Animals In Print
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26 January 2011 Issue

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Best & Worst of Times

January 2, 2011 by Nathan J. Winograd

The Biggest Successes of 2010
In Part I of my 2010 review, which I posted yesterday, I wrote about last year’s great successes. 2010 was truly an incredible year in so many ways. In another review of 2010, KC Dog Blog noted the change that the new year brought to Lucas County, Ohio, as dog slayer Tom Skeldon, a darling of the anti-“pit bull” crowd, was forced out. His removal was followed by the repeal of “pit bull” discriminatory policies not only in Toledo, but across the country. There is truly much to celebrate.

While we are laying the groundwork in a lot of places and saving lives across the country, our goal is and has always been achieving No Kill. That is why the biggest successes in 2010 were No Kill in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, California, New York, Virginia, Kentucky, and more. I’ve said it numerous times. It is the official tag line of the No Kill Advocacy Center. But I’ll say it again here: A No Kill nation is within our reach.

The Biggest Heartbreaks of 2010
Tragically, there were many contenders. Wayne Pacelle sunk further than ever after selling out the animals and embracing Michael Vick. When Pacelle first contemplated jumping in bed with the monster, I asked:

Can anyone imagine the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence embracing wife killer O.J. Simpson as a spokesman? Can anyone imagine the National Organization to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children embracing pedophile John Geoghan as a spokesman? Can anyone imagine the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network embracing rapist Josef Fritzl as a spokesman? It is unthinkable. And yet we in the animal movement, under Pacelle’s direction, are threatening to do this very thing, to having our movement embrace our version of Simpson, Geoghan, and Fritzl as a spokesman. It is beyond obscene. It is unthinkable.

Not only did Pacelle embrace the most notorious dog abuser of our generation, he went further, arguing that he should be allowed to have dogs and that he would make a “good pet owner.” Vick has never shown remorse and he would still be committing that brutality to this day had he not been caught. Monster Vick—the man who hanged dogs, who nailed them to walls, who shot them in the head, who electrocuted them, who drowned them, and who laughed while they were torn to pieces, careful to put on overalls so he did not soil his expensive suits with their blood—is being given opportunities to do it again by none other than Wayne Pacelle, the head of the nation’s largest “animal protection” organization. It is the equivalent of giving a serial predator complete access to children. Ugly, obscene, and unthinkable. And for what? So that Pacelle can ride Vick’s bloodstained coattails to the New York Times and 60 Minutes, and because Vick’s employer gave Pacelle’s organization $50,000.

Ed Sayres is another contender. His betrayals outnumber Pacelle’s in 2010. In fact, 25,000 animals a year in New York State will be slaughtered thanks to Ed Sayres and the ASPCA after he, and his co-conspirators—most notably, the Maddies-funded Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals—successfully derailed Oreo’s Law, much needed lifesaving legislation. In a statewide survey, over 70% of rescue groups said they have been turned away from a NYS shelter and then had that shelter kill the very animals they offered to save. Oreo’s Law, named for the abused dog Sayres ordered killed despite a lifesaving alternative, would have ended that widespread practice. But Sayres and Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance saw the law as a threat to their power, and they fought back, the animals be damned. Since Sayres succeeded in killing Oreo’s Law, 14,000 animals rescue groups were capable of saving have been killed by shelters instead.

But as obscene as their actions were, we are no longer surprised when Pacelle and Sayres show us their true colors. We have been there many times before. That is why the biggest heartbreaks were those that came out of left field. Those that revealed to us that the emperors we thought were fully dressed were, in fact, naked. 2010 was the year that three organizations we believed championed our cause proved where their true allegiance lies—with protecting the power interests of one another—and not the animals they claim to protect.

The Deafening Silence of Alley Cat Allies
In terms of feral cat advocacy, Oreo’s Law was the most significant piece of legislation ever introduced in the United States. The law would have required all New York State shelters to give—rather than kill—feral cats and kittens to rescue and TNR groups. In other words, Oreo’s Law was a backdoor to codifying TNR as the official policy of one of the most important states in the nation. As FixAustin’s Ryan Clinton correctly observed, “Where New York goes, so goes the nation.”

Let that sink in: it would have been illegal in every shelter in New York State for a feral cat, feral kitten, and all socialized cats and kittens to be killed if a rescue group or TNR group said they would take them. Now imagine a group calling itself the nation’s leader on cat and TNR issues not supporting it. Unthinkable? Think again.
Alley Cat Allies did not support this vital legislation to push the cause of feral cats dramatically forward. Instead, in deference to a friendship with Jane Hoffman, Alley Cat Allies sat on the sidelines and allowed the defeat of a law that would have empowered feral cat advocates throughout NYS to save the lives of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of cats condemned to death in shelters every year. Alley Cat Allies first told supporters they were “watching” the law, a meaningless statement. They then stated that there was “no finalized language to support,” even as the bill was set for a vote. And, finally, they stated they were “working with the legislative sponsor,” even as the bill was voted down without their support over the objection of the legislative sponsor.

Without any support from big national organizations, Oreo’s Law died. And a seminal piece of legislation to further the rights of feral cats in New York and a powerful precedent setting law for other states to emulate was defeated, killed by silence from those who should have been its most outspoken supporters, and those who behind the scenes actively worked to kill it, as was the case with Best Friends.

The Betrayal of Best Friends
While Alley Cat Allies was sitting on the sidelines, Best Friends took an active role in defeating the measure, lobbying a supporter to withdraw. The “most beloved sanctuary in the world” turned out to be run by three callous individuals—Gregory and Julie Castle and Francis Battista—who apparently had no ethical quandaries with betraying both animals and rescue groups. Calling rescuers hoarders and dog fighters in disguise, arguing that shelter directors should not be second guessed when they refuse to work with rescue groups and kill animals, and claiming that notifying rescue groups of available animals is too burdensome despite automated shelter management software available at no cost, Best Friends showed us who they really are in 2010. Publicly, they claimed a cowardly neutrality. Why? Money. They were opening an office in New York City to raise millions from unsuspecting animals lovers and they did not feel they could do so on the ASPCA’s and Mayor’s Alliance home turf and oppose them on the bill.

With “best friends” and “allies” like these, who needs enemies?

Funding the Opposition
Aside from Ed Sayres, the main architect behind the demise of Oreo’s Law was Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City animals. Granting rescue organizations a legal right to save animals, Oreo’s Law would have made her position as the “middleman” between rescue groups and shelters obsolete, which she saw as a threat to her position and power. But the Mayor’s Alliance would not have had the political power to defeat Oreo’s Law if it was just another group in New York City. Its power flows from its wealth. And its wealth is underwritten by Maddie’s Fund.

Maddie’s Fund could have insisted that she stop fighting Oreo’s Law, that she stop working to continue the needless and mass killing of NYS shelter animals, as a condition of continued funding. But they refused and remained silent as she destroyed any hope that 25,000 animals scheduled to be killed this year would be saved. Adding insult to injury, they ignored this betrayal to the animals and held her and New York City up as a national model even as 2010 saw the neglectful and cruel conditions in New York City shelters fully exposed in the media. This includes unassailable evidence that shelters in New York City kill healthy animals, that cats in chronic pain do not receive pain medication, that a dog chewed off half his own tail because he did not receive proper care, that cats and kittens go long periods without food and water, and that dogs are wallowing in their own waste and not getting needed socialization.

Tragically, the most generous donation ever made to the animal protection movement—some $300 million—has become misappropriated to fund a powerful force against the very cause it was intended to champion.

A Voice for Compassion
If an award could be given out to the bravest and most giving people in this movement, it would be rescuers and shelter volunteers. They not only sacrifice their time and money, they are the backbone of lifesaving in this country and often receive nothing but scorn from the national leaders who take credit for their work, and from the shelters who benefit from their largesse. At great personal and emotional cost, but out of great love and compassion, they spend their days at a place where they are often not wanted and in fact mistreated, a place that is the hardest for them to go because they care so much: a regressive pound where they are forced to watch animals neglected, abused, suffer, and die.

But most of them operate under the radar and there are too many of them to highlight. So we have to award others, bearing in mind that the work of people we award would be meaningless if not for the rescuers and volunteers. 2010 was the year of No Kill Nation’s meteoric rise on Facebook. It was the year that everyone made sure to read YesBiscuit’s blog. It was the year of Reforming Animal Control which no one could articulate better than Ryan Clinton of FixAustin. It was the year of the Animal Wise Radio Network. Thanks to social media, the internet, smarts, good deeds, good sense, and even just good writing, the voices for the No Kill movement multiplied exponentially.

And while a lot of new faces and new people become national No Kill figures, most notably and not without good reason, one voice for compassion towered above all, a champion of an abused and betrayed dog, a defender of rescue groups, an advocate for shelter volunteers: the Honorable Micah Kellner.

While the large national organizations could not summon the courage to champion the animals and their rescuers, even though that is the very core of their mission, a state assembly member from the very district that includes the ASPCA, the Mayor’s Alliance, and the New York City fundraising office of Best Friends, Assembly Member Kellner did just that. And given that he was the assembly member for their district, it could not have come from someone who had more to lose in doing so. His courageous introduction of Oreo’s Law was the single, most powerful act of 2010 to combat the humane movement’s corruption. And when the NYC pound retaliated by subverting Federal Civil Rights law in order to try to silence volunteers, he fought back on their behalf, too. That is why he was the recipient of the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Henry Bergh Leadership Award, an irony since he won it by fighting the very organization that Henry Bergh founded—an organization that would now be completely unrecognizable to the great Henry Bergh if he were alive today.

I Was There

An elderly gentleman came in to adopt a dog. He selected one, a pointer mix, still on his mandatory stray holding period, hence not yet available. The man returned to the shelter the next weekend, eager to take his new buddy home. He’d picked out a name for his new dog and even bought a dog bed with the name embroidered on it. The employee behind the desk informed him matter-of-factly, that the dog had already been killed. I will not ever be able to forget the look on his face.

Among the reading material left lying around the shelter was a publication from California, a newsletter from a foundation I’d never heard of before… I remember standing in the lobby of the [Tompkins County] SPCA, in front of the desk as I read it. I can picture the room, the angle of the sunlight coming through the window, and where I was standing, perfectly. It told of a day when the entire nation would be No Kill. No shelter in the entire country would kill healthy or treatable animals… It seemed so incredibly impossible as to defy even imagining.

I hold that moment of ignorance perfectly preserved, as if in its own little snow-globe of memory, separated from all else—a silly toy that will one day be placed on a shelf to gather dust. I could not have known then that I was standing exactly where it would happen first.

Valerie Hayes’ personal essay “I was there: one volunteer’s view of a shelter’s transition to No Kill” was the single best thing written about the No Kill movement in 2010.

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