Aug 5 2014

Long time no write

Valerie Hayes

I had to take a hiatus from writing while doing some soul-searching after my mother’s death. I’ve been doing lots of research, got lots of writing ideas, got my energy back, started a photography project, a preliminary draft of which will hang in a show in September, attended the premiere of the documentary Redemption in Minneapolis, been on the radio, had “I was there” re-published as a guest blog on Nathan Winograd’s website and in the companion book to Redemption, and been promoting the Atlanta screening of Redemption, which is coming up on August 21. More on all this in subsequent posts. Get your tickets, and I hope to see you on the 21st!

A tiny kitten awaits a foster home at Animal Ark.  From one of my current photography projects 'Living Proof'.

A tiny kitten awaits a foster home at Animal Ark. From one of my current photography projects ‘Living Proof’.

Apr 25 2013

An open letter in support of removing PETA’s ‘animal shelter’ designation

Valerie Hayes
PETA needle
Below is a version of emails I sent to Commissioner Lohr and Dr. Dan Kovich of VDACS.  I encourage everyone who cares about animals and people to write to them as well in support of the No Kill Advocacy Center’s petition to remove PETA’s designation as an ‘animal shelter’.  Other than employees of animal shelters, only licensed veterinarians can legally euthanize or kill pets, so removing the shelter designation would remove the cover under which PETA kills thousands of healthy and treatable pets every year, leaving them with nary a lettuce bikini to hide it behind.  A shelter is supposed to be a place for adoptions, not a place of mass killings.

If you haven’t already, please take a few minutes to send your own emails to Commissioner Lohr:  and to Dr. Kovich:, because enough is enough.

Dear Sirs,

On June 15, 2013, it will be eight years since the real PETA was revealed to the world.  I am talking, of course, about the Piggly Wiggly Dumpster Incident and subsequent trial.  Since learning the painful truth about how an organization claiming to work on behalf of the rights of animals instead perverts the definitions of ‘rights’, ‘ethical’, and ‘animal shelter’ by seeking out and killing thousands of healthy and treatable pets every year, I have done what I can to spread the word, in hope that the more voices raised against this perversion, the sooner it would come to an end.

You have the power to put an end to it by granting the petition filed by the No Kill Advocacy Center, and I implore you to do so.  Your state’s own shelter statistics reporting webpage shows that many of Virginia’s shelters and rescues are capable of great things and save many lives (and on budgets a tiny fraction of PETA’s).  Your own findings in your site visit of almost two years ago show that PETA does not even have proper facilities nor the inclination to house and adopt out pets.  Some of Virginia’s open-admission animal control shelters save an impressive 90% or more of the animals they take in and more are working towards that admirable and achievable goal.  PETA, with its wealth, national reach, and claim to be a leading voice for animal rights, should be leading the way in saving the lives of lost and homeless pets, yet it uses its wealth and its platform to fight against saving these animals and seeing them into new homes.  They are perverts.  To them a shelter designation is nothing else but a license to kill.  Please take their license to kill away.

As a witness to the creation of the first No Kill community in the nation, I am well aware of, and profoundly concerned with the negative effects that the needless killing of homeless pets has on individual people and on the community at large.  Allowing PETA to keep it’s shelter designation would not only be fatal to thousands of healthy and treatable pets every year, but would also be very bad for people as well.  It is bad for the people who are deprived of an opportunity to adopt those animals and share their lives with them.  It is bad for the people who surrender animals to PETA, having been led to believe that “the world’s leading voice for animal rights” would find them a good home.  Why should anyone have to face that betrayal?  It is bad for the animal rescuers and the staffs and volunteers of shelters targeted by PETA in their twisted little war on the No Kill movement.  Those people work hard to better the plight of homeless animals and seek to do all they can for the animals in front of them, animals that PETA would kill within minutes to further their sick agenda.  It is bad for the people who go to work for PETA, perhaps with the good intention of making the world better for animals, and who instead end up allowing themselves to be manipulated into becoming those who seek out and kill healthy and treatable pets and make no effort to find them homes–perhaps the worst possible perversion of their better selves.  What does the future hold for them?  Why should this organization be allowed to destroy their souls?

There is a better way.  Please remove PETA’s designation as an animal shelter.  Please take away their license to kill animals and to cut a destructive swath through the community of animal lovers.

Sure, they’ll make a ruckus about it, but so what?  The shouts of joy from real animal lovers across the country and around the globe will drown it out.

Valerie Hayes

Oct 4 2012

Free adoptions: Much better than televised killing

Valerie Hayes
Animal Services of Mesilla Valley will do free pit bull adoptions in October

Animal Services of Mesilla Valley will do free pit bull adoptions in October

The first post I wrote on this blog was about the televised killing of a dog by a “shelter” in New Mexico, a depraved publicity stunt that echoed a depraved publicity stunt by a “shelter” in California twenty years previously–the one which was recounted in the opening paragraphs of Redemption.

Many people were outraged by Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock’s televised killing of the golden-haired dog (which was apparently the second such stunt for her) and her blaming of the public:

“I’m sure the public is tired of hearing this problem but unfortunately, it is a community problem – it is not a shelter problem, Vesco-Mock said.

It also came out that she’d briefly directed a Georgia shelter, but was fired after a dog was left in a hot animal control vehicle and died.

At the time of the televised killing the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley had a 70% kill rate–significantly higher than the national average of about 50%.  Appalling, when you consider that we have known how to achieve 90+% save rates for over 10 years.

The Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley and Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock are in the news again today, this time for doing a free pit bull adoption event for the month of October.  According to the news article, the shelter will still use its usual screening procedures, the only difference being that there will be no charge to adopt pit bulls.  In addition, the dogs will be neutered already.

Now, I have a natural tendency to be skeptical, and I don’t think that this shelter director suddenly turned into adoption promo queen Bonney Brown, but, could this be progress?  Is she really going to do it and do it right?  I sure hope so.  The fifty-six pit bulls currently at the facility, the other dogs, and the cats and other animals, are depending on progress.

A couple of things are pretty clear to me, based on comments I’ve seen about this article on the article itself, and on Facebook:

  1. A lot of people don’t read past the headline of an article, and
  2. A lot of people have misconceptions about what free and reduced-price adoption promotions are all about.
The response so far has been overwhelmingly negative, with people assuming that this event will lead to animals just being given away willy-nilly to anyone who shows up, that it will be a terrible disaster for the dogs, when the article clearly states that adopters will be screened and dogs neutered prior to adoption.  Actually, the evidence is that the presence or absence of an adoption fee has NO influence on the quality of the adoption.  Even the ASPCA, which has a long history of fighting No Kill reforms, acknowledges that peer-reviewed research indicates that free cats are just as valued by their families as those who came with a price tag attached.
Now, these are pit bulls, not pussycats we’re talking about, so every rumor has to be bigger, louder and more vicious.  The rumors are essentially the same, though, recycled over the years.  It used to be taboo to adopt out black cats around Halloween or to adopt out any pets around the holidays.  Thanks to many successful adoption programs, those notions which were once so pervasive have fallen by the wayside.  If your screening process is sound January through September, then it will still work just fine October through December.  If it isn’t, adoption fees won’t make it so.  In the past few years, we’ve seen many clever adoption promotions, mostly involving greatly reduced adoption fees.
As Christie Keith put it:
Free pet adoptions are not aimed at people who otherwise couldn’t afford a pet, and that’s not primarily who they attract. Just as Nordstrom holds special sales only for its best and, presumably, wealthiest customers, just as car dealers and appliance stores and luxury hotels have special promotions, shelters and rescue groups who do free adoptions know that the “free” part is a marketing strategy, not a hand-out.

Free and special price promotions are designed to be attention grabbers. They also serve to focus people on pet adoption not in a “someday when I get around to it” kind of way, but in a “better go this weekend because it’s exciting, fun, and I’ll save money!” kind of way.

And just as wealthy people look forward to the Nordstrom annual sale because it’s an event, because it makes them feel special, and because they enjoy the idea of saving money, pet adopters respond the exact same way.

These days, people like to brag about having a rescued pet.  Adopting a pet is a good deed and becomes a positive part of someone’s identity, and adoption promotions make more people into adopters of rescued pets because they combine a good deed with saving a few bucks.

I doubt that most of the people who are so upset at the prospect of pit bulls being adopted out for free know that the last time this facility made headlines, it was for killing a dog on television.  I doubt that most know that at that time, its kill rate was 70%.  And wherever kill rates are high, they are generally even worse for dogs labeled ‘pit bulls’.

Shelter killing creates a toxic climate of fear, leading to a willingness to believe the worst about people, and the long tradition of blaming the public means that the people whose support is essential to saving lives–”the public”, is, after all, your pool of potential adopters–is viewed with suspicion rather than courted.  Innovation is suspect.

Is this shelter director committed to making this event a success?  I don’t know.  I sure hope that she is.  What I do know is that the animals deserve a successful adoption event, and many more in the future.  Animal advocates should do what they can to make this event a success, because we need to leave the bad old days behind.

If you were a pit bull, which would you choose: 15 minutes of fame for getting killed on the evening news or 15 years of life with a family who adopted you for free?



Sep 24 2012

All the difference in the world

Valerie Hayes

If someone had told me twelve years ago today that I would one day see the above video, I would have thought them insane.

The transformation that took place to create the nation’s first No Kill community created a bigger gulf between then and now than did the passage of time, and it didn’t take years to do it.  To those who haven’t been on both sides of that gulf, what is now, was then inconceivable; what was then, is now inconceivable.

Rain or shine, a No Kill community is a place of celebration.

That’s what it is.

We live in a cruel, crazy world, one in which shelter killing is a habit, and getting to not killing requires a crisis.

We live in a beautiful world, because we can make the killing stop.

I believe in miracles.

They happen every day.

Tompkins County SPCA March for the Animals 2012

TCSPCA March for the Animals 2012

TCSPCA March for the Animals 2012

Sep 24 2012

When is a black cat like a unicorn?

Valerie Hayes

Now may be your chance to adopt a creature so rare, few have ever seen one.  Only a handful of these creatures come into existence each year, and how they do so is is a mystery.  They are so rare, that some question that they exist at all.

Here’s a picture of the animal in question:

Midnight, a cat up for adoption from PETA.

Midnight, one of the rarest of the rare.

You may be thinking that I’ve lost my mind.  “That is a black cat.  My local shelter and rescue groups have dozens of black cats available for adoption,”  you say.

Ah, yes.  Midnight, if she is even real,  is different.  Very, very different.

Midnight is apparently being offered for adoption by PETA.

Yes, PETA, the folks who brought you the Piggly Wiggly Dumpster Incident in 2005.  The ones who brought you the Woo-Hoo You’re Gonna Kill Again! Gift Basket Incident last month.  The ones who support continued killing and viciously attack No Kill efforts.  The ones who have killed nearly every pet they have gotten their hands on in 20042005, 2006, 20072008, 20092010, and 2011.*   They’ve killed over 25,000 healthy and treatable pets in the past ten years, and they show no sign of intending to slow down or stop.  Some consider PETA to be a destructive cult.

Given this backdrop of death, untrustworthiness,  and downright craziness, you’ll have to excuse me for being a bit skeptical.

  • The story and pictures are pretty generic, as is the cat’s name.  It seems to cater to the uncritical.
  • There are no external links to news stories of the rescue which would confirm it’s validity.
  • Midnight is a black cat, which means she lacks the unique identifying markings one would see on a calico, piebald, tortoiseshell, or even tuxedo cat.  The pictures could be any black cat.  This would make any ‘proof of life’ questionable.
  • Why wouldn’t the cat just climb back down the tree on her own power?  The picture of the cat in the tree shows what looks like an easy climb for a cat able-bodied enough to get up on her own power.
  • Surviving ten days up a tree without water sounds a bit far-fetched to me.  Even if the cat could lick dew-drops off of the leaves (assuming there were any dew-drops), I doubt it would be enough to sustain life for ten days.
  • Is this story a reaction to criticism about PETA’s extraordinarily high kill rate?  It looks like an attempt to distract their membership to me–something to point to and say “we do too adopt out animals” diverting attention from the infamous walk-in freezer.
  • Perhaps they are trying to prove to themselves that they are good people.  That is after all, a fundamental human need.  Allowing the occasional animal out alive may serve that purpose, even as they kill thousands of others.
  • Midnight’s owners are portrayed as the stereotypical uncaring owners that PETA would like its supporters to believe are so prevalent.  People like that are actually the exception, not the rule.  PETA’s take on humanity lacks nuance.

So, I have a few questions:

  •  How true is this story?  Is it partly or completely made up?
  • If there is any truth to it, is Midnight still alive?
  • What does a PETA adoption application look like?
  • If Midnight is real, then how did she get chosen for the rare privilege of surviving PETA?   What sealed the deal?  Was it her inability to climb down a tree?  Her camel-like ability to survive without water?
  • What is stopping PETA from advertising all the other animals they take in to their “facilities”–all those dogs and cats and bunnies and others they keep invisible to the animal-loving public, the ones that leave 501 Front Street via the freezer?

But, hey, you never know.  If you are a cat lover with a penchant for cryptozoology, you might want to adopt Nessie Midnight:

Now Midnight is settling in at PETA’s Norfolk, Virginia, headquarters and is waiting patiently for the right adoptive family. She will be microchipped and spayed before adoption. If you are ready to make a lifetime commitment and give Midnight the safe, loving home that every cat deserves, please e-mail

If you succeed, or if you know anything about this cat, I’d like to hear from you.

*Oddly, the 2009 stats don’t appear to be properly posted on the VDACS site (maintained by the state of Virginia where PETA is headquartered).  They are available in the article to which I linked, however.  A word about the numbers reported:

You’ll notice that there are a lot of animals listed in the categories “others” and “reclaimed by owner”. Those are animals that were brought in for spay-neuter surgery. They were never taken in “for purposes of adoption” and so should not be included in these statistics, but they are, because PETA wants to conceal the true gravity of its statistics. The pertinent numbers are in the columns “surrendered by owner” and “euthanized”. You’ll notice that these two numbers are very similar. That’s because PETA kills most of the animals it takes in “for purposes of adoption”.

You can compare PETA’s statistics to those of other agencies in Virginia by changing the agency identification number in the url (i.e. …fac_num=157… identifies PETA). In keeping with the ‘license to kill’ theme, let’s try ‘007’. That gives us the statistics for an organization called SOS-SAFE, or Saving Animals from Euthanasia. How about that? You’ll find that their numbers are quite a bit different from PETA’s.