by claiming the animals were neither “desirable” or “placeable”; FixAustin fought back and won. And because of that, Austin finished last year saving 91% of all dogs and cats, instead of less than 50%, as they would have if Medicus and Sayres weren’t swept aside. They are the largest city in the United States to do so. But though David bested Goliath; Or, more accurately, Harry Potter defeated Lord Voldemort, Voldemort left his mark. The scar on Austin—the shelter’s relocation—continues to be a threat. It was the one fight FixAustin did not win.

Will Austin’s animals ever become the ones who pay the ultimate price? They shouldn’t, so long as the Austin shelter comprehensively implements the programs of the No Kill Equation. But as the rumblings in the press are becoming more common, it appears that is the one question which threatens to haunt Austin for many years to come.

———————-

Learn how to create your own patronus charm and get rid of the dementors in your community. Read The No Kill Revolution Starts With You, Ryan Clinton’s guide to reforming animal control through effective political advocacy.

Additional reading:

There is Truth and There is Untruth

As Blue as the Summer Sky: Austin Then & Now

Atten-Hut: Sgt. Bailey in Command

March 19, 2012 by  

Sgt. Karl Bailey of Seagoville Animal Services is an inspiration: a veteran of the police department, he took over a rural kill shelter in Texas with no experience, abolished the gas chamber on his first day, ordered that the killing come to an end, and last year saved roughly 98% of all the animals. Seagoville, Texas just might be the safest community in the U.S. for dogs and cats entering shelters—on average, only one animal loses his or her life ever month, due to extreme illness, injury, or for dogs, aggression. Along with over 300 others in attendance, I had the pleasure of not only hearing him speak in Dallas, where both of us presented at a day-long, sold-out No Kill workshop, but I was able to spend some time talking with him.

No law enforcement agency can function well without a great sergeant. The role of the sergeant, the front line supervisor, is considered by many to be the most important and influential in a law enforcement organization. And since that also applies to the front line supervisors in a shelter, the future looks very bright indeed.

“I really couldn’t do any of this without my volunteers. They are the true heroes in all this.” – Sgt. Karl Bailey, Seagoville Animal Services.

Nathan Winograd: How did you, having no experience, come to running the animal shelter for the City of Seagoville?

Sgt. Bailey: Prior to 2010, the shelter was run by a different department and was killing about 70 animals a month. In April of that year, the police chief told me our department was going to take over operations of the shelter and he wanted me to oversee it. I told him I didn’t know the first thing about running a shelter, so why me? He told me it was because I loved dogs. I do love dogs, but I also like getting my haircut and I’ve gotten a lot of them, that didn’t mean I could be a barber.

NW: It turns out you were wrong and the Chief was right. How did you approach the job?

SB: Yes, he was right. I suppose that is what makes him the Chief! Not that it mattered, he was the Chief and I was the Sergeant. He told me I was going to do it and so I was going to do it. But I did ask him if I could think about it, and to his credit, he said yes. After doing so, I decided I would. But I said I would be willing to do it under two conditions: We must be No Kill. I was not going to kill animals. And second, we needed to eventually build a new shelter since our existing one was small and falling apart. We met with city leaders and I made my pitch to them. I also told them that once we decided to be No Kill, there would be no going back or the animal lovers in the community would take up torches and pitch forks and storm the city gates. I also wanted them to know what this meant: more animals, partnering with rescuers, volunteers in the shelter, a need to revamp operations, and even possibly a strain on resources. They agreed.

NW: How much time did you have from that point to get up to speed about running a shelter, particularly a municipal shelter that did not kill animals?

SB: In December of that year, I was told we would be taking over on January 10th of 2011. I did a lot of research about the No Kill movement, I reached out to local rescue groups. I attended animal control officer training, and I even looked for shelter management software, since everything was done at that point on paper.

NW: In addition to reaching out to rescue groups, what did you do to make sure the shelter was oriented toward lifesaving?

SB: I reached out to local humane societies, a spay/neuter group, I put a “wish list” on Amazon for people to donate things we needed, I created a Facebook page, I set up a donation account and publicized our needs on the City’s website as well as in the local newspaper, I even reached out to local businesses, veterinarians, citizens, and charitable organizations for help.

NW: Describe your first day. What was it like? What did you do?

SB: The first thing I did was shut down the gas chamber for good. But since the gas chamber was the only place in our run down shelter that was water proof and air tight, we now use it for food storage, although we are going to completely dismantle it. I ordered that the killing come to an end. And then I made a needs list and got to work on procedures to help us move the animals in and out as efficiently as possible into loving homes and into the arms of our rescue partners.

NW: You did more that first day than many shelter directors do their entire careers. What did you do on day two?

SB: In addition to working on new procedures and organizing, I reached out to a core group of people to start a volunteer program. I asked them to help me recruit others, to establish a non-profit to help us raise needed funds and supplies, and more, utilizing each volunteer’s unique talents to fill any gaps in the safety net.  As we continued, we created a foster care program. I started doing offsite adoptions in high traffic areas such as pet supply stores, and even in non-traditional businesses, so long as they were pet-friendly. I opened the shelter on weekends to do more adoptions. I advertised our animals in newspapers, on television, online such as the City’s website and Facebook, and through local businesses. I partnered with our local high school, which has a veterinary assistant program. I partnered with Amazon. I partnered with a community spay/neuter group. I wish I had known about you and some of the others who had done this in the past, but essentially, I recreated the No Kill wheel from scratch.

NW: You seem to focus a lot on adoptions and promotions of animals. Are those your core efforts?

SB: Yes. By opening on the weekends, we’ve adopted more animals, since people work during the week and can’t always come to the shelter. By doing offsite adoptions, we’ve also reached people who might not have known about us or come to our shelter. We are constantly advertising and promoting our animals everywhere and anywhere we can. We take beautiful photos so that animals look their best, we create nice looking flyers, we dress up our animals for adoption events, and when we get jammed, we reach out to the media and community for help. In fact, it is the volunteers who always step up. I really couldn’t do any of this without my volunteers. They are the true heroes in all this.

NW: How would you describe your shelter now?

SB: We’re the little shelter that could. We saved 98%. Not bad for my first year.

NW: Not bad? Given that you killed fewer animals all year than they used to kill in a week, I would say that is the understatement of the year. Thank you Sgt.

SB: Thank you.

Sgt. Karl Bailey will be presenting at the national No Kill Conference in Washington, D.C. He’ll sit on a panel with the heads of other municipal shelters who ended the killing in their community. Learn more at nokillconference.org.

My Books

March 17, 2012 by  

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

redemptionnew1

Redemption is the story of animal sheltering in the United States, a movement that was born of compassion and then lost its way. It is the story of the “No Kill” movement, which says we can and must stop the killing. It is about heroes and villains, betrayal and redemption. And it is about a social movement as noble and just as those that have come before. But most of all, it is a story about believing in the community and trusting in the power of compassion. Called “powerful and inspirational,” “ground-breaking,” and “a must read for anyone who cares about animals,” Redemption is the winner of five book awards and redefined the animal protection movement worldwide.

Read the reviews here.

To purchase, click here.

To purchase as an e-book for your Kindle, click here.

To purchase as an e-book for your Nook, Reader, iPad, or other e-book reader, click here.

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

irrdiff

The follow up to Redemption, Irreconcilable Differences tackles the myth of pet overpopulation, the war on pit bulls, feline/canine abortion, end of life “euthanasia,” and more. Irreconcilable Differences is called “clear and rigorously reasoned,” “excellent reading,” “a real page turner,” “inspiring,” and “the perfect follow-up to Redemption” by “the voice of America’s displaced pets and the conscience of the animal sheltering industry.”

Read the reviews here.

To purchase, click here.

To purchase as an e-book for your Kindle, click here.

To purchase as an e-book for your Nook, Reader, iPad, or other e-book reader, click here.

All American Vegan: Veganism for the Rest of Us
(Co-written with Jennifer)

Full of delicious recipes, shopping, cooking, and baking tips, as well as philosophy, trivia, and humorous observations regarding the increasingly popular but frequently misunderstood vegan lifestyle, All American Vegan has something for everyone. Get the cookbook San Francisco Book Review gave five stars and called “hilarious,” “entertaining,” and “a pleasure to read.” USA Book News named All American Vegan the best cookbook for 2011 in its health/alternative category.

For more information, click here.

To purchase, click here.

To purchase as an e-book for your Nook, Reader, iPad, or other e-book reader, click here.

Friendly Fire
(Co-written with Jennifer)

When animal lovers learn about the tragic reality of cruelty and killing that is endemic at our nation’s “shelters,” and that the national organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the ASPCA defend the killing and thwart reform efforts, the first—and the most logical—question that inevitably follows is: Why? Friendly Fire answers this often confounding question while telling the stories of animals who have become catalysts for change: Oreo, Ace, Patrick, Kapone, Hope, Scruffy, Jeri & Murray, and others.

Coming Summer 2012. For more information, click here.

Where Do We Go From Here?

March 16, 2012 by  

PAULIN AMENDS QUICK KILL BILL TO REMOVE “PSYCHOLOGICAL PAIN” PROVISION, BUT THE FIGHT FOR THE SAFETY OF NEW YORK ANIMALS IS FAR FROM OVER.

Congratulations to every animal lover who assisted in forcing Assemblywoman Amy Paulin to amend her deadly legislation, the “Quick Kill Bill,” to eliminate the provision allowing for the immediate killing of animals entering shelters who are claimed to be in “psychological pain.” Together, we have succeeded in stopping the ASPCA, Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance, a woman named Laura Allen and Amy Paulin from eroding New York State’s mandated holding period for shelter animals. By flooding the New York State legislature with roughly 20,000 calls and e-mails of opposition, 11 cosponsors dropped their support for the bill, including the New York Senator who introduced the bill in his chamber, and Paulin was forced to revise some of the language of her bill.

Together, we prevented a very tiny handful of heartless people from thwarting the will of animal lovers and the best interest of animals by turning back the clock on animal protection in New York over 40 years.  While this is indeed cause for celebration, and evidence of our collective power, it is, in reality, just the beginning of the fight against Paulin’s bill and the effort by a small group of individuals to thwart real shelter reform, including genuine rescue access, in New York State.

Paulin’s bill, even as amended, is still dangerous, and although over the last few months we were forced to focus our energies on preserving what few protections New York animals have when they enter shelters, we must still contend with the fact that the Paulin bill was introduced merely to co-opt the real rescue access bill overwhelmingly supported by New York rescuers and animal lovers, the Kellner Bill (A07312A). The Kellner bill would require shelters to give animals to rescue groups that they have determined to kill. Had the “psychological pain” provision never been included in the Paulin Bill—an immediate threat to animals which required our urgent focus—then all of our energies would have been aimed at exposing how the Paulin bill is merely a cynical attempt to derail the effort for the much needed rescue access provision guaranteed by the Kellner Bill.

Please join me and New York rescuers and animal lovers in directing our attention back to our original goal: guaranteeing genuine rescue access legislation in New York state to prevent the needless deaths of an estimated 25,000 animals every single year who shelters are determined to kill, but rescue groups are willing to save.

Below is a quick history of the Paulin Bill, the players who are working to promote it and thereby defeat true rescue access legislation, and a point-by point overview of the dangers of the Paulin bill as it is now written, including the following:

  1. The amended bill says that shelter “may” make animals they intend to kill available to rescue groups, rather than “shall” as the Kellner bill does. In short, it continues to give shelters the power to kill in the face of a rescue group alternative.
  2. The authors themselves admit that the law is amended to add “‘placement with an organization on a list of approved organizations’ as an option for a humane society, animal shelter or pound to consider in the case of any animal of which possession is taken.” It should not be an “option” for them “to consider,” but a requirement for animals scheduled to be killed.
  3. The amended bill gives shelters the power to “approve” or not approve rescue groups, eviscerating any whistleblower protections that rescue rights laws were designed for by giving shelters the unchecked power to deny rescue groups because the director deems them “disruptive.” That is tantamount to self-regulation by the industry. In other words, the requirement should be mandatory for animals shelters are intent on killing when rescue groups meet state-approved criteria, like those in the much more comprehensive and thoughtful bill introduced by Assembly Member Micah Kellner (A07312A).
  4. Shelters “are not required to include on the list animal rescue organizations located outside of the impounding organization’s county and adjoining counties in the state of New York”, thus preserving Jane Hoffman’s power at the expense of the animals and allowing rural shelters to avoid working with rescue groups in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and New York City where homes are in greater abundance.

The “Quick Kill” Bill

New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin has a reputation for introducing bills on behalf of well-heeled constituents without reading them. Her “Quick Kill” bill (A05449A) was no exception. At the behest of the ASPCA, and working with Laura Allen of the so-called Animal Law Coalition (it is a coalition of one—Laura Allen) and Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals which has nothing to do with the Mayor, she introduced a bill that would have allowed New York State shelters to kill animals immediately if shelter staff determines that the animals are in “psychological pain.” There was no definition of what constituted psychological pain and no standards to how it would have been applied. For the first time anywhere in the U.S., shelters would have been allowed to kill animals with no holding period of any kind based on the animals’ perceived state of mind, giving shelter staff unlimited discretion to immediately kill animals based on unenforceable, unknowable, and completely subjective criteria. Not only was this a real and immediate threat to shy and scared animals, but it undermined New York State’s laws protecting lost animals that have been in place since 1971, turning back the clock on animal protection over 40 years.

Tragically, that was not the only problem with the bill. The parts of the bill that would have been beneficial, such as posting animals on the internet or scanning for microchips, turned out to be suggestive, rather than mandatory. Paulin’s bill only required these things if they were “practicable,” and tragically, they never seem to be practicable or we would not need a law in the first place. When it comes to legislation, language is everything, and giving shelters the out if they determine doing so is not “practicable” rendered the provisions paper tigers.

Finally, the provisions asking shelters to work with rescue organizations merely codified existing practices. The bill specifically said that shelters “may” give animals to rescue groups rather than kill them, instead of “shall” give the animals to them. And if they choose to, it gave them unlimited authority to determine whether a rescue group or particular animal qualifies. If shelter staff believed the rescue group is unfairly critical of the shelter, they could have deemed that rescue group “abusive” under the law and prevented them from rescuing animals. That is the power they have now, and shelters like New York City’s pound have banned rescuers and volunteers for exercising their First Amendment rights trying to improve conditions. (Except for a few cosmetic changes, these latter provisions have not changed.)

Writing the provisions this way was by design. The ASPCA, Hoffman, and Allen—collectively known in New York City as the “humane mafia”—asked Paulin to introduce the “Quick Kill” bill as an alternative to true shelter reform, which they have been fighting for three years because they saw it as a threat to their power, and in the case of Hoffman, wealth. (You can read more by clicking here.) In response, roughly 20,000 New Yorkers wrote in opposition, ten of Paulin’s cosponsors withdrew their support, the Senate sponsor struck his own bill leaving her without anyone in the Senate willing to carry it, and Codes Committee Chairman, Joe Lentol, stated emphatically, the bill was dead. Instead of acknowledging anyone’s concerns, Paulin dismissed all of them, including Lentol, as “uninformed,” “uneducated,” and “emotional.” We wanted what she wanted, she said. We were just too stupid to know it.

The Amendments

A more thoughtful Assembly Member would have seen their relationship with the ASPCA, which kills animals in the face of alternatives and hoards its money while the animals of New York City’s pound are systematically neglected, abused, and put to death, and those of the ASPCA’s enablers, like Allen and Hoffman, who have their own skeletons in the closet (Allen was willing to exploit the law to save her own dog which was declared dangerous by a shelter), as not only toxic, but self-serving at her expense. Instead, Paulin—ever willing to do their bidding—simply claimed that it was all a big “misunderstanding” (it was not), and amended her bill (she had no choice), reintroducing it as A05449B, without the Quick Kill provision. The bill also made other improvements, such as removing some (but not all) of the language giving shelters an out if they find certain provisions impracticable—see, for example, Section 1(A)(3) requiring shelters to upload a photograph to the internet, but only “if practicable” or requiring shelters to publicize stray animals, again only if practicable—somewhat of an improvement over the original bill (A05449A), but hardly making the new version worthy of support; in fact, far from it.

It is merely a continuation of their true goal: undermine rescue access rights which would undermine Hoffman’s power as the middleman between rescue groups and the New York City pound which has allowed her to control and siphon off some of the over $20,000,000 in grants. They are willing to compromise on the rest of the bill because those provisions are not important to them. They merely provide a vehicle to undermine the effort to pass a true rescue group bill of rights.

Their hope is that people will support the requirement of “appropriate” vaccinations and “necessary” medical care enough (“necessary” is not defined, unlike the Kellner bill) that they will go along with the rest of the bill, even at the expense of codifying shelter power over rescue groups. (Ironically, the ASPCA claimed legislators would not support the true shelter reform bill introduced by Assemblyman Micah Kellner because it was an “unfunded mandate,” but Paulin’s bill is now filled with unfunded mandates. Why would they support her unfunded mandate that shelters provide veterinary care and vaccinations if they were not willing to support the Kellner bill?) Although Hoffman & Company made some cosmetic changes to those provisions, the intent remains the same; as does the outcome: the continued killing of tens of thousands of animals every year in New York State shelters, even when those animals have an immediate place to go.

The amendments were also so hastily and sloppily written (does Paulin’s staff even proof the language given to her by Nancy Perry of the ASPCA, Allen, and Hoffman?), that in fact, they are internally contradictory. And they exclude whole categories of shelter animals. For example, the sections suggesting, if practicable, that photographs be uploaded to the internet, or that require veterinary care and vaccinations do not appear to apply to owner-surrendered animals, only stray animals. Moreover, while Section 1 deals with dogs and Section 2 deals with other animals such as cats, the Section 2 requirements to provide shelter, food and water specifically says that they have to do this only “during the time the dog is in the[ir] possession.” Section 2 does not deal with dogs, so it makes no sense. Poor drafting to be sure, but it affects the legal requirements. All of that, of course, can be remedied and depending on the level of opposition, may well be, because none of that really matters much to them. Their eye is on the real prize: undermine the movement for full rescue access, the kind that gives rescue groups whistleblower protection from abusive shelter directors. A 2010 survey found that 71% of NYS rescue groups have been turned away by shelters and those shelters subsequently killed the animals they offered to save. The survey also found that roughly half of all non-profit organizations have been the subject of retaliation, including retaliatory killing of animals, for expressing concern about inhumane conditions in shelters.

Shelters May Transfer Animals Instead of Killing Them; They Don’t Have To

That is why the bill, especially the provisions allegedly mandating “rescue access,” continue to deserve the opposition of New York State animal lovers and the legislators who represent them. Section 4 of the bill says that shelter “may” make animals they intend to kill available to rescue groups, rather than “shall” as the Kellner bill does. In short, it continues to give shelters the power to do one of three things after the holding period for stray animals: adopt the animals out, transfer the animals to rescue groups, or kill them. That is the power they always have had. As such, the bill continues to codify the status quo which has resulted in the killing of, by some estimates, 25,000 animals every year despite rescue groups ready, willing, able, and capable of saving them. (The bill later says that animals cannot be killed unless the shelter reaches out to rescue groups, so it is internally contradictory on this score. Whether this is simply Allen and Hoffman’s sloppy draftsmanship or intentional is not clear. Either way, the language of the enabling section remains permissive—may—rather than mandatory—shall.) In fact, the policy language, part of the legislative history which can be used to determine legislative intent when the bill itself is contradictory or confusing (it is both) specifically says,

Subdivision 2 is amended to add “placement with an organization on a list of approved organizations” as an option for a humane society, animal shelter or pound to consider in the case of any animal of which possession is taken.

It should not be an “option” for them “to consider,” but a requirement for animals scheduled to be killed. Nor does it make sense to give shelters the power to “approve” or not approve rescue groups. That is tantamount to self-regulation by the industry, a power they have used to kill animals in the face of readily-available lifesaving alternatives they have refused to implement. In other words, the requirement should be mandatory for animals shelters are intent on killing when rescue groups meet state-approved criteria, like those in the much more comprehensive and thoughtful bill introduced by Assembly Member Micah Kellner (A07312A).

Self-Regulation

Moreover, the bill gives shelters open-ended discretion to reject rescue groups, since the bill specifically says that rescuers are “subject to approval by the impounding organization as set forth in this subdivision,” once again a power they already have. Other than setting deadlines, the provisions give shelters virtually unchecked power, including the power to reject rescue groups not in their own county or if they claim, with no standards of any kind, that the rescue groups engaged in behavior that calls into question the activities of the shelter, even when those activities include unnecessary killing. In other words, the bill allows Hoffman to maintain control over New York City rescue groups (shelters “are not required to include on the list animal rescue organizations located outside of the impounding organization’s county and adjoining counties in the state of New York”), it allows rural shelters to avoid working with rescue groups in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and New York City where homes are in greater abundance, and it eviscerates any whistleblower protections that rescue rights laws were designed for by giving shelters the unchecked power to deny rescue groups because the director deems them “disruptive.”

New York City’s abusive pound has fired and has threatened to fire volunteers and rescuers who are critical of their shelter (a violation of their First Amendment rights). It has engaged in a witch hunt to determine who leaked information that an employee abused a rabbit, rather than fire the abusive employee (he still works there and still has access to animals). And it continues to set the terms of which rescue groups get approved, turning away qualified rescue groups despite killing healthy and adoptable animals. That kind of conduct would continue under the Paulin bill, even as amended.

History Repeating Itself

Of course, if she hears from enough New Yorkers that they remain opposed, she’ll no doubt accuse them of being “misinformed” and “uneducated.” When that fails, as it did before, she may even claim again that it was a “misunderstanding” as she did with the “Quick Kill” provision, which on top of being dishonest, calls into question her ability: a legislator who keeps misunderstanding what their own bill does is not fit to represent the people, let alone set the standard by which animals live or die in New York State. Once again, this bill—even as amended—is not good for animals, it is not good for animal lovers, it is not good for New York, and it is not a good precedent for the nation.

The good news is that there is already legislation pending that would truly end the practice of convenience killing in New York State shelters. Assembly Member Kellner’s bill (A07312A) would empower non-profit animal rescue organizations to fulfill their missions, a right often denied to them by larger non-profit organizations and shelters. It provides whistleblower protection for rescue groups, creating an incentive for non-profit organizations to help end cruelty or neglect at shelters without fear of retaliation and loss of rescue access. It has specific provisions to ensure that these groups have the best interests of animals at heart and are able to care for them. And it prevents needless animal suffering by mandating precise, sensible, and objective criteria for determining which animals are dangerous or irremediably suffering and therefore exempt from rescue access provisions.

Don’t be fooled: Amy Paulin’s bill is a continuing death threat to animals who have a place to go. Jane Hoffman knows it. Laura Allen knows it. Ed Sayres and Nancy Perry know it. And Amy Paulin does—or should—know it, too.

What You Can Do

My Disturbing Encounter with the Mind of PETA

March 16, 2012 by  

By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

I was in Los Angeles for a speaking engagement when three PETA employees approached me. One employee explained to me that animals don’t need to be suffering in order for him to be justified in killing them. He then explained that he has the right to round up and kill cats, even if they are not suffering, simply because he “believes” they might suffer. In fact, he said that no matter the circumstances, killing is not unethical—even convenience killing—because it is just like being put under anesthesia for spay/neuter, with the only difference being that the animal never wakes up. – Los Angeles, CA, March 13, 2012.

I have long argued that although we have no definitive diagnosis of the condition which motivates the bizarre and cruel behavior of PETA’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, there is one psychological condition which appears to shed some light on what might be motivating her to seek out and poison thousands of animals every year: Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. This is the mental disorder that is responsible for nurses who kill their patients. Case history reveals that those who have been diagnosed with this disorder and who have been found guilty of murder show no remorse for their killing, arguing that their actions were motivated by mercy and compassion and that their patients, desperate to be relieved of their suffering, wanted to die. Because comments made by Newkirk when she describes killing animals mirrors this exact mindset, including stating that killing animals is a “gift,” and chastising No Kill advocates for “turning their backs” on animals “who want a peaceful exit from a cruel world,” I would be surprised if this doesn’t play a role, although—absent her submission to psychological testing—we cannot know for sure. We are left to speculate. But this much is clear: no normal, psychologically healthy person behaves in the manner which she does, so Munchausen by Proxy or not, I have to believe there is some yet undiagnosed malady that is to explain for what in practice expresses itself in an unrelenting thirst for the killing of animals which thus far has claimed the lives of more than 25,000 animals—a thirst that is made legally possible through her association with PETA.

Not only does PETA’s registration with the State of Virginia as a “shelter” give her the ability to acquire the controlled substance fatal-plus which she and her staff use to poison animals, but being registered as a “shelter” with the State of Virginia allows Newkirk and her staff to mislead people into believing that the killing that they do is consistent with that being done by shelters, a form of killing which, tragically, has long been tolerated even by people who claim to love animals. Were Newkirk to independently—without a staff and organization to back her—seek out thousands of animals a year by lying to people, answering free to good home ads, taking them from rescue groups and shelters, gathering animals through trapping, or acquiring those displaced by natural disasters, only to inject them with poison and kill them—it would be immediately obvious to everyone that she was a deeply disturbed woman inflicting cruelty and death upon animals in obedience to dark impulses.

Widely regarded as an organization dedicated to protecting, rather than harming, animals as is really the case, PETA provides Newkirk not only the perfect cover for her nefarious agenda, but, paradoxically, the perfect place to recruit others to participate in her depravity as well. With the stamp of legitimacy her association with PETA affords her, Newkirk has not only been granted the unrestricted ability to kill without the scrutiny or condemnation of many so-called animal rights activists who grant her absolution, but it has given her easy access to naïve and easily manipulated young people who arrive on PETA’s doorstep starry-eyed, desperate to fit in and looking for approval. And somehow—exactly how we have yet to discover—Newkirk manages to transform at least some of these people into mindless drones incapable of critical thinking who not only defend the right to kill animals with the same, deadly language that she does, but who also seek out, then kill, animals themselves. The PETA employees who were found tossing garbage bags filled with the bodies of dozens of dead animals into a supermarket dumpster in North Carolina in 2005 are examples of two such people who have succumbed to and internalized Newkirk’s deranged thinking; and, after my encounter this week, I have to believe so are the three young PETA employees who showed up at a lecture I gave on Monday night at UCLA Law School in order to challenge me, and in the process revealed views about killing animals that left me not only deeply unsettled, but, I must admit, a little bit shaken, too.

After years of knowing that PETA kills animals, lies in order to do so, calls for the wholesale extermination of feral cats and pit bull dogs, and works to derail shelter reform efforts nationwide, you would think that there is nothing I could learn about PETA that would have the power to shock me. But you’d be wrong. Because the attitude expressed by the PETA employees I met Tuesday night was clear evidence that PETA followers are not just parroting Ingrid Newkirk for a paycheck; they are, in fact, fully indoctrinated true believers—immune to logic and reason—that animals want to die.

I was in Los Angeles for a lecture I gave to UCLA law students, followed by a public seminar on reforming animal control. PETA sent three employees—one man and two women. The exchange afterwards was truly surreal. It went like this: An unidentified individual shook my hand and asked to take a photo with me. I did. He then proceeded to ask me my recommendations about catching trap-shy feral cats for the annual veterinary checkups. I told him that I did not believe there was a need for annual veterinary check-ups for feral cats who were healthy. I explained that if a cat was injured or sick, there are ways to catch trap-shy cats and I gave him some examples. As we started talking, I noticed a woman was videotaping the exchange. I was then informed by others in attendance that the three were PETA employees. What transpired next makes me wish that I had been the one holding the video camera so that I could have captured, on tape, the bizarre and truly stunning statements in defense of killing animals that these people, in lockstep, repeated over and over again in spite of my attempts to have a reasoned dialogue based on the facts.

During our discussion about feral cats, in which the man insisted that since feral cats were disproportionately suffering, they must all be rounded up and killed, I attempted to educate him that he had his facts wrong. I explained how it was never okay to kill an individual based on a group dynamic.  I explained how even if it could be proven that 60% of feral cats die prematurely due to disease or injury (which is by no means no true, but postulated for the sake of argument), it would still be unethical to kill any individual cat because not only do that cat’s inherent rights ethically prohibit it, but you do not know if that particular cat will ever succumb to such a fate, let alone when. I argued that even if you knew that cat would get hit by a car two years from now, it isn’t ethical to rob him of those two years by killing him now. Furthermore, I argued, those are not the facts; feral cats are not disproportionately suffering. In fact, the largest study of feral cats conducted in the U.S. showed baselines of health and longevity similar to pet cats. And that’s when he stated that none of that mattered. It didn’t matter if animals were actually suffering before he had a right to kill them.  He then explained that he has the right to round up and kill cats, even if they are not suffering, simply because he “believes” they might suffer. In fact, he said that no matter the circumstances, killing is not unethical—even convenience killing—because it is just like being put under anesthesia for spay/neuter, with the only difference being that the animal never wakes up.

The conversation then turned to one of the women, who blasted me for supporting reduced adoption fees by shelters—something PETA publicly condemned recently when the Washington Humane Society announced their plan to do so in order to encourage adoptions and reduce killing. When I explained that there is no evidence to support her claim that reduced adoption fees leads to poor placements, she claimed that the evidence did not matter because her neighbor does not feed his dog. When I explained that while I agree we should not adopt out animals to people who do not feed them but that several studies have demonstrated that reduced fees increase adoptions but do not impact the quality or longevity of the home and that reduced adoption fees does not mean that we do not screen homes to prevent animals from going into the hands of abusers like her neighbor, she lashed out at me; repeating that because of what she sees when she looks out her back window, reduced adoption fees are a bad idea and animals are better off dead.

And finally, the third PETA employee told me that pet overpopulation is real and responsible for shelter death rates. When I talked to her about supply and demand, the fact that 30 communities nationwide have ended the killing, and that the very existence of puppy mills (which I agree are abusive) proves homes are available, she said it didn’t matter, we just know pet overpopulation is real. So I asked her how she knew pet overpopulation was real in spite of the data and experience that proved otherwise, and she gave me the tautology that pet overpopulation is real because shelters are killing them, a logical fallacy, backward and circular reasoning, and a classic example of an after-the-fact justification.

And so I was left to ask the only rational question such an irrational discussion could lead to. I asked them, “Where does Ingrid Newkirk find people like you?” And by “you,” I told them I meant unthinking people incapable of logic who are willing to embrace mass killing and even round up and kill animals because the Butcher of Norfolk tells them to. I was not trying to be ironic. How was it possible that there were so many people at PETA who are vegan, claim they love animals (they do not), but embrace the absurd notion that killing is not a moral issue if the killing supposedly does not involve pain? Moreover, people who embrace this idea even in circumstances where there is no justification other than a person believes it is ok because the animal “might” suffer, even in the face of all evidence is to the contrary that they are ever likely to?

Given these beliefs, I wondered why PETA bothers advocating for a vegan diet. Since the only thing that matters to PETA is that the animals not feel pain when they are killed, why doesn’t PETA advocate exclusively for humane slaughter laws? Of course, as an ethical vegan myself, I know full well it is not only the method of death that is important; the killing itself is a violation of the animal’s most fundamental right. When Brazilian police were shooting homeless children on the streets of Rio de Janeiro back in the 1990s, it wasn’t wrong because they should have been injecting them with an overdose of barbiturates, instead. It was wrong because they were killing them. Yet, according to PETA’s illogic, it is the former reason which is the only thing that matters, while it is the latter that is the primary problem to all right-thinking individuals.

If PETA is to be believed, so long as the cows and chickens (or children) are being killed “humanely,” it would be completely ethical to kill them. If PETA is to be believed, so long as hunters kill animals because they “believe” the animals might suffer, even if all evidence was to the contrary, that would be ethical also. Of course, none of these propositions are true, though they are compelled by PETA’s logic. But when I tried to discuss the logical implications of their viewpoint, they would have none of it, simply repeating, over and over again, without acknowledging a word I said, that killing animals is okay because they might suffer, and killing is okay because it’s just like going to sleep and never waking up. My head spinning, I left the event and spent the next several hours trying to understand the behavior that I had just witnessed. My research led me to information about how cults recruit and indoctrinate their members and I discovered that the behavior these individuals exhibited appeared to be a textbook example of that.

Experts on cults report that they come in many varieties and sizes. There are religious cults like those founded by David Koresh and Jim Jones. There are commercial cults that recruit members to sell their products, thereby enriching their leaders. There are self-help cults which manipulate the emotionally vulnerable. And lastly, there are political cults which, according to one organization which tracks cults, don’t appear to be a cults at all; having, as their outer façade, “a slick well-rehearsed Public Relations front which hides what the group is really like. You will hear how they help the poor, or support research, or peace, or the environment.” And yet many of these cults are particularly scary because the harm they inflict is not limited simply to their membership.

As with all cults, members of political cults become victims of emotional and psychological manipulation. They often live in desperate need for the approval of their charismatic and fearsome leader. But what makes political cults so particularly terrifying is that they often promote philosophies that endorse campaigns of extermination. Could PETA, which not only actively seeks out then poisons thousands of animals a year to kill, but whose legion of employees work to undermine lifesaving efforts across the country in order to sure that shelters keep killing animals, be just such a cult? After my experiences this week, I am beginning to wonder if PETA is not just “cult-like” as I have often stated, but, in fact, an actual cult.

Indeed, I have often been baffled as to why PETA does not attempt to modulate its message in defense of killing and against the No Kill movement in light of our evolving success, continually hammering home, as they do, tired clichés and disproven dogmas that many savvy animal lovers are now too informed to accept. According to my research, information about how cults actually work sheds some light on why that might be: In a cult, “any information from outside the cult is considered evil, especially if it is opposing the cult.” Cults train their members to instantly destroy any critical information given to them, and to not even entertain the thought that the information could be true.

Perhaps PETA employees cannot modulate their message in light of our success, nor can they internalize any information that disproves their assertions because they are incapable of digesting any information that conflicts with the PETA agenda in which they have been indoctrinated. As the employees I spoke to demonstrated, although they had just sat through a 2½ hour presentation debunking all their justifications for killing, my message had fallen on deaf ears that were incapable of hearing anything that contradicted the story line that PETA perpetuates and continually disseminates, including the myth that open admission shelters cannot be No Kill, the myth of too many animals and not enough homes, that feral cats are suffering horribly, that all pit bulls are dangerous, that any attempt to find more homes would put animals in the hands of abusers, and the most absurd of these absurdities, that killing is kindness, a gift.

For every time I had attempted to break down for the PETA employees exactly where their information was incorrect—their insistence that open-admission shelters cannot be no kill, for example—by citing numerous animal control shelters nationwide that are, in fact, No Kill and open admission—or that pet overpopulation is a myth given that the number of homes that become available for animals every year vastly exceeds the number of animals being killed in shelters—the information simply did not penetrate. It was as though I was speaking a foreign language they could not understand; and in response, they simply kept repeating the same mantras over and over again: animals are suffering, killing is okay, and killing is a gift. In short, they were extensions of Ingrid Newkirk and entirely beyond the reach of reason.

There is much we do not know about how PETA operates—how exactly it recruits people like the ones I met; how, exactly, it indoctrinates them into becoming killers. We do know that prospective employees are prescreened for their support of No Kill, and I personally know an individual who many years ago was fired from PETA immediately after saying that the video he was just shown that claimed No Kill resulted in hoarding and abuse was not correct, since he had volunteered at the San Francisco SPCA when it was the crown jewel of the No Kill movement and knew firsthand the high quality care it was offering. So we do know that if you really love animals, and you think for yourself, PETA doesn’t want you. Smart, authentic, animal-loving people need not apply. But, unfortunately, we do not yet have enough details to confirm the diagnosis of what, exactly, ails the leadership of PETA and the people who go to work there. But even if all we can do is speculate about the why and the how, we must continue to fiercely condemn the tragic and cruel outcome, regardless of its cause, in the hopes of bringing their terrifying death squads to an end. Because for all we do not know, this much is now certain: PETA is letting loose upon the world individuals who not only maniacally believe that killing is a good thing and that the living want to die, but who are legally armed with lethal drugs which they have already proven—25,000 times—that they are not adverse to using.

Legislating Compassion: A Year in Review

March 7, 2012 by  

Last legislative session, we launched a campaign called Rescue Five-O. The initiative involved introducing shelter reform legislation, modeled after the Companion Animal Protection Act, in states across the country. Legislation we know is necessary for two reasons: first, shelters are killing animals needlessly despite ready available lifesaving alternatives and we need to force them to employ the alternatives. And second, even those shelters which are doing the right thing need legislation to make sure they keep doing so indefinitely, that the next director can’t undo the progress of the current one, as we have also seen.

As in any effort involving legislative endeavors, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that we succeeded in introducing legislation in six states: Florida, Virginia, Georgia, New York, West Virginia, and Minnesota. We also expect it to be introduced in others shortly. We’ve succeeded in educating many legislators about what is really happening behind the closed door of the animal shelter and the need to regulate them (We sent a copy of Redemption and a packet on shelter reform to every legislator in every state). We created tools to empower the grassroots, including a guide to political advocacy, a guide to passing humane legislation, a guide on both CAPA and rescue rights laws, and more. We’ve forced organizations like Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends to take sides and stand up to regressive organizations like the ASPCA. And we’ve made shelter reform laws one of the defining issues of our movement.

Of course the bad news is that we’ve not had legislation pass this session. It was tabled in Virginia and Georgia. It is stalled in West Virginia and Minnesota. And with the end of a shortened legislative session due to redistricting in Florida, our efforts there will also not be successful this year. In New York, we’ve been focused on fighting the Quick Kill bill, exactly as the ASPCA and their proxy, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, had intended.

And while these results aren’t good news, they aren’t dire either if we take a more comprehensive view. We are being opposed by the ASPCA, which is not only fighting us in New York, but is subsidizing some of our opposition in other states. They’ve also introduced their own bill in that state, which has had the intended effect of our mobilization shifting its focus from passing our own bill to fighting theirs. In Florida, as in Texas last year, HSUS joined the opposition in criticizing our bill. And, the “slaughterhouse workers” at PETA have gotten involved, urging their supporters to send letters of opposition and even holding a press conference to condemn our legislation.

But each time they do, it gives us a platform to educate legislators, to educate the media, to educate the public at large about who and what these groups really are, what they stand for (it’s not the animals), and what is happening to the animals. And with any legislation, on any issue that is opposed by the status quo, it takes time. When you are working to change the status quo, it is easy to become discouraged.  Sometimes, it can feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall that will never, ever move, despite how hard you push on it, especially when your opposition is big, powerful, wealthy, and seemingly invincible. And yet history shows us that the people who prevailed in transforming our world for the better and who we now regard as heroes in the ongoing struggle for greater justice, once faced the same seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles that we do. We can see that while they may have felt that they were pushing against an impenetrable wall, with each push they were creating fractures and fissures that, in the end, destroyed the structural integrity of the wall they were bashing, and ultimately brought a seemingly solid monolith tumbling down. At this point in our movement, when our enemy is still so powerful, so pervasive, and still retains unwarranted credibility with many people, we must learn to celebrate those fractures and fissures, to recognize their meaning, to feel empowered by their significance, and to exploit them to the fullest extent possible.

There is no doubt that the obstacles we face are great. But not as great as the obstacles faced by other movements in history. Not only did they have to fight the status quo, they also had to fight the public’s prejudice which sustained it. In other words, they first needed to win the hearts and minds of the American public. And still they prevailed. This is an obstacle we do not face. Thankfully, the public is increasingly aware of just how broken our shelter system is and supports the No Kill alternative. 96% of Americans—almost every single person—believe we have a moral obligation to protect animals and that we should have strong laws to do so. Indeed, the average American is far more progressive about dogs and cats than every animal welfare and animal rights organization in the United States, with rare exception. The success of No Kill does not depend on winning the hearts and minds of the American public. We don’t need to gain their support because we have it already. And that makes our prognosis for success that much better.

In the last three years, not only did we succeed in passing shelter reform in Delaware, we’ve had it introduced in many states, forcing the pro-killing national organizations like HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA to fight us across the country, exposing them for who and what they are, while tens of thousands of animal lovers become educated, mobilized,  and political, flooding their legislators with calls for support. We can’t underestimate the psychological impact this has on regressive shelters and equally regressive national organizations. They must feel under siege and at odds with an increasingly informed and savvy animal-loving American public, who they rely on to remain ignorant in order to take their money under false pretenses.

So take heart. Anything worth fighting for takes time. Our legislative setbacks are part of the process. And while succeeding in the short-term is the ideal, it is also unrealistic. If we take the long-view, we are right on track for where we need to be, what we need to be doing, and where we need to be going.

Rescue Five-O is a joint partnership between my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, and  a separate organization with similar goals, No Kill Nation. It is also supported by Animal Wise Radio.