A No Kill Nation is Within Our Reach

May 22, 2015 by  


Thanks to a grant from No Kill Nation, I am thrilled to announce that a free copy of Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America will be sent to every shelter and rescue group in the country. We now have a solution to shelter killing and it is not difficult, expensive nor beyond practical means to achieve. As the film demonstrates, No Kill is a humane, sustainable, effective model that allows open admission animal control shelters to save all healthy and treatable animals. Unlike the “adopt some and kill the rest” form of animal sheltering that is responsible for the needless deaths of millions of savable animals every year, No Kill shelters are saving as high as 99% of all animals entrusted to their care. If the shelter in your community is not one of them, I hope the film inspires them to become one.


Consider this:

  • Almost 1,000,000 people live in communities where the municipal shelter is saving at least 98% of the animals;
  • About 10,000,000 people live in communities where the municipal shelter is saving at least 90% of dogs and cats in their shelters; and,
  • Over 40,000,000 people live in communities saving at least 80%.

How are they doing it? About 7,000,000 animals enter shelters every year, yet roughly 30,000,000 Americans acquire a new companion animal every year. We can adopt our way out of killing and many communities have by implementing the cost-effective programs and services of the No Kill Equation. By working with people, embracing lifesaving programs, and treating each life as precious, a shelter can transform itself.


The No Kill Advocacy Center is here to help with free step by step guides. Check them out at nokilladvocacycenter.org. And soon, we’ll have a self-assessment tool with model policies and procedures for the operation of an open admission No Kill shelter.

Together, not only will we save lives; but we will create a future where every animal will be respected and cherished, and where every individual life will be protected and revered.


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Recapturing My Roots

May 21, 2015 by  


A Parade Magazine article from the early 1990s.

In the coming year, my work to help animals will include a new focus. As I explain in my blog “Who Is Nathan Winograd?” recounting my history in the cause of animal protection, I entered the movement as a young law student at Stanford, interested in pursuing a career in animal rights law. Given my experiences at Stanford working to protect the free-living cats on campus and the troubling education it afforded me as to the dysfunctional nature of not only the animal sheltering industry but the animal protection movement, companion animals became my primary focus and has remained so throughout the past two decades.

Since graduating from law school in the 1990s, I have had the privilege of running and then consulting with some of the most successful shelters in the country. Recounting those experiences in my book, Redemption, I helped to educate others about The No Kill Equation, a model of animal sheltering which replaces killing with humane alternatives. And as founder and director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, I have, among other things, been able to codify No Kill policies and procedures at our nation’s animal shelters into law through the passage of our model legislation, the Companion Animal Protection Act and to witness the positive influence our annual No Kill Conference has had upon those of other organizations, forcing them to evolve the messages of their conferences from how to kill and defend killing, to how to save lives. With the pending mass release of the documentary based on Redemption which will be distributed to every rescue group and shelter in the country for free, I hope our influence will be even greater, pushing the envelope of lifesaving throughout the country to even greater heights. And with Welcome Home, my fifth book on companion animals, in production and with the No Kill movement making tremendous headway, I believe the time is ripe for me to recapture my roots in the cause of animal protection, to not only focus more heavily on the law and litigation, but the welfare and rights of other species of animals whom I have always cared deeply about, too.

This summer, the No Kill Advocacy Center will be expanding its efforts to protect animals through litigation. Going forth, my work will not only find me in court more than ever before, but will expand beyond cats, dogs and other companion animals to include protecting other species of animals also being systematically abused and killed as well. While the No Kill Advocacy Center’s primary initiative will remain protecting animals in shelters, through Section 1983 and similar lawsuits, our first major litigation project of this new initiative will focus on protecting abused chickens on factory farms, the details of which I will be releasing in the next month or so. This is an exciting evolution for both our organization and for me, the fruits of which I hope will bear the same sort of positive impact for other animals that our efforts have historically had for companion animals.

Stay tuned…


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‘Destroy Their Homes Because Animals Can’t Suffer’

May 18, 2015 by  

SF Chron ad FINAL_Layout 1_0001

Starting in August, 2,059 acres of San Francisco East Bay forest will be felled by the chainsaw and the trees converted to woodchips. Habitat for owls, squirrels, raccoons, and many other animals will simply be wiped out and roughly 7,000 gallons of toxic herbicides made by Dow and Monsanto—including those found to be toxic to wildlife, cancerous to humans, to destroy the kidneys and liver of dogs, and when cruelly tested on animals, resulted in rats being born with their brains outside of their skulls—will be sprayed in wildlife habitat, near people’s homes, in dog parks and other recreational corridors. How does one clearcutting proponent answer the charge that this plan will cause immense animal suffering? With the 16th century claim that animals won’t suffer because they are incapable of it.

“‘Suffering’ is a human term that we project onto the world,” he writes. “[We] really don’t know what is going on in their being,” that “most of life they take as it comes, without judgment whether it is good/bad or painful/pleasurable,” and that “our discriminating, judgmental mind is a source of our suffering; we bring it on ourselves.” In other words, decimating several thousand acres of trees that currently provide the animals who live among them shelter, shade, safety, a place to build their nests and which create the ecosystem which produces their food supply is of no moral consequence because, parroting the same line of thinking used to condone the most heinous atrocities in history, the victims “aren’t like us.” Eviscerating common sense, the entire philosophical underpinning of the animal protection movement—empathy—as well as the science which is increasingly revealing the shared neurobiology between humans and non-humans and therefore the emotional capabilities of animals for love, attachment, grief and justice, this particular defense of the clearcutting plan demonstrates, as no other has, the corrupted calculations and callous indifference of those who support it. To defend animal cruelty with a medieval morality simply astonishes the thoughtful mind and the merciful heart, and I am not going to let him, and Mayor Libby Schaaf who supports the plan, get away with it.

Anyone who donates at least $20 today by clicking here to help me place this ad in the San Francisco Chronicle will get a DVD of Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America as a thank you (U.S. addresses only).

Learn more: www.saveeastbayhills.org

Take action by clicking here.

Join the conversation: Save The East Bay Hills


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Finding the Courage to Do the Right Thing

May 16, 2015 by  


Victims of Ingrid Newkirk. How many more will die?

Dear PETA Employees,

A few days ago, I posted an article entitled “The (Death) Cult of PETA.” Based on photographs, documents, newspaper accounts, court records, testimonials, interviews with 10 PETA employees who described, in detail, its inner workings, and several high profile cases in which PETA has been caught killing and even stealing animals, it is clear to me that PETA is an animal rights organization in name only, a name which masquerades and enables their true agenda of systematically seeking out thousands of animals every year in order to poison them to death. It is a goal they accomplish by not only manipulating animal activists who go to work for that organization into becoming killers, but by intimidating them into remaining silent about the atrocities against animals going on behind closed doors.

Sadly, though the information contained in my article is damning, what prevents the message contained within it from reaching a wider audience is the fact that each of the PETA employees I have spoken to insists on maintaining their anonymity. While the individuals who contact me relay deeply disturbing facts which haunt them, only one person—Heather Harper-Troje—has ever attached her name to public allegations, a former employee who worked for the agency years ago. And while the facts she recounts about how that organization works are no different that the facts recounted to me by recent employees, the amount of time that has passed since her employ limits the impact of her message, which is why she has recently posted a plea imploring other PETA employees to go public as she has. Explaining that former employees have far more to personally gain by speaking out than they do by remaining dumb, she implores other employees to abandon the same fear that kept her silent, and complicit, for far too many years.

As Harper-Troje has discovered to be true for her, you have everything to gain from exposing the truth and PETA has everything to lose. The people who run PETA are bullies, and like all bullies, they operate by instilling fear; a fear that is often based on the illusion that the retaliation they are capable of inflicting is far worse than it actually is. In other words, their power over you ends the moment you decide it does.

For how can their attempts to discredit you as a disgruntled employee maintain their believability when you are not one but many? How can PETA’s claim that everyone who exposes them is lying maintain its credibility when a chorus of people are recounting the same story? There is untold strength and power in public PETA mutiny, a fact which no doubt keeps those at PETA responsible for the killing up at night. For even today, an employee reports that some managers are on a hair-trigger as the public façade, the lies, and the crimes against animals for which PETA is responsible unravel in public. For the more of you there are, the less animal activists and donors who support PETA can justify that support when it causes their friends, family and colleagues to question their own morality for continuing to do so in light of your testimony. And the more of you who speak out, the more you will embolden others to come forward, too.

So contact Norfolk media, tell them you want to tell your story, then tell it without fear of reprisal, in the same tradition as other whistleblowers in history responsible for stopping evil by summoning the courage to expose it. Band together with other PETA employees and hold a press conference and recount what you know to be happening at that organization. Write blogs, release photos, recount your experiences, consent to interviews with the media, tell us the facts, speak the truth, but most important of all, use your names. Understand that PETA has far more reason to fear you than you have to fear them, for they are the ones who are behaving unethically and in seeking to stop them, you are the one behaving morally.

Moreover, understand that which those of us who have criticized PETA for many years long ago discovered: that for all their saber rattling and threats of litigation, those of us who have publically attacked them have paid no price at all, at least not one that matters when considered in light of what is at stake for the animals. Threats of litigation against us—against me—by PETA attorney Jeff Kerr have proven hollow, a bark with no bite, for he knows that mounting a defense would allow me to subpoena documents, compel witnesses to testify under penalty of perjury, expose the malfeasants he is paid to protect, and put the inner workings of the “exam room” on display for all to see, thereby revealing facts that would be utterly damning to the PETA cult. In short, the impotent Kerr knows PETA critics are telling the truth and truth is a defense against libel.

So fight back against PETA managers who corrupted your purpose, who asked for your cooperation as they betrayed everything you once claimed to believe in and who even asked you to participate in harming those whom you once chose to dedicate your career to protecting. Strip the few who harm animals of the ability to do so as a result of the collective silence of the majority, and help me and other animal activists working to protect the thousands of animals every year who will continue to die at the hands of PETA every year.

The animals need YOU.


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DIY Toronto

May 5, 2015 by  


Please save the date. On June 13, in Toronto, I will be screening Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America. The film will be followed by a presentation on how you can make a lifesaving difference for shelter animals. Toronto is the first stop on the 2015 D.I.Y. tour which seeks to empower activists to end the killing of animals in their community. Attendees will receive a “Do It Yourself” guide: How to be a Superhero for Shelter Animals.


For more information, click here.


To receive an email with screening locations as well as DVD availability, click here. (Be sure to click the box “No Kill Advocates” to receive an email).


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Free to Good Home…

May 1, 2015 by  

…and Some Pretty Awful Ones


When I look at my cat Kenny, I often think about what would have happened to him if instead of calling us, the person who found him at 10 days old on an Oakland sidewalk took him to the shelter. No Kill’s conquest over the status quo cannot come fast enough for the three million animals still losing their lives in pounds and “shelters” every year. So, instead of selling the DVD of Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America, the No Kill Advocacy Center, in partnership with No Kill Nation, is going to give it away: one copy to every rescue group and shelter in America. We’ve came up with a comprehensive list that is, well, significant in size.

As always, I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of Debi Day and her group No Kill Nation for their support. Though given the number of people who signed up to be notified of the film’s release, it is clear we will still sell quite a few (it will be soon be available for sale on Amazon for individuals and those rescue groups and shelters that want it faster than I can ship them), this probably helps explain why I am one of the few people in America who still drives a car with a manual window crank.

Learn more and sign up to be notified of the film’s release by clicking here.


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The Cat Hater’s Great Hypocrisy

April 24, 2015 by  

cat close up 2

Anti-cat advocates claim that cats should not be allowed outdoors because they are an “introduced” or “non-native” species. Although some of them claim they do not want them killed, this is disingenuous since free-living, community cats who are not social with humans often have no other place to go. The outdoors is their home. In calling, either explicitly or implicitly, for the round up and killing of cats, these nativists engage in a great hypocrisy: forcing onto cats a standard they refuse themselves to obey.

They are also “non-native” to North America. They belong to a species that is the most “invasive” the planet has ever experienced, causing virtually all of the environmental destruction, including the tragic decline of songbirds. And while they blame cats for harming birds, they kill or pay others to kill birds so they can eat them, supporting a vicious industry that kills billions of birds annually. And yet for reasons based entirely on narrow self-interest, they do not hold their own actions to the same standards which they impose upon cats: they do not force themselves to live exclusively indoors, they do not pack up and move back to Africa (the continent where humans first evolved), they do not stop eating birds, and they do not impose upon themselves or their fellow humans discriminatory standards which judge the worth of an individual based solely on the lineage of their ancestors.

We need a kinder, gentler, and more tolerant way of viewing the world and the distribution of animals upon it. We also need one more firmly grounded in science. Each species on Earth, writes Biology Professor Ken Thompson, “has a characteristic distribution on the Earth’s land surface… But in every case, that distribution is in practice a single frame from a very long movie. Run the clock back only 10,000 years, less than a blink of an eye in geological time, and nearly all of those distributions would be different, in many cases very different. Go back only 10 million years, still a tiny fraction of the history of life on Earth, and any comparison with present-day distributions becomes impossible, since most of the species themselves would no longer be the same.”

This never-ending transformation—of landscape, of climate, of plants and animals—has occurred, and continues to occur, all over the world, resulting from a variety of factors: global weather patterns, plate tectonics, evolution, natural selection, migration, and even the devastating effects of impacting asteroids. Close your eyes and randomly stick a pin on any location in a map, then do a Google search of that region’s history and what you will invariably find is that at some point in time, that location looked very different than it does today, as did the plants and animals who resided there. Over 10,000 years ago, a sudden burst of monsoon rains over the vast Sahara desert transformed its dunes into a savannah which could sustain life, including people and giraffes who migrated into the area which today is once again a barren expanse of sand. Roughly 74 million years ago, Tyrannosaurs, Ceratopsians, and Sauropods roamed the continent of North America which was divided down its middle by a vast, ancient sea. In the distant past, the now frigid polar regions of the Earth were moist, temperate and blanketed by forests. The geographic and fossil records tell us that there is but one constant to life on Earth, and that is change.

So under what pretense does an arbitrarily picked “single frame from a very long movie” chosen by people who refuse to practice what they preach trump the right of cats to live, wherever they may be?


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Why Sterilize?

April 18, 2015 by  

Because people in shelters are killing them.

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Although this graphic cites an article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association for the proposition that an unsterilized male and female cat will yield millions more, the article cited to says no such thing. And it says no such thing because it isn’t true.

I am an advocate for sterilization. It is a core program of the No Kill Equation I champion. And when I ran shelters, we performed a lot of it. In one of those shelters, we did 10,000 surgeries a year, over 80% of which were free. But that doesn’t mean we have to misrepresent and even lie to people about why they should sterilize companion cats and dogs. And that is what a lot of graphics do, even though the perpetuation of such lies can cause severe harm to animals.

For one, “If a male and female cat and their offspring are left to breed on their own,” we do not get over 2,000,000 cats in 10 years. And we do not get over 32,000 cats in seven years. After seven years, the number, according to an analysis by the University of Washington, would most likely yield less than 200 cats. In fact, a mathematician put the number as low as 98. Even that number may be too high, however, when one takes into account the fact that some of the cats will get adopted by people, get sterilized, and/or become indoor-only. Not only does exaggeration undermine the movement’s credibility, but those who hate cats—like nativists who blame them by falsely claiming they are decimating bird populations—use these figures to promote round up and kill campaigns. We arm them with weapons to use against cats when we propagate such bad information.

Second, while perhaps technically accurate, it is grossly misleading to say animals are “less likely to get certain kinds of cancers.” Google “Top 10 reasons to spay/neuter your pet” and you’ll repeatedly find this and other health claims among the top three reasons to sterilize both dogs and cats. It is true that sterilized animals tend to live longer and that females are less likely to get mammary cancer. But, there is a nascent, though growing body of literature that indicates that the risk of other cancer may increase after sterilization, at least in dogs. In fact, the risk of seven of eight kinds of cancer in dogs actually increased with sterilization, though it wasn’t clear if this was the result of sterilized dogs living longer. In one study, however, dogs had a 3.5-fold increase in mast cell cancers, nine-fold increase in hemangiosarcoma, 4.3-fold increase in lymphoma, and 6.5-fold increase in higher incidence of all cancers, with researchers opining that it may be the result of the removal of growth and sex hormones which, among other things, regulate growth, differentiation, survival, and function of many cells involved in homeostasis and immunity.*

Third, while the language of this graphic is tempered (targeted sterilization can reduce the number of cats entering shelters), other graphics are not. They imply—and sometimes claim outright—that we cannot adopt our way out of killing or end the killing in shelters today when we absolutely can. Not only does the data prove it, so does experience. Many communities that are saving over 90% of dogs and cats did it in six months or less and often before a comprehensive sterilization program was in place. We stop shelter killing by reforming the institutions of killing, not eliminating the supply of victims. To reduce every discussion about shelter killing to a failure to sterilize is exactly what the regressive shelter director and the large, national groups which fight No Kill want animal activists to do: point the finger of blame anywhere but on those who are actually doing the killing, and perpetuate the lies they have historically peddled that portray that killing as necessary when it is not. Instead of perpetuating lies which allow those who commit daily violence against animals to continue to do so, we should be demanding that those we pay to care for homeless animals with our tax and philanthropic dollars provide animals with the care, kindness, and a loving home that is their birthright.

So what are the “top three reasons” to sterilize dogs and cats?

Although we can adopt our way out of killing, at the top remains the ongoing danger of death presented by American animal shelters. Today, the single greatest cause of death for healthy animals in the United States is deliberate killing at the local animal shelter. Because, overall, four in 10 animals will be killed if they enter a shelter, and in some communities the risk is as high as 99%, and because stray animals, litters of animals, or homeless animals within a community may end up in their local kill shelter, sterilization is a means of reducing the number of animals entering a shelter, thereby increasing the chances of survival for those who are already there. Moreover, sterilization saves unsocial, free-living community cats who are not candidates for adoption by providing an alternative to killing—Neuter and Release—should they enter a shelter that would otherwise end their lives. It must be emphasized, however, that sterilization, or the “N” part of neuter and release, isn’t the reason those cats exit such shelters alive—the “R” part is. And most shelters won’t do the “R” without first doing the “N,” even if it means taking the life of a self-sufficient animal who should have never entered the shelter in the first place. As such, Neuter and Release gives these animals a get out of jail pass they would otherwise be denied.

Moreover, continued promotion and availability of high-volume, low-cost sterilization is a means to help a community reach stasis in its shelters where adoptions equal intakes, making the achievement of No Kill even easier. This is important because the lower the intake, the easier it is for even unmotivated, ineffective, and uncaring directors (in short, your average kill shelter director) to achieve No Kill. Moreover, if sterilization allows a community to drop intakes significantly enough so that local demand for animals can no longer be met, the community can begin importing animals from high-kill rate jurisdictions, saving those lives, too, as some shelters in No Kill communities are currently doing. Until all communities become No Kill, this is yet another means of reducing and preventing shelter killing and saving more lives.

Second, regardless of why animals are being killed, they are being killed and, as long as they are being killed, adopting from a shelter or rescue is an ethical imperative. Millions of animals are killed annually because they enter shelters which have yet to replace killing with available, humane, life-affirming alternatives. Until we force them to do so through political advocacy, legislation, and by ensuring that such facilities are taken over by true animals lovers averse to needless killing, adoption saves these animals from those who would choose to kill them out of habit and convenience.

Third, there is the open question as to whether surgically sterilizing animals has increased the demand for them by eliminating behaviors associated with sexual reproduction that humans may find frustrating, such as temperament issues, roaming, spraying, and howling. More people adopting animals means less animals being killed at regressive shelters.

In short, people should sterilize their animals because people in shelters are killing them. That’s a sufficient reason. We do not need to mislead people with trumped up statistics and hyperbole to do so; statistics which are then used by unscrupulous people—such as nativists and regressive shelter directors—to defend their unscrupulous behavior.


* This, of course, begs the question of whether we should be supporting alternatives to surgical removal of ovaries or testes, such as vasectomies and tubal ligations so that growth and sex hormones can remain intact. With this post, however, I wanted to focus narrowly on what we tell people as a movement and what is, in fact, the state of the evidence for those claims. As to cancer, it may be that sterilized dogs live longer and therefore you are more likely to see a rise in the detection and treatment for cancer. One of the studies shows that even though sterilized dogs did get cancer more often, it didn’t lower their lifespan and, in fact, sterilized dogs lived longer. The other study found the opposite so there may be a link between sterilization and cancer.


The problem is that both the studies I cited have their limitations. What we really need is a study that doesn’t use past records or surveys to answer a new question, but one that follows the health of dogs over the course of their lives with this particular question in mind. There is such a study being conducted with Golden Retrievers from puppyhood on, but it just got underway. They picked Goldens because one analysis shows that 60% of them will die of cancer. It should be noted, however, that it will be years before it gives us any answers. And, as always, the people who live with these dogs and have chosen to allow researchers to track the health of their dogs over their lives might indicate bias in favor of better care.

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As Progress is Made, The Status Quo Grows Desperate

April 15, 2015 by  

usethis one

A community cat. Groups like VACA fight efforts to save them through TNR and promote efforts that empower animal control officers to round them up and kill them. Thankfully, legislators are listening less and less.

Why do some commonsense legislative efforts to protect animals in shelters fail? Because the groups that legislators often turn to for guidance—the shelters themselves and their state associations—betray the animals in order to defend the status quo. Thankfully, that is changing.

The Virginia Animal Control Association (VACA), for example, opposed and fought against a bill that required private shelters in Virginia to try and find homes for animals, rather than just kill them out of convenience. They called the requirement that shelters try adopting out animals before killing them “government overreach.” Thankfully, the legislature did not agree and overwhelming approved the bill (95 to 2 in the House and 35 to 1 in the Senate), which the governor signed. At the same time, VACA supported a bill which would have empowered animal control officers to round up community cats on private property and then kill them. Thankfully, the legislature did not agree and defeated the bill. VACA also fought efforts to mandate more transparency in shelters, saying that it would lead to high “paper costs” regardless of whether it would protect animals and their families. They fought efforts to protect community cats by allowing TNR in lieu of round up and kill. They took no position on legislation which would have created an animal cruelty conviction database that would have allowed rescuers and others to know if someone trying to adopt animals had been convicted of cruelty. Like in other states, the legislative and regulatory efforts to protect animals in Virginia from animal cruelty, convenience killing, trap and kill, and by mandating transparency and accountability found shelters and their lobbying group on the wrong side of almost every issue.

Ironically, VACA goes on to chastise shelter reformers for having the audacity—as citizens in a democracy, as taxpayers who fund their salaries, and as animal lovers whose values these agencies are supposed to represent—to “second guess” and try to “undermine” their decisions to kill. Introducing legislation, filing petitions for rulemaking with regulatory agencies, and participating in the democratic process is called “bullying” and “troubling.” What’s next, they ask, “Threats to [shelter workers] and their families?… Not as far-fetched as one might imagine.”

Actually, it is far-fetched and a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. They are the ones who commit violence towards animals by injecting them with lethal drugs. We’re trying to stop the violence through the same peaceful, democratic means embraced by every other movement for social improvement in history: legislation. To equate engagement in the legislative process as one step removed from the inciting of violence and to malign people who do so as “extremists” serves only to reveal how desperate they have become. When you can’t argue with the message, shoot the messenger. And when the messenger is merely calling for an end to systematic violence against animals and the implementation of humane, life affirming alternatives most citizens would be stunned to learn are not already standard operating procedure at our nation’s animal shelters, fear mongering about the nature of that agenda serves only to further reveal their own extremism, thereby eroding their credibility and with it, their influence among our elected representatives.

Their desperation is evidence of our progress.

To learn why groups like VACA are no friend to animals in shelters and no friend to animal lovers, click here.


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A Blessing & A Burden

April 9, 2015 by  


My dog of 14 years before he died. Pickles was deeply loved and is sorely missed. For the last year of his life, he was paralyzed. In addition to daily pain management, I had to carry him up and down the stairs and everywhere else. We made it a point to always have him in the same room with us so he knew how much we loved and wanted him around. When his pain became unmanageable and he was in the end stages of his disease, we said goodbye and ended his suffering. Picturing him on the floor of the vet’s office still drives me to tears. You can read about my life with him by clicking here.

Last year, I received a call from someone whose dog was near the end of his life. She told me that he was a 16-year-old dog who had nerve damage and no ability to use his back legs or hind quarters. For about a year, she took him for walks in a doggy wheelchair, but he no longer had the strength. She explained that she couldn’t leave the house for long periods because he couldn’t be left alone; she hadn’t gone on a vacation in years. Every other week, he became blocked and she had to help him defecate, an ordeal that kept her up all night with him and caused him pain. But most days, she said, he just relieved himself without control. Sounding embarrassed, she told me her house smelled like pee. But… he had a good appetite, had more good days than bad, and was genuinely excited and happy to see her. He still had the spark. The day when he no longer did would come, she knew; when there would be lots of bad days and he would he no longer find comfort in her gaze or caress. Is that when you know for sure it is time, she asked me?

More recently, another person told me of her 23 year old cat losing a battle with kidney failure. The cat was nearly blind and had suffered a stroke. Her person explained that she still had quality of life, was still eating and drinking and using the litterbox but that she was getting weaker. She said she had other kitty family members pass away naturally in her home before, and called it “heart wrenchingly horrible.” Is humane euthanasia, she wanted to know, truly humane?

This week, someone asked me a similar question. Her cat was also suffering from kidney disease and the daily sub-q fluids were not giving her the boost that they used to. Nonetheless, she still purred when she was being caressed and seemed to take genuine pleasure in being held. Should she opt for “euthanasia” when the time came, she asked?

Those who follow my work know that I am an unrelenting critic of shelter killing, that my efforts are focused on working to expose the myths and misperceptions upon which the systematic and needless killing of millions of healthy and treatable animals every year now rest, chief among them the myth that killing is kindness. I have worked for decades to expose that what happens to healthy and treatable animals behind closed doors in our nation’s animal shelters in no way bears a resemblance to the favored euphemism the animal sheltering industry uses to describe it – “euthanasia,” a word the dictionary defines as “the act of killing hopelessly sick or injured animals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” And I wonder if it is because of these efforts I am so often consulted on end of life issues by people who share my love of animals and want to make sure than in opting to take the lives of their beloved animal companions when the very end is near, they haven’t likewise been misled to believe that this sort of killing is also morally justified when it is not. The most I can offer when asked about such issues is to share my own experiences and struggles with the choice as it pertains to my own animals, struggles which time and again have ended with me opting to end their life.

As an adult, I have shared my life with many, many animals who have since left this world. In each case, it was always my hope that they would die peacefully, in their sleep, at home in my arms or that of one of my family members, but that has never happened. Although a few people have shared their experiences of letting their animals die naturally and did not regret it, describing it as “peaceful,” that has not been our experience. Each and every time, when death was near, suffering was evident, and we were never able to justify letting them continue to experience it. They were leaving the world, nothing was going to change that, and there was simply no reason we could think of to allow them to go on suffering to no greater end. For as one palliative care veterinarian once told us in what is the understatement of the year, “Dying is hard work.”

In my family, when one of our animals is dying, we do all we can to care for them for as long as possible after treatment has failed, including fluids, hand feeding, and pain killers. When they are truly dying, we wait for a combination of symptoms that demonstrate to us that the end is very near: not eating, incontinence, and no longer seeking or enjoying the comfort of me, my wife, and my kids.

And in those final moments when it became clear to me and my wife that our animal was in the last days or hours of life, and only when we could be fairly certain that a near death was inevitable, we have opted to take their lives. I wrote about one such time, about my experiences with one of those cats, Gina, and the struggle of not knowing what the right thing to do was. I wrote it in hope that it was a help and a comfort to others facing similar difficult and sad times. As I look back now, I believe I did the right thing.

I don’t begin to pretend to have all the answers here. And I am loathe to make blanket, definitive statements. With animals, we have the possibility of ending their suffering in a way the law, in most places, does not allow for humans. As such, we bear a tremendous responsibility; one that experience has taught me to regard as both a blessing and a burden.

For further reading:

For the Love of Dog

What is True Euthanasia?


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