The Animal Humane Society (AHS) in Minnesota claims to have “rescued” about 120 cats from a situation they described as animal hoarding. According to press reports, the cats suffered from mostly minor and treatable medical conditions. Animal Ark, the largest No Kill shelter in Minnesota, and local rescue groups had offered to help pay for the care of the cats, offered to provide the care themselves, and offered to transfer the cats to their own groups to save them. But according to sources, AHS did not return their calls. Today, they learned that all the cats have been killed.
Although AHS blames a variety of illnesses including colds (“respiratory infections”), ringworm (which is highly treatable and also self-limiting, meaning it can resolve on its own), and other largely treatable or manageable ailments, the reality is that AHS initially offered no reason why it did not accept the offer of groups to care for the cats. AHS’ subsequent claim that by the time rescue groups called all the cats were already dead (if true) only underscores how driven they were to kill these cats, without really giving them or the community a chance to save them. But it turned out not to be true, as a local reporter uncovered that Animal Ark’s offer to help came as the Humane Society was still processing the animals for intake. And regardless, it begs the question: why didn’t they call Animal Ark or other shelters and rescue groups to help?
When a shelter director orders animals killed when they are not irremediably suffering, despite rescue groups and No Kill shelters willing and able to save them, that director has committed acts that are outrageous, immoral and intolerable. And they should be fired. It is such a core violation of their ethical duty to the animals that there is simply no place for them running an organization that is supposed to protect and care for them.
As three separate hoarding cases in other states demonstrate, a hoarding rescue does not have to mean killing all the victims. One of those cases involved 800 cats. The other involved over 1,000 rabbits. And the third involved roughly 140 feral dogs. All these cases were more challenging than the one facing AHS and yet none of them resulted in mass killing. The animals were saved thanks to the efforts of animal welfare agencies, rescue groups, and No Kill shelters, who predictably stepped up the plate to offer assistance, as they also did in Minnesota. The difference was their help was accepted, rather than ignored or rejected, as it was in Minnesota.
It is a time of anger and great despair for cat lovers in Minnesota. But it should not be a time of losing hope. We must never say, “What’s the point? They will never change.” Because quitting ends hope. Quitting fails the animals. And we must focus on the progress that has been made. There was a time in our history and not so long ago, when there would have been no controversy over AHS’ decision. But there is now because we have found our voice. And we have discovered that we speak for the masses when we speak out against such atrocities because the public supports our cause. As one Minnesotan wrote,
“[I]n my state of anguish I forgot to consider how the tragedy is compounded by wasting the public’s good will. As many animal advocates are aware, when the public learns of a specific need they do rise to the occasion. If the AHS refuses to change their philosophy concerning this group of homeless cats and they choose not accept the help that is offered to them, the blood of these cats and kittens will be on their hands.”
Voices like this prove that our work is not as burdensome as we once believed, when we blamed the public and thought our challenge was to make the multitudes care as we do. In reality, we know they share our cause. And our goal, therefore, while at times seemingly insurmountable is, in reality, inevitable. Today, there are only a few thousand shelter directors like the one in Minnesota holding back the will of over 100 million dog and cat lovers in the United States. And we only need to point out—loudly and with conviction—the hypocrisy of organizations which claim with their rhetoric that they champion animals, but demonstrate, time and time again through their actions, how little concern they truly have for our animal friends. In short, we need to bring public scrutiny to them and place their actions in the open light for all to see and judge for what it truly is. To quote the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:
We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with its ugliness exposed to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
We will win because, regardless of the social cause, those who champion compassion always do. Gandhi once said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants … and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall.” Always. And so there can be no doubt: If we continue to demand it, those who ordered the killing at AHS will be forced to change or they will be swept aside. So speak up loud and strong Minnesotans. Make your voices heard. You will carry the day.
Channeling our Anger
While we have animal cruelty laws giving shelters the power to protect animals from abusive people, we don’t have good laws protecting animals from shelters. As a result, shelter directors often enjoy unfettered discretion to kill, to refuse putting in place programs that prevent killing, and to continue to demonstrate so little regard for animal life that they can take the lives of animals even when No Kill shelters and rescue groups are willing and able to save them.
While shelters who kill in the face of alternatives are acting unethically, their actions should also be illegal as they are in California, where state law forbids shelters from killing an animal if a No Kill shelter or rescue group is willing to save that animal’s life. If rescue groups come forward and say they will save them, there should be no choice in the matter.
But legislation of that sort is only a start. At the very least, we must also require shelter directors to comprehensively implement all the programs of the No Kill Equation including medical and behavior rehabilitation, foster care, and more. We must make it illegal for shelter directors to kill any savable animals until they have shown that:
(1) there are no empty cages, kennels, or other living environments in the shelter;
(2) the animal cannot share a cage or kennel with another animal;
(3) a foster home is not available;
(4) rescue organizations have been notified and are not willing to accept the animal;
(5) the animal is not a feral cat subject to sterilization and release;
(6) the director of the agency certifies in writing, and under penalty of perjury, that he or she has no other alternative.
And the reality is that if they do comprehensively implement the programs, and if they do certify the preceding, there will be no savable animals facing death, as No Kill will be achieved.
For more information on shelter reform legislation, click here.
To learn more about this tragic situation, including news videos of the cats, visit www.animalarkshelter.org or click here.