While the No Kill Advocacy Center celebrates the recipients of its Henry Bergh Leadership Award, given annually to a handful of individuals with an unwavering commitment to ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters, I am giving my own “award.”

Named for the late-Phyllis Wright of the Humane Society of the United States, the matriarch of today’s “catch and kill” paradigm, Wright once famously wrote, “I’ve put 70,000 dogs and cats to sleep… But I tell you one thing: I don’t worry about one of those animals that were put to sleep.”

She then described how she does worry about the animals she found homes for. From that disturbing view, HSUS coined a maxim that says we should worry about saving lives but not about ending them and successfully propagated this viewpoint to shelters across the country. The essay created an emotionally acceptable pretext for killing animals: shelter workers “were now ‘putting animals to sleep’” and the charade that “killing is kindness” became a national fixture.

The “award” is given to those who epitomize everything that is wrong with our broken animal “shelter” system: the pound directors who kill in the face of readily available alternatives they simply refuse to implement, the bureaucrats who excuse neglect and abuse in the pounds they “oversee,” or those who run organizations that fight lifesaving reforms, protecting and defending the killing and championing the killers.

The pound in Marlboro County, SC.

There were many, many contenders. In Waycross, GA, dogs were allowed to die of heatstroke because the shelter has no electricity for fans. Marlboro County, SC officials call it a “shelter,”but it looks more like a medieval dungeon. Not to be outdone, Janelle Dixon of the Animal Humane Society appears committed to raising more and more money but saving fewer and fewer animals, even killing animals in violation of law and holding the remains of a cat they killed hostage. The Michigan Humane Society told supporters it was saving all “adoptable” animals even while killing 68% of kittens and puppies and over 70% overall. It also took in animals from outside its jurisdiction from rescuers and other shelters as part of its “rescue” program, animals who in some cases were not in danger, only to put some of the poor creatures to death. And there are new allegations of widespread torture in the Calhoun County, AL pound. I could have also easily given the award to the uncaring bureaucrat who runs the Carroll County, GA “shelter” or any of the others across the country who find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it and who look the other way at widespread neglect and even abuse in their facilities. Chances are that such a person running such a “shelter” exists in your community. Such is the tragic state of animal sheltering in the U.S.

Nontheless, ten recipients will share the dishonor in 2011. Each represents a different ugly side of our broken animal “shelter” system. They are:

1. Ingrid Newkirk of PETA for seeking out and killing roughly 2,000 animals a year; for promoting the killing of animals based on arbitrary criteria, such as perceived breed; for defending poorly performing and even abusive “shelters;” for being the No Kill movement’s most vociferous enemy; and for convincing a generation of “animal rights” activists to embrace the “right”of people like her to kill animals.

One of many dogs found dumped in a trash can after being killed and thrown away by PETA several years ago. Some of the animals were healthy and in no danger of being killed, but PETA claimed they would find them homes only to put them to death within minutes. In 2011, all indications are that PETA’s deadly reign of killing continued unabated. Thanks to PETA, animal rights activists argue that it is wrong to kill cows and chickens, but it is perfectly acceptable–even necessary–to kill dogs and cats. Ridiculous.

2.    Wayne Pacelle of HSUS for working with pro-killing organizations in Texas to help coordinate the defeat of legislation which would have mandated lifesaving collaboration and ended the cruel gas chamber; for being a cheerleader for killing shelters when he’s been tasked with being their watchdog; for embracing the most notorious dog abuser of our generation while calling for his canine victims to be killed (in 2011, Pacelle stated that Michael Vick would make a “good pet owner” and thus should be allowed to have access to dogs again); for preying on the emotions of animal lovers who are being misled into supporting his organization; and for betraying the cause he’s pledged to protect.

A spokesman for HSUS, Michael Vick shot dogs, drowned dogs, electrocuted dogs, hanged dogs, and beat dogs to death. He has never expressed remorse. Wayne Pacelle has championed Vick, said he would make a good dog owner, fraudulently fundraised off of Vick’s victims while calling for them to be killed.

3.    Ed Sayres of the ASPCA for killing animals who have a place to go; fighting shelter reform legislation thus ensuring the deaths of tens of thousands of animals who also have a place to go; for claiming to “save” animals, then fundraising off of them before shipping them off to kill shelters; for fighting No Kill reform efforts in communities across the country such as Austin and referring to those working to fix our abusive shelter system as “extremists;” and also for defending and even promoting killing shelters and preying on the emotions of animal lovers who are being misled into supporting his organization.

The number of animals put to death who rescue groups could and would have saved since Sayres and his team at the ASPCA killed legislation which would have made it illegal for New York shelters to kill animals who have a place to go would fill every seat at Fenway Park.

4.    Sam Parker, Sheriff of Chesterfield County, SC for overseeing a pound where dogs were alleged to have been used for target practice and cats were alleged to have been beaten to death with pipes. He has also allowed animals to languish in cruel conditions.

Sheriff Parker’s team used dogs as target practice, beat cats to death with pipes, and allow cruel conditions to continue. From the standpoint of the animals who depend on him, he may just be the worst sheriff in America.

5.    AC Wharton, Mayor of Memphis, TN for overseeing a pound rife with neglect, abuse, staffed by felons and those with ties to dog fighting rings. And rather than reform the shelter, he violates the constitutional rights of critics and removes the cameras which were the only form of external oversight that kept animals from being more viciously neglected and abused. From the standpoint of the animals, he may just be the worst mayor in America.

Under Mayor Wharton, the pound is a badly mismanaged house of horrors where roughly eight out of every 10 animals are put to death; where known felons have committed animal cruelty; and where animals have been neglected and abused by those who were supposed to protect them.

6.    Roseann Trezza of the Associated Humane Societies of New Jersey for overseeing a shelter with horrendous conditions, as documented over the years by state inspectors; for refusing to implement lifesaving programs such as foster care; and in 2011, for betraying “Patrick,” the abused pit bull who captured the heart of a nation, by referring to him as a “a very valuable brand for commercial exploitation and fundraising” and suing those who want to give him the life and love he deserves.

A dead dog, teeming with blood and maggots, at the Associated Humane Societies “shelter.” Although this photograph was taken by state inspectors in 2009, the “shelter” has a history of neglect and corruption dating back years. In 2011, they sued those who want to give the abused dog Patrick the life he so richly deserves, arguing that he is not a dog, but a “trademark” who is a “very valuable brand for commercial exploitation and fundraising.”

7.    Dawn Blackmar of Harris County TX Animal Control for overseeing a pound that allows animals to suffer and die, despite lifesaving alternatives, kills animals cruelly, and kills animals in front of other animals, including puppies in front of their mother. Hope’s Law, which would have protected animals from Blackmar’s abusive brand of sheltering, was named after an injured dog Blackmar allowed to suffer and die, despite rescue group offers to rescue him and/or pay for his medical care. In another case, a live dog was thrown in the trash and chewed his way out of several garbage bags he was tied up in. Despite offers to save him, Blackmar put him to death.

There was no hope of saving “Hope” because of Blackmar’s uncaring and medieval brand of sheltering.

8.    Patty Mercer of the Houston SPCA for overseeing a shelter that kills animals based on arbitrary criteria; “rescues” animals for fundraising purposes from disasters outside her jurisdiction only to put some of them to death or kill local animals to make room; and for an inexcusable commitment to killing in the face of alternatives. Hope’s Law, the Texas Companion Animal Protection Act, would have stopped her from killing dogs because she claims they look like “pit bulls,” killing animals when rescue groups are willing to save them, and would have required her to make her killing statistics public, which she refuses to do. In 2011, the Houston SPCA was part of a group of killing organizations which successfully defeated this vital lifesaving legislation (the law would have also ended the use of the cruel gas chamber in Texas).

Under Mercer’s leadership, any dog who “looks” like a pit bull is summarily executed.

9.    Monica Hardy, on behalf of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, of which she serves as Executive Director. THLN was the primary force behind the defeat of Hope’s Law in Texas which would have mandated collaboration (Texas pounds would not have been able to kill animals if rescue groups were willing to save them), transparency (taxpayers and donors would have had a right to know how the shelters they fund are doing by requiring them to post their statistics), fairness (it would have been illegal to kill animals based on arbitrary criteria such as breed, color, and age) and would have ended horrendous suffering (it would have been illegal to kill animals using the cruel gas chamber). Thanks to THLN, the bill died, and the animals continue to die along with it, often cruelly.

Thanks to THLN, where Hardy serves as Executive Director, Texas shelters are allowed to use cruel methods of killing. A bill which would have made it illegal, and also made it illegal for them to kill animals based on arbitrary criteria such as how they look or when rescue groups were willing to save them, was defeated by Hardy’s organization.

10.    Bruce King who oversees the horrendous shelter in Detroit, MI. In 2011, an abused dog named “Ace” was rescued by a good Samaritan who thought he was doing the right thing by calling the local shelter. Despite the fact that Ace had a place to go, with rescue groups offering to save him, and despite a court order prohibiting King and his team from killing Ace, the dog was put to death anyway. King claimed that if he allowed Ace to be rescued, rescuers would want to save other dogs and he could not allow that to happen. King appears to be a hard-hearted, small-minded bureaucrat who finds killing easier than doing the minimum amount necessary to stop it, including letting others save dogs he simply refuses to.

Ace was put to death despite rescue group offers to save him and a court order which demanded that King not do so. King stated that if Ace is allowed to be rescued, rescuers would expect to be allowed to save other dogs, too and he could not allow that to happen.

Someday soon, as the No Kill movement becomes more successful, the number of recipients of the Henry Bergh Leadership Award will balloon, while those who receive the Phyllis Wright Award will plummet. Sadly today, we have the inverse. And there were many more contenders.

Conditions in New York City’s abusive pound. While this continues, pound director Julie Bank fires volunteers who speak out.

Killing is the norm. And as long as those like the recipients above hold the regressive views that they hold, champion the draconian policies that they champion, and defend the needless slaughter they defend, animals will continue to pay the price with their very lives, long past the time we discovered the keys to ending their plight.

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