Maddie’s Fund’s Parting Shot?

August 20, 2011 by  

Maddie’s Fund was founded over a decade ago, with the stated purpose of delivering a No Kill nation within five years by “infusing megabucks into every community.” When the promised No Kill nation did not materialize, we were subsequently told it would take an additional five years, and then, after that, we are told it would take five more. But after 11 years and $100,000,000, and with not a single No Kill community—let alone the promised No Kill nation—to its credit, it appears that Maddie’s Fund is throwing in the towel. Maddie’s fund is telling people it will not fund new No Kill initiatives. To justify the abandonment of their commitment to create a No Kill nation, Maddie’s Fund is now saying that there is no longer any “need” for them to do so because achieving a No Kill nation is a “slam dunk” by 2015.

As anyone who has been following the No Kill movement can tell you, there is much to be confident about. There are now No Kill communities across the U.S. (notably, none of them were funded by Maddie’s Fund). The architects and defenders of the “catch and kill” paradigm, such as the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, are on the defensive. And we’ve reduced killing from what is claimed to be 17-plus million in the 1970s to about four million today. In fact, this last assertion is the basis for the Maddie’s Fund claim. According to Maddie’s Fund, all we have to do is keep up the momentum because we’re in the home stretch now. And all we have to do to eliminate the rest of the killing is for shelters and rescue groups to adopt out a little less than four more dogs and cats each week. Only it doesn’t really work like that, and Maddie’s Fund knows it.

A Flawed Premise

It is true that the numbers have been steadily declining over the years. If you were to plot it by decade, the arrow would be pointing down, down, down. The problem is that just because it goes in one direction for 30 years doesn’t mean it will continue to go in that direction. Moreover, if you plot it by year and you look at the last few, it’s relatively flat. And the reason for that explains why saving the last 4,000,000 is nothing at all like the first 16 million.

The problem with the last 4,000,000 is that killing shelters—organizations staffed by neglectful, abusive, uncaring directors and their equally uncaring staff—which already have the tools to save lives today but simply refuse to, have already had the low hanging fruit taken care of for them. They haven’t contributed much of anything. The public did most of the heavy lifting in getting us to where we are now. By spaying and neutering. By adopting from shelters.  By becoming sophisticated, networked rescuers. With some notable exceptions, much of the lifesaving has been because of reduced impounds, not increased adoptions.

Ten years ago, most people would have called animal control when they saw a stray cat. Now, most people know that would be a death sentence and won’t participate in the slaughter. If they do not take the cat in, and many will, they’ll either feed the cat or do TNR, and, they’ll often do this despite opposition from their local pound. Today, for instance, North St. Paul animal control officials are prosecuting a man and threatening him with jail time for feeding and sterilizing feral cats.

Of course, the public can always do more. They can adopt more animals, rather than getting them from commercial sources, and I’ve long argued that we can largely adopt our way out of killing. In fact, plenty of communities have proven so, but that again requires the shelter to do some lifting. It requires them to market their animals, to promote their services, to have good customer service, and public friendly adoption hours, in addition to fair adoption criteria. Many shelters don’t have that and there are plenty of examples of people who have tried to adopt from a shelter but have been turned away for entirely arbitrary reasons. Indeed, some shelters don’t do any adoptions.

Why is Shelby County, Kentucky celebrating its third No Kill year, while Macon County, Kentucky has a slaughter of animals with no conceivable end? I would think the fact that Macon County officials allow adoptions only from noon to 2 pm has something to do with it. It certainly is why the pound in Vermillion Parish, LA kills. They recently posted on Facebook that “they hate to kill animals but they’re full.” But they do not allow adoptions. No one can adopt. They don’t hate to kill animals or they wouldn’t. They’d allow adoptions, instead. Realistically, they just hate animals. They will not be No Kill in 2015. And neither will Macon County if left to their own devices.

And not only do many shelters not do their part, they thwart the attempts of others to help by holding the animals hostage. Maddie’s Fund funded the opposition that killed Oreo’s Law in New York State which would have made it illegal for shelters to kill animals who rescue groups were willing to save. And the people they funded killed the law, despite the fact that over 70% of rescue groups reported being turned away by shelters, who then killed the very animals they offered to save. These pounds and their allies, like the ASPCA and the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City Animals, do not want to achieve No Kill, because they make their money by holding the power over life and death, a power they misuse to enrich themselves to the detriment of the animals.

To save the last four million requires these organizations to do their part and that they have proven themselves unwilling to do. So we should not give credit to them for the decline and we should not expect the declines to continue without a fight, because it is the public that did it willingly, and now that it is the “shelters” turn to do their parts, they refuse.

It’s Not a “Slam Dunk”

We know a No Kill nation is inevitable. It is inevitable not because we are on a self-generating trajectory. Not because it’s a “slam dunk.” But because of people. People like Ryan Clinton who fought against a regressive director, an uncaring bureaucracy, and the ASPCA in Austin and won, and is now using the knowledge he gained to help others fight in their communities. People like Jeff Daniels, whose dog was brutally killed by corrupt people hiding behind a corrupt system, and who stood up, spoke out, and reclaimed government of the people, by the people, for the people. People all over the country who are rising up and fighting for the right to life.

But we don’t know the date. And clearly neither does Maddie’s Fund. Why? Right now, none of the large national organizations support the goal of a No Kill nation. They fight us in every state. Shelter reform legislation, a key and indispensible part of achieving and sustaining a No Kill nation, lost in New York State, stalled in Rhode Island, and was soundly defeated in Texas without so much as a hearing. We won in Delaware, but we’ve got a long way to go elsewhere. And Maddie’s Fund, in addition to being wrong twice before (they’ve promised a No Kill nation twice before and failed to deliver even a single No Kill community), by announcing they no longer feel the “need” to fund new No Kill initiatives, is throwing in the towel and misrepresenting the facts to provide political cover for their failure.

What happens when the Maddie’s Fund deadline of 2015 comes and the pound in Memphis, Tennessee or Macon County, Kentucky, or Vermillion Parish, Louisiana or New York City or Maricopa County, Arizona or Miami-Dade or Chesterfield, South Carolina are still killing? Will they set a new date—five years down the road again as they do every five years—when we will magically become No Kill for the fourth time? And if the latter, do they care that people will grow weary of ever achieving it and sadly (and falsely) conclude it is not achievable because they will have heard it three times before?

We can achieve a No Kill nation. We can do it today. We can do it in 2012. We can do it in 2013. We can do it in 2014. We can also do it in 2015. But just because it is technically possible to achieve it so soon in no ways means it is even remotely probable in so short a time span given the obstacles that stand in the way of that possibility. There’s no doubt we’ll have many more No Kill communities. But we are not going to achieve a No Kill nation without a fight because 3,000 killing shelter directors refuse to do it willingly and they are protected and defended by the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States. If we want to achieve it, we cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend we are all on the same team, that we all want the same things, that groups like HSUS are our partners when they actively fight our shelter reform efforts or that it’s a “slam dunk” with a set date.

So far they’ve only made the claim that there is no longer any “need” to fund new No Kill initiatives quietly. But what they are basically saying is that we don’t have to fight, we don’t have to do anything. Once again, they are ripping the rug from under us and undermining our efforts to fight for what is right. In fact, if we don’t have to do anything, what were they created for? What was the purpose of the last 11 years and $100 million they’ve spent? Five million dead animals a year were worth creating a foundation for, but four million a year don’t deserve their attention?

A Failed Experiment

Sadly, what is really going on is that Maddie’s Fund is conceding that their collaboration model has been a complete failure, but trying to camouflage it with a distraction. It’s absurd. The fight has just begun in earnest. We are finally being heard. And they want us to lay down our arms and coast? If they were honest, they’d simply acknowledge that their model is a failure. That after 11 years and $100,000,000, their failure to achieve even a single No Kill community, let alone the promised No Kill nation, proves it doesn’t work. They would look at their most highlighted programs, like Maricopa County and New York City and admit that they are rife with neglect, abuse, rampant killing, and fraud, and they would change course, rather than walk away.

When all is said and done, I am actually grateful that they’ve bowed out because Maddie’s Fund has undermined the work of the reform advocates who are fighting to save the lives of animals, blaming them for failing to collaborate, even as their outreach to killing directors fell on deaf, defiant ears. Maddie’s Fund has funded the opposition and they’ve held up those who defend killing as icons, including Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance in New York City and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle. Yet, I cannot help but lament that Maddie’s Fund has chosen to turn their back and walk away, rather than shift strategies from those that have failed, to those which have proven to be effective.

But given that they have, the best scenario for an exit for their failed experiment would be if they just quietly faded away into obscurity. The worst thing they could do, which is what they appear committed to doing, is to continue the charade, inflicting one final wound on their way out the door in order to excuse their own failures. A slam dunk? If only…

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