The Real Elephant in the Room

May 30, 2010 by  

When the news was announced, animal lovers throughout Austin, Texas rejoiced. Some of them went out to celebrate. Some of them wept. One of them said they woke up the next morning and it was like standing on the deck of the Ark and seeing sunshine after 40 days of rain. Years of campaigning, years of fighting, years of grief and heartache, and she was finally gone. She was gone, she was gone, she was gone and good riddance. The director of Town Lake Animal Control, a woman who killed over 100,000 animals, who killed tens of thousands a year, hundreds per month, dozens per day, one animal roughly every 12 minutes the shelter was open to the public, was gone. And, with her, hopefully the era defined by killing despite readily available lifesaving alternatives, killing despite empty cages, killing despite a refusal—an ugly, selfish, unethical, indefensible refusal—to do what is necessary to stop killing.

This is a shelter director who killed kittens while refusing to allow the larger public to foster animals. This is a shelter director who said her staff did not have time to adopt out more animals; presumably because they were too busy killing them in back. This is a shelter director who illegally refused to provide care to sick animals, allowing them to suffer after the City Council unanimously ordered her to stop killing savable animals when there were empty cages to house them (hundreds per day according to state inspection reports). And she was gone. Forced into another job so she could vest in her retirement away from the animals she had the power to kill, a power which she exercised with ruthless efficiency.

But not everyone was celebrating. Ed Sayres, the head of the ASPCA, lamented her departure. Sayres, no stranger to killing in the face of lifesaving alternatives himself called her departure “horrible.” And why shouldn’t he? Sayres defended her even when she was killing kittens she refused to allow the public to foster. He defended her even when she was killing despite over 100 empty cages. He defended her even when she refused to implement common sense alternatives to killing. And he defended her with political and financial support he called “Mission: Orange,” but which local animal lovers called “Agent Orange” because it carpet bombed their efforts to reform the more egregious practices at the shelter under her watch.

On May 27, at an event for a local spay/neuter group, Sayres made it clear where he stood on the issues, and it was not on the side of No Kill advocates or the animals. “All right,” he said in the middle of his speech. “I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room.” He then went on to describe how “horrible” it was that “divisive incivility” in Austin led to the shelter director’s resignation. He stated that people who criticized her “wasted the time of everyone actually helping animals” and then went on to blame No Kill advocates, people working to stop the director from killing, for the killing of animals at the pound.

Sayres lamented her loss because he claimed that “Austin is Mission Orange’s most successful city” and the job will be more difficult without her. Successful? Under the first year of Agent Orange, killing actually went up 11%. Under the Sayres plan, Austin’s shelters impounded more animals, killed more animals, and saved fewer animals after the first year. While killing did decline the second year, it did so only because Austin Pets Alive saved those animals after the Sayres-backed shelter director ordered them to be killed.

Ed Sayres, who is using the might of the ASPCA to kill a law that will save more animals in New York for his own selfish ends, who defended the right of San Francisco shelters to kill animals, who kills animals himself, who said that killing is the moral equivalent of not killing, actually has the hubris to blame No Kill advocates for killing; has the gall to defend a shameless killer of animals rather than demand atonement for the 100,000 deaths she is responsible for; dares to lament her forced resignation which has the potential to create a new era of lifesaving; and, dares to call a movement to end killing, which directors like her refused to embrace, “divisive incivility.”

The storm has passed, the clouds have parted, and there is glorious sunshine. Everywhere in Austin there is now light after a long dark decade of night. And Sayres calls it “horrible.” That is the true “divisive incivility.” That is what is actually “horrible.” What Sayres saw as the elephant in the room was actually a mirror, his own reflection. His own “horrible” “divisive” reflection of “incivility.”

It is not civil to kill in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. It is not civil to kill kittens when people are willing to foster them. It is not civil to kill animals despite empty cages. It is not civil to complain about people wanting to adopt because it is too much work. It is not civil to oppose a moratorium on convenience killing. It is not civil to fight citizens who want to help create a more progressive shelter. It is not civil to withhold treatment from sick cats and allow them to suffer in order to falsely claim that No Kill amounts to warehousing. And it is the most divisive incivility to tell true animal lovers they can’t complain about it, that they can’t fight for the animals, that they should sit down and shut up and allow the killing to continue.

On a positive note, Sayres did reveal the only true elephant in the room. While the former shelter director’s boss was careful to say that she had been given a different job, while the “agent orange” partners pretended it was all voluntary, while the City bent over backwards to say that she chose to move on, Sayres is the first person to admit she was forced out.

But let us focus on silver linings and not dark clouds, lest we be guilty of “incivility.” Over the objections of the ASPCA-backed shelter director, the City Council unanimously embraced a No Kill plan. Over the objections of the ASPCA-backed shelter director, they forced her to provide medical care to sick cats. Over the objections of the ASPCA with all its money and all its might, they forced her out. Madam Director, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. To my friends in the No Kill movement, raise your glasses and pass the scotch!

The bumper sticker on a car in the employee parking lot of the Austin pound. Is this civil?

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