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15 December 2011 Issue

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A Shell Game, Hush Money, and the ASPCA’s Motivated Blindness in Austin

By Nathan Winograd

For those who participated in the No Kill flash mob on the ASPCA Facebook page over the Thanksgiving weekend, you may have noticed the posting about the grants that the ASPCA gave to several organizations. With its financial largesse, the ASPCA chose to reward some of the most regressive humane societies in the United States. It was, in reality, nothing more than a gift to friends of the ASPCA, to organizations that are filled with people who mirror the mindset of the people at the ASPCA.

There is a tendency to view organizations as separate from those who work there. Too often, even critics of groups like the ASPCA give lip service to the employees, suggesting that they do care about animals, but the leaders of those organizations are somehow failing them. But organizations reflect the cumulative decisions of not just their leadership, but also of those who are willing to carry those decisions out. As I’ve written before, the kind of concerted effort to fight No Kill across the country that the ASPCA engages in requires people. It isn’t Ed Sayres sitting alone at his keyboard. He and other leaders of the ASPCA may be calling the shots, but the people of the ASPCA are implementing his regressive policies. Ed Sayres may have ordered Oreo killed, but the people of the ASPCA killed her. Ed Sayres may have ordered Oreo’s Law to be defeated, but the people of the ASPCA walked the halls of the state capitol in Albany and lobbied legislators to vote “No.” Ed Sayres may have ordered the ASPCA to oppose No Kill in San Francisco, but the people of the ASPCA testified against it in front of the San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission. Ed Sayres may have ordered sick kittens sent to New York City’s medieval and abusive pound, but it is ASPCA employees who delivered them there to be killed.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when the ASPCA gives awards to “shelters” like the Houston SPCA, which kills healthy and friendly animals because they look like a pit bull or so they can impound animals in disaster areas from outside of Houston and fundraise off of them, only to kill some of them too. We shouldn’t be surprised when they reward the Humane Society of Broward County which takes in dogs from the high kill shelter in Tallahassee which is partnering with the ASPCA (so the ASPCA can announce an increase in the “live release rate”), even though the Humane Society of Broward County has an even higher kill rate than Tallahassee, and kills local dogs to take in the Tallahassee dogs. Like the ASPCA, the ASPCA’s “partners” do not value life. For the ASPCA, it was never about “saving” the animals. It was always about separating people from their money.

The ASPCA’s Shell Game

Despite what their cleverly crafted press releases and slick fundraising solicitations imply, when the ASPCA assists in a large-scale “rescue,” either a hoarding bust or a natural disaster, they often do not care for and find homes for the animals themselves. Despite their $140,000,000 annual revenues, after they are done with the photo-ops and the fundraising solicitations have been sent out, the animals get shipped off to kill shelters across the country, either to be put to death or to have local animals put to death so they can take them in. That kind of fraud requires hush money; payola for participating in the shell game. The ASPCA takes in millions, the local organizations get some of the cut, and everyone is happy, except the animals. They’re dead; like the beagle puppy “rescued” from Hurricane Katrina who ended up at a shelter in Michigan, where he was killed.

What the hell kind of rescue is that? The answer, of course, is the ASPCA kind. The ASPCA needs those organizations to do their bidding. The ASPCA relies on the cooperation of local shelters when they do these sorts of “rescues” because once the media has moved on and the solicitations have been sent out, the animals’ efficacy to them is at an end. The local shelters they pay off serve as a dumping ground. If the ASPCA were to actually hold these shelters accountable for how they operate, they would lose their very valuable allies in these lucrative fundraising schemes. Until very recently, this was a tidy, efficient arrangement, and no one thought to ask where the animals ended up, or what ultimately happened to them. It’s nothing more than a game of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

The ASPCA Adoption Challenge

While the ASPCA was promoting its “rescues” which were not really rescues and announcing grants to its friends on its Facebook page, over on the ASPCA Pro page, there was a different rubric being used to decide who would be rewarded. The ASPCA Professional page is geared to shelters and it had a “challenge grant” to see which organization could increase adoptions the most based on a prior year’s baseline. The group with the greatest increase over last year would get $100,000. Given the criteria, the ASPCA Pro group could not reward their cronies like the Houston SPCA, the Broward County Humane Society, or the pound in Tallahassee. Those agencies are a dismal failure who would win nothing if the criteria involved not killing. The winner was—no surprise—Austin Pets Alive. Last week, Austin Pets Alive was given the $100,000 check in a ceremony by ASPCA functionaries Bert Troughton and Karen Medicus.

Ironically, just a few weeks earlier, Troughton, who runs the ASPCA Pro page, released documents calling No Kill reformers like Austin Pets Alive “extremists.” The documents were written by Medicus who was the ASPCA point person in Austin working to defeat the No Kill Plan promoted by Austin Pets Alive that led to the success the ASPCA was forced to recognize. Included in the documents Troughton released was a power point guide to stopping No Kill reform written by an ASPCA consultant, a man who called Austin Pets Alive a “terrorist organization” at a recent national conference. Yet here they were (with what one attendee called “pained” looks on their faces) having to reward those same individuals when the statistics of those communities revealed that, in fact, those No Kill “extremists” and “terrorists” had actually created one the most successful adoption communities in the country.

Are Troughton and Medicus really so isolated from the No Kill movement’s tremendous success that they couldn’t see this coming? Couldn’t they realize that by setting up a contest that was based on objective and measurable results, rather than giving kill shelters hush money for a shell game that has characterized the ASPCA’s prior grants, they were placing themselves in the position of having to publicly recognize at an award ceremony those they considered a threat, called “terrorists,” and worked so diligently to defeat while they were fighting for a No Kill Austin?

Motivated Blindness

Psychologists have coined the term “motivated blindness” to describe some people’s reluctance to see what they do not want to see. In the recent scandal involving the rape of children by Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, dozens of Penn State students and boosters took to the street protesting the firing of football coach Joe Paterno, because they did not want to acknowledge that their beloved football coach was a pedophile-enabler. As the New York Times recently described it,

Some people suffer from Motivated Blindness; they don’t see what is not in their interest to see. Some people don’t look at the things that make them uncomfortable.

Last week in Austin, the No Kill movement saw its own textbook case of motivated blindness. While everyone in attendance at the award ceremony saw the large elephant standing in the middle of the room that was the unmentioned opposition to the effort the ASPCA was now being forced to recognize, that did not stop Troughton, while giving the award, to actually suggest that other communities had nothing to learn from Austin’s success. Though they’ve looked long and hard for a solution to shelter killing, stated Troughton, there is no existing road map for No Kill, even though each of the people responsible for the success the ASPCA was lauding would tell you they got there by following the one and only model that has ever achieved success: the No Kill Equation.

The No Kill Equation is the same road map that allowed Tompkins, Reno, and every other community in the U.S. to achieve similar success. In other words, according to Troughton, you can have the check, but you’ll get no credit as a beacon of hope for animals, and you’ll certainly not be allowed to suggest that Austin, like Reno and 20 other communities before it, have something to show the others. If the model gets recognized by the ASPCA, that would require shelters in Tallahassee, Houston, and Broward to actually be accountable themselves. And once accountable, the ASPCA’s shell game comes to an end. As dutiful ASPCA functionaries who toe the party line, Troughton and Medicus are paid to make sure that is not allowed to happen, even though they both know better. Medicus, an Austin resident, knows full well that success there is a result of Austin Pets Alive’s No Kill Equation model of sheltering. She also knows that the City crossed the 90+% save rate threshold shortly after the Council passed the No Kill Plan, mandating that the city shelter do the same. And Troughton came up with her own dead-on-arrival promotion modeled after the No Kill Equation earlier this year which she called the Recipe for Lifesavin’.

Given this, it is enough to make you gnash your teeth to imagine Bert Troughton telling a room full of determined people who followed a very specific path to success that their achievements are enigmatic and devoid of larger significance or lessons for others. But it is also very telling to imagine her doing so: To imagine how it must have felt for the world to have shifted so dramatically beneath her feet, knowing she was finally being held accountable to the rhetoric she spouted with one side of her mouth, even as the other side fiercely condemned those who were sincerely devoted to it.

Beaten, humiliated, shown to be disingenuous, and then forced to get on a plane and fly half way across the country to reward those she had called “extremists” and whom she labeled as the enemy just a few weeks before, it is no wonder she refused to see and acknowledge the truth; that she chose instead to act like the proverbial blind person in a room full of sighted people, insisting that it is dark, when the room is flooded with sunshine.

Filed Under Blog Posts, The Truth About ASPCA


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