Editorial by Merritt Clifton
On July 11, 2014 the AR-2014 conference hosted in Los Angeles by the Farm Animal Rights Movement was to feature a talk and video presentation by No Kill Advocacy Center founder Nathan Winograd, who was allocated more than 90 minutes. When FARM offered me 15 minutes to speak in the same room, preceding Winograd, he withdrew. Best Friends Animal Society cofounder Francis Battista and Los Angeles Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette spoke in his place, at my invitation.
Neither Battista nor Barnette enjoys Winograd’s level of name recognition, yet both have far longer experience in animal sheltering, and in a typical year both are responsible for rehoming more animals than Winograd has supervised rehoming in his entire career.
Ironically, I had quite a bit to do with Winograd’s rise to national prominence. In 1988, as news editor of the Animals’ Agenda magazine, I was among the very first people, perhaps the first, to give Winograd national exposure, in connection with his role in helping to introduce neuter/return feral cat control as an undergraduate at Stanford University.
Later, as editor of the newspaper Animal People, I reported about Winograd’s work at least 19 times in 22 years. The very first article distributed by the ANIMALS 24-7 news service, in April 2008, six years before the ANIMALS 24-7 web site debuted, exposed a PETA threat to sue Winograd over his blogs about PETA killing homeless dogs and cats. (See http://wp.me/p4pKmM-eY.)
Unfortunately, with due respect to Winograd’s many positive contributions to humane work, recounted in my review of his 2007 book Redemption (http://wp.me/p4pKmM-CY), I have seen vanishingly little integrity in his post-2007 activities.
For starters, Winograd is two generations too young to be anything like the father of no-kill he postures as being. See “Who invented no-kill,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-D5.
Also of significant note are Winograd’s misrepresentations of the late Phyllis Wright, 1927-1992, whose 1969 essay “Why we must euthanize” is a frequent Winograd foil. I knew Wright, and clashed with her several times during her last years of life, especially over neuter/return feral cat control, which she bitterly opposed. Nonetheless, I thought well of her, and still do.
Wright’s most enduring contribution during her 38 years in humane work was promoting the use of sodium pentobarbital to kill animals when necessary, in opposition to the use of gas chambers and decompression, which were the standard shelter killing methods throughout most of her tenure in humane work. More animals in those days were claimed from shelters for laboratory use than were adopted into new homes, under pound seizure laws which largely passed into history toward the end of Wright’s life. Unfortunately, Wright could not envision a time when killing huge numbers of surplus dogs & cats would not be necessary, because there had never been such a time in her experience, and within the memory of anyone else she worked with.
Winograd was a young shelter volunteer toward the very end of Wright’s time. Sheltering in that era greatly shaped Winograd’s impressions; but the shelter atmosphere then prevalent vanished so long ago from most of the U.S. that “Why we must euthanize,” ubiquitous then, is scarcely remembered today. I am in shelters almost every week, dozens per year in all parts of the world, but have not seen a copy of “Why we must euthanize” posted on a shelter wall in the present century.
Winograd, meanwhile, has no significant experience in doing animal control sheltering. The San Francisco SPCA had already turned the city animal control contract over to the Department of Animal Care & Control by the time Winograd arrived. (Barnette at the time was already an SF/SPCA senior executive.) Winograd’s later experience heading the Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca, New York, was about as atypical as a shelter management stint could have been. The Tompkins County SPCA already killed far few animals per 1,000 residents of the community than the U.S. norm, with relatively few feral cats around because of the harsh regional climate, no dogfighting, and no inner city issues, in one of the best-educated communities in the nation, home to one of the oldest and biggest veterinary schools.
It is no accident that animal control departments that try to follow Winograd’s prescriptions typically soon abandon or amend them, as in the city of Philadelphia and the state of Delaware, because his prescriptions are not realistic in the first place. Warehousing animals indefinitely contributes to shelter deaths from disease and fighting, not to more adoptions. Dangerous dogs cannot be safely rehomed, even into homes with no other pets and no children, because it is not possible to ensure that any dog never has the opportunity to attack visitors or passers-by. Parcelling animals out to shelterless “rescues” is all too often a prescription for increased hoarding; failed “rescues” in the present decade have accounted for more animal impoundments due to neglect than isolated and deranged individuals. Finally, no amount of increased adoption promotion can overcome the reality that it will not be possible to adopt our way out of shelter killing until shelter animal intakes fall to approximately half of the present level. (See “Why we cannot adopt our way out of shelter killing,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-6G.)
Winograd helped to achieved some positive results in San Francisco and Ithaca, but the actual numbers are much less impressive than his disciples tend to believe:
During Winograd’s tenure in San Francisco, the national rate of shelter killing fell from 21.1 animals killed per 1,000 humans to 16.8, an improvement of 4.3 animals — 0.7 better than San Francisco.
During Winograd’s tenure in Ithaca, the national rate of shelter killing fell from 15.7 to 14.8 — a drop of about one animal killed per 1,000 humans. Winograd achieved a drop of 2.1, but starting from an already extremely advantageous position.
Shelter killing actually fell much farther and faster during the Phyllis Wright era than since then, and certainly fell farther and faster during the Phyllis Wright era than since the 2006 debut of the No Kill Advocacy Center: