Guilty, Until Proven Innocent
February 15, 2011 by Nathan J. Winograd
Best Friends tells rescuers: YOU are the reason we can’t support Oreo’s Law
Choosing to defend the rights of shelters to kill animals in the face of readily available rescue alternatives, Best Friends CEO Hosni Mubarak, I mean Gregory Castle, says the people cannot be trusted. That corruption and oppression by the current regime should continue. Those in power should stay in power. Rescue groups should continue watching the animals they want to save be put to death. Their pain, their oppression, their hurt, not to mention the needless violence inflicted on the animals, should continue. But he cannot come right out and say that. And so he and Omar Suleiman, I mean Francis Battista, claim that the people are not ready for democracy. And hence lies the real issue: money and power.
The animals do not belong to the ASPCA. They do not belong to killing shelters. They do not belong to Best Friends. They have a right to live. And the people have a right to compel shelters not to kill them. For far too long, those running our animal shelters—agencies funded by the philanthropic donations and tax dollars of an animal loving American public—have refused to mirror our progressive values. For far too long, they have assumed a power and authority to act independent of public opinion, and the will of the people who have entrusted them to do their jobs with compassion, dedication and integrity. In betraying this trust, they have proven that they can’t be trusted, and that we must regulate them in the same way we regulate other agencies which hold the power of life and death: by removing the discretion which has for too long allowed them to thwart the public’s will and to kill animals who should be saved. Oreo’s Law, thankfully, seeks to do just that.
The shelter industry is essentially arguing it should be allowed to regulate itself, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is being ‘divisive’… But no industry should self-regulate; not agriculture, not drug companies, not restaurants… not Wall Street. The more we have relied on self-regulation in these industries, the more catastrophic have been the outcomes.
Because besides saving lives, besides saving taxpayer money, besides providing whistleblower protections for rescuers, besides reducing burdens on shelters, besides putting New York State on par with the most progressive states in the country, Oreo’s Law would level the playing field and that is a threat to the power elite, as democracy always is. All non-profit organizations have identical rights and responsibilities before the law. Oreo’s Law seeks to protect those rights by leveling the playing field between the large non-profits which have all the power and the small non-profits who are prevented from fulfilling their lifesaving mission when these larger organizations refuse to collaborate with them in order to save more lives.
In so many ways, this law is not about Oreo, although her killing was the impetus. The law is about saving kittens and puppies, cats and dogs. It is about saving healthy and treatable animals being killed despite a rescue alternative shelters simply refuse to allow. But Oreo’s tragic killing does highlight the incredible hypocrisy of the autocrats running Best Friends. Oreo was abused and was killed despite a sanctuary alternative because the ASPCA claimed she was aggressive, although they refused to release the videotapes and evidence exists to the contrary. Nonetheless, even if she was, Best Friends would deny to Oreo and others like her, what Wayne Pacelle and Ingrid Newkirk wanted to deny Michael Vick’s victims. But Best Friends argued that those dogs should not be killed. Why? Because they had a rescue and sanctuary alternative. Why would they insist on denying other abused dogs the same rights and privileges they allow for themselves?
Because to Castle and Battista, the rules should only run in one direction. They are not to be held accountable. They are not to be held by the same rules as the small non-profits. They are above accountability and they are above everyone else. That, again, is the very definition of corruption.
Sadly, we cannot bring Oreo back and give her the second chance the ASPCA denied her. And we will forever remember her killing at the hands of those who were supposed to protect her from further harm as many things: tragic and heartbreaking, chief among them. Nothing can alter that calculus. But we can lessen the futility of Oreo’s death if we learn from it, and alter our society in such a way as to prevent such a betrayal from ever happening again.
But to prevent that, Castle-Battista have to paint the alternative to killing as even darker. Just like PETA and HSUS and the ASPCA have in their historical and continued opposition to the No Kill philosophy generally. Just like HSUS and PETA, opposed by Best Friends, argued for the Vick dogs. Killing is better, because the alternative is hoarding. Rescuers, according to Best Friends, are hoarders, despite the fact that California proves them wrong, their lauding of the Delaware Law proves them insincere, their consistently changing rationale for why they don’t support it reveals that their alleged “concerns” are hollow, and the fact that Oreo’s Law is not the free-for-all they pretend undermines their claims.
First, there is a 501(c)(3) delegation. A 501(c)(3) requires a certain level of organizational development. It requires a board of directors. It requires annual filings. In NYS, these organizations are also under the oversight of the NYS Attorney General. Once again, people can “believe” that isn’t relevant but that was the only requirement in California and it has worked. We don’t have the problems Castle-Battista fearmonger will occur from the NYS bill. Experience, not personal belief, is how we should look at this bill. These same arguments were made in California as the 1998 Animal Shelter Law was moving through the legislature and, despite these alleged “concerns,” they have not been borne out by experience.
Thankfully, the legislature was also not impressed by these theoretical concerns as the bill overwhelmingly passed by a huge margin: 96 to 12, about as close as we will ever get to unanimity in a state as large as California. In Delaware, the law passed unanimously. And Best Friends supported both.
And because shelters can charge rescue groups an adoption fee, this also protects against hoarding, as hoarders are less likely to pay for animals than get them from free sources. There is the requirement that they not be charged with neglect or cruelty or have been convicted of those statutes. There is also the ability to inspect the rescue group if there is reason to believe a shelter would not take care of an animal properly.
If you start adding subjective qualifications as Best Friends insincerely insists, shelters will be given discretion to turn rescues away, effectively giving them the power they have now and eviscerating the whistleblower provisions of Oreo’s Law. And Best Friends knows this. Three times before, Best Friends said they would support the bill if only changes were put in. And three times before, after those changes were in fact added, they reneged. Nothing can be added to Oreo’s Law to make them support it. As Francis Battista has unequivocally stated, Best Friends will never support a bill opposed by the ASPCA.
Moreover, conveniently absent from their list of “concerns” is the most egregious harm, the one that happens every single day, tens of thousands of times per year in New York and millions of times per year across the U.S. As I said in my original post,
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. And every year in New York State, rescue groups are trying to prevent that harm. But 71% of them reported being turned away from shelters and then those shelters killed the very animals they offered to save. If you truly care about animals, your mandate is clear: Get the animals out of shelters!
That doesn’t seem to matter to Best Friends. That harm, which is not theoretical, which is not rare, which happens 10,958 times a day is ignored. Which is why I do not believe Castle and Battista are motivated by the best interests of animals. Theirs is an indefensible position. According to Best Friends, the presumption should be death. Shelters should not be second guessed in their decisions and should be allowed to continue killing animals, unless the rescue group proves to their subjective satisfaction that they can be trusted. In other words, rescue groups are “guilty, until proven innocent.” And meanwhile, animals continue to be killed. By contrast, Oreo’s Law says the presumption should be for lifesaving, absent evidence to the contrary. Innocent, until proven guilty. That is good policy. That means life to animals, not death as the norm.
But, as Ryan Clinton of FixAustin once said, power never concedes without a fight. Which is why Best Friends, the ASPCA, and the Mayor’s Alliance will fight, ignoring the one huge hole in their argument that undermines all of their insincere arguments against Oreo’s Law, which they cannot overcome, so they effectively ignore: the law would not compel any shelter to give any animal to any rescue group. They can give the animal to a rescue group they want. Or they can adopt the animal themselves. What they cannot do is kill the animal in the face of a rescue alternative. That is what they have now. That is why too many animals are losing their lives. That is just bad policy. And shame on Best Friends for working to defend it.