Articles Articles (Essential)

The Irrationality of Opposition to No Kill

Over the weekend, I was the subject of an attack by a PETA hack named Mike Stark. His basic premise was that because I support ending the systematic slaughter of animals in shelters, I am for “torture” of animals. He goes on to accuse me of being in league with puppy mills. The first premise (No Kill equals torture of animals) is a rehash of the now thoroughly debunked and thoroughly discredited argument that No Kill equals hoarding.

This is the argument made by those who embrace killing of animals in order to justify their unethical beliefs and untoward actions by painting the life affirming alternative as darker. To accuse someone of being the very thing they are working to oppose is Orwellian through and through.

The second argument is that because I do not believe the myth of pet overpopulation, I must be in league with puppy mills even though I’ve clearly and unequivocally have come out in favor of shutting them down. By that logic, Stark and his pro-killing cronies are in league with those who neglect, abuse, and kill animals and want it to continue. Who believes that pet overpopulation is real in spite of the overwhelming data and experience that it is not? Only people who want animals to be killed because it gives them the excuse to do so.

As desperate as Stark is, no lie can live forever. I’ve traveled all over the country, indeed all over the world, to speak to sold-out audiences about the future. The bright future we can have if we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to building the infrastructure necessary to create and sustain a No Kill nation. We do that, of course, by institutionalizing the No Kill Equation, the series of programs and services which replace killing and which have allowed for overnight success in the many shelters across the country that have already dedicated themselves to that end. Programs that no one, and by that, I mean no rational person can seriously take issue with: foster care, offsite adoptions, socialization and behavior rehabilitation, thorough cleaning and care standards, medical care both as prevention and for rehabilitation, working with rescue groups, TNR, pet retention, progressive field services/proactive redemption, marketing and adoptions, and of course, progressive and imaginative leadership.

That is why being “opposed to No Kill” is a non-starter. Can anyone with even a hint of compassion actually say it is better to kill baby kittens than bottle feed them? Kill animals rather than promote adoptions? Kill animals rather than work with rescue groups? Of course not.

To say you are “opposed to No Kill” means you reject foster care in favor of killing, you reject vaccinations and medical care in favor of killing, you reject knocking on doors to get lost dogs home rather than killing, and you reject adoptions in favor of killing. Of course, most of the opponents of No Kill won’t say that. They can’t say that. No one will take them seriously. So they say they are “opposed to No Kill” and hope people don’t ask probing questions. Because if you were to ask, “Are you opposed to foster care?” The answer would have to be “No.” If you were to ask “Are you opposed to adoption?” The answer would have to be “No.” The same is true of each and every program of the No Kill Equation. And when you put them all together, and you implement them comprehensively, you get No Kill.

But that would require the Naysayers to act in rational ways. And if you look at those who continue to defend the “catch and kill” paradigm, rationality has not been their strong suit. First, there are those who are sadistic promoters of killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives. These are the Ingrid Newkirks and Ardena Perrys of the world, people with a history of personality disorders: Munchausen by Proxy, neglect, abuse, and/or alcoholism. Second, there are those who have addictive personalities, people who cling to self-destructive patterns of behavior: the Del Goss’ of the world.

Then there are those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Those who will reject the No Kill Equation because it requires them to work hard, rather than sit in their office all day with their feet up on their desk. People like the disgraced, removed former Austin shelter director, Dorinda Pulliam, who killed over 100,000 animals in her sordid career because of nothing more than uncaring and laziness. This group also includes the government bureaucrats who would rather protect underperforming shirkers, than hold them accountable. And, of course, the Wayne Pacelles of the world who climbed the ladder of personal “success” (but I would argue, historical infamy) by catering to his killing colleagues, rather than defending the animals he pledged himself to protect as the leader of a large national animal protection organization.

The third group includes the Johnny-Come-Lately nobodies who are trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the animals. These are the Mike Starks of the world, unknowns who have never actually done anything of worth themselves, but think that by attacking those of us who have and do; they can ride our coattails to personal recognition.

And the final group are those who have carved a niche for themselves in the current structure, and will defend that structure against being upended, the animals be damned. These are people like Pat Dunaway, a person who created an identity for herself by working with the San Bernardino County shelter. Not only was Dunaway a favorite volunteer because she did not publicly criticize them, she defended them even when dogs were forced to drink from algae covered water bowls, when they killed animals to punish outspoken rescuers while those rescuers were on their way to save those particular animals, when they returned a puppy that was lit on fire back to the abuser to save money pending trial, and when an officer beat a puppy with a baton, leaving a blood splattered kennel (he was not terminated). Dunaway defended them and defends them still. And she has been fighting me ever since because I was part of the group that came in on behalf of the city council to terminate the city’s animal control contract with the county shelter and, in the process, kicked Dunaway out.

But what do all of these people have in common besides being unethical, lacking personal integrity, and imbibing once too often in the killing Kool Aid? They are out of touch with the direction of history. They are out of touch with how most people really feel about animals and what they want for them. And they are nothing more than speed bumps we have to brush aside as we work to create a No Kill nation.

I don’t mean to underplay the damage that they do. They cause, defend, or legitimize the killing of millions of animals every year. They are part of a genocide. (What else could you possibly call the systematic destruction of a species?) But aside from those in the first camp (they are mentally ill) and those in the last camp (they are committed to killing), make no mistake about it; the rest—Stark included—will disown their views. Regardless of whether it takes a year, five years, or ten years, they will either issue a mea culpa or deny they ever favored killing. They will become what racists are today. At one time, people wore their racism openly and violently. Today, they would not now dare say so openly.

One only needs to look at Wayne Pacelle. Unethical as he may be, he’s not daft. Once virulently against No Kill and its many tenets including TNR, over the last couple of years, he has tested the waters, dipped a toe in by claiming he supports No Kill, changing his position on programs like TNR, and even by claiming that he is the leader of the No Kill movement. He sees the writing on the wall and he is trying to navigate himself out of the ugly corner he put himself in.

But not all of them can see past their own myopia. At last count, I have six or seven websites dedicated to attacking me. Without exception, they are all anonymous, run by Dunaway and her ilk, people who do not have the fortitude or integrity to stand openly behind their pathetic claims. But that is good news. They, too, know which way the march of history is progressing, as much as they are trying in vain to hold it back. And if history is any guide, their ever increasing, ever more absurd and desperate attacks on me are, ironically, welcome news for our movement.

It means we have entered a new phase in our struggle: violent and ugly opposition. And while it is sad and tragic that all social movements have to go through this because history seems to be constantly repeating itself, it means we are winning. It means the message is getting out. Mahatma Ghandi is credited with saying: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” We are in the midst of the fight. And if he is right, then we are also on the verge of ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters. We are on the verge of a No Kill nation.

So my fellow soldiers in our growing army of compassion, take heart. Keep your head straight, your eyes in front of you, and your focus on the prize. Millions of animals are betting their lives on us, and we will not let them down. The Mike Starks and Pat Dunaways and Ingrid Newkirks and Wayne Pacelles and Ardena Perrys are nothing more than annoying background noise, speaking a dead language that few people are listening to anymore. Let them talk amongst themselves, with websites that no one is taking seriously, and with blog posts that leave no lasting mark, as we march headlong towards a certain, and not too distant, victory.


Update: It turns out Mike Stark surrendered his “Pit Bull” at his local shelter, which just happened to be the Charlottesville SPCA, a facility I helped make No Kill and which is following the No Kill Equation model of sheltering. Stark admits his dog is doing well and most importantly, alive. Had Susanne Kogut not visited me when I was in Tompkins County, had she not taken the job at my urging, had I not done training for the staff there, had she not followed the model, Stark’s dog would be dead. His tribute to his dog? Attacking the person who played a role in keeping that dog alive. And why did Stark get rid of his dog? He was having a baby. This is the new spokesman for the anti-No Kill, pro-killing  crowd. It is pathetic and shameful.

Further Update: I posted a comment on his community blog that I would not be responding to Stark because I read online that he had been arrested.  Mike Stark subsequently e-mailed me and threatened me with a lawsuit because he says the information I found on the internet that he was arrested at Bill O’Reilly’s home following incidents at his speaking engagements is not accurate. And he demands a retraction. Really? For a guy who tries to make his reputation defaming me based on inaccurate information he gets on the internet, this is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Will Stark be retracting his crossing of the line by accusing me of being in league with puppy mills? Will he stop the Nathan Winograd “is for torture” attacks? Because that, also, as he says “tests the boundaries of New York Times vs. Sullivan.” Will Stark play by the same rules? Or will he continue to play the Karl Rovian-game of slander?

According to information online, including Wikipedia, Stark confronted O’Reilly at his home. He also went to O’Reilly’s neighbors telling them that O’Reilly could not be trusted with their daughters. [Do not read this as support for O’Reilly’s politics. I’ve posted extensively about my politics:]

But I was scared when I read online that Stark actually targeted his home with those kinds of attacks. Did I want my kids being similarly confronted by Stark because he now targets me? Did I want my neighbors being told I am for torture or in league with puppy mills who torture dogs? What else was Mike Stark capable of? I also received two e-mails from people telling me to be careful.

According to Wikipedia, even liberal commentator Keith Olbermann named Stark one of his worst persons in the world. But Stark says he was not arrested for that conduct and says that this doesn’t amount to stalking. I was using it in the colloquial sense, but fine, it has legal connotations and I fully retract the statement.

But this does not mean I am not scared of what Stark is capable of. And it does not mean I think he is acting responsibly by attacking me also based on lies. Apparently for Stark, the rules only run one way. Mike Stark claims he is a liberal commentator, but he has more in common with the Karl Rove politics of personal destruction than he cares to admit.