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The Lie at the Heart of the Killing
by Nathan J. Wino grad

By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

Today, an animal entering an average American animal shelter has a 50 percent chance of being killed, and in some communities it is as high as 99 percent, with shelters blaming a lack of available homes as the cause of death. But is pet overpopulation real? And are shelters doing all they can to save lives? If you believe the Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, the ASPCA and PETA the answer to both those questions is “yes,” even though that answer f lies in the f ace of the data and experience. It is simply “received” rather than substantiated wisdom. To adherents of the “we have no choice but to kill because of pet overpopulation” school, pet overpopulation is real because animals are being killed, a logical f allacy based on backwards reasoning and circular illogic. In other words, data, analysis and experience—in short, evidence— have no place. Neither do ethics. In truth, and at the heart of the No Kill philosophy, is the understanding that the reasons we have historically been given f or why animals are being killed in shelters—there are too many f or too f ew homes available, and

On a day I visited the Carson shelter of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Care & Control. T hat is good news. Some animals entering shelters need adoption. So even if 80% of those people got their animal f rom somewhere other than a shelter (or were denied the ability to adopt f rom a shelter f or whatever reason). But the even better news is that adopting out eight million animals isn’t what we have to do. but others do not. unsocialized (“f eral”) cats. And many communities are proving it. A bef ore and af ter snapshot of the nearly 100 communities which now have save rates between 90% and 99% show that their shelters achieved that rate of lif esaving by changing the way they operated. In f act.that the American public is uncaring and irresponsible—have been proven wrong in the f ace of data and communities that are achieving No Kill level save rates not by changing the habits of the people within a community. You will see animals killed rather than placed in available cages so staf f doesn’t have to clean those cages or f eed the animals inside them. Some are already committed to getting one f rom a breeder or other commercial source. at a time it was killing 72% of cats and claiming to do so f or lack of space caused by of pet overpopulation. Louisiana’s shelter. but I have visited shelter af ter shelter where animals were being killed allegedly “f or space” while at the same time those shelters had plenty of empty cages.S. Some are already committed to adopting f rom a shelter. Some animals. the truth is that we can. Instead. it is more than total impounds. Others will be—and many more can be with greater ef f ort—reclaimed by their f amilies. but by changing the culture. . and this will become evident in a variety of ways. like f ree-living. roughly three million will be killed f or lack of a new home. In traditional U. But 17 million have not decided where that animal will come f rom and research shows they can be inf luenced to adopt f rom a shelter. Some eight million animals enter shelters every year and while apologists f or shelter killing will tell you that we cannot adopt our way out of eight million animals. T he actual number of animals needing homes is much less. they are being killed because of the choices made by the people overseeing our shelters. 80% of the cages were intentionally kept empty. animals are killed primarily out of habit and convenience. a shelter where roughly eight out of 10 cats are put to death. sometimes entire rooms of them. And many more can be kept out of the shelter through a comprehensive pet retention ef f ort.S. Not only do sheltering policies promoted by large animal protection groups such as HSUS recommend keeping cages and kennels empty. shelters combined have the potential to adopt almost nine million animals a year. Contrary to what conventional wisdom has prescribed f or decades. T hat’s because animals are not and have never been killed in shelters because of the choices made by the public. only six cats were available f or adoption.” T here are over 23 million people who are going to get an animal next year. When I visited Shreveport. T he rest of the cages were empty. In Eugene. they did not change the public. animal shelters and despite decades of public assurances to the contrary by our nation’s shelter directors and animal protection organizations. need neuter and release. only one cat was available f or adoption despite a 92% death rate f or cats. and of those. Others are irremediably suf f ering or hopelessly ill. Visit an animal shelter run in line with traditional sheltering protocols. But the news gets even better because the number of people looking to get an animal is so much larger than the shelter “supply. T hat’s 17 million people vying f or roughly three million animals. T hat is almost three times the number being killed f or lack of a home. U. almost half do not need a new home. In other words. Can we f ind homes f or three million animals? Yes. Using the most successf ul adoption communities as a benchmark and adjusting f or population. policies and procedures of the shelter itself . Oregon. While about f our million dogs and cats will be killed in pounds and shelters this year. we could still zero out the killing. we know pet overpopulation is a myth because both the statistics and the experience of progressive shelters prove it is.

pet retention and f ield service programs to reduce impounds. to name just a f ew. the number of animals transf erred to rescue groups rather than killed went f rom 12. as well as medical and behavior rehabilitation programs. choosing to kill those animals instead. the director f ired staf f and volunteers who were bottle f eeding orphaned baby animals on their own time and at their own expense. Why? Because the people who should be their f iercest critics— those within the animal protection movement itself —have provided them political cover by f alsely portraying the killing that they do as a necessity born of pet overpopulation.526 to 58. Since Calif ornia passed such a law over the opposition of HSUS. and because as heartless as that reason is. At one such shelter. It is the primary excuse that allows shelter directors to shif t the blame f rom their . And at traditional shelters animals are killed because shelter directors do not want to make the ef f ort to implement all the other alternatives that already exist (programs and services collectively known as the No Kill Equation): neuter and release. In f act. In the end. And both HSUS and the ASPCA believe this is as it should be as both have f ought to def eat legislation which would have made it illegal f or shelters to kill animals who qualif ied rescue groups are willing to save—legislation that has already saved hundreds of thousands of lives in other states. 71% of New York rescue groups and 63% of Florida rescue groups reported shelters killing the very animals they had of f ered to save.939–a 370% increase because shelters were now required to work with rescue groups. of f site adoptions. killing is occurring in our nation’s shelters not because there are too many animals. In f act. but because killing is easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. the lie of pet overpopulation is at the heart of the killing paradigm. Animals in shelters are also killed because the shelter director ref uses to implement a comprehensive f oster care program f or neonatal puppies and kittens. shelter directors have been allowed to do it anyway. you will f ind animals being killed despite of f ers f rom other non-prof its and rescue groups to save those very animals.At a traditional animal shelter.

it does exist regionally in areas with higher rates of poverty. f ive times the rate of San Francisco. admit does not exist. And it ignores that while each of our nation’s successf ul communities are demographically and geographically diverse. It ignores the growing number of communities with save rates between 90% and 99% in the South. trying to “solve” the problem of shelter killing by attacking a phantom cause. In the end. Yet the rationale f or this argument is as convoluted as that f or the one they now have been lef t with no choice but to admit is insupportable. the state of Nevada has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. working to stall its rapidly diminishing sway over animal lovers by repackaging pet overpopulation with “new and improved” labels such as “Regional Pet Overpopulation. One would expect that the leadership of the animal protection movement and those within the grassroots who def er to them would not just embrace this news but would shout it f rom the roof tops. concrete data to back it up. the one thing they do share is that their success was neither a f luke nor the result of a very specif ic set of circumstances which set them apart f rom other American communities. in Colorado and Virginia. If there was ever a community which. kept the animal protection movement wringing its hands. hopeless circles. And it is the excuse that has. and abroad: in New York and in Calif ornia. All these communities did it virtually overnight. that has not been the case. SAME INESCAPABLE CONCLUSION According to these groups. And it didn’t take them f ive years to do it. increase redemptions. T here are now No Kill communities across the U. 10 times the rate of New York City. With no statistical analysis to support it and the experience of communities with extremely high per capita intake rates proving that No Kill can succeed in spite of such challenges (today there are No Kill communities with per capita intake rates 20 times higher than New York City. “Shelter Overpopulation” or reasserting the ef f icacy of pet overpopulation by redef ining the terms of the debate in a specious manner. return animals to their responsible caretakers and f ree living cats to their habitats. in Nevada. while pet overpopulation might not exist nationally. Washoe County. could not adopt its way out of killing. Michigan and Kentucky. Indiana. rather than the one that is truly to blame. the most densely populated city in America). f or decades. they have instead tenaciously clung to and even jealously guarded the idea of pet overpopulation. regional pet overpopulation is the same argument with a new label and every bit as devoid of verif iable. rejecting killing in f avor of existing alternatives and by rejecting the f alse premise that they can’t save them all because of pet overpopulation. and over two times the national average. by implementing proven strategies to lower impounds and relinquishments. REGIONAL PET OVERPOPULAT ION: SAME ARGUMENT. the regional pet overpopulation argument has the same f laws as the traditional pet overpopulation problem which its proponents increasingly. . the f act that pet overpopulation turns out not to exist can only be described as welcome news. Not only does it ignore the experience of economically distressed areas like Washoe County. the two major shelters (Washoe County Regional Animal Services and the Nevada Humane Society) together take in f our times the per capita rate of Los Angeles. In f act.S. it ignores the f act that each of the communities that have succeeded were also once steeped in killing. Nevada. and across the globe. T hat the main excuse historically used to justif y the need to systematically poison or gas to death millions of dogs and cats turns out to be a f abrication should be cause f or celebration.own f ailure to save lives to someone else. according to conventional wisdom. while adopting out the remainder. particularly the South. Rather than accept and then evolve their approach to this issue in light of new inf ormation (a study conducted by HSUS itself proved that demand f or animals vastly exceeds the number of animals being killed in shelters). From both the perspective of animals and the perspective of the true animal lover. Loss of jobs and loss of homes are at all-time highs. claiming at one time they had no choice but to kill by using the same excuses that have been proven f alse by virtue of their own success (almost always af ter a regressive shelter director was replaced with a progressive one). Tragically. including areas suf f ering f rom high rates of unemployment and f oreclosure. But they are doing just that. though grudgingly. spinning in endless. it is Washoe County. f or example. Each of those shelters is succeeding f or one reason and one reason alone: the shelter itself changed the way it operated. As a result. in Utah. has been very hard hit by the economic downturn.

If shelters increase the number of animals who come f rom shelters by a f ew percentage points. which is the case in communities nationwide. Of those. tools to help us in our mission. what statisticians call a combination of “stock” and “f low. A two percent increase would replace all killing with adoption. just over 80. too. every shelter will f ace such a scenario. there is “shelter overpopulation” which makes killing the 101st animal justif ied. pet retention programs and adoption campaigns—all the alternatives to killing that successf ul communities use to replace killing when cages get f ull. Indeed. then under a worst-case scenario. doubling up animals. If “f eral” cats were neutered and released rather than killed as the No Kill Equation also mandates. into two rooms: an overf low inf irmary and a nursery f or kittens. if a shelter has 100 cages. T here are roughly 165 million animals in people’s homes and the numbers are not just holding. concrete data to back it up. enjoyed protection f rom the elements while sick animals and kittens. Today. there is no killing that cannot be justif ied. Michigan shelters have 10% reclaim rates. when the 101st animal comes in.” Under this argument. T he argument also ignores the f act that a shelter can always add more cages to accommodate population. where some claim that regional pet overpopulation exists because of economic distress and high rates of unemployment. who were our mission.000 animals statewide are losing their lives annually. T hat amounts to just over ½ of one percent of Michigan’s 10. Prior to my arrival. Take a state like Michigan. our vans. To begin with. at some point. As director of the shelter in Tompkins County. It presupposes that No Kill communities never have more animals than cage space when it is a given that.000 additional homes need to be f ound f or Michigan to become a No Kill state.same argument with a new label and every bit as devoid of verif iable. by this logic. New York. I converted the garage. but instead claims we have “shelter overpopulation. the argument lacks any threshold or standards to ensure protections f or animals of any kind.000 can and should be reunited with their f amilies (on average. If this same community dismantled 95 of the 100 cages. nor regional pet overpopulation.” it is actually less. SHELT ER OVERPOPULAT ION: IT ’S DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN One proponent of the pet overpopulation argument has gone so f ar as to admit there is neither national pet overpopulation.000 residents.” . we would be a No Kill nation today. Even if one is looking at the number of households instead of the number of people. Let’s look at it another way. Of those. Moreover. it’s less than two percent. were being killed f or “lack of space. but a statistic that could be dramatically improved if the reclaim protocols of the No Kill Equation were f ollowed). it does not take into account f oster homes. at least another 4. temporary cages and kennels. and a f raction of the most successf ul communities in the nation. a f igure that is not only f ar below the national average. How is that evidence of a “regional pet overpopulation” problem? It isn’t. And because some of that would be replacement “markets” (a pet dies or runs away) and not just new “markets” (someone doesn’t have a pet but decides to get one or has one and decides to get another). roughly 85. they would be morally justif ied in killing the 6th animal who came in.000 animals are healthy and treatable. about 70. In f act. especially during peak intake times such as spring and summer.000. which housed two vans. the evidence reveals that the opposite is actually true. they are growing.

the proponents of “shelter overpopulation” have simply taken the excuses used to justif y killing on a macro-scale and reduced it to the micro. In other words. pet overpopulation is real. while expanding the supply side of the pet overpopulation argument in this way is an attempt to obscure and conf use the issue. we must include all the animals living on the street as well. they argue that when calculating the number of animals in need of homes nationally. while adding the number of animals in shelters combined with the number of animals living on the street would provide a statistic of how many animals in America might not have a human address. they are packing the numbers on the supply side to make their case appear more plausible. When you include all the animals living on the street. the f irst being that it introduces into the equation a whole category of animals who. some apologists—mostly supporters of PETA’s campaign of dog and cat extermination (killing as they do roughly 97% of all the animals they seek out)—have started to cook the books. MAKING T HE NUMBERS FIT T HE CONCLUSION In the f ace of this irref utable evidence. as already explained. Is that really the standard of care we want our nation’s shelters to f ollow—in essence. a “need” to kill animals (itself a logical and unethical f allacy even if true as will be discussed below). it does not change the conclusion supported by both f act and experience: every year. af ter all. they argue. there are more homes available than there are animals being killed in shelters. not just the ones being killed in shelters. T here are many f laws inherent in this argument as well. But it is the exact same argument. the killing pet overpopulation has always been used to justif y. while their well-being is important. But by the “shelter overpopulation” argument. as well as those adopted f rom the streets. no standards at all? Anything goes if the alternative to killing is having to embrace an alternative to killing? In the end. . his killing of kittens rather than sending them into f oster care or adding more cage space was entirely justif ied.T here was nothing preventing my predecessor f rom doing what I did. While tacitly admitting that the data and experience do not lend themselves to the notion of a supplydemand imbalance and thus. that number would not ref lect how many animals are under an immediate death threat at their local shelter which is. No longer able to rationalize a supply and demand imbalance given both the data and experience of successf ul communities. so vastly exceeds the supply of animals in shelters that it can even accommodate homes lost to commercially-sourced animals such as those f rom breeders and pet stores. are not relevant to the very specif ic discussion of shelter killing f or the simple f act that they are not in shelters. In short. Nor does the existence of such animals impact the demand side of the equation which. f lawed f or the same reasons and equally as unethical.

but a serious discussion that seeks to inf orm and inf luence our positions and actions on behalf of animals in a responsible. water. Instead. neuter and release of dogs is not uncommon and regarded. Nor would loss of lif e. shelter killing is a grave and immediate danger. but to obscure. the f irst time many companion animals experience neglect or abuse is when they enter a shelter. Are those who make this argument implying that all f ree-living animals should be brought into shelters and theref ore. pet overpopulation would in f act exist? T hat. if they were. animal shelters in this country are not the saf e havens they should and can be. with outdoor cats living roughly the same lif espan as indoor pet cats. be the only one such animals would likely f ace if admitted to shelters. 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. arguing that pet overpopulation would be real if all f ree-living animals were admitted to shelters is to introduce a hypothetical and irrelevant scenario into a discussion about a very real problem. Nor is lif e outside a human home the tragedy it is so of ten painted to be by shelter killing apologists seeking to justif y killing by f alsely portraying the alternative as even worse. if they are allowed to remain where they are rather than being impounded. Although the animal protection movement has perpetuated the f iction that our nation’s shelters provide a humane and compassionate saf ety net of care f or our nation’s homeless animals.000 f ree-living cats. T he risk of an untimely death f or street cats is extremely low. af ter all. In other words. less than one percent of those cats were suf f ering f rom debilitating conditions. is the local shelter. Moreover. they are of ten poorly managed houses of horror. socialization and are then killed. In a study of over 100. thoughtf ul and f act-based way. either. Animal abuse at local shelters is not an isolated anomaly caused by “a f ew bad apples. places where animals are denied basic medical care. unrelated issues into the discussion is an attempt not to illuminate. First and most signif icantly. cats were 13 times more likely to be returned home by non-shelter means (such as returning home on their own) than through the pound. Admitting extraneous. T hese incidents reveal a distinct pattern.” T he stunning number and severity of these cases nationwide lead to one disturbing and inescapable conclusion: our shelters are in crisis. T he likelihood of an animal being reunited with their human caretakers is greater f or cats.Nor does the implied corollary to their argument stand up.S. as an inf initely better alternative than impound and potential death. those who advocate f or animals should oppose any suggestion that animals on the streets would be better of f in those places that present the greatest threat to their lives: the local animal shelter. f ood. the last place an animal advocate should wish an animal to end up. Frequently overseen by inef f ective and incompetent directors who f ail to hold their staf f accountable to the most basic standards of humane care.. very tragic. In truth. as it should be. To argue f or the existence of the disproven but primary excuse used to justif y that killing based not on what is happening but what might happen were all f ree-living animals to be admitted into shelters reduces a serious and weighty discussion to the realm of make believe. the risk of death is lower and the chance of adoption higher f or cats on the street than cats in the shelter. the f acts tell a very dif f erent. And analyzing the validity of historical claims used to justif y the systematic killing of millions of animals should not be a sophomoric exercise in rhetoric or debate. A genuine commitment to animal welf are requires an honest assessment of reality and the genuine threats which animals entering shelters f ace. And in countries outside the U. sometimes cruelly. including those animals who live on the streets. though the greatest harm. While another study f ound that people are up to three times more likely to adopt cats as neighborhood strays than f rom a shelter. As the movement to end shelter killing has grown in size and sophistication. is the inf erence of their argument. Not only is lif e on the street saf er than a stay in an animal shelter. story. In one study. but the very thing animal shelters are supposed to provide to homeless and stray animals— reunion with their home or adoption into a new one—are more likely to happen to an animal on the street than one entering a shelter. Until we ref orm our shelters. f or example. . For f our million animals every year.

and when—in the case of PETA and its supporters—you are paying f or and actually doing the killing. we’re still dealing with a f igure that is less than total demand. Moreover. First. ACCEPT ED ON FAIT H So given that there is so much inf ormation and experience working against the notion of pet overpopulation and given that to believe in pet overpopulation is to condone the excuse that allows f or the killing of f our million animals every year. too: those cats who are not “f eral” because they are tame. instinct and the chance of benef iting f rom the kindness of strangers. it also f lies in the f ace of our common experience as living beings who. streets. pet overpopulation was an unquestioned gospel within the animal protection movement. Nonetheless. the argument that animals are better of f dead than living on the street f lies in the f ace of actual evidence. No one knows f or sure the number of animals living on the street.” (especially since this f orm of killing was being done by those who claimed to be a part of the animal protection movement itself ) its prevalence and undisputed authority f or so many decades gave it the appearance of truth rather than what it was all along: a mere hypothesis. when you are promoting death. If those who continue to claim pet overpopulation is real because the number of animals exceeds demand f or animals and that this supply-demand imbalance requires shelters to kill animals. T he outdoors is their home and the same is true of f riendly community cats. Of course. one better know the supply side of the equation bef ore using use an argument dependent upon it to justif y a mass slaughter. it is irrelevant.Like pet overpopulation. the No Kill movement is f ocused on bringing this very specif ic harm to an end. as proponents of round up and kill campaigns like PETA and its adherents f alsely claim. T hat is a non sequitur that groups like PETA conveniently ignore when they perpetuate this f alse choice and f allacy in order to justif y the killing of those they theoretically exist to protect. if given the choice between death at a shelter and survival by our wit. f eral cats and in some inner cities f eral dogs. collapses like a house of cards. make up some percentage of those animals and they are not homeless.S. would choose the latter without a moment’s hesitation. Repeated ad infinitum within the animal protection community as means of explaining shelter killing and distinguishing it f rom other f orms of killing by virtue of its “necessity. We do not need to keep killing shelter animals because there are other animals living on the street. why do people who claim to be animal lovers not only to cling to it. predictably. so the math still does not hold up. just as is true with the traditional notion of pet overpopulation which they have perpetuated f or decades. when you are excusing death.** In short. the burden to prove its “necessity” is on you. Even so. and one that. as noted above. too. parks. the f acts show it would be the smart one. when subjected to scrutiny and weighed against the evidence. and alleyways. their argument also f alls apart in the absence of any concrete data to support their case that when the number of animals living on the streets is f actored into the supply side. but are nonetheless cared f or by a person or as is of ten the case several people.*** Nonetheless. the best estimate (and it is still largely a guess) is that about 12 million cats and f ar f ewer dogs are living on U. when you remove “f eral” cats and dogs f rom the total numbers. shelters better promoted the animals and then actually kept them alive long enough to f ind homes through comprehensive adoption campaigns. the universal acceptance of pet overpopulation that dominated the animal protection movement at one time–a groupthink mentality that accepted it as an a priori truth outside the . but—as recent studies f rom the veterinary community conf irm—are in no way suf f ering because of it. For those who do actually enter shelters—an estimated three million animals a year who are dying but f or a home—there are plenty of homes available if .* But even if we ignored the illogic. With shelter killing being the leading cause of death f or healthy animals in America (and theref ore the cause of the greatest possible harm to bef all homeless animals). And just as signif icant. pet overpopulation exists. the burden is on them to prove it: what is the supply side of the equation? When you are preaching death. they do not. Not only would this choice be our natural impulse. until very recently. but work so hard to maintain it or to try to revive its f ading supremacy through rebranding? T here are three primary reasons. and. instead of killing them out of convenience.

Until all communities are No Kill communities. but the very act of questioning it at all. spay and neuter places the responsibility on the public. Sadly. spay/neuter has been the cornerstone of companion animal advocacy f or decades. Why? Because it does not threaten those running shelters. that spay and neuter alone is the key to ending the killing. the easier it is f or even unmotivated. Whereas the other programs of the No Kill Equation such as f oster care. like the pet overpopulation. communities with very high per capita intake rates have achieved No Kill without a comprehensive public spay/neuter program. if spay/neuter allows a community to drop intakes signif icantly enough that they are unable to meet adoption demand. Yes. Why do they believe sterilization is so critically important? Because. inef f ective and uncaring directors (in short. T he motives of those who seek to expose the lie at the heart of the killing. it is not. scorn and allegations of f raud. theref ore.**** SPAY/NEUT ER: A FALSE IDOL T he second—and probably more ubiquitous—reason that some animal activists are resistant to the idea that pet overpopulation is a myth is because they irrationally f ear that if the public f inds out the truth. continued promotion and availability of high-volume.bounds of investigation or analysis—meant that to ultimately question its precepts was regarded as heresy. Because even though pet overpopulation is a myth. And that is also why so many animal activists argue. such allegiance is more important than the lives of the animals they are supposed to represent. the historical narrative which has shielded those people f rom accountability. Why? Because if pet overpopulation is a myth. they have been told over and over again. then the killing being done in shelters is immoral. it alone has never—never—created a single No Kill community. that it is. f or many people who know and support organizations and individuals doing the killing or which provide it political cover. as they have they have been schooled to do and despite no evidence to prove it. low-cost spay/neuter is a means to reach stasis in shelters where adoptions equal intakes. making the achievement of a No Kill nation even easier to achieve. we want to eliminate those communities with high intake rates (like Washoe County) needing thoroughly committed and hardworking leadership to stop killing. spay and neuter is important. and anyone who tries to do so is the enemy. and those who do that killing— f riends and colleagues within the animal protection community itself —are behaving unethically and irresponsibly towards animals. the myth of pet overpopulation. We cannot neuter our way out of killing and no U. must not be exposed as a lie. T hat honor belongs to the No Kill Equation as a whole. have been maligned and misrepresented. In f act. a troubling and deeply unsettling conclusion that f or many people within the animal protection community is better lef t unreached. And. . creating a climate of suspicion within the animal protection movement not only about those who question the doctrine. too. they can begin importing animals f rom high-kill rate jurisdictions and save those lives. a series of programs and services which require a shelter to harness a community’s compassion and which theref ore also prove that in order to succeed. and f or years on end. your average kill shelter director) to run a No Kill shelter. pet overpopulation. unlike those other programs. the f act remains that despite the privileged position spay/neuter has historically enjoyed within the animal protection movement. community ever has. this is a very good thing to have happen. But is it true? In f act. the public will no longer spay/neuter their animals. Moreover. To them. In f act. along with other No Kill advocates.S. In other words. But despite the role spay and neuter plays in helping a community more easily achieve and sustain No Kill. which they continue to view as critically important. spay and neuter has been and continues to be the one program of the No Kill Equation to which every shelter director and every large national group pays homage. promote it. opening up those who exposed its f allacies to condemnation. a shelter must embrace rather than alienate the people it serves. It is program of the No Kill Equation and I. comprehensive adoption programs and proactive redemptions which are vitally important—even more essential—to saving lives than spay/neuter place the responsibility f or lif esaving on the shelter. T his is important because the lower the intake.

Not only does such an attitude perpetuate ignorance and helplessness by f ailing to acknowledge a genuine solution that already exists. codependent relationship that puts their own narrow self -interest bef ore the lives and well-being of animals. believing that spay/neuter alone holds the key to ending the killing f ails to recognize the most essential and tragic truth about animal sheltering in America today: we already have alternatives to killing. thus willf ully enabling killing through an unhealthy. that positive outcome is enough to encourage most people to do right not just by the animals. but by the shelter which shares their values and which they want to support and enable in its success. . lamenting that we would be f inally able to end the killing if only everyone sterilized their animals or could be f orced to do so is like wishing that a historically popular but inef f ective remedy f or a particular disease would work when a cure has already been f ound. When we make it easy f or them to do so—such as making spay/neuter af f ordable—they will. the thing that sets successf ul communities apart f rom theirs is a greater commitment to implement alternatives to killing and a greater determination to overcome the resistance of those who stood in the way. And studies and experience prove it. Finally. How does that help animals? It doesn’t. but who rely on the myth of pet overpopulation to justif y their f ive and ten year No Kill plans in light of communities which have achieved it virtually overnight. T his includes directors who run poorly perf orming shelters. it includes the heads of organizations who claim to support No Kill. even claim to be striving toward No Kill. To the extent that spay and neuter is one of the programs that helps a shelter more easily achieve No Kill. We need not f ear monger with pet overpopulation and by extension. PET OVERPOPULAT ION AS POLIT ICAL COVER T he third and f inal reason that people cling to the myth of pet overpopulation is because they have a vested interested in killing. Our job now is to make sure the roadmap we already have is implemented in every shelter in America. It includes national organizations like the Humane Society of the United States. the ASPCA and PETA whose companion animal divisions are staf f ed with f ormer shelter directors and employees who themselves f ailed to save lives when they worked in shelters and are theref ore not only threatened by No Kill success.T he No Kill philosophy recognizes that f ar f rom being the cause of shelter killing. It is no longer a mystery—the No Kill Equation provides the answer. a means of obscuring the truth by portraying their community as more challenging than those that have already succeeded. For such groups. It recognizes that while some people are irresponsible. alternatives that the vast majority of shelter directors simply ref use to implement. It includes the supporters of those groups whose identity is so wrapped up in that support that they not only reject any criticism of the groups no matter what the evidence. but are committed to shielding their f riends and colleagues still working in shelters f rom greater accountability. but it siphons energy that should be directed towards implementing the real remedy into mourning the f ailure of a hopeless one. the threat that we will kill animals—or even actually kill animals—to get people to do the right thing. Indeed. most people are trustworthy and will do right by companion animals if we explain how they can do so. Every animal lover has a responsibility to recognize that we don’t need to f igure out how to end the killing anymore. pet overpopulation is a tool used to distinguish their community f rom those that are already successf ul. in f avor of the medicine. even though. It includes government bureaucrats in these communities who are supposed to oversee these shelter directors but ref use to hold them accountable. in truth. the notion that we must continue to promote the myth of pet overpopulation—which condones and enables killing—in order to encourage people to spay and neuter—which has only ever been important because it is a means to prevent killing—is an inversion of priorities. It is to encourage the disease and f orsake the cure. the community is the key to ending it. And how can you save animals in a shelter run by a director who simply ref uses to stop killing? Moreover. And lastly. but take such criticisms as a personal af f ront.

T HE CONCLUSION We can end the killing and we can do it today. lif e-af f irming methods of sheltering. elderly. sick. the movement still recognized that whatever practical explanations there were to “justif y” it. f irst and f oremost. Advancing a practical over an ethical argument has long been the saf e haven f or those who want to justif y untoward practices. It is.***** No Kill is. of what our vision of compassion is now and f or the f uture. though the practical alternative of the No Kill Equation was yet unknown. quite simply. No Kill Declaration: Every animal in a shelter receives individual consideration. And in roughly 300 cities and towns across America. Bef ore many of us within the No Kill movement f elt comf ortable with the answer to questions of whether or not “f eral” cats suf f ered on the street and whether or not No Kill was possible. T hat is the job and duty of the animal protection movement. regardless of how many animals a shelter takes in. Does that change the ethical calculus? It does not. about the rights of . T his tenet is summarized by one of the Guiding Principles of the U. Its success is a result of the philosophy dictating our actions and thereby prompting us to do better. however. that “pet overpopulation” is real. Even accepting the sincerity of the claim. a movement of belief s. a principle that not only puts our movement in line and on par with the successf ul rightsbased movements that have come bef ore ours. We had rejected practical explanations based on a “too many animals. Indeed. Let’s assume. Shelter killing would still be immoral. Even though early in the No Kill movement’s history. but is a philosophy that f osters the motivation necessary f or us to f igure out how we can bring our aspirations into reality. protecting lif e that is not suf f ering is a timeless and absolute principle upon which responsible advocates must tailor their practices.S. we had already rejected mass killing. evil. or feral. not—as it has historically done—justif ying or enabling the killing of animals. Every action taken by animal advocates must be subservient to preserving lif e. has been used to excuse atrocities. the practical calculus is wrong and at least historically. or that a humane death was pref erable to potential f uture suf f ering. f or the sake of argument. we’ve done exactly that. underaged. injured. at its core. Ethics will always trump the practical and the two are seldom so inexorably linked that an untoward action must f ollow some f ixed practical imperative. of morality and ethics. not enough homes” calculus. T hat is the good news that comes f rom the understanding that “pet overpopulation” doesn’t exist. traumatized. to embrace more progressive. More of ten. It is. It means the killing is not a “necessary” evil. even if the practical calculus was correct. the killing was still wrong and must be rejected. It means animals don’t have to die as we . and responsibilities we have to individual animals. the underpinning of the No Kill movement is that it goes beyond what is commonly assumed to be a practical necessity.A T HOUGHT EXPERIMENT But let’s ignore all the reasons why pet overpopulation is in f act a myth and all the reasons why people who claim to love animals so vehemently def end it. or whether such animals are healthy.

more precious to them than anything else: their lives. in truth.” “adorable. they do not have an adoption f loor. if you are a person who claims to be their advocate. f ree-living cats are not disproportionately suf f ering. and a set of priorities that are in f act the opposite of that which is generally ascribed to them given their name and reputation. so that the pernicious and persistent myth at the heart of the killing—the lie that is responsible f or violent atrocities against millions of animals every year—will f inally die. I believe that it is incumbent on everyone seeking to bring an animal into their lif e to either rescue or adopt f rom a shelter. but there is no way to know if that particular cat will ever succumb to such a f ate. T hey have called f or the round up and killing of even healthy f eral cats. showed baselines of health and longevity almost identical to pet cats.” and “perf ect” and even af ter promising that they would f ind the animals a home. even if they are not suf f ering. and as long as they are. those are not the f acts. such as T NR and rescue rights. stating that I do not represent the animals. Although they try to obscure their true agenda by working to convince their supporters and animal lovers that they believe killing is a regrettable necessity. In f act. anger. too. and most are killed within 24 hours. . by shooting the messenger or by attempting to obscure the issue f or others with irrelevant and unrelated tangents. —— * T hey also ignore the f act that PETA believes those animals should be killed. their actions. I’ve written articles and held workshops on closing down puppy mills. as Ingrid Newkirk herself stated. Whatever methods PETA uses to justif y shelter killing should be approached with the understanding that PETA is motivated by a very dif f erent set of priorities than the vast majority of people. PETA has killed 29. and then you share that good news with everyone you know who loves animals. let alone when. Puppy mills cause horrible animal suf f ering and death—two things I have committed my lif e to opposing. In f act.have been told f or so long. Even if it could be proven that most f ree-living cats die prematurely due to disease or injury (which is by no means true. If you truly love animals. the living want to die and killing them is.” ** Although. too. the largest study of “f eral” cats conducted in the U. but industries that harm them. it would still be unethical to kill any individual cat because not only do that cat’s inherent rights ethically prohibit it. T hey have called f or the automatic killing of all dogs who look like “pit bulls” in shelters. in truth and f rom an animal rights perspective. they are being killed. One of the most pervasive lies about me is that I am a f ront f or puppy mills—an entirely baseless accusation intended to scare animal lovers away f rom listening to what I have to say. And they f ight shelter ref orm legislation to mandate the common sense programs of the No Kill Equation. In the last 11 years. as is true f or each of us. In short. I do not get money f rom groups that oppose the rights of animals. And it is turning a blind eye to a solution that will spare millions of animals f rom losing the one thing that is. Anything else is unethical. Furthermore. And regardless of why animals are being killed. but postulated f or the sake of argument). apoplexy. reveal that those who work at PETA believe that lif e is suf f ering. adoption and rescue are ethical imperatives. they do not market their animals. It is enabling shelter killing. T hey do not have adoption hours. you do not respond to that news with indignation. even if it was known that a particular cat would get hit by a car two years f rom now. there is no inf ormation or practical argument in def ense of shelter killing that supersedes every animals’ inherent rights. I have been maligned and repeatedly misrepresented in a variety of ways. including those they themselves have called “healthy. You celebrate.” “adoptable. chief among them the right to live. a “gif t. Rumors about me abound. their more candid statements and most signif icantly.S. T hey have def ended poorly perf orming and even violently abusive shelters. **** Because of my ef f orts to expose the lie of pet overpopulation. *** It is never ethical to kill an individual animal based on a group dynamic. it isn’t ethical to rob him of those two years by killing him now. scorn.426 animals. I support laws banning the sale of purposely bred animals f rom pet stores.

For f urther reading: T he Empty Cages Can You Neuter Your Way Out of Killing? Wish You Were Here Good Homes Need Not Apply Who is Nathan Winograd? —————- Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here. About the data: When I wrote Redemption in 2007. HSUS. the very f act that the myth of pet overpopulation to rationalize the killing and the euphemisms used to describe it such as “euthaniasia. It includes data from shelters that have statewide reporting such as Virginia.” putting them to sleep. North Carolina and California. .***** Indeed. almost one-third of the U. shelter total. an artif ice to shield its ugly reality f rom the public. The data for this analysis came from a number of sources. and a database of about 1. among others. including national surveys done by Maddie’s Fund.” and “humane death” came into existence are proof that even those doing the killing understood that it was so perverse it needed masking. Mintel. And HSUS is not alone. and Petsmart Charities. I was very conservative.S. Michigan.100 organizations. HSUS’ own numbers prove that the number of people who will bring a new animal into their home far exceeds the number being killed in shelters but for a home.