Articles Corruption

With friends like these…

A dog considered not “the best” and killed by a pound who shares the deadly philosophy espoused in the Animal Farm Foundation podcast. Instead of being sent to a rescue group who requested the dog, her body was put in a garbage bag where she will rot in a landfill.

Earlier this week, I wrote a rebuttal to a podcast by Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) whose guest wants “shelters” to kill more “behavior” dogs, wants rescuers to stop saving them, and gives people permission to kill their own dogs. AFF hosts either agreed with the guest or failed to challenge her. I called it “the single worst commentary on sheltering I have encountered in ages.” I was not the only one who thought so.

NJ Animal Observer also writes that he “listened in horror” to the podcast and came to the same conclusions as I did, including the “absurd nonsense that no one in shelters wants to kill.”

He further noted that while some dogs may be truly “dangerous,” “as few as 1 in 1,000 dogs coming into animal control shelters exhibit such behaviors:” Moreover, he noted, the podcast promoted “killing shelter dogs with pretty minor behavior issues…”

NJ Animal Observer also did a follow up, as AFF edited the video in response to criticism. “Did this help?,” he writes. “No, in fact it may have made it worse since Animal Farm Foundation AGAIN failed to address their guest’s pro-killing comments.”

AFF has a few defenders, but they are not being honest in that defense. Neither NJ Animal Observer nor I are suggesting that shelters adopt out dogs declared “dangerous” with indifference to public safety. And at any rate, the podcast was not about dangerous dogs. It was about promoting killing of dogs for all but perfect or what the guest has called “the best” dogs. In other words, most of them. It was about promoting a very dangerous idea — that of “behavior euthanasia”; the idea that dogs who have suffered trauma, abuse, neglect, or have a genetic predisposition to fear should not be rehabilitated, treated with kindness, compassion, and given the opportunity to heal, but killed. Not surprisingly, the latest scholarship and evidence show that we can place all dogs with behavior challenges, and that the way we “help” these dogs is to actually help them, not to further harm them.

What this research and experience demonstrates is that dogs are incredibly resilient, there is no such thing as “irremediable psychological suffering” in dogs, and all dogs with behavior trauma can be appropriately rehabilitated and/or placed through criteria that depends on the severity of the trauma. To protect public safety, that may include sanctuary placement with the understanding that a sanctuary should not be seen as a place where one gives up on animals with “severe aggression.” Instead, sanctuaries should be viewed as an environment where the animal and public are protected during long-term rehabilitation and barring that, where the dog is provided permanent placement that meets the needs of the individual for life.

That is our duty as a society; a duty that is compounded by the fact that we — as humans — are often responsible for their condition through our neglect, abuse, and undersocialization. This is true even if their behavioral pathology is not related to outside factors (such as abuse) because there is a solution.

Moreover, there is the added challenge of how we define our terms and assuming we could agree on a definition, how and whether we can determine, with any degree of rigor, if a dog is or is not “dangerous.” As several commenters noted on my Facebook post about the podcast, pounds routinely label little dogs with typical behaviors “dangerous” in order to justify killing them.

I would have welcomed that discussion, including any supposed practical limitations to success that need to be overcome. Since that is not what the podcast was about, my objection was to the “bait and switch” which resulted in:

  • Not responding to stories about killing dogs/puppies and abuse of dogs with circumspection, sensitivity, regret, sorrow, or outrage, but by, of all things, laughter from the guest and hosts;
  • Saying that no one has a right to second guess the killing of dogs in their taxpayer funded pounds, a violation of their First Amendment rights and a recipe for regressive absolutism;
  • Calling for the killing of all dogs who are deemed “marginal”;
  • Excusing the killing of healthy dogs;
  • Giving “shelters” a free pass not to work with dogs who can be rehabilitated;
  • Telling rescuers not to waste their time on these dogs;
  • Excusing pounds where half of dogs or more are killed;
  • Perpetuating the lie that “no one” who works in pounds wants to kill (and then turning around and claiming that many who work in sanctuaries apparently do);
  • Expressing sympathy for Sue Sternberg’s ideology of killing all dogs who are not perfect: a philosophy akin to insisting that dogs sit, fetch, stay, or die and which thus sent thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands, of dogs nationwide to an untimely death; and more.

Tragically, these kinds of ideas are now creeping back into the movement because of silence on the part of those who have historically been No Kill allies. Why are they silent? The increasing co-option of our movement.

Over the last ten years, as the No Kill movement has gained traction and the large, wealthy national groups who for decades maligned and criticized No Kill realized it was a tide they could no longer stem, they began, out of necessity and self-preservation, to change tactics. They not only began to modify some of their most deadly but entirely unsustainable positions — such as opposition to TNR and foster care, for example — but they began to court No Kill advocates, as well.

By modulating their fierce anti-No Kill rhetoric and, more importantly, by writing checks and offering speaking engagements to No Kill advocates and No Kill shelter directors, they successfully changed the cost-benefit analysis made by those very individuals, and with it, the stakes of speaking out.  No longer do many of the No Kill movement’s once most ardent champions prioritize No Kill values when considering whether or not they should publicly challenge powerful forces within the animal protection movement when circumstances might compel it. Instead, they prioritize the potentially negative impact of doing so upon their now privileged position and financial bottom line.  As a result, a new status quo has emerged within the animal protection movement comprised of once ardent No Kill advocates and those working at the large, national groups that has created fertile breeding ground for the return of bad and deadly ideas that so many of us hoped had been relegated to the dustbin of history.

This is a dangerous time in our movement’s evolution. And the direction it takes depends on the choice we make: whether to allow this emerging new paradigm to slow and impede the tremendous progress we have already made by sacrificing our values on the altar of personal relationships and ambition. Or whether we refuse to compromise our values no matter the personal cost.

I will always do the latter. Always. And that is why I am so grateful that NJ Animal Observer joined me not only in being deeply disturbed by AFF’s embrace of anti-No Kill rhetoric and the slaughter of dogs (as many others have privately admitted to me they are), but in being willing to say so publicly (as almost no others who have a relationship with AFF have).

Sadly, such courage is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in today’s “No Kill” movement.


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