Who Is Really Standing for Animals?

The common view of the HSUS, ASPCA, and PETA is deeply at odds with their actual accomplishments on behalf of companion animals or, more accurately, lack thereof.
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We are a nation of animal lovers. Collectively, we share our homes with 90 million cats and 75 million dogs. We talk to them, keep their pictures in our wallets, celebrate their birthdays, travel with them, and greet them upon coming home even before saying hello to our spouses and kids. We include them in holiday festivities and take time off from work to care for them when they are sick. And when it is time to say good-bye, we grieve.

Every year, Americans spend more than 50 billion dollars on their animal companions and donate hundreds of millions of dollars more to charities that promise to help animals, with the largest of these having annual budgets in excess of 100 million dollars. In fact, giving to animal related causes is the fastest growing segment in American philanthropy. In a national poll, 96 percent of Americans--almost every single person surveyed--said we have a moral duty to protect animals and we should have strong laws to do so, while over half have changed their lifestyle to protect animals and their habitats. And three out of four Americans believe it should be illegal for shelters to kill animals if those animals are not suffering.

Most Americans hold the humane treatment of companion animals as a personal value, reflected in our laws, the proliferation of organizations founded for animal protection, increased spending on animal care, and great advancements in veterinary medicine. So it is no surprise that we've also made charities that promise to help animals in need very, very rich.

In fact, collectively, the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals take in roughly $300,000,000 per year--a powerful testament not only to the love the American people have for animals and their desire to see them protected, but our collective faith in these organization to represent the animals' best interest.

When it comes to animal sheltering in particular, these groups are often deferred to for guidance and advice. Through their advocacy, campaigns, programs, conferences, publications and websites, and in their outreach to state and local governments which are debating issues relating to animal sheltering, these groups enjoy tremendous influence. To the media, to the public and to legislators, our nation's large animal protection organizations are often seen as undisputed "experts" when it comes to how our shelters should operate.

Unfortunately, this view is a distinction deeply at odds with their actual accomplishments on behalf of companion animals or, more accurately, lack thereof. For behind their hallowed, pedigreed names is a tragic and sordid history of undermining, rather than leading, one of the causes they were founded to promote: the welfare of our nation's companion animals. Nationwide, there are four million animals being killed in our nation's shelters every year. Animals entering the average shelter in America today only have a one in two chance of making it out alive and in some communities, only one out of 100 do. This is a national tragedy. And although our nation's largest animal protection groups have told us that this killing is a tragic necessity, it is not.

Today, there are 90 communities--representing about 300 cities and towns--that have ended the killing of healthy and treatable animals in their shelters. In these communities, upwards of 99% of all shelter animals go out the front door in the loving arms of adopters, rather than out the back door in body bags. By embracing a new and innovative form of animal sheltering known as the No Kill Equation, the shelters in these communities have abandoned the traditional "catch and kill" sheltering platform promoted by our national animal protection groups and as a result, have transformed their shelters from places where animals go to die, to places where animals are guaranteed a home. Yet despite the success of this model in diverse communities nationwide, this new model of animal sheltering faces powerful and paradoxical opposition: HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA challenge its widespread implementation at every opportunity.

Of the numerous communities across the nation which have ended the killing of healthy and treatable animals, not a single one achieved success by following the recommendations or guidance of these groups. In fact, in many cases, animal lovers had to fight one or more of these organizations in order to succeed.

Indeed, while the national animal protection organizations frequently cite the slowly declining national death rate as proof that their work is having a positive impact, in reality, the programs and protocols that have led to this decline--foster care, proactive adoption programs, volunteer programs, low cost spay/neuter, neutering and releasing feral cats and working collaboratively with rescue groups, among others--were all opposed by the large organizations when grassroots activists pioneered them and in the case of PETA, they still oppose many of them, arguing that all free-living cats and all dogs who look like pit bulls should be executed. In other words, the national death rate is declining in spite of these organizations, and not because of them.

The shelter in Davidson County, North Carolina, for example, has a history of killing kittens and puppies using the gas chamber in violation of state law. It has a history of killing elderly and sick animals by gassing, which is also illegal. And, according to an eyewitness, shelter employees put a raccoon in the gas chamber with a mother cat and her kitten in order to sadistically watch them fight before they died, laughing while they did so. A contractor who was working at the shelter told the County Board, "The gas chamber has two windows, one on either side. The raccoon and the adult cat started fighting. Then they turned the gas on. The adult cat got on one corner and the raccoon got on the other, and as soon as they turned on the gas, the kitten started shaking and going into convulsions."

With almost nine out of 10 animals put to death, a number that is increasing, not decreasing, animal lovers call the Davidson County shelter a "disgrace," "disgusting," "horrific," and "savage." The Humane Society of the United States, however, gave the shelter its highest award for North Carolina, calling it "a shelter we love." Not to be outdone, the ASPCA once named a shelter which killed seven out of 10 animals the best shelter in America. And PETA frequently comes to the defense of shelters which kill, even those with a history of neglect and abuse. They even kill animals themselves--29,426 in the last 11 years--including those they have promised to find homes for and which PETA employees described as "healthy," "perfect" and "adorable."

These are not aberrations. In Memphis, Tennessee, dogs are starved to death in the shelter. In DeKalb County, Georgia, animal control officers step on cats while killing them, breaking their bones. In Chesterfield, South Carolina, shelter employees use dogs for target practice, taking turns trying to shoot them in the head. In the New York City pound, animals go without food and water, languish in filth, and receive no pain relief for chronic injuries. In Los Angeles, California, a rabbit was left in her cage for approximately one week with her spine exposed. Also discovered in the cage were a dead rabbit, his decomposing body covered with flies, and another rabbit with an eye popping out of his socket. None of the rabbits had food or water.

As the movement to end shelter killing and to ensure the implementation of the No Kill Equation at shelters across the nation has grown in size and sophistication, the networking made possible through the internet and social media has allowed animal lovers to connect the dots between individual cases of animal cruelty and neglect in shelters nationwide. These incidents reveal a distinct pattern. Animal abuse at local shelters is not an isolated anomaly caused by a few bad apples. The stunning number and severity of these cases nationwide lead to one disturbing and inescapable conclusion: our shelters are in crisis and in desperate need of reform.

And yet without exception, whenever animal lovers have developed innovative and compassionate alternatives to killing or have brought the need for greater regulation to light, the large, national animal protection groups have opposed them. Staffed with former animal shelter directors and employees who themselves failed to save lives, threatened by the success of the No Kill Equation, and dedicated to protecting their friends and colleagues currently running shelters who are likewise failing to do the work necessary to save rather than end the lives of the animals in their care, these groups do not represent the interests of the animals who are being killed, but rather those who are doing the killing. They argue that such reforms are unnecessary, and that, paradoxically, any alternative to killing or any form of regulating shelters to ensure that animals are treated with compassion and are not needlessly killed is not only unnecessary, but will actually put animals in harm's way.

When a statewide survey found that 71 percent of rescue organizations reported that they were turned away from New York State shelters and then those shelters killed the very animals those groups offered to save, the ASPCA fought to maintain the status quo, defeating legislation that would have given rescue groups the right to save at private expense, the animals shelters are killing at taxpayer expense. When animal lovers in Texas tried to end the practice of gassing animals, a slow and exceedingly cruel way for animals to die, a coalition of animal control groups led by HSUS defeated the bill. PETA was part of the opposition that defeated legislation in Virginia to end the statewide practice of shelter's killing animals when there are empty cages, when rescue groups are willing to save them, and in the case of feral cats, when they can be neutered and released.

Whether by coming to the defense of regressive shelter directors, working to defeat progressive shelter reform legislation, fighting new and innovative programs to save lives, or calling for the wholesale slaughter of entire groups of animals in shelters, HSUS, the ASPCA, PETA are the biggest barrier to ensuring the survival of animals in shelters today. And with virtually unlimited resources raised through appeals and commercials that prey on the emotions of animal lovers with the false message that they will fight for animals, rather than against them, these groups present a powerful opponent to those working to reform cruel and abusive shelters nationwide.

We trusted these groups, content to write them checks to do the job of overseeing our nation's shelters while we looked the other way because the "experts" were in charge, and in so doing, have allowed our shelters to remain virtually unsupervised and unregulated for decades, with devastating results.

Only time will tell how long allegiance to their kill-oriented colleagues, to their antiquated philosophies and to their failed models will hold them from the success the No Kill movement can achieve the moment they decide to embrace it. But of this much we can be certain: it is a generous and animal-loving American public that pays their salaries. And the more Americans hinge their donations on an organization's sincerity, integrity and performance rather than its superficial label, the sooner our nation's large, animal protection groups will be forced -- by sheer necessity -- to start building, rather than blocking, the road to a brighter future for America's animals.

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