I am taking time off until the end of the month to spend time with my family and finish up some projects. But before I go, I wanted to share some final thoughts for the year in light of the growing success of the No Kill movement and our shared understanding of what true leadership looks like.
It will come as no surprise to anyone with a television, newspaper, or access to the internet that the news of the past few weeks has been dominated by the Wikileak documents. I have encountered every possible angle on that story, from those focused on the enigmatic founder of that organization, to the impact on geopolitics, and finally to the changing nature of news reporting in light of unfiltered sources. Those I have found most interesting reevaluated current events as a result of the information the memos contained. It is refreshing and instructive to learn what those in positions of power throughout the world are really thinking and doing—laid bare in memos of naked unvarnished truth—so different from the carefully crafted messages and spin we receive from our own politicians, news outlets, and other world leaders in this so-called “age of information.”
A recent poll suggests that one in three Americans has lost faith in our elected representatives to do what is in our collective best interest. Putting aside the reactionaries in the “tea party,” for a good many thoughtful and genuinely concerned Americans, government has become the “other” –the enemy—rather than what our founders intended: a government of the people, by the people and for the people. And that is why despite the voyeuristic interest generated by the Wikileak documents, notably absent in the news is any discussion of their “shocking” nature. Few of us are surprised to see a different reality than we have been led to believe behind the curtains those memos pulled back. And that is why I believe that despite its bitter edge, the cynicism of our age comes with a silver lining. We are not the naïve, drugged-up, mindless cogs serving Orwell’s Big Brother. We are Orwell’s heroic protagonist, Winston Smith—awake to the true nature of reality, or rather the untrue nature of the fabricated reality, around us. And because the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that you have one, that is good news. It is, in fact, the very reason I wrote Redemption.
When I first went on my book tour in 2007, there were just a handful of people with whom I could have knowing conversation about what was really killing five million animals a year in our nation’s pounds. Everywhere I went, and most of the conversations I had with animal activists prior to the release of that book generally devolved into three unsupportable myths: 1. how to make the public, which was to blame for the killing, more responsible; 2. how to get more people to spay/neuter so as to end “pet overpopulation;” and, 3. the need for collaboration as the solution.
My personal experiences—both in San Francisco and Tompkins County and then as part of my consulting work visiting shelters nationwide—gave me a unique perspective on these issues, experiences which with time evolved into an understanding of both the true causes of the killing: misplaced blame coupled with institutional uncaring and inertia; and the true nature of the antidote: changing the way a shelter operated by embracing and cooperating with, rather than mistrusting and punishing, the American public. It was, in fact, my trust in animal loving Americans and my belief that if they were armed with the truth about what was really going on inside the humane movement, that they would inevitably demand change, which inspired me to write my book, and tell the “inside” story.
And I have not been disappointed. By rejecting old dogmas that once defined the paradigm under which we all operated, and by holding accountable those individuals and organizations which claim to represent the interests of animals but who, in reality, have very different motives and allegiances, grassroots No Kill activists are re-orienting the humane movement away from control and killing, and back to compassion and life-saving. We have rejected the excuses. We have accepted—not always without heartbreak—the bitter reality that many of the emperors in the humane movement have no clothes. And after decades of killing and decades of spin to justify it, all of this became possible only when the truth came to light.
It is the truth, after all, and not our wishful thinking, that determines the course of history. Without it, we are groping in the dark, fighting phantoms, and, as history as shown, misplacing our faith and allegiance in those who abuse that trust by undermining and misrepresenting our cause, its solution, our urgency, and our unequivocal determination.
I believe in telling the truth, however unpleasant it may be. Truth is a weapon and truth is armor. And given the strong, moneyed, and entrenched forces we must battle to achieve success, we need all the power and protection we can get. And here is the truth:
Today, the No Kill Equation remains the only hope for achieving and sustaining a No Kill nation for the simple fact that it is the only model that has had proven successful in creating No Kill in the United States. It is a programs-based model that seeks to change the way shelters operate. And it is a comprehensive model that can result in the immediate overnight achievement of No Kill in those communities that implement it with rigor. But too many shelter directors refuse to do so. Too many shelter directors find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. Too many are firmly grounded in killing and find no ethical quandary with allowing animals to remain in medieval barbarity in what would rival the cruelty of 19th Century pounds, whose philosophy they continue to embrace two centuries later.
Our animal shelter system is broken. It is draconian, it is filthy, it is uncaring, and it is abusive. And standing in the way of our immediate achievement of a No Kill nation; standing in the way of the will of 100 million Americans who love and cherish companion animals, are 3,000 regressive shelter directors and the large national organizations that have become wealthy and powerful by promising to help these animals, even as they protect and legitimize those directors.
Only time will tell how long groups like the Humane Society of the United States will maintain their allegiance to their kill-oriented colleagues, to their antiquated philosophies, and to their failed models, which holds them back from the success they and this movement can achieve the moment they decide to embrace it. But the cost in animal lives demands that we not wait for them to wake up to this realization. If we are going to achieve a No Kill Nation sooner rather than later, we must come to accept that our “friends” are in actuality our enemies and we must stand up to them. Five years ago, my saying so would have been heresy. It now hardly registers as controversial. Except, of course, to those who continue peddling the fiction that killing is ok, it is challenging the killing that is the problem and labels you “divisive.”
We are told groups like HSUS are changing, but that change comes slowly. On the eve of 2011, 16 years after the achievements in San Francisco first showed us a compassionate, life-affirming alternative to traditional sheltering models, this is what we know to be true: every animal put to death in an American animal shelter is being killed because of the paradigm that those organizations helped create. No honest person can suggest we are on the same team. And no compassionate one can argue that the miserly crumbs they offer to save animals make us friends, rather than adversaries. After 16 years of waiting for them to champion abolition of killing, we’ve not a drop of patience for their miserly gradualism left. But we outnumber them by the millions. And not only do we have the hearts and minds of the people on our side, we have the truth. And the truth will out.
Never surrender, never give in, never doubt that we will succeed. A No Kill nation is within our reach.