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From 26 June 2005 Issue

Armchair Activist
By JJswans - JJswans@aol.com

An armchair activist, like an armchair quarterback, is one who is critical of those activists who are actually in the "trenches" helping animals, but who has no experience from which to make valid criticisms. This last week I've seen several of these armchair activists condemning Peta for their work in North Carolina. Mind you, Peta has been doing the dirty work, improving impossible conditions, while the armchair activist sits at his comfortable desk, slamming Peta for its actions and insisting that he knows better how to spend their money. And all the while he shows the world that he really doesn't understand the scope of the problem with companion animal overpopulation in this country, nor does he understand what's involved in sheltering and caring for homeless animals.

What started the armchair activist on his/her rant? Newspapers reported that two employees of Peta were arrested on various charges after they were linked with the disposal of plastic bags of dead cats and dogs in supermarket trash bins after they had been killed by lethal injection. But instead of waiting to hear all the facts, the armchair activist begins to pound out his vitriolic attack on his computer keyboard. The armchair activist doesn't even consider that there is another side of the story, nor that what's being reported is not convictions, nor that there might be mitigating circumstances. Normally, news reports are something that activists learn to read with a grain of salt when it comes to reports about animal activists, but because they give ammunition to Peta's detractors, these reports are taken as gospel - the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

What the news reports didn't say is how horrible the conditions were that Peta has been trying to improve for several years. Peta was first alerted to the problem by a Bertie, North Carolina police officer in 2000, whose concerns triggered a Peta investigation of several so-called shelters in Bertie County and Hertford County where Peta found some of the animals housed in "shacks without heating in which animals were left to drown or freeze to death," according to Peta's website at www.helpinganimals.com/f-nc.asp 

Also reported by the officer was a large white dog found drowning in a pool of water, lying on her side and too sick and weak to lift her head; a starving dog eating a dead kitten; no covering for the cages; no electricity; and methods of killing the animals that were barbaric, including a leaky, rusty, windowless box where animals were crammed on top of each other, and then gassed to death. This gas chamber can be seen at http://www.helpinganimals.com/phots/nc/LG-gaschamber.jpg . Other methods included restraining animals on a metal pole and shooting them with a .22 caliber gun. Northhampton was killing dogs and cats with an injectable paralytic agent that causes suffocation while the animal is awake and aware that it can't breathe.

These "shelters" are in impoverished counties where animal control is the least of community concerns. They are located in remote locations, are not open for adoptions, and are minimally staffed by one warden whose duties include responding to dog bites and stray animals.

Peta found injured and sick animals in the shelter that were badly in need of veterinary care. Many had parvovirus and contagious mange. Chains were found imbedded in dog's necks. There was no protection from the elements. A water hose froze in winter. Animals drowned during floods and froze to death during winter.

Peta sent a team to offer aid to Bertie County in order to train shelter staff in proper feeding and cleaning protocols, and built doghouses within the kennels to provide shelter from the elements - a desperately needed improvement. Peta made arrangements to pay a local veterinarian to euthanize the animals painlessly at the Hertford facility and has paid, to-date, $9,000 for the service.

When checking back with the Bertie shelter, they found conditions deteriorated again. Countless piles of feces were throughout the shelter, dogs living in their own filth, a bag of food thrown into the dog run and left to get wet in the rain, a dead wet cat lying in the middle of the dog run, two dead puppies in an empty food bag. At that time they issued an action alert that can still be seen at www.all-creatures.org/aip/nl-20feb2001-peta.html 

All the inhumane methods of killing stopped after Peta volunteered to provide a peaceful painless death free of charge. No secret was made that they euthanized animals and that the animals retrieved from the pounds would be provided with a humane death.

One of Peta's employees met with officials and was never asked about adoption. The shelters don't have an adoption program or an adoption rate, and never have. Since 2003 Peta has submitted several proposals to officials and attended several meetings where they offered and begged to be allowed to implement an on-site adoption program, among other things. Officials weren't interested.

Peta worked with the shelters to clean old cages and build new ones, train personnel, provide supplies and service. They spent more than $250,000 on veterinary and other services in one North Carolina County alone. They built a cat shelter from the ground up in an area where cats were previously set free in the woods to breed.

While all this was going on, Peta also delivered hundreds of free dog houses and straw to dogs throughout the community, who were chained to metal barrels or with no shelter at all, and have paid to spay/neuter countless animals already in homes. This, of course, was in effort to reduce the birth rate so that less animals would end up homeless and would mean less animals in the area's death trap shelters.

What does the future hold for the animals in the area if these shelters terminate their relationship with Peta? They will go back to their old ways.

As for the armchair activist - what happens to the dogs and cats who are born into a world that doesn't want them, has not cared for them, and ultimately has abandoned them to be disposed of? The armchair activist has all the answers. S/he thinks that all Peta has to do is build no-kill sanctuaries. But the armchair activist doesn't have a grip on the massive undertaking this would entail, nor does he understand what it would do to the animals themselves. The armchair activist believes that any life, no matter how lonely, no matter how fearful, is better than no life at all. And that's an easy thing for the armchair activist to believe, because he doesn't have to live it, doesn't have to see the animals suffer for his choices.

The armchair activist doesn't take into account that dogs have evolved, through selective breeding, into animals that want to be part of human families. The armchair activist thinks that a dog living in a kennel all it's life, is experiencing a life worth living. How big must the fantasy sanctuary in the armchair activists mind be, that it can handle the millions of dog and cats that are killed in this country every year because of lack of homes? And that's just this year - what about next year, and the year after that?

We all look forward to a no-kill society, where adoptable animals don't have to die, but the armchair activist forgets that this is a goal to work towards - one that will only be reached with education, spay/neuter campaigns, and possibly even legislation. It's not going to be solved overnight, and it certainly isn't going to be solved solely with sanctuaries, because as homeless animals are warehoused in sanctuaries, people come to the conclusion that it's okay to breed more. There will always be those that don't care about orphaned animals, and will just produce more to make money or to please themselves, but that number increases when people think that their actions don't cause the deaths of dogs and cats that are already here, needing homes.

Something else that the armchair activist doesn't realize about sanctuaries is that they fill quickly and need to turn subsequent orphan animals away. For those that they can take in, if no homes are available, the adoptable animals become "cage-bound" and are no longer adoptable. So, such animals are being kept while they slowly become unadoptable and have to be killed anyway - even by the no-kills. And then there is always the fine line between being a sanctuary, and being a hoarder or collector.

The armchair activist also conveniently ignores the efforts Peta has made to educate and to spay/neuter. Not only in the counties that are currently in question, but all over the country. Not only do they have a mobile spay/neuter van called the "Snip-Mobile" ( www.helpinganimals.com/i-nobirth-snip.html ) that helps reduce the birth rate in their area, but they also offer free downloads of educational literature on spay/neuter, and many other companion animal issues at ( www.helpinganimals.com/t-lit.html ). And hopefully they will be able to continue to help the animals in North Carolina to have a reduction of births, better housing, and a merciful death when there are no other options.

One other thing that the armchair activist sees fit to complain about is the method that the Peta employees used to dispose of the remains of the animals they euthanized, which was by putting them in plastic bags and placing them in dumpsters. This may or may not be ill advised, and apparently was illegal, as dumping anything in private dumpsters is illegal. However, the normal method of disposing of dead animals by animal control in that area is to send them to a landfill. Which basically means that they would end up in the same place as the contents of the dumpster.

More things for the armchair activist to consider:

It costs taxpayers an estimated $2 billion each year to round up, house, kill, and dispose of homeless animals.
An estimated 7 million cats and dogs are killed in U.S. shelters each year.
47% of cats surrendered to U.S. shelters are not spayed or neutered.
55% of dogs surrendered to U.S. shelters are not spayed or neutered.
67,000 puppies can be born from one female dog and her offspring in 7 years.
420,000 kittens can be born from one female cat and her offspring in 6 years.
71% of cats and kittens entering U.S. animal shelters are destroyed.
55% of dogs and puppies entering U.S. animal shelters are destroyed.
For every human born, 6 puppies and kittens are born.

Where would you like those 6 puppies and kittens, for each of your family members, delivered?

My advice to the armchair activist? Get off your duff and volunteer at a shelter, or with a rescue group. See what life is really like in the world of homeless animals.

Go on to Second Mad Cow in US is Confirmed
Return to 26 June 2005 Issue
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