What Pixar’s masterpiece says about how far the No Kill movement has come, how far it still has to go, the need for shelter reform legislation, and corruption within groups like the ASPCA.

 

Kitbull is the new short film by Pixar. The name “Kitbull” comes from a combination of kitten and pit bull for the inseparable bond that forms between a feral kitten and an abused pit bull. It is a film that explores the depths of human depravity, the potential embodied in overcoming stereotypes, the fallacy of “fates worse than death,” and most of all, the courage and kindness of the rescuer. It is a beautiful, touching story, but be prepared: Kitbull packs an emotional wallop. It will move you deeply to the point of tears.

In fact, while I do not doubt that any human with a heart will be touched by Kitbull, for No Kill advocates, its emotional impact will be heightened by how accurately it reflects back the messages the No Kill movement has been working so hard to instill in the American public for the last two decades; that:

  • Community cats deserve compassion, not death;
  • “Pit bulls” are just dogs and those exploited for fighting deserve a second chance;
  • Where there’s life, there is hope (whereas death is the end of hope; it is oblivion);
  • Every animal deserves a loving home which is their birthright; and,
  • Rescuers deserve our gratitude.

To see each of these themes rolled into one nine minute short 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. (If you watch the video about “the filmmakers behind Kitbull, you’ll see that they are animal lovers; not activists.) 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. Kitbull shows us that the time has come to fully reap that which we have been sowing and to institutionalize the American public’s love for our nation’s neediest companion animals. In a democracy, we do so by giving those collective values the force of law.

It is time to fix the problem of shelter killing. It is time to empower the rescuer. It is time to ban discrimination against animals. It is time to take away the power of shelter directors to kill in the face of alternatives. And it is time for the large, national groups which grow wealthy and powerful through cynical fundraising appeals designed to leverage the public’s compassion for companion animals to begin supporting and promoting legislation that affirms those values rather than continuing to lobbying against them on behalf of regressive shelter directors.

Slogans such as “Save them all,” “We are their voice,” “We fight for all animals” and being for “the ethical treatment of animals” must have the force of law. When they do, such as in Delaware, Austin, Muncie, and elsewhere, killing is reduced by over 90%, tens of thousands of additional animals are saved, placement rates of 98-99% are achieved, and the neediest animals in those communities find in their local shelter the sort of helping hand portrayed in Kitbull, rather than a lethal injection of poison. There was a time, not so long ago, when the two animals in Kitbull, dogs classified as “pit bulls” and “feral” cats, were the most at risk animals in U.S. pounds. That has dramatically changed in these communities, with placement rates as high as 99% for each.

Animals in other communities deserve the same protections, the same care, the same outcomes.

When you watch Kitbull, think about community cats and kittens (like the one in the film) still being rounded up and killed by groups like PETA, or killed by pounds that refuse to embrace a culture of lifesaving, or dogs (again like the one in the film) being demonized for the way they look (such as in Denver, CO, and Miami-Dade, FL). Think about the rescuers who go to the New York City pound or the one in Amarillo, Texas or Montgomery County, Ohio, or any of the number of other facilities still killing healthy and treatable animals so that they can save those animals. Day in and day out, rescuers show tremendous courage and compassion — visiting a place that is hard for animal lovers to go: their local kill shelter. And yet they go back, again and again. They endure the hostile treatment. They endure the heartbreak of meeting animals destined for the needle. They endure having to jump through unnecessary and arbitrary hurdles set by shelter directors who are holding hostage the animals they want to save. 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 yet efforts to protect rescuers, to empower them to save animals, to pass legislation reforming these facilities so that the entire burden does not fall solely on their shoulders, to give all animals the loving homes they deserve have been defeated — defeated by the ASPCA, by HSUS, by PETA, and yes, by Best Friends. Every one of those groups has opposed rescue rights legislation that would make it illegal for pounds to kill animals if qualified rescue groups are willing to save them. Some of those groups also opposed legislation to eliminate convenience killing, mandate prompt and necessary veterinary care, and increase opportunities for adoption.

The ASPCA killed it in New York.

Best Friends helped kill it in New York.

HSUS killed it in Minnesota and Texas.

PETA helped kill it in Virginia and Florida.

In New York alone, their actions effectively condemned roughly 25,000 animals a year to their deaths. When they have not actively worked against it, they have remained neutral and neutrality is a vote for the status quo, and therefore, a betrayal to the animals and a betrayal to the American public which has stuffed their coffers to overflowing because of promises to use those donations to fight for change instead of against it.

There are two things every social movement in history has needed to succeed:

  1. The hearts and minds of the people.
  2. The muscle of the state through the force of law.

We’ve already got the first. Kitbull proves that. To achieve and sustain a No Kill nation in earnest, we now need the latter. And in the coming weeks, that opportunity will be presented in New York State, the birthplace of the modern animal protection movement, which ironically, is the birthplace of the ASPCA itself. Shortly, legislation will be introduced in New York to mandate community cat sterilization instead of killing; to ban discrimination based on “breed” in adoption; to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care, social enrichment, exercise; to ensure that animals are no longer hidden in the back and quietly killed; and to empower rescue groups. It is vital legislation that has the potential to end convenience killing in every public and private animal shelter in the state, including the New York City pound; the single most important animal protection bill since Henry Bergh passed the 1866 anti-cruelty law that ushered in the modern animal protection movement.

Tragically, we know that PETA will oppose it, given that their employees are schooled in the belief — and act upon the belief — that animals want to die and should be killed, but what will the ASPCA do? What will HSUS do? What will Best Friends do?

Each of these groups has killed such legislation in the past, and with it, animals that would have otherwise been saved. But it is a new day, a new bill, a new era when their cynical arguments against shelter reform no longer have traction. And in two of those three groups, there is also new leadership.

Will they help us? Or will they once again consign tens of thousands of Kitbulls to their deaths?

Stay tuned…

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