July 8, 2014
Why I Will Not Be Speaking at the FARM “Animal Rights” Conference
“The Animal Rights National Conference is devoted to advancing the vision that ‘animals have the right to be free from all forms of human exploitation.’ The Conference does not welcome advocacy of continued exploitation of animals [even] under improved conditions, sometimes labeled as ‘humane’…” –Animal Rights Conference “Safe Space” Policy.
Early last month, I posted on Facebook that I would be speaking at FARM’s upcoming Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. In that announcement, I expressed guarded hope that the agreed upon terms of my participation in that conference—that I would be given an hour to share the No Kill philosophy and then show my film—might signal a change of heart by the organizers of that event, away from their historical embrace of people who advocate the killing of companion animals and towards an authentic embrace of a true animal rights philosophy, one that included the rights of companion animals currently being slaughtered by the millions in American shelters.
I am sorry to report that I will not be speaking. Not only was my hope misplaced, but the statement released by conference organizers that it “does not welcome advocacy of continued exploitation of animals [even] under improved conditions, sometimes labeled as ‘humane’” is a lie. The Animal Rights Conference continues to welcome speakers who promote “exploitation” under the guise of “humane” if those animals are dogs, cats, rabbits, and other companion animals. In fact, far beyond mere “exploitation,” the Animal Rights Conference welcomes those who advocate the systematic eradication of companion animals. It allows them to speak, provides them political cover, highlights them, inducts them into its hall of fame, and prohibits other speakers from criticizing them. Far from advancing the rights of companion animals, the Animal Rights Conference is helping ensure their continued slaughter.
FARM is trying to cover its track by claiming that I “added a last minute stipulation that no one proposing a path other than his could speak on the same day he spoke…” Like their “vision,” that is also a lie. It was FARM that broke our agreement—for the second time this conference and the third time is as many conferences. An 11th hour change to the schedule revealed that despite earlier and repeated assurances that I would be given adequate time to share my message (a one hour session by myself), my speaking time was cut and I was told that I would have to co-present with Merritt Clifton, a man who doesn’t believe we can adopt our way out of killing despite hundreds of cities which have proved otherwise, defends shelters that kill despite empty cages when those shelters are run by people he likes, and has made a career out of denigrating dogs commonly referred to as “pit bulls.” In fact, a recent issue of Time magazine includes a hit piece on dogs which prominently features fear mongering by Merritt Clifton.
Rather than present a workshop on how No Kill is an animal rights issue and how it can be—and has been—achieved, I would have to spend what little time was now afforded to me responding to Clifton’s assertions about the dangerousness of “pit bulls,” the inability to achieve No Kill through adoptions, and why empty cages—even if it means killing—is necessary. Only here’s the rub: I was also told I could not criticize him for saying so. And it is why, under these circumstances, I would have never agreed to speak in the first place. I pulled out when they changed the agreed upon terms of my participation, even after they admitted they violated our agreement, not the other way around.
Despite all the talk, sent to attendees and speakers alike, that the Animal Rights Conference is a “safe space” for animals where talk of “exploitation” would not be tolerated, attendees will be treated to two speakers who believe that “pit bulls” should be executed, that shelter dogs are dangerous to adopt, and that No Kill is impossible. In the case of speaker Ingrid Newkirk, attendees will hear from a woman who has trained her staff and volunteers to seek out over 2,000 animals annually, including healthy kittens and puppies, in order to inject over 90% of them with a fatal dose of poison. Newkirk believes that animals want to die and should be killed, that killing them is a “gift,” and shelters should continue killing, despite readily available lifesaving alternatives. This is not a “safe space” for animals as they claim. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is to condone and encourage people who wish to school others in how to actively harm animals and deny them their most basic and fundamental rights, chief among them, their right to live.
Why are they doing this? Why invite me to speak, agree to conditions, and then break that agreement not once, but twice, at the last minute? Follow the money. PETA is a “Gold Sponsor” of the Animal Rights Conference and despite all the talk of ethics and “safe space,” FARM, the conference organizer, appears willing to sell out companion animals to the highest bidder.
This week, if you wish to find several people who represent the anti-thesis of what an animal rights movement should stand for, look no further than the “Animal Rights Conference.” And that is why one person who will not be found there is me.
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July 7, 2014
At their national sheltering conference this year, HSUS’ Vice-President for Companion Animals admits that pet overpopulation is a myth; that there is a huge market for shelter animals that vastly exceeds the number of animals killed for lack of a home (17 million homes vs. 3 million killed); that we can adopt our way out of killing; and we should.
Though the supply-demand imbalance is actually even more pronounced in favor of the animals (they are using old data), nonetheless, HSUS says that it isn’t a question of ‘too many animals, not enough homes,’ but the need for increasing market share. Coming from HSUS, this is a revolutionary change, striking as it does, to the heart of the killing.
- Watch the above 1 minute video excerpt where HSUS is finally making public the statistics revealed by the study, done on their behalf five years ago, showing how demand for animals exceeds the numbers killed in shelters (supply).
- The whole 1 hour 10 minute video is available by clicking here.
- A review of the data is available from the No Kill Advocacy Center by clicking here.
Though No Kill advocates have endured years of ridicule and abuse for exposing the lie of pet overpopulation, one of its primary proponents is finally admitting that, in fact, it simply does not exist. The questions now become:
- Will HSUS begin to address the true causes of shelter killing?
- Will it force shelters to change the way they operate so that animals are kept alive long enough to get into those homes?
- Will they stop promoting and defending the practice of shelters killing animals when there are empty cages?
- Will they stop working to defeat laws that mandate all the programs and procedures that allow shelters to replace killing with alternatives?
- Will they stop telling shelters that they are free to keep killing, rather than implement those alternatives to killing?
So far, the answer to all those questions has been “No.”
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July 6, 2014
A Look at HSUS’ Embrace of “Open” Adoptions
When it comes to HSUS betraying animals by enabling shelter killing, I often hear from their defenders that “HSUS is changing.” In fact, it is a retort I’ve been hearing now for better than a decade. Aside from being an admission of guilt, or at the very least, an admission of a pressing need for change, this statement, of course, begs the inevitable questions: Are they truly changing? How long is it going to take? Instead of a perpetual process of “changing,” why don’t they just change? And what are they changing into?
Here’s a case in point. For decades, HSUS defended shelters that killed animals despite rescue groups ready, willing, and able to save them. In fact, in the 1990s, HSUS specifically told shelter directors to kill the animals rather than transfer them to rescuers, stating it “would not recommend the transfer of animals to another facility for adoption… Transport and changes in environment are stressful for animals that are already experiencing stress from the loss of their home.” In 2003, for example, volunteers from a high-volume Virginia-based adoption rescue group offered to save dogs being killed in their county shelter. In a series of meetings with the county administrator and then-shelter leadership, they demonstrated not only how the group could save the lives of dogs in the shelter (by transporting them to private foster homes and then placing them up for adoption in more populated areas of Virginia), but save the county money as well: they offered to pay for the veterinary exam, vaccination, sterilization, transport, and adoption of these dogs. They had just one request: pre-killing notification to let them know which dogs faced death so that they could come and save them.
With their efforts meeting resistance at the local level, the group naively turned to HSUS assuming that they would help. Instead, HSUS sided with the shelter. In a meeting between the rescue community and local officials, HSUS’ representative argued that the rescue groups were trying to hold the shelter “hostage,” that their request for a “euthanasia list” was unreasonable, and that the partnership should not be implemented.
It is no surprise then that HSUS also opposed a 1998 California law making it illegal for shelters to kill animals when rescue groups were willing to save them. Thankfully, that law was passed over HSUS objections, saving over 45,000 animals a year—animals who would be dead had legislators listened to HSUS “experts.”
HSUS now says it has “changed” and supports rescue rights. But what does this mean in terms of HSUS policy and action? It’s not so clear-cut. For one, they’ve only championed such a view in California, where it has already been the law of the land since 1998; a law they long opposed and which was passed over their objection. Their alleged “embrace” of rescue rights in California is, oddly, a defense of the status quo. In other words, since it has been the law for over a decade and their friends who run kill shelters accept these provisions because they are well-settled, HSUS can support the law without angering those who run the kill shelters in that state. Because their allegiance is to those people, rather than the animals those people kill, and despite their claim to have “changed” their views on rescue rights, they continue to oppose it in other states to this very day. Several months ago, HSUS lobbyists killed a similar provision in Minnesota, helping to condemn thousands of animals there to needless death. Why did they oppose it? As HSUS itself admitted, they did so because a Minneapolis kill shelter, with which HSUS has long had a cozy relationship, asked them to. This policy regarding rescue rights shows how incomplete, disingenuous, and schizophrenic “change” at HSUS can be and it is not an aberration.
Late last year, HSUS released a “White Paper” that ostensibly told California shelters, among other things, that they should not take in healthy cats only to kill them. If they are going to kill them, HSUS wrote, it is better not to take them in. They have since repeated this view in other publications. As it relates to “feral” cats, they write, “When euthanasia [sic] is performed on healthy but unsocialized cats, it can be characterized as unnecessary, calling into question whether their deaths are actually humane.” Killing these cats does not “call in to question” whether it is inhumane, it is inhumane. Their language may be an improvement, but it remains cowardly, though prototypically HSUS. Moreover, given that they once called rounding up and killing these cats “the only practical and humane solution,” there was nowhere to go but up.
Nonetheless, given that they are telling shelters not to take in healthy cats, regardless of whether they are social or not social with humans, this would appear to be a welcome change from past HSUS positions and, at the level of rhetoric, it certainly is. But here’s the rub: after the White Paper was released, HSUS killed a law that would have mandated this and other “recommendations” in the White Paper when introduced in another state. Further, the White Paper focused on how to reduce the amount of work shelters had to do. In other words, rather than recommend shelters find homes for all healthy (and treatable) cats they take in, as successful shelters across the country do, HSUS simply told them not to take them in so they would not have to work to do so. In addition, they introduced legislation that would have eliminated holding periods for stray cats without identification, removing any right of reclaim for families whose cats ended up at the shelter. And finally, HSUS told shelters that they should feel free to continue killing the animals if that is what they wanted to do, or, in their own words, that HSUS recommendations “remain at the discretion of each community to choose whether and how to implement.” To HSUS, shelter directors have the right to continue killing animals in the face of alternatives if that is what they would prefer to do which most, tragically, do. Once again, it appears that HSUS wants to be all things to all people, giving to No Kill advocates with one hand what they take away at the behest of shelters with the other. Here’s how it plays out in the adoption arena.
One of the most dramatic changes in HSUS rhetoric involves new adoption recommendations, promoted in a joint presentation with the ASPCA to sheltering officials at their recent animal sheltering conference. The goal was laudable: getting more animals into homes and putting fewer into garbage bags. But, once again, the implementation fell short.
The ASPCA went first. After the ASPCA speaker admitted that she herself is not current on her resident animals’ vaccinations, she further stated that she once lied on an adoption application to acquire a dog from a shelter, including providing the shelter false documentation to do so. As I was watching the presentation, I could not help but wonder what the anti-No Kill zealots would say if I admitted to what the ASPCA speaker admitted to: lying on an adoption application, falsifying answers, committing fraud in order to acquire a dog from a shelter. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that dog got out and I am glad, as the ASPCA speaker indicated, he died over 10 years later in her arms rather than 10 years earlier in a barren cell at the hands of cruel dogcatchers. And, of course, the larger lesson is more important: shelters do turn good homes away based on arbitrary and wholly unreasonable adoption criteria, while needlessly killing animals and the ASPCA, along with HSUS, are finally admitting that their prior positions defending those arcane policies have cost animals their lives.
Indeed, for decades, the ASPCA and HSUS defended shelters that did a paltry number of adoptions and had high rates of killing by vilifying No Kill advocates who were demanding better by saying that doing so would reduce the “quality” of the adoptive homes and put animals at risk. As far back as the 1970s, these groups, along with the American Humane Association, were telling shelters that only certain kinds of people were worthy of having pets. In a statement reeking with racial overtones, the groups claimed that past adoptions in “ghetto areas” were a failure, and that these dogs were now doing little more than “attacking children in schoolyards.”
As recently as 2009, HSUS was still telling shelters not to adopt out animals during the holidays, effectively condemning a million animals a year to certain death. And in 2011, they launched a campaign to help shelters “educate the public” about adoption policies by creating a poster for shelters to hang in their lobbies. The poster featured a chair beneath a light in a cement room. The tagline reads: “What’s with all the questions?” Rather than ask shelters to reexamine their own assumptions which turned good homes away, HSUS produced a poster of what looked like an interrogation room at Abu Ghraib, instructing potential adopters to simply put up with it and further perpetuating the stereotype among shelter directors that the public is the enemy, rather than the solution. Three years later, they have swung the pendulum completely the other way, telling shelters that people who have made a decision to adopt from a shelter should not be turned away for three reasons: 1. Most people can be trusted, 2. Animals are being killed and they need homes, and 3. Those turned away will buy an animal instead; fueling the mill industry and, for some, putting the animals they acquire beyond the reach of spay/neuter, vaccinations, and other care.
You can watch the video here.
While I think the third argument can only be carried so far—a shelter has a responsibility to protect animals in its care—the truth of the matter is that shelters—and many rescue groups—do have unreasonable adoption criteria, which I noted in my second book, Irreconcilable Differences. In a chapter entitled “Good Homes Need Not Apply,” I wrote:
[M]any shelters go too far with fixed, arbitrary rules—dictated by national organizations—that turn away good homes under the theory that people aren’t trustworthy, that few people are good enough, and that animals are better off dead. Unfortunately, rescue groups all-too-often share this mindset…. People who do rescue love animals, but they have been schooled by HSUS to be unreasonably—indeed, absurdly—suspicious of the public. Consequently, they make it difficult, if not downright impossible, to adopt their rescued animals…
And, the number of people shelters turn away because of some arbitrary and bureaucratic process proves it. Like this experience shared with me a few years ago: “I tried to adopt from my local shelter… I found this scared, skinny cat hiding in the back of his cage and I filled out an application. I was turned down because I didn’t turn in the paperwork on time, which meant a half hour before closing, but I couldn’t get there from work in time to do that. I tried to leave work early the next day, but I called and found out they had already killed the poor cat. I will never go back.”
Shelter animals already face formidable obstacles to getting out alive: customer service is often poor, a shelter’s location may be remote, adoption hours may be limited, policies may limit the number of days they are held, they can get sick in a shelter, and shelter directors often reject common-sense alternatives to killing. One-third to one-half of all dogs and roughly 60 percent of cats are killed because of these obstacles. Since the animals already face enormous problems, including the constant threat of execution, shelters and rescue groups shouldn’t add arbitrary roadblocks. When kind hearted people come to help, shelter bureaucrats shouldn’t start out with a presumption that they can’t be trusted.
In fact, most of the evidence suggests that the public can be trusted. While roughly eight million dogs and cats enter shelters every year, that is a small fraction compared to the 165 million thriving in people’s homes. Of those entering shelters, only four percent are seized because of cruelty and neglect. Some people surrender their animals because they are irresponsible, but others do so because they have nowhere else to turn—a person dies, they lose their job, their home is foreclosed. In theory, that is why shelters exist—to be a safety net for animals whose caretakers no longer can or want to care for them.
When people decide to adopt from a shelter—despite having more convenient options such as buying from a pet store or responding to a newspaper ad—they should be rewarded. We are a nation of animal lovers, and we should be treated with gratitude, not suspicion. More importantly, the animals facing death deserve the second chance that many well intentioned Americans are eager to give them, but in too many cases, are senselessly prevented from doing so.
It is no surprise then that some shelter advocates are applauding HSUS’/ASPCA’s turn around on adoption policies. Certainly viewed in light of past policies, the presentation was revolutionary on the part of HSUS and the ASPCA and a welcome rejection of a nearly old century excuse that enabled shelter killing. But there are problems.
For one, I have never advocated “open” adoptions if we are going to define “open” accurately, instead of having it mean whatever we want it to mean at any given time. The closest I came was five years ago in Houston, Texas, where I had just completed a multi-day and ultimately 200-page assessment of the pound and found it rife with neglect, cruelty, and systematic killing. Here’s what I wrote,
BARC basically does “open adoptions,” meaning there is virtually no screening of any kind.
Successful high volume adoption shelters have proved that the notion that one needs to reduce quality of homes in order to increase quantity is one of the anachronisms of old-guard, “catch and kill” shelters who needed a way to justify a paradigm of high impounds, high kill rates and low adoptions. In fact, some of the most successful industries in the United States have excelled in a consumer market demanding high volume coupled with increasing consumer awareness, information and requirement for quality. These agencies are able to meet demand for both quality and quantity. Quality and quantity are not, and have never been, mutually exclusive…
At BARC, by contrast, screening is perfunctory, there is no real counseling, good matches are not considered as kennel attendants spend no time with the potential adopter or the animal, customer service representatives have limited information in which to match animal with lifestyle, and the cost is not inexpensive in an era of pet shops, “free to good home” ads, backyard breeders, and BARC’s poor location, facility, and bureaucratic procedures.
This is an area where volunteers have repeatedly suggested some form of screening to make sure animals are not just going into homes, but “good” homes. This suggestion has some appeal. And while it should ultimately be BARC’s goal, in the larger cost-benefit analysis, I think it would be a mistake to do so at this time…
BARC is not capable of adoption screening and the end result will mean the needless loss of animal life.
At this point in BARC’s history, the goal must be to get animals out of BARC where they and others are continually under the threat of a death sentence. And given the problems with procedure implementation at BARC, my fear is that the process will become arbitrary depending on who is in charge of adoptions. There is simply too much at stake for the types of staff I observed to hold even more power over life and death.
That is the choice BARC, by virtue of its rampant and systematic embrace of neglect, abuse, and killing, forced. It is not, however, the real or only choice. The choice is never any home or death. The choice includes a reasonably screened home which offers protection to the animal. In fact, I would go on to say:
When BARC has high quality staff, is consistent in applying sound policies and procedures, and has achieved a higher save rate—when BARC animals do not have a daily choice between life and death—it can revisit the issue of thoughtful screening to provide homes more suitable for particular BARC animals.
That is not, however, what HSUS is advocating. In a blanket embrace of “open” adoptions, they potentially leave the animals with no protection of any kind. Admittedly, this is a lesser risk, as most people can be trusted, and especially in light of a death sentence, but “either-or” is a false choice. Ironically, too, while HSUS now wants shelters to basically give animals to anyone, they continue to fight efforts, as they did in Minnesota this year, to allow incorporated, non-profit rescue groups, to have access to them. In other words, they would say “yes” to anyone off the street—including as they have to dog abuser Michael Vick who HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle said “would do a good job as a pet owner”—but give shelters the power to say “no” to non-profit SPCAs and rescue organizations that are dedicated to protecting animals and have never committed abuse.
Nor do they stop there in failing to embrace simple, common sense protections for shelter animals. In 2013, Michigan lawmakers introduced legislation which would have made it illegal for shelters to adopt out animals to those convicted of animal abuse. By knowing the right lies to tell and which truths to omit, convicted animal abusers can acquire animals even from those who may be dedicated to their protection but are currently forced to operate in a state of ignorance simply because they lack access to valuable information that would help them make better, more informed choices about the animals in their care. The Michigan law, giving shelters access to a database of those convicted of cruelty, would have stripped abusers of this advantage and prevent future animal abuse with nothing more than a few simple strokes of a keyboard. HSUS opposes these laws, arguing that we must balance the rights of animals with the rights of their abusers, and tragically, the Michigan bill failed to pass.
A Lobbyist for Kill Shelters, Not the Animals Shelters Kill
Why? What is the cause of this seemingly schizophrenic type of policy? These types of contradictions only makes sense in the context of HSUS’ overriding philosophy that they are, first and foremost, a lobbyist for kill shelters, rather than for the animals those shelters kill. When you consider each of their actions in this context, the logical contradiction disappears. With shelters under increasing pressure to reduce killing, HSUS is now realizing they cannot stem the move towards No Kill, despite their best efforts to do exactly that. Their advice to shelters as to how they can appease critics by reducing killing without actually having to increase their workload becomes simple: don’t take in cats if all you are going to do is kill them and, as it relates to the instant case, don’t bother putting in place comprehensive adoption programs and thoughtful screening protocols, simply give the animals to virtually anyone who walks through your doors. Once again, like they did with the White Paper, they refuse to ask shelters to live up to their responsibilities by doing the (sometimes hard) work necessary to save lives in earnest.
That said, I do not want to be too cynical, because some of what HSUS (and the ASPCA) advocate in the video is actually good, quite good in fact, even if none of it is “new” as they pretend, given that many of us have been promoting those things for over 15 years over their objections. This includes, for example, an embrace of “fee waived” adoptions which have been shown to double and, in some cases, triple adoptions, without impacting the quality of the home (given reasonable screening). In terms of kill shelters, HSUS has a bigger bully pulpit and getting the animals the hell out of those facilities continues to be the prime directive in sheltering, as these shelters are the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States. If looked at in the context of the Houston recommendations, and putting aside the defense of convicted abusers and opposition to rescuers, the HSUS turnaround—with caveats—is enormously beneficial to animals and does, in fact, represent significant progress.
HSUS Admits Demand Exceeds Supply
It should also be noted that in that presentation, HSUS also admits that pet overpopulation is a myth; that there is a huge market for shelter animals that vastly exceeds the number of animals killed for lack of a home. More than anything else in the video, this is the most revolutionary change, striking as it does, to the heart of the killing, though it has received scant mention by anyone.
Though the supply-demand imbalance is actually even more pronounced in favor of the animals (they are using old data), nonetheless, HSUS says that it isn’t a question of “too many animals, not enough homes,” but the need for shelters to overcome two primary hurdles (there are actually more): the false belief that shelter animals would not be in the shelter unless there was something wrong with them and, more to the point, that shelter adoption criteria tends to be unreasonable. Once again, that is progress, a departure from the intentional blindness they have operated under for decades in order to defend the fact that shelters were needlessly putting animals in their graves. (The other reasons are that shelters do not keep animals alive long enough to get into those homes, they do not aggressively market the animals, animal lovers find it difficult to go to kill shelters because they are depressing places, that customer service is often poor, the shelter is located away from where people live, work, and play, and that public access hours are often inconvenient or non-existent.)
What has not changed, however, is their willingness to hold shelters accountable at the level of policy making. Responding to the pressure, HSUS is giving shelters a false choice: kill them or save them by doing nothing more than swinging the doors to the shelter wide-open. If that were the choice, I’d go with the latter. If those in attendance were as regressive as the Houston pound was the year I wrote my assessment, I’d embrace it for them, too. But HSUS goes further than ethics allow: HSUS doesn’t want any protections at all, including potentially adopting them to those who have committed the most egregious and wanton cruelty.
To achieve No Kill, to save more lives, that isn’t what we should do. There’s a reasonable middle ground between their “Abu Ghraib” approach in 2011 and their “free-for-all” of 2014. But that requires a smart, reasonable, and thoughtful balance between the need to adopt out more animals and the need to protect animals from harm—neither of which are mutually exclusive but should, in fact, go hand in hand. To fail to hold those accountable who portray them as separate and distinct, who claim that to end one harm we need to potentially enable another, is to not only allow animals to needlessly be placed in harm’s way, but to sacrifice the only thing that has ever pushed HSUS to a more progressive position: holding them accountable when they get it wrong, as they so often, and tragically, do.
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May 5, 2014
This summer, I’ll be touring the nation screening Redemption, a film about the No Kill revolution in America. In many of those cities, I’ll be following up the film with a seminar on building a No Kill community. And in still others, there will be an after party. It is all part of my 2014 “No Kill is Love” tour. Please join me in a city near you.
For more information, list of cities, and tickets, go to: www.nokill.org
April 29, 2014
Assembly Member Mike Gatto Pulls Harmful HSUS Bill After Massive Outcry From California Animal Lovers
If HSUS’ Wayne Pacelle and Jennifer Fearing had their way, cats (and dogs) in California shelters could have been given to for-profit companies. Thankfully, the bill was defeated. In an Orwellian response, Pacelle defends this effort, claiming those who opposed their bill harm animals.
Animal lovers in California can celebrate and breath a collective sigh of relief because Assemblyman Mike Gatto has announced that AB 2343, the harmful bill he introduced several weeks ago at the behest of HSUS lobbyist, Jennifer Fearing, has been pulled. The bill is dead.
As originally written, AB 2343 contained provisions that would have allowed for-profit companies the legal right to take animals on death row in California shelters in order to sell them for any reason, including, potentially, for animal research. The bill also could have stripped Californians who share their lives and homes with cats of the ability to reclaim them by allowing shelters to give those cats to others, including for-profit companies, immediately on intake if the cat entered the shelter without identification. If HSUS had had its way, any cat entering a shelter without ID, either because the collar fell off, a microchip scan failed or the cat never had one, could have been adopted out or given to individuals who want to sell the them, the very moment they arrive at a shelter, the very day the animal becomes lost, and before a family was even given the opportunity to recognize that their cat was missing, leading to destroyed families and great heartbreak.
In response, a massive public outcry from Californian animal lovers opposed to the bill flooded Gatto’s office and the California Assembly. Emails, phone calls, and a petition signed by over 5,000 animal lovers implored California legislators to reject Fearing’s disastrous legislation. Joining in opposition were shelter directors who were, in part, concerned that certain provisions of the bill would have required them to take people’s animals without due process (a violation of the Constitution that would set have them up for lawsuits). Given the almost unanimous opposition, the bill faced certain defeat and Assembly Member Gatto had no choice but to withdraw it. Whether or not a realization by Gatto that he had been misled and betrayed by Fearing and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle played a role in withdrawing the bill is unknown. But in an attempt to salvage his reputation with Gatto and others, and to defend his incompetent lobbyist, Pacelle immediately issued a response defending the bill. The response is vintage Pacelle: duplicitous, confused, superficial, betraying an ignorance of basic principles of animal protection, and a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Despite the fact that AB 2343 was designed to weaken animal protection, Pacelle starts out by claiming that the bill was a sincere attempt to reduce killing in California. Second, he claims that anyone who challenges his corrupt agenda is divisive and therefore harming the animal protection movement. Finally, he claims that those who opposed Fearing’s bizarre, disastrous, and hopelessly bungled bill—which neither addressed the true cause of shelter killing nor attempted to mandate any of the protocols that have already allowed shelters across the nation to end the killing—were working to maintain “the status quo” by failing to allow for “new strategies” to “help animals facing euthanasia in the months and years ahead.” Given that Pacelle continues to ignore existing No Kill success, his statement borders on the absurd. In fact, given HSUS’ ongoing campaign to kill genuine shelter reform legislation across the nation (some of which have passed over HSUS objections and are responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives every year), that Pacelle would now co-opt the language of the No Kill movement to cloak an anti-animal agenda as a genuine attempt at helping animals is breathtaking in its gall. It does, however, show that Pacelle is under tremendous pressure to sound like a genuine advocate for an end to shelter killing. Unfortunately for the animals, Pacelle finds it easier to ignore existing No Kill, while remaining willfully ignorant of what it actually takes to achieve it.
And because of that, yet again, HSUS’ half-baked, ill-informed, and even harmful forays into shelter legislation required sincere and educated advocates including animal law attorneys and my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, to drop all our important animal protection work and work to defeat it. As UCLA Law Professor Taimie L. Bryant wrote,
[I]t’s worth reflecting on how much time and energy was expended on a bill that was massively confusing, complex, and riddled with unintended consequences. I was particularly sobered by the posting on Sutter’s Friends of a rabbit rescuer who expressed concern about the “for-profit” provision in AB 2343. How much more helpful to rabbits could that person have been if she had not had to worry about this harmful legislation? Similarly, the day before the bill appeared in its true form, my students and I had had the opportunity to work with a talented attorney who has the experience and thoughtfulness to help us develop a proposal for a new way of conducting dangerous dog hearings. Instead of using the weekend to put together the ideas that came out of that session, I had to drop everything to address as quickly as possible the most dangerous aspects of AB 2343. Shelter managers, leaders of shelter organizations, and leaders of local and national animal protection organizations had to drop the work they were doing, as well, in order to begin work on AB 2343. Individuals concerned about early reports on AB 2343 started reacting quickly by sending comments to members of the Local Government Committee. All of that time and energy was diverted from activities that could have enriched all of our lives and the lives of those we care about, including animals.
Despite Pacelle’s ignorant assertions to the contrary, we don’t need to experiment with deadly legislation to determine how to end the killing in animal shelters. We already know how to do so and we already have legislation that has proven to dramatically decrease it. So why don’t we have more laws like it? Because HSUS won’t let us pass these bills, banding together time and again with regressive kill shelters, to defeat them.
As early as last month, Jennifer Fearing ordered an HSUS lackey in Minnesota to kill legislation in that state which, among various other proven and necessary improvements, would have ended heart sticking, banned the gas chamber, and mandated rescue access—a provision which HSUS opposed when it passed in California but has increased lifesaving in that state by 370%. In places where true shelter reform laws introduced by No Kill advocates have passed, they have been wildly successful. In Austin, Texas, a local ordinance mandating that the local shelter stop convenience killing in favor of the programs and services of the No Kill Equation led to save rates of over 90%. Did the Fearing bill contain any of the provisions that allowed Austin to achieve this immediate success? No. In Delaware, a similar law that passed in that state in 2010 has already decreased killing by a whopping 78% statewide. Did the Fearing bill contain any of the provisions that allowed for such a dramatic, statewide decline in killing? No. Neither Austin nor Delaware nor any of the other several hundred communities that have ended the killing got there by stripping families of the right to reclaim their lost animals or by mandating the release of shelter animals to for-profit groups who sell dogs and cats. And why would they? Neither of these things have anything to do with addressing the true cause of shelter killing: directors who are content to go on killing in the face of proven, viable, lifesaving alternatives; alternatives Pacelle and Fearing continue to tell shelter directors they could go on ignoring if that is what they prefer to do.
Even though the bill could have had disastrous consequences for animals had Pacelle and Fearing had their way, and I in no way wish to diminish the irresponsibility of attempting to do so, there is a silver lining to this entire debacle and it is this: while HSUS staffers and Pacelle continue to behave as though it is still 20 years ago before the advent of the modern No Kill movement, continue to wallow in failure and engage in wilful blindness to the solution the rest of us have embraced with enthusiasm, and while they continue to parrot the charade that ending shelter killing (or, as Pacelle still archaically and euphemistically likes to call it, “euthanasia”) is a disease for which there is no cure, Pacelle can no longer cavalierly celebrate the status quo. He has to at least pretend that he thinks it is unacceptable and that HSUS is trying to do something about it.
As No Kill advocates seek to reform their cruel, kill-happy shelters by openly and publicly exposing them—an act HSUS once successfully kept in check by maligning as heresy—HSUS is no longer asking us to join them in celebrating the institutions responsible for the systematic killing of millions of animals every year. Gone is the language of “pet overpopulation;” gone is their promotion of “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week.” In their place is language finally recognizing that which No Kill advocates have known and been seeking to address for nearly two decades now: that it is our shelters that need reforming, not the American public. Yet, tragically, while HSUS’ language may be changing due to our intense pressure, their actions, as AB 2343 demonstrates, have yet to. HSUS is still asking us to join them on Fantasy Island, though one of a different kind. While we are no longer directed to pass the blame to the public and accept the killing as a “kindness,” we are asked to believe that while our shelters need reforming, we have no idea how we can do so and therefore must “experiment” with “new strategies.” This is a new and different kind of lie for Pacelle, but it is just as deadly and just as defeatist all the same.
As we bury HSUS’ dead legislation, I want to close this latest chapter in the tragic and ongoing “HSUS vs. the No Kill Movement” story with a postmortem. We learn from the past by studying it so that in the future, we can be wiser and better prepared to face its challenges. As HSUS evolves its strategy, as it seeks to co-opt the language of the movement to end shelter killing but not its mission, we must be on guard against Pacelle’s efforts to cloak his disingenuous and dangerously misinformed agenda in the mantel of No Kill. Following is a response to Pacelle’s ongoing, yet evolving, pattern of duplicity:
According to Pacelle, “Giving shelters the option to move much faster on adoption and transfer to rescues when they are handling cats without identification is a novel, progressive step forward. Cats in this class are very unlikely to be reclaimed by owners – for 15 years, the reclaim rate in California has stood at two percent. We can give 10 times that number of cats a much better chance at survival by moving them out soon after intake, rather than forcing shelters to hold them for a set number of days before making them available.”
Pacelle doesn’t tell you why such a small percentage of cats are reclaimed by their families because he doesn’t know himself, which is why AB 2343 would have made things worse. First, more cats are not reclaimed because shelters kill them before their families have a reasonable chance to find them. In California, the existing holding period is a paltry 72 hours. Only one state has a holding period lower than California. The answer here is to increase the holding period, not shorten it. Second, there are many reasons why cats end up at shelters as strays, but a number of them are not even lost. Frequently, they are taken to the shelter by neighbors or others who assume they are lost when they are not. Once again, these cats are killed because of the inadequate holding period and not because there is no one to claim them. Third, low return rates for cats are also caused by misguided lost and found techniques on the part of an uninformed family, because shelter staff are often ignorant of proper techniques to search for lost cats and thus fail to educate families in a manner that will lead to fewer impounds and greater reclaims, because some cats do not enter shelters for several weeks after a family has already stopped looking (fearing the worst), and also because of the failure of shelters to match lost reports with the found cats entering their facilities.
The answer to the various reasons as to why more cats are not reclaimed by their families is not to strip families of their rights by eliminating a reclaim period altogether when those cats lose their collars or don’t have one, but by regulating shelters and mandating training so they do a better job. In fact, shelters which do a better job at these things vastly increase their reclaim rates for cats: 22% across all shelters in Colorado (about the same as the dog reclaim rate nationally), and even higher in other North American communities. The Pacelle-Fearing proposal not only counters compelling evidence which disproves the perceived “need” for it, but would in fact exacerbate, rather than fix, the causes of the currently low reclaim rates of cats in California shelters. In other words, the fault for low reclaim rates for cats lies with the shelter and Pacelle is using the poor performance of those shelters as a reason to undermine protections that people in California have a right to expect of their tax-funded institutions. Finally, regardless of the numbers, that not allowing people any time to reclaim their cats is an obvious threat to the deep and meaningful relationship between people and their cats must be pointed out to HSUS which has grown astronomically wealthy trumpeting the value of the “human-animal bond” adds another layer of absurdity to the already bewildering necessity of this discussion, one based on HSUS’ astounding assertion that the citizens of California should immediately lose claims to their animals—often cherished family members—should they ever accidentally end up at a shelter they fund in part expressly for such purpose.
According to Pacelle, studies prove that giving cats to others on intake “will reduce overcrowding, disease, and result in more lives saved.”
None of the studies stand for the proposition Pacelle, Fearing, and others at HSUS claim. The first is a study which shows that the likelihood of an animal being reunited with their human caretakers is greater for cats if they are allowed to remain where they are rather than being impounded: 13 times more likely to be returned home by non-shelter means (such as returning home on their own) than through the pound. Had Pacelle actually looked at that study, he would have immediately seen why these results do not support the HSUS bill. It would be one thing if they added a provision, as I recommended, that the holding period should not apply for cats who are sterilized and then returned. It does not further the conclusion of this study to give the cat to someone else.
The second study purports to show that the longer a cat is in a shelter, the greater chance of the cat getting sick, which then results in the cat being killed for being sick. That is why Pacelle claims it will reduce disease and save more lives. What he ignores is that shelters should not be killing sick cats. They should be providing them medical care, something that has been written in true shelter reform bills in Texas, New York, Minnesota, and even California, all of which HSUS has fought against. More on point, 72 hours—the current enforceable California holding period for stray cats—is already early release. According to the study, between day 0 and day 5, there is only a 0.01 increase in the number of sick cats. Being allowed to shorten the hold from 72 hours to zero will barely move the dial on feline disease. What it will do is codify the pernicious idea that cats’ relationships with their families are less valuable than dogs, and put California in the position of going backward instead of forward in the sheltering field.
Similarly, a third study relied on by HSUS looked at factors that lead to the development of feline respiratory disease in shelters. But contrary to Pacelle’s claim, that study found that length of stay wasn’t really the determining factor. No surprise as Pacelle didn’t read that one, either. A poorly run shelter leads to disease, not how long a cat stays in the shelter. Poorly run shelters tend to have longer lengths of stay, terrible adoption programs, and worse shelter medicine practices than progressive, successful shelters.
Reforming shelters to ensure they are run with compassion, integrity, and in line with the most up-to-date and innovative sheltering and veterinary protocols would go a long way towards reducing disease rates. The choice is not, and never has been, that we either allow our shelters to make homeless animals sick through shoddy cleaning and care, or we must “protect” animals from the poor care of shelters by allowing shelters to give cats to others, including for-profit companies, the moment they enter the shelter. Rather, the animals deserve, and as taxpayers we have a right to expect, that our taxpayer funded institutions do the job they are paid in part to do: care for lost animals in a safe, clean environment until they can be reclaimed by their families.
Although it should go without saying that animals should not be released to for-profit companies who want to sell animals for harmful purposes like dissection or animal research, had someone with any intelligence at HSUS drafted the bill and they were committed to immediate release for cats in order to free up cage space, they could have done it in a way that did not cause immeasurable heartbreak by breaking up families or by violating the constitution: allow shelters to place cats in the care of non-profit rescue groups immediately, but give families the same right of reclaim for the first 72 hours as if the cats were still in the shelter, with a mechanism for people knowing that their cats are still in the legal and constructive custody of the shelter.
In fact, I was working on compromise language on this score with HSUS when Fearing sabotaged the talks in order to defend the gas chamber and heart-sticking in Minnesota because a regressive, kill shelter asked her to. Such a bill would have met the goals Pacelle claims he is seeking, while protecting animals and their human families. But that of course requires someone intelligent (or at least truly dedicated) working at HSUS. And when your boss is Wayne Pacelle who lacks vision, pretends to know more than he does, has never run a shelter, cites studies without reading them, and betrays the animals simply because a kill shelter asks him to (or a football team offers his organization $50,000), that is not likely to happen.
According to Pacelle, “advocates in California were divided on the issue, with much of that dissension based on a false understanding of the bill and the political process.”
In truth, it was Pacelle and Fearing who had a false understanding of the bill and the political process. In addition to their own incompetence, these are just two of the many reasons why HSUS wrote such a bungled, badly thought out, disastrous bill. In fact, given the manner in which Pacelle described the bill in the first public statement about the bill, it is virtually certain that he did not even bother reading it before he sent out a plea for people to write in support of it. Again, I turn to Professor Bryant, the primary author of the 1998 Animal Shelter Law which AB 2343 sought to weaken:
[P]eople should consider the possibility that Wayne Pacelle had not actually read AB 2343 before he sent the alert and that he was instead relying on someone else’s judgment about AB 2343. Look at the alert and ask yourself if there is any indication that he read it. Certainly he does not encourage YOU to read AB 2343. He appears to expect blind reliance, perhaps just like his own. A scary possibility is that no one at HSUS other than Jennifer Fearing actually read AB 2343 before that alert went out. And even scarier is the possibility that Assemblymember Mike Gatto has not read AB 2343, either.
Even if Pacelle did read the bill (a dubious proposition), it would be wrong to assume that simply because he oversees a large, national animal protection group, that he is therefore qualified in matters of companion animal legislation or even sheltering in general. First of all, neither he nor anyone in the HSUS sheltering department has ever worked in a shelter, let alone one that has created No Kill. And Fearing, their chief lobbyist on sheltering legislation (and the primary architect of the bill) has likewise never run a shelter, never worked in a shelter, is not a lawyer, and as the disastrous implications of AB 2343 which she wrote reveal, ignorant of basic principles of law. Despite $140,000,000 in annual revenues, HSUS typically does not seek out the “best and the brightest” to represent shelter animals. And no better proof of that exists than AB 2343 which had the potential, in one fell swoop, to preempt all local laws against selling shelter animals to research, eliminate holding periods entirely, and give for-profit companies more rights to cats than their human families.
According to Pacelle, opposition to AB 2343 means “Keeping the status quo, and failing to develop and apply new strategies, is very unlikely to help animals facing euthanasia in the months and years ahead.”
To call his claim Orwellian, given that both he and Fearing have made a career out of fighting shelter reform and defending the status quo, would be an understatement. As recently as one month ago, they fought a bill that would have banned the gas chamber, banned heart-sticking, ended convenience killing, stopped the all-too-common practice of immediately killing animals who are surrendered by their families with no holding period or chance at adoption at all, and would have made it illegal for shelters to kill animals when non-profit rescue groups are willing to save them. In fact, HSUS fought against the 1998 Animal Shelter Law in California when it was first introduced, supported the claim that it should not be enforced, and supported the Governor’s attempt to repeal it in 2012. We shouldn’t be surprised that they would introduce a bill to weaken it now. Across the nation and on numerous occasions, HSUS has worked with the directors of regressive kill shelters to successfully defeat shelter reform laws. The HSUS record on this score is without mercy.
According to Pacelle, “when lawmakers are put in the position of having to choose between different segments or players in the animal movement, it doesn’t inspire confidence in our cause, and it leaves lawmakers confused.”
Wrong. Not fighting AB 2343 out of misplaced deference to a corrupt organization just because it claims to be about animal protection even as its legislation would subvert rather than further that very outcome would have been a dereliction of our duty to animals, not the other way around. Pacelle’s statement also asks us to buy into a false assertion that a blow to HSUS is a blow to the animal protection movement itself. But HSUS is not the animal protection movement and the animal protection movement certainly isn’t HSUS. To the extent that we can educate legislators and the American public to the fact that HSUS is, in truth, a lobbyist for killing shelters, rather than for the animals those shelters kill, the closer we come to neutralizing their harmful opposition to No Kill and their ability to pursue dangerous bills such as AB 2343. HSUS may financially benefit from their name and a public image as an animal protection organization, but that is not how they actually behave. Pretending otherwise would not result in substantive improvement for animals entering shelters, it would undermine it.
The fact that animal lovers won on this score and Gatto was forced to retract a very harmful bill is in no way a disservice to animals; it protected them. And Mike Gatto learned a valuable lesson: when it comes to shelter reform, blind faith in HSUS puts you on the wrong side of the animals, animal lovers, progress, and history. To the extent that this might make Gatto and others less likely to introduce harmful legislation proposed by HSUS in the future, the animals, again, come away the winners.
The death of AB 2343, the neutering of Pacelle, the eroding of HSUS’ reputation among legislators, and the humiliation of Jennifer Fearing who went into hiding when the controversy erupted by pretending to be on vacation and refusing to answer any questions about the bill she wrote, are good for animals entering shelters.
Though HSUS took a huge black eye from this incident, the animal protection movement is stronger for it. Together, we demonstrated that when it comes to our beloved companion animals, it is their true interests, and not the prerogatives of corrupt organizations like HSUS which feed off their plight, that matter most. And just as important, we sent a strong, clear and unequivocal message to HSUS that they neither speak for us nor the animals, and that they pretend to do so at their own peril.
Well done, fellow animal lovers, well done.
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Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902
And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902