Feb 2 2013

Groundhog Day, again

Valerie Hayes

It’s Groundhog Day again and apparently our friends over in that bizarre parallel universe otherwise known as PETA still don’t like my robot idea. Some things never change. The piece below was originally published 3 years ago. In the 1096 days since then, more than 80 additional communities have achieved save rates of 90% or higher, accomplishing tremendous things on budgets a tiny fraction of PETA’s, despite the very serious disadvantage of being nothing but a bunch of cleverly disguised hoarders and dogfighters, while the kind folks at PETA continue to kill over 90% of the pets they get their morally superior hands on.  

It doesn’t make any sense to me either.

A modest proposal: PETA should ‘euthanize’ only animatronic dogs and cats

 

ol blue-robot dog

top A robotic dog is the perfect solution to PETA’s use of the ‘blue solution’.
Sculpture created by Paul Loughridge

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has once again made headlines for suggesting the use of animatronic technology as a means of protecting animals, this time suggesting that Punxsutawney Phil be replaced with a robotic groundhog, on the grounds that having an actual groundhog pop his head out of a hole in front of an audience once a year is a form of animal cruelty.  They had earlier suggested that UGA replace its mascot with ‘robodawg’ after the untimely passing of Uga’s most recent incarnation.  Additionally, PETA has produced a video in which robotic cats attempt to make robotic kittens.  Clearly they are aware of the great potential this technology has for the protection of animals, but they are overlooking one use which would save thousands of dogs and cats every year, and it’s right there in front of them.  It is so obvious, how could they not see it?

PETA kills thousands of pets every year, and many, if not most of these pets would be deemed adoptable by a No Kill shelter.  No Kill shelters save 90% or more of the animals that come through their doors, whether or not they are open-admission.  PETA, by contrast, seeks out andkills over 90% of the animals they get their hands on.  In 2006, they killed 97%.  In 2007, they killed 91%.  In 2008, they killed 96%.  There is no reason to believe that 2009 will be any different once the numbers are finally released.*

If PETA were to switch to ‘euthanizing’ robotic dogs and cats (and the occasional chicken), rather than killing actual living, breathing dogs and cats (and the occasional chicken), literally thousands of animal lives would be saved every year.  Rescuing could be left to real rescuers.  That infamous walk-in freezer at PETA headquarters could instead be filled with tofu burgers.  PETA could inject Fatal-Plus into robots while the cameras roll.  It would be great publicity.  The technology would be very simple, since the robots wouldn’t need to do anything fancier than play dead.  They could be reused time and again, which would be much more environmentally friendly than  filling up dumpsters with dead pets.  The money saved by eliminating the need to cremate tons of dead pets could be spent on spay-neuter assistance, or on more  ads featuring naked celebrities.

If PETA would only stick its collective head out of its collective hole, it could catch a glimpse of the growing No Kill movement.

Everyone would live happily ever after.

*Note: The pertinent numbers to look at in these data are the numbers of animals taken in for adoption and the numbers of animals killed.  PETA habitually includes animals brought to its spay-neuter clinic for surgery to obfuscate the true gravity of its statistics.  When calculating the kill rate, the animals brought for surgery were, of course, left out.

Let PETA know about the benefits of ‘euthanizing’ robotic pets:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

501 Front Street

Norfolk VA 23510

info@peta.org
(757) 622-7382

 

Having convinced themselves that rounding up and killing healthy and treatable pets is somehow vegan, the staff and supporters of PETA try to keep the awful truth from the animal lovers who contribute to their $30 million budget, but more and more people are finding out, and they are having to try harder and harder.  On rare occasions they publicize a rescue, real or imagined, and then offer the animal up for adoption, real or imagined–the truth being rarer than unicorns in PETA-land.  Mostly they just lie about the nature of what they do.  

Someday, PETA will stop rounding up and killing pets, and getting there will be a very interesting process, in the “may you live in interesting times” sense of the word “interesting.  It won’t involve the sudden realization that what they have been doing is wrong and that there is a better way, because they already know both of those things on some level and that knowledge has not stopped them from unfettered killing.  If you’re looking for integrity, don’t look at PETA.  Will that day be brought about by legislation?  Loss of funds?  Legal action?  A complete turnover of personnel?  Those things will take years and the animals that fall into their hands need people to intervene on their behalf now.

Please do take a moment or two to ask PETA to switch to killing robots.  

And while PETA does not have a Petfinder site and doesn’t typically advertise pets for adoption, they do have an adoption application.  It isn’t easy to come by, but now you can download a copy here.    A pretty unimpressive Word document, but it is interesting that they ask “How many companion animals do you own now? ” and “How long you have owned him/her”  (emphasis added).  I thought they only liked ownership when they could use it to sneak out of some legal hot water.  Also “Where is the animal now?”  A coarsely-phrased but interesting question, coming from people who, if they were honest, would have to answer many thousands of times over:  “in some landfill somewhere”.  I admit that I find the thought  of  telling those people any personal information rather creepy, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if PETA were to suddenly start receiving adoption applications from people informed about what PETA really is?  Would they be ignored?  Would applicants be opening themselves up for harassment?  Would they be placing their pets at risk?  How would this all look?  

How do any animals get out of there alive?

I find it creepy because the whole thing is so lopsided with a hefty dose of crazy added for good measure.  In a No Kill community, a shelter is a positive part of the community, and has to earn its trust every day.  Fortunately, earning trust  is a natural part of taking in lost and homeless pets and reuniting them with their families of finding them new ones, providing sick and injured animals with medical care and a clean place to stay, treating volunteers with respect, and so forth.  You can expect you adoption application to be handled in a professional manner in a No Kill community.   PETA is the exact opposite of all that.  They do all manner of crazy things and answer to no one.

So, what to do with the adoption application?  I have a couple of  ideas:

  1. Apply to adopt,  if you dare.
  2. Spread the word.  Share the application around.  Here it is again.  If you prefer a pdf, here you go.  Put it up on twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, tumblr, wherever.  Let people know that it exists.  Let people know the truth about PETA.  Let them know that the staff and supporters of PETA want their killing of thousands of healthy and treatable pets to remain invisible.

 

Click  here for the original article.


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 Adopt@peta.org.

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.


Sep 1 2012

“It was like the sun had been behind a cloud for years, and it came out…”

Valerie Hayes


Next year, the No Kill Advocacy Center, No Kill Nation and Sagacity Productions will release a feature-length documentary about animal sheltering and the No Kill movement. At last year’s No Kill Conference, I was interviewed for this documentary. We saw this trailer as part of the closing remarks of this year’s Conference. The trailer begins with Henry Bergh, founder of the once-great ASPCA and then moves to the contemporary No Kill movement, telling the story through interviews with various players in this unfolding movement.  You’ll see some familiar faces–Nathan Winograd, Ryan Clinton, Mitch Schneider, Ellen Jefferson, Bonney Brown–and some you’ve never seen before, but who made all the difference in the world.

Nathan Winograd literally wrote the book on the No Kill movement, created the first No Kill community in the country, has called out more liars and killing apologists than anyone else and is the acknowledged leader of the movement.  Ryan Clinton led the fight for No Kill in Austin, one which had to defeat the ASPCA, which supported continued killing.  Mitch Schneider’s approach to animal control is a key component to Washoe County, Nevada’s success.  Dr. Ellen Jefferson’s organization Austin Pets Alive! has used a systematic and ever-improving approach to saving as many pets as possible, crucial to Austin’s success, and Bonney Brown turned the Nevada Humane Society around with turbocharged adoptions, volunteers and innovative programs.  All of these individuals have shared their considerable knowledge and skill with others and inspired them to work towards No Kill communities of their own, creating a ripple effect that keeps on expanding exponentially.

All of their stories are compelling, but the one closest to my heart is one told by some people you’ve never seen before, one whose names you don’t know, the core group of volunteers who never gave up no matter what the shelter staff and board dished out.  I owe a personal debt of gratitude to all of them that I could never repay if I had 10 lifetimes in which to try.  It is because of them that a shelter so shamelessly steeped in the killing mentality that it had sunk to the depths of killing a volunteer’s foster kittens rather than picking up the phone was transformed into something beyond our wildest dreams.    It is because of them that my personal despair at the killing of two nameless kittens I’d cared for for a month became part of a much larger story, and an inspiring one.

There is nothing more meaningless than meaningless death, and there is nothing more meaningful than stopping it.

Editorial in the Ithaca Journal about the shelter's killing of my foster kittens. August 8, 2000.

Editorial in the Ithaca Journal about the shelter’s killing of my foster kittens. August 8, 2000.  Click to enlarge.

We were an engineer, a retired school teacher, a librarian, an archivist, a newscaster, a lab technician, a veterinarian, a retired secretary, a few grad students,  a paralegal, an Army reservist, a couple of future veterinarians, a Schutzhund enthusiast,  and more.  I look back and marvel at how badly we were treated despite the considerable skills we collectively possessed and everything we had to offer.  Shelter killing makes for some insane situations, and a disregard for basic human decency is one of them.  I also marvel at how what looked like small acts of kindness–tiny pebbles, perhaps noticed by only a privileged few at the time–have had their own ripple effect, affecting people far away and years later, long after the moment had passed.  Anyone who has seen a shelter’s transformation will have their own collection of  moments of compassion and turning points.  They’ll know who the heroes, both sung and unsung are, and the villains too.

What if Brian Gold, and Bob Wise and Dr. Claudia Haferkamp-Wise hadn’t organized that first volunteer meeting?  What if they and Allison Myers didn’t persistently talk sense to the Board?  What if we didn’t have a foster program or offsite adoptions?  What if  we didn’t have Lorna, Pam, Sara, Nathaniel, Dana, Jason, Amy, Melissa, Joan, Joy, Marcia, Erica, Laurel and all the rest?  What if someone even crazier than we were didn’t get hired as the new Executive Director?  I’d hate to think what would have happened.  Everyone should have a team that good.  The animals and all of us deserve no less.

You’ll meet a few of these people in this video, but not everyone.  As of now,  there are 52 documented No Kill communities in the country, and an unknown number making varying degrees of progress towards that goal.  By my calculations, that’s a lot of unsung heroes, and a great many inspiring stories.

How many animals’ lives have been saved in these communities?  How many people have had their lives bettered by adopting a pet?  How many lost pets were returned to their families?  How many people had their lives enriched by a positive volunteer experience?  How many idealistic new shelter employees got to keep their idealism, and their jobs?  How many tragedies didn’t  happen?

In 2000, there was not a single No Kill community in the country, and then on June 11, 2001, there was one, and the rest, up til now, is history.  In August 2000, an ordinary bunch of volunteers at a shelter no one in their right mind would have pegged as the first place to end shelter killing, got together and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  We had no idea what the future held, just a determination that it would be better than what it was, and a certain clarity of vision that the way things were was utterly unacceptable.

That we could end the killing, and right away,  never occurred to me.  It came as a complete surprise.

When we first got together in the Wise’s living room all those years ago, we were just a bunch of  people who wanted to save dogs and cats and bunnies and to be treated like human beings while doing so.  Little did we know that was tantamount to fomenting revolution.  We truly do live in a cruel, crazy beautiful world.

When the shelter sincerely committed to the animals and the community, when it removed the obstacles to success that it had created, there was a foster home for every litter of kittens, every injured dog, every animal in need.  There were businesses that rallied to the support of the new attitude at the shelter.  There were even wealthy benefactors who donated to build a new state-of-the art shelter.   What may have at first seemed like a leap of faith into a yawning abyss turned out to simply be a lot of hard work with a lot of people pitching in to do their part.

We now know that the future holds genuine shelters for animals, places that serve the communities as they should, but before that, many more unsung heroes, a great many inspiring stories, and a huge amount of hard work (which is actually a lot easier than having your soul destroyed).

“It was like the sun had been behind a cloud for years, and it came out…”  Bob Wise’s words at the conclusion of the trailer bring back the wonder and pain of that struggle.

May your team be as steadfast as ours was.  May you be ten times as smart and a thousand times as informed.  May your victory be swift, and your success beyond your imaginings.

Today the Tompkins County SPCA is a safe haven for animals. It was the first No Kill community in the country. Will you make yours one of the next?

The trailer is now available to be shared far and wide, so please do so.

Here’s the link: The No Kill Revolution in America

Share it with your friends.  Write a short cover email to accompany it, and send it to your local government officials, your legislators, media, business people, celebrities–anyone who makes things happen needs to see this.

Other resources:

No Kill 101

Dollars & Sense

 

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.  ~Talmud