Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, is rolling in his grave. The man currently sitting in the chair he once occupied, heading the organization he founded, is not only thwarting his dream of an organization whose mission is to save the lives of animals, he is actively undermining it. As animal lovers approached Ed Sayres, the current President of the ASPCA, to cease opposition to Oreo’s Law, pending New York State legislation named after an abused dog he ordered killed despite a rescue alternative, Sayres refused, turning his back on both the animals and their rescuers.
His refusal comes after animal lovers working on the legislation made a number of concessions—each designed to eliminate Sayres’ opposition—by removing all reference to Oreo and even giving him credit for the law, in exchange for his support. But Sayres refused, holding firm in opposition to the bill in spite of the body count, underscoring that his association with the ASPCA has afforded him friends in high places, and that when the legislation comes to a vote, he will simply see to it that it is killed, as easily as he needlessly killed Oreo.
Who was Oreo?
In New York City, a one-year old dog named Oreo was intentionally thrown off a sixth floor Brooklyn roof top by her abuser. Oreo sustained two broken legs and a fractured rib. Oreo also appears to have been beaten in the past—several of the neighbors in the building where Oreo lived reported hearing the sounds of the dog being hit. The ASPCA nursed her back to health and arrested the perpetrator. They also dubbed her the “miracle dog.”
The miracle was short-lived. According to the ASPCA, when Oreo recovered from her injuries, she started to show aggression. After a series of temperament tests, the ASPCA made the decision to kill her. The New York Times reported the story the day before Oreo’s scheduled execution. A sanctuary in New York offered to take Oreo, explaining that they had experience rehabilitating dogs deemed aggressive and offering her lifetime care, including plenty of socialization and walks if the rehabilitation was not successful. They were ignored, hung up on and lied to. And the ASPCA chose to kill the dog instead. That afternoon, Oreo laid dead, the victim not of her former abuser, but of an overdose of poison from a bottle marked “Fatal-Plus,” at the hands of a shelter bureaucrat, and at the behest of Sayres.
Following the furor that erupted over Oreo’s killing, Micah Kellner and Tom Duane, New York State legislators, introduced a bill to prevent animals from being killed by shelters when there is a lifesaving alternative offered by rescue groups. “As a dog owner and a foster parent for an animal rescue group, I was heartbroken to learn that Oreo was [killed]. When a humane organization volunteers their expertise in difficult cases, a shelter should work with them to the fullest extent possible,” said Kellner. “I am hopeful that Oreo’s Law will ensure that no animal is ever put to death if there is a responsible alternative.” (A few weeks later Ed Sayres, Oreo’s killer, did it again, killing a dog named Max a rescue group had offered to save.)
No Kill Movement United Behind Oreo’s Law
Not only have thousands of animal lovers contacted Kellner and Duane thanking them for introducing Oreo’s Law, but the leaders of the No Kill movement have unanimously embraced it as well. Louise Holton, Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) pioneer, Alley Cat Allies co-founder, and head of a national cat rescue group, was the latest No Kill leader to embrace Oreo’s Law, urging New York legislators to pass it.
- National leaders including myself at the No Kill Advocacy Center and Michael Mountain, founder of Best Friends;
- The most successful shelter directors in the country including Abigail Smith, the Executive Director of the Tompkins County NY SPCA, Bonney Brown, the Director of the Nevada Humane Society, and Susanne Kogut of the Charlottesville SPCA;
- Animal rights proponents including Priscilla Feral at Friends of Animals;
- Media including Mike Fry of Animal Wise Radio;
- The nation’s top animal law professors including Taimie Bryant, UCLA Law Professor and author of California’s Hayden Law, Rebecca Huss, the court appointed guardian of the Michael Vick dogs, and Joan Schaffner, co-host of the No Kill Conference and editor of a textbook on litigating animal disputes;
- Rescue groups throughout New York State including Pets Alive, the shelter and sanctuary which offered to save Oreo, Empty Cages Collective, a rescue group in New York City; and,
- Animal advocates across the country.
And No Kill pioneer Richard Avanzino, the father of the modern No Kill movement, calls right of shelter access key to a No Kill nation.
One Organization Stands Opposed
As it now stands, only one organization has publicly come out in opposition to Oreo’s Law—and that is the ASPCA. While the animal loving people of New York State flood the legislature with calls of support, while the most progressive voices in the companion animal movement have embraced and endorsed Oreo’s Law, and while rescuers anxiously await legislation that will empower them to save the lives of thousands of animals every year, the leader of the nation’s wealthiest SPCA stands alone in defiant opposition, thumbing his nose at them all.
Unable to publicly admit that his opposition stems only from the fact that he doesn’t want the public reminded about Oreo’s killing, Sayres has couched the ASPCA’s opposition as concern that the animals the law would save would actually be better off dead, arguing that rescue groups might be animal hoarders or dog fighters in disguise. Day in and day out, these rescuers show tremendous courage and compassion—visiting what is often the one place on earth hardest for them to go as animal lovers: their local shelters. And yet they go back, again and again. They endure the hostile treatment. They endure the heartbreak of seeing the animals destined for the needle. They endure having to jump through unnecessary and arbitrary hurdles set by shelter directors who are holding the animals they want to save hostage. They endure having to look the other way at abuse of other animals, because if they don’t, if they speak out, they will be barred from saving any animals. And this law would make their lives easier—their work less difficult. It would empower them, tip the balance more in their favor, and lessen their daily burden. That the President of the ASPCA would fail to support such a law, or worse, would dare oppose it by claiming that these dedicated, hard working rescuers are, in reality, dog fighters and hoarders in disguise not only is offensive, but a betrayal of these selfless, compassionate individuals—and a betrayal to the animals whose lives the law would save.
In fact, Best Friends Animal Society asked New York State rescue groups whether they supported the bill, and whether they have seen animals killed by shelters despite their offers to save them, and the overwhelming response was “Yes.” (When Best Friends presented these findings to Ed Sayres, however, he dismissed them as irrelevant.)
Moreover, over ten years experience in California with virtually identical legislation shows that these concerns are misplaced: the fear mongering about hoarders and dog fighters that also occurred when the bill was pending in California did not materialize. And there are already protections built into the law to ensure that this does not occur.
A Face Saving Overture to the ASPCA
Nonetheless, activists working with Kellner’s Office approached the ASPCA this week, through Best Friends as an intermediary, in the hopes of removing Sayres’ opposition to the bill, and offered additional (though unneeded) protections and a face-saving change in the name of the law in exchange for the ASPCA’s support, including:
Language suspending “any organization that has an officer or board member who has been convicted of a statute having as its primary effect the prevention or punishment of neglect and/or cruelty or dog fighting until such time as that officer or board member is no longer an officer or board member of the organization.”
Language suspending any organization during the time “such charges are pending in a court of law, but not yet adjudicated until such time as the case is adjudicated either in favor of the organization, at which time the suspension will be lifted, or if adjudicated against the organization, until such time as the officer or board member is no longer with the organization.”
In addition, proponents offered to reintroduce the bill without reference to Oreo as “The Animal Shelter Lifesaving & Fiscal Responsibility Act,” since the bill would not only save the lives of animals, but would save taxpayers from paying to hold, kill, and discard the bodies of the animals New York shelters kill, by giving the animals—and the costs—to rescue groups. They also agreed to cease all reference to Oreo as it relates to this bill. They offered to allow the ASPCA to take credit for the law. Finally, they offered that if the ASPCA did not want their support for the newly introduced bill, they would not be publicly involved. In other words, activists offered Ed Sayres the opportunity to do the right thing.
As he did with Oreo, he refused. Ed Sayres firmly and unequivocally rejected the offer, and reiterated that the ASPCA had friends in high places and simply would kill the bill—regardless of how many animals are also killed in the process.
The People of the State of New York vs. Edwin J. Sayres
Right now, one man—Oreo’s killer—has indicated he intends to thwart the will of thousands of rescuers, and millions of New York animal lovers, by taking a position which—were he to be successful in killing the legislation—would sacrifice the lives of thousands of animals every year in the State of New York.
Right now, one man—who has consistently betrayed the cause which he is paid half a million dollars a year to champion—is abusing his power by choosing to condemn thousands of animals every year to death as a personal vendetta against those trying to prevent others from needlessly killing animals, like he did with his egregious and indefensible killing of an abused dog.
Right now, one man—who has sullied the name of the ASPCA beyond any recognition—has basically said of the animals of New York State dependant on this bill for their very lives, the ethical equivalent of ‘Let them die!’
This will not stand.
“It is time for all of us to lift our voices for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
—Gail Longstaff, President, No More Homeless Pets KC, announcing support for Oreo’s Law
What can you do to help? Go to www.yesonoreoslaw.com or click here.