And pays people to eat them.
Nearly 25 years ago when I decided to dedicate my life to the cause of animal rights, I was faced with an important decision: where to focus my attention? Given my concern for all
animals, it was a tough choice and one I weighed very carefully. Should I focus on animals used in research? Animals raised and killed for “food”? Animals in captivity? Wild animals? Both then as now, the list of issues needing attention was a long one and as a young law student at Stanford, I focused on all these issues through the campus animal rights group I founded. But several experiences helped me to answer the calling I eventually chose after graduation: working to end the killing of companion animals in American shelters.
First, I was influenced by a mother who was the neighborhood cat lady. Second, I was fortunate to have life-altering experiences working with two local No Kill shelters while attending law school. Third, I was deeply troubled by the animal protection movement’s philosophical embrace of the killing of companion animals. Finally, I was inspired by the legal and societal precedent-setting potential for all animals embodied in the concern and love most Americans already have for companion animals. As a result, I decided to focus most of my time and energy on an issue which I saw almost no other activists with an animal-rights orientation addressing: shelter killing.
Over the last two decades, that is precisely what I have done. As a former director of two of the most successful shelters in the nation and the current Executive Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization working to bring an end to the systematic killing of animals in shelters, companion animals are the animals on whom I have focused most of my professional time and energy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the suffering or plight of other animals any less. And that is why I have always lived my life according to a simple ethos: do no harm; a maxim that is reflected in what I eat, what I wear, how I spend my consumer dollars, how I respond to the animals in need who cross my path, and how I am raising my children, among other things. It is also why my wife and I authored All American Vegan, a vegan primer and cookbook that seeks to inspire other No Kill advocates and everyday dog and cat lovers to likewise embrace a compassionate way of eating.
Nonetheless, in spite of these efforts to promote veganism and my long, personal identification as an animal rights activist, some people—often those new to my Facebook page or the cause of No Kill—have certain preconceived notions about who I am or should be, and what I should be allowed to say on my own Facebook page (a form of censorship with which they would no doubt take great offense were similar limitations to be dictated to them about permissible content on their own page). And often, that means not only surprise and frustration but sometimes even anger when I post about other animal related issues that matter deeply to me but do not concern the plight of companion animals.
Sadly, it seems that there will always be a portion of the followers on my page who I cannot please: animal rights activists who accuse me of not caring about other animals beyond dogs and cats simply because I have chosen to focus most of my effort on those animals (a criticism I doubt they would ever make of other animal rights activists focusing exclusively on more traditional animal rights issues such as animal agriculture or fur), and on the flip side, No Kill advocates who attack me for expressing concern about other animals beyond dogs and cats, such as a pit bull advocate who called me an “extremist” for a comment I made on the Facebook page of a No Kill colleague in defense of chickens after other No Kill advocates defended their killing. To the latter group, the fact that I do not wish any animal to experience pain, suffering or a premature death, instead of limiting my compassion to dogs and cats labels me an “extremist.” My response? To thine own self be true.
And that is why when I see the nation’s large, so-called “animal protection” groups—most notably, the HSUS, the ASPCA and AHA—behaving as unethically towards cows and chickens as they have historically behaved towards dogs and cats, I must say so. Not only do the animals these groups are throwing under the bus in deference to those who systematically abuse and kill them deserve a voice, too, but there is value in exposing the hypocrisy and philosophical rot that permeates these corrupt institutions at every level. Often, people want to compartmentalize the malfeasance of these groups: to argue that their different divisions are separate and distinct from one another and that an institutional culture which allows for the thwarting of shelter reform efforts, which defends shelter killing and even celebrates shelter directors who oversee facilities where animals have suffered horrible abuse and senseless deaths, is none-the-less capable of a morally consistent and effective agenda for wild animals, animals abused and killed in agriculture or in other spheres. As several recent campaigns by these groups to promote the lie of “humane” meat clearly demonstrate, not only is this view ill-informed and naïve, but dead wrong.
A couple of weeks ago, Jennifer and I ate at one of the newest locations for a chain of vegan restaurants whose food we absolutely love: Veggie Grill. And like virtually every other time we have eaten at Veggie Grill, we were thrilled to see the restaurant not only packed, but filled with a broad array of people from all possible demographics—old and young, male and female, entire families, businessmen in suits and tattooed hipsters. This popularity is also reflected in the expansion of Veggie Grill which has opened 25 locations since its debut in 2006. With delicious, faux meat sandwiches that mimic the real thing, Veggie Grill is proof positive that if you make it delicious and familiar tasting, vegan food can have tremendously broad appeal, especially among an American public that is becoming increasingly conscious about the animal suffering and killing enabled by their consumer choices.
Perhaps it was this awareness that compelled the pizzeria next door to attempt to compete by advertising itself in two ways. On one side of the door was writing upon the window advertising its wide array of vegetarian offerings. I was happy to see a pizzeria using its meatless options as a possible selling point. But my enthusiasm for the pressure Veggie Grill was obviously placing on the pizzeria was immediately eviscerated when I noted what was written on the other side of the entry door, a statement so oxymoronic as to make my head spin: “cruelty-free meat.”
Although the number of companies that disingenuously refer to their meats, eggs, and dairy products as “humane” has rapidly increased over the last several years, I had yet to encounter such a blatant co-option and misappropriation of that particular term and certainly never before to describe meat. Historically, the term “cruelty-free” has been used to describe products made without animal testing. It was coined by a vegan who never would have imagined it would someday be used to describe animals killed for food. But sadly, as more and more companies scramble to respond to a public that is increasingly weighing the moral implications of their food choices, lies like this are becoming more common. Enabling its spread are corrupt “animal protection” groups such as HSUS, the ASPCA, and the American Humane Association which not only pay lip service to the lie of “humane meat,” but get rich in the process of doing so. There is a lot of money to be made partnering with the people who harm animals, and these groups are feeding at their troughs.
Case in point: two weeks ago, HSUS unrolled its “Hoofin’ It” campaign, sponsoring a week long event in Denver celebrating the killing and eating of animals. “On Sunday you can get bison; Monday ‘sheep is the star’; Tuesday is pig night; Wednesday it’s cow”.
The catch: HSUS claims they were raised and slaughtered “humanely.” But these claims are untrue by definition. There is no such thing as “humanely” killing an animal who does not want to die, and killing animals is an inherent part of the production of meat, eggs and dairy products, as are confinement, reproductive manipulation, social deprivation, and physical mutilation, all ending with getting their throats slit. Indeed, on the Hoofin’ It website, they boast of some animals being killed—or what they euphemistically call “harvested and processed”—after living only 24-30 months despite a natural lifespan of 25 years. We’re told that the methods they use are important for one primary reason: they make the animals more “delicious.”
Not to be outdone, the ASPCA gave money—$50,000 in donations given to them to save animals—to a for-profit company so that they can kill more chickens. And AHA, the long the ignored stepchild of the “big three,” decided to top them all: awarding Foster Farms the American Humane Association’s “Humane Certified” label which now appears on the package of every dead Foster Farms chicken sold in America, in exchange for an undisclosed sum of money and agreement to standards which often do little more than codify cruel industry practices. Like HSUS and the ASPCA, AHA lulls people into a false sense of complacency that supporting a company which abuses and kills millions of animals a year is consistent with a belief in animal protection. And what, exactly, do they mean by “humane”?
- Does AHA prevent animals from being kept in crowded indoor cages in warehouses? No.
- Does AHA require chickens to be allowed to go outside, to get fresh air and sunlight, to be able to act in accordance with all of their instincts to ensure their happiness and psychological as well as physical well-being? No.
- Does AHA prohibit beaks from being cut off? No.
- Does AHA prohibit the use of masticators—giant machines in which unwanted, live baby chicks are ground up while alive and fully conscious? No.
- Does AHA prohibit chickens from being hung upside down by the legs and feet (legs and feet that are often suffering from terribly painful joint diseases), being electrically stunned, and having their heads cut off? No.
- Does AHA prohibit the cutting of the teeth of piglets? No.
- Does AHA prohibit cutting off the tails off pigs? No.
- Does AHA prohibit the use of electrical shock on cows? No.
- Does AHA prohibit the use of restraints to forcibly inseminate a cow or a pig? No.
- Does AHA prohibit the use of a gas chamber to kill despite calling it “inhumane to all animals”? No.
- Does AHA prohibit the castration of newborn calves by a rubber band being placed around their scrotums to cut off blood supply? No.
Finally, under what warped definition of “humane” can a process that ends with animals having their throats slit possibly qualify? The kind where AHA is paid to say it is.
Whether it packaged as “humane meat” or “pet overpopulation,” the idea that killing animals is acceptable if done for the right reasons, by the right people or under the right circumstances are merely different manifestations of the same insidious lie that permeates and hinders the animal protection movement at the beginning of the 21st century: that killing animals who are not suffering can ever be humane. It can’t. It isn’t. And if HSUS, the ASPCA, and AHA are going to claim to speak on behalf of animals and raise money off their plight, then morality and integrity compel them to challenge and stand up to this pernicious idea, not perpetuate it, even if it upsets their donors, their corporate handlers, or the people on their Facebook pages.
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Data for Colorado shelters and rescue groups was released this week for 2014. Overall, 89% of dogs were saved, 82% of cats were saved, 86% of birds, 82% of rabbits and other small mammals, 87% of reptiles, 85% of farm animals, and 77% of “other” animals. There was great hope, given 2013’s numbers, that Colorado would be the first state to verifiably save 90% or more of all the animals. That did not occur, but they remain close and exceed many states.
Moreover, Colorado shows 96,960 dog and cat adoptions, an increase of 9,739 over 2013. That is an adoption rate of 18 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. Not only are these numbers high, showing that shelters across the country can and should do more adoptions, but they disprove those who claim high adoption rates are not sustainable. In fact, not only does Colorado prove they are, they are getting higher (in 2013, it was 17 per 1,000 and 2012 was 16 per 1,000) and can go higher still. Comparing Colorado as a whole to the most successful shelters/communities in the nation, Colorado has the potential to adopt out about 122,000 animals a year.
One of the brightest spots is Fremont, CO, where the shelter went from killing half the animals to a save rate of 98% under a new director. As hundreds of other communities across the country have done the same, these shelters prove that the most important factor is not where the shelter is located, but who is running it.
In the next week or so, the individual cities with save rates exceeding 90% will be posted to saving90.org. Colorado has more cities/towns with 90+% save rates than any other state, though it should be noted that not all Colorado cities care about all dogs. While Colorado bans new breed-discriminatory legislation, it has grandfathered in existing laws and cities like Denver and Aurora continue to ban and kill dogs based on the way they look.
For numbers junkies, here are the rough numbers, based on back of the envelope calculations:
In 2013, Colorado shelters saved roughly 90% of dogs and 81% of cats. I say “roughly” because there are some assumptions built in: animals transferred in from other shelters within Colorado may be double counted (which can skew the numbers 1-2%), animals transferred in from outside of Colorado skew the picture of what is happening to Colorado animals, and animals missing/lost may be alive or they may be dead.
In 2014, with these assumptions in mind, Colorado took in 104,603 dogs. If one removes in-state transfers to avoid double counting, the number is 95,036. Because some of these may be from non-reporting shelters, it is possible some of them are not already counted. That aside, the intake is a small increase from 2013, but 24,278 dogs were brought in from outside the state.
Of all live intakes, 57,891 dogs were adopted out (55%), 23,930 were reclaimed by their families (57% of strays), 908 were neutered and released (or other live outcome) (1%), and 7,803 were transferred to shelters or rescue groups (7%). 10,412 were killed (10%), 109 were lost, and 666 died (1%). That is a save rate of 88%-89% for dogs.
Colorado took in 64,521 cats. If one removes in state transfers to avoid double counting, the number is 59,444. That is a decline in the number of cats from 2013, even with 3,869 cats brought in from outside the state.
Of all live intakes, 39,069 cats were adopted (61%), 2,830 were reclaimed by their families (10% of strays), 5,441 were sterilized and released (8%), and 4,766 were transferred to rescue groups/other shelters (7%). 10,174 were killed (16%), 54 were lost, and 1,410 died (2%). That is a save rate of 80%-82% for cats (again depending on the assumptions above).
Colorado shelters and rescue groups also took in rabbits and other pocket pets, birds, reptiles, farmed animals, and others. Of 876 birds taken in, 86% were saved. Of 5,142 rabbits and pocket pets, 82% were saved. Of 459 reptiles, 87% were saved. Of 294 farm animals taken in, 85% were saved. Of 224 “other” animals taken in, 77% were saved.
The data is here.
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By Jennifer & Nathan Winograd
A lot of attention has been paid within the vegan community to the terrible harm associated with the production of palm oil. With a food industry that has recently begun to move away from the use of partially hydrogenated oils in light of the serious hazard they pose to human health, the demand for trans-fat free oils has caused a boom in the palm oil industry—an industry which was already thriving given the many applications for palm oil and its derivatives in the cosmetic, cleaning supply and chemical industries, among others. Many vegans are now aware that in response to this growing demand for palm oil, tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia are being decimated in order to make way for palm oil plantations, destroying vital habitat for the animals living in these forests. The United Nations Environment Programme has announced that palm oil plantations are now the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. Deforestation for the establishment of palm oil plantations is responsible for habitat loss of the Asian elephant, tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros and the orangutan. But even worse is the fate suffered by those animals who are found eating palm fruit on these plantations, cutting into plantation profits. They are shot, beaten to death and even set on fire.
News of the atrocities associated with palm oil production has inspired some vegans to reject the use of palm oil, and that includes the use of vegan butters which contain it. With a compassionate, DIY spirit, many intrepid vegans have experimented with making homemade vegan butter, based not on palm fruit, but that darling of the vegan and raw food communities alike, coconut oil.
Likewise concerned about issues relating to palm oil production and inspired by their example, we created a recipe for our own palm oil-free, vegan butter in the third edition of our cookbook, All American Vegan. But before we did so, we did a little research to ensure that in offering people an alternative to vegan butter based on palm oil with one based on coconut oil, we weren’t simply encouraging the use of one ethically problematic tropical oil for another. Sure enough, what we discovered about the production of coconut oil is deeply troubling: the use of monkeys to harvest coconuts; pig-tailed macaques to be exact.
Agile and adept climbers, such monkeys—native to coconut growing regions in Southeast Asia—are capable of harvesting several hundred more coconuts a day than a human can; reports vary widely has to how many coconuts a day one monkey can pick, ranging from 300 to 1,000. Monkeys are chained by the neck and trained to pick only ripe coconuts and are then forced to do so, day in, day out and all day long. They are trained at monkey training facilities one visitor described as such, “The primitive, primate campus, a simple, open sided shed,” contains, “individual, meter high stakes, driven into the dirt floor… Onto each perch is tethered a solitary monkey by collar and chain. There are a dozen such perches, each one just out of reach of its neighbor.” During training and beyond, the monkeys are tethered or caged 24/7, sometimes with little to no opportunity for socialization. Where do these monkeys come from? According to one monkey handler, “Sometimes the monkeys are offspring of berok (already trained monkeys); sometimes they are caught on the forest with nets or traps. Often though, nursing mothers are shot and their babies are taken.”
Harvesting coconuts with this method is prevalent throughout Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, nations that together account for much of the world’s coconut production. Indonesia is the number one coconut producing nation in the world, producing over 18 million tons of coconuts annually. Some reports also suggest that due to a labor shortage in Kerela, India where coconut palms are grown, harvesting coconuts with monkeys may begin occurring there, as well. Picking coconuts is difficult, dangerous, labor intensive work, something younger generations of Indians are becoming increasingly unwilling to do.
Unfortunately, much of the reporting you will find on this issue approaches it from a disturbing “entertainment” angle in which the subjugation and forced labor of primates is treated as a curious, amusing oddity rather what it really is: exploitation of highly intelligent individuals. Instead of living fulfilling, autonomous lives in deference to their natural instincts and will—lives that would include social interaction with others of their kind, mating, raising young, moving about freely and resting whenever they choose—these monkeys spend their lives in endless toil and forced obedience to the will of humans. Monkey training facilities are popular destinations for tourists, so much of the information available about the lives of these monkeys is whitewashed for the purpose of encouraging that tourism, glossing over the grueling labor and often dangerous conditions the monkeys are forced to endure, including climbing tall trees over and over again during the course of a day, retrieving fallen coconuts from thick brush, retrieving coconut cutting tools for their handlers that include long, sharp blades, and loading hundreds of coconuts onto trucks which then transport them from picking location to picking location. And though many articles about these monkeys contain quotes from handlers who state that they care about their animals, it is impossible to square such assurances with the long hours, hard labor, constant shackling and lack of autonomy these animals are forced to endure day in and day out for no personal benefit. It is, in a word, slavery. And as human nature and history demonstrate again and again—where there is a profit to be made on the backs of non-humans, those backs are strained and often broken.
And by all accounts, the increasing popularity of coconuts, coconut oil and its various derivatives means that things are only going to get worse for these animals. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, “World coconut oil production has been increasing over the past decade” and coconut production worldwide now stands at 62 million tons a year. Nor has this trend escaped the vegan and health food communities, in which the use of coconuts has become ubiquitous: in raw food dishes, vegan cheeses, and the current rage for coconut water.
In light of the conflict between the humane values motivating so many to embrace a vegan diet and the treatment coconut harvesting macaques are forced to endure, we wanted to bring this issue to greater attention and to welcome any additional information about this issue that might exist. We also wanted to report that unless our current search for coconut products made exclusively from coconuts exported by countries where there are no macaques—such as Mexico—bears fruit (we will post on Facebook if it does), our upcoming third edition of All American Vegan will no longer include recipes for Coconut Cream Pie and Coconut Whipped Topping. We welcome your input.
To see photos and video of coconut-picking monkeys, click here and here and here and here.
The following companies state that they do not use monkeys:
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A horse injured while filming for a movie. AHA certified that “no animals were harmed” even when they have been killed.
How do Americans feel about animals? In a national survey, 96% of Americans—almost every single person surveyed—said we have a moral duty to protect animals and should have strong laws to do so. Three out of four Americans believe it should be illegal for shelters to kill healthy and treatable animals. Specialization and advancements in the field of veterinary medicine have been driven by a population of Americans willing to spend and do whatever it takes to save the lives of the animals they love. In fact, spending on our animal companions is the seventh largest sector of the retail economy, showing steady annual increases even in the face of economic uncertainty. And giving to animal related causes continues to be a fast growing segment in American philanthropy.
And while we have a long, long way to go with regards to non-companion animals, in the last two decades the number of vegetarians has vastly increased. And with greater consumer demand has come more choices—more vegetarian restaurants and more natural food stores that surpass traditional supermarkets in terms of selection. According to a food-industry magazine, “Product innovation, media attention, and buyer demand are creating strong growth for the vegetarian foods market, and more companies are trying to profit from meat, egg, and dairy alternatives.” In fact, sales of ready-made vegetarian products are a billion-dollar industry in the U.S., and more Americans are eating soy-based meat substitutes than ever before.
In turn, our concern for animals has made some organizations very, very rich, but too often the animals no better off. By emotionally manipulating people with heart-wrenching commercials and appeals, Americans continue donating to the large national “animal protection” organizations in spite of their many failures. It is a great betrayal and perhaps none so wide ranging as that of the corrupt American Humane Association. They not only betray dogs and cats. They not only betray horses and other animals being used in movies. They also betray the billions of animals killed every year in factory farms. And they do this all for money.
How to Become an AHA Certified Killer of Dogs, Cat, & Other Companion Animals
The American Humane Association bills itself as “the nation’s ‘voice’ for the protection of animals.” And it claims that,
One of the important ways American Humane helps protect animals is by educating and training people how to provide the best animal care possible. Throughout the year, we host trainings nationwide for animal welfare professionals and for all people who love animals and want to make a difference in their well-being.
What kind of training does AHA provide for those who might want to “make a difference” in the “well-being” of animals? By teaching people to kill them. “Whether you’ve never performed euthanasia or have years of experience with it,” says AHA, everyone is welcome—including those who will use the knowledge to kill healthy and treatable animals. AHA holds the workshops at regressive shelters across the country—so there are plenty of animals on hand to kill. And even though it is not the job of an “animal protection” group to teach people how to kill, at this workshop, not only will AHA teach you how to kill real animals, not only will they “catch you up” on the “latest techniques and drugs,” they’ll teach you how to kill animals in a variety of ways, too. And what happens if you have a moment of clarity about what is actually happening—about how an organization that claims to be about helping animals is teaching you with precise detail how to kill them—and your conscience protests? What then? Not to worry. AHA will soothe your guilt by teaching you how to smother your compassion. With “an entire section” of the conference devoted to dealing with “the unique stress felt by those who perform euthanasia,” they’ll lull you back into a state of complacency and assure you that you are, in fact, a hero for helping create that pile of dead dogs and cats. They’ll teach you to regard any empathy you might have felt for your victims not as a plea from your better nature to reject killing, but as a pesky case of what they call “compassion stress.”
Learn more by clicking here.
Complicit in Animal Cruelty of Horses & Other Animals Used in Movies
“From being the protectors of animals they’ve become complicit to animal cruelty.” That is how a criminal prosecutor describes the American Humane Association which will sell out the animals for the almighty dollar. Movies where animals were injured and killed received an AHA certification that “no animals were harmed.” In one movie, 27 animals were killed, but AHA looked the other way. In another case, after an animal nearly drowned, the AHA inspector wrote: “I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE! I have downplayed the f— out of it.”
Learn more by clicking here.
Calling Abuse of Animals on Farms “Humane”
For an undisclosed sum of money, American Humane Association is paid by companies like Foster Farms to label their factory farms and slaughterhouses as “humane.” But undercover videos show that at Foster Farms, workers throw bins of live baby chicks onto the ground. They show the bodies of chickens that were boiled alive after missing an automatic knife that’s supposed to slit their necks. They show live birds being slammed upside-down into shackles. They show workers burning the beaks and toes from baby turkeys.
When Foster Farms slits the throats of millions of chickens every year or puts 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 their seal of approval.
The exposé on abuse of chickens is here.
The exposé on abuse of turkeys is here.
Learn more by clicking here.
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Plan to Decimate East Bay Forests Scheduled to Begin This August
By Jennifer Winograd
FEMA has just announced a grant of nearly $6 million dollars in federal funding to pay for an environmentally catastrophic plan by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, UC Berkeley and the East Bay Regional Parks District to decimate the forests of the Oakland and Berkeley hills in California. When implementation of this plan begins at the end of summer, 100,000 majestic, towering, shade-giving, habitat-creating, greenhouse gas eliminating trees will be clear cut and reduced to mere stumps. In order to prevent regrowth, clear cutting sites will be repeatedly soaked in toxic herbicides for an unspecified number of years to come; chemicals officially classified as “hazardous” which will poison the food and water supply for local wildlife – including several endangered species – and threaten the health and well-being of the people and animals visiting and residing in the region.
Dangerous to Wildlife & Pets
Included among their chemical arsenal is Garlon Ultra 4, an herbicide OSHA defines as “hazardous.” Made by Dow Chemical, Garlon 4 has been demonstrated to cause damage to the kidneys, blood and liver of dogs. Garlon is also a tenacious chemical that can persist in dead vegetation for up to two years after application. Not only will wildlife residing in the areas be subjected to repeated and prolonged exposure to a chemical known to be toxic to acquatic species, birds and other wild animals, so will the many dogs visiting the parks with their families, especially those at the EBRPD off leash areas.
Destroying Our Historical Heritage
While fear mongering about fire is being used to justify this assault on nature, the plan will actually increase the risk of fire. Healthy, green trees are to be chopped down and turned into wood chips which will be spread around clear-cut hillsides at a depth of several feet, creating thick beds of highly combustible dried wood. In reality, this plan has nothing to do with fire abatement and everything to do with promoting the agenda of a small group of irrational, tree hating zealots who are using fire abatement as publically palatable excuse to masquerade their true agenda: returning the region’s public lands to their bleak, barren, clear cut appearance at the end of the 19th century after timber hungry fortune seekers who arrived in the region during the Gold Rush decimated the hillsides. It was at that time that a plan to beautify the hills by planting Eucalyptus, Monterey Pine and Acacia trees was undertaken by celebrated poet and naturalist, Joaquin Miller, and other early Oakland settlers over a century ago. The beautiful, now towering trees they planted, which create shady, other worldly Edens beneath their canopies, provide vital habitat for the millions of animals residing in the East Bay hills, and which have become so iconic and defining of the region, are now the target of deliberate extermination. As FEMA notes in its Environmental Impact Statement about the plan they are funding, the EBRPD’s goal is to destroy eucalyptus and pine forests in order to “promote conversion to grassland with islands of shrub.”
If allowed to proceed in August, this plan will not only displace and poison wild animals, it will radically transform the character and appearance of one of the most beloved natural treasures of the San Francisco Bay Area. Not since the Firestorm tragedy of 1991 has the region been under a similarly devastating threat but for one, crucial difference: this time, the danger to the well being of those residing in the hills and the scars upon the landscape will be deliberately inflicted by elected officials.
Please contact the following Oakland politicians to voice your opposition to this environmentally catastrophic plan to destroy the beauty and historical heritage of the East Bay:
Mayor Libby Schaaf
Oakland City Council Members
Dan Kalb: (510) 238-7001
Abel Guillen: (510) 238-7002
Lynette Gibson McElhaney: (510) 238-7003
Annie Campbell-Washington: (510) 238-7004
Noel Gallo: (510) 238-7005
Desley Brooks: (510) 238-7006
Larry Reid: (510) 238-7007
Rebecca Kaplan: (510) 238-7008
For further reading:
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2014 was a very good year for the No Kill movement. Here are five of some of the most significant achievements this past year:
—We’re here to save animals. And so the most important achievement is the fact that they are being saved. How far has the movement come? My walk through an airport a couple of months ago on the way to New York tells the story. On layover, I noticed one of the gate monitors for a flight going to Marquette, MI, a community with a 97% save rate. At the next gate was a flight going to Duluth, MN, a community with a 95% save rate. Then I passed another: Saulte Ste. Marie, MI, with a 97% save rate. From my arrival gate to my departure gate, I walked by five gates of flights traveling to communities with save rates of 90% or better, with Ithaca, NY and St. Paul, MN, at 90%, rounding them out. (If you also include Cortland, that is six.) A couple of decades ago, that number would have essentially been zero. Today, there are hundreds, with over seven million people living in those communities.
—Of course, while we celebrate shelters that have achieved save rates of 90% are more, we can no longer accept the fiction that it signifies the achievement of a No Kill community. Admittedly, I have been guilty of commingling the two—90% and No Kill—and we shouldn’t. The goal is to end the killing of all animals who are not suffering, and that includes all the animals still falling through the safety net in those communities with a 90% plus save rate, often large, exuberant dogs, shy cats, wildlife, and species of companion animals who are not dogs and cats such as rabbits, rodents and reptiles. But in 2014, shelters claiming the No Kill mantel are increasingly recognizing that the individual is paramount and are embracing a No Kill policy for all species of animals entering shelters, undoing the movement’s singular preoccupation with only dogs and cats.
—In an announcement to attendees at its annual conference, the Humane Society of the United States admitted pet overpopulation is a myth, that we can adopt our way out of killing, and that shelters need only change their policies to do so. Since so much of the killing in shelters flows from shelter intransigence, pitiful adoption efforts, and the excuse of pet overpopulation, HSUS’ admission brings that killing one step closer to oblivion.
—With the announcement of campaigns like the Million Cat Challenge, No Kill firmly enters the mainstream as not only are more voices jumping on the No Kill train, but formerly critical voices are, making it even easier for historically regressive shelters to do the same. As I wrote 10 years ago, “the more successful this effort is, the more No Kill will shift from being personality based (a result of the efforts of individual leaders) to becoming institutionalized.” We are seeing that happen.
—No Kill is Love hits the nation. With dozens of cities and more than 5,000 people reached, Redemption, the film, changes hearts and minds across the nation. Look for its release on DVD/Amazon download in a couple of months: www.nokill.org
Of course, with any year, it also had its down sides. Here are some of the most notable ones:
—While their mass slaughter of healthy animals is not new, PETA was caught on surveillance stealing a “healthy and happy” beloved dog in order to kill her. If there is a silver line, it is the hope that this is the beginning of the end for PETA’s systematic slaughter of animals.
—Former ASPCA CEO Ed Sayres, the architect of killing over 100,000 animals since his own killing of Oreo, an abused dog, is hired as the mouthpiece of the puppy mill industry. We ignore pretenders in our midst at the animals’ peril.
—HSUS defeats the Minnesota Companion Animal Protection Act
. Sadly, though 2014 was the year of rhetoric change for HSUS, they still continue to put the limited professional interests of their colleagues before the lives of those they are pledged to protect. Though HSUS has now publically expressed support for rescue rights access and other lifesaving programs, they continue to oppose attempts to legally mandate that shelters embrace them. Statistics revealed that the 2010 Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act helped reduce killing by 78% in that state, yet Minnesota CAPA—mandating, among other things, that rescue groups be given the right to save animals on death row at shelters—was unsuccessful after HSUS privately lobbied for the defeat of that bill at the behest of a resistant Minnesota shelter director with whom HSUS had a long association.
—It’s always one step forward, two steps backward for HSUS. On the issue of farmed animals, they’ve taken an enormous step backward, going so far as to celebrate and pay for people to kill and eat animals.
Despite these setbacks, all in all, it was a remarkable year and marks a major step forward. Let’s work to make 2015 even better. Together, not only will we save lives; but we will create a future where every animal will be respected and cherished, and where every individual life will be protected and revered.
Happy new year.
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On November 6 at the University of Virginia School of Law, I debated PETA’s attorney on the issue: “The Kill Versus No Kill Debate: Which Animal Shelters Are Most Humane?” I argued for a guaranteed right to life for companion animals entering shelters. PETA argued that animals were better off dead. In the interests of full disclosure, I agreed to have the debate videotaped or audiotaped and to make it available to everyone so people could hear for themselves what each side believed and where each side stood on the issue in their own words. PETA refused.
As such, over the next several weeks, I am going to post on the fundamental disagreement between PETA, on the one hand, and on the other, myself and what I believe to be the true No Kill and animal rights position.
First up: pit bulls.
“Most people have no idea that at many animal shelters across the country, any pit bull that comes through the front door doesn’t go out the back door alive. From San Jose to Schenectady, many shelters have enacted policies requiring the automatic destruction of the huge and ever-growing number of ‘pits’ they encounter. This news shocks and outrages the compassionate dog-lover. Here’s another shocker: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the very organization that is trying to get you to denounce the killing of chickens for the table, foxes for fur or frogs for dissection, supports the shelters’ pit-bull policy… People who genuinely care about dogs won’t be affected by a ban on pits.”
That is what PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk once wrote in an OpEd piece that appeared in newspapers across the country. More recently, PETA sent a letter to the Mayor of Williamson County, TN, telling him not to work with rescuers, not to foster sick animals, and to kill every pit bull in the shelter: “PETA also recommends a ban on the adoption/release of dangerous dogs and fighting breeds (commonly known as ‘pit bulls’).”
There is no dog in America more maligned and misrepresented than those classified by shelters as a “pit bull.” There are no shelter dogs more in need of the humane movement’s compassion, in need of a call to arms on their behalf, and in need of what should be the full force of a shelter’s sanctuary and protection. Many shelters and animal protection organizations, however, have determined that these dogs are not worthy of their help. And no one has been more emphatic and unapologetic than Ingrid Newkirk and PETA in promoting this unfair and deadly double standard—along with the idea that that those who care about animals needn’t concern themselves with the fate of these particular dogs. Moreover, recent research shows that shelters misidentify breeds as much as 75 percent of the time. And as used by shelters, law enforcement agencies and even courts, “Pit Bull” is not a breed of dog. It is, according to a leading advocacy organization, “a catch-all term used to describe a continually expanding incoherent group of dogs, including pure-bred dogs and mixed-breed dogs. A ‘Pit Bull’ is any dog an animal control officer, shelter worker, dog trainer, politician, dog owner, police officer, newspaper reporter or anyone else says is a ‘Pit Bull.’” When it comes to dogs we call “pit bulls,” shelters are not only unnecessarily killing them based on meaningless stereotypes, they are killing dogs they mistakenly think fit those stereotypes by the way they look.
PETA’s answer, however, is to continue killing the victim, as they tried to do when they stated that the dogs abused by Michael Vick should be put to death. Thankfully, the court declined. Instead of being overdosed with barbiturates, put into garbage bags, and then sent to rot in a landfill as PETA suggested, they were given the chance to:
Play with toys
Get a warm embrace
Get showered with kindness
In short, the happy endings PETA did not want them to have.
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Why I Will Not Be Speaking at the FARM “Animal Rights” Conference
“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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One volunteer’s view of a shelter’s transition to No Kill
Guest blog by Valerie Hayes
The Tompkins County SPCA is located at 1640 Hanshaw Road in Ithaca, NY, but well outside of town. Many people know it from having read Redemption: the Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America. In Redemption, Nathan Winograd recounts the history of American animal sheltering and describes how, under his leadership, Tompkins County, NY became the first truly No Kill community in the entire United States. The inspiring story of its overnight transformation from overkill to No Kill has moved many to replicate its success. It has also infuriated others who have a vested interest in the status quo and its intrinsic failures, and they have alternately ignored and denied the accomplishment of ‘the little shelter that could’, and of the first community in the country to get sick and tired of death and to stop the killing.
I’ve read Redemption too, but it’s a little bit different for me. To me, the Tompkins County SPCA is more than a story in a book that I just happened to pick up off the shelf—I was there.
My perspective on No Kill is one of somebody who can look back on a story that has already played out, but who remembers that the struggle looked quite different when we were facing directly into it—back then the future of the TCSPCA was most uncertain and the struggle had no clear end in sight. There were turning points along the way—dangerous times when the wrong decision could have been made. There were many needless animal deaths and much heartache.
It was a shelter like so many others.
I had first volunteered at the TCSPCA in the early nineties, while I was in college. At that time, I never saw another volunteer. Apparently, I was the only one, and I was left to my own devices—ignored, basically. I came in every week and walked dogs or socialized the cats (who had to stay in their cages at all times) or did basic care. I’d worked in a veterinarian’s office and had learned how to give vaccines, check for and treat ear mites, and so forth. I bathed animals who were dirty and trimmed away mats on those with unkempt coats. At that time there were ample supplies of gallon bottles of shampoo and tubes of sticky beige ear miticide. The quantities of these things never seemed to vary between the times that I was there, as if I were the only one using them. The ear mite treatment would always leave the cats looking somewhat annoyed, with the sticky beige paste smeared on the fur around their ears. I look back and wonder if I hurt or helped what I now know was their slim chances of being adopted. I was often the only one working with the animals, as the staff congregated around the front desk socializing. Few potential adopters came through the shelter. I remember seeing the number of empty cages when it wasn’t “kitten season” and thinking to myself, “what if there was some way to shift animals around to alleviate crowding?” I remember wondering why “wild” cats were even brought to the shelter. They appeared to be just as capable as any raccoon of taking care of themselves. At the shelter, they had no chance.
It was a lonely place. My presence was barely acknowledged and I eventually stopped going.
Several years later, in the spring of 2000, I decided to go back and the place was quite different. Volunteers were socializing cats and walking dogs, and there were several adopters looking at animals. The staff still largely congregated around the front desk, but the presence of the volunteers made the place different. There was a frantic edge to it, though, a certain desperate scurrying around—cleaning here, feeding there. The tension was pervasive and palpable.
The shelter now had an application for volunteers and I filled one out. No longer would I be allowed to vaccinate animals or administer first aid—certain things were not considered the purview of volunteers. There was some interesting talk, though—the shelter was “going no-kill”, but “wasn’t there yet”. There was something called “fostering”—volunteers could take animals, such as orphaned kittens, into their homes on a temporary basis until they were ready for adoption, and this would also take some pressure off of the shelter—its boundaries would be more elastic. There would be less need to kill for space. There was also a nationwide shortage of euthanasia solution, and leaders of national humane organizations were up in arms about this ‘crisis’ and the suffering it would cause. Shelters would be forced to release animals back onto the streets! They would kill in inhumane ways! They pushed for production to resume. What to do with all of those animals if you can’t kill them? Shelters would be helpless without their ‘blue juice’.
At the time, I had a very elderly cat with cancer, and I didn’t want to stress him by taking in kittens, but I decided that once he passed away, I’d honor his memory by fostering litters of kittens.
I volunteered in the cat room, socializing cats, cleaning litter boxes, and talking to people interested in adopting cats, and became only slightly acquainted with a few of the other regular volunteers. The building was small and poorly designed for housing animals. Dog walkers had to walk the dogs through the cat room to get outside, which meant that the cats were repeatedly upset throughout the day. The dog kennel area was intolerably noisy—an echo chamber for constant barking—I couldn’t stand it and it couldn’t have been any better for the dogs who had no choice and very sensitive hearing. I considered myself more of a dog person than a cat person but worked with the cats because the din in the kennel was more than I could take. In a room adjacent to the front desk was an intake area where animals were kept prior to being vaccinated or dewormed. A hallway area was used to house cats and sometimes small dogs not on public view—ferals and ones who were on their initial hold period. At the end of the hallway was the isolation room where sick animals were kept. They were supposed to be receiving nursing care. Volunteers weren’t supposed to go in there. Adjacent to the hallway was the garage, a rather large space not used to house animals, but which contained a fair amount of junk—broken cat carriers, bags of moldy food—items which should have been walked out front to the dumpster. This was where staff liked to take cigarette breaks while volunteers did the work they were being paid to do.
In late April, my beloved old cat Doikie passed away from his cancer. In early May, sick and tired of death, I adopted a skinny, deaf cat with some skin issues. She had come in as a stray and was pregnant, and I was told she was to be spayed, her kittens aborted, before I could take her home. I also filled out an application to foster kittens. The foster care application stated that animals had to be returned to the shelter for adoption—volunteers couldn’t just adopt them out. I agreed to that, as it was a precondition to fostering at all, and I didn’t know any better. It specifically asked if the applicant was willing to take their foster animals back if they were in danger of ”euthanasia,” and if not, then why. I answered that I would absolutely take them back from the shelter if space was needed, no questions asked, in a heartbeat and at the drop of a hat.
After her surgery, I took my new cat home. I named her Lotus, hoping that something beautiful would grow out of the mess that she was, and it did. After a nasty bout of upper respiratory infection, she began to gain weight. The unsightly skin problems turned out to be due to a flea allergy and her poor nutritional state, and those soon cleared up. She was a very loving cat with a purr that could be heard in the next room with the door closed.
My first litter
I waited and waited to be assigned my first litter of foster kittens. I knew that it was “kitten season” And wondered what was taking so long? Why didn’t the shelter call me to foster? I’d see empty cages every week at the shelter though. It’s not like it was overflowing or anything. Maybe this “no kill” thing was working. I really didn’t know much about it. Finally, in mid-June I got a call that the shelter had a litter of orphaned kittens. Would I take them? Of course. I went to the shelter to pick them up. There were five kittens; all charcoal gray—four short-haired, one medium-haired. They were very healthy and about 4 weeks old, old enough to eat cat food and not require bottle-feeding, but too young to be adopted or in the shelter environment.
I took them home and set them up in a spare room. Within a couple of days, they were able to climb out of the large box I had corralled them in. They were very mobile. They played nonstop. Lotus, now fully recovered physically, showed an immediate interest in the kittens. She strode in to the room, gave me a look that told me that I was relieved of all duties except cleaning the litter box and keeping the food and water bowls full, and took over where their mother had left off, grooming them, instructing them in important cat things and generally supervising them. She was really in her element raising those kittens and lovingly tended them for the next month.
I took pictures of the kittens and put up a poster advertising them at each of my two jobs, making it clear that the adoption had to go through the shelter. I didn’t get any takers, but there were plenty of empty cages at the shelter. After a month, the kittens were old enough for their first vaccinations and to go back to the shelter for adoption. I called ahead of time to make sure that there was room. I wouldn’t want them taking up space needed by another animal. I was assured that things were fine, so I brought them in.
They got their shots and got set up in their cages. I reiterated that I would take them back if space was needed, and wrote that I would take them back, along with my contact information, on each of their forms. I bid my kittens farewell and hoped that they would be adopted into good homes quickly. I thought I’d done the right thing.
Death and the letter
By next weekend, a couple of them were gone. I checked the shelter’s logbook and confirmed that they had been adopted. I gave my remaining kittens some extra attention. They were looking good and staying healthy. The following weekend, all five were gone. Once again, I checked the logbook to see when they were adopted. Two of them had been killed. I never even received a telephone call or an email asking that I take them back. They had been perfectly healthy and loved and wanted, and they had a place to go if the shelter ran out of room. The shelter killed them. No phone call. Nothing.
I felt sick. The room began spinning. I was in tears. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of the other volunteers. The staff didn’t budge. One other volunteer was concerned and tried to stop me from leaving, but I fled the building and somehow managed to bike the several miles home, even though I could barely see for crying. Before I left, he told me of a couple of other people who had recently had a similar experience. I passed some friends and didn’t stop to say ‘hello’.
I’m ashamed to say that my kittens died without names. I’d deliberately resisted naming them, because I knew I’d be giving them up, and I thought it would be easier. I now consider that a mistake. They should be known by names, not numbers.
Looking back on it, I have to think that the euthanasia solution ‘crisis’ of 2000 (and I subscribe to the definition of ‘crisis’ as being danger and opportunity) may have been the proverbial ‘shot in the arm’ for TCSPCA’s foster program and the reason why I even got my first litter of foster kittens. They had simply run out of the means to kill them. Evidently the ‘crisis’ had been resolved and it was back to business as usual.
At home, I tried to comprehend what had happened. The killing of my kittens was not an isolated incident. There is no such thing as an isolated incident. Not when matters of life and death are involved. If the shelter treated its own volunteers this way, if it talked about “going no-kill” at the same time as it killed needlessly, then it was suffering from dry rot. It had no core already. If this were to continue, then the animals of Tompkins County would truly have nothing. At the time, the slogan of the shelter was “We are a shelter of hope.” What hope was there? They killed healthy kittens with a place to go rather than make the simple phone call which would have gotten them out of there alive. It made me feel ill. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” would have been more accurate. When I tried explaining to my family what had happened, I had to relate the story repeatedly before it sunk in. They couldn’t understand. It defied normal logic. An animal shelter killing kittens that a volunteer had cared for at home for a month rather than make a phone call? What?
I did not wish to become embroiled in an unproductive discussion with the powers-that-be behind closed doors.
No, this required an audience.
I crawled into bed with a note pad and pen and wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, the Ithaca Journal. I wrote it in one draft and barely edited it. I stayed late after work the next day and typed the letter, proofread it, and then, like tossing a penny into a wishing well, clicked ‘send’.
No turning back now.
The editor acknowledged receiving the letter but would say no more. Those in authority at the shelter remained tellingly silent. I watched the paper every day, and over a week later, on Tuesday August 8, 2000, the letter ran as an op-ed piece alongside a weak and insulting response from the then-shelter director in which he failed to address a single point I’d made.
It was in print. My grief was now very public. Now what?
They were there all along
My call to remedy the situation was answered, not by the shelter, but by the community. People I knew expressed amazement at the situation, and support for me. When I arrived home from work, the red light on my answering machine was blinking furiously. It was full to capacity with messages from people expressing support for the position I’d expressed in the letter. Some were from people who I didn’t even know, but who’d been moved to look me up. Some told of their own experiences with the shelter.
Notably absent were any messages from the shelter’s executive director or anyone on the Board of Directors.
I’d gone to the shelter for my usual shift the weekend after they killed my kittens, knowing that they probably assumed and preferred that I just go away. No apology or comment from anyone on the shelter payroll, but then they didn’t throw me out either.
I went to the cat room and was greeted by a sight that would change everything. I consider it the first in a series of miracles I was privileged to witness. Another volunteer, one who had been present when I found out that my kittens had been killed, and who had wild hair like Einstein, stepped out from behind a bank of cat cages and told me in a low voice that there was going to be a meeting at the home of a couple of volunteers, invitation only, and I was invited.
He restored my hope.
The meeting was held soon after the letter was published. Over a dozen people were there. Our hosts had several dogs and cats who meandered through the meeting. We introduced ourselves and shared our experiences. Everyone had a piece of the puzzle. When put together, the picture of the shelter was worse than anyone alone had previously realized. Sick animals were being denied the medication that the veterinarian had prescribed for them (a veterinarian who was also a board member no less). Animals were being physically abused or not fed and watered. Complaints about abusive employees were ignored. Staff sat around socializing even as the shelter was filthy. Volunteers were treated with contempt, as if our only redeeming quality was that we did work the staff was paid to do, allowing them more time for cigarette breaks in the garage. Animals were killed despite available space. The list of specific incidents went on and on. We also learned that collectively, we had a lot of strengths and skills. We resolved to continue holding regular meetings and used email to keep in near-constant contact between meetings.
The shelter director had announced a meeting with the volunteers to take place at the shelter at the end of the week and we packed that stuffy little room. It was actually one of the very few times I’d seen him—mostly he stayed holed up in his office. He managed to make it very clear that gratuitous killing would not stop on his watch and that he was completely out of touch with reality. He was far too wishy-washy to discipline employees, much less fire them, no matter how much they needed firing. Who would he hire in their place? Who would want to work there? He harbored and protected animal killers and abusers. I would not be getting an apology from the person who killed my kittens, because that would mean revealing her identity.*
The shelter had a subsidized spay-neuter program called the Helen Milks Francis Fund, which had been established by and named for a citizen concerned about the unavailability of such services to those of low income. He told all present, almost boastfully, that it was “the best-kept secret in Tompkins County”. Unbelievable. Wasn’t it his job to make sure that it was not a secret?
One volunteer gritted his teeth when angry, a sound we would hear regularly over the next several months. That sound could be heard throughout the entire room.
The shelter director invited us to write suggestions and put them in his suggestion box, but we knew they would simply be ignored. They always were.
Eventually the meeting was over. People got up and began to leave. Another volunteer, a retired school teacher, led me back to the cat room to show me an emotionally traumatized white cat. She’d been there when I adopted Lotus and figured I must have a thing about white cats. This one was literally petrified. I picked him up and he remained statue-like, curled in a ball in exactly the position he’d been in while in his cage. I turned him over and he made no attempt to right himself or adjust in any way. After a couple of minutes of holding him, I thought I noticed a slight positive change. It was after hours and there was no one to handle paperwork, and anyway, I was fried, so I left him. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, though.
A couple of days later, I decided I had to adopt him. I went to the shelter and could not find him in the cat room. He wasn’t in the holding area or the hallway either. I started getting panicked. I went to the isolation room, and found him there. He’d gotten an upper respiratory infection. I was so relieved to find him still alive. I couldn’t go through a repeat of my experience with the kittens.
Not all of the employees were worthless. The person working in the isolation room was glad to see this cat, now named Blizzard, get out, and she gave me a few tablets of the antibiotic he was on to tide him over until I could get him a vet appointment. The volunteer who’d initially introduced me to Blizzard told me how a mentally disabled man had spent quite a bit of time holding and petting him. Apparently a local group home took residents on outings to pet animals at the shelter. (While I could wholeheartedly support a program like that in a place that was saving lives, I questioned the wisdom of bringing people who may be more emotionally vulnerable than most into a place where an animal they care for is likely to be dead by their next visit. It made me furious. At least that man could be truthfully told that this one got out alive.)
And, wonder of wonders, another employee, the one most sympathetic to volunteers, pulled me aside and, somewhat secretively, said she was sorry about the shelter killing my kittens, and could I possibly take in another litter because she had three tiny orphans that someone had just brought in.
Volunteers are not doormats, they are lightning rods. Forget that at your own peril
So, one week after the letter ran, I had come to adopt one traumatized cat, and ended up with one traumatized cat with a cold and three foster kittens. Whether the powers that be liked it or not, the foster program was continuing.
Never again would any foster cat of mine go back to the shelter. I’d learned my lesson. They got names, and they went to offsite adoptions. I stayed with them the entire time and would take them home again if they were not adopted.
Over the next few months, the ‘core group’ of volunteers, as we called ourselves, exercised our constitutional right to peaceful assembly by holding meetings in which we planned and strategized how to save more animals from the shelter. We would have liked nothing better than to be able to simply bottle-feed kittens and train dogs and hold offsite adoption events, but the shelter staff kept inventing new roadblocks for us to fight, recycling old roadblocks we thought we’d already defeated, and continuing to kill animals that had been spoken for. The faces of some of those animals are with me to this day.
The ‘core group’ self-assembled in an almost magical way. It had no real hierarchy. No one person had authority over anyone else, it was a much more of a cooperative, organic, ‘flat’ type of organization. We had various skills, whether it was keeping paperwork organized, making sure meetings ran efficiently with a predetermined agenda, setting goals to accomplish by the next meeting, coming up with creative ideas, negotiating with staff, communicating with the board, setting up adoption events, rehabilitating animals with behavior problems or illnesses, or coordinating a foster program. Different people took the lead in different areas. We were focused on one thing only—getting animals out of the shelter alive, and that, I suppose, is why things went as smoothly as they did—that and only inviting carefully selected people into the group.
The shelter wanted to discontinue the foster program, claiming that we might one day have a ‘run on the bank’ and all decide to bring our animals back to the shelter at once. We assured them that would never happen and outlined our plan for shifting animals around in the foster network if need be. They replied “but what if all the foster homes bring their animals back to the shelter at once?” No kidding. It was like talking to the wall. A local business owner who sold pet and garden supplies wanted to feature a couple of cats for adoption in his store. The shelter said ‘no,’ claiming that the cats might be neglected. Never mind that cats at the shelter were neglected all the time. We offered to have volunteers check on the cats a few times a week—we shopped there anyway. They still said ‘no’. The display cage donated to house cats at the store remained in its unopened box in storage at the shelter.
Complaints about animal-abusing staff were ignored. Complaints about staff tossing antibiotics in the trash and then marking down that they’d administered them to the sick animal for which they were prescribed were ignored. Animals that volunteers had put their names on, with a request that they be called, continued to be killed.
Apparently the negative publicity they had gotten for killing my kittens was irrelevant to them, as nothing changed.
The Ithaca Journal did a ‘Pet of the Week’ spot, sending a reporter and photographer to the shelter to feature an animal. On more than one occasion, the shelter killed the featured pet before the spot even ran, and people would come to the shelter wanting to adopt an animal who was already dead. Some staff members were very casual about stating how many animals they’d killed. During business hours, they mostly sat behind the desk, socializing, no matter how dirty the shelter was. The microchip scanner sat in a drawer, rarely, if ever used. One employee stole constantly, when he actually showed up for work. It was not so much a shelter for animals as a sinecure for the unemployable.
It was business as usual, except that they had us.
We took animals to offsite adoption events at local shopping malls and the farmer’s market and elsewhere. We found them homes. We explained to people who insisted that the shelter was No Kill, that it was not so. We had to do that regularly. It got to be quite aggravating. We fostered as many animals as we could, but with so few people willing to volunteer at a place like that, it wasn’t nearly enough. We did keep the program going, though. Some volunteers, with the means to do so, adopted animals outright and if staff was being difficult about fostering said animals. We snuck into the isolation room armed with canned cat food. The isolation room was technically off-limits to volunteers, but if we didn’t break a rule or two and go in to feed the cats, sick cats didn’t eat. A veterinarian on the Board had explained to staff that “food is medicine” to a sick animal, and they had to eat, yet they often went unfed. We socialized cats. We walked dogs. We handled adoption paperwork. We took verbal and emotional abuse.
Staff criticized us for being emotional, in an effort to dismiss our concerns. They had no real argument against our ideas or any of the plans we proposed, only the desire to continue as they always had. But what is the human-animal bond if not emotional? Neglect and senseless killing are bound to arouse emotion. How is that wrong?
Staff also accused us of having too much power. We actually had very little immediate power. Any power we had, we used to save animals. If we had more, we would have saved more animals. If we had still more, we would have hired better staff. Still more power, and that director and most of the Board would have been given the boot and with a great deal of pleasure. No, what we had was responsibility. We took upon ourselves responsibility for saving the animals at the shelter. The shelter’s Board, it’s director, and it’s staff had power, but wouldn’t take responsibility. That’s a really problematic dynamic, but unfortunately a common one in shelters. Responsibility without power is the fast track to frustration and burnout. Power without responsibility is a recipe for abject tyranny.
The situation wore on and on. Then, in November, several of us got an unexpected phone call from the Chair of the Board, an individual incapable of a statement that did not reek of politics. The shelter director had “tendered his resignation”. There was really only one way to interpret that—the Board had finally fired him. It had taken much too long, but they finally did it.
We were ecstatic.
What were they thinking?
But things were to get even worse before they got better.
The Board hired an interim shelter director who openly despised volunteers. Instead of being simply lazy and incompetent, he hated us. Among other things, he advocated keeping every other cat cage in the shelter empty, which would effectively halve capacity and increase the carnage, and he didn’t seem to know very much about animal care. He promoted to shelter manager an employee who, unfortunately, had an attitude much like his own.
We had to do something. The annual meeting was coming up and all paid members could vote. Those of us who were not yet members paid our dues. It galled me to give money to the shelter at that time, but I did it. The annual meeting was the scene of a showdown between the volunteers and the Board. We asserted ourselves. The belligerent interim director disappeared soon after, but his unfortunate legacy remained with us.
Words are deeds
The shelter had a subscription to Animal Sheltering magazine, published by HSUS. I am a compulsive reader, completely unable to resist the printed word, so when I saw copies of it lying around the front desk area, I’d naturally pick them up. They made for some mind-bending reading.
The November-December 2000 issue was astonishing. Its cover story was an Orwellian attempt to manipulate terms commonly used in reference to shelter animals, and included cartoons of animals objecting to the idea that they were rescued from a shelter and “explaining” various other terms. It mixed an exercise in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic with failure to address the weightiest issue of all head-on. ‘Pet’ is objectionable, ‘guardian’ is preferred, but don’t call what shelters do ‘killing’. It deliberately misread the meaning of the term ‘no-kill community’ before that term was even in widespread use, setting it up as an impossibly utopian goal, and attempting to muddy the line between killing and euthanasia, a definition crucial to distinguishing No Kill shelters and the No Kill movement from places like the one where I was standing as I read this tripe. It treated the term no-kill as if it were something dirty, dishonest, related only to fund raising, or problematic, offensive, and likely to hurt someone’s feelings. The article was an attempt to turn simple terms into a sort of unintelligible slurry—able to mean anything and nothing at the same time.
It was accompanied by another article that blew my mind, a story about an animal control officer and his long career. It bemoaned how dogcatchers were hated, extolled him as a hero for animals and went on to describe how he’d ‘euthanize’ stray pets with hot car exhaust, by hosing them down and electrocuting them or by drowning them in buckets (birds, puppies and kittens). But it was all o.k., because he loved his cat, Tinsel.
Juxtaposed with the advertisements for crematoria, and the announcements for ‘hands-on’ “euthanasia” workshops, these articles left me nonplussed. I was still reeling from the killing of my kittens, even though I had to give the appearance of putting their deaths aside in order to continue.
Abusers will often kill or threaten to kill the pets of their abused, as a means of controlling them. I had enough perspective to see myself and the other volunteers as the shelter’s abused. The psychological dynamic was identical. What had I done? Shelters were fond of blaming the ‘irresponsible public’ for their killing. Was I “irresponsible” for taking in a litter of foster kittens? Why were they punishing us?
As bad as it was for us, the animals had it worse.
The January-February 2001 issue was openly hostile to the concept of animal rescue, and an article stated how the term ‘rescue’ was deeply offensive, reflecting badly on shelters, ignoring that the saving of a life is defined as ‘rescue’ by most people. Rule number one for rescuers is simple: Must not criticize.
It seemed as if one of the main purposes of this publication was to abuse language in an almost inconceivably ham-fisted manner. How could this go on? Could most readers not see through it? Apparently not. If it offered justification and cover for their killing, anything goes, however shoddy. Deception, including self-deception is a form of armor, at least for a time.Working with rescue groups is to be undertaken only with trepidation, and only on restricted terms. Lives were at stake, but false pride was more important. It is easier to blame others than to take responsibility.
The shelter’s own newsletter was a study in absurdity: an article on writing ditties about your cat from a place that systematically killed cats—was it a sick joke?
In the New Year, the Board announced a nationwide search for a new director. Three candidates were invited for interviews, and a few volunteers were included in the interview process. They were impressed with one of the candidates. The other two they did not like, describing them as too friendly with the staff members who constituted some of the biggest problems at the shelter. They could make recommendations, but the hiring decision belonged to the Board.
Over the next several months, things continued to go from bad to worse at the shelter. One volunteer likened the shelter to the Headless Horseman. No one was leading it. The shelter manager wanted to micromanage every move of the volunteers, even as staff were allowed to sit around and socialize or treat the public rudely or allow animals to go unfed or without water or to keep the shelter dirty. She’d let the shelter run out of kitty litter or newspaper before she’d get off of our backs.
She instituted the infamous Sue Sternberg Temperament Test for the shelter’s dogs with devastating results. She used it as an excuse to kill many good dogs, while claiming that they were ‘unadoptable’. I suppose that this game-playing was to ingratiate her with the Board—they could claim progress towards No Kill, because she had found justification for killing in a plastic hand. At the time, I thought that she was misusing the test, but I subsequently learned that her use of the test was actually quite similar to the way its creator uses it. It is a test designed to justify killing. The dog volunteers were climbing the walls. We could not stop her and the Board refused to. The shelter seemed to be doing all it could to eradicate any credibility it may have had.
An elderly gentleman came in to adopt a dog. He selected one, a pointer mix, still on his mandatory stray holding period, hence not yet available. The man returned to the shelter the next weekend, eager to take his new buddy home. He’d picked out a name for his new dog and even bought a dog bed with the name embroidered on it. The employee behind the desk informed him matter-of-factly, that the dog had already been killed. I will not ever be able to forget the look on his face.
Among the reading material left lying around the shelter was a publication from California, a newsletter from a foundation I’d never heard of before. I remember standing in the lobby of the TCSPCA, in front of the desk as I read it. I can picture the room, the angle of the sunlight coming through the window, and where I was standing, perfectly. It told of a day when the entire nation would be No Kill. No shelter in the entire country would kill healthy or treatable animals. The author was even crazy enough to put a date on it and it would be within my lifetime. It seemed so incredibly impossible as to defy even imagining.
I hold that moment of ignorance perfectly preserved, as if in its own little snow-globe of memory, separated from all else–a silly toy that will one day be placed on a shelf to gather dust. I could not have known then that I was standing exactly where it would happen first.
Months passed. The toll of needless deaths continued to mount with no end in sight. What had come of the candidate search? When would the new director start? We heard nothing from the Board.
‘Kitten season’ was in full swing. Dogs continued to be “temperament tested” to death. The situation grew more and more desperate. I wondered if and when this new shelter director would materialize. The type of communication necessary for an organization to function well was notably absent from the shelter. Instead we had only that which tells you what you are dealing with.
Eventually, a member of the community became fed up with the mounting list of incidents attributable to the shelter manager, and she wrote a letter to the editor. It mentioned the shelter manager by name. The letter circulated among some of the volunteers before it was submitted to the paper, and a few of us signed onto it, including me.
That got me fired.
The other volunteers who had signed on went unscathed, but, as the shelter manager told me when she called first thing on the morning of Saturday, June 9, 2001, I was a ‘repeat offender’ and she’d thought I’d “learned my lesson”. She was appalled that I’d do such a thing to her. It was all about her. She ordered me to return the shelter’s “property”–my foster cats, immediately, or she’d come to my house to get them.
There was nothing she could have said to me that would have caused me more stress. I called one of my fellow volunteers—co-host of that first meeting, and grinder of teeth. He assured me that the Underground Railroad was ready to receive my cats if need be. I hopped on my bike, pedaled out to the shelter, and adopted my foster cats outright. The volunteer behind the desk, the one who’d introduced me to Blizzard, looked perplexed, but I couldn’t explain. I needed to get the completed adoption paperwork, and I needed to get the heck out of there.
The new director started the following Monday. Soon afterward, he held a meeting of the volunteers. He called and asked that I attend, having heard what had happened. I wondered to myself what the Board was going to inflict upon us this time. What new permutation of schmuckdom did they have in store? The meeting was well-attended. He had a lot of wrongs to right. He listened to what we had to say. He asked us to hit him with our toughest questions, and he answered them.
His predecessors had dug a very deep hole from which he’d have to haul the shelter.
Having been hurt so many times by the shelter, I was skeptical. I was not going to believe it until I saw it.
The first and only genuine apology I ever got for what the shelter did to my kittens, from someone in authority, came from someone who had been on the other side of the continent—3,000 miles away—when my kittens were taken from their cage and injected with sodium pentobarbital, from someone who likely had never heard of Tompkins County, New York at the time, and who would not have allowed something like that to happen. When I hear his critics call him ‘divisive’ and worse, I think of that. They have absolutely no clue what they are talking about.
I suppose that if this particular incident had happened to someone else, I would find it funny—getting fired from volunteering at a kill shelter for being critical of its killing two days before Nathan Winograd started as director and brought the killing to a grinding halt–but I got hit with a big slug of stress that day and I still can’t laugh. Maybe someday I will. The Old Guard is all about killing and abuse and power and lies, and a desperate gasp at the end of its reign is probably best appreciated if you know it for what it is at the time, or if you’ve gained a great many years’ distance on it.
A different world
The atmosphere at the shelter changed almost immediately. The amount of tension eased dramatically. When the killing stopped, even the worst of the employees eased up. The abuser of cats and tosser of antibiotic tablets relaxed and even smiled, but she thankfully did not last. She was too far gone. Her smiling would have been inconceivable just a couple of weeks earlier, but she did it and her face did not crack. If killing had never been an option at the shelter, would she have turned out differently?
We now had breathing room. The new director dropped in on an offsite at the farmer’s market and complimented us on our professionalism. That was a first. The number of volunteers grew and grew. We were asked to foster animals on a daily basis. The shelter asked us, we didn’t have to fight and plead to get animals out. The place was cleaner. The animals got fed. Off site adoption events were more frequent. The Sue Sternberg Temperament Test was no longer used. The animals featured in the ‘Pet of the Week’ spot lived to be adopted. The display cage was unpacked from storage, and finally set up at the garden and pet supply store. We were no longer treated with contempt. I could finally, in good conscience, recruit others to volunteer at the shelter.
The staff from the bad old days was gradually replaced. Only a couple of them were able to make the transition. The shelter manager who’d fired me back in June remained, though she was stripped of any authority. She mostly stood around scowling at the volunteers, which was mildly amusing for a short while, but a waste of money. I’d seen a lot of positive changes, but remained skeptical. The shelter manager’s continued presence cast doubt on the shelter’s commitment to change, and was an ongoing insult to the volunteers. I later learned that when the new director was hired, the Board had ordered him not to fire her. She had their support. Knowing what I know now, I am amazed that the shelter succeeded at all. For them to support her was to reveal their total lack of respect for the shelter’s volunteers (or for their newly-hired director). We had given so much to the shelter. We were its heart and its soul. The new director persevered and built a case against her for six months. When he finally fired her, the long-time volunteers were jubilant. She was gone. Finally, she was gone.
The shelter was frequently featured in the local media. We had the use of a storefront in downtown Ithaca for the ‘Home for the Holidays’ adoption drive. Conventional “wisdom” said that shelters shouldn’t adopt out black cats around Halloween or any pets at all around Christmas. Those notions were discarded. Good riddance. The shelter sponsored spay-neuter events and courted the support of local veterinarians, and the Cornell Vet School, something it had not done before. It spayed or neutered all animals before they went home. It partnered with the North Shore Animal League, which took kittens to its facility in New York City for adoption, freeing up needed space and resources. The shelter built its capacity to save lives in various ways, even though it remained the same small, poorly designed building. The garage was renovated to house more animals rather than to store junk. It was worked to the max.
Eventually, it broke ground on land next door, and built a state-of-the-art pet adoption facility, a spacious ‘green’ building–LEED-certified, no less. After months of construction, it was finally ready and the animals were walked or carried next door. Once again, the atmosphere changed completely, and I don’t just mean the fresh air from the ventilation system. The first time I went to the new shelter, it was like a revelation. Many of the animals had been at the old building the previous week, but there are no steel cages in the Dorothy Park Pet Adoption Center, no bars of any kind. The animals are housed is small groups in more home-like settings. They were so much more at ease. Instead of seeing cats through steel bars or dogs from behind chain link, you see them through windows, as if they were waiting for you when you came home. The first glimpse anyone sees of the animals there is through the windows of their ‘condos’, and what a difference that makes. A dog or cat peers out of their condo window as you approach, and it is as if you are seeing them as you come home. Adopting? You’re halfway there.
Just a few years earlier, this would have defied imagining.
When I hear someone deny that No Kill communities are possible, I think of a shelter in upstate New York, a place where one day it looked sickeningly hopeless, and the next day everything changed. It went through a crisis in the truest sense of the term—a dynamic and dangerous situation, and came to a turning point. Anything could have happened. If wrong decisions were made, the wrong leader chosen, if the volunteers had not united, if we hadn’t finally said “enough is enough” and meant it, the TCSPCA would not be what it is today. It would be what it was, and that would be tragic.
It got out of the habit of killing.
Its former incarnation was a place that killed animals and abused people. Had the volunteers not had each other to rely on, it would have chewed us up and spat us out one at a time. It was typical of what the American animal sheltering system has been allowed to become. But that place has been dead and gone for twelve years, and, in its place, an example and an inspiration for others to follow.
We live in a cruel, crazy world, one in which shelter killing is a habit, and getting to not killing requires a crisis.
We live in a beautiful world, because we can make the killing stop.
I believe in miracles.
They happen every day.
* I subsequently learned that the person who killed my kittens without calling me was the very person who had given them to me to begin with. She was never disciplined for doing so.
This article was originally published by Valerie Hayes in the Examiner. It is reposted, in edited and amended form, with her permission.
For additional reading:
“The Sheltering Crisis Hurts People, Too”
Valerie’s story and those of the other volunteers are part of a feature length documentary to be released later this year. Watch the trailer:
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.
By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd
April 10, 2013
Humane Society of the United States
2100 L Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20037
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.
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: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902
And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902
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