September 1, 2014 by Nathan J. Winograd
And pays people to eat them.
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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March 19, 2015 by Nathan J. Winograd
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
Desley Brooks: (510) 238-7006
For further reading:
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January 2, 2015 by Nathan J. Winograd
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.
—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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November 8, 2014 by Nathan J. Winograd
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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July 8, 2014 by Nathan J. Winograd
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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August 5, 2013 by Nathan J. Winograd
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:
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:
April 11, 2013 by Nathan J. Winograd
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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March 19, 2013 by Nathan J. Winograd
“Humane” Meat, Shelter Killing and How HSUS, the ASPCA, PETA, and AHA Enable Abuse & Killing of All Animals
By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd
To Vegans & Animal Rights Activists Who Support the Killing of Companion Animals:
Animal shelters in this country exist for primarily one purpose: to provide a safety-net of care for our nation’s homeless animals. With half of all animals entering our shelters being killed rather than given the new beginning that they not only deserve, but which the No Kill movement has proven unequivocally is possible, to say that most of our animal shelters are failing in their mission is a gross understatement. But the betrayal goes even deeper than the killing, although by far that is the greatest harm. Because in addition to taking the lives of four million animals a year, animal shelters in this country are rife with abuse and neglect as well. Why? Because they kill.
Studies of slaughterhouse workers have found that in order to cope with the fact that they are paid to kill day in and day out, self-preservation motivates those workers to devalue animals in order to make what they are doing less morally reprehensible. In other words, the workers make the animals unworthy of any consideration on their behalf. The two most common methods of achieving this are indifference to animal suffering and even intensifying it, becoming sadistic toward the animals. In too many communities, the implications for shelters are frightening: American shelters are themselves frequently little more than slaughterhouses. By its very nature, therefore, shelter killing breeds a lack of compassion and caring for animals.
And not only do people in shelters work at a place that commits this ultimate form of violence, they have, in fact, been hired to do exactly that. Can we really be surprised when they don’t clean thoroughly, don’t feed the animals, handle them too roughly, or neglect and abuse them? How does shoddy cleaning or rough handling or failing to feed the animals compare with putting an animal to death? Because shelter workers understand that they have the power to kill shelter animals, and will in fact kill many of them, every interaction they have with those animals is influenced by their perception that the animals do not matter, that their lives are cheap and expendable and that they are destined for the garbage heap.
The tragic state of American animal shelters proves that when the harm of killing animals is permissible, other kinds of harm are fostered as well. And that is why the historical distinction between “animal rights” and “animal welfare” is a false one. Where there is no respect for life, there is no regard for welfare.
Indeed, the right to life should be the bedrock of any movement that claims to be rights-based, as the animal rights movement by its very name, does. Not only because each animal, like each of us, has an inalienable right to life, but because all the other things the animal protection movement claims to be seeking on behalf of animals are impossible without that first and most essential right. Without the right to life, no other “rights” can be guaranteed. How can we ensure animals the right to food, water, shelter and kind treatment, when those things can be taken away by killing?
Yet tragically, there is not a single, large national animal protection organization that represents a consistent moral philosophy for animals, one that advocates that animals have both a right to be free from suffering and a right to live. The ASPCA doesn’t. The Humane Society of the United States doesn’t. PETA doesn’t. And the American Humane Association doesn’t. And so their philosophy and actions on behalf of animals are inconsistent, sloppy, harmful and ultimately deadly.
With one hand, PETA passes out literature encouraging people to go vegan while the other hand injects thousands of animals, even species of animals raised for food, with a fatal dose of poison. HSUS claims to oppose the clubbing of baby seals in front of their mother, but gives a “Shelter We Love” award to a shelter where employees placed a mother cat and her kitten into a gas chamber with a raccoon so that they could watch the animals fight before turning on the gas, killing those animals slowly and painfully and laughing while they did so. The ASPCA’s makes millions on their now infamous commercials promising to protect abused and neglected animals in need even as they send the neediest of animals dropped on their doorstep down the street to be killed at one of the most abusive and filthy shelters in the nation and have allowed dogs to starve to death all over New York City. And last but by no means least, the American Humane Association, an organization that claims to be the “the nation’s voice for the protection of animals,” not only trains people to kill healthy companion animals with their “Euthanasia by Injection” workshops (“hands-on” workshops where living animals are killed) but condones, encourages and enables the suffering of millions of animals raised for food with their sham “Certified Humane” label which perpetuates the myth of humane meat.
Which of these harms would be permissible were these organizations to authentically represent a true animal rights philosophy, one that recognizes the inherent right to live of every animal? None of them. How could they justify their actions which lead to animal suffering and death in light of a concomitant belief that animals, like people, have an unalienable right to live? They couldn’t. And yet, paradoxically, because I criticize these groups for moral inconsistency that sabotages our cause and for actions that they take which undermine rather than further the rights and well-being of animals, I am constantly attacked by the very people who should share my concerns: my fellow animal rights activists and vegans.
And so while I normally post vegan-related blogs on allamericanvegan.com, my website devoted to vegan advocacy, I wanted to post this article on the page that my detractors continually monitor—this one—so I can be sure that they will see it. I want those who claim to be vegan—who claim to care about the plight of animals raised for food—but who constantly condemn me for criticizing the large, national groups they love for the actions they take which brutally harm companion animals to see what, exactly, they are enabling when they defend groups which claim to speak for animals but do not promote their right to live. I want them to see how they don’t just hurt dogs and cats whose lives and rights they so casually discard, but how they enable the suffering and killing of animals they do claim to care about—chickens, cows and pigs. I want them to see the crimes against animals which a belief in the myth of a “humane death” enables and which they, in turn, further enable by promoting the groups that champion such a myth.
Like HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA, the American Humane Association defends animal shelters that kill animals despite readily available lifesaving alternatives. AHA in fact, teaches people how to kill healthy and treatable animals and provides them with animals to kill. And so it should come as no surprise that when Foster Farms slits the throats of millions of chickens every year or when other factory farms put live, baby male chicks into a giant grinder because they don’t lay eggs or grow fast enough to provide maximum profitability to the industry. AHA does not condemn it. Instead, they give it a seal of approval.
Recently, Foster Farms announced that they were awarded the American Humane Association’s “Humane Certified” label which now appears on the package of every dead Foster Farms chicken sold in America. Thanks to AHA, American consumers will be lulled into a false sense of complacency that eating animals is consistent with being humane, that supporting a company that kills millions of animals a year is consistent with a belief in animal protection. Like HSUS and the ASPCA which likewise promote the myth that raising and killing animals for food can be “humane”–and like PETA which, in Ingrid Newkirk’s own words, does “not support right to life for animals” and who told the New York Times that when it comes to people eating animals, “screw the principles”–when AHA condones and enables harm to animals, when they call cooking the bodies of dead animals a “joy” and recipes which call for those bodies “scrumptious,” they do so on behalf of the entire animal protection movement.
According to AHA, Foster Farms raises its chickens in a humane manner. But, what, exactly, do they mean by “humane?”
Does it prevent animals from being kept in crowded indoor cages in warehouses? No.
Does it require chickens to be allowed to go outside, to get fresh air and sunlight, to be able to act in accordance with all of their instincts to ensure their happiness and psychological as well as physical well-being? No.
Does it mean you cannot cut the beaks of chicks? No.
Does it mean that you cannot place live, newborn male chicks into a grinder to be killed? No.
Does it prevent chickens from being hung upside down by the feet, electrically stunned, and then have their throats slit? No.
Does it mean you cannot cut the teeth of piglets? No.
Does it mean you cannot cut the tails off pigs? No.
Does it mean you cannot use an electric prod on cows? No.
Does it mean that you cannot use restraints to forcibly inseminate a cow or a pig? No.
Does it prevent castration of newborn calves by placing a rubber band around their scrotum to cut off blood supply? No.
And, like chickens, does it mean that these cows and pigs are not ultimately slaughtered? No.
Under what warped definition of “humane” can a process that ends with animals having their throats slit possibly qualify? The kind where Foster Farms pays AHA a royalty/certification fee to say so.* Whether by selling out companion animals or those raised and then killed for food, it is evident that AHA and the other national organizations do not speak for the animals, but for the people and industries which harm them. That much is evident. The question becomes: why do those who should be their most ardent critics—vegans and animal rights activists—defend them?
The simple answer is that they have been taught to. With the lie that killing companion animals is a “necessity” and that the system of animal agriculture based on exploitation and killing can be “humane;” with the philosophy that no one within the animal protection movement is allowed to stand up for principles if it means speaking out against powerful organizations; in a movement in which cults of personality are everything and names like Newkirk, Pacelle and others demand unquestioned allegiance even when they consistently betray the cause they have pledged to protect; and by selling a model of dependency where activism means donating and deferring to large organizations rather than empowering the grassroots to effect local, and by extension, national change, these groups not only shield themselves from scrutiny and accountability for their harmful actions, but they have taught legions of activists to regard the most sincere and authentic voices within the animal protection movement—those who question the prevailing dogma and who argue that all animals have an inalienable right to live—as dangerous and threatening instead.
Whether it packaged as “humane meat” or “pet overpopulation,” the idea that killing animals is acceptable if done for the right reasons, by the right people or under the right circumstances are merely different manifestations of the same insidious lie that permeates and hinders the animal protection movement at the beginning of the 21st century: that killing animals who are not suffering can be humane. It can’t. It isn’t. And if you are a person who is going to claim to speak on behalf of animals, then authenticity, morality, and integrity compel you to challenge and stand up to this pernicious idea and the groups that perpetuate it.
* AHA does not say how much its “royalty” or “certification fee” amounts to. In the past, companies have paid tens of thousands of dollars for an AHA humane seal.
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February 15, 2013 by Nathan J. Winograd
Welcome Huffington Post readers!
It may come as a shock to those who follow me on Facebook that I was a reluctant convert to the social media. Although I now consider the time I spend monitoring my page and personally responding to comments to be well worth the effort, there was a time when I was conflicted as to whether or not I should join. I am a rather private person by nature, and that, combined with my belief that the No Kill movement should first and foremost be a movement of ideals and not of personalities all added to my reluctance. But the more I researched the issue, the more I understood the value of having such a wide-reaching, democratic tool to not only educate people about the No Kill movement, but to personally respond to many of the myths and misperceptions that exist about the movement, too. What I didn’t anticipate was the window it would give me into how I am often misperceived, as well.
It has become a pattern that whenever I post a blog about PETA’s killing, or how the ASPCA or the Humane Society of the United States have betrayed the cause they theoretically exist to promote, individuals uninformed about the No Kill movement or my history within it will respond to what is often shocking news about groups they have historically admired by questioning my motives and my allegiances. Often, these accusations are no doubt the result of a brief internet search of my name, searches that turn up fabrications about who I am, what I am trying to accomplish, and whose interests I really represent. I have been associated with industries and interest groups that harm animals, such as the meat industry and the Center for Consumer Freedom. I have been accused of being in league with breeders, such as the American Kennel Club. Self-identified animal “activists” have responded to my reports about PETA killing animals, or condemning HSUS’ sordid role in the Michael Vick case, by accusing me of trying to destroy the animal rights movement or not caring about animals beyond cats and dogs. To my bewilderment, I have even been accused of hating rabbits and deaf animals. I am grateful to have the opportunity through the social media to set the record straight. For in every way except the truth, those who oppose No Kill have a competitive advantage.
The organizations I criticize are large. They are powerful and well-known to many people. Their public image, often so at odds with the practices in which they engage behind closed doors, such as PETA’s deliberate poisoning of thousands of animals every year or the ASPCA and HSUS’ efforts to derail progressive shelter reform legislation in states across the country, shields them from accountability. The No Kill movement is relatively new, the traditional sheltering establishment and the national organizations that provide them political cover are just that: established. They are old organizations with pedigreed names and reputations while the No Kill movement and my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center are, by comparison, relatively young. Basic human nature tends to jealously guard the familiar and the status quo, and so when it comes to winning the battle of the first impression, I face an uphill battle. People, upon first encountering news regarding the true nature of our nation’s animal protection organizations, are inclined to assign the groups I criticize the benefit of the doubt, and me, the burden of it.
Although most of the comments on my Facebook page come from No Kill supporters who share my heartbreak and dissatisfaction with the state of our nation’s shelters and the leadership of the large, national groups that enable their abuse and killing, there are enough comments of a particular nature from incredulous people who have never encountered me or the No Kill message before to warrant a response. To those who read my Facebook posts and blogs for the first time and become so upset that—rather than research, accept as verifiable facts and then assimilate the information I report as a true commitment to the well-being of animals demands—choose instead to shoot the messenger, I would like to answer the charge either stated or so often implied by their hostile comments: Just who in the hell do I think I am?
I want to answer this question because although, as I stated, the No Kill movement should be first and foremost a movement of ideals and not of personalities, there are too many people who find solace in dismissing the No Kill message based on misinformation about me that my duty to the animals demands clarification. Although, in the end, it should not matter who is right, but what is right, and although an idea should be judged not by the person who is delivering the message but by its own merits, that, sadly, is not the way some humans are inclined to work. Too often, people seeking to be lulled back into a complacency that does not threaten their view of the animal protection movement and organizations and individuals they have historically lionized seize on criticisms of me as justification to dismiss the message I advocate. I don’t want that. I don’t want lies about me to get in the way of the needs of animals. Nor do I need to accept it, either, because I am not and never have been what my detractors claim I am.
For although I and the message I advocate may be new to many people, I am not new to the animal rights movement, and have, in fact, been active in it for the past 20 years. How it is I came to be the most vocal and outspoken critic of its hypocrisy is the result of my experiences within the movement, experiences that left me no choice but to publicly expose the groups for what they repeatedly demonstrated to me over and over again they really were. If some people are disinclined to believe what I report about PETA, HSUS or the ASPCA, are inclined to believe rumors that they have heard that I am a front for animal abusers or that I seek to destroy the animal protection movement, here is my story, the back story that places my efforts into an historical context. It is my hope that by recounting my journey in the animal protection movement, they will gain a perspective that not only leads them to view my opposition to the national groups as they now exist as not only understandable, but morally obligatory as well.
From a 1993 article in Parade magazine, on the emerging field of animal law.
The Early Years
When I arrived at Stanford Law School in 1991, I was already a vegan, a long time rescuer and TNR advocate. I knew that when I graduated, I wanted to devote my life to helping animals through the law. It was, in fact, the reason I went to law school. Anxious to begin furthering the cause of animal rights even as a student, I founded a campus animal rights group, the Stanford Animal Protection and Education Society, or Stanford APES for short. We leafleted in the quad, urging other students to embrace a more humane diet. We leafleted in front of zoos and aquariums, urging patrons to oppose animals kept in captivity. And we were a thorn in the side of the vivisectors at Stanford, exposing not only the cruel experiments that were taking place there, but the deplorable housing conditions for the animals as well. We requested, researched then publicly exposed damning USDA inspection reports of Stanford animal research facilities to the faculty and media.
I also served on the Board of Directors of the No Kill Palo Alto Humane Society, helped found CatWorks, an organization that provided care for 2,000 feral cats across the Bay Area, worked with the National Greyhound Protection League not only to end the scourge of greyhound racing, but to find homes for retired greyhounds, and I was a member of the Stanford Cat Network, a group of Stanford advocates who cared for the free-living cats on campus, cats and their offspring who had been abandoned by the transient student population. It was through this affiliation that I was first introduced to the dysfunction of the animal protection movement itself, and, by extension, the cause that would come to define my efforts on behalf of animals for the next two decades. When Stanford announced plans to round up and kill the cats living on the campus and cat lovers turned to the local Santa Clara Humane Society and then HSUS for help, these groups supported Stanford’s extermination campaign. They agreed that killing the cats was the right thing to do, and urged the school to trap the animals and inject them with a fatal dose of poison. That these groups would advocate such a position stunned me. I didn’t understand. Little did I know that this was the first of many, many times I would be bewildered, shell-shocked in fact, by the pro-killing positions that groups which claimed to be the leading voice for animal protection in the nation would take, over and over again.
My work with the Cat Network introduced me to the No Kill movement, and by extension, the San Francisco SPCA. Just 30 miles from the Stanford campus, the San Francisco SPCA was, at that time, the leading voice of the No Kill movement and I wanted to be a part of its success. Although I was also a full time law student, I took a job working in its Law and Advocacy Department. It was my job to defend the animals being threatened with killing within San Francisco’s borders, to expand the safety net so we could save more, and to promote the new and innovative programs the San Francisco SPCA was creating, programs that were transforming San Francisco into the safest community for homeless animals in America—which, paradoxically, made it the target of criticism by local shelters and, once again the large, national animal protection organizations, too.
As an animal lover and animal rights advocate, my experiences working at the SF/SPCA were life altering. I felt privileged to be witnessing history in the making, to be a part of an organization that was redefining animal sheltering and that was successfully tackling one of the many ways in which animals were losing their lives by the millions in America. I understood that the SF/SPCA was starting a revolution, and I was honored to be a part of it. But few others within the larger animal protection movement at that time grasped or appreciated its seminal achievements. Rather than celebrate the SF/ SPCA’s lifesaving success, virtually every animal protection group either ignored it or openly condemned it. They criticized each program the SF/SPCA experimented with that provided an alternative to killing, programs that have since moved beyond controversy, calling TNR “subsidized abandonment,” calling offsite adoption venues “sidewalk giveaways,” calling foster care “a sham that delayed killing,” and calling No Kill itself “smoke and mirrors.” The leaders of the large national groups such as the ASPCA and HSUS argued that any talk of saving the lives of animals in shelters was pure nonsense, that “the only solution” to animals in shelters “is the blue solution,” referring to the blue color of the barbiturate, sodium pentobarbital, that shelters use to kill animals. HSUS sought to undermine the spread of the SF/SPCA model by publishing false and misleading information about the SF/SPCA in its national publications, information they refused to retract when confronted with their misinformation and asked by SF/SPCA leadership to do so. Local Bay Area humane societies, likewise threatened by the success of the SF/SPCA, also mercilessly attacked it for saving, rather than ending lives, suggesting that the SF/SPCA was lying about its success, calling it derelict in its duties for refusing to kill, and vowing to prevent what was happening in San Francisco from spreading to their community.
To say that these experiences left me disillusioned with the animal protection movement would be an understatement. But it was nothing compared to the shock I experienced when I learned that not only did the group that up until that point I had naively revered as the most stalwart defender of animal rights in the nation, PETA, share these disturbing views, but was, in fact, its most vocal and outspoken mouthpiece. During the first of two summers I would serve as the law student intern for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, I would learn this lesson up close and personal.
With an office located in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area, the ALDF office where I worked was not far from PETA headquarters. My roommate, in fact, was a former PETA employee, a member of PETA’s inner circle, someone who spearheaded the campaign against Revlon’s animal testing that would introduce millions of Americans to the ugly LD50 test and put PETA on the national map. She was also a close acquaintance, if not personal friend, of Ingrid Newkirk, the founder and President of PETA. Together, we would volunteer at PETA one night a week, stuffing envelopes for mailings (she leading the volunteers; me stuffing envelopes with the others).
One day, she rescued a dog we named Ray. He was a wonderful dog, a young and healthy German Shepherd, with a playful disposition. When I suggested that we take Ray to PETA, certain that with their vast resources and ability to communicate with hundreds of thousands of animal lovers nationwide that they could easily find Ray a new and loving home, she explained that that was a bad idea because Newkirk would kill him. Come again? Did I hear her right?
And that is when she explained to me what had been going on within PETA at that point for many years already—activities that for the next 20 years I would watch continue unabated. She explained that PETA routinely killed the animals that are brought to them, and equally egregious and perhaps even more disturbing in the blood thirst it revealed, that PETA also actively sought out animals to kill, thousands of them every year.
Another bombshell to my innocence, another piece of information that helped me to more fully grasp the level of dysfunction and perversion within the animal protection movement, for I learned then and was to discover in the coming years that not only does PETA kill animals, but that they advocate for the immediate destruction of all feral cats and dogs who looked like Pit Bulls, too. I learned that Newkirk considers life suffering, that animals want to die and that to kill them is to give them, in her own words, “a gift.” I learned that she does not believe that animals have a right to live (once sending me a postcard which read, “We do not advocate right to life for animals”) even though the right to live is in fact the most basic and fundamental right of every animal and serves as the basis for the entire animal rights philosophy.
I learned that she recruits legions of activists to her insidious cause, people who drive around the Eastern seaboard in donor-funded vans, acquiring animals from various sources—free to good home ads, rescue groups uninformed of their real agenda, and animals displaced by natural disaster—only to kill some of those animals immediately in the back of those vans, stocked to the hilt with tackle boxes full of bottles of poison, syringes to inject that poison into animals, and garbage bags to hold their corpses after they take their last breath. I learned that animals who are not killed on the road are taken back to PETA headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia where they are killed, their furry bodies then stacked high in a freezer PETA has installed for this very purpose—a place to store the piles of dead bodies they accumulate between donor-funded visits from the renderer who takes their bodies away for incineration.
I learned that dogs and cats weren’t the only animals to fall victim to PETA, that they killed wild animals, chickens, and rabbits, too. Indeed, in their thirst to kill, PETA employees do not discriminate on the basis of species, that for all their talk about the veganism they would not hesitate to kill a chicken if they had the opportunity to do so.
And I learned that killing animals themselves was not the only way PETA sought to end their lives; they encouraged others to kill them, too. When I approached Georgetown University about starting a TNR program modeled on Stanford’s, they refused, indicating that PETA—urging them to reject TNR—gave them their blessing and encouragement to kill. In the end, PETA succeeded in having the cats rounded up and killed, a move that resulted in cat lovers finding neonatal kittens left to slowly starve to death throughout the campus after their mothers had been trapped and taken away. And I would spend the next 20 years watching PETA repeatedly come to the defense of regressive, cruel shelters under attack by No Kill reformers, watch PETA track No Kill reform efforts nationwide, efforts they would try to undermine with local letters to the editor and to political bodies which were debating shelter reform efforts, letters that equated No Kill with hoarding and animal suffering and which called No Kill reformers “fanatics,” urging them to oppose lifesaving measures in favor of the status quo of killing.
To find that what I had believed PETA represented was in fact the opposite of how it behaved was a bitter pill to swallow. It not only broke my heart, it filled me with anger and resolve. What choice was there but to refuse to tolerate such treatment of animals? What response was there but to reject such perversion, to speak out against it, to try to bring such a cruel and deliberate slaughter of innocent animals to an end? That, after all, was why I became involved in animal rights in the first place: to protect animals, regardless of the context in which they were exploited and killed and irrespective of who it was that was doing the killing. But I was to learn another sad truth that summer, and that was that in my condemnation of PETA, I was in the smallest minority.
I learned that the truth about PETA was common knowledge among those who worked in the animal rights movement. I learned that the leader of every other self-professed “animal rights” group knew what was really going on at PETA, but never spoke out against it or against Ingrid Newkirk herself. In fact, they took Newkirk’s telephone calls, they would shake Newkirk’s hand when they met her and they would all make excuses for her, granting her absolution to kill with the tortured logic that since she had seen so much animal suffering she should be allowed to kill animals herself. In other words, that her efforts to protect animals had earned her the right to harm them. These people, who worked in jobs that were supposed to eliminate animal killing, condoned and enabled it simply because they knew the person doing it, even going so far as to celebrate Newkirk by inducting her into the “Animal Rights Hall of Fame.” In the early 1990s, this attitude towards PETA’s killing was held by virtually everyone I met who worked in or volunteered at an animal rights group, with rare exception. One of those rare exceptions was the woman I would eventually marry, my wife of 17 years, Jennifer.
Jennifer worked at the ALDF main office near San Francisco, and as the D.C. office’s law student intern, I had spoken to her on the telephone several times. But it was not until a meeting of a small, grassroots group we both joined to defeat two pieces of deadly anti-cat legislation pending in the California State Assembly that we first met face to face: A law introduced at the behest of Wayne Pacelle’s Fund for Animals, an organization that has since merged with Pacelle’s HSUS, which would have authorized the round up and killing of homeless cats. And another, introduced with the support of Pacelle’s organization, which gave animal control officers the power to kill cats immediately in the field if they did not have proof of a rabies vaccination. Since cats can’t provide this information themselves and many do not wear a collar and rabies tag, the law would have led to a bloodbath of feral cats, of pet cats, of any cat an animal control officer found outdoors without a rabies tag. Determined to protect cats by defeating these deadly bills, a small group of us banded together to successfully fight them, a group which included Jennifer, who not only did cat rescue in her spare time, but volunteered at the San Francisco SPCA, too. A vegan, an animal rights advocate and No Kill supporter just like me, we hit it off immediately, and have been together ever since.
When I met Jennifer, she had been working for ALDF for several years. Prior to that, she had worked at In Defense of Animals, and not long after we met, she also went to work, though briefly, for Farm Sanctuary, primarily as an investigator. I, too, would later do work for Farm Sanctuary, as a volunteer pro bono attorney. Although we recognize that our prior involvement with well-known animal rights groups would establish our connection to the animal rights movement and thereby help to dispel some of the criticism and conspiracy that we are “outsiders” trying to undermine animal rights, the truth is we rarely mention these groups or our historical association with them for a reason. They, like virtually every other self-professed animal rights group in the nation, have ignored the plight of animals in shelters, failed to celebrate the No Kill model, and have continued to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by animal shelters across the nation and by PETA.
Although our early history in this cause clearly demonstrates that we come to No Kill not as breeders,* as shills for the meat industry or any interest group which represents those who harm animals but, rather through the cause of animal rights itself, we do not wish to be associated with groups that do not embrace an authentic animal rights agenda—one that includes rights for companion animals, too. Sadly, though our once personal association with these groups has meant that their failure to champion No Kill or to speak out against PETA’s atrocities has been particularly disappointing, in truth their failure to do so is not surprising. It is, in fact, the norm among animal rights groups, a tragic and paradoxical position born of the nature of the founding of the animal rights movement itself.
The Animal Rights Movement’s Original Sin
Like Ingrid Newkirk who, prior to founding PETA, had a job killing animals at the Washington Humane Society, many of the founders and employees working at our nation’s animal rights organizations came to animal rights by way of sheltering. This meant that they not only brought to the cause the historical excuses used to justify the killing of animals in shelters, but having had many animals die at their very hands, they needed a way to justify such behavior in light of their competing beliefs. To champion a cause that claims that animals have rights while at the same time having killed thousands of animals themselves required them to adopt an inconsistent philosophy to reconcile what in reality are diametrically opposing values. This view became firmly cemented within the animal rights movement when other animal right leaders, deferring to the “expertise” of their friends and colleagues who had worked in shelters, bought into the rationalizations and failed to challenge them. And so a deadly philosophical dichotomy emerged within the animal rights movement: one that held that all animals have a right to life, except those who enter shelters. This killing, it was argued, was necessary where the other kinds were not and those doing the killing were not to blame, but rather unsung heroes courageously performing the public’s dirty work; or, in Newkirk’s words, “Dark Angels.”
In fact, to this day, efforts that focus on dogs and cats are often viewed with disdain in the animal rights movement and somehow “less animal rights” than other issues. Many animal rights activists erroneously believe the thousands of shelters across this country are in fact meeting the needs of these animals who therefore require no further advocacy or attention on their part when nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is shelter killing the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States, but our shelters are in crisis, plagued with animal abuse and neglect as well. But few in the animal rights movement are aware of these tragic facts because the people and organizations they trust to keep them informed about important issues affecting animals refuse to do so when the victims are not on farms or in laboratories, but inside our nation’s animal shelters.
Today, healthy debate within the animal rights movement is discouraged in favor of “movement unity” and deference to the agendas promoted by large, powerful organizations. It is a top-heavy movement—and therefore intolerant of dissent, suspicious of change and prone to censorship (just try to get a vegan cookbook critical of PETA reviewed by VegNews or popular vegan bloggers, they won’t do it in deference to PETA and its killing agenda.) While many animal rights activists, lacking a sophisticated understanding of the pressing need for No Kill reform, underestimate and dismiss the cause as a mere “animal welfare” issue, leadership of animal rights organizations are not so naive and are far more calculating. They willfully ignore the No Kill movement and fail to champion its more widespread implementation precisely because it challenges the historical narrative and those who have perpetuated it that has explained and condoned shelter killing since the movement’s inception. In the animal rights movement today, innovations that threaten the prevailing paradigm and those in power are rejected in favor of the status quo.
Consequently, there is no mention of No Kill in the newsletters of large animal rights organizations. It is unlikely to be found on their websites, on their Facebook pages, or any of the other ways these organizations regularly communicate with their members or the grassroots, except—in the case of PETA—to denigrate it. Likewise, because the guidelines of animal rights conferences mandate that speakers not criticize other animal protection organizations—even when doing so is required to expose their actions which harm animals and deny them their rights—No Kill advocates are under a gag order that prevents them from sharing the true causes of shelter killing as well as its proven cure—rejecting old philosophies and those who embody them. Within the animal rights community today, it is not what is right that matters, but who is right—even when they are clearly wrong. As a result, many animal rights activists continue to parrot the charade that the killing of innocent dogs and cats is acceptable, consistent with their beliefs that one should never kill pigs, cows or chickens.
This conspiracy of silence combined with an historical embrace of both the excuses used to rationalize the killing and those who promote them have coalesced to render the No Kill movement essentially invisible to most animal rights activists, except when it is being bashed and misrepresented by PETA. The so-called leaders of the animal rights movement keep grassroots activists ignorant and impotent, denying them the information necessary to see through PETA’s nefarious agenda and the tools they could use to assure lifesaving success at the shelters in their own communities. That is why, although the No Kill movement is having tremendous success tackling one the ways in which millions of animals lose their lives in this country every year, most animal rights activists are unaware of this success. It is why, though savvy No Kill advocates understand that pet overpopulation is in fact a myth, open-admission animal control facilities now exist throughout the nation, and that there is proven cure to shelter killing, many animal rights activists do not.
Indeed, although most animal rights activists consider themselves on the cutting edge of animal protection, when it comes to companion animals, they are, in truth, regressive, perpetuating antiquated and disproven dogmas that defend and enable, rather than challenge, the wholesale slaughter of certain species of animals. And it is also why, when they encounter me and my message for the first time, they so often respond with incredulity, disdain and personal attacks.
I am often called divisive, unreasonable, and a liar. I am accused of being a shill for puppy mills and agribusiness. Ingrid Newkirk has accused me of being out to destroy the animal rights movement. One of the most common criticisms I hear is that we are all a part of the same cause, should work together, and best serve the animals by getting along rather than fighting. In fact, whenever No Kill advocates expose the many ways in which HSUS, the ASPCA or PETA undermine efforts to save lives, betray the mission they ostensibly exist to promote, kill or cause animals to be killed, there are invariably those who come to their defense by stating that these organizations should not be criticized because they “do so much good for animals.” It is a tragically commonplace argument, but no less indefensible because of it. In effect, they are arguing that because some of the money donated to these organizations may actually be used for its intended purpose, that they have earned the right to cause harm to other animals themselves—terrible, irreversible, life-ending harm.
The fact that those who most commonly make these arguments are people who support these organizations because of their professed missions and would therefore likely self-identify as “animal lovers” is as troubling and paradoxical as the argument itself. Sadly, for such people, a misplaced trust and need to identify with such groups or the people who work at them at some point became more important than the professed values that presumably led them to support these organizations in the first place. The ideals that animals have rights and interests independent of humans—including the right to be free of suffering and the right to live—are casually discarded so long as those causing the suffering or death are self-proclaimed members of the animal protection movement.
Indeed, this argument is problematic precisely because it promotes the harmful idea that under the right circumstances, animal abuse or killing are acceptable. That is, as long as the harm is being done by the right people or balanced by a counterweight of good, there is no harm that is in and of itself inherently wrong or unacceptable, effectively eviscerating the philosophical foundation of the cause. Moreover, by arguing that we should ignore or overlook certain forms of animal abuse or killing as “payment” for some perceived “good,” the door is opened to condone all manner of animal cruelty and exploitation. By this same logic, were a slaughterhouse owner to donate a percentage of his profits to a vegan advocacy organization, or a dog fighter to donate some of his winnings to a companion animal rescue group, the killing and cruelty they inflict upon animals would therefore be rendered acceptable, the harm being cancelled out by the good. Though an obvious absurdity, time and again self-professed animal lovers and animal rights activists postulate this exact scenario, but in the reverse.
And not only does this argument capriciously surrender the welfare of animals and the principles which should guide all advocacy on their behalf, but it also hinders the cause by setting the bar for these organizations at a dismally low—in fact, counterproductive—level. In condoning behavior that is the antithesis of the cause such organizations are supposed to be advocating, this argument promotes the defeatist mentality that we have no right to expect or demand that our animal protection organizations be what they claim to be in practice as well as rhetoric, when of course we absolutely do. For although those who make this argument seemingly lack the vision or passion for the cause necessary to imagine a future in which animal protection organizations are authentic and unadulterated forces for good, we do not need to accept nor tolerate some harm of animals in one sphere in order to promote their well-being in another.
The corruption at these organizations is neither inherent, nor inevitable. It has been fostered by various historical, financial and sociological factors that the leadership of these groups would be forced to address and overcome if animal lovers stopped making excuses for the betrayals and funding them with their donations. Some animal suffering and some animal killing are not and never have been the price we must pay to end other animal suffering and killing. In fact, as the faulty logic of that statement clearly demonstrates, to believe so is to surrender to a self-defeating, hopeless tautology that can never succeed in eliminating that which it also perpetuates. Indeed, how can a rights-based movement ever hope to win the rights that the very people leading the cause have admitted they do not believe in and even actively oppose? How can the animal rights movement in its current manifestation claim to authentically speak for animals when it is advocating the opposite of what some animals could say if they could speak for themselves?
Moreover, the criticism that No Kill advocates should never speak out against those in position of power misses the mark for other reasons as well. Such comments are deeply misinformed about the level of abuse—the slanders and ad hominem attacks—No Kill advocates have suffered at the hands of the large national animal protection groups for nearly 20 years, a hostility I have personally witnessed and been the recipient of again and again. PETA calls No Kill advocates “dangerous,” “fanatics,” and “slow kill hoarders.” The ASPCA says we are “hoarders” and “dog fighters” in disguise. And HSUS says we are “crazy,” “mean-spirited,” and “divisive.” Sadly, what I have realized people often mean when they admonish No Kill advocates for telling the truth about the large national groups or the people who work at them is not that no one should criticize, they are in fact criticizing by making such comments, but that no one should question those in positions of “authority”—a notion which my early and ultimately futile attempts to work within the movement to foster change taught me is a recipe for stagnation and continued killing.
The Middle Years
When I graduated from law school in 1995, I was soon to discover that making a living as an animal rights attorney was difficult. Given my heavy law school debt, economic necessity compelled me to take a job as a Deputy District Attorney, where I satisfied my longing to help animals by becoming the “Dog D.A.,” taking on animal cruelty cases to ensure that they were treated with the gravity they deserved while doing part-time consulting work for the SF/SPCA as needed. At a time when most courts were giving cat and dog killers a slap on the wrist, I found ways to charge them with special circumstances (such as the use of a deadly weapon when an individual killed a dog using a guitar string, thus mandating state prison) or charging someone with arson of property, rather than just animal cruelty, for burning a cat to death, a violent felony which would have given him eight years in state prison and his second strike. But after several years working as a criminal prosecutor, when the opportunity to return to SF/SCPA full-time presented itself, I took it.
I returned to the SF/SPCA just as it had acquired new leadership, a man named Ed Sayres who last year finished a disastrous tenure as President of the ASPCA. His legacy at the SF/SPCA was no less tragic or controversial. When I began, San Francisco was a whisper away from becoming the nation’s first No Kill community, already saving almost every healthy animal entering San Francisco shelters. As Director of the Law and Advocacy Department and later both the Director of Operations and Vice President, I implored Sayres to push the envelope, to seize the historic opportunity of becoming the nation’s first and only No Kill community by not only saving every healthy animal, but all the treatable animals, too. Tragically, he refused, choosing to take the organization in the opposite direction. My protests were in vain as one by one he began to dismantle the lifesaving infrastructure that was responsible for San Francisco’s success until, after two years of trying to fight these changes, I could no longer justify remaining with the organization and left. As I write in Redemption,
Moving away from the programs that had made it so successful, the San Francisco SPCA replaced nuts-and-bolts programs that were the underpinning of the SPCA’s lifesaving efforts at an astonishing clip. In their place, partnerships with the University of California at Davis for fee-for-service behavior counseling, as well as architectural plans for a twenty million dollar fee-for-service specialty veterinary hospital were drawn up. And esoteric conferences on animal spirituality and telepathically communicating with animals, which catered to a more affluent, “new age” San Francisco crowd, were held at great expense—in luxury hotels or in posh vacation places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Within a few short years, the SPCA’s feral cat program was virtually abolished. The spay/neuter clinic … restricted its hours, significantly raised fees and, at one point, even closed its doors. On a day that came to be called “Black Monday,” the legions of feral cat caretakers who made their regular pilgrimage to use the services of the spay/neuter clinic were turned away… Plans to phase out programs in the animal hospital for indigent clients and homeless animals were in full swing. Entire departments, including those which protected the city’s wildlife, worked to find apartments for renters with pets, and advocated for stronger protections of animals, were eliminated. The crown jewel of the No Kill movement quietly passed into obscurity.
At that point, Jennifer and I faced a choice. I could return to the law, sacrificing the cause that gave our lives such purpose and direction, or we could take a bold step and leave our beloved Bay Area, sell our house and move our two dogs, 26 cats, four year old daughter and infant son to whatever community was willing to take a gamble on my determination to create the nation’s first No Kill community through the model that the SF/SPCA had forsaken. We chose the latter when the upstate New York community of Tompkins County offered me the job as Executive Director of the local SPCA which ran animal control for all 10 towns and cities of the county. On June 11, 2001, literally the day I started, the killing came to end in Tompkins County and that historic milestone was crossed. From day one of my job as Executive Director, the TC/SPCA began saving rather than ending the lives of the animals in its care, using, then expanding, on the San Francisco model of sheltering.
It was not without its challenges. No one had ever taken a full-service open admission shelter and operated it as a No Kill shelter. How do you rehabilitate a dog who has been chained her whole life and is globally under-socialized and resource aggressive? How do you operate beyond capacity and prevent the spread of disease? How do you save all the motherless neonatals coming through the doors? How do your provide lifesaving surgery for emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week? And how do you save them all when in addition to dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, you are also getting hundreds of rabbits, birds, mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, lizards, chickens, horses, even a stray cow, while running an inherited $124,000 per year structural deficit in a shelter built decades earlier to warehouse and kill animals? There was no model in existence; even San Francisco did not go that far, the field of dog rehabilitation was in its infancy and every veterinary college was telling shelters it could not be done. But I was determined to do it anyway.
I impaneled a committee of some of the most respected veterinarians in the nation: a Cornell epidemiologist, the head of the Cornell Feline Health Center, and a veterinary behaviorist. I told them I was going to double up dogs and cats, I was going to mix litters, I was going to operate at well beyond capacity, and I needed them to help me do it. “It can’t be done,” they said. “It will cause stress and disease.” I told them it was their job to help me figure out how to do so without stress and disease. “It can’t be done,” they said. I told them to figure it out, anyway. Together, we did. We reduced killing by 75% while reducing disease rates and deaths in kennel by over 90% from the model I inherited. At the same time, we went from a $124,000 a year deficit to a $23,000 surplus as the animal lovers of Tompkins County rewarded our efforts with tremendous financial generosity.
I served as the Executive Director of that agency for three years, helping to build a firm and lasting infrastructure, including building the nation’s first green-certified animal shelter, and solidifying a shelter culture which I hoped would allow No Kill to continue even after I left. For I was determined to eventually focus my time and energy on a singular mission: spread the No Kill model to shelters across the nation.
In this effort, I was again alone, because in spite of the success of the TC/SPCA and my efforts to promote it nationwide through my newly formed organization the No Kill Advocacy Center, the national organizations behaved as though No Kill did not exist in Tompkins County. They continued on as before, mired in disproven dogma that justified killing, blind to existing No Kill success and the valuable lessons it held for every shelter in America. My pleas went unheeded, and I never received even the courtesy of a response to my communications introducing this new form of animal sheltering (a model I call the No Kill Equation) or to my letters protesting their regressive policies and philosophies which were the backbone of the traditional kill-oriented sheltering paradigm. After years of futilely trying to appeal to their better natures only to have my overtures ignored and my reputation repeatedly degraded (I’ve been quietly writing to Wayne Pacelle for 15 years), I realized my efforts were in vain. I realized that these organizations weren’t interested in changing.
Staffed with former animal shelter directors and employees who themselves failed to save lives, they were threatened by the success of the No Kill Equation, and were dedicated not to ending the killing of animals in shelters, but to protecting their friends and colleagues currently running shelters who were likewise failing to do the work necessary to save rather than end the lives of the animals in their care. This awareness helped me to understand that in the absence of a personal conviction to end the killing, there was simply no motivation for the people working at these groups to try to do so. As long as the American public was ignorant that a life-saving alternative existed, the failure of these organizations to embrace the No Kill Equation did not matter. Unaware of evidence to the contrary, people believed them when they portrayed the problem of shelter killing as insurmountable, inevitable, and necessary and therefore donated to them in spite of the killing. That is when I realized that in my continued and failed attempts to appeal to these groups for change, I was acting in vain as animals needlessly died. I came to understand that if I wanted to reform an industry and a movement that had no interest in reforming themselves, I would have to do it from the outside, in.
The Later Years
I resolved to take my message directly to the animal loving American people who would then force their local shelters and these groups to embrace the change they so stalwartly opposed. In 2007, I released my first book, Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America. It tells not only the story of the early founding of the humane movement in North America by the great Henry Bergh and how his noble legacy was betrayed when SPCAs and humane societies took over the job of killing animals they were founded to protect, but the story of San Francisco’s success, then Tompkins County’s. Challenging the myths and dogmas that had built up over the years to justify and excuse shelter killing, Redemption, and its follow up Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters, spoke to the experiences of shelter volunteers and rescuers throughout the country who were weary of the killing and weary of the hostility they, too, experienced when trying to reform deplorable practices at their local shelters. Providing hope and a road map for lifesaving, grassroots companion animal advocates embraced the message of Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences, and the No Kill movement gained new life.
At the same time, as a consultant I worked with shelters across the country, helping others achieve the same level of success, first Charlottesville, Virginia, then Reno, Nevada, and then several others, including Austin, Texas. Today, there are nearly 100 shelters across the nation representing about 300 cities and towns across America which, in spite of resistance and push back from the national organizations, have embraced the No Kill Equation, and, like Tompkins County, are saving between 90 and 99% of all the animals they take in. The No Kill movement is rapidly growing, gaining converts across the nation who are pushing for change in their own hometowns. But as welcome as this effort over the last six years has been, it has also been heartbreaking, revealing an even deeper layer of dysfunction within the animal sheltering industry.
As the movement to end shelter killing has grown in size and sophistication, the networking made possible through the internet and social media has allowed animal lovers to connect the dots between individual cases of animal cruelty and neglect in shelters nationwide. These incidents reveal a distinct pattern. Animal abuse at local shelters is not an isolated anomaly caused by “a few bad apples.” The stunning number and severity of these cases nationwide lead to one disturbing and inescapable conclusion: our shelters are in crisis.
Frequently overseen by ineffective and incompetent directors who fail to hold their staff accountable to the most basic standards of humane care, animal shelters in this country are not the safe havens they should and can be. Instead, they are often poorly managed houses of horror, places where animals are denied basic medical care, food, water, socialization and are then killed, sometimes cruelly. The first time many companion animals experience neglect and abuse is when they enter the very place that is supposed to deliver them from it: the local animal shelter.
It is a tragic story true to cities and towns across this nation. And the large national animal protection organizations are as much to blame as the individual shelter directors themselves for not only have they fought lifesaving innovation at shelters, they have enabled the neglect and abuse of animals in shelters, too. For decades they have perpetuated the fiction that all is well in our nation’s shelters. They have assured us that they are overseeing these organizations, providing guidance and assistance to make sure they are run humanely and effectively: through their shelter assessments, their national conferences and their publications for sheltering professionals. In reality, they have ignored abuse, failed to create substantive standards by which to measure success and hold directors accountable and remained deafeningly silent regarding the cases of abuse occurring at shelters nationwide. In short, they have failed the public. Over the past 100 years, Americans have trusted these groups to oversee our shelters, writing them checks to do the job while looking the other way because the “experts” were in charge, and in so doing, have allowed our shelters to remain virtually unsupervised and unregulated for decades, with devastating results.
In fact, excluding laws imposed by health departments regarding the use of controlled substances, the disposition of rabid and “aggressive” animals and mandated holding periods, shelter directors in this country have essentially unlimited discretion as to how they operate their facilities. If a shelter director decides to kill each and every animal even if there are empty cages, it is legal for him to do so. In fact, many shelters routinely keep banks of cages intentionally empty so that their staff does not have to clean those cages or feed the animals inside them. If a non-profit rescue organization wants to save an animal on death row at a shelter, the shelter director has the authority in every state but two to deny the group the ability to do so, and they frequently do. Likewise, shelter directors can kill orphaned kittens and puppies rather than work with volunteers who want to provide foster care. They can ban volunteers from walking dogs and socializing cats. And they can limit the number of hours they are open to the public for adoptions, or have hours that make it difficult for working people to reclaim their lost animals or adopt new ones.
There are no checks and balances to ensure that our shelters are run in line with the most up-to-date sheltering policies and procedures. Instead, our shelters are run on the honor system, and it is a discretion shelter directors abuse time and again by failing to ensure the humane and compassionate care of animals in their charge, to implement readily available lifesaving alternatives or to work cooperatively with those who want to help them save lives. And almost without exception, whenever animal lovers have questioned this arrangement, developed innovative and compassionate alternatives to killing or have brought the need for greater regulation to light, the large national animal protection groups have opposed them. They argue that such reforms are unnecessary, and that, paradoxically, any alternative to killing or any form of regulating shelters to ensure that animals are treated with compassion and are not needlessly killed is not only unnecessary, but will actually put animals in harm’s way.
When a statewide survey found that 71 percent of rescue organizations reported that they were turned away from New York State shelters and then those shelters killed the very animals those groups offered to save, the ASPCA fought to maintain the status quo, defeating legislation that would have given rescue groups the right to save at private expense, the animals shelters are killing at taxpayer expense. When animal lovers in Texas tried to end the practice of gassing animals, a slow and exceedingly cruel way for animals in shelters to be killed, a coalition of animal control groups led by HSUS defeated the bill. Even though the Virginia Animal Control Association defeated legislation to end the statewide practice of killing animals when there are empty cages, when rescue groups are willing to save them and in the case of feral cats, when they can be neutered and released, PETA supported their cause and the National Animal Control Association (NACA) gave them an award for “Outstanding State Association.” When a Louisiana shelter killed every single animal in its facility, including cats, because a handful of dogs contracted a mild illness which clears up on its own, HSUS defended them. In Hillsborough County, Florida, despite the fact that the shelter’s then-director killed animals in order to keep cages empty, the ASPCA stepped in not to encourage reform, but to buy them a new “euthanasia table” on which to kill animals. And when a shelter in Reno, Nevada, finished the year saving a higher percentage of animals than virtually every other community in the nation, the American Humane Association encouraged them to take a giant step backward and enact a punitive cat licensing scheme which could have led to the round up and killing of cats.
Whether by coming to the defense of regressive shelter directors, working to defeat progressive shelter reform legislation, fighting new and innovative programs to save lives, or calling for the wholesale slaughter of entire groups of animals in shelters, HSUS, the ASPCA, PETA and other animal protection groups are the biggest barrier to ensuring the survival of animals in shelters today.
The No Kill movement seeks to change this tragic reality by bringing standards and accountability to a field that has historically lacked it, by exposing the truth about our shelters, by calling for the replacement of poorly performing shelter directors and by seeking legislation that legally mandates common sense procedures that shelters should already be following. Where laws mandating lifesaving policies and procedures have passed, greater lifesaving has immediately followed. Legally requiring shelters to do what they refuse to do is the quickest and most effective means animal lovers have to reform our nation’s shelters, and to orient them toward lifesaving and away from killing. Yet, as I document in detail in my most recent book, Friendly Fire, whenever and wherever animal lovers mount campaigns for reform or seek legislation, the opposition of HSUS, PETA and the ASPCA hinders their efforts. Too often, animal lovers, the media and legislators become confused and cannot see beyond the names and reputations of these organizations to discern their true motives. Too often, the opposition of animal protection organizations sows seeds of doubt regarding the need or nature of common sense reform and efforts falter or fail.
We are a nation of animal lovers, and we, and the animals we love, deserve better. We deserve shelters that reflect our progressive and compassionate values, not thwart them. We now have a solution to shelter killing and it is not difficult, expensive, or beyond practical means to achieve. Only one thing stands in the way of its widespread implementation: a deeply troubled and dysfunctional animal protection movement that undermines the effort at every turn. If we are to prevail, we need to neutralize its harmful and deadly effect. By explaining the nature of this opposition, by exposing the history of these groups and the actions they take which undermine the cause of No Kill–I hope to inspire in others—animal lovers, public officials, legislators, the media—the confidence and courage necessary to see through, and stand up to, those who seek to delay and derail urgently needed shelter reform.
Through the No Kill movement, we can create a country in which it is illegal to kill animals who enter shelters. We can create a country in which children are raised with higher expectations for the treatment of animals—and an understanding and acceptance that animals have legal rights. And we can establish powerful advocates for the well-being of animals in every community by reclaiming the thousands of shelters across our nation, and reorienting them away from killing and back to their founding missions: to advocate for and save animals.
In failing to exploit this potential, we are failing all animals who would benefit from the powerful legal, philosophical and societal precedents the animal protection movement could realize through the achievement of a No Kill nation. Yet we are prevented from harvesting this low-hanging fruit by the very groups who should be leading the charge to reap it, a betrayal that I cannot ignore, downplay or allow to continue without a fight that is, to quote the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, “as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice.”
That there are those who choose to portray my efforts to reform the animal protection movement as an effort to sabotage it is regrettable, though predictable. My hope is that anyone inclined to believe those who seek to undermine my efforts by disparaging my character and my motives will read my story and not only reject their baseless accusations, but join me in my fight as well.
* I’ve never bred an animal and I’ve never promoted the breeding of animals. I support laws banning the sale of purposely bred animals from pet stores. I’ve held workshops on closing down puppy mills. I’ve written articles about it. I do NOT support mandatory spay/neuter laws because they do not work. They cause animals to be impounded and killed. My opposition is not philosophical. If they did work, I would support them. That said, I do not believe in the myth of pet overpopulation and neither should any true animal lover. Not only is the evidence not there, but the fact that it is a myth means we have the ability to end the killing today. That is news we should all celebrate. But, regardless of why animals are being killed, they are being killed, and as long as they are, people should adopt from a shelter.
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February 12, 2013 by Nathan J. Winograd
A letter to Tim Wray, Chairman of the ASPCA Board of Directors
By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd
The outgoing President of the organization you oversee, the ASPCA, leaves in his wake a legacy of controversy and betrayal. His tenure is marked by his heartless killing of Oreo and other animals who rescuers offered to save, his defeat of rescue rights laws in New York while championing laws that eviscerated shelter holding periods, of releasing manuals which sought to educate shelter directors about how to fight No Kill reform efforts (efforts that were characterized as essentially acts of terrorism), of promoting sham shelter “reform” programs which exacerbated rather than lessened shelter killing, of an animal cruelty investigation division which failed to do its job thereby leaving abused and suffering New York City animals to die, of funding operations that raise animals to be slaughtered for food, and of defending the cruel and abusive New York city pound. In short, Ed Sayres lack of philosophical commitment to the cause which he was entrusted to represent is evident in his tragic legacy, and can best be summed up in the statement he made to the most widely read newspaper in America, USA Today. In 2007, he was quoted as having said, “There is no room for No Kill as morally superior,” equating the needless killing of four million animals a year as the ethical equivalent of a movement which actually saves their lives.
As bad as Sayres was, as a President of the ASPCA, he was rather typical in his lack of positive accomplishment for animals. Besides Henry Bergh, there isn’t a single person who has served as the former President of the ASPCA over the last 100 years whose name we celebrate or remember as having achieved substantive progress for animals, of having authentically and effectively championed the cause or furthered the animal protection movement in any meaningful way. Why? Because they were not expected to.
The qualifications the Board of Directors has looked for when recruiting for the job of ASPCA President have historically been simple ones: to look the part, to give the impression of being concerned about animal welfare by merely regurgitating clichés about the human-animal bond, to be able to rub elbows with rich people and to have a body temperature in the range of 98.6 that would occasionally (though not reliably) warm the seat vacated when the great Henry Bergh, the tireless and dedicated founder of the ASPCA, died. That’s it. The ASPCA of 2013 is not a firebrand, it is not on the front lines of the cause of animal protection, and for most people, its name and reputation do not connote much more than sad, heart-wrenching commercials on television or calendars filled with pictures of puppies and kittens.
And yet with so much money and so much influence at their disposal, Ed Sayres and every one of his predecessors could have emulated Bergh’s legacy and changed American society for the better had they actually wanted to do so. When rescue rights access legislation was pending in New York State, despite over 20,000 calls and emails of support for the bill which shut down the email servers in Albany two times, all it took to defeat the bill was the ASPCA’s powerful opposition. With people like Sayres at the helm of the ASPCA, that power has either been left untapped or used to the detriment of animals. But it could be used for their benefit—and not just the betterment of animals in shelters, but all animals.
Though the platform most commonly associated with the ASPCA is companion animals, that was not the founding vision for the organization. Henry Bergh was a fierce advocate for animals exploited in a variety of contexts. During his lifetime, he not only fought the New York City dogcatchers, he opposed hunting (helping to invent the clay pigeon) and almost succeeded in getting it banned statewide. He opposed vivisection, he advocated for animals raised for food, and he was relentless in his advocacy for “working animals.” In fact, had the ASPCA not gone off the rails after his death, not only abandoning Bergh’s vision by accepting the contract to run the city pound but the precedent that only a dedicated, passionate animal lover be entrusted to run the organization, what might the ASPCA look like today? What, in fact, could it look like today with the right person in charge? I urge you to consider those questions as you choose the next President of the ASPCA.
With a revenue stream of almost 150 million dollars annually, the ASPCA has virtually unlimited resources. Yet the vast majority of those donor dollars are now squandered on meaningless campaigns that are not driven by a concrete agenda, or on programs such as its Poison Control Hotline (providing the public with information any vet or a Google search can provide) which do nothing to address the causes of animal suffering and death in America. At its best, the ASPCA is merely ineffective. At its worst, it causes animal suffering and death. It is bloated, bureaucratic, and insincere. But it doesn’t have to be. It could, in fact, be amazing.
A genuine, dedicated, hard-working ASPCA would have the following departments working on the following issues in the following ways:
Right now, the ASPCA fights No Kill reformers and No Kill legislation while celebrating cruel and abusive shelters that kill. It champions the abusive New York City pound, undermining No Kill reformers in the city, and it even sends animals to the pound where they are killed. It claims to rescue animals from high-profile abuse situations and raises a lot of money while doing so, but often sends the animals they claim to “rescue” to shelters where they are killed or displace local animals who are killed to make room for the animals they send.
Imagine, instead, an ASPCA that is an uncompromising champion of No Kill, the No Kill Equation, No Kill reformers and the laws mandating No Kill policies and procedures in shelters nationwide. Through its publications, through a national conference and in its communications with the sheltering industry and the American public, the ASPCA could champion No Kill and provide the guidance and tools for shelters to achieve it, forcing its now powerful detractors to embrace No Kill as well. This would erode all opposition and pave the way for a No Kill nation, and it would elevate a new group of individuals to positions of authority and leadership within the movement, replacing the current tier of failed shelter directors who tenaciously defend killing with people who reject it.
And a No Kill nation would benefit not just the animals entering shelters who would no longer be killed, but the larger animal rights platform as well. Today, when animal lovers go to work at traditional animal shelters (often SPCAs or humane societies), they often do not remain, uncomfortable working in an environment of killing that is also frequently abusive. By making these organizations safe for animals, we make them safe for animal lovers to return to, as well. And once the No Kill movement reorients these organizations away from killing and toward protecting life, they, like the ASPCA, can return to the cause of their early founders: making the town or city in which they reside a more humane place for all animals, regardless of species. A No Kill nation would mean that thousands of existing SPCA’s and humane societies across the nation recovering their original missions, missions they abandoned when they took over the job of killing.
And with an authentic ASPCA they can look to for guidance, an ASPCA setting a national agenda and a national example of what a humane society or an SPCA should be, the animals would gain powerful advocates in virtually every community in America. Allies that would further the following causes as well:
Today, hunting is on the decline. Interest groups that champion hunting know this, and are working to encourage younger generations to take up the killing to stop this decline. A campaign geared towards young people that opposed hunting by appealing to their compassion and love of animals would counter this effort and push hunting closer to extinction.
Millions of animals die on our highways every year and no national animal protection group is working to research and seek implementation of strategies to make our roads safe for wildlife. The ASPCA could lead this effort, as well as researching and encouraging methods of organizing cities and building structures that minimize impact and dangers for wild animals. In Toronto, for example, all new building projects require “bird friendly” design to avoid collisions. The ASPCA could push for such standards to be required by building codes across America.
Nationwide, invasion biologists and “environmentalists” are stepping up their attacks against animals they label as “invasive.” They kill with poisons, traps, fire and guns, while not a single animal protection organization is challenging the flawed moral and scientific basis for such distinctions or highlighting and condemning the health dangers, environmental havoc and suffering such efforts result in. The ASPCA could speak out against this dangerous movement, countering its hyperbole, hysteria and biological xenophobia with science, and its intolerance with calls for compassion and respect for the inherent rights of all beings regardless of their antecedents.
Many laws which protect wild animals, moreover, are based on protecting species rather than individual rights. To many environmentalists, animals are judged worthy of activism on their behalf in relation to how useful they are to humans or how many members of their species exist. There is no objection to taking the lives of animals such as crows, raccoons, or rats, animals belonging to species which are plentiful or have no material value to humans. Yet if there are limited numbers of a species humans have traditionally exploited, or if a species is threatened with extinction, environmentalists advocate that we adjust behaviors negatively impacting their numbers. For instance, some non-profit organizations have mounted campaigns encouraging the public to eat only fish caught in accordance with their “sustainability” standards. These organizations are seeking to ensure the continuation of certain species not because they believe individual fish deserve our respect but because some species, those which historically have been exploited as food, are being pushed to the brink of extinction by what they call “overfishing.” Ultimately what they want are limitations on how many animals of certain species can be killed. Killing is acceptable so long as it falls within certain parameters. In other words, they want to make sure we don’t kill all the fish so that there will be some left to kill indefinitely. That is the essence of the environmental philosophy which predominates today, but is this really what “environmentalism” should be?
A true environmentally-friendly society would seek to meet the needs of humans through the least destructive and most non-violent means we can imagine. It would no longer allow animals to be regarded as “resources.” It would interfere in the lives of other animals as little as possible, grant protection to the habitats animals need in order to thrive, and, above all, be guided by the principle that respect for sentient life is paramount, irrespective of the species in which that life is manifest. To be authentic, environmentalism must be grounded in a foundation of animal rights. In fact, we must come to regard the two movements as one and the same. The ASPCA could embrace and publicly promote this approach to environmentalism.
Animals Raised for Food
Today, the ASPCA’s “advocacy” for animals killed for food is to perpetuate the myth of humane meat and to partner and even fund companies which raise animals for slaughter. One of the first things the ASPCA needs to do in working to help animals killed for food is to dissolve these partnerships. Just as important, it must also work to render meat, eggs and dairy obsolete by teaching Americans what to eat instead, and by working to improve the taste, convenience and availability of vegan foods nationwide so it is easier for people to make humane dietary choices.
Imagine an entire department at the ASPCA dedicated to laying the infrastructure necessary to transition our country to veganism. This department would be dedicated to increasing vegan options at restaurants, grocery stores, schools, hotels, amusement parks, sporting venues—everywhere Americans work, live and play. It could have an in-house research and development department developing cutting edge vegan analogs and a restaurant in New York City which featured these new and exciting foods. ASPCA employees from this department could encourage the veganization of America’s favorite brand name foods by meeting with representatives from food companies, promising to promote popular foods in exchange for veganizing them. It could offer the public classes on how to be vegan. It could offer vegan cooking classes, some of them specifically designed for chefs to encourage restaurants to begin offering delicious vegan options. It could sponsor the public distribution of free meals or free samples of vegan foods throughout the year and throughout the nation to introduce Americans to delicious vegan food: vegan BBQ’s on the Fourth of July, turkey-free dinners on Thanksgiving, etc. And every day of the year, ASPCA food trucks could tour the nation, handing out free samples and coupons for tasty vegan foods, pamphlets that encourage them to go vegan as well as cookbooks filled with recipes for delicious vegan foods; while teams researched and publicly exposed the animal cruelty occurring in farms so that Americans would be motivated to embrace the more humane way of eating that the ASPCA is so effectively promoting.
Serving the Community of New York City
Locally, the ASPCA could make New York a No Kill city. It could end the carriage horse trade and place those horses into an ASPCA sanctuary where they could live out the remainder of their lives in peace. It could create animal ambulances to care for animals who have been injured in the streets. It could promote pro-pet policies: housing, rentals, restaurants (integrating animals into daily life). It could provide free veterinary care for the animals of homeless people.
In addition, like the traditional sheltering establishment, the wildlife rehabilitation community is plagued with harmful dogma that leads to the killing of animals. The ASPCA could create its own wildlife rehabilitation program for the city of New York, one that include lifetime sanctuary care for animals who could not be released safely into the wild, and one that would be based on No Kill principles, thereby providing an alternative No Kill model of wildlife rehabilitation that could begin to challenge the current, deadly paradigm which permeates that field. The ASPCA could also push the city of New York to embrace only the most innovative, humane and non-lethal alternatives when handling conflicts with animals historically viewed as “pests” such as rodent-proofing buildings rather than using traps and poisons. And the ASPCA could create local, NYC campaigns, for example, that teach tolerance and respect for the wild animals who also call NYC their home, including skunks, opossums, raccoons, pigeons and rats. These campaigns (bus posters, billboards, etc.) could highlight the qualities of animals that people are likely to find endearing and which might teach them to view these animals in more positive light, such as info about pigeons mating for life, or male pigeons being very dedicated fathers, sharing equally in the task of rearing their young.
These campaigns would not only save animals locally, they would have a parallel, national impact. And they are just the tip of the iceberg of what can and needs to be done for animals in the United States. There are many more opportunities to remediate common practices which currently cause animals to suffer and die, including vivisection and entertainment. The ASPCA could lead and effort to replace dissection in American schools with cutting edge 3-D and computer modeling, to urge zoos and aquariums to transition into sanctuaries for animals who cannot be released safely into the wild, to replace the use of animals in film with computer generated imagery and other technologies. Each of these areas could become an ASPCA department; each department could be tasked with devising concrete goals and strategies to bring an end to the particular form of animal exploitation they are tasked with eliminating.
A President Henry Bergh Would Be Proud Of
Were the ASPCA to embrace platforms of this nature, to put real action behind its now hollow rhetoric, not only would the ASPCA be transformed, but the entire animal protection movement would be as well. Other large national groups which are now long on rhetoric but short on delivering substantive change would be forced to evolve in order to effectively compete with the ASPCA. Right now, the most authentic voices in animal protection are in the grassroots; the least sincere are in positions of power. A new ASPCA President could change this by staffing the ASPCA with bright, passionate animal lovers, empowering those whose allegiance is to the animals first, and strip away power from those who place the interests of colleagues or industries which harm and exploit animals before the animals themselves. A sincere, hard-working, determined and goal-oriented ASPCA could accomplish in a manner of years what would take the grassroots decades to achieve. There is now so much untapped potential for animals laying fallow that the ASPCA would no doubt succeed in ways that would be nothing short of astounding.
The possibilities are breathtaking, so I urge you not to do what the ASPCA Board has always done when choosing the next President of the ASPCA: do not elevate form over function. Do not choose someone who represents the lowest common denominator, but rather embrace a person of commitment and integrity who will rally the nation with the highest of aspirations. Do not take this decision lightly, but give it a consideration that is equal to its vast potential to help those who are now not only so horribly abused, but so misrepresented by those who are supposed to speak on their behalf as well. By making the right choice, the Board of Directors could not only breathe new and authentic life into the ASPCA motto, “We Are Their Voice,” the ASPCA would be given power to transform our country. The tenure of the next President of the ASPCA could be historic, a before-and-after moment in the cause of animal protection.
Given the vast, untapped potential that exists to help animals through the ASPCA; given how much the ASPCA could positively affect American society on behalf of animals in truly profound and lasting ways; and given the gravity of what is potentially at stake, I urge you not to pick yet another, in a long line, of empty suits.
The animals deserve better.
In 2012, over one new community per week achieved a save rate of at least 90% and as high as 99%. The No Kill revolution is ON THE MARCH. Join me as we celebrate that achievement and teach you how to do the same: nokillconference.org