The number of cliches one uses to describe America’s pet-killing habit is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the solutions to such killing: the more cliches one uses, the less he or she understands the subject. Yesterday, The Virginia-Pilot, Norfolk, Virginia’s daily paper, seemingly set a new world record for the number of mindless pet-killing-apologist cliches ever crammed into a single editorial space.
The editorial starts (and ends) with this profound line: “Nobody wants to euthanize pets.”
Hard to believe that someone living in PETA’s backyard would even think to utter that claim. PETA is a self-proclaimed animal-rights group that does not believe that being alive is an animal right. In fact, PETA actively lobbies cities and shelters to ban the adoption of (and therefore kill) every pit bull that enters their doors, and lobbies against life-saving trap-neuter-and-release programs for community cats on the claimed ground that cats are better off dead than alive outside. PETA seems to enjoy killing dogs and cats (and bunnies, among other pets) so much that they have described the experience of being killed as a “sweet release.”
PETA is not remotely alone in encouraging—and even seemingly enjoying—the killing of dogs and cats. In Houston, Texas, two of the wealthiest animal shelters in the State (if not the nation)—the Houston SPCA and the Houston Humane Society—voluntarily kill most if not all dogs, including puppies, they come across that they think look like pit bulls. In North Carolina, a police officer shot and killed a resident’s beloved dog because he did not feel like taking the time to catch her. And in South Carolina, an animal shelter used surrendered dogs for target practice, and then buried them—sometimes alive—across the street in what officials described as an “unpermitted landfill.” The same shelter employees were accused of beating cats over the head with a pipe.
Not all shelters are cruel places, of course; many are wonderful and safe places, led and staffed by courageous, dedicated, and committed animal lovers. I count all of Austin, Texas’s shelters among that group. But for the Pilot to claim that that “[n]obody wants to euthanize pets” is both silly and naive, and does nothing to advance the discussion.
“In any case,” the Pilot continues, “the math is depressingly simple: There are too many animals and too few homes.”
On this point, the editorial board is half-right: their math is depressing. And by that I mean utterly inaccurate. Indeed, to prove their “simple” point they offer no math at all; instead, just their ill-informed conclusion.
Fortunately, we do have actual math on the subject, and it proves the editorial board wrong. According to a study conducted by the Humane Society of the United States and Maddie’s Fund, there are, in reality, far more Americans adopting pets every year than there are pets entering U.S. animal shelters. In fact, about 3 million dogs and cats are currently being killed at U.S. shelters, but there are at least 17 million Americans adopting pets every year who are not set on the source of their next pet. According to the study, convincing just “25% of the people in this group to adopt” from an animal shelter rather than another source would result in a No Kill Nation today. Ironically, Maddie’s Fund advises that shelter killing is therefore solved by applying “simple math”— apparently, of the kind that eludes the Pilot.
Moving beyond their regurgitation of elementary cliches, the editorial board next picks up PETA’s false claim that “No-kill shelters can claim that distinction only because [they] . . . pick and choose which animals to take. In order to maintain their numbers, they are often forced to reject animals that have a more difficult time finding homes.”
That too is stunningly and demonstrably incorrect. There are now about thirty open-admission animal shelters in America who are able to claim “No Kill” status not because they turn away animals, but instead because they save at least 90% of all dogs and cats that enter their shelters—a figure that roughly represents the percentage of healthy and treatable animals entering the average open-admission shelter. What makes the Pilot’s claim to the contrary even more surprising is that fact that a significant number of those open-admission, No Kill shelters are found in Virginia. On a day trip from Norfolk, the newspaper could have literally stopped by no less than seven open-admission No Kill shelters— those in Arlington, Charlottesville, Fluvanna County, King George County, Lynchburg, Powhatan County, and Williamsburg.
Finally, the Pilot goes where every shelter-killing apologist has gone before: it blames the no-good-very-bad-horrible public. On this point, the didactic board opines: “The way to end euthanasia is . . . [t]o end the irresponsible practices and behaviors by human beings that lead inexorably to thousands of unwanted pets roaming Hampton Roads.” The solution, it continues, is that “pet owners across Hampton Roads will have to change how they own animals.”
Let me put this as nicely as I can: if Norfolk’s shelter-killing-reduction strategy depends on the public changing its way rather than the shelter changing its way, Norfolk will still be engaging in unnecessary shelter killing 100 years from now, long after the rest of Virginia will have become the safest state in a largely No Kill America.
That’s because the blame-the-public argument does nothing. It is an excuse. It is not a strategy. And it is a colossal waste of time and life.
Indeed, there isn’t a single community in the world that has ended animal-shelter killing by adopting the wait-for-the-public-to-change strategy. Charlottesville didn’t become No Kill by changing the public; rather, its SPCA hired Susanne Kogut, who changed the culture and practices of the community’s animal shelter, and it worked. Reno, Nevada, didn’t become No Kill by changing the public; rather, its humane society hired Bonney Brown, who changed the culture and practices of the community’s animal shelter, and it worked. Ithaca, New York, didn’t become No Kill by changing the public; rather, its SPCA hired Nathan Winograd, who changed the culture and practice of the community’s shelter, and it worked. In community after community across America, open-admission shelters have become No Kill very quickly—sometimes overnight—not by waiting for the “irresponsible public” to change, but instead by enacting proven, cost-effective, lifesaving programs and policies that have worked to end shelter killing in every community in which they have been rigorously implemented.
I don’t know what it is about editorial boards that makes them so quick to eschew proven innovation and embrace disproven conventional pet-killing “wisdom.” But they do, time and time again. And by doing so, they not only defend but extend America’s violent period of pet killing, along with the reign of those who kill despite readily available alternatives. Newspaper editorial boards: you are better than that; it is time for you to change.
Note: There is no speech more highly protected than that involving politics, publicly policy, public figures, and public entities. If the First Amendment to the United States Constitution means anything at all, it means that American citizens bear a fundamental constitutional right to speak freely, candidly, and critically of not only governmental entities, but also of highly political corporations (including non-profit ones) whose policies, preferences, positions, and conduct aid and abet unnecessary shelter killing.