Fighting Dirty

by Larkin Vonalt

Why Animal Rights Activists Can’t Resist the Personal Attack.

What’s startling is how ugly they are, and how quickly they get that way. You’d think people who purport to love animals would be  reasonably companionable with each other, but if you thought that, you’d be wrong. If you aren’t in lockstep with the beliefs of the Animal Rights crowd, well clearly you then are one of the “exploiters”, with a puppy mill in your backyard or veal calves stacked to the rafters in your suburban garage. Common sense never enters the picture.

Sometimes it’s almost laughable. In the online comment section to any news story about the abuse and death of a dog or cat, you will read suggestions that the same fate should befall the abuser, which is simply an utter failure in logic. Often those suggesting the mutilation, starvation and imprisonment and/or death of the sorry human responsible for said abuse are the fervent supporters of Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of PeTA, who famously wrote “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”  They see no distinction between animals and humans, and indeed rail against the human “enslavement” of animals as companions or livestock. What we consider responsible stewardship, they shamelessly compare to the Holocaust.

But it isn’t just the PeTA faithful, it’s also the ever-declining legion of supporters of the Humane Society of the United States, which not a “Humane Society” at all, but a fundraising machine; a group of lobbyists that like to posture as some kind of quasi-governmental agency regarding animals. Because they repeatedly present themselves as experts, the media often turn to them in instances of crises involving animals, perpetuating the myth that HSUS knows anything about animals. Really, anything at all. They do know how to influence politicians, though. They seem to be quite good at that.

Through the efforts of many, the public is gradually becoming more aware that HSUS only shares less than one percent of their hundred million dollars in annual donations with any kind of local animal shelter. They do offer consultations for shelters– for $30,000 a pop.  There is a dawning awareness that some of the “raids” HSUS engages in are more for the television cameras than anything else. Worse, those animals are often rescued to death, shuttled off from their mediocre home to a high-kill shelter where they subsequently “disappear.”

News agencies are starting to figure it out, though one account from an Atlanta television station was so thoroughly surpressed by litigators from HSUS, that video is now only viewable through a hosting site in Tehran. Here’s the link.  The public was understandably confused and outraged with HSUS’ president, Wayne Pacelle, suggested that notorious dog-torturer Michael Vick deserved to have more dogs, especially as Pacelle offered his comments immediately following the receipt of a $10,000 contribution made by the Philadelphia Eagles to HSUS.

But beyond Wayne Pacelle in his silk suits, there is an enormous cadre of employees and interns at the group’s posh suburban Washington DC campus. (But to be sure, there’s no animal shelter there.) And HSUS has something else, something in common with PeTA.  They have shills. These are people that aren’t paid by HSUS or PeTA; they volunteer. Everyday they comb the internet looking for material related to “their” organization, eager to sing the praises of the group, or sling mud in defending it.

It doesn’t matter how reasonable an argument is presented to them. You can tell them until you’re blue in the face that “cage free” chickens are crowded into poultry barns and suffer more injury, disease and death than their counterparts in cages. (“Pecking order” means something, obviously.) You can patiently explain the time and effort and expense it takes to produce a nicely-bred puppy. You can question what happens to those dogs and cats seized in raids. When they have exhausted the party line (and that happens pretty quickly) they turn on the offensive, and out come the personal attacks.

God forbid that you raise animals of any sort. They will say that you are “exploiting” animals. It doesn’t matter that animal husbandry is largely a labor of love; certainly no one gets rich from it. To hear the “faithful” tell it, we’re all rolling around in Cadillacs off the blood money from puppy sales. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t sold a puppy in five years, I’ve been called a liar, a puppy  miller, and a “miserable old bitch.” They sling condescension and insults and invective faster than a fry cook flips pancakes on a Saturday morning.

But it’s never limited to just that arena. Oh no, they come after you tooth and nail wherever they can find you. They try to free your “imprisoned” dogs at dogs shows. They vandalize fur stores. They make threats, both veiled and outright against prominent citizens who dare to tell the truth.  David Martosko, the former director of Humanewatch, (an ad hoc group of 440,000 individuals united in revealing the the truth about HSUS ) was subject to the most extraordinary character defamation, including the publication of fabricated arrest records, videos and a website devoted to his downfall . . . and he did, finally, give up.

Or Douglas Anthony Cooper, an affable-enough Canadian novelist who has been smeared repeatedly in a number of blogs by one crazy cat-hating woman (“cats kill the elderly,” “litter boxes make you insane”)  posing as several different people. Not just smeared, libeled, his attorney said. Just this week, Cooper’s Wikipedia entry has been repeatedly hacked, vandalized and finally flagged for not being “notable enough.” Why? Because one of the most troll-like of the shills doesn’t like what Douglas Anthony Cooper has been writing about on Huffington Post.

Well, goodness, you say, what has Douglas Anthony Cooper been writing about? The business model of dog fighting, perhaps? How to breed more kittens for fun and profit? No. Douglas Anthony Cooper has been writing about PeTA; and he has been promoting the idea of the No Kill movement.

And that my friend, is the key.

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why people who claim to love animals could support PeTA or HSUS. PeTA maintains a “shelter” in Norfolk, Virginia which kills 97 percent of the animals that come through its doors. (This is verified through their own reports to the Commonwealth of Virginia.) HSUS doesn’t maintain any shelters, but they certainly support the killing. But finally, I get it : those people that support PeTA and HSUS are so shrill and so nasty and so vengeful because-

They cannot bear to hear the truth.

This argument in fact, has split the entire “shelter” community. Those advocating for No Kill don’t understand why the killing can’t stop. Those killing either don’t have the strength to shift the bureaucracies that keep them locked in the same old behavior, or they lack the courage to invoke change.

Many people who work in or support “shelters” that kill for convenience will adamantly tell you that they have to kill all those old dogs, young dogs, newborn puppies, fluffy kittens, big fat housecats, pitbulls (or dogs that just look like pitbulls) and “feral” cats. They have to kill them because there are just not enough homes. (Not true, pet overpopulation is a myth.) They have to kill them because they are sneezing. (No, they’re not joking.) They have to kill them because there’s no space. (Even if someone is coming from a rescue for that very dog.) They have to kill them because no one wants black dogs. (So they say.) They have to kill them because suitable adopters haven’t turned up in the dogs’ 3-day tenure– others would rather kill a cat than adopt it out to someone who might let it outside. They have to kill because they can’t be bothered to stop the killing.

And whose fault is it that they have to kill? Why, yours and mine and all the rest of the bad, irresponsible public of course. If you’re involved with purebred dogs, or if you even own sexually-intact dogs, then of course, you’re part of the problem.  Never mind that puppies born to responsible breeders are the dogs least likely to end up in any shelter. But what of the dogs that are “dumped” in shelters?  People take their pets to shelters when they can’t keep them anymore because they’ve been educated to think that’s the purpose of a “shelter” – to help find new homes for pets.

The cruel fact of the matter is that many owner surrendered animals are dead before their owner leaves the parking lot. Dogs and cats and bunnies and hamsters end up in shelters because they get lost, their owners die or go into a nursing home, their owners are deployed in the military, people hit a rough patch in their lives and go to homeless shelters or public housing where pets are not allowed. And yes, some dogs do get “dumped” in “shelters,” by people who weren’t the greatest owners who perhaps foolishly hope that their dog will get a better home the next time around. A dog tied to a parking meter has a better chance of surviving. Unless some good samaritan unwittingly takes it to a high-kill shelter.

In her blog, Yes Biscuit, Shirley Thistlethwaite examines the problems in contemporary animal sheltering, particularly at the deplorable Memphis Animal Shelter, and she never stops asking why it can’t be different. An extraordinarily brave woman, she does not shrink from identifying the worst offenders, and of course, she is also roundly despised by the minions of PeTA and HSUS.

The idea of a shelter that seeks to re-home every adoptable pet isn’t a new one. For a long time, it might have been a magical fairy tale. The shelters would get over-crowded, they said. The shelters would turn away all but the “cute” animals, they said. The shelters would keep alive animals that ought to be mercifully dispatched, they said. It would be bad for the animals. That’s what they said.

Then a man named Nathan Winograd came along and showed that in fact, an open admission No Kill shelter can and does work. He even wrote a manual on how to do it, Redemption. “No Kill” is a workable model, and it saves money and heartache all around. Not to mention lives. It saves lives.

You’d think that Nathan would be much beloved by everyone in the animal sheltering world. He’s the kind of guy that rescues insects in peril. He’s a vegan. He had demonstrated that there is a home for every animal and that the “shelter” killing that goes on in such repulsive numbers in this country isn’t necessary, that there’s another way. But no, he’s the most vilified of all. HSUS and PeTA fans alike are united in their loathing for this modern day St. Francis.

No Kill shelters work because they have less staff turnover and less volunteer burnout. The public is happier to visit a shelter where they know that every animal they don’t choose isn’t facing imminent death. Businesses are eager to partner with No Kill shelters. Yes, it requires extra work and creativity and thinking outside the box. It might require a relaxation of adoption requirements or perhaps less expensive adoption fees. (But hey, you’re saving on all that money not having to buy thousands of vials of Fatal-Plus! And your landfill charges are significantly reduced.)

It can only work if the community gets involved. And in communities across America, there are now 51 successful Open-Admission Municipal No Kill shelters. True shelters. These are shelters that accept every animal that comes through the door and works to find that animal a home. Some of these shelters are in the poorest areas of the country, but they are trying this and they are succeeding.

Shelters everywhere could start by having increased adoption hours. They could have intervention programs that help people keep their pets rather than surrender them. They could work in tandem with specific breed rescues. They can offer reduced cost spay and neuter programs.  They can network pets over the internet. They can stop having arbitrary days when they simply kill to clear the kennel.

But the powers that be have to want to make that choice. Too many of them stubbornly say it can’t work, it won’t work. Even when the evidence says otherwise, they simply will not try. Their supporters instead tell us that we don’t know what it’s like to kill hundreds of animals (and thank God, I have to admit that part is true). They will say that we don’t understand how hard they work, and how awful it is, but that it’s necessary because — line up for the chorus now– the irresponsible public makes it necessary.

But No Kill advocates do understand. They believe that all of that hard work, all that soul searching, would be better served in finding homes for animals, rather than bagging them their bodies. Dry your tears, shelter workers, and come into the light.

Now I suppose there are some sociopaths who truly like to kill animals. But let’s set those people aside for a minute and just think about the average person who works in a shelter, killing puppies and kittens and dogs and cats who simply aren’t adopted. You know the animals: they’re too young, too old, they’re starving and showed food-guarding tendencies, they’re frightened and they growled out of fear. They have some imminently treatable issue like mange or kennel cough or upper respiratory infection. They are deemed not suitable for adoption by the excuse of the day.

Why wouldn’t those people at least want to try?

Why are they so damned determined to justify the killing that they attack Nathan Winograd and Douglas Anthony Cooper, and Shirley Thistlethwaite and the good folks at No Kill Nation and No Kill Advocacy Center and No Kill Coalition,  and No Kill Revolution and No Kill Miami, No Kill Louisville, No Kill New York— indeed they attack anyone and everyone who suggests that we can find homes for every pet that needs one.

Here’s why: because if they accept that these dogs and puppies, cats and kittens don’t ever need to be killed,  then they also have to accept that they’ve been needlessly killing animals.

Who could live with that?  (Okay, yes, I guess a sociopath could live with that.) But for these ordinary people who’ve bought the party line for so long, that would be devastating. Once you accept that the killing really wasn’t necessary, that it isn’t really the “bad public” that forces you to kill, then you have to take responsibility for all that death.

It’s not just those in the kill room who are stained; it’s everyone that makes the excuses, it’s everyone who tries to justify why death is a better choice. PeTA and HSUS maintain that death is a better choice because they each have an agenda to “free” domesticated animals from human bondage. You don’t have to go on believing the party line, you don’t have to defend them. They’re not really for the animals. They’ve never been for the animals.

I understand why these people are shrill. If I’d been doing what they’d been doing, I wouldn’t want to have to come to terms with that much blood on my hands either. I wish they’d just listen for a minute, and see that they have a way out.