Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
Transcript of Nathan Winograd’s ARZone Guest Chat
8 January 2011 at:
2pm US Pacific
5pm US Eastern
10pm UK time and
9 January 2011 at:
8am Australian Eastern Standard Time
ARZone would like to welcome Nathan Winograd as today’s Live Chat Guest.
Nathan is a graduate of Stanford Law School, a former criminal prosecutor and corporate attorney, has spoken nationally and internationally on animal sheltering issues, has written animal protection legislation at the state and national level, has createdsuccessful No Kill programs in both urban and rural communities, and has consulted with a wide range of animal protection groups including some of the largest and best known in the nation.
Although Nathan focuses oncompanion animal issues, specifically ending the systematic killing of animals in shelters, his background is in animal rights, and has been vegan for 20years. Nathan considers “No Kill” to be an animal rights issue, and isconcerned that many animal protection groups work against the “No Kill”approach.
Nathan has lectured onanimal sheltering ethics to students at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the nation’s number one ranked veterinary school,and has lectured at the U.C.L.A. School of Law on animal law issues.
His book, Redemption, is themost critically acclaimed book on the topic of animal shelters in the United States and the winner of five national book awards. He isalso the author of Irreconcilable Differences, a collection of essays thatfollows up where Redemption left off and asks – and answers – the question of whether we can do better as a society when it comes to our stewardship of companion animals His third book, All American Vegan, co-written with his wifeJennifer, will be published in 2011.
Nathan welcomes theopportunity to respond to ARZone members today on topics ranging from hisbooks, to his no-kill advocacy, to his theories in general. Would you please joinwith me in welcoming Nathan to ARZone.
Before we begin, I’d like torequest that people refrain from interrupting Nathan during the chat session,and utilise the open chat, at the completion of Nathan’s pre-registeredquestions, for any questions or comments you have.
I’d now like to ask BrookeCameron to ask Nathan his first question, please go ahead, Brooke.
Hi, Nathan, and welcome! The concept of “no kill” has been around for many years, why do you think many people credit you with its inception?
Thank you for having me. I am very excited about this opportunity. I’ve long believed that the No Kill movement and the animal rights movement are natural allies. In fact, I believe that No Kill is an animal rights issue in that the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. Once dead, all other rights are irrelevant.
You can’t be animal rights and believe in the right of humans to kill animals, regardless of the justification or just because our “friends” (PETA, shelters animal protection organizations) are doing the killing, rather than our enemies.
That aside, you are right Brooke, No Kill has been around for a very long time. In fact, better than a century. Since we started sheltering animals, there have been No Kill shelters. I am not sure I am credited with its inception and have never sought to be. But I was the first to create a No Kill community. I was the first to create a No Kill open admission animal-control shelter. And since that time, I’ve worked with communities all over the country and in Australia and New Zealand, to replicate that success. In the process, I took a series of programs and services that were pioneered in San Francisco, radicalized and expanded in Tompkins County, to create a replicable model that has also created not just No Kill shelters, but No Kill communities in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
You've written about long-distance rescues in the United States. How do you feel about international rescues? For example, my foster dog was easy to place in Toronto because he's tiny and cute, but here in Korea he was competing with a very large p pool of cutetiny dogs sorry, question got cut off Your writing focuses almost exclusivelyon the United States,although you've mentioned no-kill efforts in Australia and New Zealand as well. Do you have any advice for people in othercountries such as the Republic of Korea, where animal rescue is more of a grassroots endeavourand there aren't many (if any) large, well-funded animal charities?
I don’t begin to pretendthat I know the culture of South Korea. But I also cannot deny that the world is a lotsmaller than it once was because of technology and human mobility. I alsocannot deny shared human experience. We are people and despite the ugly thingsthat people are capable of, we are also capable of great compassion. I agreewith abolitionist Theodore Parker that the arc of history may be long but it bendstoward greater compassion. So, my initial caveat aside I do not see why a modelthat works in the U.S. and works in Canada and works in Australia and works in New Zealand cannot work elsewhere.
It is also hard for me tosee how the absence of “large, well-funded animal charities” in South Korea would be a bar to No Kill success. In the U.S., No Kill began and continues as a completelygrassroots effort. In fact, in the U.S., the “large, well-funded animal charities” have beena roadblock to success. Without exception, the large national organizationslike the Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, the ASPCA, andPETA have been hostile to No Kill, championing killing and fighting reformefforts.
Today, the biggest barrierto more widespread No Kill success in the U.S. is not “pet overpopulation.” It is not an absence ofspay/neuter. It is not the “irresponsible public.” It is not a lack of funding.The single biggest barrier to No Kill is the fact that 3,500 shelter directorsare mired in killing and they are legitimized, protected, and promoted by thelarge national organizations.
PETA seeks out and killsover 2,000 animals a year—roughly 97% of all animals they take in. Theyadmittedly kill healthy animals. They admit they could be No Kill overnight.But they refuse. More than that, they actively fight reform efforts, choosingto back some of the most regressive, dirty, neglectful and even abusiveshelters in the country. They advocate that all dogs who look like “pit bulls”be killed. And they call for the mass extermination of unsocial cats. TheHumane Society of the United States has lobbied to have victims of cruelty killed. Theyhave lobbied for puppies to be killed. They have also fought efforts to reformabusive shelters. And they went so far as to lobby the City of San Francisco which was considering shelter reform legislation notto pass it, insisting on the “right” of shelters to kill animals.
The ASPCA fought reformerstrying to replace a draconian shelter director, a director who killed over100,000 animals during her tenure—one every 12 minutes the shelter is open tothe public. This is a director who refused to implement common sensealternatives to killing such as foster care or offsite adoption programs. Shewas finally removed after it came to light that she was committing animalcruelty—intentionally withholding medical treatment from sick and injured cats.Even then, the ASPCA called her firing “horrible.”
Last year, the ASPCAsuccessfully killed legislation which would have saved 25,000 animals a year atno cost to taxpayers, a law which would have made it illegal for a shelter tokill an animal if a qualified rescue group was willing and able to save thatanimal’s life.
On the issue of No Kill, thelack of an HSUS, ASPCA, or PETA equivalent in South Korea is actually a good thing. It just means one lessorganization you have to fight for animals to be treated with decency and compassion.
Thanks Tim, Hi Nathan
Some would say Tompkins County has been a success; some would say a failure. Would you please give usyour interpretation and explain why?
I don’t know anyone who trulyloves animals who would say it is a failure. We ended the killing of healthyanimals, including rabbits, hamsters, rats, gerbils, and others. We ended thekilling of sick and injured animals who were medically savable. We ended thekilling of traumatized animals and motherless neonatals. We ended the killingof unsocial cats. In the process, we reduced the death rate by over 75%.
During my tenure, every dogwas required to get out of kennel exercise and socialization four times a day.And every cat was required to get out of cage exercise and socialization twotimes a day. And, during my tenure, we also ended up eliminating cages andkennels and replacing them with home-like environments. Our average length ofstay was eight days. The percentage of animals who died in their kennels droppedby over 90%. No animal ever celebrated an anniversary there. Our failedadoption rate was less than 2 percent. And we had the lowest death rate of anycommunity in the U.S. In fact, we became what all shelters should be—a temporary way stationfor animals until they can be reunited with their families or a new home isfound.
By what criteria can anyoneclaim that as a failure? What naysayers and those vested in killing have seizedon is that four years after I left, despite the fact that they were stillsaving at least 92% of all animals every year, the shelter got jammed for a fewweeks during the summer. Rather than kill the animals, the shelter set uptemporary cages in a laundry room. The cats there were still kept clean. Theywere fed nutritious food. They were given access to clean water. And they weresocialized regularly. In fact, the cats who were in that room did not have anyconception that they were in a different cage in a different room than theother cats. And after a couple of weeks, they were adopted into loving homes.
The only group that had theaudacity to complain, to actually suggest that the cats should have insteadbeen killed, was of course PETA. But this is a group with a 97% rate ofkilling, despite $30 million in annual revenues and millions of animal lovingmembers around the world. A group that calls killing a “gift” to the animals. Agroup that supports forced seizure and killing of dogs who look like Pit Bullseven if the dogs are friendly and even in communities that have poundseizure—meaning these loving, family dogs are forcibly taken from theirfamilies and sold to laboratories for vivisection. A group who advocates forthe mass slaughter of animals, even if they are healthy. A group that actuallyfought the reform of a shelter where cats were not fed for days where animalswere left sitting in their own waste for extended periods of time, whereinjured animals were left to bleed out in their kennels, where employees weretold to let sick animals die because then they wouldn’t count in “euthanasia”rates. And, in fact, a shelter where an employee punished a traumatized cat whowould not allow himself to be picked up by drowning the cat in a bucket ofbleach. That is PETA. And they had the audacity to complain that Tompkins County refused to kill cats during a busy summer.
Hi Nathan, thank you forcoming to the chat here today. Given that you are vegan, and you state in yourno kill declaration “Whereas, the right to live is every animal’s most basicand fundamental right”, does it follow that you do not condone the feeding ofother animals to the animals in no kill shelters?
Our nation’s humaneorganizations, our nation’s SPCAs, were founded by people who were passionatelydedicated to furthering the rights of all animals. Henry Bergh, the greatfounder of the ASPCA, fought against hunting and vivisection and fought for allanimals, including those some humans unfortunately regard as “food.” These wereanimal rights advocates.
When New York City asked the ASPCA to run the dog pound, Bergh repliedthat the ASPCA could not “stultify its principles so much as to encourage thetorture to which the proposed gives rise to.” In other words, he saw his ASPCAas a tool to save lives, a tool to further the rights of animals, not to endlives and to subvert the animal’s most fundamental and basic of all rights —theright to live.
It was not until thesepassionate and dedicated founders died and subsequent leadership took overthese agencies that they abandoned their animal rights platforms to take overrunning dog pounds for the municipalities in which they were located. In theprocess, a movement founded on the highest ideals was replaced in nearly totalwith national organizations and thousands of SPCAs who not only becamechampions of killing, but the leading killers of dogs and cats themselves. Andgood, caring people were driven out of these organizations, people who refusedto kill animals. What is left is this false notion that these agencies are for“animal welfare” under the Orwellian concept that killing is kindness.
Working at the ASPCA or HSUSor a local humane society is no longer a mission for many people, it is a job.My goal, and the goal of the No Kill movement, is to reclaim theseorganizations and to bring them back to their roots, back to the vision of themovement’s early founders. Animal control derailed our movement and rather thanhave thousands of animal protection organizations saving animals in theircommunities and being progressive, stalwart, rights-oriented advocates for allanimals, these organizations have become agents of maintaining the status quo,of killing.
Right now, these individualswon’t even save the dogs and cats who are already alive. While I do not believeit is ethical to feed animals to animals, given that these individuals won’teven save the dogs and cats who are already alive, trying to convince them thatthey should not feed animals to animals would be a non-starter. By contrast,the No Kill movement seeks to replace the regressive leadership at theseagencies and in the large national organizations like the ASPCA, HSUS, and PETAwhich are hostile to the call that they save the very animals in theirimmediate care, with progressive, passionate animal lovers who would save them.And in doing so, we would be creating a new generation of leaders who would beopen-minded about such discussions. And all species of animals will regainadvocates in their communities including animals historically raised to beeaten.
From a purely pragmaticstandpoint, the most effective thing we can do to address these issues is toensure that these shelters are operated by people who actually care aboutanimals. And I believe that this is just one more example of why it is so vitalto support the reform of our nation’s broken animal shelter system. Doing so isan avenue through which we can begin to more effectively advocate for allspecies. As to No Kill shelters, I wouldsupport any campaign to encourage them to feed vegan food to the animals intheir care.
You must be aware of thescandals in Canada involving two of the most powerful animal charities in thecountry--namely, the Ontario SPCA (which killed 99 animals to stop the spreadof ringworm and killed another three the same day for alleged "behaviourproblems and the Toronto Humane Society (where mismanagement apparently led tosevere animal neglect, but many people used the case to attack no-kill policiesin general). Can you comment on these two cases--and in particular, on whetherthe leadership of organization can ever regain the public's trust? Where dothey go from here?
I felt I had to own up forthe organization even though I wasn't there. The next step was to rebuild ourrelationship with the community by making a demonstrative change in ouroperations.
The first thing I did wasannounce that we would no longer be a place that killed animals. I also invitedthe community to participate in our lifesaving efforts. I promised themtransparency and I gave it to them. Every decision we made was made in thelight of public scrutiny. In order to regain the trust of the community youneed to own up to the problems and then show real and sincere change.
When I first started, the Tompkins County SPCA was hated by its own community. Today it is belovedI did not give them excuses. I gave them a commitment to change and I followedthrough on it. I promised that we would no longer kill healthy and treatableanimals, and we never did.
The next question comes from Nath Miles, Nath…
You’ve been quoted assaying there are sufficient homes toaccommodate all animals who enter shelters. Does this take into account humanbehaviour. For example, some humans refuse to take a shelter animal into theirlives, opting instead for a “cute” puppy or kitten, or a pre-determined breed.These people make up a significant portion of those bringing a dog or cat intotheir homes, yet I’ve not heard you address this problem. Do you see this as aproblem? Why or why not?
I have addressed it,numerous times. Roughly 8 million animals enter shelters every year. Can we find homes for that many shelteranimals? The good news is that we don’t have to. Some animals need adoption,but others do not. Some animals like unsocialized cats need neuter and release.Others will be reclaimed by their families. Some animals will go to rescuegroups. Others are irremediably suffering or hopelessly ill. And many more canbe kept out of the shelter through a comprehensive pet retention effort. Whileabout four million dogs and cats will be killed in pounds and shelters thisyear, roughly three million will be killed for lack of a new home. Can we findhomes for those animals? Yes we can. Using the most successful adoptioncommunities as a benchmark and adjusting for population, U.S. shelters combinedshould be adopting almost nine million animals a year. That is almost threetimes the number being killed for lack of a home. In fact, it is more than totalimpounds, and of those, almost half do not need a new home.
But the news gets evenbetter. There are over 23 million people who are going to get an animal nextyear. Some are already committed to adopting from a shelter. Some are alreadycommitted to getting one from a breeder or other commercial source. But 17million have not decided where that animal will come from and research showsthey can be influenced to adopt from a shelter. That’s 17 million people vyingfor roughly 3 million animals. So even if 80% of those people got their animalfrom somewhere other than a shelter, we could still zero out the killing. Andmany communities are proving it. There are communities with extremely high percapita intake rates who have done it. There are now No Kill communities acrossthe U.S. and abroad: in the North and in the South. In urbancommunities and in rural ones. In states we classify as liberal or progressiveand even in the reddest part of the reddest state. Washoe County, Nevada, for example, has been very hard hit by the economicdownturn. Loss of jobs and loss of homes are at all-time highs. In fact, thestate of Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Asa result, the two major shelters (Washoe County Regional Animal Services and theNevada Humane Society) together take in four times the per capita rate of Los Angeles, five times the rate of San Francisco seven times the rate of New York City, and over two times the national average. If therewas ever a community which could not adopt its way out of killing, it is Washoe County. But they are doing just that. And it didn’t take them five years to doit.
All these communities did itvirtually overnight, by adopting their way out of killing. Of course, thatdoesn’t mean that the other programs and services of the No Kill Equationaren’t crucial. They are. Some, like foster care keep animals alive long enoughto be adopted because, quite simply, some animals are not ready for adoptionwhen they first arrive at the shelter. But, in the end, all these animals foundloving homes.
Thanks Nathan, we appreciateyour detailed responses.
Our next question comes fromred dog, red dog, when you're ready, please go ahead!
You mention on your blogthat despite the no-kill policy at Tompkins County, no animal ever celebrated an anniversary there. That is really amazingand I wonder if you have any ideas that could help a handful of long-termshelter dogs who are still waiting after three, four or more years at the smallprivate shelter where I adopted my dog almost three years ago.
They're Korean Jindodogs--not purebreds, but at least part "National Treasure." Some areskittish, but I have no doubt that they'll make wonderful companions for theright humans. Two of them are known to be dog-aggressive and will need veryresponsible guardians’ homes to make sure they don't get into fights. I'veasked some Canadian rescuers if they can help me, and they want to help, butit's going to be a real struggle. We'll also have to be VERY sure about theadoption or foster placement if we pursue an international adoption.
There are a number of thingsthat reduce length of stay and maximize the number of adoptions. And sadly, toomany shelters are not doing those things. These include making the shelter funand inviting, utilizing social networks like Facebook and Twitter, getting theright people on board, offering incentives to adopt especially with animals whohave impediments or special challenges, marketing and promotion, and more.Rather than go into a long explanation, I will refer you to the adoption guidefrom the No Kill Advocacy Center called “Adopting Your Way Out of Killing.” Youcan find it on their website at www.nokilladvocacycenter.org under “ReformingAnimal Control.”
I think the more interestingpart of the question involves the idea of what constitutes a good home. One ofthe arguments that Naysayers have made to denigrate No Kill success is the ideathat in order to increase adoption quantity you have to decrease the quality ofthe adoptive home. This claim has been used to justify either high kill and lowadoption rates, or long-term placements. But nothing could be further from thetruth. Increasing adoptions means public access adoption hours when workingpeople and families with children (two important adopter demographics) canvisit the shelter.
It means greater visibilityin the community, working with rescue groups, competing with pet stores andpuppy mills, marketing, offsite adoptions, special events, adoption incentives,foster care, alternative placements, a fun and friendly shelter environment,setting and meeting goals, and a good public image. It has nothing to do withreducing quality. But a word of caution. While some shelters have no qualmsabout killing animals even after they turn people away, some shelters on theother side have no qualms about keeping animals for months and even years afterturning people away. Not just any people, good people, caring people, peoplewho would provide that animal a lovely home. They believe that no one is goodenough and would rather keep them in a cage for three years or put them todeath. Unfortunately, too many shelters go too far with fixed, arbitraryrules—dictated by national organizations—that turn away good homes under thetheory that people aren’t trustworthy, that few people are good enough, andthat animals are better off dead. Unfortunately, rescue groups sometimes sharethis mindset.
People who do rescue loveanimals, but they have been schooled by HSUS to be unreasonably—indeed,absurdly—suspicious of the public. Consequently, they make it difficult, if notdownright impossible, to adopt their rescued animals.
I recently read thenewsletter from a local cat rescue group. There was a story about two cats,Ruby and Alex, in their “happy endings” section. Under the title, “Good thingscome to those who wait,” the story explained that Ruby and Alex were in fostercare for 7½ years before they found the “right” home. I wondered what was wrongwith the cats. If it took seven years to find them a home, surely they musthave had some serious impediments to adoption. But I couldn’t find anything inthe story. Under another section in the newsletter listing the cats in theircare that still needed to find “loving homes,” I found the answer. The firstone I looked at was Billy. Billy was a kitten when he was rescued in 2001. Hewas still in a “foster” home in 2009. Does it really take 8 years to find the“right” home? Surely, I thought again, something is wrong with this cat. ButBilly is described as “easy going, playful, bouncy.” It goes on to say that“Billy loves attention and loves to be with his person. Mild-mannered andgentle with new people, he’s also a drop-and-roll kitty who will throw himselfat your feet to be petted.” They also note that he likes dogs. In other words,Billy is perfect.
Clearly, the pertinentquestion wasn’t “What’s wrong with the cats?” The real question was: “What’swrong with these people?” Not surprisingly, the rescue group does not believefamilies with young children should adopt. They claim that if you have childrenwho are under six years old, you should wait a few years. In reality, this ruleis very common in animal sheltering. But it is a mistake nonetheless. Familieswith children are generally more stable, so they are a highly desirableadoption demographic. They also provide animals with plenty of stimulation,which the animals crave. Children and pets are a match made in heaven. So iffamilies with children shouldn’t adopt, who does that leave?
Unfortunately, this groupalso states that kittens ‘require constant supervision like human babies do.’My family frequently fosters kittens for our local shelter. When fostering, welive our lives like we always do: we visit friends, take walks, dine out. Weoften leave home for hours at a time. Obviously, I would have never done thatwith my kids when they were babies. That isn’t a statement on loving childrenmore than animals. A kitten can sleep, eat, drink, use the litter box, playwith a toy, and more at only six weeks of age. A human baby would starve todeath surrounded by food if left alone at that age.
Kittens are not “like humanbabies.” They are more advanced, skilled, smarter, and cleaner. But that’s notthe point. The point is that the “constant supervision” rule eliminatespotential adopters who go to work, too, but would otherwise provide excellent,loving, nurturing homes. That leaves the two minority extremes: unemployedpeople and millionaires—although my guess is the former would be ruled out,too. Having eliminated the two most important adopter demographics (workingpeople and families with children), is it any wonder that Billy—an easy going,playful, cuddly, gentle, drop-and-roll kitty—has been in foster care for eightyears?
Shelter animals already faceformidable obstacles to getting out alive: customer service is often poor, ashelter’s location may be remote, adoption hours may be limited, policies maylimit the number of days they are held, they can get sick in a shelter, andshelter directors often reject common-sense alternatives to killing. One-thirdto one-half of all dogs and roughly 60 percent of cats are killed because ofthese obstacles. Since the animals already face enormous problems, includingthe constant threat of execution, shelters and rescue groups shouldn’t addarbitrary roadblocks.
When kind hearted peoplecome to help, shelter bureaucrats shouldn’t start out with a presumption thatthey can’t be trusted. In fact, most of the evidence suggests that the publiccan be trusted. While roughly eight million dogs and cats enter shelters everyyear, that is a small fraction compared to the 165 million thriving in people’shomes. Of those entering shelters, only four percent are seized because ofcruelty and neglect. Some people surrender their animals because they areirresponsible, but others do so because they have nowhere else to turn—a persondies, they lose their job, their home is foreclosed.
In theory, that is whyshelters exist—to be a safety net for animals whose caretakers no longer can orwant to care for them. When people decide to adopt from a shelter —despitehaving more convenient options such as buying from a pet store or responding toa newspaper ad—they should be rewarded. We are a nation of animal lovers, andwe should be treated with gratitude, not suspicion. More importantly theanimals facing death deserve the second chance that many well intentionedadopters are eager to give them, but in too many cases, are senselesslyprevented from doing so.
Thanks Nathan! I believe red dog has a follow-up for you....red dog?
Thanks for the informationbut I feel as if it doesn't address this specific situation. This shelter isn'trun by a bureaucracy. Just a compassionate older woman who lives off publicassistance. Many volunteers have had great success in making her old shelterfriendly and inviting. And they succeeded in getting quite a lot of fosters andadoptions, so the dogs are better off than they were before, but things arestill not ideal. She's had to move to a not-very-nice place, and many of thevolunteers who were helping her have left the country or started helping othershelters instead. I don't think they've turned many adopters away
I ran an open admissionanimal control shelter. We took in animals of every background, including sick,injured, unweaned, and traumatized. Our average length of stay was 8 days. Infact, animals with impediments were easier to adopt in many cases. If dogs aresitting for years, you need to look at the policies of the organization. Youneed to change the way the organization operates. I've worked with shelters allover the world. If dogs are sitting for years, you need to change the way thisrescue is operating.
Thanks, point taken. Furtherto the previous question, in Irreconcilable Differences you suggest thatrescuers may be turning perfectly acceptable adopters away because theirrequirements are too strict. I see your point, but when I had to find a homefor my foster cat recently I felt as if I had the opposite problem. I askedseveral experienced rescuers for help in screening applications, but even withtheir help the cat came back *three times* for various reasons that struck meas incredibly flaky.
What kind of procedures doyou suggest to get animals adopted into trustworthy homes *without* drivingpotentially good applicants away? Another issue to consider is that mostpotential adopters who use the adoption website I use are foreigners in Korea so if the adoption didn't work out and the animalneeded a new home several years later, the adopter and I could very well beliving on different continents. Of course we always ask people about theirtravel plans, requirements to take animals back to their countries, anticipatedcosts, etc., but some people have proved unreliable. I'm hesitant to take onmore foster animals now because I'm not a professional and don't know if I canhandle the consequences of any more failed adoptions.
I would again point you tothe NKAC’s guide on adoptions. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work out.Sometimes the animal comes back. That is going to happen. But while you want tominimize it, you shouldn’t fear it. I would rather the animal come back to mewhere I can find him or her a home he/she deserves, than stay in a marginalsituation where he/she doesn’t get the love and attention that is his/herbirthright. But if you are doing the job, that number will be low. In Tompkins County, it was less than 2 percent of all adoptions. And while broken bondsare never good, in the end, we found those animals other homes, so no one waskilled.
thanks, good points
Nathan, thank you for yourpatience tonight. Tammy McLeod has thenext question, Tammy, whenever you're ready
Nathan, It appears thatadvocating no-kill shelters is a "bandaid solution" only to a muchlarger problem. What about registered and backyard breeders, what about society'scommodification of nonhumans?
I disagree wholeheartedlythat it is a “bandaid” solution. We are talking about ending the killing ofmillions of animals every year. Regardless of any other issues, that is animportant and worthy goal in and of itself.
In fact, far from being abandaid solution, it is also key to achieving larger animal rights goals. It isthe public’s love and compassion for companion animals that could support lawsbanning killing in animal shelters altogether right now.
The legally guaranteed rightto life for a species of non-human animals will be a crossing of the Rubiconfrom which our society will never return. History and the human rights movementindicate that the door, once opened, will, with time, be opened ever wider toaccommodate other species of animals currently being exploited or killed inother contexts. It is also through people’s relationships with dogs and catsthat, with the right message and the right information, we can get them to seethat other animals also have individual personalities, are also capable ofgreat joy and sadness, and are also not only worthy of our protection, but ofindividual rights.
Some theorize that the firstanimals to be given legal rights will be great apes, specifically bonobos. Idisagree. I believe it will be dogs and cats. How can you convince the Americanpublic that we shouldn’t kill chickens, when we are telling them it is ok tokill dogs and cats; those animals who are members of their family.
We animal rights people liketo often say, “why is one called a pet, and the other is called dinner?” It isa good question. I would also add that the converse, “it is wrong to killchickens or pigs, but it is ok to kill dogs and cats,” also shows hypocrisy. NoKill is the bridge to the larger animal rights platform.
Thanks Nathan, and nowanother question from Reddog....
You say in IrreconcilableDifferences that you hope nonhuman animals will some day have the legal rightto live. (Or something close to that.) Is this possible while they're still theproperty of humans?
Yes, I do. In the 19thCentury, you could abuse or kill a dog and it would not be illegal so long asthe dog was “your property.” That, of course, is now illegal. Laws and moresare changing all the time, and while not fast enough or comprehensive enough aswe would like, we are making progress toward that goal. Today, we have lawsgoverning a companion animal’s legal right to food, shelter, and veterinarycare. It is just a matter of time before we have laws that focus on thepsychological well-being of animals, and in fact, we are passing those today,such as anti-continuous confinement or tethering provisions. So it is hardlyimpossible to add the right to live, to make it illegal for shelters to killthem, for veterinarians to kill them, for people to kill them. And, in fact, asto the latter, in some ways it already is short of going to a shelter orveterinarian.
Does that mean they shouldalways be considered legal property? Is that the ideal? Of course not. Everygain makes the ultimate goal more attainable. Every evil we overcome not onlyhas immediate impact on animals, but helps make the other and larger goalscloser within reach. We can tackle evil one at a time. Some people wouldsuggest that unless we gain complete animal liberation today, we arecompromising our principles. I disagree. I believe that while we keep our eyeon the goal, pragmatism bent on success must also be considered, rather thanunyielding dogma that might do a lot to make us feel superior to others but hasno language for progress or success and gets us nowhere closer to the ultimategoal.
Thanks Nathan, the nextquestion is from Nath Miles, Nath, please go ahead when you're ready...
You argue against theexistence of an over population of “companion” animals and use statistics fromAmerican Veterinary Medical Association and the Pet Food ManufacturersAssociation. Do you think it might be possible that these organizations have afinancial interest and strong motive in denying the existence of an overpopulation?
As far as I know, thoseorganizations never claimed pet overpopulation as a myth, nor do I believe theysay so now. So I do not know what their motivation could be in this regard. Butit doesn’t matter since I had multiple sources and I only used their data forthe number of animals in homes, the surveys they did on how many people werethinking about adding an animal to their home, life expectancy and other ratesof attrition (an animal disappears or runs off) to determine how manyhouseholds were opening up for animals every year. I was looking for whatstatisticians call “stock” and “flow” to compare to the number of animals beingkilled in shelters but for a home and I collated it from these and othersources to make sure I could eliminate as much variability in the data aspossible. In layman’s terms, I was looking at how many homes open up which are“replacement” homes (a dog or cat dies or runs away) and how many homes are aresult of “expanding” homes (someone doesn’t live with a dog or cat but wantsto, or someone lives with a dog or cat but wants to live with another one).
But that is old information.Since that time, I’ve had access to a database of 1,100 shelters, a samplingsize of about 1/3 of all shelters in the U.S. I’ve used peer reviewed journals, I’ve used the dataof groups who actually have a motivation in maintaining the myth of pet overpopulationbecause it gives them an excuse to kill. I’ve looked at national surveys. Ifanything, the data from the sources you named showed I was being conservative.
In fact, using the logic ofmotivations, who says pet overpopulation is real? Shelters that kill animalsbecause it gives them an excuse. In fact, the idea of pet overpopulation didnot come from analyses of data or study. It came from backward rationalization.The fact of killing was rationalized backward to suggest there are too manyanimals not enough homes (if that were true, we wouldn't have a puppy millproblem to begin with because there'd be no money in it, we wouldn’t have petstores which sell animals, and we wouldn’t have No Kill communities.)
Look, I did not wake up oneday and say “Pet overpopulation is a myth.” Nor did I think that someday Iwould champion the notion that it was. I did not even set out to prove it. Itunfolded as part of my journey in the humane movement and the facts began tocompel further analysis. In fact, at one time, I too drank of the Kool Aid. Thededication of my book, Redemption, says it all: “
To my wife, Jennifer. Whobelieved long before I did.”.
I once actually argued withher on a date, before we were married, that “There were too many animals andnot enough homes” and “What were shelters supposed to do with them?” I amashamed of having done so, but I did. She correctly argued that even if it weretrue, killing them was still unethical. She also correctly argued that if wetook killing off the table, human ingenuity and human compassion would find away to make it work. But, more importantly, she asked me how I knew it wastrue.
How did I know? Because I’veheard it repeated a thousand times. Because I took the fact of killing inshelters and then rationalized the reason backward. But I was too embarrassedto 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 CumLaude, as a badge of my smarts and I came face to face with my own sloppy logicand slipshod thinking about the issue. “It just is,” I said (lamely).
But therein began a journeythat started in San Francisco, thenTompkins County (NY), then Charlottesville (VA), then visiting hundreds of sheltersacross 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 andcrunching of numbers, and several national studies. And the conclusion becamenot just inescapable, but unassailable. And rather than bury it ignore it, ordownplay it, I did what anyone who truly loves animals would have done. Icelebrated 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, otherstudies have come out which not only prove I was right, they show I wasconservative. What that means is that contrary to what many shelters falselyclaim 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 competentleadership, staff accountability, effective programs, and good relations withthe community—which most shelters refuse to do. It means putting actions behindthe words of every shelter’s mission statement that “All life is precious.” Andit is abundantly clear that the practices of most shelters are not aligned withthis principle.
What that means is thatshelter killing is not the result of pet overpopulation; it is the result ofshelter managers who find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stopit. And not only do they kill animals they should be saving, too many of them neglectand abuse them in the process.
The bottom line is thatshelter killing is unnecessary and unethical. And pet overpopulation is nothingmore than an excuse for poorly performing shelter managers who want to blameothers for their own failures.
Thanks Nathan. We have two~registered~ questions left, the first from Reddog and then the last from NathMiles....Reddog....
Recently I sent my littlefoster dog to Toronto because I was unsuccessful in placing him locally (Pedrohas a disability that limits his mobility.) Some would say Toronto has its own problems and that Canada should become no-kill first--before Canadianrescuers agree to accept dogs from Korea or anywhere else. Is that a legitimate position?
I have always supportedtransport programs. As director of Tompkins County’s animal control shelter, and as a No Kill community, we importedanimals from killing shelters outside our jurisdiction rather than allow thecages to sit empty during off-peak periods. We also worked with out-of-countybreed-specific rescue groups and No Kill organizations to transport some of ouranimals.
When exporting animals, wenever sent them to killing organizations. In fact, I always asked the rescuegroups we worked with why they didn’t just take animals from their owncommunity shelters. Some were very breed-specific and had greater care capacitythan supply. Others had tried to work with their own shelters, but wererebuffed.
In No Kill communities wherethe demand for animals truly does outstrip supply, it is a non-issue and awelcome effort. It is also a non-issue and welcome effort when breed rescuegroups in other areas are involved and capacity once again exceeds localsupply. But, even beyond these, we may be missing the bigger picture when weask if transferring animals from killing jurisdictions to other killingjurisdictions is ethical—without considering the context of transports.
If shelter managers werepassionate about saving lives and implemented the programs and services thatmake it possible, there would be little debate about high-volume transports.They would make sense, as some parts of the country (and some countries) aremore populated and naturally have a higher demand for animals. And if local governmentswere committed to a high level of service in animal care and sheltering, again,there would be little debate about transports. Everyone would support it,though the need would not be so great. It would simply become what it shouldbe: part of a flexible strategy dedicated to saving the lives of animals.
The reality is that too manyshelters in too many communities are not doing their jobs. Consequently, theyare unnecessarily killing a large number of animals. In addition, it is neverentirely cut and dried whether one particular rescue animal will result in thekilling of another (local) animal. When the transported animals face certaindeath because they are in the hands of shelter managers who aren’t interestedin saving them, it would be wrong to say they shouldn’t be saved by transport.Our first duty is to the animals who face certain death today.
There can be no blame,therefore, for the rescue groups in high kill rate jurisdictions that aresending these dogs across the country or to other countries. While they areworking to save animals by transport, however, they and others should beworking equally hard to reform their local shelters or those shelters will bekilling or threatening to kill animals in perpetuity. As long as animals are regardedby shelter managers as cheap and expendable; and as long as rescuers ship themelsewhere, there is no incentive to change. That doesn’t mean the transportsshould stop. They shouldn’t. An animal’s life is not a bargaining chip. But theproblem is not inevitable; it can be fixed.
From a larger No Killperspective, however, Canadian rescue groups should be saving animals fromtheir own communities. Taking the long view, if they focused on creating a NoKill community, they would save animals beyond their borders by increasing thepressure for neighboring communities to do the same. The old environmentalslogan of the 1970s—think globally, act locally—is apt.
San Francisco’ssuccess in the mid-1990s was the catalyst for the entire No Kill movement. Tompkins County’s success a few years later forced surrounding communities toreevaluate leadership and practices and aspire to more lifesaving. It alsoended the fiction that animal control could not be No Kill, and thereforeincreased the pressure on other animal control shelters to do the same. Onceone community achieves No Kill, people in surrounding communities begin to askthe question: “If they can do it there, why can’t we do it here?” And thepressure to do so begins to mount. But the long view is difficult to reconcilewith animals facing mass extermination today.
So what is the solution?What ended the need for the “Underground Railroad” in the Antebellum South herewas the elimination of the problem: the elimination of slavery. While No Killadvocates work to save the victims of a broken animal shelter system, they mustalso replace their broken system with one equal to the task with which it hasbeen entrusted. If Canadians demanded and received passionate leadershipcommitted to saving lives, they could have it all. They could save localanimals. They could also help animals from other places and even othercountries. If South Koreans did the same, there would be less pressure totransport because they’d be saved at home. At the same time, they couldtransport to their heart’s content, without displacing animals in somereceiving communities. In the end, the answer to both problems, and to all theprevious questions, is two-fold: Regime change in the leadership of shelters.And shelter reform legislation that removes the discretion shelter managershave to needlessly kill animals. We need to regulate shelters the same way weregulate other agencies that hold —and in this case, abuse—their power overlife and death.
Sadly, because of built inexcuses like pet overpopulation, the irresponsible public, and the economy;because of weak and even hostile leadership on the issue from the large,influential national animal protection organizations; because ofunderperformance at shelters and rampant uncaring in government bureaucracies,that may be easier said than done. But while these interests may be entrenched,they are not insurmountable. It is a battle we are capable of winning—and willultimately win. And the sooner we do so, the quicker we can end this needlesskilling.
By claiming there is nooverpopulation, despite over 8 million dogs and cats entering shelters acrossthe US each year, is it possible you’re sending a message that breeding dogsand cats is acceptable, and allowing humans an excuse not to spey/neuter?
What has made the No Killmovement so successful is the rejection of old dogmas that once defined theparadigm under which we all operated. Wehave rejected the excuses. We have accepted —not always without heartbreak—thebitter 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 thisbecame 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. Withoutit, we are groping in the dark, fighting phantoms, and, as history as shown,misplacing our faith and allegiance in those who abuse that trust byundermining and misrepresenting our cause, its solution, our urgency, and ourunequivocal determination.
I believe in telling thetruth. Truth is a weapon and truth isarmor. And given the strong, moneyed, and entrenched forces we must battle toachieve success, we need all the power and protection we can get.
I think if you were to turnthis question into a statement, it would be suggesting that we should lie topeople in order to get them to act in ways we want them to. I am not saying youwant that, but that would be the implication of taking it to its logicalconclusion. In addition, if you look at the data from a number of sources, ifyou look at the actual experience of communities which have achieved success,the idea that the availability of homes far exceeds the number of animals beingkilled is unassailable. Regardless of how much mileage someone feels they canget by continuing to perpetuate fiction, it is dishonest and dishonorable to doso.
The idea that the threat ofkilling is necessary to get people to spay/neuter has also has not been borneout by experience. In those communities which have ended killing of healthy andtreatable animals, people still spay/neuter and in fact, impounds aredeclining, not increasing. That stands in sharp contrast to those communitiesstill killing, who continue to rely on the fiction of pet overpopulation. It isnot lying to the public or threatening to kill animals, a violent and uglything to do in and of itself, that gets them to spay/neuter, it is makingspay/neuter services affordable and widely available and appealing to theiroften inherent desire to do right by animals by explaining why spay/neuter isimportant using the good and truthful reasons for doing so. Make it easy forpeople to do the right thing, and most people will.
We have to stop perpetuatingthis idea that people are inherently bad and cannot be trusted. In fact, quitethe opposite is true when it comes to companion animals. Most people love them.When I first began my work in the animal rights movement some 20 years ago, Iwas overwhelmed when I learned about the widespread killing and abuse ofanimals in various contexts. I was bitter and tended to believe that peoplewere uncaring and cruel. My indignation was fueled by the daily dose of badnews I received through my work in animal rights.
I lived in the trenches, andas can often happen when your vision is hindered in such a way, I became myopic.I focused primarily on the bad things people did to animals, and became blindto the good. As a result, I lost an accurate perspective. I lost the ability toperceive how most people really feel about animals, and with that, a sense ofthe animal protection movement's potential for success.
But then something happenedthat changed me. When I began to focus my efforts on ending shelter killing, Ibegan to see a different side of the story —a more positive, hopeful, and I nowbelieve, accurate measure of humanity. Through my work in the No Kill movement,I have encountered people from all walks of life—every demographic imaginable:every age, class, culture, and political leaning —united, in spite of theirother differences, by their love and concern for animals. I have witnessed,time and time again, how the public rallies to the call for reform of theirlocal shelter, and how, with their assistance, No Kill is now succeeding invarious and diverse communities across this country.
I also came to see how thistranscends companion animals as well: the passage of Proposition 2 in California to ban some of the cruelest conditions in factoryfarms, and the growth and mainstreaming of vegetarian restaurants, vegetarianfoods, and cruelty-free and environmentally-friendly products.
In fact, as I said earlier,while roughly eight million dogs and cats enter shelters every year, that palesto the 1 to the 165 million in people’s homes who are loved and cared for. Andas to the former, some people surrender their animals because they areirresponsible, but others do so because they have nowhere else to turn —aperson dies, they lose their job, their home is foreclosed. In theory that iswhy shelters exist—to be a safety net for animals whose caretakers no longercan or want to care for them. And the majority of animals who enter theseshelters can, and should, be saved. Their story does not have to be a tragedy.
Imagine if shelters providedgood care, comfort, and plenty of affection to the animals during their stay atthese way stations funded through tax and philanthropic dollars by a dog- andcat-loving culture. And imagine if all shelters embraced the No Kill philosophyand the programs and services which make it possible. We would be a No Killnation today. And in more and more communities, we are.
These experiences havecombined to erode my despair and replace it with great optimism. They havehelped me understand that when it comes to protecting animals, the battle isagainst the few who have a vested interest in the status quo; rather than themany, who will reject cruelty and killing and embrace compassion when they aregiven the information which allows them to see it clearly for what it is, andwhen a path to a more humane future is cleared before them. Sadly, theleadership of today’s animal protection movement refuses to recognize thispotential and therefore, refuses to act upon it. But, more tragically, they arethreatened when others do.
Quoting historian JohnBarry, I wrote in Redemption that “institutions reflect the cumulativepersonalities of those within them, especially their leadership. They tend,unfortunately, to mirror less admirable human traits, developing and protectingself-interest and even ambition.” They try to create order, not by learningfrom others or the past, but “by closing off and isolating themselves from thatwhich does not fit. They become bureaucratic.” One of the fundamental downsidesof bureaucracies is their focus on self-preservation at the expense of their mission.And in the case of animal shelters and the national allies who support them,this bureaucracy kills animals.
And while theseorganizations, like HSUS and the ASPCA, have become very big and very powerful,they have also become bureaucratic, with none of the zeal and passion thatcharacterized the movement’s early founders. It is perhaps worth noting thatthis is not unique to the animal rights movement. Every social movement inhistory had to fight institutional inertia from the large, established organizations.This is exactly what Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail was arguing against. It is what the great AlicePaul had to contend with in her movement. What William Lloyd Garrison had toovercome to create an abolitionist movement.
And while PETA is a specialcase, because I actually think that its leadership has some deeply disturbingdark impulses, as to the leaders of HSUS, the ASPCA, and others, like theirpredecessors in other social movements, they are fighting a losing battle tostop the No Kill revolution from destroying every last vestige of the “catchand kill” paradigm they protect, because we have the hearts and minds of thepublic on our side.
And I am constantly remindedof how much people truly love animals: From donating tens of millions ofdollars when animals are impacted by a disaster to the great lengths taken tocare for their own companion animals; from rising to the challenge when theirlocal shelter commits itself to a No Kill goal, to voting for animal protectionlegislation even when all the powers-that-be tell them doing so will hurt theirown economic interests; and, in countless other ways.
And it is that love thatgives me faith that we will fix our broken animal shelter system. Ultimately,not only will we save lives; but we will also create a future where everyanimal will be respected and cherished, and where every individual life will beprotected and revered.
Thank you, Nathan, for such comprehensive and insightful responses to some great questions. This concludes the formal part of Nathan’s chat for today. I’d now like to open the chat up toany other members who wish to address Nathan, but ask that you please send aprivate message to either Roger Yates or Tim Gier if you wish to do so.
Nath Miles would like to address you first, Nathan. Please go ahead, Nath.
The City of Los Angeles was sued by six environment groups because the Citywas doing TNR (trap, neuter, return of cats to outdoor colonies) without firstdoing the necessary environmental review. To put cats above all other speciesis speciesism. The City lost the case. Again where are the rights of the nativeanimals that these environmental groups protect? How does “Whereas, the rightto live is every animal’s most basic and fundamental right” apply to thesenative species?
The belief that some animalsare more worthy than others because they were here first is the basis of thisnative species philosophy. And it has no place in a moral or rights orientedphilosophy.
It is to propose a slaughterof cats with no end. Where does it end? What species deserve to live and whatspecies deserve to die? The ones you like? The ones the bird groups like? Thefact is the cats are there. And once there, killing them is not ethical. Thegoal of the environmental movement should be to create a peaceful andharmonious relationship between humans and the environment. Not to propose amass slaughter because they value one species more than the other.
The lawsuit was not aboutsaving birds. It was about scapegoating and killing cats. If they really wantedto reduce cat numbers, they would support their sterilization. They have misledthe court about the extent of bird predation by cats. And they have caused masskilling of cats without helping birds.
The nativist philosophy youpromote is not animal rights, it is not environmental, it is not humane, It isnot compassionate. It is about valuing one animal more than another, andkilling one because you claim to want to protect the other. It is violent, andit should be called what it is: Biological xenophobia.
Thank you, Nathan for your considered responses to our questions, and for being so generous with your time today.
ARZone exists to promote rational discussion about our relations with other animals and about issues within the animal advocacy movement. Please continue the debate after
chats by starting a forum discussion or making a point under a transcript.
Add a Comment