Friday, March 05, 2010

Nathan Winograd's Redemption: In Which I Agree With Some Things

and admit to it...

Mr Winograd is not a politic man. I get the distinct impression that he's not a big fan of animal control officers, or their mandate. This is not a great way to win me over, since I love my job and believe in it, and I'm already kind of wary of him and no-kill. I should rephrase: he doesn't like ACOs and shelter workers as they are now, as part of the status quo. I've written here before about my perception of Mr Winograd's finger pointing and fault finding with animal shelters, and "Redemption" is a long litany of the same. His final words, before the Afterword, are his thesis:
In the final analysis, animals in shelters are not being killed because there are too many of them, because there are too few homes, or because the public is irresponsible. Animals in shelters are dying for primarily one reason- because people in shelters are killing them.
People like me, Winograd believes, are the leading cause of death of domestic animals in this country. Reading this makes me defensive, and annoyed, and it's partially true. In the Afterword, Winograd lays out four kinds of people who will object to the book: people who think it's all about Winograd; people who will continue on continuing on blaming the public, arguing that their community is more irresponsible than the successful ones and fighting for more laws; shelter directors who see the book as a personal attack and argue for putting aside differences to fight the common enemy of the irresponsible public; and the "naysayers" who won't believe Winograd, no matter what he says. Experience has led me to believe in both the irresponsibility of the public and the importance of changing the status quo. It's a both/and.

I have posted about the frustration of hearing what a hard job I have, and the No Kill folks don't make this any easier. YesBiscuit! recently posted that shelter work involving killing pets is her idea of the worst job ever. Winograd says "euthanasia" is the most misleading word in the shelter vernacular: it's "shelter killing." I don't feel like a professional killer until I read this stuff, and then I feel like a professional killer. A hitman. I have started using "killing" in my daily language at work, rather than "put to sleep" or "euthanize," at least with my coworkers. Because, really, it's what we're doing. It doesn't make it that different on daily level, but I agree with Winograd: it's honest.

Winograd starts "Redemption" with a shocking anecdote from 1990 of a director of a South Bay animal shelter euthanizing (killing) cats, kittens and dogs on live national television and being hailed for it. Other shelters used the same tactic, hoping it would scare people away from surrendering their animals. I was shocked when I read this: how could they do something so publicly that I consider such a private part of sheltering? And then I had to rethink: I believe in transparency and accountability in sheltering (and pretty much everything else). I'm pretty sure this isn't what the people killing on TV were thinking, but if we shelter workers can't do what we do in public, on TV, even, then maybe we shouldn't be doing it. If I am in the euthanasia room for an hour or two every day, and feel ashamed about it being broadcast, then something is wrong. This was page 6 of "Redemption," and I had to pay more attention.

Winograd has lots of negative things to say about the HSUS, and basically, the public aren't the only people being hoodwinked: "For many agencies, the HSUS standard became the gold standard," on the one hand, on the other, "HSUS has not been alone in supporting or promoting practices that unnecessarily lead to higher death rates for animals." HSUS has advocated denying the release of animals to rescue groups, only recently got on board with TNR, only even more recently decided pit bulls from fight busts were worth evaluating, etc. Each of these policies, which were recommendations as "best practices" for animal shelters, led to deaths of millions of animals in the decades that they were endorsed.

In the 1970s, a group of animal welfare organizations, including HSUS and the American Humane Association got together and decided they would adopt a strategy to increase responsible pet ownership: "Legislation, Education, and Sterilization (LES)." This involved confinement and licensing laws, humane education programs, and spay and neuter measures that were punitive rather than based on incentives and accessibility. Winograd has a lot of beef with the legislation part: it targets the animal's behavior as "bad," and many of the laws also involve people feeding free-roaming cats, which in turn leads to capturing them and killing them. I am with him here: laws that punish the animals and/or require cats to be licensed or be seen as "owned" are troublesome to me. On the other hand, Winograd seems to suggest that he is against leash laws or fees to reclaim their animals from the shelter. He states that "responsible people acted responsibly whether there was a law or not, while truly irresponsible people would merely ignore it." I'm just not sure I buy this logic, in the animal world or elsewhere. Since Winograd makes all kinds of (fairly specious) animal/human comparisons, I'm going to make one here: do only irresponsible people not wear their seat belts or speed when they drive? Should the laws not exist because of the people who may or may not follow the laws?

Winograd also shakes his head at humane education, arguing that money is thrown at it with no proof of success. Every dollar should be spent towards saving lives, he argues. I really have no way to know if what he says is true here, and can't find fault with humane education: I've seen it really affect children. Big picture-wise, I am not in a position to say. Finally, Winograd is all about spay/neuter (sterilization is the "s" in LES). He agrees that sterilization is a huge factor in moving towards No Kill/away from shelter killing, but objects with the LES method of legislating it. I am also in agreement here: low cost clinics and education are far more effective than laws mandating s/n. In my first year of shelter work alone, in the East Bay, I could see a decrease in shelter populations as the Maddie's Fund Clinics were at work, and education about the benefits of s/n were being advertised. In my two years in Santa Cruz, I rarely saw an altered dog, though there was a mandatory s/n ordinance in effect. There was literally not one low-cost spay/neuter option available. I sometimes suggested leaving owned animals at the shelter as we would offer free neuters when the owners redeemed their pets. Pathetic.

Winograd spends a whole chapter on feral cats, and the importance of TNR in a successful No Kill community. Ferals are so controversial in animal welfare, and such a hot topic, that I understand the reticence of entrenched animal control facilities to even get involved in the debate, let alone start a TNR program. On the other hand, letting logic get in the way of tradition isn't an answer, especially when it means cats die: under this regime, every feral cat that walks in will be rolled out in a barrel. Really? This is OK? Winograd convincingly argues that a life outside is way better than certain death in a cage, and if that's not convincing to you, I'm not sure quite what would be. For years groups like the Audobon Society have been arguing that ferals kill birds and other wild animals and Winograd debunks the science behind this. He also uses a strange argument linking xenophobia and questioning "what is a native species," which is not nearly as convincing. But he discusses a very successful and civilized TNR program at Stanford University, and I'll tell you, I would not complain if I didn't have to kill feral cats daily. I could be a professional cat-releaser instead of a professional cat killer.

Winograd thinks that No Kill can be acheived anywhere: rich/poor, urban/rural, etc, with the right leadership and attitudes. He believes shelters need to get past the numbers that are acceptable now and start looking at a whole new paradigm. The Hayden Bill was a good place to start: increasing minimum holding periods, requiring the release of animals to rescue groups, etc. And he thinks that we need to get rid of temperament testing as we know it, because Sue Sternberg is almost always wrong, and because the TTest is a way to fail animals, not to pass them. The tests he used in Tompkins County (a No Kill community in upstate New York) passed something like 90% of dogs, and only .03% ever showed aggression in their homes. That's 3 dogs in 4 years, I believe. He writes that we're failing pit bulls (kind of like feral cats) by killing them without giving them a chance, in many cases, and listening to Sue Sternberg in others. (I agree- Sternberg seems to have a screw loose about pit bulls. Their tails are too strong for her. Maybe if we docked them, like boxers, it would be better.)

And Winograd is pissed about the Asilomar Accords, which were created in 2004 in part by his old boss at the SFSPCA, Richard Avanzino. The Asilomar Accords tried to create some language that participating shelters could agree on in terms of adoptability. Winograd thinks that's bunk: either a shelter is trying to go all the way and eliminate killing as a way of getting animals out of the building, or they're still doing things the old way, and calling it something different. I recently read this fascinating interview with Avanzino on Pet Connection about SFSPCA, Winograd, and the Asilomar Accords from a very different angle, that's worth a read in this context. Where Winograd thinks the Accords are being used to spin the numbers, Avanzino thinks this is a starting place for accountability and transparency.

Most importantly, Winograd thinks pet overpopulation is a myth. If we stop killing almost all animals, there will still be enough homes for them. We'll have to find fosters for them, the shelters will be more crowded, but people will adopt them. The number going around is 2%: if we could increase adoptions 2% nationwide, we could be No Kill. And we, the shelter people, are the ones holding us back.

So, I agree with lots of this, when I get past my resentment. I agree that part of my livelihood is killing. Some of it is euthanasia: mercifully ending suffering that has no other option. And some of it is avoidable. And No Kill would be great, if utopian. And I have a lot of qualms, doubts, and worries. I am one of those "it can't happen here" doubters. Maybe it's that the economy has changed since the successful communities made their changes? Maybe it's the education level in some communities as opposed to others?

My primary question is how Winograd got around the public safety aspect of "adoptable" animals, no matter how you define it. How did 90% of dogs pass his temperament evaluations? He tells the story of a dog being put on a control pole to be taken to be put down, and he tells this as a horror story of terrible evil practices of a shelter in need of reform, and as a dog that would have been adoptable if he was in charge. The dogs that I put down that have to be on a control pole are not adoptable in my opinion because they are public safety risks. I am pretty good with dogs: if I'm unwilling to leash them, I'm not going to adopt them out. The Winograd in my head is saying "they need more time" or "they could go to a foster home" or "a sanctuary or rescue group could take them" but to me, this sounds like putting numbers above safety. I got a take home message of assessing animals as individuals: if I can't touch a dog, I am not going to take that lightly. This is at least 10% of our intake population. Another 10% is unsafe in the shelter, but we put up for adoption or send to rescue anyway. I feel uncomfortable about this, but for the sake of argument, will go along with Winograd here and hope that their behavior at home is totally different and that we are not putting safety risks back into the community. Winograd also gives all kinds of examples of health problems that are adoptable, especially focusing on blind animals and tripods. These are adoptable, but shattered pelvises? We get two or three a month. We have taken out eyes, even removed an ear canal. But to ask the average shelter to do this seems above and beyond. We euthanize for parvo: is this wrong? Putting the whole shelter population at risk is not tenable, at this point.

And I do resent the notion that the shelters hold all the blame and the public none. Shelters need to be held responsible for THEIR PART in this, just as individuals need to be held responsible for theirs. Shelters need to be part of the solution, partnering in low cost spay/neuter clinics, working to get TNR accepted, and yes, educating the public in responsible ownership. We can spay/neuter every animal that people will let us, but I will not take ownership for the people who want their animals to breed. That is not on me. I will take ownership for killing animals, but I will not take ownership for the man who beat his dog with an axe, or the man who failed to comply with my anti-chaining compliance notice, was given a day, and moved his dog to another location on a chain so short that she could not move. He was irresponsible, and neglectful. How many days should I let him continue to treat his animal like this? If the alternative to seizing her is to let him continue to move the dog around to different chains, what would Winograd have me do? If seizing her means she may be euthanized/killed? Where am I left? If he does not pay the fees, even if we agree to work with him, and she is not adoptable- if she is truly a safety risk- should I have left her on the chain? Winograd, in his dislike/distrust of animal control, doesn't leave room for these complexities. These are not licensing citations that I'm discussing, or dealing with. They can result in killing, yes. That is not my goal.

Though Winograd dismisses collaboration multiple times, I think we DO need to work together. We need to be able to protect the animals without impounding them. We need to educate even more people about spay/neuter to prevent the bajillion animals from being born. We need to do something to deter surrenders- not killing animals on TV- but to help keep animals in homes, like free or cheap dog training, or basic stuff like potty training, and more dog parks for exercising. Adoption is great, but I don't agree that adopters grow on trees, especially for the harder to place animals that Winograd brags about placing through fancy marketing. Foster homes are great, but they're also not that common, and prevention might be better than putting our fingers in the dyke by sticking neonatals into homes. I like working together- I think it's a good thing. We can move forward by working together, it doesn't have to be working together to stick with the status quo.

If I can admit to changing, to saying No Kill isn't all bad, that I'm part of the problem, maybe Winograd can come over and help us nasty killer animal control officers some time.


Luisa said...

You are far too rational and far too honest for your own good.

Thanks for an excellent post.

themacinator said...

Luisa- I can't even tell you how much this means coming from you!

Jacked Up said...

Winograd is part of the problem. He's just trying to make money.

Joni said...

Dear themacinator,

Thank you for this post. This is the first blog posting I have read from a person that works in animal control that has commented on Nathan Winograd's book, Redemption, that has actually took the time to read it with an open mind. Thank you so much for that and your efforts in writing this post on your thoughts about the book and no-kill sheltering.

I don't know if a no-kill community is possible in all communities across the US. But I do believe that it is something that everyone: pet rescuers, animal control, and community leaders should aim for if no-kill is the will of the majority of the community's residence. And I do believe that most people would prefer that most animals go home alive from their local animal shelter.

I don't know if Nathan has all the answers or claims too, but his book is inspiring people to consider what is and what could be if only we took steps that are different than our past steps.

Please keep blogging on no-kill and your work/animal issues and maybe people will offer you helpful suggestions for the pet issues you encounter.

Please remain open to the goal of a no-kill community and I am sure more help will find you.

By the way, consider joining some of the no-kill pages on Facebook and asking questions there.

themacinator said...

jacked- i used to think a variation of this, but i've been working through some of his philosophies for years now, and really, anything to slow down killing animals is cool with me. i definitely think he's strident and pedantic and finger pointing- none of these are my style- but i don't think that makes him all wrong.

joni- i appreciate your feedback, and your positivity :) although winograd hates this, i really believe in the "why can't we all get along" thing- the divisions among animal folks have always troubled me. aren't we all in this for the same or at least similar reasons? i'm willing to learn- i love to learn, actually. i agree- winograd doesn't have all the answers, but does anyone? (i don't have facebook, but i follow lots of people on twitter- got any good ideas?)

galway said...

I have owned dogs for forty years, never bred any of them, nor do I intend to. Why does my government think I'm too stupid to prevent my dogs from breeding without sterilizing them? I happen to believe, down to my very core, that sterilization, especially castration of males, leads to cancer and shortens the life of a dog. These are MY dogs, MY property, I have done nothing, ever, that could lead anyone to believe that I am anything other than a responsible dog owner. Two years ago, I had a meeting with Ed Boks, former director of Animal Control in L.A., and asked him this question. His answer was a shrug, a F*** you. Am I supposed to respect people like that and mutilate my dogs to please them? Why? My dogs are precious to me, I adore them, and if I believe castration will harm them, who the hell has the right to force me to do so? Who gave legislators a license to practice veterinary medicine? I have rescued dogs, I have run my breed's rescue group, not because I feel responsible, but because I love the dogs. I am NOT responsible for this perceived overpopulation problem. Should people stop "breeding" until there are no children left in orphanages? Responsible people have the right to live their lives the way they see fit. I thought I lived in the United States of America, land of the free. I pay my taxes, I don't bother anyone. Leave me and my dogs alone!

Joni said...

There are many ways to help increase the shelter's leave-alive-rate. I have saved more than one shelter pet just by posting about them online - blogs, facebook, twitter, etc...

Here is some helpful advice I was given when I asked about increasing fosters...

This advice is from Amanda St. John (on facebook)

Joni, part of finding fosters is endemic in the shelter protocols.
For instance, when someone comes to surrender their dog or cat, you ask them if they can hold the dog for another week or ten days to allow for space to open up at the shelter. If you can get 50 percent of people who are giving up their pets to hold them for a few more days, then automatically slow down the kill rates.
The second protocol is to ask them "Why" and deal with the problem they are having. Sometimes it is giving them food for the dog/cat, handling a minor ailment, or helping them find an apartment/house that allows for pets. Just helping people solve their pet problem can save a life.


Janipurr said...

I want to comment on your opinion of "dangerous" dogs. I have been a veterinary technician since 1986. Before that I worked at a shelter. Only about 1-2% of the dogs that are aggressive or difficult to handle in a veterinary setting could actually be considered aggressive at home. I think I've seen two dogs euthanized because of home aggression. Considering that a shelter environment is even more stressful than a veterinary hospital, the fact that you can't handle some dogs means very little in the environment you are seeing them in. All dogs (and cats) deserve to be evaluated in as stress free environment as possible before being labeled "too aggressive to adopt".

I also do cat rescue. I am usually considered the cat whisperer at most places I have worked--I am usually able to handle almost every cat that comes in. Only true feral cats are really unhandleable. Yet cats are often too stressed in a shelter environment to truly evaluate--almost all should be given time in a quieter place before evaluation. I have placed ten year old cats, shy cats, cats with physical or emotional problems. The only time I have had great difficulty is with cats with litterbox issues.

Count me innas another person who has found a great dealmof truth in Winograd. I honestly believe that there aren't too many animals and not enough homes; that most people are reasonably responsible and want to do the right thing; that the main reason that pets are dying in shelters is the because of the policies of those shelters. I've seen shelters completely ignore the Hayden law, knowing the difficulty the public would have challenging them, if the public even knew what was happening. In fact, perhaps some shelters should stop using the word "shelter", and just call themselves a "killing center"-- at least it would be more honest.

themacinator said...

hi jani-

i agree, there is truth in a lot of winograd has to say, and if you read my other posts (and one coming soon), you'll see that i don't feel black/white about his work.

i also agree with you- each animal deserves to be evaluated as an individual. i concur- shelters are stressful places for animals. i'm not sure i would agree that shelters are more or less stressful tahn vets for certain animals, but do agree that behavior you see in shelters/vets is different than what you see at home. my point still remains: if i can't handle a dog at all on a leash, it's not a dog i would want living next door to me. of course the dog is stressed, that doesn't mean it's a safe dog to put out in the public. nor does it mean there's an adopter banging down the door to take it home. or even less, does it mean there's an adopter out there to come pick up the dog before the dog deteriorates even further and becomes even less safe.

i'd also like to clarify a little- i think dogs and cats are VERY different in shelters and agree that very few cats are unadoptable, especially for safety reasons. there are other issues for cats, of course, but the shelter enviornment is hardly fair for cat evals, and i think that most cats could find a suitable home outside of the shelter. yes, that means some cats would be primarily outdoor cats, and would involve TNR, but i think that's a good alternative to the freezer. it doesn't pose a safety risk, either.

Joni said...

About what is the percentage of shelter dogs do you come across that you feel are unsafe to re-home because of fear/aggression?

themacinator said...

hmm- it depends. :) first, it depends on which shelter you're talking about- i.e. the kind of population you're looking at. i've worked at open door shelters where i had to use a control pole maybe 2 times in a year and rarely had to sedate an animal to handle it. on the other hand, i recently euthanized a litter of 3.5 month old pit bull puppies that i could barely touch in my current jurisdiction. there were 4 of them. the most handleable of them lost control of his bowels when i touched him but didn't try to bite me. it was downhill from there- i had to sedate them to avoid losing fingers, and i'm barely exaggerating. they were fearful whirling dervishes with teeth. i NEVER saw a puppy like that at the previous shelter i mentioned.

then there's the question of evaluation- i absolutely agree that every animal deserves to be treated as an individual, and evaluated as such for placement. so, how are the dogs that are unsafe deemed such before a true eval or after? i guess i would say the ones i would absolutely not place are the ones i can't even touch for an eval. but the question then comes up that some dogs are totally different out of the cage, and this is a valid argument. the dogs i'm talking about are the dogs that can't be leashed (or picked up) to be put into a cage, and can't be leashed (or coaxed out) to get out of the cage because they're just too aggressive. the dogs that no amount of different approaches to the cage is going to let you get anywhere near them. this is not a "kennel test" that's part of a lot of evals, this is just a simple "can i get this dog out and handle him." basically, if the answer is "no, not safely," i'd probably feel like i don't want him living next door to me.

then there's the next part of "it depends" (sorry!). this is the dog who makes it out of the cage but is still somehow terribly aggressive or dangerous either before or during his eval. some of these dogs i think warrant further looks/foster/behavior mod/whatever, but some are really not there. their bite inhibition is not appropriate or their sociability doesn't present with a great promise for working with them, or really, they're aggressive. this is not a great adoption candidate and is a public safety risk.

and then there's the whole question of bite history. i'm not even going there. this was supposed to be a response, not a whole blog post! sheesh! :) i love when you come by, you always make me think more! (and i'm not being sarcastic!)

Joni said...

Here is a news article that shows why so many people hate animal shelters:

"Woman: Shelter Lied About Euthanized Dog
Animal Care & Control: 8-Month-Old Puppy Was Aggressive"

I think too many animal shelters use temperament test as just an excuse to kill more pets faster.

Glad you feel every animal needs to be given a chance and you are lucky you work in a shelter that doesn't want to be just a disposal unit.