A No Kill Nation By 2005… 2010… 2015… 2020

October 21, 2014

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We’re coming to the tail end of 2014. In two months, 2015 will be upon us. That is the year, according to Maddie’s Fund, that every shelter, in every city, in every county, in every state in the country will be No Kill. In 2015, according to the national organization that promised to “revolutionize the status of companion animals” by infusing “megabucks into every community,” not a single shelter will kill a single healthy or treatable animal. It won’t matter whether the animals are young or old, healthy or sick, unweaned, injured, or traumatized. It won’t matter if they are cats who are not socialized to people or dogs labeled “pit bulls.” Not a single one will be dying anywhere. And we won’t even have had to fight for it. In fact, Maddie’s Fund says we aren’t allowed to stand up and fight for it. That is because “no one wants to kill” and “we all want the same thing” and the shelter director who orders dogs and cats shoved into gas chambers cares as much as you do and the workers who neglect and abuse the animals actually love them. And saying otherwise is just “bash and trash.”

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I don’t need to tell any of you that this is all at best, wishful thinking, and, at its worst, a damn lie. In 2000, shortly after its founding, Maddie’s Fund promised us a No Kill nation by 2005. In 2005, they promised it would happen by 2010. And in 2010, they said 2015. Of course, by the third go around, they stopped guaranteeing it and started to hedge: it became “probable,” they were “bullish” and “optimistic” about it. But the intent was the same: if we wait five years (in New York City, in Los Angeles, and everywhere else), the killing would stop. But here’s the rub: despite 15 years of promises, hundreds of millions of dollars in grants (not all of it for animal causes), and dozens of what they promised would be “game changing” programs that failed to deliver the promised results, they have not created a single No Kill community. Not a single one.

Shelter killing remains the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the U.S. with millions losing their lives every year. And the reason for that statistic is as shocking as the statistic itself. Most animals are being killed in shelters not because there are too many, too few homes, because people are irresponsible, or because people have failed to sterilize their animals. Animals are dying in shelters for one reason: because people in shelters are killing them.

Maddie’s Fund may be maintaining the delusion that No Kill will happen magically a few months from now or they may be planning their fourth “game changing” announcement that it will happen in yet another five years, in 2020, hoping everyone forgets about their prior claims. I don’t know and I don’t care and neither should you. No Kill is not going to happen by pretending that shelter directors who are thoroughly reconciled to the killing and collectively inject millions of animals with fatal doses of poison in spite of readily available lifesaving alternatives do not want to kill or want the same thing as we do. Nor will they magically wake up on January 1 and say to themselves, “Today is the day I will finally stop killing.”

If you want No Kill in your hometown and your local shelter director refuses to implement common-sense, cost-effective alternatives to killing, you are going to have to do what the people in successful communities across the United States have already done—fight for it. Like they did in Austin. And Reno. And Ithaca. And elsewhere. Regardless of what the “experts” at Maddie’s Fund tell you.

Here’s how: http://bit.ly/RB7B5a

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Redemption Wins Award for Best Film

October 15, 2014

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I am happy to report that Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America won the audience award for best film at the San Pedro International Film Festival. When I first announced that the film was accepted at SPIFF, shelter killing advocates (yes, there are such people) contacted the festival and told them not to show it and if the festival did, they would protest. Of course, you don’t tell a festival that focuses on films to censor films, but logic has never been the naysayers strong suit (if they were logical, they would embrace No Kill). This award proves them wrong and proves what I have said all along: my love for animals and your love for animals is not unique. It resides in most people. And because it resides in most people, our job as activists is to give them the information they need to cut through the misinformation about the “necessity” of killing and to give them the tools they need to help bring that killing to an end. When we do so, we’ll have every single one of them willing to follow us into a more compassionate future for shelter animals.

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A lot of people deserve credit for the award including Sagacity Productions, Director Russ Barry, Producer Bonnie Silva, Narrator Don Morrow, Composer Sean Hathaway, the activists we interviewed like Larry Tucker, Ryan Clinton, Valerie Hayes and many others, the many fine actors like Michael Sayers who played the great Henry Bergh, as well as the entire cast and crew, too many to name here.

But the ultimate credit goes to the film’s benefactor, Debi Day. Debi brings to this cause a powerful combination of qualities: means and generosity. Debi’s philanthropy has enabled educating a wider audience about the myths and misperceptions that lie at the heart of shelter killing and spreading the good news that there is a humane, life-affirming alternative to that killing. Thanks to Debi, this film will serve an important role in reaching new people and moving the No Kill revolution towards its inevitable, and hopefully not too distant, victory. I remain grateful for her kindness, her unique and special contribution to our cause and the potential for animals her assistance helps to be realized. Thank you Debi.

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While Tallahassee, FL is the only city left on the roughly 30-City No Kill is Love 2014 tour, there may be other opportunities to see it. We’ve been invited to do a private screening for the staff at one of the largest companies in the U.S. We’ve been invited to other film festivals. And it will be featured at the No Kill Conference in Washington, D.C. (everyone who attends will also receive a free copy of the film and a companion guide). In addition, there is a chance we may be able to screen it in a few other cities. Finally, once all these events are completed, the film will be available for rent/sale on Amazon. Stay tuned…

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When No Kill Isn’t

October 14, 2014

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As the No Kill movement gets larger and more communities improve rates of lifesaving, we need more rigor in defining what constitutes a No Kill community. Elsewhere, I’ve posted why a 90% rate of lifesaving in and of itself does not actually constitute No Kill. Admittedly, I have been guilty of commingling the two—90% and No Kill—and we shouldn’t.

There are, for example, shelters that save over 90% of the animals—in some cases, well over 90%—but still kill healthy and treatable dogs and cats, including community cats who are not social with people. There are, in fact, communities with save rates approaching 98% who still kill healthy and treatable feral cats. Moreover, some communities use coalition-wide rates which can exceed 90%, irrespective of pound rates which may be lower. They also exclude “owner requested killing” and deaths in kennels as doing so reduces even the coalition-wide save rates below 90%.

In addition, there are shelters that save well over 90% of dogs and cats but either do not take in non-dog and cat species (and they shouldn’t if all they are going to do is kill them, but nonetheless leave these animals with no protections of any kind) or, worse, take in and kill rabbits, guinea pigs, and other animals. In the 1990s, for example, while the San Francisco SPCA was making progress for dogs and cats and helping spearhead a No Kill revolution in this country, there were no programs for rabbits at the SPCA, the species of shelter animal killed in the third largest number in shelters across the country. There were no programs for hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, and other animals who were still being killed in large numbers (as a percentage of their total intakes) at the San Francisco pound. Nor was there a No Kill guarantee for injured but rehabilitatable wild animals brought to the shelter, such as pigeons even though such birds, if unable to be released safely into the wild, should be adopted out as companions rather than killed. In fact, I share my home with two such pigeons. Because the city pound itself was not interested in putting in place programs to save these animals and efforts to get leadership at the San Francisco SPCA to do so were rebuffed, non-dog and cat species continued—and continue to this very day—to die in large numbers in that city. They still continue to die in other cities where the No Kill guarantee does not extend to every species entering those shelters. It can and it should.

All of these communities have called themselves “No Kill” and they aren’t. The penultimate question is always whether the shelter is saving all animals entering the shelter who are healthy and treatable, rigorously defined.

To call a community that still kills healthy and treatable dogs, cats (including community cats who are not social to people), rabbits, guinea pigs, and others “No Kill” without more because they save 90% of dogs and cats is not only misleading, it may in fact be fundamentally dishonest.

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Redemption Comes to Los Angeles

September 10, 2014

Join me on October 11 in Los Angeles for a screening of Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America.

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Redemption is an official selection of the San Pedro International Film Festival. The film will screen on Saturday, October 11. This will be the only Southern California showing. Advanced tickets are required.

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HSUS Celebrates the Killing of Animals

September 1, 2014

And pays people to eat them.

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Nearly 25 years ago when I decided to dedicate my life to the cause of animal rights, I was faced with an important decision: where to focus my attention? Given my concern for all animals, it was a tough choice and one I weighed very carefully. Should I focus on animals used in research? Animals raised and killed for “food”? Animals in captivity? Wild animals? Both then as now, the list of issues needing attention was a long one and as a young law student at Stanford, I focused on all these issues through the campus animal rights group I founded. But several experiences helped me to answer the calling I eventually chose after graduation: working to end the killing of companion animals in American shelters.

First, I was influenced by a mother who was the neighborhood cat lady. Second, I was fortunate to have life-altering experiences working with two local No Kill shelters while attending law school. Third, I was deeply troubled by the animal protection movement’s philosophical embrace of the killing of companion animals. Finally, I was inspired by the legal and societal precedent-setting potential for all animals embodied in the concern and love most Americans already have for companion animals. As a result, I decided to focus most of my time and energy on an issue which I saw almost no other activists with an animal-rights orientation addressing: shelter killing.

Over the last two decades, that is precisely what I have done. As a former director of two of the most successful shelters in the nation and the current Executive Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization working to bring an end to the systematic killing of animals in shelters, companion animals are the animals on whom I have focused most of my professional time and energy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the suffering or plight of other animals any less. And that is why I have always lived my life according to a simple ethos: do no harm; a maxim that is reflected in what I eat, what I wear, how I spend my consumer dollars, how I respond to the animals in need who cross my path, and how I am raising my children, among other things. It is also why my wife and I authored All American Vegan, a vegan primer and cookbook that seeks to inspire other No Kill advocates and everyday dog and cat lovers to likewise embrace a compassionate way of eating.

Nonetheless, in spite of these efforts to promote veganism and my long, personal identification as an animal rights activist, some people—often those new to my Facebook page or the cause of No Kill—have certain preconceived notions about who I am or should be, and what I should be allowed to say on my own Facebook page (a form of censorship with which they would no doubt take great offense were similar limitations to be dictated to them about permissible content on their own page). And often, that means not only surprise and frustration but sometimes even anger when I post about other animal related issues that matter deeply to me but do not concern the plight of companion animals.

Sadly, it seems that there will always be a portion of the followers on my page who I cannot please: animal rights activists who accuse me of not caring about other animals beyond dogs and cats simply because I have chosen to focus most of my effort on those animals (a criticism I doubt they would ever make of other animal rights activists focusing exclusively on more traditional animal rights issues such as animal agriculture or fur), and on the flip side, No Kill advocates who attack me for expressing concern about other animals beyond dogs and cats, such as a pit bull advocate who called me an “extremist” for a comment I made on the Facebook page of a No Kill colleague in defense of chickens after other No Kill advocates defended their killing. To the latter group, the fact that I do not wish any animal to experience pain, suffering or a premature death, instead of limiting my compassion to dogs and cats labels me an “extremist.” My response? To thine own self be true.

And that is why when I see the nation’s large, so-called “animal protection” groups—most notably, the HSUS, the ASPCA and AHA—behaving as unethically towards cows and chickens as they have historically behaved towards dogs and cats, I must say so. Not only do the animals these groups are throwing under the bus in deference to those who systematically abuse and kill them deserve a voice, too, but there is value in exposing the hypocrisy and philosophical rot that permeates these corrupt institutions at every level. Often, people want to compartmentalize the malfeasance of these groups: to argue that their different divisions are separate and distinct from one another and that an institutional culture which allows for the thwarting of shelter reform efforts, which defends shelter killing and even celebrates shelter directors who oversee facilities where animals have suffered horrible abuse and senseless deaths, is none-the-less capable of a morally consistent and effective agenda for wild animals, animals abused and killed in agriculture or in other spheres. As several recent campaigns by these groups to promote the lie of “humane” meat clearly demonstrate, not only is this view ill-informed and naïve, but dead wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, Jennifer and I ate at one of the newest locations for a chain of vegan restaurants whose food we absolutely love: Veggie Grill. And like virtually every other time we have eaten at Veggie Grill, we were thrilled to see the restaurant not only packed, but filled with a broad array of people from all possible demographics—old and young, male and female, entire families, businessmen in suits and tattooed hipsters. This popularity is also reflected in the expansion of Veggie Grill which has opened 25 locations since its debut in 2006. With delicious, faux meat sandwiches that mimic the real thing, Veggie Grill is proof positive that if you make it delicious and familiar tasting, vegan food can have tremendously broad appeal, especially among an American public that is becoming increasingly conscious about the animal suffering and killing enabled by their consumer choices.

Perhaps it was this awareness that compelled the pizzeria next door to attempt to compete by advertising itself in two ways. On one side of the door was writing upon the window advertising its wide array of vegetarian offerings. I was happy to see a pizzeria using its meatless options as a possible selling point. But my enthusiasm for the pressure Veggie Grill was obviously placing on the pizzeria was immediately eviscerated when I noted what was written on the other side of the entry door, a statement so oxymoronic as to make my head spin: “cruelty-free meat.”

Although the number of companies that disingenuously refer to their meats, eggs, and dairy products as “humane” has rapidly increased over the last several years, I had yet to encounter such a blatant co-option and misappropriation of that particular term and certainly never before to describe meat. Historically, the term “cruelty-free” has been used to describe products made without animal testing. It was coined by a vegan who never would have imagined it would someday be used to describe animals killed for food. But sadly, as more and more companies scramble to respond to a public that is increasingly weighing the moral implications of their food choices, lies like this are becoming more common. Enabling its spread are corrupt “animal protection” groups such as HSUS, the ASPCA, and the American Humane Association which not only pay lip service to the lie of “humane meat,” but get rich in the process of doing so. There is a lot of money to be made partnering with the people who harm animals, and these groups are feeding at their troughs.

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Case in point: two weeks ago, HSUS unrolled its “Hoofin’ It” campaign, sponsoring a week long event in Denver celebrating the killing and eating of animals. “On Sunday you can get bison; Monday ‘sheep is the star’; Tuesday is pig night; Wednesday it’s cow”.

The catch: HSUS claims they were raised and slaughtered “humanely.” But these claims are untrue by definition. There is no such thing as “humanely” killing an animal who does not want to die, and killing animals is an inherent part of the production of meat, eggs and dairy products, as are confinement, reproductive manipulation, social deprivation, and physical mutilation, all ending with getting their throats slit. Indeed, on the Hoofin’ It website, they boast of some animals being killed—or what they euphemistically call “harvested and processed”—after living only 24-30 months despite a natural lifespan of 25 years. We’re told that the methods they use are important for one primary reason: they make the animals more “delicious.”

 

Not to be outdone, the ASPCA gave money—$50,000 in donations given to them to save animals—to a for-profit company so that they can kill more chickens. And AHA, the long the ignored stepchild of the “big three,” decided to top them all: awarding Foster Farms the American Humane Association’s “Humane Certified” label which now appears on the package of every dead Foster Farms chicken sold in America, in exchange for an undisclosed sum of money and agreement to standards which often do little more than codify cruel industry practices. Like HSUS and the ASPCA, AHA lulls people into a false sense of complacency that supporting a company which abuses and kills millions of animals a year is consistent with a belief in animal protection. And what, exactly, do they mean by “humane”?

  • Does AHA prevent animals from being kept in crowded indoor cages in warehouses? No.
  • Does AHA require chickens to be allowed to go outside, to get fresh air and sunlight, to be able to act in accordance with all of their instincts to ensure their happiness and psychological as well as physical well-being? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit beaks from being cut off? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit the use of masticators—giant machines in which unwanted, live baby chicks are ground up while alive and fully conscious? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit chickens from being hung upside down by the legs and feet (legs and feet that are often suffering from terribly painful joint diseases), being electrically stunned, and having their heads cut off? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit the cutting of the teeth of piglets? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit cutting off the tails off pigs? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit the use of electrical shock on cows? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit the use of restraints to forcibly inseminate a cow or a pig? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit the use of a gas chamber to kill despite calling it “inhumane to all animals”? No.
  • Does AHA prohibit the castration of newborn calves by a rubber band being placed around their scrotums to cut off blood supply? No.

Finally, under what warped definition of “humane” can a process that ends with animals having their throats slit possibly qualify? The kind where AHA is paid to say it is.

Whether it packaged as “humane meat” or “pet overpopulation,” the idea that killing animals is acceptable if done for the right reasons, by the right people or under the right circumstances are merely different manifestations of the same insidious lie that permeates and hinders the animal protection movement at the beginning of the 21st century: that killing animals who are not suffering can ever be humane. It can’t. It isn’t. And if HSUS, the ASPCA, and AHA are going to claim to speak on behalf of animals and raise money off their plight, then morality and integrity compel them to challenge and stand up to this pernicious idea, not perpetuate it, even if it upsets their donors, their corporate handlers, or the people on their Facebook pages.

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