February 21, 2012 by Nathan J. Winograd
March is the cruelest month. Although the usual signs of spring—melting snow, blossoming flowers, and warmer weather—mark next month as a time of renewal for most people, for those of us trying to reform our nation’s broken animal sheltering system, it is a time of sorrow. For us, spring is the time of year when hundreds of thousands of kittens and puppies born across the country will have their short, precious lives ended at shelters which should, and could, find them loving homes but opt, cruelly and heartlessly, to kill them instead.
And March is a time of madness for another reason, too. It is the time of year when the Commonwealth of Virginia releases PETA’s annual killing statistics, and we are made aware of how many animals the prior year fell victim to the malicious, relentless bloodlust of PETA employees. It is a time of year when we in the No Kill movement are compelled to contemplate—to the point of actually feeling sick to our stomachs—what is going on behind closed doors at the PETA headquarters in Virginia. We are compelled to think about the warehouse full of healthy animals they gather for execution, and the lies they tell to those who surrender their animals in the mistaken belief that PETA is dedicated to the welfare and rights of those animals. We are compelled to think about what the executions must look like: Do they line the animals up, in full view of one another, and go down a line killing them, one by one? Or do they have a special room where they ritually perform the killing? How big is the freezer they installed at donor expense to hold the bodies? And what must that freezer look like?
What a grisly scene must it present, stacked high with furry bodies—on the day of the regularly scheduled visit from Tidewater Pet Cremation Services of which PETA, delivering an estimated 30,000 pounds of dead animals to that company a year, is no doubt one of their “best” customers. We are also left to contemplate how it could possibly be that, yet again, for yet another year, the organization generally regarded as the nation’s largest “animal rights” organization has once again gotten away with murder, not once, but roughly two thousand times. And in the No Kill movement’s public contemplation and condemnation of this madness, the answer to that last and most perplexing question becomes crystal clear: they got away with it because the animal “rights” movement let them.
It is now as predictable as PETA’s killing itself, that every year when No Kill activists cry foul in blogs and on Facebook pages about that killing as we surely will, our movement experiences the influx and scrutiny of the PETA-lovers. Content to ignore our movement for the rest of the year, content to ignore that the No Kill movement is the single, most effective and uncompromising voice for the rights of dogs and cats, we are nonetheless paradoxically lectured and scolded by these individuals, people who put their allegiance to an organization that deliberately poisons thousands of animals every year, an organization headed by a seriously disturbed individual, before the values they claim to represent, as they condone, excuse and obfuscate.
As an ethical vegan, the author of a vegan cook book, and an advocate for animal rights, I continue to remain dumbfounded that other vegans—people who claim to practice a lifestyle based on a belief in non-violence to all creatures great and small—continue to hypocritically support PETA’s campaign not just to poison thousands of animals every year, but to protect the paradigm of killing in U.S. shelters by embracing PETA’s extermination campaigns against pit bulls, feral cats, and indeed, all animals. In Florida, legislation is pending that would make it illegal for “shelters” in that state to kill animals who have an immediate place to go: into the protective embrace of qualified non-profit rescue organizations, 63% of which are currently turned away and must endure watching those shelters kill the very animals they have offered to save. But when PETA recently asked its vegan supporters to oppose the bill and empower shelters to continue killing, over 1,000 of them did so, flooding the legislature with e-mails demanding the right of shelters to continue killing.
Today, the defining animal rights issue for our generation is the right to life for companion animals; it is the moral foundation of the entire movement. In failing to champion the right of dogs and cats to live, in fact, in promoting their killing, not only are these PETA apologists violating the rights of these animals, they are destroying the opportunity to harness the public’s progressive attitudes and great love for animals. It is that love and compassion that could yield laws banning killing in animal shelters altogether. This achievement—securing a legally guaranteed right to life for a species of non-human animal—will be a seminal event, a crossing of the Rubicon from which our society will never return. As history and the human rights movement predicts, that door—once opened—will be forced open even wider to accommodate other species of animals currently exploited or killed in other contexts.
Right now, however, the nation’s largest self-proclaimed “animal rights” group and all its supporters are actively fighting to keep that door closed—by arguing that dogs and cats do not have the right to life and by telling us, in some variation or another, that “killing is kindness,” “killing is not killing,” and even , as the Butcher of Norfolk Ingrid Newkirk herself once said, that “killing is a gift. And it is the best gift they ever got.” It is beyond irony. It is beyond hypocrisy. It is beyond betrayal. It is beyond self-defeating. It is insane.
PETA is fond of asking the question, “Why is one animal called dinner and another called a pet?” But ask about the hypocrisy of why a cow or a chicken is entitled to his or her life, but a dog or cat is not and you’ll get platitudes about pet overpopulation. Follow up with data showing that more people are seeking animals than are being killed, with the fact that plenty of homes are available because otherwise puppy mills would not exist, and how pet overpopulation is inconsistent with the achievement of No Kill communities across the country, and you’ll get a blank stare. But, in the end, the question of whether pet overpopulation is real or a myth used to justify killing is irrelevant for two reasons.
First, PETA does not kill because of pet overpopulation. PETA kills because Ingrid Newkirk enjoys killing. As a former employee of Washington Humane Society, Newkirk has admitted to going into work early in order to kill. Second, and more importantly, even if the supply-demand imbalance did not run in the animals’ favor as it does, even if in fact there were too many animals and not enough homes, it would still be unethical and a violation of that’s animals most basic right to live if we killed them. No matter what rationale is used to justify the killing, it can never be reconciled with the animal rights philosophy.
Philosophically, advancing a practical over an ethical argument has long been the safe haven for those who want to justify untoward practices. Even accepting the sincerity of the claim, even if the practical calculus was correct, protecting life that is not suffering is a timeless and absolute principle upon which responsible animal rights advocates must tailor their practices. Every action they take must be subservient to preserving life. Moreover, the practical calculus in support of killing has been proven to be wrong, the result of prejudice and myopia seeking to condone what are in truth nothing more than atrocities. Ethics will always trump the practical and the two are seldom so inexorably linked that an untoward action must follow some fixed practical imperative. But Ingrid Newkirk herself has stated that PETA does “not advocate right to life for animals.”
A movement cannot be “rights” oriented, yet ignore the right to life. By asserting that humans have the right to deny dogs and cats and other companion animals their lives, they make the attainment of any animal rights inherently impossible. No right is guaranteed or possible when they can be taken away by killing. Once an animal is killed, he or she can no longer think and feel and run and play and eat and sleep and purr and bark and love and be loved. It is over. Forever. What rights can possibly be afforded that animal once he or she is dead?
Hunters who kill deer, for example, claim that they are doing the animals a favor by killing them, giving them—to use Newkirk’s language about killing dogs and cats—a “gift” because there are too many. If they didn’t kill them, they claim, the deer would suffer and slowly starve to death. Sound familiar? These are the exact same arguments being made by PETA to justify their hunting down dogs and cats and putting them to death. If they didn’t, we are told those animals would suffer on the streets. Why do animal rights activists accept one argument as sound while rejecting the other? They are, after all, the exact same argument. In the end, PETA staff members are just hunters going after “game” of a different species. But it is the same blood sport and done for the same, dark reason.
The belief that cows and chickens have a right to their lives, but a dog or cat doesn’t is not because one is domesticated and the other is not, as is also sometimes argued. That is a distinction without a difference. It is not because there are too many and not enough homes. And it is certainly not because killing is a gift. The only reason PETA supporters believe it is nothing more than an accident of history, the result of a small number of people who brought baggage from one job to a new movement they helped found where such views should have been anathema.
In the 1980s, Ingrid Newkirk founded PETA. She came from the Washington Humane Society, where her job was to kill dogs and cats, a job she did with relish:
I would go to work early, before anyone got there, and I would just kill the animals myself… I must have killed a thousand of them, sometimes dozens every day.
Had Newkirk not founded PETA, had someone with sincerity who did not have this checkered history of mass killing started a PETA-like organization instead, that group would not be supporting the mass killing of innocent animals in shelters. In fact, they would be the loudest voice condemning it. They would be the No Kill movement’s most vociferous adherent and they would be throwing [vegan] pies in the face of those who systematically violate the rights of animals every time they inject them with an overdose of fatal plus. But because one woman brought a philosophy of killing to an organization which should advocate the opposite and corrupted its mission, generations of animal rights advocates who came into this movement because of PETA adopted, without any sort of critical thinking skills, the absurdist notion that killing is consistent with the animal rights philosophy of not killing. In short, PETA has duped an entire generation of mindless drones who claim they love animals into embracing their systematic slaughter.
A number of years ago, I did an interview with Vegan Freak radio about my then-new book, Redemption. As I sat on the phone waiting to be introduced, I listened to their opening montage. They welcomed all their listeners from what they called, in humorous self-deprecation, “their mountaintop of moral superiority.” I laughed. And then proceeded with a one hour interview, one of my favorites to this day, on why saving dogs and cats was an animal rights issue, consistent with the animal rights philosophy, and how killing could not be rationally squared with it. They agreed; a breath of fresh air. But too many vegans and animal rights activists don’t, continuing to parrot the charade that the killing of innocent dogs and cats is acceptable, consistent with their beliefs that one should never kill pigs, cows, or chickens. Why? For two reasons: PETA says so. And PETA is the one doing the killing.
All the rationale about pet overpopulation notwithstanding (if eating meat was outlawed, would they support the killing of all the excess cows and chickens? Of course not), that is all their belief comes down to: allegiance to a group, rather than to the animals. And therein lies the crux. In the end, No Kill is the moral foundation for animal rights. It is the litmus test which proves whether an animal rights activist is merely seeking an identity (“I’m with PETA”) or whether s/he is sincere, and truly cares about animals. And sadly, until the corrupting influence of Newkirk dies along with her, and the current generation of faux-animal rights activists follow suit, every March we learn that too many fail the test.
The Butcher of Norfolk has created a movement of thoughtless adherents who blindly follow PETA to the place they should refuse to go, the place where their alleged ideals are put to death along with the animals who should find in them their most fierce and loyal defenders. Despite believing theirs is a view from a mountaintop of moral superiority, they are promoting values from the eighth rung of Dante’s Inferno, the circle of hell reserved for frauds and betrayers of the worst sort. They are, in the end, nothing more than hypocrites who are willing to condone the mass slaughter of animals in order to embrace the animals’ executioners. And next month, we will find out exactly just how many of those animals they have willingly sacrificed.