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.