August is typically a shelter’s busiest month. Kitten season is in full-swing and kittens from early litters are reaching their adoption age and coming back from foster. As a result, August is usually a bad month in terms of killing, with killing rates higher than most other months… for those shelter directors who don’t care, don’t prepare, and don’t implement proven, lifesaving solutions.
It used to be like that in Austin’s pound: Town Lake Animal Center. But last month was a different. It was different because Dorinda Pulliam, who presided over the shelter for a decade, who killed over 100,000 animals during her tenure, who refused to implement readily available lifesaving alternatives, and who said she and her staff did not have time to do more adoptions because they were too busy (presumably killing them in the back), was no longer there. She had been forced out, a fact that animal lovers throughout the city rejoiced in, but the ASPCA, which backed her regime time and time again, lamented. The end result: roughly 8 out of 10 animals were saved, a rate of lifesaving on par with cities like San Francisco.
How they did it is no mystery. The City Council unanimously passed a lifesaving ordinance that requires TLAC to implement the programs and services of the No Kill Equation and it is starting to show results. They still have some work to do, the programs have not been fully implemented and some not at all, but if they continue on this path, Austin could easily become a No Kill city. And for the ASPCA and its acolytes, that is a threat. And they are fighting back.
Rather than celebrate the increased lifesaving, ASPCA President Ed Sayres, a con man whose tenure has been marked by unconscionable support for killing and killing shelters, who has made a name for himself by taking credit for the work of others and by derailing lifesaving legislation, appears committed to rolling back Austin’s impressive lifesaving gains. The ASPCA-led “Mission: Orange” coalition partners are asking the City Council to pass a mandatory sterilization law.
Never mind that the ASPCA itself states on their website that, “the ASPCA is not aware of any credible evidence demonstrating a statistically significant enhancement in the reduction of shelter intake or euthanasia as a result of the implementation of a mandatory spay/neuter law.”
And never mind that since the firing of the ASPCA-backed director, lifesaving is at an all-time high: 77% of animals entering the shelter in August being saved through the implementation of some programs of the No Kill Equation, which the former director refused to do. They cannot allow that success to continue because it will show they were wrong—wrong about the ASPCA’s “Agent Orange” program, wrong about supporting a mass killer of animals, and wrong about their embrace of poorly performing killing shelters. And even if it means a rollback of the impressive lifesaving gains Austin is making, even if it costs animals their lives, they cannot allow that success to continue or other communities will start passing laws mandating the No Kill Equation.
One of the arguments being made in support of their bid to pass mandatory spay/neuter in Austin is that there is a “spay/neuter ordinance” in every major Texas city but Austin. This is, in fact, not true, but like other apologists for shelter killing and defenders of the status quo, facts do not get in the way of their agenda. Houston doesn’t really have one (they require shelters to spay/neuter before adoption or have adopters sign a contract requiring them to do so for pound-adopted animals), but even if they did, so what?
Every major city in Texas is slaughtering animals by the tens of thousands. Houston’s pound is killing nearly 7 out of 10 animals and collectively, roughly 80% of Houston shelter animals are being put to death. San Antonio is no better. And neither is Dallas. These communities are the mirror opposite of Austin which is saving 8 out of 10. Why would you look to some of the worst performing shelter systems in the country for a roadmap on how to save lives? They should be looking to Austin.
But this is not uncommon. When it suited them, when they were fighting No Kill advocates, they defended themselves by denigrating other Texas cities, telling the City Council they shouldn’t worry about how many animals are being killed in Austin because they were doing better than other cities in Texas. Now they are saying that those other cities have something to teach them. Which is it?
And that is not all. The ASPCA recently conducted an evaluation of shelter operations at TLAC. Most of the recommendations were boiler plate—have written protocols, clean and disinfect, etc.—though there were some that showed a proclivity to old-school dogma that has been rejected by modern, progressive shelters such as an “all in-all out” rule for communal cat housing and “engineering” standards for capacity.*
But one recommendation in particular showed a surprising level of archaic thinking: that owner surrendered animals should have an immediate disposition because they have no holding period. That means they can be killed right away, without any chance at adoption and without being made available to rescue groups. This is unethical and will lead to more killing, a course of conduct which most shelters and even California, the largest State in the Union, has rejected in law. In Reno, both stray animals and owner surrendered animals are treated equally and both given a full chance at life, regardless of how many there are or how long it takes to find them a home. The Nevada Humane Society does not kill owner surrendered animals right away just because the law says it can. And in California, owner surrendered animals have the same holding period as stray animals and the same chance at adoption/rescue. That is the kind of policy recommendations that shelter “experts” should be making. But the ASPCA is not. And Austin officials should take note. If the country’s largest state can do it for all cities, why can’t one city in the country’s second largest?
It is time for Austin to stop looking toward self-proclaimed “experts” who have NEVER succeeded. How can the ASPCA actually provide sound advice on what it takes to achieve a No Kill community, the official goal of the Austin City Council, when they themselves have never had success at it? Not only is their own community of New York City in chaos, with animals languishing in filth, going without care, being neglected and abused, but despite revenues of $128,000,000 per year, they have never helped any community achieve No Kill. Instead, they actively and vigorously fight against it in San Francisco, New York, and even in Austin itself.
Moreover, the ASPCA’s representative in Austin, Karen Medicus, promised Austin it would be No Kill ten years ago when she was running the Austin Humane Society and even secured a Maddie’s Fund grant to do so, but lost it due to mismanagement. She utterly and completely failed. Ten years later, Austin is finally making progress to the goal, by going against the advice and recommendations of Medicus and her current employer, the ASPCA.
Finally, the ASPCA’s veterinary “expert,” Sandra Newbury, who co-authored the TLAC evaluation, actually derailed the lifesaving progress being made for cats in her own community of Madison, Wisconsin, reversing a multi-year decline in cat killing. Her recommendations brought a return of policies from the dark days of “catch and kill” and, predictably, led to increases in killing (despite a decline in impounds which should have increased the number of cats saved).
Until very recently, the ASPCA enjoyed a privileged position as the unchallenged “expert” in a field that had become stagnant and complacent with the status quo it was founded to challenge, and in fact defended it. As the nation’s wealthiest and oldest humane organization, the ASPCA has long relied solely on its name and size to get the attention of those in positions of power within city councils, county commissions, boards of supervisors, and state assemblies. Since the advent of the No Kill movement and the lifesaving success nationwide it has resulted in, the ASPCA’s dogged determination to undermine those efforts reveal just how hollow and corrupted that organization has become.
Local policymakers throughout the nation weighing important life and death decisions should put aside the ASPCA’s storied 19th Century founding, its glossy brochures, and the siren song promised by a claimed expertise it does not possess, and put any advice from the ASPCA in its proper context: the ASPCA of today is simply a large, non-profit organization based in New York City which enjoys no jurisdiction, no public mandate, and certainly as a result of its sordid history fighting progressive reform efforts and the tragic state of the shelter in its own community, no credibility to suggest to any other community how shelters should operate.
The Commission on Animal Control and Welfare in San Francisco was taking testimony on whether it should follow the lead of the Austin City Council and pass a No Kill Equation-type ordinance. What proved to be non-controversial among legislators in Austin (they passed it unanimously) fell victim to the ASPCA’s lobbying: they called No Kill “radical” and insisted on the right of shelters to kill animals, even in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. As a result, the Commission tabled the measure. Similarly, the New York State Assembly tabled a measure that would have saved 25,000 animals a year at no cost to taxpayers by mandating collaboration between shelters and rescue groups because of ASPCA opposition. And right now, in New York City, the shelter in the ASPCA’s own community is running out of food to feed the animals, animals are languishing in their own filth, mothers and kittens are going long periods with no food and water, injured animals are not receiving proper medical care, and the animal-loving volunteers who speak out against it are being threatened and intimidated into silence. Physician, heal thyself.
Under the Sayres regime, failure is the new success; which is why the City Council should instead allow the No Kill plan to continue and push TLAC to implement the programs more quickly and comprehensively. The should also send the ASPCA a short “thanks but no thanks” note with the following little ditty nestled within: Don’t mess with Texas animals.
* As long as the animals are clean, well cared for, staying healthy, and socialized regularly, fixed “all in-all out” rules or capacity requirements are counterproductive, causing killing rates to increase because of adherence to arbitrary rules. Progressive shelters have rejected these types of engineering standards in favor of performance standards that maximize lifesaving, while ensuring the animals are well cared for.