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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Frankenstein’s Monster

August 29, 2014

Former ASPCA President Becomes Puppy Mill Spokesperson

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Ed Sayres, the former president of the ASPCA, has been hired by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, an industry lobbying group that supports puppy mills and fights animal protection legislation to curtail the abuse and sale of puppy mill dogs. They fight efforts to allow people to receive sentimental damages when their companions are negligently, recklessly, or intentionally injured, such as in veterinary malpractice cases. When tainted pet food from China peddled by their members injured and killed animals, they fought efforts to ensure that families were fully compensated and that the industry was rigorously regulated. And they fight efforts to ensure that anti-cruelty enforcement provisions apply to puppy mills. To call them “anti-animal” would be an understatement. In the case of puppy mills, they embody it.

As anyone who has been following my work and therefore my cataloging of Sayres’ malfeasance over the last decade and a half can attest, this news, while sickening, should come as little surprise. As head of the St. Hubert’s Animal Shelter, he killed healthy dogs and cats, as Director of the San Francisco SPCA, he dismantled the programs he inherited from his predecessor that once made that city the safest community for homeless dogs and cats in America, and as head of the ASPCA, among many other sordid things, he,

Sayres current job as a lobbyist for the puppy mill industry merely continues his long tradition of undermining the welfare of animals for a handsome paycheck, with one crucial difference: he no longer has to pretend he actually cares about animals in the process. What a relief that must be for him.

In light of this news, there are many animal lovers who are expressing shock and anger. For those who know little about Sayres’ actual history in this movement beyond reasonable assumptions about what the former President of the nation’s largest animal charity should stand for, this response is understandable. Outrage is certainly called for. But shock? Not if you know his history. Indeed, a little reading about Sayres’ sordid past will resolve any nagging confusion about how he could possibly do such a thing. He is merely behaving as he always has. The most pressing and important question is, How was he allowed to get away with doing the things he did for all those years when he clearly didn’t care about animals?

For not only did Sayres suffer no professional repercussions for his actions (and his breathtaking professional incompetence), he was, in fact, rewarded for them. Not only was he continually promoted to ever more powerful and financially lucrative positions during his career, ending with his tenure as the President of the ASPCA where he took home $550,000 a year, but he continually enjoyed the political cover of other powerful “leaders” in the animal protection movement who time and again came to his defense, treated him as a legitimate colleague, shielded him from accountability, and, in some cases, even did his nefarious bidding. The ASPCA Board of Directors, Best Friends Animal Society, Maddie’s Fund, HSUS staffers, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, and many other groups, aware of his betrayals, none-the-less partnered with, defended, gave legitimacy to, or celebrated Ed Sayres, while maligning his critics who had every right to expect better. In the case of Best Friends’ Gregory Castle and Francis Battista, they helped him to defeat legislation that would have saved the lives of tens of thousands of animals a year by calling the supporters of a New York rescue rights bill and asking them to withdraw their support in deference to Sayres’ opposition. Battista went so far as to say he would never support legislation opposed by Sayres, even one that promised to save tens of thousands of animals every year (ever the chameleon, Battista was shamed into doing exactly that one year later).

This sort of behavior which benefited and no doubt emboldened Sayres again and again helps explain exactly how he got away with the things he got away with: those in positions of power within our movement let him get away with it. Nor is Sayres an aberration. He is merely one of many symptoms of the disease that continues to ravage the animal protection movement at the beginning of the 21st century: a failure of authenticity and our movement to stand for inviolate principles rather than the ego- or cash-driven ambitions of those in positions of power. For the fact that Sayres will now use the power and position afforded by his title as the former President of the ASPCA to openly champion the cruel, abusive puppy mill industry, mislead the American public about that industry, and fight efforts to regulate it, we not only have Sayres and his dark, uncaring heart to blame, but his legion of enablers as well. Straight out of a Mary Shelley novel, he is the Frankenstein’s monster of our movement’s own creation, come back to haunt its creator.

What will these other so-called “leaders” of the animal protection movement take away from this teachable moment? Are they wringing their hands or searching their souls? Feigning shock or feeling dirty and complicit? Staying the course or finally recognizing that when a person’s actions show you who they really are, you ought to believe them and act accordingly? In other words, will they now fight rather than defend individuals like Wayne Pacelle who likewise sabotage, rather than further, our cause?

Like Sayres, Wayne Pacelle of HSUS is another “leader” who works against the cause he is paid to promote, another man who sends animals to their needless deaths, who fights shelter reform efforts while celebrating those who harm animals (including rescuing from financial and professional oblivion the infamous animal abuser, Michael Vick, while simultaneously lobbying for his victims to be killed), and who works to defeat rescue rights bills and other animal protection legislation. Like Sayres, Pacelle is another emperor with no clothes, surrounded and enabled by colleagues who refuse to admit to the inconvenient truth about Pacelle for fear of jeopardizing their own ambitions, the animals be damned. Like the movement did with Sayres, will it continue to allow him to take actions that harm animals simply because he works for an organization that calls itself humane?

Here is a short list of some of Pacelle’s more egregious actions:

Read more: The Indictment of Wayne Pacelle

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The Shelter HSUS Loves, Redux

August 26, 2014

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In 2010, 3,984 of the 4,133 cats taken in by the Davidson County, North Carolina shelter—96 percent—were put to death. While dogs fared a little better, eight out of 10 were still killed: 2,846 of the 3,625 they took in, including every dog they deemed a “Pit Bull” or “Pit Bull”-mix as a matter of policy. With an adoption rate of only six percent, they weren’t even trying to save lives, choosing to kill them instead. But it was even worse than that. Although the gas chamber is legal in North Carolina, it is illegal to use it for animals that appear to be 16 weeks or younger, pregnant or near death because it takes sick, younger or older animals longer to absorb the gas, resulting in a slower and more agonizing death. The state also prohibits animals of different species from being put in the gas chamber together. But the employees of the Davidson County shelter did not care. Davidson County has a history of killing kittens and puppies using the gas chamber in violation of North Carolina law. It has a history of killing elderly and sick animals in that manner, which is also illegal.

That same year, shelter employees put a raccoon in the gas chamber with a mother cat and her kitten in order to sadistically watch them fight before they died:

The gas chamber has two windows, one on either side. The raccoon and the adult cat started fighting. Then they turned the gas on. The adult cat got on one corner and the raccoon got on the other, and as soon as they turned on the gas, the kitten started shaking and going into convulsions.

A contractor who was working at the shelter told the County Board that he heard the employees laugh when they did it. He said he was sickened by the incident, as were animal lovers nationwide who condemned the shelter for its cruelty and barbarity. But it did not sicken the Humane Society of the United States. Instead, HSUS gave them an award at a public ceremony, calling the Davidson County facility “A Shelter We Love.”

When asked how that was possible, how HSUS could celebrate a sadistic shelter that tortured animals to death, HSUS claimed they did not take into account how many animals were killed or how they were killed. Instead, they indicated that they were looking to the future and they promised that, with their help, the pound in Davidson County would stop gassing and come into the 21st Century.

In 2014, Davidson County is still killing 6,000 animals every year. And it is still gassing animals. And this month, several of those animals ended up dumped in the middle of a road where people driving by saw them. When confronted by it at a public meeting, the pound director remained defiant: about the killing, about the gassing, about the dead animals littering the public street. She called it a “non-story.” And HSUS? They think it is a non-story, too. You won’t find a word about it on their North Carolina Facebook page.

For further reading:

A “Shelter We Love”

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Nathan Winograd Day

August 5, 2014

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Every dog has his day and mine is August 3. At Sunday’s sold out screening of my film Redemption, Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez read a proclamation declaring August 3 “Nathan Winograd Day” in the City of Austin for my role in helping it become the largest city in America saving better than 90% of shelter animals. The proclamation, signed by Mayor Lee Leffingwell, reads, in part,

We are pleased to recognize Mr. Winograd’s unwavering dedication and commitment to saving the lives of homeless pets, along with his work at the No Kill Advocacy Center, which have inspired Austin and cities throughout the country to dramatically increase shelter lifesaving.

Thank you to the Mayor, thank you to the Council, thank you most especially to Mr. Martinez, Ryan Clinton, Larry Tucker, Lorri Michel, and Dr. Ellen Jefferson, as well as everyone else who fought for a No Kill community and every animal lover making a lifesaving difference in Austin. I am truly honored and so incredibly grateful.

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 The marquee of the State Theater in Austin announces the screening of Redemption.

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Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez presenting the proclamation to a sold out crowd.

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Austin No Kill advocates listen to a question during a Q&A session after the film. From right to left: Ryan Clinton of FixAustin, Dr. Ellen Jefferson of Austin Pets Alive, Larry Tucker, former chair of the Austin Animal Advisory Commission, Council Member Mike Martinez who spearheaded the initiative on the Council, and Nathan Winograd.

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During the afternoon, I visited an Austin Pets Alive offsite adoption venue.

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Puppies with ringworm looking for a loving, new home play in the shade in front of a crowd of onlookers.

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It is all part of the 2014 No Kill is Love tour. Learn more and join me in a city near you.

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