Follow the Money

July 8, 2014 by  

Why I Will Not Be Speaking at the FARM “Animal Rights” Conference

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“The Animal Rights National Conference is devoted to advancing the vision that ‘animals have the right to be free from all forms of human exploitation.’ The Conference does not welcome advocacy of continued exploitation of animals [even] under improved conditions, sometimes labeled as ‘humane’…” –Animal Rights Conference “Safe Space” Policy.

Early last month, I posted on Facebook that I would be speaking at FARM’s upcoming Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. In that announcement, I expressed guarded hope that the agreed upon terms of my participation in that conference—that I would be given an hour to share the No Kill philosophy and then show my film—might signal a change of heart by the organizers of that event, away from their historical embrace of people who advocate the killing of companion animals and towards an authentic embrace of a true animal rights philosophy, one that included the rights of companion animals currently being slaughtered by the millions in American shelters.

I am sorry to report that I will not be speaking. Not only was my hope misplaced, but the statement released by conference organizers that it “does not welcome advocacy of continued exploitation of animals [even] under improved conditions, sometimes labeled as ‘humane’” is a lie. The Animal Rights Conference continues to welcome speakers who promote “exploitation” under the guise of “humane” if those animals are dogs, cats, rabbits, and other companion animals. In fact, far beyond mere “exploitation,” the Animal Rights Conference welcomes those who advocate the systematic eradication of companion animals. It allows them to speak, provides them political cover, highlights them, inducts them into its hall of fame, and prohibits other speakers from criticizing them. Far from advancing the rights of companion animals, the Animal Rights Conference is helping ensure their continued slaughter.

FARM is trying to cover its track by claiming that I “added a last minute stipulation that no one proposing a path other than his could speak on the same day he spoke…” Like their “vision,” that is also a lie. It was FARM that broke our agreement—for the second time this conference and the third time is as many conferences. An 11th hour change to the schedule revealed that despite earlier and repeated assurances that I would be given adequate time to share my message (a one hour session by myself), my speaking time was cut and I was told that I would have to co-present with Merritt Clifton, a man who doesn’t believe we can adopt our way out of killing despite hundreds of cities which have proved otherwise, defends shelters that kill despite empty cages when those shelters are run by people he likes, and has made a career out of denigrating dogs commonly referred to as “pit bulls.” In fact, a recent issue of Time magazine includes a hit piece on dogs which prominently features fear mongering by Merritt Clifton.

Rather than present a workshop on how No Kill is an animal rights issue and how it can be—and has been—achieved, I would have to spend what little time was now afforded to me responding to Clifton’s assertions about the dangerousness of “pit bulls,” the inability to achieve No Kill through adoptions, and why empty cages—even if it means killing—is necessary. Only here’s the rub: I was also told I could not criticize him for saying so. And it is why, under these circumstances, I would have never agreed to speak in the first place. I pulled out when they changed the agreed upon terms of my participation, even after they admitted they violated our agreement, not the other way around.

Despite all the talk, sent to attendees and speakers alike, that the Animal Rights Conference is a “safe space” for animals where talk of “exploitation” would not be tolerated, attendees will be treated to two speakers who believe that “pit bulls” should be executed, that shelter dogs are dangerous to adopt, and that No Kill is impossible. In the case of speaker Ingrid Newkirk, attendees will hear from a woman who has trained her staff and volunteers to seek out over 2,000 animals annually, including healthy kittens and puppies, in order to inject over 90% of them with a fatal dose of poison. Newkirk believes that animals want to die and should be killed, that killing them is a “gift,” and shelters should continue killing, despite readily available lifesaving alternatives. This is not a “safe space” for animals as they claim. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is to condone and encourage people who wish to school others in how to actively harm animals and deny them their most basic and fundamental rights, chief among them, their right to live.

Why are they doing this? Why invite me to speak, agree to conditions, and then break that agreement not once, but twice, at the last minute? Follow the money. PETA is a “Gold Sponsor” of the Animal Rights Conference and despite all the talk of ethics and “safe space,” FARM, the conference organizer, appears willing to sell out companion animals to the highest bidder.

This week, if you wish to find several people who represent the anti-thesis of what an animal rights movement should stand for, look no further than the “Animal Rights Conference.” And that is why one person who will not be found there is me.


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Protests Welcome!

February 4, 2014 by  


As many of you know, I used to volunteer with PETA. As a young vegan living in the Northeast, one night each week, I would stuff envelopes and put packets together for them. I loved animals. And therefore, I loved PETA. Today, I still love animals. In fact I’ve dedicated my life to saving them. Which is why—as a former shelter director, the head of a national organization focused on ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters, and the author of a book on PETA—I’ve come to be one of their fiercest critics.

It started when I was still a volunteer. One day, my roommate, a former PETA employee, found a dog in need of a home. We called him Ray. As volunteers, I asked her why we didn’t just take Ray—a young, happy, healthy dog—to PETA. Surely, PETA, with its millions of dollars and millions of animal loving members, would find him a home. But she said “No,” because PETA would just kill him. Spit take!

That is when I did what anyone who truly loves animals would have done, I walked away from them. I’ve since come to learn that they kill over 90% of the animals they take it in, including healthy puppies and kittens, that they have called for the killing of all “pit bulls” in shelters, that they advocate the round up and killing of healthy community cats, oppose shelter reform, do not advocate right to life for animals, and kill animals after promising to find them homes. I love animals, including dogs and cats, so I cannot support an organization dedicated to killing them based on the belief that “pets” are “slaves,” that life is suffering, that animals are better off dead and therefore to kill them is a “gift,” as PETA founder and President Ingrid Newkirk believes. My article discussing their anti-animal views and actions in in the Huffington Post has over a quarter of a million Facebook “likes,” 90,000 shares, and one million page views.

Working to expose the disturbing truth about what PETA really is, I am frequently the subject of character assassination by PETA supporters and many of the people who like my Facebook page have told me they have heard from some of them, especially “Mary” and “Julie,” both of who not only deliberately lie about who I am and what I believe, but are part of a larger group of No Kill opponents intent on tearing me down, including those who have threatened to kill my dog and “behead” me for the “crime” of advocating right to life for animals in shelters. (“Julie” in fact wrote an article called “Nathan Winograd Should Be Beheaded.”) Now, “Julie” and her acolytes are threatening to protest at the Minneapolis screening of Redemption, a film based on my book of the same name about the No Kill revolution in America. The first ever screening in Minneapolis will be a red carpet event, includes an after party with some of the people who appear in the film, and is open to the public.

I actually welcome the protest and here’s why.

When people see them protesting and then see the film, the disconnect between what the PETA supporters claim and what I advocate will be obvious. The film is an inspirational, uplifting portrayal of what we can accomplish when we reject killing and implement common sense alternatives, about the tremendous lifesaving change that follows when shelters believe in the community and trust in the power of compassion. It is above love, which is why I am screening it nationwide as part of my 2014 “No Kill is Love” tour. Everyone who sees it will instantly dismiss the protesters and see them for who they really are and what they really stand for. How do I know? Because past is prologue. Here are just three examples. A shelter director who heard horrible things about me and my approach (similar to the kinds of lies Julie uses to defend killing) came to hear me speak. Afterward, she sent me this email:

I spent four years working at a humane society… I was a caregiver and euthanasia technician. Sixty-four animals have died at the end of my needle. When I was killing animals, I stepped outside of myself and was a different person. I held it together all but one time.


While killing a mother and her five two-day old children, I broke down. At the time I did not know what set me off. I had always been in control of my emotions and remained focused. Now I can look back and realize I lost it because I let myself feel what I was doing.


Until hearing you speak, I never blamed myself for what I did. I played it off as doing what my manager had told me to do and it was how I played my part in animal welfare. I believed that these animals martyred themselves for the movement. That their deaths were not in vain because it would… lead to the end of suffering. How very wrong I was…


As a shelter director now, did some of your comments piss me off? Absolutely… But I got what you were saying… I want to believe I am this progressive person, but my life’s passion was based on an old model that did nothing but fail.


Will I ever go back to being the person I was at [my old humane society]? No, I just cannot.


I want to let you know you opened me up to a new train of thought. One I am dedicated to sharing with my community.


Thank you.

The second email came from a new shelter director who recently took over a troubled municipal kill shelter in California and attended a conference put on by a group of regressive shelter directors that run killing shelters and have historically viewed the No Kill movement as both a threat to their hegemony and the status quo they ardently defend. A speaker they hired called me a “terrorist” and urged shelter directors to be on guard because I was “everywhere.” This shelter director subsequently heard I was giving a seminar near her community and came to hear me speak in order to learn about her “enemy” and prepare herself. She sat in the back row so she could sneak out if things got uncomfortable. Instead of sneaking out, she called me afterward to say that far from being uncomfortable, she was riveted by my message and wanted to make No Kill happen in her own community. We’ve been communicating ever since, her shelter has since seen significant drops in killing utilizing the approach I advocate, and she now wants to host a screening of Redemption in her city.

And, finally, after a presentation in Toronto, I received this email:

Recently I attended your appearance in Toronto. I’ll be honest I went because my friend, a fellow rescuer and shelter worker, made me. Before that I was offended by the statement you made about pet overpopulation being a myth. If people protested you in Toronto I would have been there.


Unlike the OSPCA and under the pressure of my friend I felt that if you had any useful information that could help with saving animals I should attend. I was blown away. I owe you an apology. You are right and I feel like fool for buying into the idea that we can’t save all these animals. I never supported killing shelter animals, but I never saw the fault in the way shelters are run.


Thank you for coming to Toronto. I picked up a copy of Redemption and it’s a book I can’t put down.

Whenever PETA or its devotees attack me by name, the number of followers on my Facebook page spikes. In fact, it has grown by over 15,000 people in just the last few weeks as “Julie” has been emailing rescuers all over the country asking them not to see the film. Instead, these people read what I have to say and the majority agree with me for the simple reason that most people love animals and will not abide their needless slaughter as the PETA supporters do because the PETA supporters, in fact, don’t love animals.* Instead, they love PETA and the identity (and in some cases, the paycheck) it gives them. Their protests show their true colors—a blind, out of touch, misanthropic and cultish devotion to killing—which further drives people into the arms of the No Kill movement. Every time they attack me, the forces in favor of killing animals weaken and the No Kill movement gets stronger.

In short, protesters welcome.


In truth, they do not. Killing is not an act of kindness. It is not an act of love. It is an act of violence. And those that perpetuate it, promote it or defend it do not love animals because there is no way to twist and torture the word “love” to encompass poisoning or gassing animals to death.


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A Dog is a Boy

October 15, 2013 by  

Pit Bull resting

Photo: A dog, rightly or wrongly, labeled a “pit bull.” These dogs have no rights, according to Ingrid Newkirk and PETA. Not only can they be killed, Newkirk proclaims, they should be killed.

“A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” Like no other, this pronouncement by Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), appeared to lay down the gauntlet, an inviolate line in the sand that animals deserve the kinds of legal rights we recognize for people. In other words, if you would not eat a boy, you should not eat a pig. If you would not poison a boy, you should not poison a rat. If you would not abuse a boy, you should not abuse a dog.

Now, science has vindicated Newkirk’s pronouncement, at least as it relates to dogs. In “Dogs Are People, Too” from the New York Times, Dr. Gregory Berns writes, “The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.” So if a dog is a boy, as Newkirk says and science proves, why is it wrong to kill a boy, but according to PETA, not wrong to kill a dog?

Indeed, PETA has killed healthy and treatable dogs, defends the killing of healthy and treatable dogs, and has pursued policies that increase the number of healthy and treatable dogs killed by others. Roughly nine out of 10 dogs who enter PETA’s facility go out the back door in garbage bags. Why the hypocrisy? In my latest Huffington Post article, I explore why.

Read “A Dog is a Boy, Except When PETA Kills Him” by clicking here.

Please note: This is not a criticism against legal rights for dogs. To the contrary, I agree with Dr. Berns on this issue and he vindicates Newkirk’s pronouncement that a “dog is a boy” deserving of legal rights given the neuroscientific evidence of sentience. It is a criticism with Newkirk’s hypocritical view that dogs have rights only until they enter animal shelters or PETA headquarters and then they no longer do (i.e., they can be killed with impunity). In other words, it is a criticism that the most basic right which every human being cherishes above all others and without which no other rights can be guaranteed—the right to life—is not, as it should be, ground zero in the struggle for animal rights, but rather a fundamental principle which many “animal rights activists” carelessly, casually, and cruelly disregard. In fact, many individuals and groups that self-identify (falsely, it turns out) as “animal rights” do not actually believe in the rights of animals and that includes Newkirk, PETA, and their supporters.


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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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Help Stop PETA’s Killing

April 22, 2013 by  


In the last 11 years, 29,426 animals have died at PETA’s hands including those they themselves described as “healthy,” “adorable,” and “perfect.” In some cases, this includes animals they promised to find homes for, only to put them to death within minutes in the back of a van—a donor-funded mobile death squad on wheels. It includes kittens and puppies. According to Ingrid Newkirk, PETA is “not in the home finding business.” Its mission is to put animals to death. PETA has no adoption hours, it does not keep animals alive long enough to find homes, and it does no adoption promotion. You can learn more in my Huffington Post expose by clicking here. How is this legal? PETA is registered in Virginia as an animal shelter.

Since employees of “animal shelters” are the only non-veterinarians authorized by Virginia law to kill animals, removing PETA’s designation as a shelter will put the brakes on PETA killing. Click here for the petition filed with the Virginia Department of Agriculture (VDACS) on behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center.

Help me end PETA’s mobile death vans. Help me end PETA’s ability to hire mindless “yes men” to kill animals at the whim and discretion of Ingrid Newkirk. Please take a moment to email VDACS Commissioner Matt Lohr and Animal Shelter Inspector Dr. Dan Kovich and POLITELY ask that they grant the NKAC petition to remove PETA’s designation as an animal shelter:

Commissioner Lohr:

Dr. Kovich:


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Wayne Pacelle: PETA’s Puppet

April 11, 2013 by  

It is one of the most common questions I get whenever I post about PETA’s killing and their efforts to undermine shelter reform efforts nationwide: How are they allowed to get away with it? The answer is two-fold. First, although killing healthy animals is morally reprehensible, killing healthy animals is not illegal. Whenever animal advocates attempt to introduce laws such as the Companion Animal Protection Act that would eliminate the ability of people to kill animals in the face of readily-available lifesaving alternatives, PETA works to defeat them, by manipulating not only the public’s false perception and therefore misplaced trust in PETA, but by harnessing their equally naïve membership to write legislators in opposition. Second, in the absence of laws prohibiting such behavior, the other force that should be working to stop PETA’s killing—the animal protection movement—has instead chosen to willfully ignore it and even embrace PETA, in spite of their actions which harm animals.


HSUS has not only historically walked in lock step with PETA’s anti-No Kill crusade—allowing PETA to equate the movement to stop shelter killing with hoarding and animal abuse at HSUS’ own animal sheltering conference—but they are the “voice of authority” on sheltering that PETA uses to legitimize their reactionary, pro-killing views to legislators, the media and the public. If you oppose PETA’s campaign of extermination and their efforts to derail shelter reform, you should oppose the groups that give PETA their blessing and a helping hand to do so, as well.


Following is my letter to Wayne Pacelle, President of HSUS, exposing how PETA’s nationwide effort to harass and vilify No Kill reformers and their systematic program to defend and even perpetuate an antiquated and cruel sheltering model based on killing, are a reflection of many of the regressive and cruel policies likewise promoted by HSUS itself.

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By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

April 10, 2013

Wayne Pacelle
Humane Society of the United States
2100 L Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20037

Dear Wayne,

It is time for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to stop legitimizing the deadly actions of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Over the last two decades, PETA has willfully and systematically worked to undermine the welfare and rights of our nation’s companion animals. In addition to seeking out thousands of animals every year to poison with an overdose of barbiturates, PETA is one of the most vocal opponents of efforts to end the neglect, abuse and killing occurring at animal shelters across the country.

PETA undermines the efforts of animal lovers to reform their local shelters, even when those local shelters horrifically abuse animals. They campaign to expand killing, urging shelters not to work with rescue groups, not to foster animals in need, to ban the adoption of many animals, and to round up and kill community cats. They defeat desperately needed shelter reform laws which have been introduced in states across the nation—laws that have been proven to save hundreds of thousands of lives in those states which have passed them. And by continually perpetuating the myth that No Kill animal control shelters do not and cannot exist, PETA is one of the greatest barriers to building a kinder, gentler America for our nation’s companion animals.

Although over 80% of Americans believe that shelters should not round up and kill community cats and even your organization was forced to recant your long held position in favor of mass killing, PETA calls on local governments to reject TNR in favor of trapping and killing such animals. While many Americans share their homes with “Pit Bull” dogs whom they consider cherished members of their family and while activists are working to reform the unfair stereotypes that lead to the mass killing of dogs classified as “Pit Bulls,” once again forcing HSUS to no longer seek their mass killing, PETA remains defiant, calling for a ban on their “adoption/release,” irrespective of their temperament.

When animal lovers have criticized their local shelters for killing full-term pregnant animals (even animals in active labor), rather than sending those animals into foster care or transferring them to rescue groups to give birth, PETA has written public officials encouraging them to continue this practice. When animal lovers have complained of sadistic abuse and systematic neglect of animals in shelters, PETA has written public officials encouraging them to ignore reformers and maintain the status quo.

In several instances when PETA has written in opposition to greater lifesaving in shelters, to promote more killing, and to defend abusive staff, PETA staff attributes their reactionary views to your organization. In February of 2012, for example, PETA wrote the Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia, to oppose shelter reform, stating:

The dangerous, unrealistic policies and procedures pushed on the council by this small but fanatical constituency is part of a national movement to target, harass, and vilify open admission shelters and their staff in an effort to mislead the public into believing that ‘no kill’ is as easy as simply not euthanizing animals… [Quoting HSUS:] ‘There are no municipal shelters in the country that operate as ‘no-kill.’ A few have tried, but have quickly turned back due to overcrowding, inability to manage services, and staff outcry. It is the municipality’s job to accept all animals and conduct responsible adoptions. The reality is there are not enough homes for all animals…’ The goals of reducing overpopulation and euthanasia do not get accomplished by limiting yourself to the category of ‘no-kill.’ It is an unattainable goal that will set you up for failure.

There are many factual inaccuracies in the statement that PETA attributes to your organization, chief among them is that when the original statement by HSUS was made and as you are no doubt aware, Tompkins County, New York was in its fourth No Kill year. By the time PETA released the letter, there were dozens of communities across the nation that had achieved the same level of No Kill success using the Tompkins model, which was also being proposed for Norfolk. And though over a decade has passed since the seminal achievement of the nation’s first No Kill community, neither your organization nor PETA has publicly acknowledged that this success occurred, nor that it has been replicated in economically, geographically and demographically diverse communities across the nation. And to this day, PETA is using inaccurate information released by your organization to willfully mislead government entities on the viability of No Kill alternatives.


In 2001, Tompkins County, NY became the first No Kill community, a fact which neither HSUS nor PETA has acknowledged so that they can continue lying to public officials that it is impossible. 

To defend the killing, PETA further quotes your organization as having stated that “The reality is that there are not enough homes for all animals,” a fact not only contradicted by the then-success of Tompkins County and the success of numerous communities which have since follow its lead, but by your own study that proves that the demand for animals in the United States outstrips the supply in shelters by over eight-fold. By your own calculations, when shelters compete for the market share of adopters and when they keep animals alive long enough to find those homes, animals live instead of die.


Spayed while in the process of giving birth by the Williamson County, TN, pound, her 11 puppies were individually poisoned. She died a few days later as a result of complications from the surgery. A rescue group offered to save her and her puppies. The shelter refused and all 12 of them are now dead. PETA applauded the move.

In March of this year, PETA also wrote a letter to the Mayor of Williamson County, Tennessee, to advocate for greater killing after the shelter killed puppies by spaying a dog in active labor. The puppies, full term and viable, were each individually killed through an overdose of barbiturates during her spay. Although the procedure was risky given the late term of the dog’s pregnancy, the shelter director ordered her to be operated on regardless, causing the mother to also die as a result of complications. Prior to the surgery, rescuers and volunteers had offered to save this dog and her puppies only to be refused the ability to do so. Understandably upset, they were further sickened by their needless deaths and went public with concerns. The shelter director retaliated by instituting a “Volunteer Code of Conduct” that threatens to fire volunteers for exercising their First Amendment rights.

In response, the No Kill Advocacy Center sent a letter to the Mayor informing him that this policy violates the constitutional rights of volunteers, citing both laws protecting the right to free speech and the precedent of similar cases settled in favor of shelter volunteers. PETA, on the other hand, wrote a letter to the Mayor praising the pound director’s decision, thanking him for refusing the volunteer’s request to save the mother and her puppies, and arguing in favor of a shelter policy mandating the continued killing of these animals: “We … urge you to maintain the county’s policy of spaying pregnant animals before release.”  To substantiate their call for more killing, PETA, once again, quoted your agency, stating:

Thankfully, national animal control and sheltering experts have proposed guidelines for handling these issues…The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has these uncompromising recommendations for choosing animals for foster/transfer programs: ‘Don’t place pregnant animals in foster care unless special circumstances demand it… Spay the animal and abort the litter, if you can’ [emphasis added].

Whether it is ethical to spay a pregnant dog is not an “abstract” discussion. It has life and death consequences. If the kittens or puppies are viable, they must be individually killed, usually through an injection of sodium pentobarbital. Even when they are not, when a mother is spayed, the kittens or puppies die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate. That is not consistent with the welfare and rights of animals. Nor is this an “either-or” proposition: either unborn puppies and kittens must die or those already born must. Such an argument condones the atrocity committed against animals who are thrown away as if they are nothing more than garbage. Moreover, your own study proves that both groups can be saved.


Aborted puppies are individually killed and then thrown in the trash, a course of conduct both PETA and HSUS encourage.

PETA, unfortunately, did not stop there. Even though the mother in this case was a Lab-mix, they also recommended a ban on the adoption of all dogs who look like “Pit Bulls,” a policy that will lead to the killing of animals based solely on the way they look. Studies confirm that shelters misidentify breed over 70% of the time, and that, in fact, “Pit Bull” is no longer even a recognizable breed of dog. It is, instead what a national advocacy organization correctly called,

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.’

So not only are shelters mislabeling dogs, they are killing them as a result, with the full blessing and encouragement of PETA. To PETA, young puppies and friendly dogs should be systematically put to death as long as someone claims they are a “Pit Bull.”


PETA has called on animal shelters to ban the “adoption/release” of “Pit Bulls,” and to put them to death instead.

Once again, PETA did not stop there. It also urged the shelter not to transfer sick or injured animals to rescue groups or foster homes, either, but to kill them instead. PETA writes:

HSUS is clear in its recommendations regarding sick and injured animals: ‘Animals needing extensive care should not be fostered because their medical needs can drain limited resources and because few foster parents are trained to provide intensive nursing. Also, avoid placing an animal with a contagious disease in a foster home that already has pets.’


PETA cites HSUS for the proposition that animals with medical needs should be killed, not fostered.

To the extent that the County embraces PETA/HSUS positions, animals will continue losing their lives needlessly. If the County carries out its threats of retribution, the animals will also lose their most ardent champions. As the volunteers who were threatened wrote,

Prior to this incident, we knew very little about PETA. What we have learned is that PETA is an organization quick to personally attack local shelter volunteers and rescues who they know nothing about. The author of this letter has never been to our county shelter, or to our county for that matter. She knows nothing about us personally, nor does she know of the countless hours that we devote to our county shelter. But, what is even harder to accept, is our County Mayor circulating this letter as a form of praise for the good works of shelter management under his supervision.

Rather that work alongside animal lovers ready, willing and able to help their local shelter save more lives and who want their tax dollars used in a manner that reflects, rather than hinders, their values, PETA fights them, providing regressive shelter directors political cover and encouraging them to kill even more than they already do.


Puppies killed by PETA in the back of a van, a donor-funded mobile slaughterhouse stocked with syringes and lethal drugs.

Tragically, they also practice what they preach. PETA consistently kills over 90% of the animals that are entrusted to their care. State inspection reports detail that the facilities PETA has to house the approximately 2,000 animals they take in annually are inadequate for the volume of intake and were designed merely to house animals for no more than 24 hours before killing them, precluding the effective adoption efforts for these animals even if PETA wanted to find them homes, which, by both PETA’s own admission and the individuals who have entrusted healthy animals to their care only to find out that those animals were killed reveal, they are not interested in doing. PETA has no adoption hours, does no adoption promotion, has no adoption floor, and doesn’t keep animals alive long enough to be adopted. Ingrid Newkirk herself has admitted that they are “not in the home finding business,” but in the killing one: “Our service is to provide a peaceful and painless death…”


Garbage bags containing the bodies of animals killed by PETA, animals they themselves called “adorable” and “perfect,” and many who they promised they would find homes for.

As anyone who has witnessed shelter killing can attest, it is often not peaceful and not painless and it is no less violent even if it was, especially when it is inflicted on animals who PETA has admitted were “healthy,” “adoptable,” “adorable,” and “perfect.” Indeed, in 2005, PETA employees were the subject of an undercover investigation by the police department in Ahoskie, North Carolina after many garbage bags full of dead bodies were discovered in a supermarket dumpster. The sting operation resulted in the arrest of PETA employees who admitted to having killed the animals. Among the dead were many young, healthy animals, including several puppies, as well as a mother cat and her kittens who had been given to PETA by a local veterinarian after PETA employees promised to find those animals homes, only to kill them immediately in the back of a PETA van—a mobile slaughterhouse on wheels stocked with a tackle box full of syringes and poison. Since this incident, PETA’s killing has continued unabated, with PETA reporting an annual death toll of roughly 90% or greater for the past 11 years, 29,426 animals in all.

Peta death kit

A tackle box filled with syringes and poison in the back of the PETA death van confiscated by police during a sting operation.

In interviews and articles that she has written, PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk has expressed views on the killing of companion animals that are not only the antithesis of those one would expect from an organization claiming to be dedicated to promoting the rights of animals, but views that are perversely outside the norm of how most animal-loving Americans feel about animals as well. While three out of four Americans believe shelters should not be allowed to kill healthy or treatable animals (and most of the remainder falsely believe shelters have no choice because of PETA and HSUS propaganda to that effect), PETA argues that these animals want to die and killing them is a “gift.” PETA has also argued that the movement to save their lives is nothing more than “slow-kill hoarding” and “fanatical,” views they once expressed at your invitation to sheltering officials across the country at Expo, HSUS’ annual sheltering conference.


HSUS has given PETA a forum to equate No Kill with mental illness to animal control officers and shelter staff from across the nation, urging those officers/staff to maintain a policy of killing.

Unfortunately, using the common public perception of PETA as an organization dedicated to the “ethical treatment” of animals and trumpeting the statements of your organization, Newkirk and her acolytes veil their reactionary views under a cloak of legitimacy to ensure the continued killing of companion animals in shelters across the nation. Disguised as an animal rights organization but perpetuating an agenda that seeks death and defends the continued neglect and abuse of animals in American shelters, PETA is a powerful force for harm working to subvert animal protection in the United States.

As an equally powerful and influential organization that claims to be dedicated to animals and one that is being used by PETA to perpetuate their deadly agenda, you have a moral obligation to speak out against them. Will you? Will you continue to stand idly by while PETA kills thousands of animals a year, undermines the work of animal lovers, defends cruel and abusive shelters, bullies animal lovers and promotes harmful and deadly sheltering protocols using HSUS as a weapon and shield? Or will you do what so many animal lovers across the nation have done: stand up and speak out against them?

Wayne, I call on you to publicly condemn PETA for their continued killing and embrace of killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. I call on you to publicly condemn PETA for using HSUS to perpetuate neglect, abuse and killing in shelters. I call on you to publicly reject the policies PETA attributes to HSUS in defense of killing. And I call on you to issue an unequivocal public guarantee that you will never again give PETA a forum to share such views at your animal sheltering conference or in any of your publications.

And should you do none of these things, but choose to continue looking the other way while your organization is used as a tool to kill animals, am I to assume that you agree with PETA and support their campaign of extermination?

Very truly yours,

Nathan J. Winograd


Here is my story:

And this is my vision:

Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.


A Man With An Agenda

April 7, 2013 by  


In response to my article exposing PETA’s killing, PETA claims I am a “man with an agenda.” My only agenda is to stop their killing.

My Huffington Post expose about PETA’s systematic slaughter of animals has received 160,000 “likes” and has been shared over 50,000 times. In a response issued by PETA yesterday, they do not discuss why they call for the killing of all pit bulls. They do not mention why they call for the round up and killing of healthy feral cats. They fail to address the puppies and kittens they put to death and encourage others to put to death. They do not discuss why Ingrid Newkirk claims they do not support the right to life, her admission that PETA kills “healthy” animals, her staff admitting that the puppies and kittens they killed were “adorable” and “perfect,” nor her belief that animals want to die and that killing them is “a gift.” They do not address their defense of some of the most abusive shelters in the country. They do not address the fact that their “shelter” is too small for the volume of animals they seek out, nor that 90% of those animals are killed within 24 hours, nor the fact they have no adoption hours and do not promote animals for adoption. They do not address the fact that rescue groups have given them healthy animals after PETA promised to find them homes, only to have PETA employees put the animals to death.

And, of course, there is no mention as to why PETA employees walked into a veterinary office, lied to the people working there about promising to find a healthy mother cat and her kittens a home and instead took those animals into the back of a van where they perhaps heard them purr, perhaps watched the kittens play, and then grabbed each one, restrained them, injected them with a fatal dose of poison, put their dead bodies in a garbage bag and then threw them in a dumpster. Without guilt, without remorse, without shame or anguish, they simply moved on to the next lie and the next victims. All told, PETA killed roughly 2,000 animals a year every year for the last 11 years, including those they labeled “healthy,” “adoptable,” “adoprable,” and “perfect”: 29,426 animals in all.

Rather than respond substantively to all the photographs I posted, PETA is doing what they always do: create a diversion by shooting the messenger. According to PETA, I am a “man with an agenda.” They claim I am a front for Agri-business, particularly the Center for Consumer Freedom, when in truth, my only agenda is to stop the killing and give animals what they deserve: the right to live. 


I have worked in the animal rights movement for over 20 years. I am a graduate of Stanford Law School, an attorney and former criminal prosecutor, and have held a variety of leadership positions including director of operations for the San Francisco SPCA and executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA, two of the most successful shelters in the nation. Under my leadership, Tompkins County, New York, became the first No Kill community in the U.S. I have also spoken nationally and internationally on animal sheltering issues, have written animal protection legislation at the state and national level, have created successful No Kill programs in both urban and rural communities, and have consulted with a wide range of animal protection groups, including some of the largest and best known in the nation. I am the author of four books, Redemption, Irreconcilable Differences, All American Vegan, and Friendly Fire (the latter two co-written with my wife, Jennifer)Redemption won five national book awards and redefined the animal protection movement in the United States. I am also the director of the No Kill Advocacy Center. I have been an ethical vegan for over 20 years. I write a vegan blog. I’ve written a vegan cookbook. I’m raising two vegan kids. And I am a former PETA volunteer, until I learned the truth. (Click here to read about my efforts to end shelter killing, promote veganism, stop vivisection, and more).

I am also not alone in coming forward to expose PETA. Others have, too: A veterinarian who gave PETA healthy kittens after they promised to find them homes only to kill them immediately in the back of a van; a former member of PETA’s inner circle who found a healthy dog but would not give the dog to PETA because experience had taught her that they would have killed him; a former staff member who was fired for openly disagreeing about the killing of healthy animals; another employee who quit because of PETA’s killing; and a former intern who also quit in disgust after he saw healthy puppies and kittens in the PETA “kill room.” I am also joined by countless animals lovers, animal rights activists, and vegans who will not accept the hypocrisy that it is wrong to kill chickens and cows (it is!) but ok to kill dogs and cats (it is not!).

Furthermore, I am not affiliated in any way with the Center for Consumer Freedom, nor have I ever received money from individuals or groups who exploit animals, including the Center for Consumer Freedom. The root of this lie is that, in 2007, they posted answers to questions about the causes of shelter killing in America. You can read the questions and answers in their entirety here. Sadly, the fact I truthfully answered questions about how better to save animals in shelters has been used to misrepresent who I am. That does not mean they support me (they do not) and it does not mean I support them (I do not). In fact, PETA is the one that benefits from the Center for Consumer Freedom by using them as a shield to deflect any criticism.

Moreover, for speaking the truth about PETA’s systematic slaughter of thousands of animals every year, PETA’s defenders and others have called me a “piece of shit,” wrote an article called “Nathan Winograd Should be Beheaded” and have threatened to kill my dog.

Here is my story:

And this is my vision:

What’s Behind PETA’s Systematic Killing of Animals?

April 2, 2013 by  


By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd.

On my Facebook page, a reader took issue with our claim in Friendly Fire that PETA’s systematic killing of animals and embrace of their killing cannot be understood without a psychological analysis of both Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s founder, as well as those she recruits to do her bidding. In Friendly Fire, we argue that PETA appears to us to be a political death cult, a cover for Newkirk’s dark impulses. You can read an excerpted version by clicking here. In response to that analysis, the reader suggested that PETA’s actions show the failings of the utilitarianism philosophy, as articulated by Peter Singer in what is ironically considered the seminal work of the animal rights movement (ironic because it rejects legal rights for animals), Animal Liberation. While the comment was more nuanced, others have made similar arguments. But we think trying to find a philosophical basis for Ingrid Newkirk’s actions or the actions of her employees, misses the mark. Our response to the reader explaining why is below:

The reason my wife and I wrote Friendly Fire was to respond to the most common question people have when they learn that the biggest roadblocks to a No Kill nation are the large, national animal “protection” groups: Why? 

We attempt to explain the historical, financial and sociological reasons behind this paradoxical opposition so that it makes sense and gives people the confidence to challenge it. If people can set aside the naïve assumption that just because a group has a professed mission it will therefore always act in accordance with that mission, if they can allow for the possibility that such groups can become ruled by greed, pride and self-preservation at the expense of their mission, then they can understand why they act as they do and most important of all, they can expose it for what it is to others, and help people move beyond the deference they now accord these groups, a deference that the groups use to maintain the status quo of killing. 

As I would hope a reading of Friendly Fire conveys, we believe that the reasons behind the opposition of most of No Kill’s detractors can be understood in the context of basic human nature:

“While the result of the opposition to No Kill by shelter directors and others is anything but mundane, the motivation behind their resistance is ultimately attributable to pedestrian flaws of human nature: primarily uncaring, greed and narrow self-interest.”

We don’t, however, think this excuse is adequate to explain the killing done by PETA:

“Ingrid Newkirk is different. She opposes No Kill because the No Kill movement represents the antithesis of her definition of animal activism. To her, killing is the goal because she believes that life itself is suffering and therefore animals want to die.”

Without an appreciation of Newkirk’s particular and aberrant point of view, a whole lot of PETA’s behavior is inexplicable.

I understand the limits of trying to understand an organization via psychological evidence, not the least of which is that it tends to rely on subjective data prone to tautologies. Moreover, there are limits to a madman theory of history. But I do not believe you can discount it either and there is enough intersubjective evidence via comparison to studies of nurses who kill their patients or to the behavior of political death cults in history. Moreover, given the top-down nature of PETA, including firing anyone who admits a different point of view or even questions it, and the very real possibility that PETA is a front for Newkirk’s impulses in this regard, I believe it warrants serious consideration. That doesn’t mean it is the end-all be all, but I do believe that relying on a utilitarian explanation misses Newkirk’s role and denies the power of cults.

Admittedly, it has been 20 years since I read Animal Liberation, but I do not think utilitarianism can explain lying to people in order to take animals, in no danger of being killed, and putting them to death after promising to find them a home in the back of a van stocked with a tackle box full of syringes and poison and garbage bags in which to place their dead bodies (the circumstances surrounding such killing expose how deliberate and premeditated that killing is). Many people have read Animal Liberation but how many of them have created death cults as a result? How many people have read it and then attempted to recruit others to join them in an effort to round up and kill healthy animals? 

Rather than argue that reading Animal Liberation provided Newkirk with the impetus to kill, I think it would be more accurate to say that Newkirk wants to kill, and uses the utilitarian argument proposed in Animal Liberation in the same way she uses PETA: as political cover. To assert the reverse is to imply that no matter how bizarre or out of touch with the norms of human experience a particular behavior may be, if that behavior can be traced back to someone else’s philosophical writings, if it can find justification, then that behavior cannot therefore be considered the result of a disturbed psychological condition. 

I agree that many people who do not work at PETA but support Newkirk even when they learn about PETA’s killing may be influenced by Newkirk’s use of utilitarianism as a decoy and I don’t believe we ever suggested otherwise in Friendly Fire. I also agree, as I think you seem to be suggesting, that given the low regard for the value of animal life in our society, that people, even people who claim to be “animal rights” are unable or conveniently unwilling to “think” their own way out their support for PETA because not only are they reconciled to animals being killed, they are accustomed to the idea that PETA is something they are not—an animal protection organization—and therefore if PETA says the killing is necessary and okay, it must be necessary and okay. 

But I don’t think the same can be said for the individuals she recruits to her cause who work at PETA and do the killing on her behalf. I do believe that these people are under Newkirk’s sway beyond what we would consider a healthy state of mind or a healthy relationship. And I think it is important to point this out because with PETA continually trying to place the killing that they do in the context of “pet overpopulation,” and with people continually trying to ham-fist Newkirk’s agenda into an animal rights context, the urgency of the plight of PETA’s victims is diminished. What is lost in such discussion is the sense of horror at what, in truth, PETA is actually doing to animals. There is no rational basis for supporting PETA, there is no way to reconcile PETA’s philosophy with that of other rights based movements that have come before ours, and to suggest otherwise is in itself a betrayal to the animals. 

That is to say, if humans, rather than animals, were Newkirk’s target, no one would dare suggest there was a rational basis or justification behind her killing, or that that killing could be made to align with the philosophy of a movement intended to protect those people. They would see that such actions are in opposition, in fact the anti-thesis, of such a cause, not a manifestation of it. The flaws in such a suggestion would be immediately obvious to everyone, given our collective reverence for the sanctity of the individual rights of humans. And the only reason it isn’t in this instance is that we don’t collectively recognize the rights of animals in the same way, chief among them, the right to live. 

In essence, Newkirk is allowed to continue killing animals because animals do not have the rights and protections afforded by law that most people erroneously believe PETA exists to promote. It is that very paradox that has for so long shielded Newkirk from greater accountability and which must be pointed out to most effectively overcome their assertions that the killing they do is necessary and humane.

For further reading:

Friendly Fire


PETA: A Cult-ture of Killing


My Disturbing Encounter With the Mind of PETA


You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught


The Butcher of Norfolk


Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

My Facebook page is The Facebook page of my organization is Many people mistakenly believe that the Facebook pages at No Kill Nation and No Kill Revolution are my pages. They are not.


The Myth of “Animal Welfare”

March 19, 2013 by  

“Humane” Meat, Shelter Killing and How HSUS, the ASPCA, PETA, and AHA Enable Abuse & Killing of All Animals


By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

To Vegans & Animal Rights Activists Who Support the Killing of Companion Animals:

Animal shelters in this country exist for primarily one purpose: to provide a safety-net of care for our nation’s homeless animals. With half of all animals entering our shelters being killed rather than given the new beginning that they not only deserve, but which the No Kill movement has proven unequivocally is possible, to say that most of our animal shelters are failing in their mission is a gross understatement. But the betrayal goes even deeper than the killing, although by far that is the greatest harm. Because in addition to taking the lives of four million animals a year, animal shelters in this country are rife with abuse and neglect as well. Why? Because they kill.

Studies of slaughterhouse workers have found that in order to cope with the fact that they are paid to kill day in and day out, self-preservation motivates those workers to devalue animals in order to make what they are doing less morally reprehensible. In other words, the workers make the animals unworthy of any consideration on their behalf. The two most common methods of achieving this are indifference to animal suffering and even intensifying it, becoming sadistic toward the animals. In too many communities, the implications for shelters are frightening: American shelters are themselves frequently little more than slaughterhouses. By its very nature, therefore, shelter killing breeds a lack of compassion and caring for animals.

And not only do people in shelters work at a place that commits this ultimate form of 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, or neglect and abuse them? How does shoddy cleaning or rough handling or failing to feed the animals compare with putting an animal to death? Because shelter workers understand that they have the power to kill shelter animals, and will in fact kill many of them, every interaction they have with those animals is influenced by their perception that the animals do not matter, that their lives are cheap and expendable and that they are destined for the garbage heap.

The tragic state of American animal shelters proves that when the harm of killing animals is permissible, other kinds of harm are fostered as well. And that is why the historical distinction between “animal rights” and “animal welfare” is a false one. Where there is no respect for life, there is no regard for welfare.

Indeed, the right to life should be the bedrock of any movement that claims to be rights-based, as the animal rights movement by its very name, does. Not only because each animal, like each of us, has an inalienable right to life, but because all the other things the animal protection movement claims to be seeking on behalf of animals are impossible without that first and most essential right. Without the right to life, no other “rights” can be guaranteed. How can we ensure animals the right to food, water, shelter and kind treatment, when those things can be taken away by killing?

Yet tragically, there is not a single, large national animal protection organization that represents a consistent moral philosophy for animals, one that advocates that animals have both a right to be free from suffering and a right to live. The ASPCA doesn’t. The Humane Society of the United States doesn’t. PETA doesn’t. And the American Humane Association doesn’t. And so their philosophy and actions on behalf of animals are inconsistent, sloppy, harmful and ultimately deadly.

With one hand, PETA passes out literature encouraging people to go vegan while the other hand injects thousands of animals, even species of animals raised for food, with a fatal dose of poison. HSUS claims to oppose the clubbing of baby seals in front of their mother, but gives a “Shelter We Love” award to a shelter where employees placed a mother cat and her kitten into a gas chamber with a raccoon so that they could watch the animals fight before turning on the gas, killing those animals slowly and painfully and laughing while they did so. The ASPCA’s makes millions on their now infamous commercials promising to protect abused and neglected animals in need even as they send the neediest of animals dropped on their doorstep down the street to be killed at one of the most abusive and filthy shelters in the nation and have allowed dogs to starve to death all over New York City. And last but by no means least, the American Humane Association, an organization that claims to be the “the nation’s voice for the protection of animals,” not only trains people to kill healthy companion animals with their “Euthanasia by Injection” workshops (“hands-on” workshops where living animals are killed) but condones, encourages and enables the suffering of millions of animals raised for food with their sham “Certified Humane” label which perpetuates the myth of humane meat.

Which of these harms would be permissible were these organizations to authentically represent a true animal rights philosophy, one that recognizes the inherent right to live of every animal? None of them. How could they justify their actions which lead to animal suffering and death in light of a concomitant belief that animals, like people, have an unalienable right to live? They couldn’t. And yet, paradoxically, because I criticize these groups for moral inconsistency that sabotages our cause and for actions that they take which undermine rather than further the rights and well-being of animals, I am constantly attacked by the very people who should share my concerns: my fellow animal rights activists and vegans.

And so while I normally post vegan-related blogs on, my website devoted to vegan advocacy, I wanted to post this article on the page that my detractors continually monitor—this one—so I can be sure that they will see it. I want those who claim to be vegan—who claim to care about the plight of animals raised for food—but who constantly condemn me for criticizing the large, national groups they love for the actions they take which brutally harm companion animals to see what, exactly, they are enabling when they defend groups which claim to speak for animals but do not promote their right to live. I want them to see how they don’t just hurt dogs and cats whose lives and rights they so casually discard, but how they enable the suffering and killing of animals they do claim to care about—chickens, cows and pigs. I want them to see the crimes against animals which a belief in the myth of a “humane death” enables and which they, in turn, further enable by promoting the groups that champion such a myth.

Like HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA, the American Humane Association defends animal shelters that kill animals despite readily available lifesaving alternatives. AHA in fact, teaches people how to kill healthy and treatable animals and provides them with animals to kill. And so it should come as no surprise that when Foster Farms slits the throats of millions of chickens every year or when other factory farms put live, baby male chicks into a giant grinder because they don’t lay eggs or grow fast enough to provide maximum profitability to the industry. AHA does not condemn it. Instead, they give it a seal of approval.

Recently, Foster Farms announced that they were awarded the American Humane Association’s “Humane Certified” label which now appears on the package of every dead Foster Farms chicken sold in America. Thanks to AHA, American consumers will be lulled into a false sense of complacency that eating animals is consistent with being humane, that supporting a company that kills millions of animals a year is consistent with a belief in animal protection. Like HSUS and the ASPCA which likewise promote the myth that raising and killing animals for food can be “humane”–and like PETA which, in Ingrid Newkirk’s own words, does “not support right to life for animals” and who told the New York Times that when it comes to people eating animals, “screw the principles”–when AHA condones and enables harm to animals, when they call cooking the bodies of dead animals a “joy” and recipes which call for those bodies “scrumptious,” they do so on behalf of the entire animal protection movement.


According to AHA, Foster Farms raises its chickens in a humane manner. But, what, exactly, do they mean by “humane?”

Does it prevent animals from being kept in crowded indoor cages in warehouses? No.


Does it require chickens to be allowed to go outside, to get fresh air and sunlight, to be able to act in accordance with all of their instincts to ensure their happiness and psychological as well as physical well-being? No.


Does it mean you cannot cut the beaks of chicks? No.


Does it mean that you cannot place live, newborn male chicks into a grinder to be killed? No.


Does it prevent chickens from being hung upside down by the feet, electrically stunned, and then have their throats slit? No.


Does it mean you cannot cut the teeth of piglets? No.


Does it mean you cannot cut the tails off pigs? No.


Does it mean you cannot use an electric prod on cows? No.


Does it mean that you cannot use restraints to forcibly inseminate a cow or a pig? No.


Does it prevent castration of newborn calves by placing a rubber band around their scrotum to cut off blood supply? No.


And, like chickens, does it mean that these cows and pigs are not ultimately slaughtered? No.


Under what warped definition of “humane” can a process that ends with animals having their throats slit possibly qualify? The kind where Foster Farms pays AHA a royalty/certification fee to say so.* Whether by selling out companion animals or those raised and then killed for food, it is evident that AHA and the other national organizations do not speak for the animals, but for the people and industries which harm them. That much is evident. The question becomes: why do those who should be their most ardent critics—vegans and animal rights activists—defend them?

The simple answer is that they have been taught to. With the lie that killing companion animals is a “necessity” and that the system of animal agriculture based on exploitation and killing can be “humane;” with the philosophy that no one within the animal protection movement is allowed to stand up for principles if it means speaking out against powerful organizations; in a movement in which cults of personality are everything and names like Newkirk, Pacelle and others demand unquestioned allegiance even when they consistently betray the cause they have pledged to protect; and by selling a model of dependency where activism means donating and deferring to large organizations rather than empowering the grassroots to effect local, and by extension, national change, these groups not only shield themselves from scrutiny and accountability for their harmful actions, but they have taught legions of activists to regard the most sincere and authentic voices within the animal protection movement—those who question the prevailing dogma and who argue that all animals have an inalienable right to live—as dangerous and threatening instead.

Whether it packaged as “humane meat” or “pet overpopulation,” the idea that killing animals is acceptable if done for the right reasons, by the right people or under the right circumstances are merely different manifestations of the same insidious lie that permeates and hinders the animal protection movement at the beginning of the 21st century: that killing animals who are not suffering can be humane. It can’t. It isn’t. And if you are a person who is going to claim to speak on behalf of animals, then authenticity, morality, and integrity compel you to challenge and stand up to this pernicious idea and the groups that perpetuate it.


* AHA does not say how much its “royalty” or “certification fee” amounts to. In the past, companies have paid tens of thousands of dollars for an AHA humane seal.

For further reading:

ASPCA Donates to Kill Chickens

Is It All Its Cracked Up to Be?


Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

The Lie at the Heart of the Killing

March 12, 2013 by  

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By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

Today, an animal entering an average American animal shelter has a 50 percent chance of being killed, and in some communities it is as high as 99 percent, with shelters blaming a lack of available homes as the cause of death. But is pet overpopulation real? And are shelters doing all they can to save lives? If you believe the Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, the ASPCA and PETA the answer to both those questions is “yes,” even though that answer flies in the face of the data and experience. It is simply “received” rather than substantiated wisdom. To adherents of the “we have no choice but to kill because of pet overpopulation” school, pet overpopulation is real because animals are being killed, a logical fallacy based on backwards reasoning and circular illogic. In other words, data, analysis and experience—in short, evidence—have no place. Neither do ethics.

In truth, and at the heart of the No Kill philosophy, is the understanding that the reasons we have historically been given for why animals are being killed in shelters—there are too many for too few homes available, and that the American public is uncaring and irresponsible—have been proven wrong in the face of data and communities that are achieving No Kill level save rates not by changing the habits of the people within a community, but by changing the culture, policies and procedures of the shelter itself. In other words, we know pet overpopulation is a myth because both the statistics and the experience of progressive shelters prove it is.

Some eight million animals enter shelters every year and while apologists for shelter killing will tell you that we cannot adopt our way out of eight million animals, the truth is that we can. That is good news. But the even better news is that adopting out eight million animals isn’t what we have to do. The actual number of animals needing homes is much less. Some animals entering shelters need adoption, but others do not. Some animals, like free-living, unsocialized (“feral”) cats, need neuter and release. Others will be—and many more can be with greater effort—reclaimed by their families. Others are irremediably suffering or hopelessly ill. And many more can be kept out of the shelter through a comprehensive pet retention effort. While about four million dogs and cats will be killed in pounds and shelters this year, roughly three million will be killed for lack of a new home. Can we find homes for three million animals? Yes.

Using the most successful adoption communities as a benchmark and adjusting for population, U.S. shelters combined have the potential to adopt almost nine million animals a year. That is almost three times the number being killed for lack of a home. In fact, it is more than total impounds; and of those, almost half do not need a new home. But the news gets even better because the number of people looking to get an animal is so much larger than the shelter “supply.”

There are over 23 million people who are going to get an animal next year. Some are already committed to adopting from a shelter. Some are already committed to getting one from a breeder or other commercial source. But 17 million have not decided where that animal will come from and research shows they can be influenced to adopt from a shelter. That’s 17 million people vying for roughly three million animals. So even if 80% of those people got their animal from somewhere other than a shelter (or were denied the ability to adopt from a shelter for whatever reason), we could still zero out the killing. And many communities are proving it.

A before and after snapshot of the nearly 100 communities which now have save rates between 90% and 99% show that their shelters achieved that rate of lifesaving by changing the way they operated. Contrary to what conventional wisdom has prescribed for decades, they did not change the public. That’s because animals are not and have never been killed in shelters because of the choices made by the public. Instead, they are being killed because of the choices made by the people overseeing our shelters.

In traditional U.S. animal shelters and despite decades of public assurances to the contrary by our nation’s shelter directors and animal protection organizations, animals are killed primarily out of habit and convenience. Visit an animal shelter run in line with traditional sheltering protocols, and this will become evident in a variety of ways. You will see animals killed rather than placed in available cages so staff doesn’t have to clean those cages or feed the animals inside them. Not only do sheltering policies promoted by large animal protection groups such as HSUS recommend keeping cages and kennels empty, but I have visited shelter after shelter where animals were being killed allegedly “for space” while at the same time those shelters had plenty of empty cages, sometimes entire rooms of them. On a day I visited the Carson shelter of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Care & Control, a shelter where roughly eight out of 10 cats are put to death, 80% of the cages were intentionally kept empty. When I visited Shreveport, Louisiana’s shelter, only one cat was available for adoption despite a 92% death rate for cats. In Eugene, Oregon, at a time it was killing 72% of cats and claiming to do so for lack of space caused by of pet overpopulation, only six cats were available for adoption. The rest of the cages were empty.

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At a traditional animal shelter, you will find animals being killed despite offers from other non-profits and rescue groups to save those very animals. In fact, 71% of New York rescue groups and 63% of Florida rescue groups reported shelters killing the very animals they had offered to save. And both HSUS and the ASPCA believe this is as it should be as both have fought to defeat legislation which would have made it illegal for shelters to kill animals who qualified rescue groups are willing to save—legislation that has already saved hundreds of thousands of lives in other states. Since California passed such a law over the opposition of HSUS, the number of animals transferred to rescue groups rather than killed went from 12,526 to 58,939–a 370% increase because shelters were now required to work with rescue groups.

Animals in shelters are also killed because the shelter director refuses to implement a comprehensive foster care program for neonatal puppies and kittens, choosing to kill those animals instead. At one such shelter, the director fired staff and volunteers who were bottle feeding orphaned baby animals on their own time and at their own expense. And at traditional shelters animals are killed because shelter directors do not want to make the effort to implement all the other alternatives that already exist (programs and services collectively known as the No Kill Equation): neuter and release, offsite adoptions, pet retention and field service programs to reduce impounds, as well as medical and behavior rehabilitation programs, to name just a few.

In the end, killing is occurring in our nation’s shelters not because there are too many animals, but because killing is easier than doing what is necessary to stop it, and because as heartless as that reason is, shelter directors have been allowed to do it anyway. Why? Because the people who should be their fiercest critics—those within the animal protection movement itself—have provided them political cover by falsely portraying the killing that they do as a necessity born of pet overpopulation. In fact, the lie of pet overpopulation is at the heart of the killing paradigm. It is the primary excuse that allows shelter directors to shift the blame from their own failure to save lives to someone else. And it is the excuse that has, for decades, kept the animal protection movement wringing its hands, spinning in endless, hopeless circles, trying to “solve” the problem of shelter killing by attacking a phantom cause, rather than the one that is truly to blame.

There are now No Kill communities across the U.S. and abroad: in New York and in California, in Colorado and Virginia, in Utah, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky, in Nevada, and across the globe, including areas suffering from high rates of unemployment and foreclosure. Washoe County, Nevada, for example, has been very hard hit by the economic downturn. Loss of jobs and loss of homes are at all-time highs. In fact, the state of Nevada has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. As a result, the two major shelters (Washoe County Regional Animal Services and the Nevada Humane Society) together take in four times the per capita rate of Los Angeles, five times the rate of San Francisco, 10 times the rate of New York City, and over two times the national average. If there was ever a community which, according to conventional wisdom, could not adopt its way out of killing, it is Washoe County. But they are doing just that. And it didn’t take them five years to do it. All these communities did it virtually overnight, by implementing proven strategies to lower impounds and relinquishments, increase redemptions, return animals to their responsible caretakers and free living cats to their habitats, while adopting out the remainder.

From both the perspective of animals and the perspective of the true animal lover, the fact that pet overpopulation turns out not to exist can only be described as welcome news. That the main excuse historically used to justify the need to systematically poison or gas to death millions of dogs and cats turns out to be a fabrication should be cause for celebration. One would expect that the leadership of the animal protection movement and those within the grassroots who defer to them would not just embrace this news but would shout it from the rooftops. Tragically, that has not been the case. Rather than accept and then evolve their approach to this issue in light of new information (a study conducted by HSUS itself proved that demand for animals vastly exceeds the number of animals being killed in shelters), they have instead tenaciously clung to and even jealously guarded the idea of pet overpopulation, working to stall its rapidly diminishing sway over animal lovers by repackaging pet overpopulation with “new and improved” labels such as “Regional Pet Overpopulation, “Shelter Overpopulation” or reasserting the efficacy of pet overpopulation by redefining the terms of the debate in a specious manner.


According to these groups, while pet overpopulation might not exist nationally, it does exist regionally in areas with higher rates of poverty, particularly the South. Yet the rationale for this argument is as convoluted as that for the one they now have been left with no choice but to admit is insupportable. Not only does it ignore the experience of economically distressed areas like Washoe County; it ignores the fact that each of the communities that have succeeded were also once steeped in killing, claiming at one time they had no choice but to kill by using the same excuses that have been proven false by virtue of their own success (almost always after a regressive shelter director was replaced with a progressive one). It ignores the growing number of communities with save rates between 90% and 99% in the South. And it ignores that while each of our nation’s successful communities are demographically and geographically diverse, the one thing they do share is that their success was neither a fluke nor the result of a very specific set of circumstances which set them apart from other American communities. Each of those shelters is succeeding for one reason and one reason alone: the shelter itself changed the way it operated, rejecting killing in favor of existing alternatives and by rejecting the false premise that they can’t save them all because of pet overpopulation.

In the end, the regional pet overpopulation argument has the same flaws as the traditional pet overpopulation problem which its proponents increasingly, though grudgingly, admit does not exist. With no statistical analysis to support it and the experience of communities with extremely high per capita intake rates proving that No Kill can succeed in spite of such challenges (today there are No Kill communities with per capita intake rates 20 times higher than New York City, the most densely populated city in America), regional pet overpopulation is the same argument with a new label and every bit as devoid of verifiable, concrete data to back it up.

Let’s look at it another way. There are roughly 165 million animals in people’s homes and the numbers are not just holding; they are growing. If shelters increase the number of animals who come from shelters by a few percentage points, we would be a No Kill nation today. A two percent increase would replace all killing with adoption. And because some of that would be replacement “markets” (a pet dies or runs away) and not just new “markets” (someone doesn’t have a pet but decides to get one or has one and decides to get another), what statisticians call a combination of “stock” and “flow,” it is actually less. Take a state like Michigan, where some claim that regional pet overpopulation exists because of economic distress and high rates of unemployment. Today, roughly 85,000 animals statewide are losing their lives annually. Of those, just over 80,000 animals are healthy and treatable. Of those, at least another 4,000 can and should be reunited with their families (on average, Michigan shelters have 10% reclaim rates, a figure that is not only far below the national average, and a fraction of the most successful communities in the nation, but a statistic that could be dramatically improved if the reclaim protocols of the No Kill Equation were followed). If “feral” cats were neutered and released rather than killed as the No Kill Equation also mandates, then under a worst-case scenario, about 70,000 additional homes need to be found for Michigan to become a No Kill state. That amounts to just over ½ of one percent of Michigan’s 10,000,000 residents. Even if one is looking at the number of households instead of the number of people, it’s less than two percent. How is that evidence of a “regional pet overpopulation” problem? It isn’t. In fact, the evidence reveals that the opposite is actually true, which is the case in communities nationwide, too.


One proponent of the pet overpopulation argument has gone so far as to admit there is neither national pet overpopulation, nor regional pet overpopulation, but instead claims we have “shelter overpopulation.” Under this argument, if a shelter has 100 cages, when the 101st animal comes in, there is “shelter overpopulation” which makes killing the 101st animal justified. To begin with, the argument lacks any threshold or standards to ensure protections for animals of any kind. Indeed, by this logic, there is no killing that cannot be justified. If this same community dismantled 95 of the 100 cages, they would be morally justified in killing the 6th animal who came in. Moreover, it does not take into account foster homes, temporary cages and kennels, doubling up animals, pet retention programs and adoption campaigns—all the alternatives to killing that successful communities use to replace killing when cages get full. It presupposes that No Kill communities never have more animals than cage space when it is a given that, at some point, every shelter will face such a scenario, especially during peak intake times such as spring and summer.

The argument also ignores the fact that a shelter can always add more cages to accommodate population. As director of the shelter in Tompkins County, New York, I converted the garage, which housed two vans, into two rooms: an overflow infirmary and a nursery for kittens. Prior to my arrival, our vans, tools to help us in our mission, enjoyed protection from the elements while sick animals and kittens, who were our mission, were being killed for “lack of space.”


There was nothing preventing my predecessor from doing what I did. But by the “shelter overpopulation” argument, his killing of kittens rather than sending them into foster care or adding more cage space was entirely justified. Is that really the standard of care we want our nation’s shelters to follow—in essence, no standards at all? Anything goes if the alternative to killing is having to embrace an alternative to killing? In the end, the proponents of “shelter overpopulation” have simply taken the excuses used to justify killing on a macro-scale and reduced it to the micro. But it is the exact same argument, flawed for the same reasons and equally as unethical.


In the face of this irrefutable evidence, some apologists—mostly supporters of PETA’s campaign of dog and cat extermination (killing as they do roughly 97% of all the animals they seek out)—have started to cook the books. No longer able to rationalize a supply and demand imbalance given both the data and experience of successful communities, they are packing the numbers on the supply side to make their case appear more plausible. While tacitly admitting that the data and experience do not lend themselves to the notion of a supply-demand imbalance and thus, a “need” to kill animals (itself a logical and unethical fallacy even if true as will be discussed below), they argue that when calculating the number of animals in need of homes nationally, we must include all the animals living on the street as well, not just the ones being killed in shelters. When you include all the animals living on the street, they argue, pet overpopulation is real.

There are many flaws inherent in this argument as well, the first being that it introduces into the equation a whole category of animals who, while their well-being is important, are not relevant to the very specific discussion of shelter killing for the simple fact that they are not in shelters. In other words, while adding the number of animals in shelters combined with the number of animals living on the street would provide a statistic of how many animals in America might not have a human address, that number would not reflect how many animals are under an immediate death threat at their local shelter which is, after all, the killing pet overpopulation has always been used to justify. Nor does the existence of such animals impact the demand side of the equation which, as already explained, so vastly exceeds the supply of animals in shelters that it can even accommodate homes lost to commercially-sourced animals such as those from breeders and pet stores, as well as those adopted from the streets. In short, while expanding the supply side of the pet overpopulation argument in this way is an attempt to obscure and confuse the issue, it does not change the conclusion supported by both fact and experience: every year, there are more homes available than there are animals being killed in shelters.

Nor does the implied corollary to their argument stand up, either. Are those who make this argument implying that all free-living animals should be brought into shelters and therefore, if they were, pet overpopulation would in fact exist? That, after all, is the inference of their argument. First and most significantly, arguing that pet overpopulation would be real if all free-living animals were admitted to shelters is to introduce a hypothetical and irrelevant scenario into a discussion about a very real problem. For four million animals every year, shelter killing is a grave and immediate danger. To argue for the existence of the disproven but primary excuse used to justify that killing based not on what is happening but what might happen were all free-living animals to be admitted into shelters reduces a serious and weighty discussion to the realm of make believe.

A genuine commitment to animal welfare requires an honest assessment of reality and the genuine threats which animals entering shelters face. Admitting extraneous, unrelated issues into the discussion is an attempt not to illuminate, but to obscure. And analyzing the validity of historical claims used to justify the systematic killing of millions of animals should not be a sophomoric exercise in rhetoric or debate, but a serious discussion that seeks to inform and influence our positions and actions on behalf of animals in a responsible, thoughtful and fact-based way.

Moreover, those who advocate for animals should oppose any suggestion that animals on the streets would be better off in those places that present the greatest threat to their lives: the local animal shelter. Nor would loss of life, though the greatest harm, be the only one such animals would likely face if admitted to shelters. Although the animal protection movement has perpetuated the fiction that our nation’s shelters provide a humane and compassionate safety net of care for our nation’s homeless animals, the facts tell a very different, very tragic, story. In truth, the first time many companion animals experience neglect or abuse is when they enter a shelter.

As the movement to end shelter killing has grown in size and sophistication, the networking made possible through the internet and social media has allowed animal lovers to connect the dots between individual cases of animal cruelty and neglect in shelters nationwide. These incidents reveal a distinct pattern. Animal abuse at local shelters is not an isolated anomaly caused by “a few bad apples.” The stunning number and severity of these cases nationwide lead to one disturbing and inescapable conclusion: our shelters are in crisis. Frequently overseen by ineffective and incompetent directors who fail to hold their staff accountable to the most basic standards of humane care, animal shelters in this country are not the safe havens they should and can be. Instead, they are often poorly managed houses of horror, places where animals are denied basic medical care, food, water, socialization and are then killed, sometimes cruelly.

Until we reform our shelters, the last place an animal advocate should wish an animal to end up, including those animals who live on the streets, is the local shelter. Not only is life on the street safer than a stay in an animal shelter, but the very thing animal shelters are supposed to provide to homeless and stray animals—reunion with their home or adoption into a new one—are more likely to happen to an animal on the street than one entering a shelter. The likelihood of an animal being reunited with their human caretakers is greater for cats, for example, if they are allowed to remain where they are rather than being impounded. In one study, cats were 13 times more likely to be returned home by non-shelter means (such as returning home on their own) than through the pound. While another study found that people are up to three times more likely to adopt cats as neighborhood strays than from a shelter.

Nor is life outside a human home the tragedy it is so often painted to be by shelter killing apologists seeking to justify killing by falsely portraying the alternative as even worse. The risk of an untimely death for street cats is extremely low, with outdoor cats living roughly the same lifespan as indoor pet cats. In a study of over 100,000 free-living cats, less than one percent of those cats were suffering from debilitating conditions. In other words, the risk of death is lower and the chance of adoption higher for cats on the street than cats in the shelter. And in countries outside the U.S., neuter and release of dogs is not uncommon and regarded, as it should be, as an infinitely better alternative than impound and potential death.

Like pet overpopulation, the argument that animals are better off dead than living on the street flies in the face of actual evidence. And just as significant, it also flies in the face of our common experience as living beings who, if given the choice between death at a shelter and survival by our wit, instinct and the chance of benefiting from the kindness of strangers, would choose the latter without a moment’s hesitation. Not only would this choice be our natural impulse, the facts show it would be the smart one, too.

With shelter killing being the leading cause of death for healthy animals in America (and therefore the cause of the greatest possible harm to befall homeless animals), the No Kill movement is focused on bringing this very specific harm to an end. We do not need to keep killing shelter animals because there are other animals living on the street. That is a non sequitur that groups like PETA conveniently ignore when they perpetuate this false choice and fallacy in order to justify the killing of those they theoretically exist to protect.*

But even if we ignored the illogic, their argument also falls apart in the absence of any concrete data to support their case that when the number of animals living on the streets is factored into the supply side, pet overpopulation exists. No one knows for sure the number of animals living on the street. If those who continue to claim pet overpopulation is real because the number of animals exceeds demand for animals and that this supply-demand imbalance requires shelters to kill animals, the burden is on them to prove it: what is the supply side of the equation? When you are preaching death, when you are promoting death, when you are excusing death, and when—in the case of PETA and its supporters—you are paying for and actually doing the killing, the burden to prove its “necessity” is on you.** In short, one better know the supply side of the equation before using use an argument dependent upon it to justify a mass slaughter, and, predictably, just as is true with the traditional notion of pet overpopulation which they have perpetuated for decades, they do not.

Moreover, the best estimate (and it is still largely a guess) is that about 12 million cats and far fewer dogs are living on U.S. streets, parks, and alleyways. Of course, feral cats and in some inner cities feral dogs, make up some percentage of those animals and they are not homeless. The outdoors is their home and the same is true of friendly community cats, too: those cats who are not “feral” because they are tame, but are nonetheless cared for by a person or as is often the case several people, but—as recent studies from the veterinary community confirm—are in no way suffering because of it, as proponents of round up and kill campaigns like PETA and its adherents falsely claim.*** Nonetheless, when you remove “feral” cats and dogs from the total numbers, we’re still dealing with a figure that is less than total demand, so the math still does not hold up. Even so, as noted above, it is irrelevant. For those who do actually enter shelters—an estimated three million animals a year who are dying but for a home—there are plenty of homes available if, instead of killing them out of convenience, shelters better promoted the animals and then actually kept them alive long enough to find homes through comprehensive adoption campaigns.


So given that there is so much information and experience working against the notion of pet overpopulation and given that to believe in pet overpopulation is to condone the excuse that allows for the killing of four million animals every year, why do people who claim to be animal lovers not only to cling to it, but work so hard to maintain it or to try to revive its fading supremacy through rebranding? There are three primary reasons.

First, until very recently, pet overpopulation was an unquestioned gospel within the animal protection movement. Repeated ad infinitum within the animal protection community as means of explaining shelter killing and distinguishing it from other forms of killing by virtue of its “necessity,” (especially since this form of killing was being done by those who claimed to be a part of the animal protection movement itself) its prevalence and undisputed authority for so many decades gave it the appearance of truth rather than what it was all along: a mere hypothesis, and one that, when subjected to scrutiny and weighed against the evidence, collapses like a house of cards. Nonetheless, the universal acceptance of pet overpopulation that dominated the animal protection movement at one time–a groupthink mentality that accepted it as an a priori truth outside the bounds of investigation or analysis—meant that to ultimately question its precepts was regarded as heresy, opening up those who exposed its fallacies to condemnation, scorn and allegations of fraud.

The motives of those who seek to expose the lie at the heart of the killing, the myth of pet overpopulation, have been maligned and misrepresented, creating a climate of suspicion within the animal protection movement not only about those who question the doctrine, but the very act of questioning it at all. Why? Because if pet overpopulation is a myth, then the killing being done in shelters is immoral, and those who do that killing—friends and colleagues within the animal protection community itself—are behaving unethically and irresponsibly towards animals, a troubling and deeply unsettling conclusion that for many people within the animal protection community is better left unreached. Sadly, for many people who know and support organizations and individuals doing the killing or which provide it political cover, such allegiance is more important than the lives of the animals they are supposed to represent. To them, pet overpopulation, the historical narrative which has shielded those people from accountability, must not be exposed as a lie, and anyone who tries to do so is the enemy.****


The second—and probably more ubiquitous—reason that some animal activists are resistant to the idea that pet overpopulation is a myth is because they irrationally fear that if the public finds out the truth, the public will no longer spay/neuter their animals, which they continue to view as critically important. Why do they believe sterilization is so critically important? Because, like the pet overpopulation, they have been told over and over again, and for years on end, that it is.

In fact, spay/neuter has been the cornerstone of companion animal advocacy for decades. Why? Because it does not threaten those running shelters. Whereas the other programs of the No Kill Equation such as foster care, comprehensive adoption programs and proactive redemptions which are vitally important—even more essential—to saving lives than spay/neuter place the responsibility for lifesaving on the shelter; spay and neuter places the responsibility on the public. And, therefore, unlike those other programs, spay and neuter has been and continues to be the one program of the No Kill Equation to which every shelter director and every large national group pays homage. And that is also why so many animal activists argue, as they have they have been schooled to do and despite no evidence to prove it, that spay and neuter alone is the key to ending the killing. But is it true? In fact, it is not.

Yes, spay and neuter is important. It is program of the No Kill Equation and I, along with other No Kill advocates, promote it. Because even though pet overpopulation is a myth, continued promotion and availability of high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter is a means to reach stasis in shelters where adoptions equal intakes, making the achievement of a No Kill nation even easier to achieve. 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 run a No Kill shelter. In other words, we want to eliminate those communities with high intake rates (like Washoe County) needing thoroughly committed and hardworking leadership to stop killing. Moreover, if spay/neuter allows a community to drop intakes significantly enough that they are unable to meet adoption demand, they can begin importing animals from high-kill rate jurisdictions and save those lives, too. Until all communities are No Kill communities, this is a very good thing to have happen.

But despite the role spay and neuter plays in helping a community more easily achieve and sustain No Kill, the fact remains that despite the privileged position spay/neuter has historically enjoyed within the animal protection movement, it alone has never—never—created a single No Kill community. In fact, communities with very high per capita intake rates have achieved No Kill without a comprehensive public spay/neuter program. We cannot neuter our way out of killing and no U.S. community ever has. That honor belongs to the No Kill Equation as a whole, a series of programs and services which require a shelter to harness a community’s compassion and which therefore also prove that in order to succeed, a shelter must embrace rather than alienate the people it serves.

The No Kill philosophy recognizes that far from being the cause of shelter killing, the community is the key to ending it. It recognizes that while some people are irresponsible, most people are trustworthy and will do right by companion animals if we explain how they can do so. To the extent that spay and neuter is one of the programs that helps a shelter more easily achieve No Kill, that positive outcome is enough to encourage most people to do right not just by the animals, but by the shelter which shares their values and which they want to support and enable in its success. We need not fear monger with pet overpopulation and by extension, the threat that we will kill animals—or even actually kill animals—to get people to do the right thing. When we make it easy for them to do so—such as making spay/neuter affordable—they will. And studies and experience prove it.

Finally, believing that spay/neuter alone holds the key to ending the killing fails to recognize the most essential and tragic truth about animal sheltering in America today: we already have alternatives to killing, alternatives that the vast majority of shelter directors simply refuse to implement. And how can you save animals in a shelter run by a director who simply refuses to stop killing? Moreover, lamenting that we would be finally able to end the killing if only everyone sterilized their animals or could be forced to do so is like wishing that a historically popular but ineffective remedy for a particular disease would work when a cure has already been found. Not only does such an attitude perpetuate ignorance and helplessness by failing to acknowledge a genuine solution that already exists, but it siphons energy that should be directed towards implementing the real remedy into mourning the failure of a hopeless one. How does that help animals?

It doesn’t. Indeed, the notion that we must continue to promote the myth of pet overpopulation—which condones and enables killing—in order to encourage people to spay and neuter—which has only ever been important because it is a means to prevent killing—is an inversion of priorities. It is to encourage the disease and forsake the cure, in favor of the medicine.

Every animal lover has a responsibility to recognize that we don’t need to figure out how to end the killing anymore. It is no longer a mystery—the No Kill Equation provides the answer. Our job now is to make sure the roadmap we already have is implemented in every shelter in America.


The third and final reason that people cling to the myth of pet overpopulation is because they have a vested interested in killing. This includes directors who run poorly performing shelters. It includes government bureaucrats in these communities who are supposed to oversee these shelter directors but refuse to hold them accountable. It includes national organizations like the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA and PETA whose companion animal divisions are staffed with former shelter directors and employees who themselves failed to save lives when they worked in shelters and are therefore not only threatened by No Kill success, but are committed to shielding their friends and colleagues still working in shelters from greater accountability. It includes the supporters of those groups whose identity is so wrapped up in that support that they not only reject any criticism of the groups no matter what the evidence, but take such criticisms as a personal affront, thus willfully enabling killing through an unhealthy, codependent relationship that puts their own narrow self-interest before the lives and well-being of animals. And lastly, it includes the heads of organizations who claim to support No Kill, even claim to be striving toward No Kill, but who rely on the myth of pet overpopulation to justify their five and ten year No Kill plans in light of communities which have achieved it virtually overnight.

For such groups, pet overpopulation is a tool used to distinguish their community from those that are already successful, a means of obscuring the truth by portraying their community as more challenging than those that have already succeeded, even though, in truth, the thing that sets successful communities apart from theirs is a greater commitment to implement alternatives to killing and a greater determination to overcome the resistance of those who stood in the way.



But let’s ignore all the reasons why pet overpopulation is in fact a myth and all the reasons why people who claim to love animals so vehemently defend it. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that “pet overpopulation” is real. Does that change the ethical calculus? It does not. Shelter killing would still be immoral. Advancing a practical over an ethical argument has long been the safe haven for those who want to justify untoward practices. Even accepting the sincerity of the claim, even if the practical calculus was correct, protecting life that is not suffering is a timeless and absolute principle upon which responsible advocates must tailor their practices.

Indeed, the underpinning of the No Kill movement is that it goes beyond what is commonly assumed to be a practical necessity. It is, first and foremost, a movement of beliefs, of morality and ethics, of what our vision of compassion is now and for the future. Its success is a result of the philosophy dictating our actions and thereby prompting us to do better; to embrace more progressive, life-affirming methods of sheltering. Before many of us within the No Kill movement felt comfortable with the answer to questions of whether or not “feral” cats suffered on the street and whether or not No Kill was possible, we had already rejected mass killing. We had rejected practical explanations based on a “too many animals, not enough homes” calculus, or that a humane death was preferable to potential future suffering. Even though early in the No Kill movement’s history, though the practical alternative of the No Kill Equation was yet unknown, the movement still recognized that whatever practical explanations there were to “justify” it, the killing was still wrong and must be rejected.*****

No Kill is, at its core, about the rights of, and responsibilities we have to individual animals. This tenet is summarized by one of the Guiding Principles of the U.S. No Kill Declaration:

Every animal in a shelter receives individual consideration, regardless of how many animals a shelter takes in, or whether such animals are healthy, underaged, elderly, sick, injured, traumatized, or feral.

More often, however, the practical calculus is wrong and at least historically, has been used to excuse atrocities. Ethics will always trump the practical and the two are seldom so inexorably linked that an untoward action must follow some fixed practical imperative. Every action taken by animal advocates must be subservient to preserving life, a principle that not only puts our movement in line and on par with the successful rights-based movements that have come before ours, but is a philosophy that fosters the motivation necessary for us to figure out how we can bring our aspirations into reality. That is the job and duty of the animal protection movement, not—as it has historically done—justifying or enabling the killing of animals.


We can end the killing and we can do it today. And in roughly 300 cities and towns across America, we’ve done exactly that. That is the good news that comes from the understanding that “pet overpopulation” doesn’t exist. It means the killing is not a “necessary” evil. It is, quite simply, evil. It means animals don’t have to die as we have been told for so long.

If you truly love animals, if you are a person who claims to be their advocate, you do not respond to that news with indignation, scorn, anger, apoplexy, by shooting the messenger or by attempting to obscure the issue for others with irrelevant and unrelated tangents. You celebrate, and then you share that good news with everyone you know who loves animals, too, so that the pernicious and persistent myth at the heart of the killing—the lie that is responsible for violent atrocities against millions of animals every year—will finally die. Anything else is unethical. It is enabling shelter killing. And it is turning a blind eye to a solution that will spare millions of animals from losing the one thing that is, as is true for each of us, more precious to them than anything else: their lives.


* They also ignore the fact that PETA believes those animals should be killed, too, even if they are not suffering. In the last 11 years, PETA has killed 29,426 animals, including those they themselves have called “healthy,” “adoptable,” “adorable,” and “perfect” and even after promising that they would find the animals a home. They do not have adoption hours, they do not have an adoption floor, they do not market their animals, and most are killed within 24 hours. They have called for the automatic killing of all dogs who look like “pit bulls” in shelters. They have called for the round up and killing of even healthy feral cats. They have defended poorly performing and even violently abusive shelters. And they fight shelter reform legislation to mandate the common sense programs of the No Kill Equation, such as TNR and rescue rights. Whatever methods PETA uses to justify shelter killing should be approached with the understanding that PETA is motivated by a very different set of priorities than the vast majority of people, and a set of priorities that are in fact the opposite of that which is generally ascribed to them given their name and reputation. Although they try to obscure their true agenda by working to convince their supporters and animal lovers that they believe killing is a regrettable necessity, in truth, their more candid statements and most significantly, their actions, reveal that those who work at PETA believe that life is suffering, the living want to die and killing them is, as Ingrid Newkirk herself stated, a “gift.”

** Although, in truth and from an animal rights perspective, there is no information or practical argument in defense of shelter killing that supersedes every animals’ inherent rights, chief among them the right to live.

*** It is never ethical to kill an individual animal based on a group dynamic. Even if it could be proven that most free-living cats die prematurely due to disease or injury (which is by no means true, but postulated for the sake of argument), it would still be unethical to kill any individual cat because not only do that cat’s inherent rights ethically prohibit it, but there is no way to know if that particular cat will ever succumb to such a fate, let alone when. In fact, even if it was known that a particular cat would get hit by a car two years from now, it isn’t ethical to rob him of those two years by killing him now. Furthermore, those are not the facts; free-living cats are not disproportionately suffering. In fact, the largest study of “feral” cats conducted in the U.S. showed baselines of health and longevity almost identical to pet cats.

**** Because of my efforts to expose the lie of pet overpopulation, I have been maligned and repeatedly misrepresented in a variety of ways. Rumors about me abound, stating that I do not represent the animals, but industries that harm them. One of the most pervasive lies about me is that I am a front for puppy mills—an entirely baseless accusation intended to scare animal lovers away from listening to what I have to say. Puppy mills cause horrible animal suffering and death—two things I have committed my life to opposing. I support laws banning the sale of purposely bred animals from pet stores. I’ve written articles and held workshops on closing down puppy mills. I do not get money from groups that oppose the rights of animals. And regardless of why animals are being killed, they are being killed, and as long as they are, I believe that it is incumbent on everyone seeking to bring an animal into their life to either rescue or adopt from a shelter. In short, adoption and rescue are ethical imperatives.

***** Indeed, the very fact that the myth of pet overpopulation to rationalize the killing and the euphemisms used to describe it such as “euthaniasia,” putting them to sleep,” and “humane death” came into existence are proof that even those doing the killing understood that it was so perverse it needed masking, an artifice to shield its ugly reality from the public.

About the data: When I wrote Redemption in 2007, I was very conservative. HSUS’ own numbers prove that the number of people who will bring a new animal into their home far exceeds the number being killed in shelters but for a home. And HSUS is not alone. The data for this analysis came from a number of sources, including national surveys done by Maddie’s Fund, HSUS, Mintel, and Petsmart Charities. It includes data from shelters that have statewide reporting such as Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina and California, among others, and a database of about 1,100 organizations, almost one-third of the U.S. shelter total.

For further reading:

The Empty Cages

Can You Neuter Your Way Out of Killing?

Wish You Were Here

Good Homes Need Not Apply

Who is Nathan Winograd?


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