No Bunny Left Behind

October 31, 2014


Finding the City of Alameda’s animal shelter is a challenge. As I set out for a meeting there, it struck me as I drove into the parking lot that GPS has probably saved a lot of lives in shelters across the country. It is set deep in the back of an industrial zone, past waste management and other government buildings, down a dead end street. As many shelters across the country are, it was purposely built in the cheapest way, in an out of the way location, to warehouse and kill animals at the lowest possible cost. And once, that is what they did. At one point, refusing to ignore the lack of veterinary care for the animals and unacceptable rates of killing, the volunteers revolted and the city fired them all. But that was another time, another administration, worlds away from where the shelter is today.

By 2010, with rising costs, the City was spending close to $1,000,000 a year running the shelter and was looking to find a way out. Enter the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter (FAAS). Almost three years ago, this group of volunteers put in a bid to take over running it, offering to do it for $300,000 a year. The group fundraises to make up the difference. In all fairness, the City’s police department continues to run animal control field services, but the deal—which the City accepted—nonetheless amounted to a significant savings: about half a million dollars annually. It turned out to be the classic win-win. Today, FAAS saves well over 90% of all animals who enter the shelter. And while there is always room for improvement, on my recent visit, it showed. At the shelter, I met committed staff members, well-cared for animals, and animal control officers coming and going with a smile on their faces, the look of people satisfied with a job well done. As soon as I walked in, someone said hello, asked me if I need help, told me about the 16 white kittens they had, and asked if I wanted to adopt one, all before I had the opportunity to say hello back. What a breath of fresh air.

They are part of a growing number of shelters that have rejected the excuses of why ending the killing animals is impossible, of why things have to be done the same way year after year, of why there is no choice but to accept the deadly results. And they are not alone. While I was at the Alameda shelter, I received this comment on my Facebook page from someone in Petaluma, another city in the San Francisco Bay Area once beset by public acrimony over poor care of animals and high rates of killing (it has been slighted edited for readability):

“We figured out how to save over 97% of ALL our animals in an open admission city pound. By doing so, we have tons of donations, tons of volunteers, and tons of happy adopters. We run out of animals! In my experience, animal advocates arguing that we ‘have to kill’ animals (followed by the usual excuses…) is false… Kill shelters are on the way out. Modern, high achieving shelters are going to make sure of that.”

The City of Alameda is living proof.


Although my meeting was with a human, I met with some kittens, too. The two kittens above are just a small number of the dozens available for adoption. There were dogs of all sizes. And a fair number of rabbits.


I was glad to see that in addition to dogs and cats, no bunny was left behind


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No Kill Is Love Tour 2014

October 28, 2014

Thank you to everyone who came to one of the dozens of screenings we had around the country for Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America, including the San Pedro International Film Festival where it won the audience award for best film and the Torchlight Film Program at Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts. The tour took me to Minneapolis, the San Francisco Bay Area, Ft. Lauderdale, Nashville, Cleveland, Sacramento, Denver, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Austin, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Charlotte, Northwest Arkansas, Albuquerque, Detroit, Chicago, Modesto, Ithaca, Buffalo, Houston, Los Angeles, and Tallahassee. Many people flew to the screenings and others drove over 8 hours to see it. Many of the cities included an after-party, some had live music, others had red carpets, vegan food, a post-film seminar on building a No Kill community, Q&A, and/or plenty of press.

The tour could not have been possible without the help of a lot of people, including those who sponsored events, who volunteered, who helped to promote it, and so much more. A big, deep, heartfelt thank you to all of you, too many to name.

Thank you to Mike Fry and his team at Animal Ark for making the world premier such a memorable event: a stunning theater, live music, vegan food, red carpet, and more. Thank you as well to the cast and crew including Sagacity Productions, Director Russ Barry, Producer Bonnie Silva, Narrator Don Morrow, Composer Sean Hathaway, the activists we interviewed in the film such as 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, also too many to name here.

But the ultimate thank you goes to the film’s benefactor, Debi Day. 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.


All told, over 5,000 people in 27 cities saw the film during the tour. 


People arriving to the world premier of Redemption in Minneapolis. 


The Minneapolis premier was a family affair.


“And that laugh… wrinkles your nose, Touches my foolish heart…” Dancing with my wife at the premier in Minneapolis.


Without Debi Day’s generosity, the film would not have been possible. Here, Debi Day and Marc Claus arrive at the premier in Minneapolis. 


Minneapolis premier host Mike Fry and his husband George Hamm celebrate the release of Redemption at the screening’s after party.


On the red carpet at the San Pedro International Film Festival (SPIFF) in Los Angeles.


Official Selection: SPIFF.


Redemption won the audience award for Best Film at SPIFF.

Ryan 1

At the State Theater in Austin, TX, one of the communities featured in the film.

Ryan 2

Receiving a proclamation at the Austin screening from City Council Member Mike Martinez naming August 3 Nathan Winograd Day in the City of Austin for my role in helping it become the largest city in America with at least a 90% save rate.


Attendees in many cities received a free film companion.

Las Vegas

Some cities were modest in size, but the vast majority saw hundreds of people turn out to see the film. Cities like New York City sold out and many people had to be turned away.


Screenings were held in various venues around the country including performing arts centers, universities, and commercial theaters like this one in Chicago.


At the Ithaca, NY, premier, one of the cities featured in the film.


A lot of people helped make the tour a reality and a success. Here, I’m with the team of No Kill Colorado who helped bring the film to Denver.


I met a lot of great people who are working hard to make a lifesaving difference in their communities.

Amazing Grace

One of the many four legged attendees, Amazing Grace survived a Georgia gas chamber and became the namesake for “Grace’s Law” which banned gas killing of dogs and cats in Georgia pounds. Here, she gets a belly rub at the Atlanta screening of the film.


During the tour, I’ve met some really great “people” including Bridget at the Nashville screening. Two legs, two wheels, all heart.


The tour was kind to all animals. There was plenty of delicious vegan food at many of the events.


Food on the road can be sketchy, but thanks to No Kill Maricopa County, in Phoenix I was treated to the Big Wac, the best vegan burger in America.


It was all part of the 2014 No Kill is Love tour. 

While the tour has come to an end, I’ll announce other film festivals in the coming months, I’ve been invited to screen the film for staff at one of the most influential companies in the U.S., attendees of the national No Kill Conference in Washington, D.C., will receive a free copy, and some time in 2015, the film will be available as a DVD for rent/purchase. Stay tuned….



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An Embrace of SNR, With Caveats

October 23, 2014

cat close up 2 

For years, No Kill advocates have been promoting TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release*) for what were termed “feral cats,” cats who live outdoors and are not social with humans. Feral means an animal who has changed from being domesticated to being wild or untamed. This is not accurate for many free-living cats who have been born and raised without human contact. Moreover, the term is used to invoke the false notion that these cats are not part of the natural environment and therefore do not belong there. Thankfully, even as TNR has gone mainstream, the term “feral” has fallen into disuse, in favor of the more accurate term “community cat” or “free-living cat.” But at the same time, community cat has come to encompass a larger number of cats than those once deemed “feral.” Whereas “feral” denoted those cats who are not social with humans, “community cat” makes no such distinction. Any cat without a permanent address, social or unsocial with humans, is considered a community or free-living cat. At the same time as the movement has shifted from feral to free-living, therefore, TNR has morphed into SNR (Shelter, Neuter, Release) for these cats, irrespective of their sociability to humans. Should No Kill advocates support SNR for community cats who are social with humans with the same enthusiasm they supported it for feral cats who are not? With caveats.

For most of the history of animal sheltering in the United States, feral cats who ended up in shelters faced an almost certain death sentence. Without a human address, there was no one to reclaim these animals. Fearful of humans, they were not considered candidates for traditional adoption and were not afforded the opportunity. Combined with the misconception that they disproportionately suffer without human caretakers because some claimed they “belong” in homes, the tragic result has been the execution of virtually all healthy and self-sufficient free-living cats in shelters across the nation. Such killing was the status quo until cat lovers began advocating for the alternative of neutering and releasing them back into their habitats.

In a TNR program—an essential component of the No Kill Equation—free-living cats who are not social with humans and end up in the shelter are neutered and released back into their habitats. The shelter also works with local feral cat caregivers who trap the cats for purposes of sterilization and release. Sometimes, these cats have human caretakers who watch over them and feed them. But often, the cats who end up in shelters are like other “wild” animals, thoroughly unsocialized to humans, surviving on their own through instinct and wit and no worse off because of it.

Once in the shelter, sterilization isn’t the most important variable. The most important part of the TNR equation is the “R,” the functional equivalent of adoption. Through TNR, cat advocates have found a life-affirming way to address the dogmas which the animal protection movement itself created and expounded for decades that have been responsible for the mass slaughter of these cats. Right now, TNR is the most humane option for these cats because it assures their safety and buys them a ticket back home.

Today, many No Kill advocates are also promoting what they call SNR for all community cats, including those who are social with people; in other words, friendly cats who are adoption candidates. The reasons to do so can be compelling. First, some of these cats are not lost. They are outside, but they get lost when they are taken to a shelter. Returning them merely returns them home. Even if they were lost when they were picked up, the likelihood of being reunited with their families is greater for cats if they are allowed to remain where they are rather than being admitted to the shelter. In one study, cats were 13 times more likely to be returned home by non-shelter means (such as returning home on their own) than by a call or visit to a shelter. And another study found that people are up to three times more likely to adopt cats as neighborhood strays versus adopting from a shelter. At the same time, the risk of death for street cats in communities has been found to extremely low, with outdoor cats living roughly the same lifespan as indoor pet cats. In other words, the risk of death is lower and the chance of adoption higher for cats on the streets than cats in the shelter. In a study of over 100,000 alley cats, less than one percent of those cats were suffering from debilitating conditions. As such, SNR meets the two goals of a shelter better than impoundment in a shelter does: reclaim by families or adoption into a new home. In addition, SNR saves lives from shelters which have not comprehensively implemented the programs and services of the No Kill Equation. Where the alternative to SNR is death, SNR, of course, is always the preferred outcome.

But admittedly, SNR for friendly community cats isn’t what we did when I ran an animal control shelter. When they were not reclaimed, we found them homes. All of them. Moreover, if the cats are truly lost or abandoned, shelters should not forget that they have a mandate to help reunite families. Since the choice presented—SNR or death—is a false one, breaking up families by simply releasing animals back on the streets without trying to find their existing home is at odds with that mission. This view loses sight of what, in fact, is one of the primary functions and mandates of a taxpayer funded, municipal animal shelter: to provide a safe haven for the lost animals of local people and a place where they can go to find them. And if the family does not show up, if cats are truly without a human home and they are social with people, they should be given one. In fact, the shelter is obligated to find them a loving, new one. That’s their job. In other words, the reason cats are more likely to find their original home or a new one from the streets is because most shelters are run ineffectively and inefficiently, not because people aren’t looking for their cats or homes are not available. Those shelters that do a good job at both have been able to increase—by 20-fold and more—the percentage of cats reclaimed by their families, at the same time that they maintain adoption rates that allow them to save as high as 99% of all cats entering the shelter. If shelters did a better job at being shelters, therefore, not only would they have realized their mission, but SNR would not be the difference between life and death for cats it is today precisely because most shelters are poorly performing.

The bottom line is this: if shelters are going to embrace SNR, rather than guaranteed adoption, shelters should also do several other things: checking for identification, scanning for microchip, reviewing lost cat reports, knocking on doors in the neighborhood, and posting the cat’s photograph online. But that is not what groups like HSUS advocate. It is no surprise that they don’t since they have no experience running a fully functioning, successful shelter and have no idea how to create one. Instead, the only way they know how to save lives isn’t by training shelters to do the job entrusted to them and to do it well, but by telling them that they don’t have to do their jobs at all. By embracing SNR as a first choice, they have found yet another way to do so. Thankfully, this one does not involve killing and so when the choice comes down to SNR or death, SNR should be embraced time and time again. But those do not have to be the only two choices. If we reformed shelters, SNR wouldn’t be the first choice for socialized community cats: redemption and adoption would be. It would and should, however, remain the last, because killing should never be a choice at all.

* While it is popular to use “return” instead of “release,” I believe this is inaccurate unless the term return is considered expansively to include all of the outdoors. If it is not safe to return the cats to the location where they were trapped or picked up, they should be released in another location.

For further reading: The Life of a Wild Cat


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

October 21, 2014


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.”


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:


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Redemption Wins Award for Best Film

October 15, 2014


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.


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.


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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