The Best Friends “Spin” Machine Goes Into Overdrive
June 26, 2010 by Nathan J. Winograd
Best Friends has been issuing a series of ever-changing justifications in response to my post, “Where Have You Gone Best Friends?” In that post, I indicated that Best Friends not only took an indefensible position of neutrality on Oreo’s Law, abandoning the rescue groups and animals who made them who they are, but also tried to get Animal Ark and Animal Wise Radio to withdraw their support for this lifesaving legislation in deference to their relationship to Ed Sayres, Oreo’s killer.
I spent nine days thinking about what to say and how to say it, trying to be fair, trying to understand why, trying to find some context that would make sense, trying to appeal to some elements at Best Friends who I know are as upset as I am about the direction they’ve been heading.
Their contradictory responses have been a bitter disappointment, not just to me, but too many who used to look up to them. No self reflection. No thoughtfulness. No truth. All politics. Instead of directly addressing the issues, acknowledging that a lot of people within Best Friends itself are very upset about the direction they are going, have left the organization because of it, are irate that they invited killing enabler Jane Hoffman to speak at their conference, and know that what they are saying about Oreo’s Law is not true, their responses further revealed their true colors. They lashed out, lied to cover their behinds, and in doing so, proved me right.
Basically their response consists of:
1. We Support Rescue Access Legislation Except When We Don’t.
Best Friends claimed to support “rescue access legislation” and although Oreo’s Law had all the elements of their position paper on rescue access legislation, they now claim that they did not support it because it isn’t needed; only collaboration is. But this isn’t what they told people when the bill was pending. They told people they support “rescue access legislation” hoping that people would not see past that to the fact that they didn’t actually support the bill. Why didn’t they tell those who asked them about Oreo’s Law then that they don’t support it because they only support collaboration, rather than misleading their members into believing that they were supporting it? And why remove the comments on their website from rescuers who told them about the struggles they were really facing in New York and who asked for their help on this law because it is needed?
2. Hoarders and Dog Fighters Will Exploit Oreo’s Law for “Unscrupulous Reasons.”
Even though the California law on which Oreo’s Law was based has saved thousands of lives and the same fear mongering about hoarders and dog fighters when that law was being considered did not materialize, they claim that New York is different. There, rescuers are really hoarders in disguise and/or can’t be trusted because they are small non-profits, whereas big non-profits can be trusted, even though like the ASPCA they have chosen to kill animals in the face of rescue alternatives. In other words, we shouldn’t fear killing, we should fear putting in place mechanisms to save their lives.
3. Supporters of Oreo’s Law are Just Emotional: “Most issues that we deal with today in animal welfare are charged with emotion. The failure of the passage of the New York State Kellner/Duane Bill (Oreo’s Law) is no different. Those who fought hard for the bill are now looking for outlets for their anger and people to blame.”
What is all the fuss? According to Best Friends, they are just animals and despite the fact that thousands have been ensured a needless death sentence, we shouldn’t get emotional about it. Settle down little people, settle down, Best Friends is above all the emotional fray and they alone are the logical ones.
4. “We felt we couldn’t help either side budge.”
Best Friends is not going to let the facts get in the way of a good story. And the fact is that we amended the bill four times to address concerns, and we offered to change the name of the bill, offered to never mention Oreo again, offered to drop out of the dialog, and offered to give the ASPCA full credit for the law. As I mentioned in my original post,
I was privy to several conversations with Best Friends where they stated they would support the law if various amendments were made. Those amendments were made, but Best Friends did not honor the agreements. They also stated that they would support the law if Ed Sayres and Jane Hoffman did not withdraw their opposition after they were told that in exchange for doing so, the bill would be renamed to remove any reference to Oreo. And when Sayres and Hoffman said “No,” Best Friends still refused to support it… In fact, I sent a letter to Sayres offering to disappear, to give him full credit for the law, to have the name of the law changed, if he would withdraw his opposition and champion it. And because we could never bring her back but we could save thousands of others with the law if he removed his opposition, I offered never to mention Oreo again in return.
5. “We also felt the reporting requirement in the bill was unrealistic for some small rural shelters to meet.”
According to Best Friends, it is ok to kill animals in the face of a rescue alternative, it is ok to turn rescue groups away, but don’t expect shelters to send an e-mail or post to the internet that animals are scheduled to be killed because that is too onerous. So Best Friends believes shelters should not be burdened with sending an e-mail before they march an animal into the e-room and inject that animal with poison from a bottle marked “Fatal-plus.” It’s the e-mail that is the problem.
6. The most disturbing allegation they’ve embraced is that we do not really need legislation to save lives, because No Kill will not be achieved by making it illegal to kill animals when alternatives exist, “Only through collaboration and cooperation will major victories for New York’s animals be achieved. “
Really? What proof does Best Friends have to back up such an assertion? Although they have raised millions of dollars in Los Angeles and claimed it is a “Tier 1” level program for their work on creating a No More (Killing of) Homeless Pets community, not only is it far from No Kill, recently it has moved in the other direction. Since they have never been successful, how would they know what it takes to achieve it? And why does this demand for collaboration only work in one direction? Over 70% of rescue groups surveyed in NYS have tried collaborating with shelters and they’ve been turned away. The shelters have told them they do not like rescue groups and do not want to work with them. One rescue group told of how the Executive Director of the shelter once paraded animals they offered to rescue right by them to the e-room to put them to death, choosing those very animals to show them who had the power. What does Best Friends say to them? Why is it ok for the ASPCA and shelters not to cooperate, but when rescue groups try to mandate that cooperation, that is divisive?
7. Finally, they claim they did not lobby Animal Wise Radio to withdraw their support, but Mike Fry shows that to be untrue in this post to Best Friends:
During our fairly heated phone conversation following that email exchange, you kept trying to make the point that this was not about the policy, but was rather about the ASPCA and your relationship to them. When I repeatedly asked you to make a case against Oreo’s Law based on the policy, you could not do so.
If your intent was not to sway my opinion, why make these comments? Why ask for confidentiality? Why make the follow-up call, when I had already shared with you my perspective?
I agree with others who have posted here. I am sick to death of people and organizations refusing to take challenging positions for all of the wrong reasons…
Reading your official policy statement on this topic has made me even sadder. Fundamentally, you have admitted, as I read it, to have sold out the animals for the sake of politics. That is bad enough, but refusing to come out with an official Oreo’s Law position until now hid your position from your members, donors and supporters.
That’s why you are getting all of these messages on this page. That’s why people are so disappointed in you. Maybe the words feel harsh. But, there is no “nice” way to say them that I know of.
I’ve had conversations with past and current Best Friends employees, including those who used to run the NMHP campaign and left over these issues, who are as upset as I am, who thanked me for expressing what they have felt for so long, for taking the bullet to tell the truth. And what they had to say was eye opening.
So what is the truth? It turns out that Best Friends is opening an office in NYC and did not feel it could successfully do so and oppose the ASPCA and Mayor’s Alliance on Oreo’s Law, thereby choosing to sacrifice the rescue groups and animals in the process. Like Los Angeles, NYC is a very wealthy city. And Best Friends wants access to that wealth. Behind the politics is the money. Follow the money….
And people know it. People can sense it. As I tour the country giving Building a No Kill Community seminars, reaching capacity-plus audiences from multiple states, people have been asking me what is happening with Best Friends. There is an undercurrent out there that people are tapping into that the organization has changed, has become corporate, and shifted their priorities. Rescuers aren’t just dimwitted emotional hoarders in disguise, as Best Friends seems to think. They are smart, they are attuned to what is happening in this movement, they know what it takes to achieve No Kill, and they have tragic and first-hand experience proving that you can’t collaborate with organizations who refuse to work with you, who find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it.
We achieve No Kill in just one way: through the programs and services of the No Kill Equation. Nothing else has worked. Nothing. And when shelters refuse to change, when they refuse to collaborate, when they seek to hold back progress, we force them to in the same way each and every social movement in history has: by legislation. As I said in my original post,
The goal of every social movement is legislation to gain and then protect the rights of its members or the focus of its efforts. The suffrage movement wasn’t just seeking discretionary permission from elections officials to vote, an ability that could be taken away. Its goal was winning the right to vote, a right guaranteed in law. The civil rights movement wasn’t just seeking the discretionary ability to sit at the front of the bus or to eat at the same lunch counters or be given equal protection and equal opportunity. Its goal was winning the right to do so, a right guaranteed in law. The movement for marriage equality isn’t just seeking the discretionary opportunity to marry despite sexual orientation. Its goal is winning the right to do so, a right guaranteed in law. Because without legal rights, one’s fate is contingent on who the election official is, who the restaurant owner is, and who the mayor is. And in our case, who the shelter director is. And just as quickly as permission is given, it can be taken away.
Laws codify norms of behavior and, at their best, help create a just and thoughtful society. We have—and embrace—voting rights acts, environmental protection laws, and laws against discrimination based on gender, race, and sexual orientation. Ultimately, such laws are essential to ensure that fair and equal treatment is guaranteed, not subject to the discretion of those in power. We shouldn’t just want a promise that shelters will try to do better. We already have such promises—and millions of animals still being killed show just how hollow such promises are. We must demand accountability beyond the rhetoric. And we shouldn’t simply be seeking progressive directors willing to save lives. We should demand that the killing end, now and forever, regardless of who is running the shelters. And we get that in only one way: by passing legislation that gives sheltered animals the right to live.
Read Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Think of the animals being killed when you do rather than African Americans being denied civil rights And think of Best Friends saying “Wait” and “Let’s all just get along.” It is just as apt today for the rights of sheltered animals as it is was—and is—for civil rights:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly… For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” … This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see… that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Read it and reread it and remember that those seeking the unequivocal and immediate end to segregation and discrimination were called “divisive” by those within that movement who had become big, powerful, and threatened by the newer generation’s intolerance and impatience with the status quo, just as those who demand the killing end today are being called divisive by Best Friends and those who have come to their defense over this issue.
There are a small number of activists out there who are so fearful of the possibility that rescue groups are masquerading as hoarders, that they are willing to allow shelters to continue killing arbitrarily as a result, a harm we know to be endemic and pervasive. They’ve had the notion that killing is not the ultimate harm drilled into them for so long that it ceases to be the indefensible violent and evil act that it is. And tragically, Best Friends is exploiting this complacency to cover their illicit tracks. But worse, Best Friends has, in fact, itself adjusted to the killing, has achieved economic security, is profiting from the status quo, and by refusing to back the rescuers, by calling them “emotional,” has in fact become insensitive to what most rescuers truly face and truly want.
It was—and is—only through standing up to regressive voices who defend killing and fear monger that we make progress. When we all “got along”—as happened in the hundred years preceding the No Kill movement—it was nothing short of full scale, unmitigated slaughter at our nation’s shelters. The clouds only began to part when some of us had the courage to say “Enough!”
Do I wish it were different? Do I, like the voices I hear promoting “movement unity,” wish none of this was necessary? Of course I do. I wish we were all on the same page, too. But to pretend otherwise is to sacrifice our cause, and collaborationist wishful thinking is a luxury the animals can ill afford. That the leadership of Best Friends is making such naïve and superficial assertions shows how insular they’ve become in Kanab; how removed they are from the day to day experiences of those of us in the trenches without $30 million a year budgets; that they lack first-hand experience with how “collaboration” under such circumstances is meaningless.
In the end, what is harmful to this movement is not dissent, nor people unflinchingly calling anti-animal positions for the betrayals that they truly are. What is harmful to the humane movement, and therefore animals, is the long and historic association between those who love animals and those who kill them and the deadly and illogical myth this contaminating relationship has fostered that we all want the same thing, even in the face of clear and overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
There will come a day when No Kill is fully established, when we can gently agree to disagree on issues because, truly, we will all be on the same page—and the big question relating to whether animals should live or die will be put to bed once and for all, and the systematic killing of four million animals a year will be viewed as the cruel practice it always was; a national shame that is inconceivable to us as a people.
When that day comes, as it invariably will, and the voices championing killing are finally silenced, when the practices they condone are unequivocally rejected, when killing innocent animals is unthinkable, and when those who staff our nation’s humane societies, SPCAs, animal shelters, and large, national groups are truly committed to the best interests of animals; then we can shake hands across the aisles over our disagreements, because the stakes will be much lower—and no animal will be killed as a result of someone’s “differing” point of view. But with four million animals needlessly being killed in our nation’s shelters every year, and the head of the nation’s wealthiest SPCA opposing legislation that would help remedy this deadly scourge, the fight must continue.
Tragically, perhaps the animals have to wait for another, newer generation of humane leadership that has not been poisoned by the toxic relationship that says an animal control system based on killing is compatible with a movement dedicated to ending that killing. Because what we need and what we lack are leaders who have not had the dogmatic pronouncements of this movement drilled into them for so long that they have inherited this mollifying legacy; leaders who no longer feel the need to hold off asking the tough questions because of personal relationships with people who take actions that cost animals their lives; leaders who will not hesitate—nor disparage others who do not hesitate—to call things for what they truly are, when that is what progress and ethics demand.
By those standards, we can no longer look to Best Friends as a leader. It seems Best Friends can only be counted on as an ally when it suits them, when there is no cost to their relationships with the likes of Ed Sayres and Jane Hoffman, when it does not interfere with their corporate growth, and when there is money to be made. It is a sad and tragic time for those of us who used to look up to them. But naively pretending otherwise is now yet another luxury the animals cannot afford.