Is HSUS Changing? And, If So, Into What?

July 6, 2014 by  

A Look at HSUS’ Embrace of “Open” Adoptions

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When it comes to HSUS betraying animals by enabling shelter killing, I often hear from their defenders that “HSUS is changing.” In fact, it is a retort I’ve been hearing now for better than a decade. Aside from being an admission of guilt, or at the very least, an admission of a pressing need for change, this statement, of course, begs the inevitable questions: Are they truly changing? How long is it going to take? Instead of a perpetual process of “changing,” why don’t they just change? And what are they changing into?

Here’s a case in point. For decades, HSUS defended shelters that killed animals despite rescue groups ready, willing, and able to save them. In fact, in the 1990s, HSUS specifically told shelter directors to kill the animals rather than transfer them to rescuers, stating it “would not recommend the transfer of animals to another facility for adoption… Transport and changes in environment are stressful for animals that are already experiencing stress from the loss of their home.” In 2003, for example, volunteers from a high-volume Virginia-based adoption rescue group offered to save dogs being killed in their county shelter. In a series of meetings with the county administrator and then-shelter leadership, they demonstrated not only how the group could save the lives of dogs in the shelter (by transporting them to private foster homes and then placing them up for adoption in more populated areas of Virginia), but save the county money as well: they offered to pay for the veterinary exam, vaccination, sterilization, transport, and adoption of these dogs. They had just one request: pre-killing notification to let them know which dogs faced death so that they could come and save them.

With their efforts meeting resistance at the local level, the group naively turned to HSUS assuming that they would help. Instead, HSUS sided with the shelter. In a meeting between the rescue community and local officials, HSUS’ representative argued that the rescue groups were trying to hold the shelter “hostage,” that their request for a “euthanasia list” was unreasonable, and that the partnership should not be implemented.

It is no surprise then that HSUS also opposed a 1998 California law making it illegal for shelters to kill animals when rescue groups were willing to save them. Thankfully, that law was passed over HSUS objections, saving over 45,000 animals a year—animals who would be dead had legislators listened to HSUS “experts.”

HSUS now says it has “changed” and supports rescue rights. But what does this mean in terms of HSUS policy and action? It’s not so clear-cut. For one, they’ve only championed such a view in California, where it has already been the law of the land since 1998; a law they long opposed and which was passed over their objection. Their alleged “embrace” of rescue rights in California is, oddly, a defense of the status quo. In other words, since it has been the law for over a decade and their friends who run kill shelters accept these provisions because they are well-settled, HSUS can support the law without angering those who run the kill shelters in that state. Because their allegiance is to those people, rather than the animals those people kill, and despite their claim to have “changed” their views on rescue rights, they continue to oppose it in other states to this very day. Several months ago, HSUS lobbyists killed a similar provision in Minnesota, helping to condemn thousands of animals there to needless death. Why did they oppose it? As HSUS itself admitted, they did so because a Minneapolis kill shelter, with which HSUS has long had a cozy relationship, asked them to. This policy regarding rescue rights shows how incomplete, disingenuous, and schizophrenic “change” at HSUS can be and it is not an aberration.

Late last year, HSUS released a “White Paper” that ostensibly told California shelters, among other things, that they should not take in healthy cats only to kill them. If they are going to kill them, HSUS wrote, it is better not to take them in. They have since repeated this view in other publications. As it relates to “feral” cats, they write, “When euthanasia [sic] is performed on healthy but unsocialized cats, it can be characterized as unnecessary, calling into question whether their deaths are actually humane.” Killing these cats does not “call in to question” whether it is inhumane, it is inhumane. Their language may be an improvement, but it remains cowardly, though prototypically HSUS. Moreover, given that they once called rounding up and killing these cats “the only practical and humane solution,” there was nowhere to go but up.

Nonetheless, given that they are telling shelters not to take in healthy cats, regardless of whether they are social or not social with humans, this would appear to be a welcome change from past HSUS positions and, at the level of rhetoric, it certainly is. But here’s the rub: after the White Paper was released, HSUS killed a law that would have mandated this and other “recommendations” in the White Paper when introduced in another state. Further, the White Paper focused on how to reduce the amount of work shelters had to do. In other words, rather than recommend shelters find homes for all healthy (and treatable) cats they take in, as successful shelters across the country do, HSUS simply told them not to take them in so they would not have to work to do so. In addition, they introduced legislation that would have eliminated holding periods for stray cats without identification, removing any right of reclaim for families whose cats ended up at the shelter. And finally, HSUS told shelters that they should feel free to continue killing the animals if that is what they wanted to do, or, in their own words, that HSUS recommendations “remain at the discretion of each community to choose whether and how to implement.” To HSUS, shelter directors have the right to continue killing animals in the face of alternatives if that is what they would prefer to do which most, tragically, do. Once again, it appears that HSUS wants to be all things to all people, giving to No Kill advocates with one hand what they take away at the behest of shelters with the other. Here’s how it plays out in the adoption arena.

One of the most dramatic changes in HSUS rhetoric involves new adoption recommendations, promoted in a joint presentation with the ASPCA to sheltering officials at their recent animal sheltering conference. The goal was laudable: getting more animals into homes and putting fewer into garbage bags. But, once again, the implementation fell short.

The ASPCA went first. After the ASPCA speaker admitted that she herself is not current on her resident animals’ vaccinations, she further stated that she once lied on an adoption application to acquire a dog from a shelter, including providing the shelter false documentation to do so. As I was watching the presentation, I could not help but wonder what the anti-No Kill zealots would say if I admitted to what the ASPCA speaker admitted to: lying on an adoption application, falsifying answers, committing fraud in order to acquire a dog from a shelter. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that dog got out and I am glad, as the ASPCA speaker indicated, he died over 10 years later in her arms rather than 10 years earlier in a barren cell at the hands of cruel dogcatchers. And, of course, the larger lesson is more important: shelters do turn good homes away based on arbitrary and wholly unreasonable adoption criteria, while needlessly killing animals and the ASPCA, along with HSUS, are finally admitting that their prior positions defending those arcane policies have cost animals their lives.

Indeed, for decades, the ASPCA and HSUS defended shelters that did a paltry number of adoptions and had high rates of killing by vilifying No Kill advocates who were demanding better by saying that doing so would reduce the “quality” of the adoptive homes and put animals at risk. As far back as the 1970s, these groups, along with the American Humane Association, were telling shelters that only certain kinds of people were worthy of having pets. In a statement reeking with racial overtones, the groups claimed that past adoptions in “ghetto areas” were a failure, and that these dogs were now doing little more than “attacking children in schoolyards.”

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As recently as 2009, HSUS was still telling shelters not to adopt out animals during the holidays, effectively condemning a million animals a year to certain death. And in 2011, they launched a campaign to help shelters “educate the public” about adoption policies by creating a poster for shelters to hang in their lobbies. The poster featured a chair beneath a light in a cement room. The tagline reads: “What’s with all the questions?” Rather than ask shelters to reexamine their own assumptions which turned good homes away, HSUS produced a poster of what looked like an interrogation room at Abu Ghraib, instructing potential adopters to simply put up with it and further perpetuating the stereotype among shelter directors that the public is the enemy, rather than the solution. Three years later, they have swung the pendulum completely the other way, telling shelters that people who have made a decision to adopt from a shelter should not be turned away for three reasons: 1. Most people can be trusted, 2. Animals are being killed and they need homes, and 3. Those turned away will buy an animal instead; fueling the mill industry and, for some, putting the animals they acquire beyond the reach of spay/neuter, vaccinations, and other care.

You can watch the video here.

While I think the third argument can only be carried so far—a shelter has a responsibility to protect animals in its care—the truth of the matter is that shelters—and many rescue groups—do have unreasonable adoption criteria, which I noted in my second book, Irreconcilable Differences. In a chapter entitled “Good Homes Need Not Apply,” I wrote:

[M]any shelters go too far with fixed, arbitrary rules—dictated by national organizations—that turn away good homes under the theory that people aren’t trustworthy, that few people are good enough, and that animals are better off dead. Unfortunately, rescue groups all-too-often share this mindset…. People who do rescue love animals, but they have been schooled by HSUS to be unreasonably—indeed, absurdly—suspicious of the public. Consequently, they make it difficult, if not downright impossible, to adopt their rescued animals…

 

And, the number of people shelters turn away because of some arbitrary and bureaucratic process proves it. Like this experience shared with me a few years ago: “I tried to adopt from my local shelter… I found this scared, skinny cat hiding in the back of his cage and I filled out an application. I was turned down because I didn’t turn in the paperwork on time, which meant a half hour before closing, but I couldn’t get there from work in time to do that. I tried to leave work early the next day, but I called and found out they had already killed the poor cat. I will never go back.”

 

Shelter animals already face formidable obstacles to getting out alive: customer service is often poor, a shelter’s location may be remote, adoption hours may be limited, policies may limit the number of days they are held, they can get sick in a shelter, and shelter directors often reject common-sense alternatives to killing. One-third to one-half of all dogs and roughly 60 percent of cats are killed because of these obstacles. Since the animals already face enormous problems, including the constant threat of execution, shelters and rescue groups shouldn’t add arbitrary roadblocks. When kind hearted people come to help, shelter bureaucrats shouldn’t start out with a presumption that they can’t be trusted.

 

In fact, most of the evidence suggests that the public can be trusted. While roughly eight million dogs and cats enter shelters every year, that is a small fraction compared to the 165 million thriving in people’s homes. Of those entering shelters, only four percent are seized because of cruelty and neglect. Some people surrender their animals because they are irresponsible, but others do so because they have nowhere else to turn—a person dies, they lose their job, their home is foreclosed. In theory, that is why shelters exist—to be a safety net for animals whose caretakers no longer can or want to care for them.

 

When people decide to adopt from a shelter—despite having more convenient options such as buying from a pet store or responding to a newspaper ad—they should be rewarded. We are a nation of animal lovers, and we should be treated with gratitude, not suspicion. More importantly, the animals facing death deserve the second chance that many well intentioned Americans are eager to give them, but in too many cases, are senselessly prevented from doing so.

It is no surprise then that some shelter advocates are applauding HSUS’/ASPCA’s turn around on adoption policies. Certainly viewed in light of past policies, the presentation was revolutionary on the part of HSUS and the ASPCA and a welcome rejection of a nearly old century excuse that enabled shelter killing. But there are problems.

For one, I have never advocated “open” adoptions if we are going to define “open” accurately, instead of having it mean whatever we want it to mean at any given time. The closest I came was five years ago in Houston, Texas, where I had just completed a multi-day and ultimately 200-page assessment of the pound and found it rife with neglect, cruelty, and systematic killing. Here’s what I wrote,

BARC basically does “open adoptions,” meaning there is virtually no screening of any kind.

 

Successful high volume adoption shelters have proved that the notion that one needs to reduce quality of homes in order to increase quantity is one of the anachronisms of old-guard, “catch and kill” shelters who needed a way to justify a paradigm of high impounds, high kill rates and low adoptions. In fact, some of the most successful industries in the United States have excelled in a consumer market demanding high volume coupled with increasing consumer awareness, information and requirement for quality. These agencies are able to meet demand for both quality and quantity. Quality and quantity are not, and have never been, mutually exclusive…

 

At BARC, by contrast, screening is perfunctory, there is no real counseling, good matches are not considered as kennel attendants spend no time with the potential adopter or the animal, customer service representatives have limited information in which to match animal with lifestyle, and the cost is not inexpensive in an era of pet shops, “free to good home” ads, backyard breeders, and BARC’s poor location, facility, and bureaucratic procedures.

 

This is an area where volunteers have repeatedly suggested some form of screening to make sure animals are not just going into homes, but “good” homes. This suggestion has some appeal. And while it should ultimately be BARC’s goal, in the larger cost-benefit analysis, I think it would be a mistake to do so at this time…

 

BARC is not capable of adoption screening and the end result will mean the needless loss of animal life.

 

At this point in BARC’s history, the goal must be to get animals out of BARC where they and others are continually under the threat of a death sentence. And given the problems with procedure implementation at BARC, my fear is that the process will become arbitrary depending on who is in charge of adoptions. There is simply too much at stake for the types of staff I observed to hold even more power over life and death.

That is the choice BARC, by virtue of its rampant and systematic embrace of neglect, abuse, and killing, forced. It is not, however, the real or only choice. The choice is never any home or death. The choice includes a reasonably screened home which offers protection to the animal. In fact, I would go on to say:

When BARC has high quality staff, is consistent in applying sound policies and procedures, and has achieved a higher save rate—when BARC animals do not have a daily choice between life and death—it can revisit the issue of thoughtful screening to provide homes more suitable for particular BARC animals.

That is not, however, what HSUS is advocating. In a blanket embrace of “open” adoptions, they potentially leave the animals with no protection of any kind. Admittedly, this is a lesser risk, as most people can be trusted, and especially in light of a death sentence, but “either-or” is a false choice. Ironically, too, while HSUS now wants shelters to basically give animals to anyone, they continue to fight efforts, as they did in Minnesota this year, to allow incorporated, non-profit rescue groups, to have access to them. In other words, they would say “yes” to anyone off the street—including as they have to dog abuser Michael Vick who HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle said “would do a good job as a pet owner”—but give shelters the power to say “no” to non-profit SPCAs and rescue organizations that are dedicated to protecting animals and have never committed abuse.

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Nor do they stop there in failing to embrace simple, common sense protections for shelter animals. In 2013, Michigan lawmakers introduced legislation which would have made it illegal for shelters to adopt out animals to those convicted of animal abuse. By knowing the right lies to tell and which truths to omit, convicted animal abusers can acquire animals even from those who may be dedicated to their protection but are currently forced to operate in a state of ignorance simply because they lack access to valuable information that would help them make better, more informed choices about the animals in their care. The Michigan law, giving shelters access to a database of those convicted of cruelty, would have stripped abusers of this advantage and prevent future animal abuse with nothing more than a few simple strokes of a keyboard. HSUS opposes these laws, arguing that we must balance the rights of animals with the rights of their abusers, and tragically, the Michigan bill failed to pass.

A Lobbyist for Kill Shelters, Not the Animals Shelters Kill

Why? What is the cause of this seemingly schizophrenic type of policy? These types of contradictions only makes sense in the context of HSUS’ overriding philosophy that they are, first and foremost, a lobbyist for kill shelters, rather than for the animals those shelters kill. When you consider each of their actions in this context, the logical contradiction disappears. With shelters under increasing pressure to reduce killing, HSUS is now realizing they cannot stem the move towards No Kill, despite their best efforts to do exactly that. Their advice to shelters as to how they can appease critics by reducing killing without actually having to increase their workload becomes simple: don’t take in cats if all you are going to do is kill them and, as it relates to the instant case, don’t bother putting in place comprehensive adoption programs and thoughtful screening protocols, simply give the animals to virtually anyone who walks through your doors. Once again, like they did with the White Paper, they refuse to ask shelters to live up to their responsibilities by doing the (sometimes hard) work necessary to save lives in earnest.

That said, I do not want to be too cynical, because some of what HSUS (and the ASPCA) advocate in the video is actually good, quite good in fact, even if none of it is “new” as they pretend, given that many of us have been promoting those things for over 15 years over their objections. This includes, for example, an embrace of “fee waived” adoptions which have been shown to double and, in some cases, triple adoptions, without impacting the quality of the home (given reasonable screening). In terms of kill shelters, HSUS has a bigger bully pulpit and getting the animals the hell out of those facilities continues to be the prime directive in sheltering, as these shelters are the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States. If looked at in the context of the Houston recommendations, and putting aside the defense of convicted abusers and opposition to rescuers, the HSUS turnaround—with caveats—is enormously beneficial to animals and does, in fact, represent significant progress.

HSUS Admits Demand Exceeds Supply

It should also be noted that in that presentation, HSUS also admits that pet overpopulation is a myth; that there is a huge market for shelter animals that vastly exceeds the number of animals killed for lack of a home. More than anything else in the video, this is the most revolutionary change, striking as it does, to the heart of the killing, though it has received scant mention by anyone.

Though the supply-demand imbalance is actually even more pronounced in favor of the animals (they are using old data), nonetheless, HSUS says that it isn’t a question of “too many animals, not enough homes,” but the need for shelters to overcome two primary hurdles (there are actually more): the false belief that shelter animals would not be in the shelter unless there was something wrong with them and, more to the point, that shelter adoption criteria tends to be unreasonable. Once again, that is progress, a departure from the intentional blindness they have operated under for decades in order to defend the fact that shelters were needlessly putting animals in their graves. (The other reasons are that shelters do not keep animals alive long enough to get into those homes, they do not aggressively market the animals, animal lovers find it difficult to go to kill shelters because they are depressing places, that customer service is often poor, the shelter is located away from where people live, work, and play, and that public access hours are often inconvenient or non-existent.)

What has not changed, however, is their willingness to hold shelters accountable at the level of policy making. Responding to the pressure, HSUS is giving shelters a false choice: kill them or save them by doing nothing more than swinging the doors to the shelter wide-open. If that were the choice, I’d go with the latter. If those in attendance were as regressive as the Houston pound was the year I wrote my assessment, I’d embrace it for them, too. But HSUS goes further than ethics allow: HSUS doesn’t want any protections at all, including potentially adopting them to those who have committed the most egregious and wanton cruelty.

To achieve No Kill, to save more lives, that isn’t what we should do. There’s a reasonable middle ground between their “Abu Ghraib” approach in 2011 and their “free-for-all” of 2014. But that requires a smart, reasonable, and thoughtful balance between the need to adopt out more animals and the need to protect animals from harm—neither of which are mutually exclusive but should, in fact, go hand in hand. To fail to hold those accountable who portray them as separate and distinct, who claim that to end one harm we need to potentially enable another, is to not only allow animals to needlessly be placed in harm’s way, but to sacrifice the only thing that has ever pushed HSUS to a more progressive position: holding them accountable when they get it wrong, as they so often, and tragically, do.

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Holding Period Legislation

December 17, 2013 by  

From the No Kill Advocacy Center:

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In September 2013, the No Kill Advocacy Center issued a position paper in response to the California Sheltering Report written by the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and other shelter lobbying organizations and shelters, warning of the dangers associated with many of those recommendations: http://bit.ly/184Rlm9. That report, while at long last finally admitting to the efficacy of various lifesaving programs which these organizations opposed for many years, stated that whether or not shelters chose to implement alternatives to killing should be left up to the discretion of the individual shelters; in their own words: they “remain at the discretion of each community to choose whether and how to implement.”

At the same time, these groups made several recommended changes to current, widespread shelter policies such as the reduction and, in some cases, elimination of holding periods which, without the lifesaving infrastructure and philosophical reorientation of shelters away from killing in favor of lifesaving, would prove deadly. We predicted that many shelters would cherry pick which recommendations issued in the report to follow, choosing to implement those which expand their powers and discretion to kill while entirely ignoring those which would save lives. Specifically, we wrote,

Communities are not free to cherry pick some while ignoring others, as to do so leaves particular groups of animals entering shelters with no protections or alternatives to killing… As a result, regressive shelters are likely to adopt only those provisions, like the licensing scheme, which empower them to impound even more animals. After being told they need not also implement the programs that provide an alternative to killing for the additional impounded animals, this proposal has the potential to exacerbate, rather than lessen, shelter killing; while shielding shelters from public scrutiny as they acted within the guidelines of the stakeholder group.

Tragically, this dire prediction has come to pass.

Right now, and as a direct result of the California Sheltering Report, shelters nationwide are seeking to eliminate or reduce holding periods for cats, one of the report’s recommendations, even though holding periods are often the one and only protection cats have in shelters. Ignoring those parts of the report which suggest the implementation of lifesaving policies and procedures, shelters are seeking not to include them, as we describe in a subsequent report: http://bit.ly/1kgJNxK.

Although billed as an effort to get cats adopted faster, experience proves it would have the opposite effect: allowing more cats to be killed and to be killed quicker. In fact, cats would be killed before their families actually begin looking for them; in some cases, before a family even knows he/she is missing. Nothing in the proposal requires shelters to make cats available for adoption after the shortened (and in some cases eliminated) holding period, but it will give the shelters full authority to kill them and that is what it will do. How do we know they will do this? Because that is what these shelters are already doing to animals who are not subject or no longer are on holding periods such as cats surrendered by their families and stray cats after their holding periods expire. Eliminating this protection would not only seriously limit and even eliminate the opportunity for people to reclaim their lost animals, for many animals, it would mean quicker and often immediate killing the moment they enter a shelter. This is not only a betrayal to animals, but to their families and to the taxpayers who fund these institutions in order to provide a safety net of care for stray and lost animals.

Holding periods are important. They allow people the opportunity to reclaim their missing animals, one of the primary purposes of shelters. Nationwide, animal lovers are seeking to lengthen, not reduce, their state’s mandated holding periods, on the understanding that doing so is vitally important to protect lost pets. Indeed, it is a fundamental precept that holding periods should never be shortened. To the contrary, they need to be longer in many states. However, we can address the professed rationale of quicker adoptions by making holding periods more flexible without simultaneously placing cats in greater mortal peril. By bifurcating holding periods, cats can be adopted out more quickly, without eviscerating the minimal protections cats and their human families have in holding periods.

We also suggest additional language that would give shelters the discretion to transfer animals to a rescue group immediately upon impound, with the same rights of reclamation for the “owner” as if the animal was still in the shelter. This frees up scarce kennel space, without giving pounds a “quick kill” provision as current proposals do. It also shifts the cost of care from taxpayer to private philanthropy. In other words, the animals would remain in the “constructive” custody of the pound while being held in a foster home, private shelter, or rescue group during the reclaim portion of the state mandated holding period; but taxpayers would incur none of the cost. Finally, we suggest that the holding period not come into play in cases where cats are taken in for purposes of sterilization and are then returned.

Excluding laws imposed by health departments regarding the use of controlled substances, the disposition of rabid and potentially aggressive animals and mandated holding periods, shelter directors in this country have essentially unlimited discretion as to how they operate their facilities. If a shelter director decides to kill each and every animal even if there are empty cages, it is legal for him to do so. If a non-profit rescue organization wants to save an animal on death row at a shelter, the shelter director has the authority to deny the group the ability to do so, and they frequently do. Likewise, shelter directors can kill orphaned kittens and puppies rather than work with volunteers who want to provide foster care. They can ban volunteers from walking dogs and socializing cats. And they can limit the number of hours they are open to the public for adoptions, or have hours that make it difficult for working people to reclaim their lost animals or adopt new ones. In short, there are very few checks and balances to ensure that our shelters are run in line with the most up-to-date sheltering policies and procedures. Instead, our shelters are run on the honor system, and it is a discretion shelter directors abuse time and again by failing to implement readily available lifesaving alternatives or to work cooperatively with those who want to help them save lives. To shorten holding periods in this environment is a death sentence. In many shelters, holding periods are often the only thing standing between life and death for an animal.

A mandated, bifurcated holding period, by contrast, will help increase reclaims, rescues, and adoptions. Combined with a very narrow exception for irremediably suffering animals, rigorously defined, it will accomplish the stated goals, without also imperiling the lives of animals. In fact, it would save lives and it would save money—a “win” for taxpayers and a “win” for the animals. In other words, it would solve problems rather than just create new ones.

That these shelters are rejecting these compromises suggests that they are not sincere in their desire to save more cats. Without protective language, these proposals should be opposed.

Legislation:

The required holding period for stray animals shall be five business days, not including the day of impoundment: animals shall be held for owner redemption during the first two days of the holding period and shall be available for owner redemption, transfer, and adoption for the remainder of the holding period. The holding period expires once the animal is redeemed, transferred or adopted, except as follows:
(a) The requirements of this provision do not apply to cats who are impounded for purposes of sterilization and are then returned.
(b) Shelters may transfer animals at any time after impound to a non-profit rescue group, a private shelter, or an organization formed for the prevention of cruelty to animals as long as potential owners are afforded the same rights of reclamation as if the animal was still in the shelter.

The required holding period for an owner relinquished animal impounded by public or private sheltering agencies shall be the same as that for stray animals. The holding period expires once the animal is redeemed, transferred or adopted as follows:
(a) The animals shall be available for owner redemption, transfer, and adoption for the entirety of the holding period.
(b) The requirements of this provision do not apply to cats who are impounded for purposes of sterilization and are then returned.

To download a copy, click here.

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Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

Legislating a Double Standard

December 6, 2013 by  

To some animal protection groups our relationships with our animals don’t matter; only theirs do.

This is our cat, Kenny. He is the Mayor of Kenny Town, our home:

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He was found on the streets of Oakland as a 10-day old kitten and we bottle fed him:

I’m his mama. In fact, all I have to do is say “come to mama” and he starts purring, wraps his paws around my neck, and sticks his little face into my chin. I love him. I love him. I. Love. Him.

Many of you have your own Kenny, too. A cat who means the world to you. Now imagine that through carelessness or accident or a small child, a door to the home or yard where you live is left open and your cat gets out and somehow ends up in the shelter. Now imagine that you get home from work and immediately go to the shelter to look for him, only to find out that she or he has been adopted to someone else and you can never get him back. In fact, you will never be allowed to see him again. Why? Because the law in the state where you live has been changed to allow shelters to adopt them out right away, with no redemption period whatsoever to allow you the time to notice your animal is missing, and to go to the shelter to get him safely back home.

Think about it, before you are even afforded the opportunity to realize that your cat is missing, indeed before you even got home from work that day, your cat is no longer yours. That is what Maddie’s Fund, HSUS, the ASPCA, shelters across California, and even some rescue groups are proposing in this state. That is what Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program is proposing for a Florida community. That is what Dr. Kate Hurley of the UC Davis Shelter Medicine Program is advocating. And other shelters are picking up the call to deny you the right to reclaim your animal from the local shelter, as well.

That this is an obvious threat to the deep and meaningful relationship between people and their cats must be pointed out to groups which have grown astronomically wealthy trumpeting the value of the “human-animal bond” adds another layer of absurdity to the already bewildering necessity of this discussion. Yet here we are.

David Duffield started Maddie’s Fund as a way to honor the love and companionship of his little dog, Maddie. If you asked the head of the other organizations, they would also offer similar stories about their own animal companions. We all have our Maddie’s. Animals who mean the world to us. Animals who help us through difficult or challenging times. Animals who teach us the meaning of unconditional love and who’s passing will leave us with an empty hole we can never fill. But to them, our relationships with our animals don’t matter; only theirs do.

HSUS, Maddie’s Fund, the ASPCA, UC Davis, the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, and other cat “protection” groups and cat “advocates” believe your love and your relationship with your cat are meaningless and are not worth even a single day to find him/her if she gets lost. It is obscene, tragic, and wrong.

There is a parallel effort to shorten holding periods to kill them quicker. Here are their proposals: http://bit.ly/1kgJNxK

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Animal Lovers Need Not Apply

November 20, 2013 by  

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The first time many animals experience neglect and abuse it at the very shelter that is supposed to protect them from it. Our shelters are in crisis. Why? Killing is an act of violence. And not only do people in shelters work at a very place that commits this violence, they have, in fact, been hired to do exactly that. Can we really be surprised when they don’t clean thoroughly, don’t feed the animals, handle them too roughly, neglect and abuse them, or simply ignore their cries for help? How does shoddy cleaning or rough handling or skipping meals compare with putting an animal to death? Because shelter workers understand that they have the power to kill each and every one of these animals, and will in fact kill most of them, every interaction they have with those animals is influenced by the reality that their lives do not matter, that their lives are cheap and expendable, and that they are destined for the garbage heap. Where there is no right to life; there is no regard for welfare.

Read “Animal Lovers Need Not Apply,” my latest article in the Huffington Post, by clicking here.

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The Death of 100,000 Animals

November 13, 2013 by  

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Today is the four year anniversary of the ASPCA’s killing of Oreo, an abused dog, who a No Kill sanctuary offered to save. After Oreo was killed, legislation 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, 25,000 animals a year would be saved. Ed Sayres, the former CEO of the ASPCA made it his personal mission to ensure that the law would not, killing it in the legislature every year. Since Oreo was killed, an estimated 100,000 animals who also had an immediate place to go, have also been killed. Instead of enjoying the second chances and loving new homes non-profits rescue groups would have guaranteed them, they are dead, their bodies rotting in New York State landfills.

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Recently, in what was a promising turn of events, Sayres left the ASPCA under a cloud of mismanagement and the ASPCA released a statement which seemed to endorse rescue access rights, telling shelters in California that, “Taking early action to divert animals from probable euthanasia to rescue groups deserves to be common practice.” On September 18, I reached out to Matt Bershadker, the new CEO of the ASPCA asking him to work with me to pass a rescue rights law in New York consistent with the new ASPCA statement. Here is the language of that letter:

September 18, 2013

Matthew E. Bershadker
President, ASPCA
424 E 92nd St
New York, NY 10128-6804

Dear Matthew,

I write with a plea and a proposal. This November marks the four year anniversary of Oreo’s death, even though she had a safe and loving place to go. On November 13, 2009, Oreo was killed; not by her abuser, but by the ASPCA 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.

Subsequent to her death, legislation was introduced that would have made it illegal for New York State shelters to kill animals who have a place to go. Although Oreo’s death was the catalyst, the legislation was—and is—desperately needed statewide. A survey of New York State rescue groups revealed that 71 percent had been turned away from shelters, which then killed the very animals they had offered to save. In one case, a rescuer described how the shelter manager specifically walked a dog her group wanted to save right past them and into the room where animals are killed.

Modeled after a very successful bill in California, it was estimated that if “Oreo’s Law” passed, roughly 25,000 animals a year—most of them young, friendly and healthy—would be saved rather than killed by New York shelters. Since California passed such a law, the number of animals transferred to rescue groups rather than killed went from 12,526 to 58,939—a 370% annualized increase because shelters were now required to work with rescue groups. Nonetheless, Ed Sayres—spiteful over the backlash against his killing of Oreo—declared that he would use his leverage in the State Capitol to defeat the bill.

In January of 2010, I wrote Sayres and informed him that the bill would be amended to include additional, though unnecessary, safeguards against hoarders and dog fighters, include liability protection for shelters (once again unnecessary as this is already part of NYS law), and clarify the definition of irremediable physical suffering. But for the ASPCA’s face-saving purposes, we also proposed renaming the bill, ceasing all reference to Oreo as it relates to this bill, offering to allow the ASPCA to take credit for the law, and, to the extent that the ASPCA did not want our support or involvement, to offer our withdrawal.

I begged him not to sacrifice the animals to a personal vendetta against those who were distraught over the ASPCA’s killing of Oreo and then just a few weeks later, another dog in ASPCA custody who rescuers offered to take, Max.

I wrote:

The lives of thousands of animals across NYS being killed despite rescue groups offering to help should not be pawns in your calculations. You have the power to help this bill succeed—to save the lives of thousands upon thousands of animals in New York State, to lead the effort for a No Kill New York, and to establish a precedent for other states to follow. This offer also comes with the power to end discussion of Oreo as it relates to this law once and for all. For the animals, Ed, please take it.

He refused. And although the public support for the bill was overwhelming, with emails to New York legislators shutting down the servers in the Assembly twice, the amended bill was tabled—and has been tabled at the ASPCA’s behest every year—since that time, sending nearly 100,000 animals to their deaths, rather than into the protective embrace of rescue groups and ultimately into the loving arms of families. To put that into perspective, that is enough bodies to fill every seat at Yankee stadium twice. If they were instead lined up end to end, the trail of dead bodies would be almost 30 miles long.

To add insult to injury, Sayres turned around and introduced a cynical bill of his own, which—though billed as a rescue access law—would have done little on that score but codify the status quo, while giving shelters even more power to kill animals, eviscerating some of the few protections animals in shelters have had in New York State (and have been in place for over 40 years).

Recently, and following his departure, however, the ASPCA signed on to a statement embracing the very approach for California that it has fought in New York. The ASPCA, and others, write,

Taking early action to divert animals from probable euthanasia to rescue groups deserves to be common practice. When agencies wait until the end of the holding period to begin the process of coordinating with rescue groups, they may create unreasonable deadlines for rescue groups to save animals. For example, the rescue group may have only 12 to 24 hours before the shelter euthanizes the animal. In some cases that limited amount of time is not feasible for the rescue group to take the animal for placement. In addition, the longer animals linger in shelters, the more likely they are to get sick and become less suitable for adoption or transfer. Shelters can save more lives by resolving to partner with rescue groups and contacting them as early as possible for potential transfers. When shelters give more notice, including what animals are becoming available and when they will be released, rescues can determine if they will have space; arrange foster care, if needed; and begin to promote the dogs and cats for adoption. For the partnership to benefit animals, the transfers should include dogs and cats who the rescue is in a better position to place. These animals may need additional time or investment for health or behavior issues that the shelter cannot provide, but a rescue organization can. Sometimes an agency may just seek relief from the sheer number of incoming animals.

The ASPCA went on to endorse the idea that, “Shelters should maintain a system, such as a listserv[e] (opt-in email list), to notify rescue groups of animals who need placement.” The change in rhetoric is welcome, but given the ASPCA’s history of fighting laws that mandate these very procedures in New York, proof of its sincerity requires a change in practice.

Matthew, it is my understanding that you took umbrage at my blog post, The Company Man, decrying your appointment as the ASPCA president. I am writing to extend an olive branch, to give you the opportunity to prove me wrong. I am writing to ask that the ASPCA and the No Kill Advocacy Center partner to submit the enclosed “Rescue Rights Law” in New York State. The proposed law is strong, effective, thoughtful, desperately needed and entirely consistent with the statements the ASPCA endorsed for California as necessary to save the lives of animals facing unnecessary death.

Help me pass the law, without cynical amendments that would render it a paper tiger or merely symbolic, and I will be the first to admit I was wrong about you. But more than that, and regardless of what you make think of me, and vice-versa, it would save the lives of tens of thousands of animals in New York State shelters each and every year which is, after all, the mission for which the great Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA.

Will you help me do that?

He did not reply. And so on October 15, I reached out again:

October 15, 2013

Matthew E. Bershadker
President, ASPCA
424 E 92nd St
New York, NY 10128-6804

Dear Matthew,

Enclosed please find my letter to you of September 18 to which I have not received a reply. Once again, I am writing to ask that the ASPCA and the No Kill Advocacy Center partner to submit the enclosed “Rescue Rights Law” in New York State. The proposed law is strong, effective, thoughtful, desperately needed and entirely consistent with the statements the ASPCA endorsed for California as necessary to save the lives of animals facing unnecessary death.

Matt, please help me save lives. 

As of yesterday, I still have not received a reply. It has been nearly two months. Matt Bershadker has indicated he is his own man and not intent on following Sayres’ prior policies. That remains to be seen. I do not know if he intends to respond or not. I do not know whether he will help me save lives. And I do not know whether he plans on championing true rescue rights as his statement in California did not change anything: California has had a rescue rights law since 1998 so his statement in support was legally irrelevant. But there are two things I am certain about. Every day we delay in passing a rescue rights law in New York State, the body count increases. Second, the ASPCA holds the key to getting such a law passed and Matt Bershadker has that key in his pocket. The ASPCA enjoys tremendous leverage in the legislature (it was created by the New York State legislature and has a working relationship dating back to the 19th Century), the Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee is beholden to the ASPCA, the Codes Committee will pass it, and the relevant Senate committees have already indicated their willingness to do so.

It is not easy to conceptualize 100,000 dead dogs and cats, animals who would have been saved had Oreo’s Law and its subsequent iterations not been killed by the ASPCA. But if you were to weigh them, they would weigh 2,250,000 pounds, the equivalent of three 747s.

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If you were to put a dead body in each seat at Yankee stadium, they would fill the entire stadium… twice.

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If they were lined up end to end, the trail of dead bodies would be 30 miles long. It would take you 12 hours of walking to see them all.

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Scroll through 100,000 paws, one for each animal estimated to be killed who had a rescue group ready, willing and able to save them.

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At one point, the animals killed led straight to Sayres’ door. Now, they lead to Matt’s. And it ends whenever Matt Bershadker says it ends. As always, I remain ever willing and able to help him do so.

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

Why?

October 21, 2013 by  

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How would you feel if the animal rights group you supported was using your donations to poison “healthy” and “perfect” animals? How would you feel if the group you sent in money to assist with a “rescue” had the animals taken to a facility which gassed them to death? How would you feel if the group you were donating to because they promised to be there for the animals actually sent the neediest ones to a place which neglected, abused, and then killed them? Would you be upset? Would you feel sick to your stomach? Would you feel betrayed? If you donate to PETA, HSUS or the ASPCA, that is exactly how you should feel.

The next obvious question is: Why? Why does PETA kill animals? Why have they called for the killing of every pit bull in every shelter? Why does HSUS defend animal abusers like Michael Vick, while fighting efforts to keep animals away from people who abuse them? Why does the ASPCA fight legislation that would save the lives of 25,000 animals a year all at no cost to taxpayers while sending the neediest animals to an abusive pound to be killed?

Our latest book, Friendly Fire, answers all those questions. And all week, the e-version is free on Amazon (only in the U.S.) by clicking here.

Nathan & Jennifer

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P.S. You do not need a kindle to read it. You can read it on any cell phone, home computer, laptop, iPad or other tablet, Nook or other e-reader, if you first download a free Kindle reading app by clicking here.

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

September 9, 2013 by  

CAdog

The times they are a-changing. A stakeholder group made up largely of kill shelters throughout California and national groups like HSUS and the ASPCA which have long defended them (and continue to do so in many states) have written a white paper where they concede that,

  • “Open admission” is not better: That shelters should not take in healthy cats only to kill them. If they are going to kill them, it is better not to take them in. That shelters should switch to an appointment-based surrender system, rather than make surrendering animals a free-for-all.
  • That shelters should provide humane care and treatment, an admission that this is not the norm. In other words, the stakeholder group implicitly acknowledges that shelters do not treat animals kindly and they should.
  • That shelters should work with rescue groups rather than kill those animals.
  • That shelters should provide necessary medical care so that animals are not left in their facilities to suffer.
  • That shelters should embrace of neuter and release for cats as an alternative to catch and kill.

Overall, what is most encouraging about this paper is its philosophical orientation away from the notion that in order to reduce shelter killing, we must reform the public rather than those who are actually doing the killing. Because the No Kill movement has so successfully changed the terms of the debate, these groups are finally admitting that the problem lies with the shelters themselves—a literal about-face from the positions that these groups have unequivocally and historically advocated.

The white paper can be found by clicking here.

While we should celebrate this change in rhetoric as evidence of the incredible pressure these groups are now under as a result of our efforts, these proposals are rendered paper tigers. As has been historically been the case, these groups continue to act as lobbying organizations for shelter directors, rather than for the animals. Though the will and desire to end shelter killing already exists among the California public, a love and compassion that HSUS and the ASPCA should be harnessing to codify No Kill into law and thereby save the lives of millions of animals every year, these groups continue to ignore that potential and its inherent mandate, choosing instead to perpetuate the fiction that the way we reform our shelters is not through the force of law as every other movement for social justice has done, but by merely suggesting to those who are harming animals that they stop doing so.

In fact, the group turns around and tells shelters they are free to ignore their program recommendations; that they “remain at the discretion of each community to choose whether and how to implement.” Our shelters are already run on the honor system: these alternatives to killing are already available and are being widely ignored by most shelter directors in California. To save lives, we must work to remove the discretion that allows shelter directors to avoid doing what is in the best interest of animals and to kill them needlessly, not allow that discretion to continue. In addition, the groups continue to ignore the hundreds of No Kill communities across the county and the model they use to achieve it. Pretending otherwise, the groups cherry pick which programs they like and ignore others, even though No Kill success, their alleged goal, is not possible without comprehensive implementation of the missing programs.

A critical assessment of this issue and the other ways in which their white paper falls short written by the No Kill Advocacy Center can be found by clicking here.

Moreover, while they advocate working with rescue groups, neuter and release, and public disclosure of kill rates for California, HSUS and the ASPCA continue to fight similar provisions in other states. Why? HSUS and the ASPCA have local reps in different parts of the country who are given free rein to pursue their personal, regressive agendas while receiving little to no oversight from their organizational leaders. Wayne Pacelle and Mike Markarian of HSUS continue to be absentee landlords, at best (in reality, they are harmful empty suits).

Finally, the report focuses almost exclusively on limiting intakes. Except for neuter and release for community cats and working with rescue groups (which is already the law in California), they ignore what to do with the animals once they are in their custody. Specifically, they fail to focus on two of the most important programs to save lives: increasing adoptions and getting more lost animals home, through proactive reclaim efforts.

Ironically, in one area, they swing the pendulum too far. While I have long advocated for a bifurcated holding period for stray animals—where animals are held for reclaim during a short period of time, and then reclaim, adoption or transfer for the remainder, during which period they cannot be killed—the group called for allowing shelters to skip a reclaim period altogether and allow shelters to adopt or transfer even stray animals right away. In other words, if a dog or cat comes in as a stray, and he does not have identification, he can’t be killed which is good, but he can be adopted to someone else immediately without giving his family any time to reclaim him. This is unfair to families who deeply love and will lose their animal companions. Coupled with the fact that California’s holding period is already among the lowest in the nation, there is no reason why families cannot be given a reasonable period of time to reclaim an animal during the first part of the holding period, before the animal is then held for reclaim, adoption and/or transfer. Accidents happen; animals get lost and end up at shelters. Since the choice presented—immediate adoption or sickness/death—is a false one, breaking up families by having them lose all rights in their animal with no reclaim period of any kind is draconian.

But to pro-killing holdouts like PETA, to shelter directors who still peddle clichés to justify the killing while refusing to implement readily-available lifesaving alternatives, and to those who put their allegiance to these groups even when they betray the animals, the change in rhetoric is a harbinger of things to come. The veneer is peeling off the edifice of shelter killing as never before.  As such, the white paper is an important step in the right direction.

That it is still too many step backs from what the No Kill movement has already achieved simply means they still have a long, long way to go to catch up. But the message this paper sends to all of us in the No Kill movement is crystal clear: we are winning and must continue to mount the pressure that has so obviously left these groups with no choice but to try and evolve.

Read the California Shelter Report by clicking here.

Read the No Kill Advocacy Center’s response and alternative by clicking here.

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

Pandering for “Likes”

August 6, 2013 by  

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At my presentation a couple of months ago in Buffalo, New York, I noticed something about those who were in attendance that gave me great hope for the future: it was filled with people in positions of authority, the very people who need to take our message seriously in order to create wide and lasting change for animals. There were politicians (senators and supervisors), city managers, corporation counsels, network broadcasters, public interest lawyers, and members of the Board of Directors of other shelters. In the past, most of these people avoided my speaking engagements because I was considered so “controversial.” Not anymore. And with the proliferating number of No Kill communities and with an increasing number of traditional shelter directors attending the No Kill Conference, I feel confident in saying that the tide is turning and we are reaching a new phase in our cause. This is news to celebrate, as these are the people we need to convince to make our dream a reality.

At the same time this is happening, however, I see a trend on the Facebook pages of some No Kill educational organizations which show them moving away from substance just at the time it is needed most. Instead of substantive posts, they are posting photos, videos, and stories of animals designed not to empower, but to amuse as these tend to get large numbers of “likes.” Non-shelter No Kill Facebook pages, if they are to authentically serve the cause they claim to support, should be primarily educational tools, posting material intended to elevate the discussion about shelter killing in the U.S. beyond clichés about pet overpopulation and the importance of spay/neuter. They need to be followed by a dialogue on those posts to answer questions, clarify confusion, respond to comments, and to provide assistance to activists as needed.

This requires effort, and it can often lead to friction, but, in the end, it is a necessary precursor to change. We shouldn’t judge our effectiveness for the animals based on how many “likes” our Facebook page gets, but on how good of a job it is doing educating people about our mission and how good it is at turning animal lovers into advocates who are armed with the knowledge to succeed in their own hometowns. I am not stodgy and uptight and I certainly do not want to come off as a curmudgeon. Nor am I suggesting we should never lighten up or take some of the steam out by embracing our whimsical side. I understand how important it is to laugh, to find joy in what we do. I also understand the need to increase edgerank so that Facebook will show our posts to more people. But we have to be more, much more, because we aren’t going to achieve No Kill by becoming as hollow and devoid of substance as the large national groups. We aren’t going to end the systematic killing of animals in shelters by doing what the large, national groups do: counting “likes” or “retweets” as signs of influence or impact.

Indeed, I find the current trend toward a majority of postings intended to elicit “Aww, how cute” responses as opposed to “I am going to fight for No Kill” disturbing because they are the very type of non-advocacy for companion animals that we exist to fight. They celebrate and elevate mediocrity and they do little to further our cause. In fact, they hinder it by making us appear as lightweights devoid of strength and substance.

It is one thing for shelters to use humor and photographs as a means of finding homes for rescued animals. It is quite another for animal protection advocacy organizations to appeal to the lowest common denominator as a means of increasing the number of followers. For in the end, what does it matter how many followers a page has if those followers aren’t being armed with knowledge? Aren’t being turned into No Kill advocates or supporters? “Like” posts that are funny and ignore those that are serious because Facebook self-selects which posts to show based on who is liking what? I would rather see fewer postings that are thoughtful and eye-opening than so many empty, meaningless ones. That would have the value of not only honing the intended message, but it would also decrease the chances that followers of that page would come to regard postings as nothing more than moments of distraction—a cute video or photo to “like” and go on with their day, ignoring beyond lip-service and hand-wringing the plight of millions of animals systematically being put to death every year in our nation’s so-called “shelters.”

We owe the animals much more than using their images to emotionally manipulate people into “likes” or donations as HSUS, the ASPCA, and others do. We need to arm the activist with the tools he or she needs, inspiring them to the highest aspirations for animals, and empowering them to become effective agents of change. And that means putting an end to the mindless quest for the largest number of “likes” achieved by following the national groups off the cliff into a deep, black void of kitsch.

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

Shelter Killing Benefits Puppy Mills

May 14, 2013 by  

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The myth of pet overpopulation is the lie at the heart of shelter killing in America. It is the excuse that every shelter director who kills animals uses to rationalize that killing as a necessity, in spite of the fact that it is unsupported by both the data and the experiences of those communities that have achieved what was once regarded as impossible: an end to their killing of animals. And yet as self-evident as this truth is to me today, there was a time when I, too, believed in pet overpopulation and would have been both stunned and confused to learn that I would someday argue against its existence. Indeed, it is not as though I woke up one day and thought “Hey, I think pet overpopulation is a myth!” Nor did I think that someday I would champion the notion that it was. I did not even set out to prove it. It unfolded as part of my journey in the humane movement and the facts began to compel further analysis. In fact, at one time, I too drank of the pet overpopulation Kool Aid. The dedication of my book, Redemption, says it all:

To my wife, Jennifer. Who believed long before I did.

Once, on a date before we were married, we debated the issue. I insisted that, “There were too many animals and not enough homes” and asked her, “What were shelters supposed to do with them?” She correctly argued that even if it were true, killing animals was still unethical and that as animal activists, it was our job to find alternatives, not to blindly accept that the killing was a fait accompli about which we could do nothing to change. She argued that if we took killing off the table, human ingenuity and human compassion would find a way to make it work. But, more importantly, she asked me how I knew it was true that pet overpopulation was real and that killing animals was therefore inevitable.

How did I know? Because I had heard it repeated a thousand times. Because I took the fact of killing in shelters and then rationalized the reason backward. But I was too embarrassed to admit so. Here I was: a Stanford Law student who wore my 4.0 department GPA, my highest honors in Political Science, my Phi Beta Kappa, and my Summa Cum Laude, as a badge of my smarts and I came face to face with my own sloppy logic and slipshod thinking about the issue. “It just is,” I said (lamely).

But therein began a journey that started in San Francisco, then Tompkins County (NY), then visiting hundreds of shelters across the country only to find animals being killed in the face of alternatives, only to find animals being killed despite empty cages, sometimes banks and banks of them. And so I began reviewing data. I reviewed statistics on animal intakes and studies on available homes. I studied the data reported by over 1,000 shelters nationwide. I reviewed the data from the states that mandate shelter reporting. And the conclusion became not just inescapable, but unassailable: pet overpopulation does not exist not only because the number of homes in America vastly exceed the number of shelter animals in need of a home; but also because my experience creating a No Kill community and now the hundreds of cities and towns which have also done so since prove it. In those communities which have ended the killing, they did so through adoptions and the vast majority did so in six months or less. In my case, it was literally overnight.

And since that time, other studies have not only proved I was right, they show I was conservative. To be sure, millions of animals are being killed in our nation’s shelters every year, and that is nothing short of a national tragedy. But they are not being killed because of the reasons we have been historically given to blame. They are not dying because of a lack of homes. They are dying because of a lack of innovation, a failure to embrace of proven methods of lifesaving. As I state at the end of Redemption, animals are dying in shelters for primarily one reason: because the people in shelters choose to kill them in the face of readily-available lifesaving alternatives.

Yet simply because I say pet overpopulation is a myth, I’m continually accused by champions of shelter killing of having nefarious intent: of being in league with puppy mills and commercial breeders. But understanding that the facts do not support the notion of pet overpopulation and saying so publicly has nothing whatsoever to do with supporting breeding or being in league with puppy or kitten mills. In fact, advocacy for animals requires that we expose the lie that is the primary excuse shelters use to kill for the same reason we should oppose puppy and kitten mills: both harm animals. Puppy mills, like poorly performing shelters, provide minimal to no veterinary care, lack of adequate food and shelter, lack of human socialization, and cause neglect, abuse, and the killing of animals when they are no longer profitable.

And that is why my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, has held workshops on closing down puppy mills and has supported laws banning the sale of commercially bred animals in pet stores. And it is why I believe that regardless of why animals are being killed, they are being killed, and as long as they are, it is incumbent on everyone seeking to bring an animal into their life to either rescue or adopt from a shelter. Adoption and rescue are ethical imperatives. In short, one does not have to believe in or perpetuate the lie of pet overpopulation to want to close down puppy mills. Nor does recognizing that pet overpopulation is a myth somehow grant a license to commercially or purposely breed animals. Before I ever suggested that pet overpopulation did not exist, the puppy mill industry was alive and thriving. Given the lack of concern those who operate such mills show for animals, what does it matter to them if there is pet overpopulation or not? They couldn’t care less what happens to the animals they sell. But I do. In fact, I am opposed to the commodification of animals, of having the law regard them as property to produce, buy and sell. Animals are not property; they are autonomous individuals, individuals who should be given legal rights, chief among them the right to live.

Acknowledging the truth—that both the data and experience disprove the existence of pet overpopulation—does not mean a person therefore subscribes to a whole host of anti-animal positions. Quite the opposite. It means, simply and thankfully, that we do not have to kill the animals entering our shelters under the disproven notion that there are too few homes. There are not; in fact, there are plenty. To save rather than end the lives of half of all animals who currently enter shelters only to die, we do not have to reform the 310,000,000 Americans apologists for shelter killing consider “irresponsible” and to blame for that killing. We just have to reform those who are truly at fault: the 3,000 irresponsible shelter directors who kill when they don’t have to and the four individuals running the national organizations which defend and protect them: Ingrid Newkirk of PETAWayne Pacelle of HSUSMatt Bershadker of the ASPCA and Robin Ganzert of the American Humane Association. U.S. shelters kill not only because killing is easier, but because, historically, they have enjoyed the political cover of pet overpopulation which allowed them to continue doing so, political cover that comes courtesy of the animal protection movement itself.

To save lives, shelters must begin doing a better job of competing for the market share of the abundantly available homes in America, and, just as important, they must begin keeping animals alive long enough for them to get into those homes. And when I realized this for the first time, rather than bury it, ignore it or downplay it, I did what anyone who truly loves animals would have done. I celebrated it. Why? Because it meant that we had the power to end the killing, today. And that is what I wanted to happen because I love animals.

And yet here’s the irony: the very supporters of the very groups who have made these spurious allegations against me are actually the ones who benefit puppy mills, not me. As my colleague Ryan Clinton recently wrote,

By fighting lifesaving shelter reform, PETA and other regressive animal organizations are effectively aiding and abetting the commercial breeding of animals. By arguing that all pit bulls in shelters should be killed, PETA and others are necessarily driving those who aim to adopt a pit bull to breeders who will gladly meet the demand. By killing nearly every animal that comes in its front door (and lobbying against No Kill reforms throughout the country), PETA is, in reality, aiding and abetting the continuation of the large-scale animal-production industry.

He’s right. But there’s actually more to it than that. By fighting shelter reform and both defending and promoting killing—which groups like HSUS, the ASPCA and PETA do—they discourage the adoption of shelter animals. By embracing draconian adoption policies, they drive good homes to breeders and pet stores. When they fight efforts to increase rescue partnerships, they lessen the supply of available shelter/rescue animals, again, driving people into the arms of breeders. Moreover, traditional kill shelters discourage adopters by the very fact that they kill.

Many people do not want to visit a shelter where they have to meet animals who face possible execution. This hit home for me one day when I answered the telephone at the shelter. The person who called asked me when our next offsite adoption was. After I gave her the information, I told her she should come down to the shelter because we had hundreds of animals, compared to the ten or so who would be at the offsite. Not knowing we were No Kill, she replied she could never do so and explained why: she couldn’t bear to see the hundreds of animals who might be killed if she didn’t choose them.

As No Kill advocates, we may not like the fact that people won’t face such a discomforting scenario to save a life, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. Kill shelters are disturbing, unsettling places to visit for those who care about animals, not to mention the fact that the more a shelter kills, the more dirty and neglectful it is likely to be, and the more hostile and poor its customer service—all driving the public away from shelters and into the arms of the commercial pet trade.

On the other hand, when we reform shelters, we not only make them safe for animal lovers to work at, but we make them safe for adopters, too. During the height of the San Francisco SPCA’s lifesaving success in the late-1990s, when we had seven offsite adoption venues every day throughout the city in addition to our main shelter, there was not a single store selling dogs left in the city. We had out-competed them and they all went out of the animal selling business. When I was running the Tompkins County SPCA, potential adopters in our community faced two main choices: they could buy a kitten at a pet store for $50 or they could adopt one from us (in the same mall) for $30.

Unlike the pet store, our adoptions included sterilization, vaccinations, a free bag of cat food, a free visit to the veterinarian of the adopter’s choice, a free identification tag, a discount at the local pet supply, free grooming, a free guide to caring for their new kitten, free behavior advice for life, a discount on their next cup of coffee, the satisfaction of knowing they saved a life, and, during Christmas, Santa would deliver the kitten to their door. The pet store eventually approached us about working together by having us do cat adoptions in their store. Instead of selling animals, they began helping us find homes for ours.

The same thing is beginning to happen in central Texas, where No Kill reform efforts in various shelters are reducing the demand for purposely bred animals, as Ryan Clinton further explains:

If more Americans adopt dogs and cats from shelters rather than acquiring them from alternative sources like pet stores and on-line sellers, demand for commercially bred animals will necessarily decline. In fact, we’ve seen this come true in Central Texas: at least one large-scale breeder gave up in the face of increased competition from progressive area animal shelters and turned over his keys to a shelter to find homes for his animals… By saving shelter pets’ lives, No Kill policies and programs eat into commercial breeders’ profits.

If we reform our shelters, this could also be the story of every American community. Widespread No Kill success in our nation’s shelters would not only save the lives of almost four million animals every year, it—combined with legislative efforts to regulate, reform, close down, and eliminate their markets—would drive a dagger to the heart of the puppy and kitten mill industries. And yet HSUS, the ASPCA and PETA fight our efforts to reform shelters.

Worse, groups like HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA act like puppy and kitten mills themselves. True animal lovers embrace the No Kill philosophy because they want to prevent harm to animals, such as their systematic slaughter in shelters. True animal lovers also want to shut down the commercial mill trade in animals because they want to prevent harm to these animals, such as their systematic abuse. That is ethically consistent. But PETA, HSUS, the ASPCA and their defenders ignore or fight reform efforts to stop shelter neglect, abuse, and killing which is the same type of harm that animals face in large-scale, commercial breeding operations for the pet store market.

PETA claims to want to stop puppy mill abuse but will defend the exact conduct if it occurs in a shelter. HSUS claims to want to stop puppy mill abuse but will give awards to shelters that sadistically abuse animals. The ASPCA not only fights shelter reform that would eliminate some of the worst abuses of the draconian shelter system we now have, but sends animals to be killed in those shelters. Neglect is neglect, abuse is abuse, killing is killing regardless of by whose hand that neglect, abuse, and killing is done. To look the other way at one because that neglect, abuse, and killing is done by “friends,” “colleagues,” or simply because the perpetrators call themselves a “humane society” is indefensible.

In the final analysis, it is HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA which benefit puppy and kitten mills and the commercial breeding of animals, not No Kill advocates who refuse to subscribe to the lie of pet overpopulation which enables systematic killing. It is HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA which benefit commercial breeding when they fight efforts to reform shelters and make them safe for animal lovers to both work at and adopt from. It is HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA who act like puppy and kitten mills when they defend abuse and killing in shelters. And by extension, the people who defend these actions by HSUS, ASPCA, and PETA also benefit puppy and kitten mills, in spite of whatever disproven dogma—such as the myth of pet overpopulation—they may cling to in order to defend such a deadly and unethical position.

For further reading:

The Lie at the Heart of the Killing

The Enemy of Your Enemy

What’s In a Name?

Ethical Consistency for True Dog Lovers

Adopting Your Way Out of Killing

Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

The Company Man

May 3, 2013 by  

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When Ed Sayres resigned from his $550,000 a year job as CEO of the ASPCA, I wrote ASPCA Board Chair Tim Wray and urged him not to hire yet another in a long line of empty suits. Specifically, I wrote,

The outgoing President of the organization you oversee, the ASPCA, leaves in his wake a legacy of controversy and betrayal. His tenure is marked by his heartless killing of Oreo and other animals who rescuers offered to save, his defeat of rescue rights laws in New York while championing laws that eviscerated shelter holding periods, of releasing manuals which sought to educate shelter directors about how to fight No Kill reform efforts (efforts that were characterized as essentially acts of terrorism), of promoting sham shelter “reform” programs which exacerbated rather than lessened shelter killing, of an animal cruelty investigation division which failed to do its job thereby leaving abused and suffering New York City animals to die, of funding operations that raise animals to be slaughtered for food, and of defending the cruel and abusive New York city pound. In short, Ed Sayres lack of philosophical commitment to the cause which he was entrusted to represent is evident in his tragic legacy, and can best be summed up in the statement he made to the most widely read newspaper in America, USA Today. In 2007, he was quoted as having said, “There is no room for No Kill as morally superior,” equating the needless killing of four million animals a year as the ethical equivalent of a movement which actually saves their lives.

After setting out how the ASPCA could truly be a leader in areas ranging from companion animals to wild animals to animal raised for food, I closed with a plea,

The possibilities are breathtaking, so I urge you not to do what the ASPCA Board has always done when choosing the next President of the ASPCA: do not elevate form over function. Do not choose someone who represents the lowest common denominator, but rather embrace a person of commitment and integrity who will rally the nation with the highest of aspirations. Do not take this decision lightly, but give it a consideration that is equal to its vast potential to help those who are now not only so horribly abused, but so misrepresented by those who are supposed to speak on their behalf as well. By making the right choice, the Board of Directors could not only breathe new and authentic life into the ASPCA motto, “We Are Their Voice,” the ASPCA would be given power to transform our country. The tenure of the next President of the ASPCA could be historic, a before-and-after moment in the cause of animal protection.

 

Given the vast, untapped potential that exists to help animals through the ASPCA; given how much the ASPCA could positively affect American society on behalf of animals in truly profound and lasting ways; and given the gravity of what is potentially at stake, I urge you not to pick yet another, in a long line, of empty suits.

 

The animals deserve better.

They won’t get better. Yesterday, the ASPCA put out a press release saying,

The ASPCA … announced that it has named Matthew E. Bershadker President and CEO. Mr. Bershadker is a 12-year veteran of the ASPCA, serving most recently as Senior Vice President of the Anti-Cruelty Group (ACG). Mr. Bershadker will assume the position June 1, succeeding Edwin Sayres, President and CEO since 2003.

 

Under Mr. Bershadker’s leadership, the ASPCA has risen to new heights in its response to cruelty and natural disasters. The Anti-Cruelty Group evolved from a fledgling team of responders to a robust, national program that confronts animal cruelty and suffering on all levels across the country. Mr. Bershadker helped form the Field Investigations & Response team to provide skilled support to state and federal agencies during large-scale puppy mill busts, dog fighting raids, animal hoarding cases, and other instances of animal cruelty as well as natural disasters such as the Joplin, Mo. tornado and Superstorm Sandy. The team has investigated hundreds of cases around the country. Last year, the ASPCA played a leadership role in the removal of 50 dogs from a Bronx dog fighting ring. Most recently, the ASPCA assisted federal and state authorities in the removal of nearly 100 dogs from a multi-state dog fighting ring.

 

Prior to leading the Anti-Cruelty Group, Mr. Bershadker served as Vice President of the ASPCA’s Development department, where he was responsible for creating fundraising strategy and implementing tactics for major gifts, planned giving, special events, capital campaign, and corporate and foundation grants.

In short, they hired a company man. When animal lovers emailed about Sayre’s war on animal lovers throughout his tenure, Wray defended his then-CEO saying that Sayres helped increase fundraising during his leadership to nearly $150,000,000 a year. To Wray, a money manager himself, profits appeared to define success, irrespective of how many animals were sent to the pound to be killed, how many animals were left to starve in the city, how much the ASPCA sided with cruel and abusive shelters.

The new CEO “was responsible for creating fundraising strategy and implementing tactics for major gifts, planned giving, special events, capital campaign, and corporate and foundation grants,” according to Wray, and therefore, he is qualified, period.

The ASPCA Board, however, claims they really hired him for his “success” at overseeing the Anti-Cruelty Group. Of course, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s famous line, “it all depends upon what your definition of ‘success’ is.” In this case, failure is the new success.

The ASPCA allowed dogs to starve to death all over New York City. According to a Channel 11 expose,

Dogs, cats and other animals are suffering and even dying needlessly all over New York City, and the culprit behind their hurt, according to PIX11 News sources, is the management of an organization that’s supposed to be helping animals.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported receiving $122 million in donations last year in its cause to prevent animal cruelty, but some whistleblowers told PIX11 News that the ASPCA is preventing its own animal cruelty investigators from doing their jobs.

The incompetence has had fatal consequences:

An HLE case file obtained by PIX11 News features some very disturbing images. They are about a half dozen photographs that a responding HLE investigator was required to take of a pit bull mix that was so severely emaciated and badly neglected that it died. The case file clearly points out in its narrative, “This case is 2 weeks old,” too long after the ASPCA received an anonymous complaint about the starved dog for HLE officers to step in and save the dog’s life…

 

That case is by no means isolated. PIX11 also obtained other case reports in which dogs were dead by the time investigators were finally given the case files for the called-in complaints. In one case, the investigator wasn’t able to respond to the complaint until seven days after it was called in. In another, the complaint wasn’t followed up for two-and-a-half months.

The ASPCA Press Release announcing the promotion said it was Bershadker’s job “to help protect companion animals that are in danger of potential abuse or neglect.” In the case of animals in the ASPCA’s own backyard, they failed to do so. The anti-cruelty department has also been rocked with allegations of perjury. And when the ASPCA itself was accused in a federal lawsuit of abuse claiming an ASPCA employee, with an alleged history of abuse, kicked to death a man’s dog who was being treated at the ASPCA veterinary hospital, the ASPCA did not admit wrongdoing. ASPCA humane law enforcement agents did not swing into action. Instead, the ASPCA covered up the abuse. It is not clear whether he was in charge of that department at the time, but he was in management and there is little reason to believe the results would have been different. Bershadker’s team routinely looked the other way at horrific neglect and abuse at the New York City pound, continuing to send animals to be abused and killed there, while the ASPCA defended the pound to the animals’ detriment.

According to a lawsuit in federal court, the ASPCA abusively killed this man’s dog and then covered it up.

Finally, Wray lauds Bershadker for his oversight of ASPCA rescues around the country, including during Superstorm Sandy. But what happened to many of the animals “rescued” by Bershadker’s group? After the photo-ops and after the fundraising appeals went out, they were sent to kill shelters. Even if these shelters did not kill any of the ASPCA animals, a dubious proposition in itself, they likely killed local animals to make room. Either way, animals needlessly lost their lives because an agency with annual revenues of nearly 150 million dollars, its own shelter in New York City, and access to the single largest adoption market in the nation didn’t care what happened to the animals once the money people donated was safely deposited in the bank.

Of course, Bershadker promises to take the ASPCA to the “next level.” And animal lovers want to believe, want to be wrong about him, want to hold out hope that he was just biding his time until he could take control and lead the ASPCA in a new direction: just like they wanted to believe when another company man, long-time PR spinmaster and HSUS lobbyist Wayne Pacelle was promoted to CEO of that organization. When he took over HSUS after ten years there, Pacelle also promised a new, improved HSUS. Specifically, he stated that HSUS,

[W]ill honor the highest ethical standards in pursuing our mission, working within the system to advance our objectives. At the same time, we will strive to be nimble, hard-hitting, and aggressive, seizing opportunities as they arise and pushing ahead in a determined way with our proactive agenda. We exist to change the status quo and to change social norms. As such, confrontation and controversy are not to be feared; instead, they are logical consequences of meaningful and effective action.

Instead, they got more of the same: more killing, more support of killing, and a defense of neglect and abuse of animals, so long as the neglect and abuse occurred in shelters. In other words, like Pacelle before him, there is little reason to elevate hope above experience with Bershadker. When someone shows you who they are and what they represent over and over again, believe them. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Learn more:

The ASPCA Allows Dogs to Starve to Death

In the Arms of the Angel of Death

No More Empty Suits

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

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