Puppies received extra protection in Austin, TX, thanks to a new law.

Despite whatever other calamities may have dominated the headlines throughout this most tumultuous of years, 2019 brought a lot of positive news for animals and people who love them. To quote Frank Sinatra: “it was a very good year.”

There’s been a 90% drop in the pound killing of U.S. dogs and cats since the 1970s. Despite a doubling of the number of animal companions, the number of dogs and cats killed has gone from roughly 16 million to as low as 1-1.5 million. Its been called “the single biggest success of the modern animal protection movement.”

Fewer people are buying animals and overall adoption rates for shelter animals and rescues are increasing. Of the $72.5 billion spent on caring for animals, the amount spent to purchase animals declined by 4.3% and is “the smallest area of total pet industry spend.” When it comes to adding a new animal to their household, more people are “turning to shelters and rescues.” That should improve as two states (California and Maryland) and over 400 U.S. cities have banned the retail sale of commercially-bred animals in pet stores, with many more trying to do so.

“Today more than ever, pet owners view their pets as irreplaceable members of their families and lives, and it’s thanks to this that we continue to see such incredible growth within the pet care community,” with the senior animal the fastest growing segment of the pet population. Not only are people keeping animals longer, not only are they living longer, but two-thirds of pet owners in the U.S. will “adopt a senior dog as they believe they’re already trained and better behaved.” And that has spawned growth in the field of geriatric veterinary medicine, with specialized care and new treatments.

These are just a few of the positive trends noted in 2019, and following are some of the top stories, new studies, groundbreaking court cases, and other developments that helped to fuel their success, paving the road towards a better and brighter future for all animals.

LIFESAVING BENCHMARK SETS LEGISLATIVE PRECEDENT FOR NO KILL MOVEMENT AND NATION: The Austin, TX, City Council voted unanimously to increase the city shelter’s minimum placement rate to 95% minimum, determining that its prior 90% minimum was too low. Today, with the number of communities reporting placement rates as high as 99% increasing at a dramatic rate, with even more progress in veterinary medicine, and with advancements in our understanding of canine behavior, we can no longer judge today’s success on yesterday’s antiquated 90% standard.

NO KILL ASCENDS TO NATIONAL POLITICS: When a cause becomes so popular that politicians begin to incorporate promises about it into their campaign platform, that cause has arrived. When that politician is a candidate for the President of the United States — and promising the creation of a No Kill nation if elected — we have truly become a potent force for change.

COURT PRECEDENT REFLECTS CHANGING NATURE OF HUMAN/ANIMAL RELATIONS: In a case involving custody of a cat, a New York Court ruled that “it is time to declare that a pet should no longer be considered ‘personal property’ like a table or car.” Instead, it used a standard normally reserved for custody of children: the best interest of the cat. The court’s recognition that cats are more than mere property is an important legal victory for animals and a vital step towards eventual recognition of legal personhood.

FREE SPEECH VICTORY FOR ANIMAL ADVOCATES ON SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS: In a victory for anyone who has spoken out on behalf of animals mistreated, abused, and killed in city pounds, two Federal Courts of Appeal ruled for the first time that public officials cannot censor comments or block individuals on their official social media pages for criticizing them and their policies: “the First Amendment does not permit a public official who uses a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.” When animal lives are at stake, as they are when animals enter a shelter that has not fully embraced a culture of lifesaving, removing comments critical of policies that favor killing by government shelters is even more egregious given the life and death consequences. Animals have no voice of their own and need others to speak for them. Deleting critical comments effectively silences them.

STUDY CALLS FOR AN END TO TEMPERAMENT TESTING: It’s time to throw out the fake hand, the doll, the food bowl takeaway, and the loud knock on the door. The debate as to whether temperament testing in a shelter is effective, flawed, needs modification, or should be discarded is over. A new study determined that there is not a single temperament test used to evaluate shelter dogs that is reliable in predicting behavior because they are built on a “fatally flawed” premise: “that the provocations used at a single time during a dog’s stressful experience in a shelter will predict future behavior at a different time and place.” The study authors called for an end to their use by pounds to determine whether dogs live or die and noted that further research is not necessary since there is little likelihood that any other conclusion can be reached.

EXPERTS DECRY WAR ON FERAL CATS: Biologists, ecologists, and ethicists joined together to publish a paper in Conservation Biology that was hailed as “an important and comprehensive rebuke” to anti-cat hysteria. In it, they call for an end to the war on cats, saying blaming cats for wildlife declines is unscientific, based on over-simplistic math assumptions, ignores true causes like habitat loss, ignores the benefits of cats, and leads to cruelty. They argue that, “trap-neuter return programs… can work when done rigorously.” Finally, they argue that “free-ranging cats should be accepted as legitimate members of their ecosystems.”

PIXAR ANIMATED SHORT REFLECTS HOW NO KILL THEMES HAVE PENETRATED THE ZEITGEIST: Pixar releases Kitbull, a new animated short film, whose name comes from a combination of kitten and pit bull for the inseparable bond that forms between a feral kitten and an abused pit bull. For No Kill advocates, its impact is heightened by how accurately it reflects the messages the No Kill movement has been working so hard to instill in the American public; that: community cats deserve compassion, not death; “pit bulls” are just dogs and those exploited for fighting deserve a second chance; and every animal deserves a loving home. To see these themes rolled into a short film from the world’s most esteemed animation studio is a complete and utter triumph. It shows just how mainstream our once “controversial” ideas have become. And when once controversial ideas move into the collective consciousness as Kitbull reveals they so clearly have, we can be sure that in our efforts to build a world that better reflects those collective values, we have the hearts and minds of the American people on our side.

MY FIGHT TO EXPOSE PETA’S KILLING OF ANIMALS LEADS TO FIRST AMENDMENT VICTORY FOR BLOGGERS AND OTHER NON-TRADITIONAL MEDIA: In a victory for animals, investigative journalism, new/non-traditional media, and the First Amendment, a California court ruled that PETA could not force a journalist (me) to reveal the names of PETA employees who spoke to me on condition of anonymity about PETA’s killing of animals. The information they provided was used to corroborate newspaper articles, on the record sources, government documents received under the Public Records Act, testimony and information from civil and criminal cases against PETA, videotape evidence, and admissions of killing by PETA officials. Their testimony was used for a series of articles and ultimately became a book, Why PETA Kills. The court rejected PETA’s argument that as an animal advocate, I was not entitled to the protection of the First Amendment, a point of view the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press called “alarming for all newsgatherers.”

Following that ruling, another whistleblower from inside PETA came forward admitting that PETA staff lie to people in order to acquire their animals to kill, kill despite alternatives, and indoctrinate people in a cult-like atmosphere she described as “terrifying.”

MAINSTREAMING OF PLANT-BASED FOODS HELPS ALL ANIMALS, INCLUDING THOSE IN SHELTERS: Virtually every fast food chain either launched or began test marketing plant-based foods, including Burger King, McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Del Taco, Taco Bell, Red Robin, Bareburger, White Castle, Chipotle, Habit Burger, Shake Shack, Qdoba, Quiznos, Wendy’s, and KFC. The explosion of plant-based foods led a global food industry research firm to issue a report that in the next 20 years, 60% of the world’s meat will NOT come from slaughtered animals. Instead, it will come from plant-based meat analogues and meat grown in labs from cultured cells. That will spare tens, if not hundreds, of billions of animals every year from a brutal life and untimely death. Moreover, when people no longer have to justify harming animals because of their own choices, they will be less likely to put up with justifications others make to harm animals. The sea change in terms of our relationship with animals will extend far beyond “food” animals and could very well revolutionize every aspect of our current exploitation, including killing animals in pounds.

AUSTIN, TX SETS PRECEDENT FOR THE PROTECTION OF UNBORN PUPPIES/KITTENS: And finally, the City of Austin passed a sweeping new law to enshrine lifesaving protections, including the right of rescue. Based on several provisions of the Companion Animal Protection Act, model legislation from the No Kill Advocacy Center, the new Austin ordinance requires the municipal shelter to notify rescuers, the former owner (absent evidence of neglect or cruelty), and the finder, offering them the ability to save the animal to prevent killing. There are a number of other important, far-reaching provisions, but perhaps none more important than this: for the first time anywhere, a major U.S. city has enshrined protections for visibly pregnant moms and their full-term puppies/kittens.

Not only does killing healthy, full-term in utero puppies and kittens violate the No Kill philosophy, it is a way to obscure statistics. Because they are not yet born, even when they are sentient, able to live on their own, removed from the mother during a spay surgery, and killed one by one through an overdose of barbiturates, their deaths are not recorded. They are rendered invisible. Even when not individually killed, when a mother is spayed, the puppies and kittens die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate. The new law prevents the municipal shelter from spaying a mother, and killing the puppies/kittens, as a condition of placing her with a rescue partner.

There’s more, including the move to repeal breed discriminatory laws became a virtual stampede as more and more cities across the country undid years, and in some cases decades, of repression based on how dogs look, including Sioux City, IA, Kennewick, WA, South Point, OH, Cudahy, WI, Kansas City, KS, Liberty, MO, Eureka, MO, Gardendale, AL, Rocky River, OH, Garfield Heights, OH, Lakewood, OH, Castle Rock, CO, Eudora, KS, and more. Banning dogs based on how they look is immoral, unscientific, and ineffective. And that viewpoint is winning, to the benefit of all dogs.

A No Kill nation is within our reach…

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