From the Desk of:
Nathan J. Winograd
August 14, 2007
A story in USA Today this week portrayed No Kill shelters in a negative light. The article quoted the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and other groups who legitimize shelter killing as saying that No Kill was akin to warehousing animals and that No Kill groups were derelict because they refused to kill animals. In an astonishing statement, the head of the ASPCA, Ed Sayres, went so far as to say "there is no room for No Kill as morally superior." It is deeply lamentable that agencies founded to care for animals in need would claim that killing is on equal footing to saving lives. But it is not surprising. While taking the lion's share of funding for companion animals, these groups do very little to save the lives of animals in U.S. shelters, while continuing to champion failed models and promoting the Orwellian logic that "killing is kindness."
At open admission shelters in Tompkins County (NY), Charlottesville (VA), at the Nevada Humane Society in Washoe County (NV), shelters with a history of dirty facilities and an over-reliance on killing became transformed virtually overnight when they replaced their long-term directors with animal lovers dedicated to lifesaving. Where there was little more than killing, these communities are now saving over 90% of all the animals, reserving killing to the hopelessly ill or injured, and truly vicious dogs. As one such agency tells it:
"Ever creative and resourceful, we find ways to tap the pet needs of a compassionate community and match all of our animals with the right adopters in due course. And while pets reside in [our shelter], they live in an environment as close to residential living as possible, not in cages. They enjoy a great measure of socializing, exercise, premium ... foods, and the best medical care available. And thanks to our award-winning team of volunteer foster families, shelter capacity can be stretched by sending our animals to temporary homes until it's their turn to find their forever home."
As the incredible and often immediate lifesaving results reaped by shelter directors who have embraced the No Kill philosophy and its programs and services over the last decade have demonstrated, we know how to end the killing of homeless animals. The same programs and services have resulted in success in every community in which they have been implemented comprehensively and with integrity. Unfortunately, few communities have done so, and most lack the political will to implement them. This is because most animal control directors are content not to and groups like HSUS and the ASPCA continue to provide them political cover.
It should also be noted that HSUS has never run an animal shelter and does not do so today. Nor are we aware that their Director of Animal Sheltering has ever run an animal shelter and certainly not one that has achieved No Kill success. It is time that the humane community and city governments cease relying on the advice of agencies and individuals who has never achieved lifesaving success. In fact, it is irresponsible for individuals associated with groups like HSUS to be offering themselves as No Kill experts, in light of the evidence that they are hostile to No Kill, have at best only a superficial understanding of it, have never had success at saving lives in shelters or have never run a shelter, and are ignorant of the dynamic and exciting changes
occurring in the field of animal sheltering as a result of the No Kill movement and the models which have proven successful in those communities which have implemented them.
So why do groups like HSUS continue to ignore this and continually mislead the public by framing the issue in a negative light? Historian John Barry writes that "[i]nstitutions reflect the cumulative personalities of those within them, especially their leadership. They tend, unfortunately, to mirror less admirable human traits, developing and protecting self-interest and even ambition. They try to [create] order [not by learning from others or the past, but]... by closing off and isolating themselves from that which does not fit. They become bureaucratic."
One of the fundamental downsides of 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 supported them, this bureaucracy leads to the unnecessary killing of animals.
As a result, regressive shelters and their national allies have long painted No Kill in an unfair and untrue light. Roger Caras, the late-President of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called No Kill a "hoax." The National Animal Control Association published articles indicating that No Kill was a "delusion" and perhaps even "cruel." And the Humane Society of the United States has likened them to a "glorified collector" at worst, and as leading to animal abandonment at best. This type of cynicism has in design only one purpose: to defend those who are doing a poor job at saving lives from public criticism and public accountability by painting a picture of the alternative as even darker. The picture these naysayers have painted of No Kill is one where dogs and cats live out their lives in filthy, cramped quarters prone to disease and mental deterioration.
It is a point of view that has been spread with such venom and rigor that some animal lovers have started to believe it. No Kill shelters, a rescuer writes, "are nothing more than collection stations where animals are condemned to live (if you can call it that) the rest of their lives spending the hot summers in sweltering heat and humidity and most of the rest of the year in rain, mud, muck and cold. ... I have come to realize that there are worse things than death, and that No Kill has only become an excuse for hoarding!"
Animal hoarding, however, has nothing to do with the No Kill movement. The No Kill movement seeks to end unnecessary shelter killing. Animal hoarding, by contrast, is not about the animals. It is a mental illness and a crime perpetrated by individuals. And it should be treated and punished as such. That some hoarders might call themselves "No Kill shelters" is irrelevant. If No Kill did not exist, they would just call themselves "caring pet owners." Would we condemn pet owning because of that? Of course not. Indeed, newspapers and news stations periodically report stories of child abuse perpetrated by foster families. Does that mean we should condemn foster care for children? Should we call for the elimination of orphanages and demand that killing of homeless children be the norm? Why then do we allow groups to paint a distorted picture of No Kill shelters? And, more importantly, why do we believe and internalize these pernicious representations?
If anything, true hoarders thrive in high kill shelter communities because they can rationalize to their friends and family the accumulation of too many animals. They have no choice but to keep these animals, they say, because their local shelter will only kill them. With shelters committed to No Kill solutions, there would be no excuses.
But instead of No Kill shelters and No Kill communities, we have the opposite -- shelters that are firmly grounded in killing, have no foster care programs, won't let volunteers in the shelter, are opposed to non-lethal feral cat programs like Trap-Neuter-Return, limit the number of pets a family can have, won't work with rescue groups, and don't proactively address the issues of homelessness, all protected by misinformation from their national shelter allies. This appears to be what these shelters, the national groups who legitimize them, and people who have internalized the "No Kill equals hoarding" view seem to be advocating for. They are trumpeting the cause of failure and the continued but wholly unnecessary killing of millions of animals every year in U.S. shelters.
So when so-called "animal advocates" imply that it is acceptable to kill animals because the alternative is a shelter that is overcrowded, where no one gets vaccinated, where filth is the norm, and therefore we should kill animals because otherwise they do not enjoy quality of life, we become our own worst enemies.
There is a false assumption at work here, the fault of which lies with the traditional "catch and kill" crowd. The rise of the No Kill movement has led to severe defensiveness and outright maliciousness on the part of the architects of the status quo. Groups like the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and many local animal control agencies, have painted a distorted picture of No Kill to deflect blame for the killing.
In an article entitled "I Used to Work at a 'No-Kill' Shelter," a program coordinator for HSUS writes that she left a No Kill shelter because she "wanted to be a shelter worker again, not a glorified collector." Another HSUS staff member stated last year that "in order to be No Kill, you have to adopt Pit Bulls to dog fighters." Yet another stated that feral cat caretakers were "closet hoarders." True animal lovers need to stop listening, and more importantly, internalizing these viewpoints. The views of HSUS on this issue should be rejected. We must accept the reality that opponents of No Kill who mislead and obfuscate, like HSUS and other reactionary agencies are not part of our movement no matter how hard apologists for killing try to pretend otherwise.
In fact, No Kill is the opposite of hoarding, it is the opposite of filth, and it is the opposite of lack of veterinary care. In 1998, No Kill advocates in California pushed a major animal shelter reform package through the State Legislature. One aspect of the reform was the requirement that shelters had to provide care to impounded animals (socialization, nutrition and veterinary care.) It also required shelters to assess cats to differentiate between feral cats and shy or frightened cats. It required shelters to offer animals for adoption. It required them to provide lost and found information to the public. And more.
The law was uniformly supported by No Kill shelters and rescue groups around the state. It was, however, opposed by many of the large national organizations and by virtually every major animal control shelter in the state with a few notable and progressive exceptions. This is what happens when you value animals so little that killing them for expediency becomes preferable to putting in place a foster care program, a medical and behavior rehabilitation program, to opening the shelter up to the scrutiny of the public and to their support through a volunteer program, by sterilizing rather than killing feral cats, and by taking animals the to offsite adoption locations to better help find them homes.
In fact, there are a lot of traditional shelters that are filthy. Their logic: Why clean so much? Why spend the money on vaccinations? Why provide veterinary care? Why socialize the animals? Why do all of these things -- which require enormous compassion and dedication -- when you are just going to kill the animals anyway? There are also many that are very clean. In the latter case, where animals are well cared for, vaccinated, provided routine veterinary care, and are socialized -- for the five days before they are injected with poison from a bottle marked "Fatal-plus" and their bodies thrown in an incinerator.
So to imply that No Kill by definition means filth and hoarding is a cynicism that has in design only one purpose: to defend those who are doing a poor job at saving lives from public criticism and public accountability by painting a picture of the alternative as even darker. The philosophical underpinning of the No Kill movement is to put actions behind the words of every shelter's mission statement: "All life is precious." No Kill is about valuing animals. And valuing animals not only means saving their lives, it means good quality care.
Saving lives requires a shelter to keep animals healthy and happy, make the shelter more inviting for the public, and allow animals to move through the system as quickly as possible.
Remember, No Kill doesn't mean announcing a policy change and then getting bogged down with animals because you do not have programs to keep animals moving through the system and into loving homes. No Kill means comprehensive implementation of the No Kill Equation which includes adoption, foster care, transfer to rescue groups, pet retention programs, spay/neuter, and helping people overcome medical, behavior and environmental conditions which may cause people to relinquish their animals. Doing so eliminates the problem of "overcrowding," unreasonably feared by sincere animal lovers and unfairly painted by cynical proponents of the status quo.
We need to send a message to people like Ed Sayres of the ASPCA, Kim Intino of HSUS and all the other dinosaurs quoted in the misleading article: No Kill is morally superior to killing. To claim otherwise, is to abandon the very principles of compassion, caring and kindness that are the underpinnings of this movement's founding. But take heart, the days when killing was considered kindness are coming to an end. And the dinosaurs of this movement will soon be swept aside.
For the Animals,
Nathan J. Winograd
P.S. Take a tour of U.S. shelters and see for yourself. Is this really what we should be championing? Click here.