Tuesday, December 16, 2014

PETA Killers Must Be Stopped

By now most of you know of the recent abduction and killing of Maya, a little girl’s loved Chihuahua, by PETA. If you don’t yet know the story, you can read the initial news account here, but here’s the short version:

On a Saturday in October, a PETA van drove up to the home of Wilbur Cerate’s family, two women got out, one of them went onto the Cerate porch, grabbed their Chihuahua, Maya, shoved her in the back of the van, and drove off. Three days later, the women returned to the Cerate home with a fruit basket, and told the Cerate family that they had “euthanized” Maya.

Maya, loved family member abducted and killed by PETA

Although the Accomack County sheriff charged PETA with larceny, the county’s commonwealth attorney, Gary Agar, dropped the charges, claiming there wasn’t enough evidence for a prosecution. He seems to be ignoring the fact that there is a video showing these women from PETA entering the Cerates’s property, taking Maya, and driving away with her in the van. And in any case, isn’t the evidence or lack thereof something for a jury to decide? Agar also stated that PETA was there to collect strays. But PETA has no authority to collect strays, as that is the job of animal control, which PETA is not. And even if they were, they would have to abide by the stray hold period, which is five days in state of Virginia.

PETA has been contacted by news outlets on several occasions, and publicly asked for a comment, but as of this writing, they have remained strangely silent on the subject. Perhaps they believe if they just don’t say anything, this will eventually blow over. After all, by their own admission they kill more than 90% of animals they take in, and are known to take animals under the pretense of finding them  homes and then take them straight to their van and kill them, and they have publicly called for the killing of pit bulls and feral cats, and yet they still have a large number of people who will defend them even in the face of all this.

But this isn’t going away. Shortly after this news broke, a Facebook page was started on behalf of Maya. The page now has more than 8,000 “likes” and counting. And more people and organizations are speaking up against PETA’s actions. Foremost in the call for action against PETA is the No Kill Advocacy Center (which has long pointed out PETA’s penchant for killing animals), which has petitioned the Virginia State Veterinarian to revoke PETA’s license as an animal shelter (yes, PETA still has animal shelter status, even though they don’t actually HAVE a shelter). The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies has written a letter in support of the petition, as has the Richmond SPCA. Even Virginia State Senator Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. has written a letter requesting a review of PETA.

Here’s the bottom line: PETA can go on with its loopy publicity stunts, half-naked celebrities, and lurid videos of people doing kinky things with vegetables all they want. But they have to be put out of the animal-killing business. And with any luck, this time, PETA has dug its own grave.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

L.A.: Progress Toward No Kill?

Shortly after the statistics for Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) for the fiscal year ending July 2014 came out, both LAAS and Best Friends started shouting from the rooftops that there had been a "record drop" in the killing (or, as they misuse the term, "euthanasia"). But really just how significant is this reduction? Let’s take a closer look at the statistics in order to get a clear picture of how (or indeed whether) LAAS is progressing toward No Kill.

To begin with, the fact that the killing was down is really no surprise, as killing has been going down every year since at least 2009[1] (the first year for which I have records). Also, note that the "record" drop last year is in fact smaller than the drop the year before[2] (going by live release rate, which is the clearest way to assess progress toward No Kill).

Intakes were also down last year, and that is a good thing, as keeping animals out of the pounds is as important as getting them out once they are there. But notice that the difference in the number of cats and dogs[3] killed from 2013 to 2014 is approximately the same as the difference in intakes in those years, so the reduction in the number of animals killed can be accounted for almost solely by the reduction in intakes. In other words, even if LAAS had done nothing specific to reduce the killing, the number of animals killed would have gone down almost as much as it did.

And what was the reason for the reduction in intakes? Was either LAAS or Best Friends proactive in that regard? Not so you’d notice. The pet retention programs at the South L.A. (run by
Downtown Dog Rescue) and North Central (run by Home Dog L.A.) pounds are doing a wonderful job of helping to keep animals with their families, but that would never have happened without dedicated volunteers and outside groups. Also, these are just two of the six LAAS locations, and neither LAAS nor Best Friends has done anything to institute or support such programs in the others (more on this in a later post).

Consider also the fact that Best Friends is now running the seventh LAAS location as well as its own adoption center in West L.A. In other words, there is now room for many more animals in the system (5,234 animals went to Best Friends from city pounds last year), and Best Friends is also doing massive PR work in addition to its adoption promotions, coalition rescue partners, and spay/neuter clinic. Under those conditions, the number of animals killed would be expected to decrease significantly even with "business as usual" in the rest of the system.

So while it is true that fewer dogs and cats were killed last year in L.A. than in previous years, that fact is misleading and doesn’t prove any fundamental progress toward No Kill in the system as a whole; rather, it points to a notable lack of such progress.

And let’s not forget that these are lives we are talking about. All analysis and arguments aside, the tragic fact remains that while LAAS and Best Friends are patting themselves on the back, 12,681 cats and dogs were killed last year (please just pause for a few seconds and ponder that number), the vast majority of them healthy or treatable animals who wanted and deserved nothing more or less than to find a home and someone to love. So LAAS and Best Friends can crow about their "record" as much as they please, but until they actually start doing all that they can to truly end the killing by wholeheartedly implementing all the programs of the
No Kill Equation, I can’t really see anything to celebrate.


1. Bear in mind that the years I refer to are fiscal years, as that is the way LAAS keeps its records.

2. While it is true that the live release rate increased, the increase was smaller this year (the year everyone is raving about) than the increase that occurred last year. The increase from 2012 to 2013 was 6.96%. The increase from 2013 to 2014 was just 5.56%

3. For the purposes of this post I am looking only at the numbers for dogs and cats because those are the numbers that LAAS and Best Friends are using; but we have to remember that there are other animals whose lives matter just as much, and whom LAAS and Best Friends seem to be ignoring.

Monday, October 6, 2014

This Saturday! Redemption Screening in San Pedro

I'm so excited that the screening of Redemption, Nathan Winograd's documentary film about the No Kill Revolution in America, will take place this Saturday, October 11, at 11 a.m. at the Warner Grand Theater, 478 W. 6th Street in San Pedro. Do YOU have your ticket yet? If not, you can get yours HERE, The film will be followed by a Q&A with Nathan Winograd. I hope to see you all there!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bad Karma

From everything I have heard and know about Karma Rescue in Los Angeles, it is a great rescue and does a lot of good. So when I heard about their behavior recently with regard to a lost dog named Raffiki who ended up in their care and whom they refused to return to her rightful guardians, I was not only extremely upset for Raffiki and her family, but disappointed that an otherwise great rescue would show such a terrible lack of judgement, and a propensity to elitism.

The story:

Several weeks ago, Rosa Torres’s dog Raffiki got out of her back yard and got lost. Ms. Torres did all the right things to try to get Raffiki back: flyers in the neighborhood, Craigslist, Facebook, and searching the East Valley pound, which is the one closest to her Panorama City neighborhood. As it turns out, Raffiki was taken to the pound, but not the East Valley location, rather she was taken to the West Valley location, miles away.

While Ms. Torres searched, Raffiki was pulled from the West Valley pound by Karma Rescue and put up on their web page as adoptable. In her search, Ms. Torres saw Raffiki on the Karma website and immediately called and left a message on the group’s voicemail. But no one at Karma bothered to return her call. So in desperation, she put in an adoption application for Raffiki, now called Kami by Karma. But according to Karma, Ms. Torres’s application–to adopt her own dog–"did not meet the qualifications that Karma looks for when adopting a dog to a home." Raffiki was quickly adopted out to another family. All this happened within one week.

Raffiki was a family member who was ripped from her loving family, including Torres’s four-year-old son, and placed with strangers. Ms. Torres told the L.A. Times that her son "cries whenever he looks at [Raffiki’s] picture" and that he keeps asking when Raffiki is coming home.

Karma states that they had "spoken with" the adopters, "to apprise them of the situation," which means nothing. In light of their statement that Ms. Torres wasn’t qualified to adopt from them, I’m sure they didn’t recommend that the new adopters give Raffiki back to her real family. In fact, I would guess that they actually did the opposite and advised the adopters not to give Raffiki back.

Karma’s attorney, Susan Willis, is quoted in the L. A. Times as saying about Rosa Torres, "had she been a little more diligent, we would have spoken with her." This is pure nonsense. Ms. Torres called Karma as soon as she knew Raffiki was with them. I would like to challenge who was and was not being diligent here.

Some people have stated that Karma is within their legal rights in everything they have done, and they are correct. But although Karma acted legally, they did not act ethically to do whatever they could to get the family reunited. After Raffiki was adopted to her new family, she legally belonged to them, and so the adopters are also acting within their legal rights. But again, knowing now that Raffiki has a family who loves her, including a broken-hearted four year old boy, the ethical thing for the family to do would be to give her back to them. Just because all parties are acting within their legal rights does not mean they are doing the right thing. And here’s a thought: What if the new adoptive family should realize that Raffiki should be reunited with her real family? I don’t know about Karma’s adoption agreement, but it is standard procedure for rescues to require that, should adopters for any reason want to give up their animal, they return him or her to the rescue. So, if the new adopters DO decide to give Raffiki back, Karma would have to agree. Would they agree? I have contacted Karma and asked them this very question, but have yet to hear back from them. I’m not holding my breath.

A press release from Karma states that they acted "in the best interests of the dog." So, they really feel that Raffiki’s best interests are to be torn from the family she loves and placed with strangers? Really???

It has been said in defense of not giving Raffiki back that she wasn’t spayed or microchipped, had no identification tags, and got out of her yard. Therefore, they conclude that this means her family was "irresponsible" and not worthy to get her back. This self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude is prevalent among rescuers, and needs to stop.

If a dog is being mistreated, I’m all for doing whatever it takes to get him or her out of the abusive situation. Otherwise, the fact that someone doesn’t do exactly the things you think they should do is none of your business. Period.

Raffiki was just the opposite of abused. She was well-loved and well-taken care of. But because she wasn’t spayed, chipped, or wearing any tags, and her family lives in a relatively low-income part of town, and she got out and got lost, according to Karma Rescue, and sadly, a number of others in the rescue community, this means her family was "irresponsible" and not worthy to have her, and was justification not to give her back. What makes these people arbiters of what a "good" home is? What gives them the right to decide who does and does not deserve a dog, doesn't deserve their own dog? What gives them the right to, in essence, steal a family’s dog? It is this behavior that is irresponsible, not Raffiki’s family’s.

Jessica Gary, a former Karma volunteer, has resigned over this incident, after attempting to get Karma to do the right thing and give Raffiki back to her real family. According to Ms. Gary , she saw posts on Facebook that Raffiki’s family was looking for her, and she called someone at Karma to discuss the situation, but was told "the dog wasn’t spayed or microchipped. She’s not getting her dog back." That was hours before they adopted Raffiki out to someone else, who, according to Ms. Gary, already had a dog who was not neutered. This refutes what Karma is alleging.

Aside from the sadness of the story as it pertains to Raffiki and her family emotionally, returning a dog or cat to his or her guardian is one important thing we can do as part of a program to stop the killing in pounds . Raffiki already has a home, and another family wanted to adopt a dog–an opening for another dog who could have been saved.

I certainly hope that both the adoptive family and Karma Rescue will come to see what’s right and let Raffiki return to her real family.

And I hope, for the larger picture, that rescues with unreasonably tough standards for who should and shouldn’t have a pet will realize that they are hurting, not helping the situation for animals. While they turn down loving homes, animals are being killed by the thousands in "shelters" every day.

Monday, December 3, 2012

L.A. Animal Services Numbers Improve

Two updates recently came out regarding the reduction in the number of animals killed in the Los Angeles Animal Services pounds. The first was an email from Brenda Barnette, the general manager of LAAS, stating that during the first four months of this fiscal year, as compared to the same time period last year, dog and cat impounds have decreased by 799, and the live release rate for dogs and cats has increased by 897, or 5.8 per cent.

The second was a post by Francis Battista on the Best Friends blog, stating that Best Friends’ NKLA initiative had a goal for 2012 to reduce the deaths at LAAS by 3,000, and as of the end of October, with two months left in the year, the deaths are already down by 3,500 (although it doesn’t specify, I assumed this meant a reduction over 2011, and when I checked the LAAS statistics, I came up with a reduction of 3,497, close enough to corroborate my assumption).

It’s good to see the numbers moving in the right direction. Any reduction in killing and impounds, and any increase in live release rates is positive. And if the intake rate doesn’t rise appreciably, and the killing rate continues to decline by between 3500 and 5000 each year, then the NKLA projection of No Kill in five years could actually happen.

But before we get too excited, let’s look at some other, more sobering facts.

–Even with the decrease in killing of dogs and cats by close to 3,500, that still leaves 17,126 animals who were killed this year through October. That is 56 animals a day, every single day.

–Even with the increase by a few percentage points, the live release rate is still little more than half of all outcomes for July through October of this year (57.4 per cent by my reckoning).

–The live release rate for unweaned kittens remains dismal, hovering around 12 per cent.

I don’t want to minimize the improvements, and I certainly don’t want to rain on a parade that is headed in the right direction. As the saying goes, the longest journey begins with one step. And these new numbers could be that first step in the city's journey to No Kill. But I do want to sound a reminder that clearly there is still a long way to go to achieve an end to the killing.

As I have said in a previous post, I don’t know of any community that has ended the killing of healthy and treatable animals without assiduously following the No Kill Equation, and it really doesn’t look as if Best Friends is doing that. But if the numbers hold and Best Friends does achieve an end to the killing, I will be among the first to give them all the credit they are due. The question does arise, though: if they actually were fully implementing all the programs of the No Kill Equation, would the journey be a shorter one?

We need to maintain perspective, and we need to keep in mind that we’re talking about a comparison of two years, and looking at the statistics over past years, one sees that the numbers have a tendency to fluctuate, but never steadily improve. Having said that, with the exception of two months, July-October 2012 has the best live release rate (although not by a huge margin) compared to the same time period over the previous five years. Let us hope that the momentum continues and that this is a not simply a fluke, but an indication that we truly are in the process of ending the killing in Los Angeles.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful for Shelters That "Get It"

For those who still think that No Kill is impossible, and who continue to ignore those of us who point out that there is already a growing number of No Kill shelters, perhaps an actual example of a how a truly compassionate, progressive shelter manager handles things, and what happens when killing is off the table, will shed some light.

I direct you to Shirley Thistlethwaite’s YesBiscuit! blog for today. It is a truly uplifting account of how to do sheltering right.

Yes, shelter directors who do what it takes NOT to kill animals are indeed something to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Puppy Mills and Pound Killing: What is the Connection?

On Wednesday, October 31, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance banning the retail sale of cats, dogs, and rabbits. The ordinance goes into effect on December 17. This is very good news. It means and end to animals from puppy, kitten, or rabbit mills in Los Angeles pet stores. This is another blow to this horrendous industry, as jurisdictions around the country are joining the bandwagon and passing similar legislation.

Puppy mills* need to go out of business for one reason, and one reason only. They are cruel, hellish places that breed dogs only for profit, and keep their overhead as low as possible by not treating their dogs with even a modicum of care. Dogs live their entire lives in small wire-bottom cages with no bedding, never having any significant human interaction, never getting proper vet care to the point where their teeth rot and tumors, infections, and other conditions go untreated, they never get bathed or brushed or groomed, they’re fed low-quality food that is often stale, even moldy, their drinking water often has a film of green slimy algae, they’re forced to live in blistering heat with no air conditioning in the summer, and freezing cold with no heating in the winter, their water bowls often frozen solid. The females are kept pregnant constantly, then have their puppies taken away from them before they are properly weaned.


This is how millions of dogs have to live out their entire lives, and most of it is perfectly legal. Puppy mills churn out dogs for sale at pet shops and on the Internet, and USDA regulations allow for treatment that would appall any decent person.

But if you listen to people at pet store protests or speaking in front of city council meetings, you will hear them give another reason they believe puppy mills should be banned. You will hear them say that buying puppies at pet stores causes animals in "shelters" to be killed. Their logic is that animals are being killed in pounds because of "overpopulation." "Too many animals, not enough homes." And therefore, the thinking goes, every time someone buys a puppy at a pet store, they are in essence adding to the overpopulation and causing the death of an animal in a pound. At pet store protests, these people will hold signs that say "every dog bred means a shelter dog dead," "don’t breed or buy when shelter pets die" and even "pet overpopulation is NOT a myth."

In fact, at times this message seems to drown out the very real one of cruelty. In fact, the text of the Los Angeles draft ordinance reads, "whereas, the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits contributes to the proliferation of homeless or unwanted animals that end up in public animals shelters; and whereas, prohibiting the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores, retail businesses or other commercial establishments may lower the City’s shelter animals euthanasia rate and lead to a greater adoption rate of shelter animals...." but nowhere does it give the slightest mention of the cruelty and horrific neglect suffered by dogs in puppy mills, which is the only valid reason for shutting down puppy mills.

Puppy mills are horrible places, and must be closed down.

Killing of animals in pounds is unconscionable, and must stop.

However, these are two completely separate issues, because overpopulation is a myth, and buying a pet store puppy is not what is causing the killing in the pounds. What is causing the killing is a failure on the part of the leadership of the pounds to do what it takes to end the killing. We already know how to do this, with a proven set of protocols, the No Kill Equation.

The cruelty perpetrated on the parents of the pet store puppies in the mills is quite certainly enough of a reason all by itself to fight to end the mills. We don’t need to bring in a false reason to help the cause. It doesn’t help, and in fact, it can hurt not only the puppy mill cause, by diluting the message and causing people to lose sight of the very real reasons to end puppy mills, but it can also damage the attempts to bring about an end to pound killing, because the only way we are going to end that killing is by first recognizing and accepting that overpopulation is a myth.

Also, by making a blanket statement that pets die in pounds because of breeding, we alienate reputable breeders, and this is a mistake. These breeders could be a valuable ally against both puppy mills and pound killing. If we could only separate mass breeding for profit from breeding by people whose motive is not profit but a love of the dogs, we could get a much larger number of people to be vocal on our side.

Protesters at pet stores, as an explanation of why we know pet stores sell puppy mill animals, will rightly say that reputable breeders do not sell their animals to pet shops. But at the same time, they are carrying the "every dog bred is a shelter dog dead" signs, and spouting the corresponding rhetoric. Very mixed message. Can you imagine any breeders joining in a protest that voices these platitudes?

And by not distinguishing reputable breeders from puppy mills, we are also alienating another group of people: those who won’t go to a shelter or rescue, can’t be persuaded to, and feel they must have not only a purebred dog, but a puppy, and don’t care that purebred puppies do come into the pounds. If they are given simply a choice between pet stores and the pound, and not helped to find a good breeder, they will be pushed to choose the pet store.

There is a connection between pet stores selling puppies and pounds killing animals, but it is not at all that which the "overpopulation" believers are trying to tell us. It isn’t that animals are being killed in pounds because they are being displaced by puppies sold in pet stores, rather pet stores are able to sell more puppies in part because shelters are not meeting the needs of the dogs and the public–not having offsite adoptions, not having convenient opening hours, not advertising–and therefore killing more animals.

As Nathan Winograd says in Redemption:

[T]he more animals dying in a given community (which traditionalists claim means lack of homes), the greater number of pet stores that sell dogs and cats (which shows homes readily available). Generally, pet stores succeed when a shelter is not meeting market demand or competing effectively, and because animal lovers do not want to go into a shelter that kills the vast majority of the animals....

Someone posted a message on a Facebook page that noted that there are about four million animals dying in "shelters" every year, and that about that same number of dogs are bred in puppy mills each year. Her point seemed to be that if we got rid of puppy mills, the killing could end. The post ended by saying, "number don’t lie."

But this isn’t about numbers. If it were, we would be a No Kill nation today, because there are many more people looking to bring an animal into their home, and undecided on where to obtain that animal and therefore could be persuaded to adopt, than there are animals killed.

Of course it is true that, without the pet store option, some people would turn to a pound to adopt an animal, and that could only help get more animals out of pounds. But even if no pet store ever again sold an animal, even if every puppy mill went out of business today, that would not come close to ending the killing. The "overpopulation" people have it backwards. Shutting down puppy mills will do little to end "shelter" killing; however if the "shelters" begin implementing the No Kill Equation, not only will the killing end (and we know this, because it is already happening in communities across the country), but, by diverting people to the shelters, it will also go a long way to shutting down the puppy mills.

Shirley Thistlethwaite in her "YesBiscuit!" blog has stated it beautifully. The title of one of her blog posts is "Directors of Pet Killing Facilities Keep Puppy Mills in Business." Think about that.

In the blog, she writes:

By killing approximately 3 million healthy/treatable shelter pets that an estimated 17 million people planning to get a new pet are open to adopting, shelter directors are driving those 17 million people to other sources....Killing health/treatable shelter pets ensures that puppy mills will continue to meet the demand for pets that shelters are not.

Sadly, though, people will continue to conflate puppy mills and pound killing as long as the myth of pet overpopulation continues to be pervasive. Because if pet overpopulation did exist, the logic would be sound. But as more and more people are able to step back from their tunnel vision and disengage themselves from the received wisdom of "pet overpopulation" that has been drilled into them for years, and finally open their minds to the proof in front of their eyes, No Kill communities will start springing up even faster than they are now, and at the same time, puppy mills will start falling like houses of cards.



*I speak of puppy mills, because that is where so much of the cruelty is being exposed. However, whenever, for convenience, I simply use the term "puppy mills," I am including the places that churn out kittens, rabbits, and other animals, all equally egregious.