Cooing & Cuddling Cats Saves Lives

November 30, 2015

cuddle cat

A study of shelter cats finds that cats who are gently petted and talked to by humans have a markedly lower chance of getting an upper respiratory infection. Cats who were not stroked and talked to gently were over two times more likely to get sick (due to stress) than cats who were. Ironically, many shelters do not allow people to touch the cats due to fear of disease, placing signs throughout the shelter to that effect, even though it is the absence of touching that makes it 2.4 times more likely the cat will get sick.

The study also has enormous implications for the lives of cats deemed “feral.” Cats who are labeled “feral,” “unsocial,” “fractious,” or “aggressive” are virtually all killed unless the shelter embraces neuter and release/return to field. The study found that while 18% of the cats they tested would have been deemed “feral” due to “aggression” when they started (and thus killed), none of the cats responded that way after day six. This is also true of cats who could not be touched when they arrived and were stroked “mechanically” with a fake hand.

The study concludes that “a 3-4 day holding period” is not “sufficient to differentiate non-feral from feral cats.” So not only do staff lack the expertise to make such determinations (any cat can act “feral” due to stress in a shelter) and not only is it inhumane to kill cats for behavior reasons (there is no such thing as an “irremediably psychologically suffering” cat nor a cat whose defensive behavior should ever deem them a public safety risk as cats instinctively flee risk), but these cats are killed too quickly to make a valid determination.

The conclusion: Shelters that do not have a “mental health” component (touch, talk, play through volunteers) in concert with a “physical health” component (vaccination on intake and other medical care, cleaning/disinfection) are often working at cross purposes since the two are inexorably linked.

More importantly, this study underscores how it is often the shelter’s own policies that cost cats their lives. Shelters which do not allow cats to be touched, do not allow volunteers to socialize cats, and want to reduce holding periods in order to kill cats more quickly are not operating in the best interests of cats.

The full study is here.


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Oreo & 150,000 Others

November 13, 2015


Today is the six year anniversary of the ASPCA’s killing of Oreo, an abused dog, who a No Kill sanctuary offered to save. Oreo was a one-year-old dog who was thrown off the roof of a six-floor Brooklyn apartment building in 2009. She suffered two broken legs and a fractured rib. Several of the neighbors in the building reported having heard the sound of her being beaten. The ASPCA nursed her back to health and arrested the perpetrator. They also dubbed her the “miracle dog” and fundraised off her plight, reportedly raising millions. But the miracle was short lived.

According to then-ASPCA President Ed Sayres, when Oreo recovered from her injuries, she started to show signs of aggression. After the money was counted and safely deposited into ASPCA bank accounts, Sayres made the decision to kill her. (Although there were videos taken of Oreo, the ASPCA has refused to release them and the only public documentation of Oreo is photographs of ASPCA employees standing next to and hugging her—their own faces inches from hers—which do not demonstrate any aggression).


If it was true that Oreo was still traumatized and untrusting, who could blame her? She needed time. Although the ASPCA could have cared for Oreo as long as it took to get her to trust again, Sayres refused. But others came forward to offer what the ASPCA would not: time and space to learn that not all humans are abusers. A No Kill sanctuary near the ASPCA which specializes in rehabilitating aggressive dogs (and, if that proves impossible, safely caring for them for the rest of their lives), contacted the ASPCA to ask if they could assume responsibility for Oreo. They made numerous telephone calls and sent numerous emails. They were ignored, hung-up on and lied to. Two volunteers of the group even went to the ASPCA but were escorted out after Sayres and others in charge of Oreo’s fate refused to meet with them.

On a cold, Friday morning on November 13, 2009, Oreo was killed; not by her abuser, but by those whose mission it was to protect her. The kennel that the sanctuary readied in anticipation of her arrival lay empty and unused that day, filled with a soft bed, a pool of water and several toys for her to play with. Instead, Oreo’s body was discarded in a landfill.


After Oreo was killed, “Oreo’s Law” was introduced in New York which would have made it illegal for shelters, including the ASPCA, to kill animals who rescue groups were willing to save. It was estimated that if the law passed, roughly 25,000 animals a year would be saved.

Sayres made it his personal mission to ensure that they would not be and succeeded in killing the law every year it was introduced. Tragically, national and local organizations rallied behind the ASPCA, including Best Friends, HSUS, PETA, and the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City Animals. Shelters, we were told, should not be second guessed. Thanks to them, instead of being sent to rescue, an estimated 150,000 animals have been killed since.

It is not easy to conceptualize 150,000 dead dogs and cats, animals who would have been saved had Oreo’s Law not been defeated. But if you were to weigh them, they would weigh 3,375,000 pounds, the equivalent of four Boeing 747s. If you were to put a dead body in each seat at Yankee stadium, they would fill the entire stadium… three times. If they were lined up end to end, the trail of dead bodies would be 45 miles long. It would take you 15 hours of walking to see them all.

Instead of enjoying the second chances and loving new homes rescue groups would have guaranteed them, they are dead, their bodies rotting in New York State landfills. Since then, Sayres left the ASPCA and, no surprise, took a job as a lobbyist for the puppy mill industry. He no longer has to pretend he actually cares about animals. His supporters have been silent about his new career, quietly distancing themselves from him.

Unfortunately, Sayres’ replacement Matthew Bershadker continues the tragic legacy. Bershadker put out a statement last month saying shelters should “not [be] required, to seek placements of animals being considered for euthanasia with partner 501(c) (3) animal rescue organizations.”

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Oreo would have been seven years old today.


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A Tale of Two Cities

November 9, 2015


Last month, Austin Animal Center had a 97% save rate. The month before that it was also 97%. And the month before that, it was 95%. Since 2010, Austin, TX, has had better than a 90% save rate, month after month, year after year. But drive three hours on I-35 and you’ll get to Dallas. So close and yet worlds apart.

Dallas already kills better than one out of every two animals who enter the shelter, but just announced it will round up and kill even more. This is no surprise, as Dallas Animal Services has a long history of killing in the face of alternatives, even with rescue groups en route. Even a “bucket full of kittens” who just needed TLC. Even allowing a cat to starve to death in its facility.

Instead of working diligently to end the killing by comprehensively implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, Dallas Animal Services apparently intends to increase its “live release rate” by outsourcing the killing to someone else. The city pound announced it is looking for a vendor to kill the animals on its behalf. And one city council member allegedly suggested shooting strays from helicopter gunships.

But if you criticize the shelter, if you exercise your First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, Dallas will respond by having you vilified on the Facebook page of the shelter’s “social media coordinator.” Name calling – such as referring to a rescuer as a “skank” – and fantasizing about rescuers getting mauled – that their faces get “chewed off” – is encouraged.

And if you try to do the job Dallas Animal Services is being paid to do but doesn’t – in other words, if you show compassion to a stray, hungry animal and feed him or her – you will be considered guilty of “littering” and subject to prosecution.

Hey Dallas, isn’t it time to shelter like it’s 2015, rather than 1915?

This is YOUR animal shelter. The one that blames YOU for the killing.


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The Redemption Invasion

November 3, 2015

Coming to a shelter and rescue group near you.


Over the next several weeks, we’re mailing Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America, to 3,664 shelters (and an additional 2,243 rescue groups) across the country thanks to a grant from No Kill Nation.

Why? As the film demonstrates, No Kill is a humane, sustainable, cost-effective approach that allows “open admission” animal control shelters to save all healthy and treatable animals. If the shelters that receive it are not one of them, the film will (hopefully) inspire them to become one. The No Kill Advocacy Center, my organization, also stands ready to help, with the tools they need to be successful.

Is your shelter or rescue group on the list? Let me know by clicking here.
A reminder: I’ll be in El Paso tomorrow (Wednesday, November 4) and Stockton on Saturday (November 7) screening the film and giving a presentation on building a No Kill community. Join me.

Can’t make it? Purchase the DVD by on Amazon.


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“Unadoptable” Dogs?

October 26, 2015


Dogs are under duress in shelters. Like this old man who was surrendered after his person died. Jack was described as so scared, he would not even show his face. Dogs are often killed in pounds because of “behavior” problems that deem them “unadoptable.”

Some shelters put more rigor into the process, limiting this categorization to dogs who: 1. are deemed “aggressive;” 2. have been determined to have a poor to grave prognosis for rehabilitation; and, 3. are believed to pose an immediate threat for severe bodily injury to people. While advancements in behavior medicine and sanctuary care provide lifesaving options for dogs killed in years past, these dogs are still killed, even by many shelters that embrace the No Kill philosophy. Thankfully, the numbers are very low: only 1-2% of dogs.

But even when shelters limit it to these dogs, their killing is still ethically problematic. These dogs are killed for our “needs,” not for the dogs’ own good. As such, the process by which such determinations might be made in lieu of continued treatment or in the absence of sanctuary care (which is an evolving field that will one day be the standard for such animals instead of killing) must be rigorous.

That process must take into account that sheltered animals are stressed and have experienced a recent trauma (including separation from their families). It must also rule out a medical origin for the behavior, and explore any and all possible solutions and alternative placements. One analysis that looked at two of the most popular temperament tests used in shelters found that their predictive ability was no better than a coin toss. In addition, there are cases of people falsely claiming the dog has behavior problems in order to assuage guilt for surrendering their dog, there are disgruntled neighbors and estranged spouses who surrender another’s dog to get back at them, and “bites” which turned out to provoked or an accident.

By contrast, shelters that do not use temperament testing as a “pass/fail” proposition have proven that even some dogs with multiple bite histories can be safely rehabilitated. Moreover, in a recent study conducted at a municipal shelter run under a police department, 90% of dogs who were sent to a trained and qualified foster home for further evaluation and behavior modification were rehabilitated and saved, instead of killed for aggression as they would have been in past years. This included dogs with, among other things, barrier reactivity, fear-based aggression, resource guarding, kennel stress, prey drive, and bite history. Some of the dogs also had secondary issues including extremely high energy, possible dog aggression, dog selectivity, fear of men, undersocialization, separation anxiety, and reactivity. As our understanding of dog behavior grows, so do treatment options.

As shelters nationwide achieve greater lifesaving innovation, the philosophical tension that will emerge from the continued killing of “behavior” and “aggressive” dogs must be met by greater effort and determination to provide safe, alternative placement for such animals if they truly need it. In Jack’s case, he clearly didn’t. He just needed to get the heck out of there. Here he is after he was saved and adopted out by a rescue group.



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