With “Best Friends” Like These…
February 10, 2011 by Nathan J. Winograd
There was a time, before television, before radio, before the internet, when a politician could ride into an American town that was against railroad expansion and tell the towns’ people to vote for him, that he would fight against the railroad to preserve their way of life. That same politician could them ride into the next town, a town very much in favor of the railroad, and tell them to vote for him, that he would fight for the railroad project. Those days are gone. But Best Friends Animal Society apparently doesn’t know it.
In the age of the internet, you can’t be against one thing and for it at the same time. John Kerry learned that the hard way with his rambling, disingenuous explanations that were self-contradictory and smacked of sophistry: “I was against it, before I was for it.” “I am against it, but I would do the same thing all over again.” You can’t be against using the “hoarding card” and then use it yourself. You can’t be in favor of rescue access and then oppose it somewhere else. And you can’t laud a new law and then attack another which does the same thing. But that is exactly what Best Friends is doing.
The ink is not even dry on the newly reintroduced Oreo’s Law and Best Friends has already posted their intent not to support it again this year. Why? Rescuers are hoarders in disguise. They can’t be trusted. But just a few short weeks ago, just like the 19th Century politicians in the age of the robber barons, their feckless CEO, Gregory Castle, was singing a different tune. In a blog, Castle decried PETA’s use of the “hoarding” card as unfair and disingenuous. Hoarding, he said, was a mental disease. It had nothing to do with the No Kill movement. The popular piece was widely circulated on the internet, was posted to people’s Facebook pages, was sent out on twitter. But there was no cost to him then. In fact, there could only be benefit. Here was the great Gregory Castle, the CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, standing up for the animals, for the little guy, for No Kill, for rescuers. But not now. Now there is a cost.
Best Friends is intimately tied into the ASPCA and Mayor’s Alliance in New York City, having opened up a fundraising office there, and together the big three have carved out a healthy niche that brings in millions of dollars from unsuspecting New York donors after they falsely promise to help animals in need in New York State. To support Oreo’s Law, to fight for the rights of rescuers, and to stand up for the animals would earn the wrath of Oreo’s killer, Ed Sayres, and would earn the wrath of Jane Hoffman, whose power base is threatened by its passage. So there will be no denouncing the hoarding card this time. No standing up for the animals, for the little guy, for No Kill, for rescuers.
Their latest statement in opposition, more toned down and nuanced than the one last year which earned them the wrath of the No Kill community, doesn’t use the word hoarding anymore. It doesn’t blame the Hayden Law for hoarding in California anymore. It doesn’t state that shelters should not be second guessed in their decisions to kill animals anymore. It doesn’t complain that asking shelters to notify a rescue group before killing an animal is an unreasonable burden anymore. That was last year’s strategy for them and it was a resounding failure. They lost the trust and faith of a lot of their supporters over those claims. But the message is the same: shelters should be allowed to continue killing 25,000 animals a year because rescuers, the very people whose money they are willing to take and who attend their conferences, cannot be trusted.
Today, in New York State as elsewhere, the leading killer of healthy dogs and cats in the U.S. is the local animal shelter. That is the single, greatest source of harm, of violence, or neglect and abuse. If you care about saving animals, your mandate is clear: Do everything in your power to remove animals from the threat of killing that is the local shelter. And every year in New York State, that is exactly what rescue groups are trying to do. But 71% of them are turned away from shelters and then those shelters kill the very animals they offer to save. By contrast, a ten year analysis of the Hayden Law in California, which does provide rescue access, found that this situation is no longer the norm here as it once was. In California, the rescue access law has forced shelters to allow lives to be saved, and claims that rescue groups can’t be trusted (which were made in 1998 while it was going through the legislature) have not materialized. In fact, one shelter which refused to work with rescue groups in California before Hayden now does because they have to. In 1997, before the Hayden Law, they did not transfer a single dog or cat to rescue. They chose to kill them instead. Today, they transfer about 2,500 a year. But it is still “1997” in New York and rescue groups are still being turned away; Not because they aren’t qualified, but because the shelters are hostile to rescue groups, have policies against working with rescue groups, and because of vindictive staff members. Best Friends would allow this to continue.
Gregory Castle, Julie Castle, and Francis Battista, the three blind mice leading Best Friends off a cliff, will not stand up for the animals if it means standing up to Oreo’s killer and the power-hungry Jane Hoffman. Because doing so means impacting their bank accounts, which is getting fatter by the day because of their New York City association. As I’ve said before, these are the real hoarders. But instead of animals, they hoard money and power. Best Friends takes in over $40,000,000 a year but only rescues about 600 animals a year. Do the math. Put aside the $4,000,000 it takes to run the sanctuary. That is $60,000 per animal. In other words, into the bank it goes, while the animals of New York City go without basic care, while 25,000 animals throughout the state who rescue groups are willing to save are killed instead, and while Francis Battista says shelters should not be second guessed.
To cover the cold, ugly truth of their self-interested calculations, Best Friends says they would support it if there were assurances that rescue groups could be trusted. (They’ve said this before, asking for amendments in return for their support, only to break their commitment once those changes were put in). But claiming that the “hoarding card” is unfair when they blog against PETA, and then using PETA’s tactics when it impacts their bank accounts isn’t the only bit of the Battista-Castle hypocrisy.
When Delaware unanimously passed its rescue access law, it did so without any opposition from the ASPCA, Mayor’s Alliance, or Best Friends. Why? They didn’t know about it. It seems that in order for progressive animal legislation like Oreo’s Law to be passed, it has to be kept from the large national organizations including the ASPCA, HSUS, and Best Friends. I blogged about it when it did pass and Best Friends scrambled to issue a statement where they congratulated Delaware animal lovers, assuring them that they supported the law. According to Best Friends, the difference between the Delaware law and Oreo’s Law last year was that Delaware had a provision that the shelter could inspect the rescue group. And for Best Friends, that made all the difference. Really?
Oreo’s Law now gives shelters the ability to inspect the rescue group when they have reason to suspect that the animal might be put in harm’s way. That was one of the changes put into the law during the legislative recess. So why won’t Best Friends support it? According to their statement, “the language has not changed since last year…” Not true. In fact, that is not the only change this year. There is also an exception for truly aggressive dogs, too, another so-called “concern” by Battista & Company. Just like the politicians of yore, Best Friends will say one thing in one forum and the opposite in another. In other words, Best Friends will never support the animals of New York and they will never support the rescue groups. Not as long as their real friends Ed Sayres and Jane Hoffman do not support it. Perhaps that is the true meaning of “Best Friends.” They were talking about each other and we all thought they were talking about the animals.
The “experts” have failed us. Gregory Castle writes in his blog about what is needed to achieve No Kill. Of course, there is no mention of reforming shelters. There is no mention about empowering rescue groups. There is no mention of standing up to bullies who kill in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. There is no mention of removing the discretion that shelter directors have to avoid doing what is in the best interests of animals and kill them needlessly. There is no mention of getting large, national organizations to stop hoarding the money they raise to help animals and to actually use it for its intended purpose.* Instead, Gregory Castle tells us basically to shut up and send them more of it.
Seeing that the ASPCA is taking in $120,000,000 per year; seeing that HSUS can afford to send its CEO to a private chateau in Italy at donor expense, while Best Friends “only” takes in $40,000,000 or so every year, they have decided to become HSUS and the ASPCA, and to begin peddling what those groups have been peddling for years: a dependency model where we write the checks, shut the hell up, and allow the “experts” to take care of everything. Settle down little people, settle down. You do not have to be empowered by law. No need for the Magna Carta, the King has spoken; from God’s lips to the King’s mouth.
Prostrate yourself before him rescuers of New York, King Gregory Castle is in the room, followed by his Lordship, the Duke of Self Interest, Francis Battista. They know what is best, as we are all serfs who must continue doing as we are told. And how has King Castle’s vision worked out? The same way it always works out for Kings and Subjects. From the standpoint of their bank accounts, it has been an unmitigated success. They are rich and getting richer. Just like the ASPCA, AHA, and HSUS. But how has it worked out for the animals? How has it worked out for rescuers who must endure the horror and torment and pain of watching animals they are willing and able to save be killed instead? That, of course, is another matter. The same way as it has under the paradigm promoted by the ASPCA and HSUS: more neglect, more abuse, more death.
In fact, Best Friends’ promise of a No Kill Utah did not achieve the goal. Their No Kill in L.A. program is a failure. They left Atlanta, one of their “Tier One” No More Homeless Pets cities, with lots of money in the bank but their tails between their legs. The ASPCA insists on the right of shelters to kill animals in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. And Wayne Pacelle, the leader of HSUS, is busy promoting the most notorious dog abuser of our time and fighting to give him access to more victims; He doesn’t have time to worry about dogs and cats being killed in shelters. Yes, the “experts” have failed us.
Best Friends is now firmly in the same category as the ASPCA, HSUS, and AHA. When we talk about the do-nothing, anti-animal large, national organizations that are more interested in their own power, their bloated bank accounts, and each other than the animals they are pledged to protect, we have no choice but to include Best Friends among them. With “best friends” like these, who needs enemies?
* For all their bluster, for all their supposed pro-No Kill rhetoric, despite their net worth in the tens of millions of dollars, Best Friends has never—not once—created a No Kill community. How are they qualified as “experts” on something they have never been able to achieve?