People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals employs only one argument in defense of its right to kill adoptable shelter pets. This is an abuse called "hoarding." It is in fact an especially vile form of cruelty -- animals are warehoused in filthy, overcrowded cages, where they then die, slowly and in misery.
This, we are told, is the reason that PETA's founder, Ingrid Newkirk, is busy trying to prevent No Kill legislation from being passed in the group's home town of Norfolk, Virginia.
Nathan Winograd's famous No Kill program, Newkirk would have us believe, leads to hoarding. Hence the right to kill is sacrosanct.
I am still not entirely sure how this excuses PETA's slaughter of tens of thousands of shelter animals, many of them not the least sick or antisocial. How does this work? PETA's total revenues in 2011 were well over 32.3 million dollars. Let me see: If PETA had not killed the healthy ones, they would have had to hoard them, rather than pay a few dollars to take care of them?
Still, hoarding is not trivial. Newkirk's observation is beyond dispute: hoarded animals are miserable. They "become withdrawn, severely depressed, or aggressive." What is disputed, however, is the notion that the occasional hoarder makes it acceptable for all shelters to simply kill pets when they run out of space. "Some fates truly are worse than death," says Newkirk. Yes. But most are not.
This is the issue. You will search in vain for further arguments against Winograd's No Kill Community. It is PETA's mantra: His program simply means hoarding.
If this reasoning is valid, then PETA can in fact claim something of an ethical agenda, despite its slaughter. If it is not, however, PETA becomes a very ugly reality themselves: a group willing to go to war over its right to murder healthy pets unnecessarily.
Hence, we ought to examine this argument with care.
We have PETA's official position. It would be useful to know the official No Kill stance on hoarding. It turns out to be -- no surprise -- pretty much the opposite of PETA's characterization. In Winograd's words:
There is no question that the effects of hoarding are tragic: animals wallow in their own waste, are denied food and water for long periods of time, do not get necessary veterinary care, are sometimes crammed into cages and do not receive walks or regular exercise, all of which results in tremendous suffering and death. Hoarding is cruel, painful, and abhorrent. But what does it have to do with the No Kill movement? The answer is nothing.
Instances of hoarding are rare, and even so, Winograd's program is based on successful legislation in California that has ironclad safeguards against this kind of neglect.
PETA's insistence that No Kill must cause hoarding rests, crucially, upon the premise of overpopulation. They assume -- in fact, most people assume -- that there are far more shelter pets than potential adopters.
The math, however, turns out to be quite surprising.
To end the shelter killing of adoptable animals, PETA notes correctly, we would have to find homes for about 3 million creatures. This is what Winograd identifies as the supply side. He then urges you to consider the demand side: Every year in the US, according to a national survey by HSUS/Maddie's Fund, "you have roughly 17 million people who will acquire an animal but have not decided where that animal will come from."
Comparing supply and demand reveals an astonishing fact: "If we can convince just 20 per cent of those to adopt from a shelter, we could zero out the killing."
This is not rocket science. It is, however science. And it is an applied science, requiring adherence to an unvarying formula: The rigorous equation specified by the No Kill Community is the only one proven to work: "Nothing else has succeeded."
The self-styled "no kill" shelters that fail -- the wrenching examples that PETA trumpets in their propaganda -- are the ones that ignore the methodology. They imagine that all they have to do is refuse to kill, even as their shelters become monstrously overcrowded. These people are naive; they are dangerous; and -- crucially -- they are in no way connected to Nathan Winograd's organization.
The proven method involves a series of necessary steps, and there is no leeway for freewheeling creativity here, any more than there is when performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If you do it wrong, you are no better than anyone who actively kills.
If you do it right, however, it works. Period. The population figures, far from rendering it impossible, render it successful. No Kill -- defined as a euthanasia rate of not more than 10 per cent -- has been achieved wherever it has been strictly implemented.
Many well-meaning shelter workers dismiss this calculus as utopian, because it goes contrary to everything they witness daily. Winograd sympathizes: "The problem is that the person who runs the rescue group can't see this because he is in the trenches."
Our purview of supply and demand tends to be local, and easily skewed by propaganda. A starving family in North Korea will naturally refuse to believe that there is a vast grain surplus in America.
Overpopulation is often very real on a local level, but on the national level it is a myth. An illusion. Which is why No Kill does in fact work: The notion that hoarding is mathematically determined -- that it is an inevitable result of refusing to slaughter shelter animals -- is a statistical fallacy.
Nathan Winograd is adamant:
Animal hoarding is the result of mental illness, and is not as common as many animal protection organizations would have us believe. Psychologists estimate that only 2 per cent of the population suffers from hoarding, and of those, not all of them "collect" animals -- many collect inanimate objects. By contrast, killing is endemic to animal shelters in the U.S. In fact, killing is the number one cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States. At your "average" shelter, an animal has a 50 per cent chance of being killed, compared to the rare chance of ending up with a hoarder.
Winograd sees hoarding as simply the passive version of PETA -- it is killing by neglect, rather than syringe. And these criminal shelters are tarnishing the words "no kill," just as PETA has blackened the words "animal rights."
"I have never defended abuse and neglect, just because a rescue group calls themselves 'No Kill.' I have been working to bring accountability to shelters, including No Kill shelters, by codifying standards into law." No need to take him at his word here: Winograd has a lengthy, documented track record when it comes to the prevention of hoarding. Some of it thwarted, ironically enough, by PETA itself.
In 2009, Winograd was hired by the Houston health department to assess the city's shelter system, and his 196-page report detailed appalling examples of neglect: overcrowding, filth, preventable sickness. PETA's response?
"PETA defended the agency, telling city officials not to listen to me."
It happened again in King County, Washington in 2008. Winograd's 170-page report included evidence of hoarding. Yet PETA defended this agency too, and instituted a series of robocalls to area residents, telling them to call the Commission and urge them not to embrace No Kill principles."
Newkirk's hypocrisy here is just awe-inspiring:
PETA only pretends to care about neglect and abuse when there is no killing. If there is also killing, as there was in King County and Houston, they look the other way at the abuse. It is unconscionable.
Winograd hastens to add: "Houston and King County are making headway. They did not listen to PETA."
Perhaps the most sickening aspect of PETA's assault on the No Kill movement is that it blocks groups from rescuing animals in high-kill shelters. Winograd's model legislation makes it illegal to kill a shelter animal unless "rescue groups have been contacted and are not willing to save the animal."
The practical consequences of not passing this law are nauseating: rescuers are inevitably barred from these shelters. "A statewide survey in New York found that 71 per cent of rescue groups have been turned away by shelters which then killed the very animals they offered to save." In Florida the number is 63 per cent.
Winograd succeeded with the legislation in California: "Before this, only about 12,000 animals were being transferred from shelters to rescue groups statewide per year. That number now stands at almost 60,000.
"But when we tried to pass a similar law in Florida last year, PETA fought against it and won."
Think about this. You have rescuers ready and willing to save animals from certain death in a shelter, and PETA is fighting to deny them access.
The battle is escalating. PETA's latest salvo is a list of 43 situations in which no-kill sheltering has failed miserably. The problem? Forty of them have nothing to do with Nathan Winograd's movement.
"I have personal knowledge of three," he tells me. "And all three are inaccurate."
The very first example is the supposed failure of No Kill in Austin, Texas.
From the roughly 45 per cent kill rate it once had to the 91 per cent save rate that the city now has, how is No Kill leading to more killing? PETA has simply made it up.
So we have one of No Kill's signal successes, dressed up by PETA to look like a calamity.
The list slanders Doug Rae, the former Animal Care and Control Director in Indianapolis. Rae was removed not for incompetence, but because he began firing abusive staff. They belonged to a powerful union. "Doug was in fact cornered in the washroom and threatened with physical violence by a union employee, who has since been rehired."
Winograd is familiar with only one other incident on the list: a non-incident in Porter County, Indiana. This was a prediction, by a man employed for 11 years by the Humane Society of the United States, that a No Kill shelter would encourage hoarding. HSUS has an abysmal history of cheering for PETA's approach to killing. Hence, their predictions are somewhat predictable. Note that no hoarding actually took place.
Ingrid Newkirk's equating the No Kill Community with hoarding is not simply a bad argument. It is not simply counterfactual, and utterly hypocritical. It is libel.
Winograd finds it appalling:
Logic and fairness--both to rescuers and the animals--demand that altruistic people who devote their time and energy to helping the animals who end up in our nation's shelters stop being equated with mentally ill people who cause them harm.
As for the other 40 examples cited? Once again, we witness PETA's favorite strategy: lumping together No Kill communities with people who like to use the words "no kill," but whose methods have more in common with PETA's death machine than they do with Winograd's exacting but proven methodology. Newkirk can hardly plead ignorance. The genuine program is no mystery: It is detailed in widely available documents, such as the No Kill Advocacy Center's official publications online.
Meanwhile, if Nathan Winograd and a brave Norfolk City Council succeed in rendering the area a No Kill zone, it will be an unimaginable victory for adoptable shelter animals, three million of whom stand to be slaughtered next year. And it will be a crucial defeat, symbolically and actually, for professional pet butchers.
Who are these vigilantes, you wonder, who care so deeply about their God-given right to kill pets? It is a surprisingly diverse group.
People who believe that cats should not be permitted to live outdoors depend upon Ingrid Newkirk's arguments in favor of killing feral cats. Those who fear pit bulls lean heavily on Newkirk's insistence upon rendering the breed extinct: She explicitly approves of killing every pit bull that arrives at a shelter door. Newkirk's example certainly makes life easier for shelters short on space -- the most famous animal rights activist in the world has overseen the slaughter of 27,561 cats and dogs and rabbits, so why not take out the hypodermic?
When hoarding is proven a false concern in Norfolk, PETA and the high-kill shelters will be left without an argument.
This is not to say that they will necessarily stop killing. Nathan Winograd is pessimistic:
Because I believe that PETA is a front for Newkirk's agenda of killing, even if it should pass, my fear is that they will do one of two things: buy a warehouse outside of the City in which to kill animals, or relocate altogether in order to be outside the reach of the law.
It is natural to wonder what lies beneath Newkirk's chilling attachment to her syringe. Winograd considers her "a deeply disturbed woman." And you will not see me weep if her former employees succeed in having her imprisoned. Still, retributive justice is not the crucial issue: Ingrid Newkirk herself does not matter.
Her group is welcome to continue fundraising, and dancing in lettuce bikinis, and describing themselves as "vegans," despite killing more animals than all but the most brutal carnivores. So they like the name "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals." Fine. Throughout history, the self-righteous have enjoyed hypocritical titles. All of this may be repulsive, but it is not what truly matters.
What matters is this: We must separate Ingrid Newkirk from her bloody hypodermic.