Articles ASPCA

No Kill In Spite of the ASPCA

By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

In 2007, when Bullet, this man’s dog, fell ill, he took him to the ASPCA’s animal hospital in Manhattan for care. He had fed Bullet with a spoon since birth. “He was my baby,” Lopez told The News. Instead of treating him, an abusive ASPCA employee kicked Bullet to death. The ASPCA subsequently covered it up and lied to him. “I brought the dog there thinking they would save my dog,” he said. “I killed him by taking him there.” He buried Bullet in a white towel beneath a tree.

I get a lot of questions about animals on a wide variety of topics and I try to answer each and every one. When they have wider appeal, I’ll post my response. Recently, someone contacted me saying they read a post that claimed ‘a great deal of the meteoric rise of No Kill since 2000’ is due to the ASPCA (among other organizations). She wanted to know if I agreed.

To answer her, I sat down and cataloged the ASPCA’s misdeeds since 2000:

  • Introduced legislation to allow New York state pounds to kill animals within seconds of arriving, with no holding period of any kind, if two shelter workers, such as kennel attendants or janitors, say the animal is “psychologically suffering.”
  • Introduced legislation in New York State to allow feral cats to be immediately killed on intake.
  • Denigrated and attacked the No Kill movement by teaching shelters how to fight back and continue killing, calling No Kill an “extremist agenda.”
  • Knowingly and falsely claimed that “open admission” animal control facilities cannot be No Kill: “a no-kill shelter really can’t have an open admission policy. it must limit its intake if it wants to adopt out animals and not kill them.”
  • Actively fought No Kill in Austin, TX, defending a director that killed 100,000 animals (over 12,000 each year, 1,000 each month, 34 each day, 1 every 12 minutes the shelter has been open to the public). Said the ASPCA CEO: “I think [Town Lake Animal Center Director] Dorinda Pulliam is a very effective leader.”
  • Claimed in USA Today, one of the most widely read newspapers in America, that “there is no room for No Kill as morally superior,” equating killing homeless animals as the moral and ethical equivalent of saving their lives.
  • Tried to undo California’s law making it illegal for shelters to kill animals when rescue groups are willing to save them, a law that saves roughly 50,000 animals a year from death.
  • Fought legislation in California to save more animals, saying shelter directors should not be second guessed.
  • Embraced an accord that classified feral cats as “untreatable” or “unhealthy,” sharing the same category as hopelessly ill or irremediably suffering pets, and the same fate: death.
  • Embraced a vision for the future of animal sheltering that said shelters that do not kill cannot use the term “No Kill” and those shelters that do kill cannot be criticized for any of the following practices: “temperament testing” dogs to death , banning breeds, killing underaged kittens and puppies rather than fostering before adoption, killing animals who rescue groups wanted to save.
  • Refused to respond to animal cruelty calls, allowing dogs to starve all over New York City where it is located.
  • Killed Max, a traumatized dog, despite an offer by a rescue group to save her.
  • Rather than save them, transferred healthy kittens to a pound which neglects, abuses, and then kills them because the ASPCA did not want to spend the $30 it would have cost to save each of them.
  • Allowed a cat with a broken leg to sit at their facility without any medical care for 2.5 weeks and then set the cat to an abusive pound to be killed.
  • Fundraised off of animals they claimed to “rescue,” then shipped those animals to kill shelters.
  • Sent underweight dogs to an abusive pound to be killed. They were.
  • According to NYC’s Shelter Reform Action Committee, “The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals claims it is the voice for defenseless animals: ‘We Are Their Voice:’ But as long as the ASPCA allows cruelty and neglect to continue in New York City’s Animal Care & Control (ACC), the ASPCA has no standing to speak for any animal—most specifically defenseless ACC animals. And it’s not as though the ASPCA is unaware of what’s going on at the ACC. The ASPCA is located just 18 blocks away from the ACC’s Manhattan shelter, and ASPCA employees are frequently in and out of the ACC shelters.”
  • Named the Houston SPCA the best shelter in America, even though that shelter’s regressive policies, breed discrimination, antagonistic relationship with rescue groups, lack of transparency and failure to comprehensively implement alternatives to killing make it the antithesis of a well-run, compassionate and successful animal shelter. The Houston SPCA killed seven out of 10 animals that year.
  • Gave a $50,000 grant to a chicken “processing” company that slices the throats of chickens.
  • Sent staff door to door in a communities where it was not located with a dog wearing an adoption vest pretending it was the local shelter to raise money. Employees were instructed to lie to people.
  • Covered up animal abuse by its own staff that led to injury and death at its animal hospital.
  • Returned neglected dogs to abusers because it did not want to spend the money on housing them.
  • Enacted a program in a FL pound to send dogs from one kill shelter to another kill shelter to raise the live release rate deceptively.
  • In forestalling work to save more dogs in shelters, falsely claimed “50 percent of all children will be bitten by a dog before their 12th birthday.”
  • Claimed the Philadelphia pound should not be criticized for its 12% live release rate saying it was within the “norms” of U.S. shelter facilities.
  • Demanded that Philadelphia’s animal control rescind its support for No Kill or it would lose ASPCA funding.
  • Under the ASPCA’s Mission: Orange program in Austin, the death rate went up after they claimed only 33% of animals were adoptable: “the problem is not getting adopters to the shelter, but rather, having enough desirable and placeable animals to choose from.”
  • Featured on its website a three-time felon who sold meth and fought No Kill in Austin as an example of a good animal advocate for his work trying to rid the streets of stray dogs and cats, even if it meant killing at the pound.
  • And then there is Oreo and Oreo’s Law.

Oreo was a one-year-old dog who was thrown off the roof of a six-floor Brooklyn apartment building in 2009. She suffered two broken legs and a fractured rib. Several of the neighbors in the building reported having heard the sound of her being beaten. The ASPCA nursed her back to health and arrested the perpetrator. They also dubbed her the “miracle dog” and fundraised off her plight, reportedly raising millions. But the miracle was short lived.

According to the ASPCA, when Oreo recovered from her injuries, she started to show signs of aggression. After the money was counted and safely deposited into ASPCA bank accounts, the ASPCA made the decision to kill her.

If it was true that Oreo was still traumatized and untrusting, who could blame her? She needed time. Although the ASPCA could have cared for Oreo as long as it took to get her to trust again, they refused. But others came forward to offer what the ASPCA would not: time and space to learn that not all humans are abusers. A No Kill sanctuary near the ASPCA which specializes in rehabilitating aggressive dogs (and, if that proves impossible, safely caring for them for the rest of their lives), contacted the ASPCA to ask if they could assume responsibility for Oreo. They made numerous telephone calls and sent numerous emails. They were ignored, hung-up on and lied to. Two volunteers of the group even went to the ASPCA but were escorted out after the ASPCA refused to meet with them.

On a cold, Friday morning on November 13, 2009, Oreo was killed; not by her abuser, but by those whose mission it was to protect her. The kennel that the sanctuary readied in anticipation of her arrival lay empty and unused that day, filled with a soft bed, a pool of water and several toys for her to play with. Instead, Oreo’s body was discarded in a landfill.

After Oreo was killed, “Oreo’s Law” was introduced in New York which would have made it illegal for shelters, including the ASPCA, to kill animals who rescue groups were willing to save. It was estimated that if the law passed, roughly 25,000 animals a year would be saved.

The ASPCA made it its mission to ensure that they would not be and succeeded in killing the law every year it was introduced. Thanks to them, instead of being sent to rescue, an estimated 200,000 animals have been killed since and another 25,000 continue to be killed yearly.

Instead of enjoying the second chances and loving new homes rescue groups would have guaranteed them, they are dead — or soon will be — their bodies left to rot in New York State landfills.

Tragically, this is only a partial list.

Did ‘a great deal of the meteoric rise of No Kill since 2000’ happen because of the ASPCA? It happened in spite of them.

Why is knowing this important?

For those who have seen my documentary on the origins of the No Kill movement in the United States (and it is available for free if you have not), you know that it begins by telling the founding history of the ASPCA in New York City by Henry Bergh in the later half of the nineteenth century. Bergh was a man of great courage, compassion, and conviction, and the beginning of the humane movement in the United States can be traced, in large part, to his pioneering work; work that was emulated throughout our country during his lifetime, with copycat humane societies and SPCAs popping up across the American landscape.

Among other things, Bergh was a fierce critic of New York city dog catchers and dedicated much of his time and energy advocating to stop their killing and the cruelty that was routinely and casually inflicted upon dogs by pound workers. During his lifetime and because of his tenacity, the city offered the ASPCA the contract to run the pound themselves, an offer Bergh rejected by stating, “This society could not stultify its principles so far as to encourage the tortures to which the proposed give rise to.”

Sadly, after his death and against his express wishes, ASPCA officials accepted the contract to perform dog control, trading in their mission of protecting dogs for rounding them up and killing them. As told in my documentary, animal protection groups nationwide followed the ASPCA’s example, and so it was that the scores of organizations founded to protect animals took over the job of ending their lives, and deliberate killing at the hands of those those working at many of our nation’s “animal protection” groups became the leading cause of death for healthy dogs, and, with time, cats as well.

As a result, animal lovers fled from these organizations, and compassion towards animals was replaced by the mindset of animal control. The tenacious desire to solve problems facing animals which so defined Bergh’s tenure was replaced with reconciliation to those problems. Over the following century, this loss of mission calcified into complete indifference to the killing and then a complacency with the status quo which was jealously guarded by the nation’s large animal protection groups, including the ASPCA. For despite its killing and lack of innovation to stop it, the ASPCA had become rich and powerful promoting two twin but inherently contradictory suppositions that while animal life mattered, there was no choice but to kill homeless dogs and cats due to their numbers and that therefore, killing was a kindness.

With no alternative model to challenge this narrative, the ASPCA grew enormously wealthy on nothing more than lip service to animal welfare and calendars filled with adorable puppies and kittens given annually to would-be donors. Which is why, at the dawn of the 21st century, when a new crop of animal activists dedicated to finding new and life-affirming ways to care for our nation’s homeless animals — what has since become known as the No Kill movement — arose to challenge this deadly paradigm with renewed urgency, new ethics, and most important of all, effective alternatives to killing, the ASPCA was deeply threatened and fought back hard.

And so it was that an organization once founded by one of our nation’s great American heroes — the man to which those of us who care about animals owe a deep gratitude for softening the ground for all animal protection efforts that came after — became one of the No Kill movement’s fiercest critics and most stalwart opponents. This opposition manifested itself in a variety of ways, including a rejection of all alternatives to killing, a deliberate campaign of misinformation against those communities achieving No Kill success, vilification of No Kill advocates, the use of donor funds to lobby against animal protection laws that would protect dogs and cats in shelters, and much, much more. Each and every one of the lifesaving programs the ASPCA now begrudgingly accepts they once opposed, proving themselves not averse to lying or the use of character assassination against No Kill advocates to do so.

Therefore, far from being the cause of the meteoric rise of No Kill programs and services in the United States, the ASPCA has, in fact, been one of the leading causes as to why this viable model of replacing the killing of millions of animals nationwide has not spread more quickly. Those of us on the ground for the last several decades, working to spread the No Kill model to every shelter in America, to pass laws that would prohibit the killing of healthy and treatable animals in our nation’s shelters, and which would prevent shelters from refusing to work collaboratively with rescue groups and individuals who want to help them save the lives they are determined to kill know the truth: that in many of these efforts we have frequently found an enemy, not an ally, in the ASPCA; and that to get to the point where we are now, with the ASPCA expressing attenuated support for No Kill alternatives, was a battle — a hard won fight against those who used the power and influence of the ASPCA to oppose and undermine us every step of the way.

We must always have a language for progress. When you are involved in a fight to make this world a better place, being unable to recognize, and to celebrate, one’s success is a recipe for cynicism and defeatism, which in turn, can lead to burn out and, with time, resignation from the cause itself. That is why I continually promote No Kill successes across the nation, to prove not only the viability of No Kill, but to give hope and inspiration to progressive shelter directors and grassroots reformers fighting to protect the shelter animals in their own hometowns from the cruel, antiquated model of sheltering once promoted, and stalwartly defended, by the ASPCA.

I am the first to admit, and wholeheartedly celebrate, that the animal welfare landscape today is very different than it was when I first became involved in my work promoting the No Kill model, when virtually every large national group opposed TNR, foster care, shelter volunteers, offsite adoptions, and every other life-saving innovation of the No Kill Equation. This outcome is, in fact, the very thing I set out to accomplish when I dedicated my career to the No Kill movement more than two decades ago. But with millions of animals still dying in our nation’s shelters, and the pressing need for continued innovation to protect the lives of animals still at risk (such as traumatized dogs with behavior problems, wildlife, and more), failure to recognize how it was that we got this far — a collective amnesia about the battles against powerful, entrenched interests within the animal protection movement itself that we had to wage to build the road that led us to where we are today — threatens to revisit upon this movement the same deadly stagnation and dangerous complacency with the status quo that was to blame for over a century of unquestioned, uninterrupted killing. It threatens to put our movement back to sleep.

We must never forget what is truly to credit for the meteoric rise of No Kill across this nation over the last two decades is the same thing to credit for the success of every movement for a kinder, gentler world that there ever was: innovation pioneered by the grassroots; a grassroots courageously rising up in opposition to a status quo championed by large, powerful interests which, in the animal protection movement, included an ASPCA staffed by the former directors and employees of kill shelters who were deeply threatened by outsiders championing a better way than the one upon which their “expertise,” and the organization’s wealth, was predicated.

That the ASPCA is no longer as openly hostile to No Kill innovation as it once was is not a testament to its leadership, but rather, quite the opposite. The ASPCA finally started to change not after endless pleas by early No Kill advocates that that they do so — that proved mere folly — but when we went our own way, and implemented No Kill alternatives in spite of the ASPCA’s opposition. In so doing, we altered the climate of public opinion in which they had to operate by stripping away, through disproving, the myths and rationalizations they had used for more than a century to argue why better was simply not possible. As a result, the ASPCA had no choice but to begin to evolve, or face irrelevancy. For you cannot be a leader of a movement that has left you behind, or by speaking a dead language that has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Anyone who attempts to sanitize or rewrite the often sordid role the nation’s large animal protection groups played in the No Kill movement’s history by propping them up as graven idols is a false prophet selling snake oil designed to lull our movement back into a toxic and deadly complacency with a new status quo that while better than it once was, is still far from perfect. Our work is not yet done, and to replicate the success we’ve already achieved and to advance it even more requires we not forget, or forego, the model that has already taken us so far: actions guided not by the often self-serving demands of hubristic people, corrupted institutions, or the worst elements of human nature in ourselves and others, but by ethics, which alone should always serve as our true North.

For time and again, in our movement as in others, experience has shown that while tribute to this dictate in the form of the difficult but ultimately cleansing act of courageously speaking unpleasant truths about powerful people or jealously guarded but dangerous ideas may feel like a high cost in the short term, profound and positive change in the long is not only predicted, but often entirely dependent, upon it. There are still far too many animals losing their lives when they cross the threshold of many American animal “shelters” because of the choices made by people inside those shelters and because of innovation yet to be conceived. Yet, just as before, these people, and an imperfect status quo, are still protected by powerful interests within the animal protection movement itself, including the ASPCA, which continues to demands of others — including those who would claim to be champions of No Kill — silence and fealty to uncaring people and bad ideas in exchange for money or the limelight.

So here, not just for the sake of posterity, but for the sake of a better, brighter, future, is the truth about the ASPCA’s history. It is a history that is a betrayal not only of animals, but of that organization’s founder, the great Henry Bergh. But more than all of that — most important of all — it is a history that though infuriating, heartbreaking, and even, at times, utterly wearying, never stopped those of us in the No Kill movement from fighting back again and again until ultimately, we succeeded. The ASPCA now rides the coattails of the No Kill movement’s success, and not the other way around. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


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