Articles Best Friends

The Care & Cleaning of an Ancient Relic

By Jennifer Winograd

Today is cleaning day at the Winograd house. And so, this morning, we all set to work. The kids were cleaning their rooms. Nathan was cleaning the kitchen. And I was in Nathan’s office dusting. On the wall is an old Best Friends article entitled, “Diary of a No Kill Shelter Director,” that was published in 2002 when Nathan first announced that Tompkins County had achieved No Kill, the first community in the nation to do so. For a decade now, we have dutifully dusted that frame. So much so that I long ago stopped seeing it. But this time, my mind wasn’t wandering as it so often does when I am cleaning. This time, I was paying attention. I reread that article for the first time in a very long time. And I couldn’t believe my eyes.

That’s right! I had forgotten. Best Friends really, truly, used to be one of us. This was their national publication, and there it was, in plain print, to go out to thousands of people – a pull quote at least 24 points large, direct and unequivocal straight from Nathan’s mouth: “We did it with a simple, yet highly-effective three step process: 1) Stop the Killing, 2) Stop the Killing, 3) Stop the Killing.” And there, another one that read:   “Come what may, at the end of the day, you are only successful if the animals go home alive.”   Wow!

One hour later, as I was in my office dusting, I received an e-mail from Nathan entitled, “Best Friends Photograph.” Warily, I open it, to behold a picture of a man carrying a sign that declares, in a font at least 240 points large: “Pet Overpopulation Is NOT a Myth.” What happened?! How do you go from “Stop the Killing” to boldly proclaiming to the public that the false notion that is at the heart of that killing – that allows and condones it, and that every shelter director who chooses to end lives instead of save them hides behind – is true, when all the evidence is against you, and the movement you claim to be a part of has unequivocally rejected it? How do you take such a giant step backward, to become the champion of that which you once existed to oppose? What a difference a decade can make.

There are a lot of good reasons to fight the puppy mill industry. They are cruel and abusive for starters. I applauded when West Hollywood, California banned pet store markets for puppy mills. I applauded when Santa Monica, California did it. And when Austin, Texas did it, too. But what Best Friends was doing was lying. And, in the process, they were giving aid and comfort to the enemies of No Kill who hide behind the myth of pet overpopulation as an excuse to continue killing.

And now I feel sad, and not because had I not sat down to write this, I’d be done cleaning by now. But because I lament what could, and should, have been. After all those years of family vacations spent at whatever location the No More Homeless Pets Conference chose so that Nathan could reach a wide audience with his “Building a No Kill Community” presentation, after all those years of feeling like they were the one organization we could count on, to have it come to this. To have them actively oppose shelter reform legislation in one state, to have them remain deafeningly silent about it in another when their support could make such a difference, and to have them become the public face of a philosophy that is the very juxtaposition of that which made them who they were to begin with.

I know that I should no longer be surprised when animal protection organizations advocate against animals. I mean, shouldn’t I know better by now? But I confess I do feel confused. My mind cannot comprehend it. Because although I know it is a story as old as time that power corrupts, I do not understand how people that once proved themselves so atypical, and in so doing, inspired so many people, could, in the end, succumb to the most pedestrian of vices, greed. And, in the process, sacrifice their principles for the siren song of New York money.

In their magazine this month, they ask the question, “What’s your community’s greatest obstacle to No More Homeless Pets?” The answers were all wrong, but Best Friends published them anyway. They blamed the public and none of them mentioned the intransigence of the sheltering establishment that is the true cause. And so despite the fervor over their opposition to Oreo’s Law within the No Kill community last year, and despite that that same community has rejected those very excuses, Best Friends has apparently decided to stake their claim in their past, to now champion the cause of the opposition, to parrot their excuses, and to provide them political cover, even as the rest of us charge boldly forward toward our inevitable No Kill future.

As so I pledge, and not just to make my household chores a little bit easier, to never again clean that framed article, and I will instruct the other Winograds to do the same. We will let it gather dust, as a relic of a by-gone era and an ancient artifact from an extinct past should. We will let the dirt it gathers make a political statement, hoping against hope that someday, it will once again be worthy of our care and attention.