Cooing & Cuddling Cats Saves Lives

November 30, 2015 by  

cuddle cat

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

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

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

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

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

The full study is here.


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A Tale of Two Cities

November 9, 2015 by  


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Redemption Invasion

November 3, 2015 by  

Coming to a shelter and rescue group near you.


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

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

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

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


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“Unadoptable” Dogs?

October 26, 2015 by  


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

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

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

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

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

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



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The Abuse of Monkeys in the Coconut Industry

October 21, 2015 by  

monkey 2

Read the article by Jennifer and I in the Huffington Post by clicking here.

Agile and adept climbers, such monkeys–native to coconut growing regions in Southeast Asia–are capable of harvesting several hundred more coconuts a day than a human can; reports vary widely as to how many coconuts a day one monkey can pick, ranging from 300 to 1,000. Monkeys are chained by the neck and trained to pick only ripe coconuts and are then forced to do so, day in, day out and all day long. They are trained at monkey training facilities one visitor described as follows: “The primitive, primate campus, a simple, open sided shed,” contains, “individual, meter high stakes, driven into the dirt floor… Onto each perch is tethered a solitary monkey by collar and chain. There are a dozen such perches, each one just out of reach of its neighbor.”

During training and beyond, the monkeys are tethered or caged 24/7, sometimes with little to no opportunity for socialization. Where do these monkeys come from? According to one monkey handler, “Sometimes the monkeys are offspring of berok (already trained monkeys); sometimes they are caught [by poachers] on the forest with nets or traps. Often though, nursing mothers are shot and their babies are taken.”

And though many articles about these monkeys contain quotes from handlers who state that they care about their animals, it is impossible to square such assurances with the long hours, hard labor, constant shackling and lack of autonomy these animals are forced to endure day in and day out for no personal benefit. Indeed, one handler admitted that sometimes “the monkeys are so tired from picking coconuts that they faint.”

It is, in a word, slavery. And as human nature and history demonstrate again and again–where there is a profit to be made on the backs of non-humans, those backs are strained and often broken.

Read the full article here.

Read the Washington Post article here.

Read the Bangkok Post article here.


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PETA: Feral cats are better dead than fed

October 20, 2015 by  


Yesterday, I reported how PETA is trying to kill pit bulls in shelters across the country. Now they are trying to ensure that “feral” cats continue to be killed in New York.

A.2778, a bill which passed both the New York State Assembly and Senate, is sitting on the Governor’s desk. It would allow 20% of existing licensing revenues to be used to sterilize and vaccinate community cats.

Specifically, the legislation says (virtually in its entirety):


That’s it: a simple bill to save feral cats.

It handily passed the legislature. It won’t cost any additional money. But it will help keep community cats who are not social with people out of shelters and from being killed. While cats as a whole face a roughly 60 percent chance of being killed in shelters, when those cats are unsocial with humans, the percentage becomes nearly 100 percent. At shelters across the country, without TNR, every feral cat is put to death.

There’s no reason why the Governor should not sign it. Except for PETA. Yesterday, PETA emailed its New York supporters telling them that “New York’s animals need your help!” They called A.2778: “A dangerous piece of legislation.” They are asking that people write the governor and tell him to veto the bill.

It’s not the first time. Senate Bill 359, a bill pending in the Virginia legislature in 2012, would have clarified that neutering and releasing feral cats back to their habitats was not illegal, allowing cat advocates to continue doing so without fear of prosecution. But PETA successfully led the effort to oppose the law.

And last year, they did the same thing in Tucson, AZ. According to ABC Channel 9, “Saving thousands of cats from being euthanized every year sounds like a good idea, but a well-known animal rights group is completely against it. PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in to Pima County’s Board of Supervisors, urging them to vote against a proposal that would trap, neuter and return (TNR) feral cats rather than euthanize them.” Thankfully, the Board ignored them and approved the measure anyway.

New Yorkers: Please join me in countering the legions of mindless PETA supporters who will obey PETA’s request to promote the round up and killing of community cats. Ask Gov. Cuomo to sign A.2778 by clicking here.


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PETA Joins Forces with Group Working to Kill All “Pit Bulls” Nationwide

October 19, 2015 by  


Photo credit: Central California Pets Alive

Several years ago, PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk wrote an OpEd piece in newspapers across the country calling on all shelters in all American cities to kill all dogs who looked like “pit bulls.” “Most people have no idea that at many animal shelters across the country, any pit bull that comes through the front door doesn’t go out the back door alive,” she wrote. “From San Jose to Schenectady, many shelters have enacted policies requiring the automatic destruction of the huge and ever-growing number of ‘pits’ they encounter. This news shocks and outrages the compassionate dog-lover. Here’s another shocker: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the very organization that is trying to get you to denounce the killing of chickens for the table, foxes for fur or frogs for dissection, supports the shelters’ pit-bull policy… People who genuinely care about dogs won’t be affected by a ban on pits.”

PETA even supported the pit bull ban in Ontario, Canada, which mandates the pound seizure of animals from shelters by companies who use them for animal experimentation—the fate that ostensibly awaited some of the family pets seized under the PETA-supported breed ban.

Two years ago, PETA wrote a Mayor in Tennessee telling him not to work with rescuers and to kill all pit bulls. “PETA recommends a ban on the adoption/release of dangerous dogs and fighting breeds (commonly known as ‘pit bulls’).”

This month, PETA has joined forces with a group that has a singular mission: “to have pit bulls banned across the United States — a move which seems to lead, inexorably, to the dogs being killed.” “We’re not talking about dogs who have done anything wrong,” writes Arin Greenwood of the Huffington Post. “This concerns all pit bulls. The therapy dogs, the police dogs, the war heroes, those who’ve saved lives, … and those who are still in shelters, waiting to be given a chance.”

PETA also practices what it preaches. According to Virginia Sen. Bill Stanley, “From July to September, 630 animals [were] taken in [by PETA], 490 euthanized. 27 adopted.” That’s a kill rate of eight out of 10 animals. Only 4% were adopted. Most of the rest presumably went to kill shelters as they refuse to work with No Kill ones.

PETA’s killing historically not only includes healthy puppies and kittens, but, of course, pit bulls. “I did witness [PETA] bring back a pit bull to the Norfolk location,” one PETA employee reported. “This pit bull was wagging its tail, jumping (an obvious friendly dog; not feral) while receiving praise, treats and getting pet by the [two PETA] employees. It was the end of my shift, so I was cleaning and restocking, which required me to go into their shed for supplies. I saw the [two PETA] employees take the pitbull into the shed’s euthanasia room, which is inside this shed. It is a small room where they have a table and a huge walk-in freezer with [four] large trash cans. The trash cans contained deceased animals and were usually full. As I continued to do my job, I heard the [PETA] employees talking to the dog and trying to calm it down as it whined. Later … they opened the door and I saw the pit bull deceased on the table.”

Not only do shelters misidentify breeds as much as 75 percent of the time, but as used by shelters, law enforcement agencies and even courts, “Pit Bull” is not a breed of dog. It is, according to a leading advocacy organization, “a catch-all term used to describe a continually expanding incoherent group of dogs, including pure-bred dogs and mixed-breed dogs. A ‘Pit Bull’ is any dog an animal control officer, shelter worker, dog trainer, politician, dog owner, police officer, newspaper reporter or anyone else says is a ‘Pit Bull.’” When it comes to dogs we call “Pit Bulls,” PETA is not only killing them based on meaningless stereotypes, they are asking shelters to kill dogs they mistakenly think fit those stereotypes by the way they look.


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Building a No Kill Illinois

October 16, 2015 by  


I’m off to Illinois for a screening tomorrow (Saturday) of Redemption, my film about the No Kill revolution in America. After the film, I’ll give a presentation on building a No Kill community. I hope to see some of you there.

When: Saturday Oct. 17, 1:30 pm
Where: Normal Theater, Normal, IL
More info/register by clicking here

Click here for screenings in other cities.

This is the story of animal sheltering, which was born of compassion and then lost its way. It is the story of the No Kill movement, which says we can and must stop the killing. It is about heroes and villains, betrayal and redemption. And it is about a social movement as noble and just as those that have come before. But most of all, it is a story about believing in the community and trusting in the power of compassion.

Can’t make it? Purchase the DVD by clicking here.

Please note: The film is safe for animal lovers to watch. There are no gratuitous images and while a couple of images may be difficult, it is ultimately an uplifting film about the hope and promise and success of the No Kill philosophy.


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The Future of Sheltering: “Fospice Care”

October 15, 2015 by  


Advancements in veterinary medicine have made some commonplace, once fatal illnesses in shelters such as parvovirus no longer so. In the past, parvovirus was an almost certain death sentence in a shelter. Today, a dog with parvovirus can have a good to great prognosis for recovery and many shelters are even creating “parvo puppy ICUs.”

And just as medical rehabilitation is advancing, so is its behavioral counterpart. Advancements in our understanding of dog behavior have also allowed us to rehabilitate dogs who were once considered beyond saving. In one shelter, 90.4% of dogs who would have been killed for aggression in years past are being saved.

As such, many of today’s most innovative and progressive shelter directors are achieving save rates of 95, 96, 97, 98, even 99%. In some cases, they have achieved save rates of 100%. And yet, even as the No Kill movement pushes the envelope of what it means to be “treatable,” we are also redefining what it means to be “hopelessly ill.”

Some animals — such as cats diagnosed with kidney disease — are not in pain and can continue to have good quality of life for months and even years, through, for example, changes to diet and frequent administration of subcutaneous fluids.

Rather than kill them out of convenience, an increasing number of progressive shelters, such as the Sonoma Humane Society and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter, are embracing the rapidly expanding field of veterinary palliative and hospice care for terminally ill animals by putting in place foster-based hospice (“fospice”) programs. Placing animals in fospice care extends both quantity and quality of life and is at the forefront of No Kill innovation.

These shelters are truly giving meaning to what should be the mission statement of every shelter in America: “All life is precious!”


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Oswald’s Long Road to Our Home

October 12, 2015 by  

Or, How to Save 46,413 Animals a Year


After a long day of squirrel patrol – four miles of walking hills, scanning trees, and alerting the neighborhood whenever he sees one – a tuckered Oswald wraps himself into a little ball and takes a nap on the couch. Tomorrow, he goes back on patrol.

Last December, we adopted Oswald from a group which rescued him from a local pound. Although he is only three years old, his long road to us — and that of 46,412 other rescued animals –started in the early 1990s…

  • 1993: The San Francisco SPCA asks the city shelter to give them every healthy and thousands of treatable dogs and cats on death row. The city pound refuses.
  • 1994: The SPCA threatens a public initiative to force the shelter to do so by law. The city pound backs down and signs an Adoption Pact to guarantee those animals a home. The deaths of animals in San Francisco plummets.
  • 1997: 12,526 animals are transferred from shelters to rescue groups throughout the state of California; tens of thousands more are denied to rescue groups by shelters unwilling to work collaboratively with them to save lives.
  • 1998: Modeled after the Adoption Pact, California Sen. Tom Hayden writes legislation to make it illegal for shelters in California to kill animals if qualified rescue groups were willing to save them. I help work on that law and it passes.
  • 1999: The first year after the law’s passage, 58,939 animals are transferred from shelters to rescue groups; 46,413 more than the year before the law was introduced.
  • 2004: One California county shelter continues to flout the law six years after its passage, refusing to send any animals to rescue and killing them instead. Not a single animal is sent to rescue groups year after year. Sen. Hayden’s former chief of staff, an attorney, contacts the No Kill Advocacy Center, my group, about suing the shelter. I agree to be the expert witness. We win.
  • 2005: The county begins sending animals to rescue, a vibrant rescue network grows, and about 4,000 animals a year are being transferred from that shelter alone.
  • 2014: Oswald is picked up as a stray by that very shelter, he is skinny, traumatized, has kennel cough, and a cherry eye. He is scheduled to be killed and on his last day. A rescue group takes him, nurses him back to health, and my family adopts him.
  • 2014: He is one of over 46,000 additional animals who are being saved every year in California, instead of killed as he and others would have been before the law.
  • 2015: Oswald barks at squirrels, plays with squeaky toys, and zooms around a house where he is deeply loved.

The lesson? We need rescue access laws in every state. Throughout the nation, animals are being killed because shelters are holding them hostage, refusing to give them to rescue groups and other shelters who want to save their lives. Today only two states – California and Delaware – and one city – Austin, TX – have laws guaranteeing rescue groups right of access. If you do not live in either of those states or that city, you can work to pass rescue access legislation in your state or hometown:

The No Kill Advocacy Center has model legislation by clicking here.

And a guide to getting it introduced and passed here.


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