The Dead Walk the Earth

The dead walk the Earth! I’m not talking about kids in Halloween costumes, I’m talking about half-baked schemes that are dead on arrival but won’t stay dead: Imagine Humane, Mission Orange, the Asilomar Accords, No Harm No Kill, Recipe for Lifesavin’, the Five Freedoms, “no-kill” with lower case letters, and now the National Federation of Humane Societies. They die and they rise again with a new name. But their zombie-like attributes are good news for the No Kill movement: they show we are winning.

What is more preposterous than climate change deniers and Harold Camping’s end of the world predictions?

Not to be outdone, however, the people that want to give Michael Vick access to dogs, that think an abused dog who has raised all the money she can for them is better off dead than loved, and who think we need to adopt out 2.4 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) animals a year in order to end the killing are trying to give Emmerich a run for his money. I am, of course, talking about Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States, Ed Sayres of the ASPCA, and Dori Villalon, formerly with the American Humane Association, the unholy trinity of killing apologists. Together with the uber-regressive SPCA of Cincinnati, Michigan Humane Society, and a whole host of other organizations—many of which hoard money, kill animals, fight reformers, and commit fraud on the public—they are proving that no lie is too big for them. Introducing: the National Federation of Humane Societies.

The National Federation of Humane Societies claims they are committed to creating a No Kill nation, they are leading the effort to create a No Kill nation, and—drum roll please—they will make it happen by 2020. None of them have actually succeeded in creating a No Kill community so they have no idea how to do so, but that is not the point. At least not for them. They don’t really care one way or the other. In fact, many of them actually kill the vast majority of animals in their facilities, while refusing to implement common sense alternatives to that killing. Moreover, they continue to preach the dead language of collaboration which is code for “you can’t criticize us, but we can attack you.”And, of course, they have no workable plan. In other words, their latest incarnation is just a renaming and rebranding of all their other failed and cynical (non-)efforts:

  • Imagine Humane which lacked any imagination and failed to create a single No Kill community;
  • Mission Orange which caused more harm than good and actually caused killing to go up in Austin when it was implemented;
  • The Asilomar Accords which banned the term “No Kill” but allowed shelters to reject lifesaving programs like foster care, TNR, offsite adoptions, and even allowed them to continue killing based on breed, age, and color;
  • No Harm No Kill which was a goofy redundancy (you might as well call it “No Kill No Kill” as the central tenet of the No Kill philosophy is to do no harm);
  • Wayne Pacelle’s mind-numbing distinction between “no-kill” with lower case letters and “No Kill” with capital letters, which no one could figure out, including, I suspect, himself;
  • The Five Freedoms which claim shelter animals are entitled to freedom from hunger/thirst, discomfort, distress, pain/disease, and freedom to express normal behavior, but conveniently ignored the most important freedom of all: Freedom from being killed (which they do not support); and,
  • The recipe for lifesavin’ a thinly veiled attempt to distinguish it from the No Kill Equation, and a ham-fisted attempt to make it seem cool by dropping the “g” in lifesaving (I can hear Fonzie now, “Ayyyyyyyy!”).

In Redemption, I wrote,

By the early 2000s, with No Kill rhetoric sweeping the nation, shelter administrators who once openly attacked No Kill realized that it was becoming politically untenable to continue doing so publicly. With the pressure for change mounting, these directors needed a new public image. In a few communities where they dug in their heels, they were forcibly swept aside.


Most directors, however, found another way. They began to say one thing, while they did something else. In short, they learned the art of political double-speak. The supposed effort to save animals deemed “adoptable” began, even by those who were No Kill’s fiercest detractors. These old guard institutions began to use “new” language and promote “new” programs. Leaders who once pledged to stop what happened in San Francisco from spreading to their own hometowns were now seeking to save all “adoptable” animals. In reality, they did nothing of the kind. Instead, they narrowed the definition of “adoptable” to the point of meaninglessness.


The real race was not to save lives, but to end public scrutiny and criticism by co-opting the No Kill movement. Business would continue as usual, but it would come with new terminology. “There are three kinds of lies,” an old saying goes. “There are lies. There are damn lies. And there are statistics.” The move to co-opt the No Kill movement has encompassed all three.

None of those efforts was ever about ending the killing. Each of these efforts was and is about trying to regain control of the humane movement that is passing them by. It is about trying to restore their hegemony over the language and direction of a movement that is being transformed and dominated by the increasing success and spread of the No Kill movement they reject. In fact, they say so right in their mission statement, which argues that they must “[ret]ake ownership of shelter industry messaging.”

In fact, saving animals because it is the right thing to do and because it is the animal’s birthright doesn’t appear anywhere in the vision. To their credit, it says it is the “altruistic” thing to do, but mostly it talks about what it will mean to them, such as how the “Federation can be positioned as the Champion if we launch and promote it.” Why is this so important?

Imagine what it must be like to the be the head of HSUS, the ASPCA, or the American Humane Association, organizations which for the past 50 years have been considered the leaders in the field of companion animal protection, only to have the ground shift completely beneath their feet by a movement which they ridiculed and they opposed. Imagine what it must be like to be the head of these organizations and to once have been lionized, and now to be looked at by an increasing number of people, and the entire grassroots of this movement as cruel and irrelevant dinosaurs. Imagine what it must be like to once have commanded respect by virtue of your position within an organization and only to now have people see through your façade, people who are completely redefining the movement and succeeding without you, in spite of you, and in defiance of you. In short, the heads of HSUS, ASPCA, AHA, and others have glimpsed the future and they clearly see they do not have a place in it and they are scared. And driven by fear, they are desperately trying to reclaim their former glory—not by doing the right thing, but by co-opting the movement they tried to fight and lost. (Ironically, if they actually spent as much time trying to save lives as they now spend covering up their failure to do so, they could be the heroes they now only pretend to be).

The key to ending the killing has been known for 15 years and none of the organizations behind the Imagine Humane, Mission Orange, Asilomar Accords or any of the other half-baked schemes have been interested in it. In fact, each of these efforts specifically says kill shelters are not required to do much of anything. They do not have to have a foster care program, even though you need one to save the lives of underaged animals. They do not have to work with volunteers, even though they are key to socializing animals. They do not have to do offsite adoptions or any of the other programs and services of the No Kill Equation, even though ending the killing is impossible without them. All they say is that you can’t criticize them for not doing so and they will eventually end the killing at some time in the mythical future.

In fact, stalwart members of the National Federation like the Michigan Humane Society and the SPCA of Cincinnati which are tasked with “mentoring” other pounds to achieve success claim they are already saving all “adoptable” animals. The only problem is that it’s a lie. They kill roughly seven out of 10 animals. In other words, they are killing like they always have, only now they excuse it by calling the animals “unadoptable.”

And when reformers try to force lifesaving programs upon them, the leaders of the National Federation actively fight them. In San Francisco, Wayne Pacelle and Ed Sayres fought a No Kill campaign, calling No Kill “radical” and insisting on the right of the SPCA and city pound to kill animals even in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives those “shelters” refuse to implement. How can Pacelle fight No Kill in San Francisco or anywhere else HSUS is an active roadblock to lifesaving success, but claim to be committed to it at the same time? And how can Sayres who chooses to kill animals even when they have a place to go and who sends sick cats to the pound to be killed, claim the same? For them, and for all but a small handful of shelters duped into joining the Federation, it was never about ending the killing.

Aside from a couple of anomalies, the members of the National Federation of Humane Societies are a veritable “who’s who” of regressive, kill shelters who actively fight No Kill reform efforts in their communities. But again, while their vision states they will lead the way to No Kill by 2020, the date first coined by Wayne Pacelle in his own work of fiction, The Bond, getting to No Kill is not the point for them. Nor is it the point of this blog.

The point is that it means we are winning. The fact is that they are under so much pressure they have no choice but to “embrace” No Kill. They can no longer get away with disparaging it. In Dallas, Texas, for example, regressive leaders overseeing regressive shelters have just formed a task force ostensibly to create No Kill, complete with quotes from me. Of course, they aren’t sincere. Nor do they have any real desire to achieve success. But they can’t say so openly anymore. PETA aside because of Ingrid Newkirk’s mental illness, we’re no longer arguing about whether No Kill is or is not impossible, is or is not hoarding, or whether it is misleading, smoke and mirrors, a fundraising scam, not worthy of a passing day dream, or a cancer as these groups have long argued. Instead, we’re arguing over dates, percentages, how to get there, and, of course, their lack of integrity. But the fact that they are forming groups to achieve No Kill and setting a date (after the current crop of dinosaurs running these groups retire and they do not have to account for anything) is good news.

And the more we achieve success, and the more we reject their half-baked overtures, and the more we say NO to crumbs and demand the whole damn pie, the more pressure we put them under until it is just a matter of time and one of them breaks, joining us in earnest. At that point, whether it is a post-Pacelle HSUS, a post-Sayres ASPCA, or AHA trying to rescue itself from irrelevancy and bankruptcy, the rest will have no place to hide. And they know it.

So, even as we rejected Imagine Humane’s shortsightedness, Mission Agent Orange’s carpet bombing of reform activists, the pro-killing Asilomar Accords, the undecipherable no-kill with lower case letters, and all the rest of the dead-on-arrival schemes they put forth; and even as we reject the National Federation of inHumane Societies and its equally half-baked vision that asks us to wait another eight years so they can retire and leave the real work of saving lives to someone else, we should revel in the fact that we’ve pushed them into a corner and sooner or later, we’ll deliver the knock out punch.

Until then, we’ll keep up the pressure and keep succeeding around the country, without them and in spite of them and in defiance of them, knowing full well they will eventually have no choice but to embrace us. Because when we achieve a No Kill nation, they will tell us it was their idea and their vision all along. And knowing that the animals are safe, and that our fight is finished, we’ll just nod and smile and try to hold back the lunch we just had that is trying to make its way back up. But until then, we’ll continue the fight and as it is reeking with desperation, we’ll see the National Federation for what it is: a signpost to our certain, and hopefully not too distant, victory.