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The Confederacy of Dunces

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. – Jonathan Swift from Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting.” – J.K. Toole, The Confederacy of Dunces.

I do not claim to be a genius, far from it. But that has not stopped the Confederacy of Dunces from aligning themselves against me. In fact, the Confederacy will align themselves against anyone who seeks any progress in this movement. Ask Bonney Brown, the Executive Director of the Nevada Humane Society, who is saving 90% of all animals in Washoe County and being attacked for it by Ardena Perry. Ask Susanne Kogut of the Charlottesville SPCA who has run a No Kill animal control shelter for three years and has her band of Naysayers. Ask Richard Avanzino who was mercilessly attacked by HSUS, the ASPCA, and others when he was blazing a new trail as the President of the San Francisco SPCA. Ask anyone who has ever tried to build a better society, regardless of the field. The status quo always has its champions. And when that status quo is regressive, as the humane movement has been over the care and treatment of sheltered animals, rest assured the Confederacy will be also.

For me, the latest salvo was an interview I did this week where I was asked whether I support puppy mills, hunting, and other animal abuse as the Confederacy has suggested. I was also asked if I get money from these types of groups for promoting that pet overpopulation is a myth.

I did not wake up one day and say “Pet overpopulation is a myth.” Nor did I think that someday I would champion the notion that it was. I did not even set out to prove it. It unfolded as part of my journey in the humane movement and the facts began to compel further analysis. In fact, at one time, I too drank of the Kool Aid. The dedication of my book, Redemption, says it all:

To my wife, Jennifer. Who believed long before I did.

I once actually argued with her on a date, before we were married, that “There were too many animals and not enough homes” and “What were shelters supposed to do with them?” I am ashamed of having done so, but I did. She correctly argued that even if it were true, killing them was still unethical. She also correctly argued that if we took killing off the table, human ingenuity and human compassion would find a way to make it work. But, more importantly, she asked me how I knew it was true.

How did I know? Because I’ve heard it repeated a thousand times. Because I took the fact of killing in shelters and then rationalized the reason backward. But I was too embarrassed to admit so. Here I was: a Stanford Law student who wore my 4.0 department GPA, my highest honors in Political Science, my Phi Beta Kappa, and my Summa Cum Laude, as a badge of my smarts and I came face to face with my own sloppy logic and slipshod thinking about the issue. “It just is,” I said (lamely).

But therein began a journey that started in San Francisco, then Tompkins County (NY), then Charlottesville (VA), then visiting hundreds of shelters across the country, reviewing data from the ASPCA, HSUS, the AVMA, and others, and then the data of over 1,000 shelters nationwide, and more research and crunching of numbers, and several national studies. And the conclusion became not just inescapable, but unassailable. And rather than bury it, ignore it or downplay it, I did what anyone who truly loves animals would have done. I celebrated it. Why? Because it meant that we had the power to end the killing, today. And that is what I wanted to happen because I love animals.

And since that time, other studies have come out which not only prove I was right, they show I was conservative. Seventeen million people are potentially looking for 3,000,000 shelter animals. What that means is that even if over 80% of people who are going to get a dog or cat next year get one from somewhere other than a shelter, we could still zero out deaths of healthy and medically/behaviorally savable animals.

What that means is that contrary to what many shelters falsely claim are the primary hurdles to lifesaving (e.g., public irresponsibility), the biggest impediments are actually in shelter management’s hands. Effectiveness in shelter goals and operations begins with caring and competent leadership, staff accountability, effective programs, and good relations with the community—which most shelters refuse to do. It means putting actions behind the words of every shelter’s mission statement that “All life is precious.” And it is abundantly clear that the practices of most shelters are not aligned with this principle.

What that means is that shelter killing is not the result of pet overpopulation; it is the result of shelter managers who find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. And not only do they kill animals they should be saving, too many of them neglect and abuse them in the process.

The bottom line is that shelter killing is unnecessary and unethical. And pet overpopulation is nothing more than an excuse for poorly performing shelter managers who want to blame others for their own failures. I dare anyone to challenge the data without resorting to petty ad hominem attacks against me. Because I could go away tomorrow, but that wouldn’t change the facts, or the inescapable conclusion one bit. The cat is quite literally out of the bag, and is never going back in.

The No Kill message I advocate is incredibly power because it is the truth and because it resonates so strongly with the experiences that animal lovers have with their own brutal and regressive shelters. And that threatens the Confederacy—the Judie Mancusos, Wayne Pacelles, Pat Dunaways, Ardena Perrys, and Ingrid Newkirks of the world because it does not fit with their predetermined agenda in support of either killing or killing shelters, or in the case of Newkirk, her own mass slaughter. And since they cannot attack the message, they attack the messenger. It’s an old trick and petty trick, but it is all they have because the data is unassailable and no matter what the reality,

  • they want to continue supporting laws that kill animals (Judie Mancuso);
  • they are apologists for killing to the point of standing side-by-side with shelter directors whose shelters neglect, abuse, and unnecessarily kill animals (Wayne Pacelle, Pat Dunaway);
  • they kill animals themselves (shelter directors who are “against No Kill”); and,
  • they have dark impulses that cause them to actually seek out animals to kill (Ardena Perry, Ingrid Newkirk).

The ultimate irony here is that while people like Mancuso, Pacelle, Dunaway, Perry, Newkirk, and the rest of the Confederacy falsely accuse me of being aligned with industries that neglect, abuse, and kill animals, they are the ones that actually support industries that do so. They like to euphemistically call them “animal shelters.” The more thoughtful among us call them “pounds.” The reality is that too many of them are little more than slaughterhouses and death camps.


Let me set the record straight, again:

I am against mandatory spay/neuter laws because they do not work, because they kill animals. I am also against puppy mills.

I was against mandatory spay/neuter when I was the lone voice on that score arguing from the point of view that they lead to increased impounds and killing. I have never shied away from taking an unpopular view when the lives of animals were threatened. Now, there are a lot of animal lovers and even the ASPCA which are against them for the same reason. That people who run puppy mills are also against them does not mean that I am in league with puppy mills, any more than it means the ASPCA is in league with puppy mills. I am against puppy mills and always have been. Puppy mills fuel over breeding, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, poor quality of food and shelter, lack of human socialization, overcrowded cages, neglect, abuse, and the killing of animals by those facilities when they are no longer profitable. That is why I put together the following workshop at the No Kill Conference:

Legislating and Litigating an End to Puppy Mills Strategies to overcome institutionalized cruelty. This workshop will explore legal definitions of “puppy mills,” and offer both legislative strategies through anti-cruelty law reform and litigation strategies to combat this institutionalized form of cruelty:

It is not that I don’t support spay/neuter. I do. And when I was in charge of shelters, I supported it more than most shelter directors do. Spay/Neuter is one of the cornerstones of the No Kill Equation and a program I offered for free in both San Francisco and Tompkins County. My opposition to mandatory spay/neuter laws is because they increase the power of the animal control bureaucracy to impound and kill animals for violations, and that is what has occurred in municipalities which pass them. This is not an anomaly. It has happened time and time again. It also causes animal control to divert scarce resources from programs which save lives to enforcement of ordinances that result in higher rates of killing. Now, the ASPCA has come out against them and HSUS has shifted from support to neutral and is evaluating whether to oppose them. Even the former head of animal control in Los Angeles, one of the chief proponents of such laws, admitted to a California Senator that the laws were not about saving the lives of animals:

Senator: “Mr. Boks, this bill doesn’t even pretend to be about saving animals, does it?”

Ed Boks: “No Senator, this is not about saving dogs and cats.”

They are about more power for animal control departments, more officers, more sweeps of stray animals, more citations written, more animals impounded, and more animals killed. (They also feed the backyard breeder market as people then find other unaltered animals.) That groups which claim to be concerned with high levels of shelter killing would actually seek legislation to empower a dysfunctional animal control bureaucracy to impound—and thus kill—even more animals, is a contradiction they conveniently ignore. I’ve even asked supporters to put in protections for animals in these laws, such as: no impound provisions, free spay/neuter in lieu of a citation if violators are on any kind of public assistance, and automatic repeal if killing goes up. They declined. If they believe in these laws, why not put in these protections?

And just in case that is not clear enough, if mandatory spay/neuter worked to save the lives of animals being needlessly slaughtered in shelters, I would support the laws. I would be the single, loudest voice in support of them. My issue is ending killing. I have no other agenda.

I am against animal abuse of any kind, regardless of whether it comes in the form of hunting, puppy mills, or shelter killing.

I am an animal rights activist. I wear the appellation of animal rights as a badge of honor. It is unfortunate that some people hate the term. It is unfortunate that some animal rescuers hate the term. And it is unfortunate that some No Kill advocates hate the term. I am an animal lover and a lawyer and as we live in a legal Republic, that is what my aim is. I have argued that the term “animal rights” is not going away, and it shouldn’t. It is a term intended to put the No Kill movement in line with other social justice movements—to cash in on the heritage of other rights based philosophies that have benefited from building on the work of those movements which have come before them. It is a powerful term which accurately encapsulates what the No Kill movement is seeking for dogs and cats. And, when it comes to these animals, the public is ready and willing to embrace it.

The No Kill movement is the most progressive voice for companion animal rights that there is. By rejecting the mantel that is rightfully ours, the No Kill movement inadvertently cedes the moral high ground to those who do not faithfully represent it, and who use it to justify killing. And in the end, no group, including shelter animals, is safe in a legal republic without the rights afforded by law. By rejecting the concept for dogs and cats due to a mistaken notion that it represents something it truly does not (i.e., the end of sharing one’s home with animals), those in the No Kill movement allow people like Newkirk and her minions at PETA to exercise their dark impulses by slaughtering dogs and cats, while hiding behind their false claim of animal rights.

I do not get financial support from organizations like the Center for Consumer Freedom.

I never have. If they wrote good reviews of my book, they wrote good reviews of my book. I like to think the good review is because it’s a good book. Hell, it won five awards. But if their positive review is nothing more than their hatred of HSUS (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of thing), it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve never offered me money and I’ve never received money from them.

I have a vegan cookbook coming out in 2011. Rest assured, it won’t be reviewed by them and it won’t be promoted by them. I hope PETA reviews it, and I hope they say it is a “must read” for animals lovers, but that won’t mean I am aligned with them either. And even if they did give it four out of four stars, I’d still call for the Butcher of Norfolk to be fired.