The Florida Companion Animal Protection Act

August 18, 2015

bottlefeeder

Today, HB 71, the Companion Animal Protection Act, was introduced in Florida. HB 71 would make it illegal for shelters to kill animals if there are empty cages or kennels, if animals can share a cage or kennel with another animal, if a foster home is available, if a rescue group is willing to take the animal, if an animal can be transferred to another shelter, if the animal can be sterilized and released, and more. Similar laws in other states save nearly 50,000 animals a year, have reduced killing statewide by 78%, have led to save rates of 94% and higher, and have cut millions of dollars in wasteful spending.

Such a law is not only necessary, reasonable and an effective means of saving lives, its passage would also bring Florida’s sheltering procedures more in line with the humane, progressive values of the American public. But I need your help in getting it passed.

The Florida Animal Control Association is run by people whose shelters, in the words of one, see their jobs as “herding” (and then killing) animals. In other words, a slaughterhouse. For shelter directors accustomed to operating their facilities with little to no oversight, no lifesaving expectations, and virtually unfettered discretion to avoid doing what is in the best interests of sheltered animals, laws like HB 71 are deeply threatening. And they will fight legislation that gives the animals a chance at life. Instead of ending up in landfills or turned into ash, these animals could be chasing balls, sleeping in the sun, curling up on laps, loving and being loved in return. If it is to have any chance at passing, we need a lot of people to demand it.

If you live in Florida, please contact your local legislator and ask them to cosponsor and support HB 71.

If you live outside of Florida, please share with those who do. You can also bring CAPA to your state.

Here is a copy of the model law: http://goo.gl/inpD68

 

Here is a free guide on how to get it introduced in your state: http://goo.gl/NRbCIQ

Photo: Orphaned animals should be fostered, not killed.

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Reform the Sierra Club

August 12, 2015

Please join me in signing a petition asking the Sierra Club to stop championing the destruction of forests, the harming of wildlife, and the spreading of thousands of gallons of toxic herbicides in the San Francisco Bay Area (yes, you read that right) by clicking here.

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Some 150 years ago, pioneers settling in San Francisco’s East Bay undertook an ambitious campaign to plant millions of trees in the Oakland and Berkeley hills which at the time were largely treeless hillsides covered in flammable grasses prone to devastating annual wildfires. Seeking to abate the risk of fire and to beautify the region, these nature loving settlers planted Monterey Pine, Acacia and Eucalyptus. Among these early planters was Joaquin Miller, celebrated “Poet of the Sierras,” father of California’s Arbor Day, and friend and colleague of Sierra Club founder, John Muir, another lover of Eucalyptus trees who likewise planted such trees around his own home.

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John Muir

When human encroachment and development in the first half of the 20th century threatened these forests, Bay Area conservationists came to their defense, founding the East Bay Regional Parks District to protect and preserve cherished forests for the benefit and enjoyment of posterity. The Sierra Club cheered. Today, the forests growing in these parks and upon other public lands are deeply beloved, iconic and character defining features of the region and, more importantly, home to millions of animals.

Tragically, today as before, the East Bay hills are again under threat, as a plan to cut down over 400,000 Monterey Pine, Acacia and Eucalyptus trees and spread thousands of gallons of toxic herbicides – 2,250 gallons in the 11 Regional Parks alone – is now underway. Yet this time, many of those who should be the trees’ most ardent champions – self-proclaimed “conservationists” – are instead the very people demanding their destruction under the myopic and discriminatory claim that trees which have blanketed the hills for well over a century, which provide stunning beauty, shady hiking trails and home to multitudes of wild animals, do not belong. In this effort, they are led not only by the East Bay Regional Parks District itself, but an organization pursuing an agenda that would be unrecognizable to its founder: the Sierra Club.

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Arguing that the plan to destroy nearly half a million trees does not go far enough, the Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit demanding that East Bay public officials cut down even more Monterey Pine, Acacia and Eucalyptus trees on targeted lands – every last one of them – and spread additional toxic chemicals to ensure their eradication. Working in opposition to the efforts of park visitors, nearby residents, animal protection groups, anti-herbicide organizations and the will of the majority of the East Bay public as expressed in the thousands of comments submitted to the federal agency funding the deforestation (90% of 13,000 public comments opposed the environmental destruction), the Sierra Club is no longer an ally of environmental champions in the San Francisco Bay Area, but rather, one of their greatest foes. It also represents a threat to the lives of millions of animals who make those forests their homes, dismissing their deaths as of no concern because they are “common” animals.

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Why? The Sierra Club has been taken over by “native” plant ideologues, those who believe the world should be broken down into two camps: “native” plants and animals who are worthy of protecting and “non-native” plants and animals who deserve to die, embracing the same sort of discrimination we have rejected as immoral in our treatment of our fellow human beings and, in the process, an agenda that has become indistinguishable from the very threats the environmental protection movement was founded to combat: the timber and chemical industries. 

In order to mold the world into their warped vision, they turn our natural places into environmental war zones, they partner with chemical companies such as Monsanto and Dow, and force those of us who do not subscribe to such reactionary points of view to watch with sorrow and great heartbreak as century old trees fall to the chainsaw, animals are displaced, harmed and poisoned, and healthy, beautiful, lush forests are reduced to hillsides of chemically soaked, barren tree stumps, all the while paradoxically claiming that such destruction is good for us and our environment.

As appeals to local Sierra Club representatives continue to fall on defiant ears, Bay Area environmentalists have written a petition to the national leadership of the Sierra Club, asking them to stop this breathtaking betrayal of their mission, the environment, and of the people and animals of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Please take a moment to add your voice to those working to reform an organization which betrays the inspiring vision of responsible environmental stewardship championed by its legendary founder, John Muir. Sign the petition: http://goo.gl/ysAL46.

For further reading:

The Jewels in Oakland’s Crown

Rejecting Arbitrary Labels That Enable Great Harm

Biological Xenophobia

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Defending an Antiquated Past

August 11, 2015

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) is an industry organization representing, as its name suggests, veterinarians who work in a shelter setting. In some shelters, it is veterinarians who have the final say as to which animals live and which animals die, and so the responsibility this organization bears to keep its members fully informed about and philosophically receptive to lifesaving innovation is tremendous. Yet tragically, it did not live up to these duties when it published a draft statement on “The Use of ‘No-Kill’ Terminology.” Regrettably, the draft embraced a view of animal life as cheap and expendable, championed thoroughly disproven misperceptions about the No Kill movement while remaining willfully blind to the tremendous successes achieved by shelter veterinarians working in those communities which have already ended the killing of healthy and treatable animals.

 

As the draft statement typified, too often, industry associations tend not to embrace progressive positions that reflect the most innovative and successful aspects of the group they represent. They tend not to aspire to a brighter future and greater accountability, but to defend poor performance and antiquated operating procedures. In the case of sheltering and the ASV, this entrenchment comes with deadly results.

 

But there is hope. The ASV asked for public comment and in response to those comments removed the draft. But since they have indicated it will be revised, I am making the letter in opposition I sent on behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center public. In it, I also offered a complete revision of their draft. For those who want to send in their own comments to ensure that the final version reflects the best of the profession, you can do so to info@sheltervet.org

smokey1
 

August 3, 2015

Brian DiGangi
ASV Position Statement Committee Chair
Association of Shelter Veterinarians
3225 Alphawood Dr.
Apex, NC 27539

Dear Brian,

The No Kill Advocacy Center is a national animal protection organization dedicated to ending the systematic killing of animals in “shelters.” Our advisory board includes the most successful and accomplished past and current shelter directors, shelter veterinarians, animal lawyers, and shelter reformers. We have assisted dozens of communities across the country achieve save rates in excess of 90% and have consulted with some of the largest and best known shelters and animal protection groups across the world. This letter is in response to your request for feedback to your draft statement on “The Use of ‘No-Kill’ Terminology,” enclosed herein for easy reference, dated July 2015.

As the draft statement typifies, too often, industry associations tend not to represent the best of their profession. They tend not to embrace positions that reflect the most successful accomplishments of their members.  They tend not to aspire to a greater future, but to defend an antiquated past. They legitimize the most regressive factions within their industry and they hold back progress, often with deadly results. History is littered with such examples.

In the 1970s, for example, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) opposed the endorsement of municipal and SPCA-administered spay/neuter clinics that provided the poor an alternative to the prohibitively high prices charged by some private practice veterinarians. Despite the fact that low-cost sterilization services aimed at lower income people with pets had a well-documented rate of success in getting more animals altered and reducing the numbers of animals surrendered to and killed by “shelters” in a community, the AVMA would not agree to any program that threatened the perceived profits of veterinarians, even though users of these clinics could not afford traditional veterinary services. In 1986, the AVMA also asked Congress to impose taxes on not-for-profits for providing spay/neuter surgeries and vaccination of animals at humane society operated clinics. It has successfully opposed legislation and litigation that would allow families to get damages beyond market value even in cases of wrongful injury and death because of reckless veterinary malpractice. And, to this day, the AVMA refuses to unequivocally condemn the use of the cruel gas chamber to kill dogs and cats. In short, while historically claiming that it is motivated by ensuring the greatest care for animals and the people who love them, it has — time and time again — opposed the actions necessary to ensure that very outcome.

We do not, however, need to reach into history or to other organizations for such examples. Despite the growing success of the No Kill movement and the unassailable proof that communities across the country can save all healthy and treatable animals, in excess of 95% of all intakes, in 2010, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) adapted the “Five Freedoms” from a related movement into the shelter environment. According to the ASV, shelter animals are entitled to freedom from hunger/thirst, discomfort, distress, pain/disease, and freedom to express normal behavior, but they are not entitled to freedom from being killed, which the ASV did not support. Not only is freedom from being killed the most important freedom of them all, but none of the other “freedoms” are possible without it. How can you ensure that animals are allowed to express normal behavior if they can be killed? How can an animal have any freedoms when any or all of them can simply be taken away by killing? Moreover, in a shelter environment, experience has shown that those shelters with highest rates of killing are the most likely to be plagued by rampant cruelty and neglect of the animals in their care, as well. Where there is no regard for life, there is little regard for welfare.

In failing to acknowledge this sad truth and what is necessary to overcome it — shelter reform — the ASV draft statement displays a total ignorance of the dynamic and innovative changes occurring in the field of sheltering as a result of the No Kill movement. It ignores the fact that there already are municipal shelters across the country saving all healthy and treatable animals with none of the dire consequences the draft statement falsely implies are the natural outcome of refusing to kill. According to one of those shelters, which currently saves 98% of all animals, “As an open admission shelter, we care for the young, the old, the healthy, the injured, and everything in between, including several special needs and some very hard-to-place animals that would be killed in other shelters.” And they are not alone. Roughly 1,000,000 people now live in communities saving at least 98% of the animals, while 9,000,000 people live in communities saving between 90% and 99% of animals. Said one: “We figured out how to save over 97% of ALL our animals in an open admission city pound… 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.” (For a comprehensive list of communities saving in excess of 90% of animals, visit saving90.org.)

Moreover, such communities span a wide range of geographic locations and socio-economic demographics. They include Northern and Southern communities, large cities and small towns, those that are relatively affluent and those with high rates of people living below the federal poverty line, as well as those which are both politically conservative and those which are politically liberal. Despite those differences, they share the dedication of their shelter leadership to implement a series of programs and services, collectively known as the No Kill Equation, which provide proven, humane and life-affirming alternatives to killing. When comprehensively implemented with integrity and determination, these shelters eliminated killing very quickly; the vast majority in six months or less and in some cases, overnight.

In other words, it is simply not true, as the draft claims, that, “Euthanasia of companion animals is a tool to prevent animal suffering” when applied to healthy and treatable animals. First, “euthanasia,” by its very definition, only applies to animals who are irremediably suffering. As such, the ASV is claiming “No Kill” is misleading through its own false and misleading statements. Second, and more importantly, killing a healthy or treatable animal is not an act of kindness; it is an act of violence. In fact, it is the ultimate act of violence, because the animals are gone, forever. It is killing, plain and simple. The term No Kill, when applied with integrity, is therefore hardly “ambiguous” if it is interpreted to mean what it says (see, e.g., No Kill Advocacy Center, No Kill 101, http://goo.gl/DvztgL, for a more in depth discussion of its definition and limitations) and is consistent with percentage proxies using data from a wide range of sources. (See, e.g., No Kill Advocacy Center, A Lifesaving Matrix, http://goo.gl/RPUhc4.)

It is also not true to state “euthanasia [sic] of healthy and treatable companion animals is sometimes utilized in order to maintain a shelter’s capacity for humane care.” Once again, that is killing, not “euthanasia,” and does ensure “humane care,” but rather, the most extreme and inhumane of responses: killing.  Second, such a view ignores foster care, rescue partnerships, and other strategies to increase shelter capacity, which are all employed by successful No Kill shelters in lieu of killing when space limitations occur, as they inevitably do from time to time due to the very nature of the industry. Third, it ignores both data and experience proving that when shelters comprehensively implement lifesaving programs, they can responsibly increase adoption and reclaims, reduce intakes, keep animals with their responsible caretakers, and thus save all the lives at risk. (See, No Kill Advocacy Center, The Myth of Pet Overpopulation, http://goo.gl/peFGqW.)

In addition, by comprehensively implementing those programs, animal shelters can stop killing and keep animals moving efficiently through the system and into loving, new homes, without having — as the ASV draft false claims — “Animal suffering ensue[ ].” No Kill does not mean poor care, hostile and abusive treatment, and warehousing animals without the intentional killing. It means modernizing shelter operations so that animals are well cared for and kept moving efficiently and effectively through the shelter and into homes. The No Kill movement puts action behind the words implied by every shelter’s mission statement: “All life is precious.” No Kill is about valuing animals, which means not only saving their lives but also giving them good quality care. It means vaccination on intake, nutritious food, daily socialization and exercise, fresh clean water, medical care, and a system that finds loving, new homes. For example, at the open admission No Kill animal control shelter I oversaw, the average length of stay for animals was eight days, we had a return rate of less than two percent, we reduced the disease rate by 90 percent from the prior administration, we reduced the killing rate by 75 percent, no animal ever celebrated an anniversary in the facility, and we saved well over 90 percent of the animals (over 95% using comparative save rate calculations).

Finally, the draft notes that, “the ASV discourages the use of terminology that defines an organization based on euthanasia practices.” In fact, “euthanasia practices” are the single most important determinant in defining shelters. There are shelters that choose to kill healthy and treatable animals, and those that choose not to. Reforming the sheltering industry so that the former become the latter is the highest calling for members of the ASV. In fact, a member of your profession writes that killing healthy animals in shelters is a violation of the veterinarian’s oath to protect animals and prevent suffering: “Veterinarians protect animal life. We do not end it to serve the professed needs of a culture that has not yet become sufficiently enlightened with respect to the welfare of its animals. Until it does, we will not participate in this practice, regardless of what our larger society deems acceptable.” (Dr. Patty Khuly, DVM, Why Veterinarians Shouldn’t “Euthanize” Shelter Pets, http://goo.gl/veFzci.)

Like the larger sheltering movement of which it is part, the field of shelter veterinary medicine is in transition, struggling to reach its fullest potential by overcoming internal forces that for years have prevented progress and substantive action behind what until now has been mere empty rhetoric (“no one wants to kill,” “we all want the same things”). The battle now raging within this field is a battle not of degree, but of kind—evidence of hopelessly incompatible contradictions: one championing death, and the other, life. This tension is vital to help the profession, and the movement of which it is part, reclaim the determination, spirit and goals of its early founders. And it will end only when the need to distinguish between “No Kill” and “kill shelters” no longer exists, because the latter will cease to exist.

That the ASV would continue to operate as though numerous counterexamples disproving the antiquated and now thoroughly disproven misrepresentations of No Kill sheltering do not exist is not only unprofessional, but suggests an alternative motivation than the one the draft position statement posits. A statement which claims to be about ensuring humane outcomes for animals but which champions the continued right of shelter veterinarians to kill them, while simultaneously failing to acknowledge and champion the work of the most successful veterinarians in your field, is not a roadmap to a brighter future for animals, but an entrenchment of a dark and regrettable past. It is crafted, above all else, to shield the worst performing shelter veterinarians from greater scrutiny for their failures. While such veterinarians may value this disavowal of greater accountability and expectations of their performance, such a position is deeply shortsighted and ultimately self-sabotaging to the integrity and reputation of both your organization and the profession.

By championing the right to kill and the antiquated rationales which seek to justify it, the ASV will inevitably alienate the next generation of shelter veterinarians who will increasingly aspire to emulate success, rather than failure. How can the ASV expect to be allowed to continue to speak on behalf of young, passionate shelter veterinarians who will, as the success of the No Kill movement continues to spread, find the agency’s official positions at odds with their own philosophical orientation which favors life over death? If, when seeking professional guidance from the ASV, they find instead a condemnation of their values, a defense of killing — the very thing they seek to overcome — and no genuine assistance as to how they might fulfill their professional responsibilities in the most humane and innovative manner possible, what value would there be for them in continuing to turn to the ASV? The ASV must evolve, or risk the same fate to which its current position statement on No Kill now needlessly relegates millions of healthy and treatable companion animals every year: oblivion.

We ask the ASV to embrace the future, not the past. We ask the ASV to embrace the truly groundbreaking and revolutionary work of the best and brightest shelter veterinarians making a profound, lifesaving difference in their communities, rather than — as the current draft does — protecting and legitimizing the most deficient; those who seek to continue killing long past the point we when figured out how to stop it. Reject the proposed draft in favor of one which reflects the same spirit, optimism and true commitment to animal welfare as the suggested alternative position statement which follows; an alternative which gives meaning to the oath members of your profession have sworn to uphold.

Very truly yours,

Nathan J. Winograd

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians supports the development of animal shelter operational policies based on the most innovative, lifesaving protocols possible. Under this paradigm, differing philosophies which do not recognize the paramount right of an animal to his or her life or the need for shelter leadership, including veterinarians, to implement readily-available and proven lifesaving alternatives to shelter killing are held anathema. The guiding principle in the provision of humane care should always be the animals’ needs, not human convenience, and chief among these is the right to life and to compassionate, responsible care which gives meaning to that right; outcomes which cannot be authentically represented or expressed if an organization’s does not likewise subscribe to such philosophical priorities.

 

Many shelters employ “no-kill” or “adoption-guarantee” terminology to describe humane work.  Shelters across the nation are proving that with the comprehensive implementation of proven, sustainable alternatives to killing, such approaches are effective at ending the century-old model of “adopt some and kill the rest” historically responsible for the death of millions of companion animals every year.  In fact, through the implementation of a series of key programs and services designed to increase adoptions and redemptions, decrease impoundments, relinquishments and birthrates, shelters can achieve save rates in the range of 95%-100% of all animals entering the shelter. Under this new and innovative model of sheltering, no healthy and treatable animals, rigorously defined, are killed.

 

As such, the ASV discourages the use of such terminology for organizations that engage in the following practices: those shelters which kill animals for lack of space in lieu of foster care, partnering with rescue groups or expanded adoption and public outreach efforts; those that kill animals unless those animals are irremediably suffering; or those that permit the killing of any healthy and treatable animal. Far from being humane, institutions which engage in such behaviors have chosen to maintain antiquated operating procedures that disavow and reject viable alternatives in favor of traditional but antiquated protocols that result in rampant killing.

 

In championing this narrowly defined definition of No Kill, we hope to dispel confusion, misperception, and, through our advocacy, encourage a greater embrace of No Kill policies and principles. We hope that the latter will serve to diminish discord within communities resulting from shelter leadership failing to embrace the most progressive and humane models of sheltering, not only to the demise of animals entrusted their care, but often to the great distress of animal lovers, shelter volunteers and rescuers in a community, as well as the general public on whose behalf shelter leadership serve. Indeed, the public in every community has the right to expect that the shelter they fund through their tax and philanthropic dollars will reflect, rather than hinder, their humane, progressive values when it comes to the treatment of companion animals and to give fullest expression to the animals’ inherent right to live.

 

As such, every shelter should be oriented first and foremost in defense of life, rather than finding justifications for continued killing. When employing killing to satisfy the most mundane of needs, needs such as space limitations which can be met by other, humane and life-affirming means such as foster care, rescue group partnerships and expanded adoption efforts and community outreach, animal life is deemed to be held cheap and expendable by those working in the shelter environment, leading not only to habitual, convenience killing, but often poor care and abusive handling as well. By contrast, shelter leadership and shelter veterinarians which model hard work, innovation and a commitment to respect the lives of the animals in their care encourage similar dedication to the animals and the shelter’s mission of lifesaving by his or her subordinates.

 

Failure to do so violates the oath of our profession to protect animals and prevent suffering and is hereby rejected.

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Colorado 2014

August 6, 2015

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Data for Colorado shelters and rescue groups was released this week for 2014. Overall, 89% of dogs were saved, 82% of cats were saved, 86% of birds, 82% of rabbits and other small mammals, 87% of reptiles, 85% of farm animals, and 77% of “other” animals. There was great hope, given 2013’s numbers, that Colorado would be the first state to verifiably save 90% or more of all the animals. That did not occur, but they remain close and exceed many states.

Moreover, Colorado shows 96,960 dog and cat adoptions, an increase of 9,739 over 2013. That is an adoption rate of 18 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. Not only are these numbers high, showing that shelters across the country can and should do more adoptions, but they disprove those who claim high adoption rates are not sustainable. In fact, not only does Colorado prove they are, they are getting higher (in 2013, it was 17 per 1,000 and 2012 was 16 per 1,000) and can go higher still. Comparing Colorado as a whole to the most successful shelters/communities in the nation, Colorado has the potential to adopt out about 122,000 animals a year.

One of the brightest spots is Fremont, CO, where the shelter went from killing half the animals to a save rate of 98% under a new director. As hundreds of other communities across the country have done the same, these shelters prove that the most important factor is not where the shelter is located, but who is running it.

In the next week or so, the individual cities with save rates exceeding 90% will be posted to saving90.org. Colorado has more cities/towns with 90+% save rates than any other state, though it should be noted that not all Colorado cities care about all dogs. While Colorado bans new breed-discriminatory legislation, it has grandfathered in existing laws and cities like Denver and Aurora continue to ban and kill dogs based on the way they look.

For numbers junkies, here are the rough numbers, based on back of the envelope calculations:

2013

In 2013, Colorado shelters saved roughly 90% of dogs and 81% of cats. I say “roughly” because there are some assumptions built in: animals transferred in from other shelters within Colorado may be double counted (which can skew the numbers 1-2%), animals transferred in from outside of Colorado skew the picture of what is happening to Colorado animals, and animals missing/lost may be alive or they may be dead.

2014

In 2014, with these assumptions in mind, Colorado took in 104,603 dogs. If one removes in-state transfers to avoid double counting, the number is 95,036. Because some of these may be from non-reporting shelters, it is possible some of them are not already counted. That aside, the intake is a small increase from 2013, but 24,278 dogs were brought in from outside the state.

Of all live intakes, 57,891 dogs were adopted out (55%), 23,930 were reclaimed by their families (57% of strays), 908 were neutered and released (or other live outcome) (1%), and 7,803 were transferred to shelters or rescue groups (7%). 10,412 were killed (10%), 109 were lost, and 666 died (1%). That is a save rate of 88%-89% for dogs.

Colorado took in 64,521 cats. If one removes in state transfers to avoid double counting, the number is 59,444. That is a decline in the number of cats from 2013, even with 3,869 cats brought in from outside the state.

Of all live intakes, 39,069 cats were adopted (61%), 2,830 were reclaimed by their families (10% of strays), 5,441 were sterilized and released (8%), and 4,766 were transferred to rescue groups/other shelters (7%). 10,174 were killed (16%), 54 were lost, and 1,410 died (2%). That is a save rate of 80%-82% for cats (again depending on the assumptions above).

Colorado shelters and rescue groups also took in rabbits and other pocket pets, birds, reptiles, farmed animals, and others. Of 876 birds taken in, 86% were saved. Of 5,142 rabbits and pocket pets, 82% were saved. Of 459 reptiles, 87% were saved. Of 294 farm animals taken in, 85% were saved. Of 224 “other” animals taken in, 77% were saved.

The data is here.

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Protecting The Many & The Few

August 6, 2015

Roosevelt_safari_elephant
 

A century ago when President Teddy Roosevelt hunted animals—killing rhinos, elephants, and other animals—the country celebrated him. Today, most Americans condemn such behavior. In fact, only 6% of Americans hunt and most of those people are over 45. The vast majority of people, nearly eight out of 10, say they have no interest in hunting and will never do it. Hunting is dying out and that is great and welcome news.

Unfortunately for some animals, that demise has not come soon enough. While the world was condemning the poacher Walter Palmer for killing Cecil in Zimbabwe, five elephants were slain in Kenya.

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If asked, no doubt many people would say that one of the things that make the deaths of these animals so tragic is that they are “protected” species, or species on the edge of extinction. Indeed, the way we have been schooled by the environmental movement to talk about the fate of wild animals often relates to the species as a whole, with little talk of the individuals that make up those species or their inherent rights to live and be free of human induced suffering.

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While the outrage over Cecil’s killing is the result of people being moved to anguish by the knowledge of the suffering he was forced as an individual to endure, our laws, and the modern environmental movement’s advocacy, have yet to catch up with public sentiment in this regard. Instead, the environmental movement is often preoccupied with the fate of species as a whole, often at the great expense of individuals who make up such species and as a result, the movement’s very mission.

Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a self-professed “environmentalist” which reveals why this approach to engaging with the natural world is so morally problematic. During a walk through the hills, I stopped to scan a tree for a squirrel I was concerned might be suffering from an injury. When asked what I was doing and I pointed to the squirrel in the tree to explain, he responded that I shouldn’t waste my time because “there were a lot of them” and that, at any rate, he was “non-native” (a red, rather than a gray, squirrel) and therefore “didn’t matter.” Didn’t matter?

hello
 

I was pretty sure the little squirrel was dragging one of his back legs, a disability that made it difficult for him to move about and which was most likely causing him pain. That any animal, regardless of where he/she first evolved or whether he/she belongs to a plentiful or rare species, should be suffering in such a manner was the only thing that should matter to a person claiming to be speak on behalf of the natural world and yet, to this man—who told me he studied ecology—it didn’t. Why? Because he had been taught that the squirrel was not an individual deserving of individual regard and compassion, but merely the member of a species that was plentiful and the “wrong” color.

Tragically, such views, based on the same sort of discrimination the West has come to regard as immoral in our treatment of our fellow human beings, is endemic among modern environmentalists, revealing the deep moral chasm that now lies at the heart of that often confused and corrupted movement.

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Lacking a moral center of gravity from which its tenets and advocacy are derived, the environmental movement has yet to evolve into what it should and no doubt someday will become: a rights-based philosophy, one that seeks protection for each of the earth’s non-human inhabitants not only because they have an inalienable right to such, but because a truly harmonious relationship with them and with the environment of which they are a part is simply not possible so long as we continue to kill them or turn a blind eye to their suffering as a result of something as ultimately irrelevant as their color or how many of them exist.

A true environmentally-friendly society would no longer longer allow wild animals to be hunted. It would grant protection to the habitats wild animals need in order to thrive. Above all, it would be guided by the principle that respect for sentient life is paramount, irrespective of the species and no matter how many or how few there are in the world.

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