Articles Corruption

PetSmart Charities: The Future of Sheltering is Killing

This is a photo of a puppy who was banned from PetSmart because of the way he looks. This is the “vision” for the future PetSmart and PetSmart Charities aspire to.

Animal Farm Foundation, NJ Animal Observer, and others have been sounding the alarm about a PetSmart Charities presentation by Roger Haston called “The Future of Animal Welfare.”

The concerns relating to this troubling, regressive, and anti-animal video are many. Despite being called “The Future of Animal Welfare,” PetSmart Charities harkens back to the days when killing was central to sheltering, especially of dogs Haston says no one wants and calls “blocky-headed whatevers” (but which most people label “pit bulls”).

That PetSmart Charities professes an ugly prejudice against “pit bulls” is unsurprising as its corporate parent, PetSmart, has a discriminatory policy against them, too. But Haston does not admit to prejudice. Instead, Haston claims he is merely following the data and other evidence.

To make his case, however, he ignores the evidence and cites a failing pound in a large city that kills more dogs labeled “pit bulls” than it adopts out, a logical fallacy known as backward reasoning and one based on cherry-picked evidence. In other words, he implies that because the chosen pound in question kills large numbers of “pit bulls,” “pit bulls” require killing.

Atop this rotten foundation, he builds a house of cards out of disproven platitudes and antiquated excuses long used to justify the killing of animals in pounds. Following are the various claims made by Haston on the part of PetSmart Charities, and the evidence which disproves each of them:

PETSMART CHARITIES CLAIM: Shelters can’t adopt their way out of killing.

WHY THIS IS WRONG: Something cannot be impossible if it has already been achieved. And replacing killing with adoption has been done by shelters throughout the nation. Not surprisingly, the numbers back it up: About 1.5-2 million dogs and cats will be killed in pounds and shelters this year for lack of a new home. By comparison, using the most successful adoption communities as a benchmark and adjusting for population, U.S. shelters combined have the potential to adopt out almost nine million animals a year. That is over four times the number being killed for lack of a home. In fact, it is more than total impounds; and of those, almost half do not need a new home. But the news gets even better. Every year, as many as 30 million people will add a new dog or cat to their household. The reason animals are dying in shelters is not a lack of homes. It is that municipal pounds are not being run effectively, efficiently, or in line with the values of the American people that pay for them. Too many animals are denied adoption, either because they are killed before they are given the opportunity or because the shelter is failing to leverage the public’s compassion to maximize lifesaving potential. (For more information, click here.)

PETSMART CHARITIES CLAIM: Shelters are filled with animals of the kind people don’t want.

WHY THIS IS WRONG: I’m going to put aside the obvious problems associated with visual identification of breeds and all the studies out there that prove that dogs we label pit bulls often don’t have any American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or Staffordshire Bull Terrier in them. I’m also going to put aside the studies proving that these breeds aren’t more likely to bite (or bite harder). The main problem with this thinking is that it is contradicted by the facts.

Take Muncie, IN, for example, where “80 to 90 percent” of the dogs received are described as pit or pit-mixes. Instead of making excuses like “no one will adopt them,” Muncie Animal Care & Services holds a month-long celebration they call a “Pitty Party” to showcase them for adoption and to end discrimination. How did they do? Muncie has a 99% placement rate for dogs. And that’s not just for one month; that’s all year long. Muncie also recently passed an ordinance that not only makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of alleged “breed,” but makes it illegal to kill healthy and treatable “pit bulls” (and other dogs) in the shelter. In other words, the Pitty Party never ends. And they are not the only community to be successful. (For more information, click here.)

PETSMART CHARITIES CLAIM: No Kill is a fate worse than death.

WHY THIS IS WRONG: Inflicting upon animals the greatest possible harm — death — in order to protect them from harm is an ethical and logical contradiction. It is also factually wrong. Contrary to Haston’s claim that No Kill means warehousing and cruel conditions, at the open admission No Kill shelter I oversaw, the average length of stay for animals was eight days, we had a return rate of less than two percent, we reduced the disease rate by 90 percent from the prior administration, we reduced the killing rate by 75 percent, no animal ever celebrated an anniversary in the facility, and we placed over 95% using comparative live release rate calculations. In short, we brought sheltering into the 21st century. Many other No Kill shelters have similar lengths of stay: roughly 14 days or the length of time a dog or cat might spend at a boarding facility while their family is on vacation. But even if it was longer, it doesn’t matter. A few months or even a year in a shelter that offers nutritious food, medical care, socialization, and plenty of love and attention, is a small price to pay (and often no price at all) for a lifetime of love. (For more information, click here.)

PETSMART CHARITIES CLAIM: Sheltering is too expensive.

WHY THIS IS WRONG: The return on investment is actually greater than the costs when shelters adopt a No Kill orientation. A University of Denver study found that a No Kill ordinance passed in Austin, TX, yielded $157,452,503 in positive economic impact to the community in its first six years — a return on investment of over 400%. The study concluded that, “The costs associated with implementing the Resolution appear to have been more than offset by a series of economic benefits to the community.” This was, according to the authors of the study, “the most conservative possible measure of the data.” In other words, the true economic benefit is likely to be higher. Prior studies have reached similar conclusions. In California, for example, one provision of shelter reform legislation resulted in a nearly 700% increase in lifesaving — from 12,526 animals a year before the law went into effect to 99,783 after. That increase corresponds with an annual cost savings of $3,497,283 for killing and destruction of remains (these savings do not include additional savings related to the cost of care). Similar studies have been conducted in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, and Oklahoma, with similar conclusions. (For more information, click here.)

PETSMART CHARITIES CLAIM: The keys to good sheltering is a strategy called Legislation, Education, and Sterilization (L.E.S.).

WHY THIS IS WRONG: L.E.S. is a failed model dating from the mid-20th century which, despite decades of supremacy, not only failed to create a single No Kill community, it exacerbated the killing by empowering shelters to impound and kill even more. Moreover, by focusing attention on the public rather than the shelters that are actually doing the killing, L.E.S. prohibited performance standards and accountability from shelters, leading to a nationwide crisis of poor, even cruel, animal “care.” By contrast, the 11 programs and services of the No Kill Equation model of sheltering have caused death rates to plummet and care to improve at those shelters which abandon L.E.S. in favor of reforming their own practices. (For more information, click here.)

Suffice to say that you can’t create a bridge to the future by digging a trench to the past. It’s MAGA for the sheltering establishment. And like reactionary populism, it is born of the same (mostly generational) fears: the landscape has changed and adherents are losing their exalted place in it.

Thankfully, it’s a problem that has a shelf-life at PetSmart because PetSmart itself has a shelf life. The company is expected to go into bankruptcy within the next couple of years due to mismanaging itself to $8 billion in debt, an inability to pay down that debt, and declining income as it fails to effectively compete with both online and other brick and mortar retailers. Clearly, the same ignorance, lack of attention to innovation, and ability to respond to changing mores found in Haston’s regressive video for PetSmart Charities permeates the entire organization and will, in the end, be their undoing.

For the regressive views expressed by Haston are the views of an entire generation of shelter directors and animal welfare “professionals” who are being supplanted by a new, animal-loving generation that refuses to buy into their antiquated and kill-oriented approach to “sheltering.” And as the torch is passed to these more passionate and motivated leaders with the goal of making our shelters into the safe havens they can and should be (as I predicted would happen in my book, Redemption), we should view Haston’s video as the last gasp of dinosaurs who built their careers fighting No Kill or using their positions of power not to advance the cause of companion animal protection, but their own, self-serving interests (dinosaurs who are exemplified by Ed Sayres of the ASPCA who is now a shill for puppy mills and Wayne Pacelle of HSUS who resigned in the wake of numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations).

And while I do not think it is wise to ignore the threat represented by Haston’s attempts to re-normalize cruel, regressive views (I liken his views to populism for a reason), it is a testament to how far the No Kill movement has come over the last several decades that these views — which revive the very narratives that permeated the deeply dysfunctional “animal welfare” movement when I began my career 25 years ago — now have the ability to shock with their ugliness and their complacency with killing.

So in the coming weeks, I am going to do what I always do to face down harmful views that threaten the well-being of animals: I will provide an alternative vision. I am going to use the evidence to show what the future can look like, freed from the shackles of the regressive and cruel “catch and kill” mentality being advanced by PetSmart Charities. It’s an altogether optimistic future: one where every animal will be respected and cherished, and where every individual life will be protected and revered. And it’s a future we can have the moment we decide to embrace it.


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