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Legislating Doublespeak

Doublespeak is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., “downsizing” for layoffs), making the truth less unpleasant, without denying its nature. It may also be deployed as intentional ambiguity, or reversal of meaning (for example, naming a state of war “peace”). In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth, producing a communication bypass. (Wikipedia)

The Humane Society of the United States did not support the Hayden Law in California. In fact, they opposed it, parroting killing shelter arguments that legislation designed to save the lives of animals by incentivizing adoptions, mandating collaboration between shelters and non-profit rescue organizations, and requiring shelters to scan for microchips, among other things, would actually result in more killing.

The Humane Society of the United States did not support shelter reform in San Francisco when the Commission on Animal Control and Welfare took up the issue of forcing shelters to save the lives of animals local “shelters” were determined to kill. In testimony presented to the Commission, HSUS argued that shelters should not be regulated and that they thus have a right to kill animals even in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives they simply refuse to implement. And, despite the fact that San Francisco shelters take in 1/5th the per capita rate of animals than communities like Washoe County which are No Kill, HSUS argued that “shelters” can’t save more lives because of “pet overpopulation” in San Francisco, calling No Kill, along with the ASPCA, a “radical” idea.

The Humane Society of the United States did not support Oreo’s Law, despite the fact that 71% of rescue organizations have been turned away from at least one New York State shelter and those shelters then killed the very animals they offered to save, roughly 25,000 each and every year.

The Humane Society of the United States did not support the No Kill Advocacy Center’s litigation effort to save “feral” cats in Los Angeles systematically being put to death arguing that “we do not feel we have enough time or the right folks available to undertake this project and complete it to our satisfaction,” even though they were only asked for a simple amicus brief, which could have consisted of 2-3 pages.

The Humane Society of the United States did not join the chorus of opposition to killing in the Chesterfield County, South Carolina pound, where evidence shows that Sheriff’s deputies are killing cats by beating them with pipes and using the dogs for target practice. Indeed, in the past, when evidence of widespread abuse and killing surfaces at “shelters,” HSUS has come to their defense: As they did, for example, in King County, Washington where employees routinely neglect and, in some cases, abuse animals in their custody. As they did in Hammond, Louisiana, where employees massacred every single animal in the shelter because of a mild coronavirus in a few dogs. As they did in defense of Austin’s regressive pound director, joining the ASPCA, in a chorus of support for policies which would have been a death sentence for animals, until very recently after the regressive director was removed. As they did in Miami-Dade where cats were heard screaming while being cruelly put to death.

But despite the fact that HSUS does not work hard for laws that save animals or to reform local shelters does not mean they do not work hard at all. In fact, they are doing so right now. HSUS is hard at work on a new shelter law in California. They have thrown their full weight of support behind it, and they are lobbying others to support it as well. The law is AB 1279 and it will not save a single life. The law will not improve conditions in shelters one iota. And no animal will benefit from it. In fact, it isn’t designed for the animals at all. It has one purpose: to excuse and exonerate those who harm them.

AB 1279 changes California’s animal shelter laws to replace the word “pound” to “animal shelter,” “poundkeeper” to “animal shelter director,” and “destroy” to “humanely euthanize.” In other words, it legislates doublespeak and codifies euphemisms that are designed to obscure the gravity of what we are doing to animals as a society, and thus make the task of killing easier.

Webster’s dictionary defines euthanasia as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” Using the term “euthanasia” when a shelter refuses to implement common-sense alternatives to killing is misleading and incorrect. The killing in these cases has nothing to do with the animals being “hopelessly sick or injured,” it is not an individual calculus as to the condition of one dog, cat, rabbit, or guinea pig, and it is not merciful when applied to savable animals. Nor is it always “humane” as anyone who has witnessed the killing of animals in a shelter can attest. With some animals, there is often fear, disorientation, nausea and many times even a struggle. A dog who is skittish, for example, is made even more fearful by the smells and surroundings of an animal shelter. He doesn’t understand why he is there and away from the only family he has ever loved.

To kill this dog, he may have to be “catch-poled,” a device that wraps a hard-wire noose around the dog’s neck. He struggles to free himself from the grip, only to result in more fear and pain when he realizes he cannot. The dog often urinates and defecates on himself, unsure of what is occurring. Often the head is held hard to the ground or against the wall so that another staff member can enter the kennel and inject him with a sedative.

While the catch-pole is left tied around the neck, the dog struggles to maintain his balance, dragging the pole, until he slumps to the ground. Slowly—fearful, soiled in his own waste, confused—he tries to stand, but his legs give way. He is frightened by the people around him. He does not understand what is happening. He goes limp and then unconscious. That is when staff administers the fatal dose.

“Euphemisms are misnomers used to disguise or cloak identity of ugly facts,” wrote one commentator. To which the noted writer Albert Camus replied, “The truth is the truth, and denying it mocks the cause both of humanity and of morality.” But that is exactly the purpose of HSUS’ new Doublespeak Law. And that is why killing shelters in California enthusiastically support it. In fact, another chief sponsor of AB 1279 is the director of the San Diego Humane Society who was forced to end his systematic violation of the Hayden Law’s rescue access provision after rescuers hired an attorney and threatened litigation.

Rather than hold these “shelters” accountable, the Humane Society of the United States is asking the public to legislate the euphemisms they use to avoid it. Worse, HSUS is asking the public to celebrate them. For the last several years, HSUS has promoted a campaign they call “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week” which occurs the first full week in November. According to HSUS, which describes itself as the nation’s “strongest advocate” for shelters, we owe a debt of gratitude to the “dedicated people” who work at them. They claim that leadership and staff at every one of these agencies “have a passion for and are dedicated to the mutual goal of saving animals’ lives.” They tell us, “We are all on the same side,” “We all want the same thing,” “We are all animal lovers,” and criticism of shelters and staff is unfair and callous because “No one wants to kill.” That is why groups like HSUS can boldly publish, without the slightest hint of sarcasm or irony, a picture of a puppy—a young, healthy, perfectly adoptable puppy—put to death with the accompanying caption: “This dog was one of the lucky ones who died in a humane shelter: Here caring shelter workers administer a fatal injection.”

Tell that to the cats beaten with pipes by shelter staff or the dogs being used as target practice in Chesterfield. Tell that to the “feral” cats being systematically put to death in L.A. which HSUS has “no time” to help. Tell that to the animals being put to death in San Francisco for being “too playful,” “too fat,” “too old,” and “unaltered” that could have been saved by shelter reform legislation HSUS opposed. Tell that to the dog allowed to bleed out in a kennel in King County, Washington or the cat who was so large for his cage, he could barely move but was left in that position for days. Tell that to the animals being systematically put to death throughout California because shelters refuse to do offsite adoptions, don’t match lost with found pets, and/or keep many of the cages intentionally empty to reduce their workload, because they have the ability to simply kill the animals instead. And tell that to the animal lovers who have to watch this happen while HSUS takes on the role of cheerleader and asks the nation’s most populous state to codify the lies and misdeeds of those shelters.

A “shelter” is a refuge, a haven. As long as they are killing savable animals, they are properly classified as pounds, places befitting the 19th century name they were given, given that they are still practicing a 19th century style of animal control. Indeed, if we are going to waste time making semantic changes in law which will have no lifesaving impact, let’s do it in a more truthful way. I, for one, choose “slaughterhouse.” But given that all legislation involves compromise, I will join the kitty in this comic and settle for “death camps”: