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Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers On Breed Specific Legislation – How Snopes Left Out Crucial Information

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Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers On Breed Specific Legislation – How Snopes Left Out Crucial Information

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

You might not be aware that Snopes is one of the oldest websites around, and one of the original ways skeptics would meet online and discuss their skepticism way before social media existed. It ran on Usenet, which was rather like a hybrid of email and a web forum. Snopes is usually pretty reliable in its debunking so long as the writers are not called upon to make a determination about a website that is beyond their expertise or is highly nuanced. But they don’t always nail their arguments and they don’t get a pass just because they’re Snopes – they are not immune to being critiqued.

In October, Snopes author Brooke Binkowski disputed the effectiveness of Breed Specific Legislation in the US and Canada. Binkowski exhorted Snopes readers to accept that her “deep research” is the result of rational objective examination – something she vigorously defends on her professional Facebook page, yet it hardly begins with any sort of “null hypothesis” about BSL.  Her credibility in this particular piece of writing is called in question both by her use of source materials and her unfiltered admonishment of posters who disagree with her as “mentally ill” or “paranoid” on her Facebook page.  Ms. Binkowski relied heavily on the debunked pit bull propaganda mill, the National Canine Research Council and her conclusions are at odds with many other published studies.

Unpacking the Problems With the Snopes Article

1. The Use Of Questionable Sources Or Debunked Source Material

Ms. Binkowski didn’t expand her search or chose to ignore many other published studies in the US National Institute of Health database and elsewhere, and cited several source documents in her analysis that were later debunked.

Binkowski relied upon the work of the National Canine Research Council (NCRC), the same group referenced by the Ordre des médecins vétérinaire du Québec (OMVQ) when appealing Montreal’s BSL legislation earlier this year.

It was subsequently revealed by La Presse journalist Marie-Claude Malboeuf that five of the roughly 50 studies cited in the report by the OMVQ were financed by American pit bull lobbyists (the NCRC) and that the data they used was problematic. At the same time, the Order of Veterinarians listed four recent medical studies on the gravity of injuries suffered from dog attacks, but downplayed the role of pit bulls. La Presse reported that the OMVQ report also emphasized that shelters are concerned for “their structure and already precarious financial health” if the Montreal bylaw were to proceed. However, these concerns should never supercede those of public health.  Public policy is not always based solely on the frequency of an event.  For example, a recall of children’s car seats or faulty ignition switches in vehicles may be based in a small number of deaths over a years’ long period.

The 5-part La Presse investigation, now translated into English, also shows that the OMVQ report cited studies that gave the impression of being “scientific and objective” when in fact they had been funded by the not-at-all objective American pit bull lobby.  To get an expert opinion of the OVMQ report, Malboeuf gave it to McGill University professor emeritus Dr. Barry Pless, a professor of Paediatrics, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics, and the Director of the Injury Prevention Program at Montreal Children’s Hospital among other achievements.  Said Pless“doing studies that are primarily intended to prevent the adoption of laws, without declaring conflicts of interest, is the strategy employed by the gun lobby and the tobacco lobby.”

The Order’s President now says he recognizes those studies should have been excluded or properly nuanced.  The use of paid-for research by the OMVQ represents a lack of scientific rigeur and transparency on their part, and at worst, is a serious conflict of interest.

La Presse spells out the players of the American Pit Bull Lobby. They divide it into 5 levels and explain the often overlapping relationships:

Five Levels of the Pit Bull Lobby

  • Level 1: The financing source. Animal Farm Foundation (AFF), owned by Jane Berkey. The company’s motto is: “Securing equal treatment and opportunity for pit bull dogs.” AFF devotes itself entirely to fighting pit bull regulations. “After inheriting a fortune from her father, Jane Berkey, who also owns a literary agency, turned over at least $6 million to her group, $2.85 million in 2013, according to government records. She pays 9 employees (one of whom, the director, makes more than $100,000 a year) and finances numerous groups that share her philosophy,” La Presse reports.
  • Level 2: The researchers. “To produce studies, AFF bought a private research body in 2007. The acquisition was kept secret until the victims’ group Dogsbite discovered this during litigation. The National Canine Research Council (NCRC) was created by a veterinary technician, Karen Delise. Neither an academic researcher nor a veterinarian, she self proclaims as the ‘greatest national expert on deaths caused by dog bites,’” La Presse reports. NCRC co-authors and finances studies, like the ones cited by the OMVQ, which chiefly attempt to show pit bulls cannot be identified.
  • Level 3: Publication. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). “The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) publishes NCRC studies in its journal. On its own website it proposes sample letters [for readers to write] contesting any law aimed at pit bulls. Moreover, its site has a link to AFF,” La Presse reports. The journalist even points out the AVMA’s notice on the embargoed 2000 fatal dog attack study, which falsely and fraudulently states: “In contrast to what has been reported in the news media, the data contained within this report CANNOT be used to infer any breed-specific risk for dog bite fatalities.”
  • Level 4: The political lobby. Best Friends Animal Society. Their senior legislative analyst, Ledy VanKavage, drafts state-level bills to eliminate local pit bull ordinances (state preemption laws) and is also a board member of AFF. VanKavage boasts on Best Friends’ corporate website that she commissioned an ex-economist from the tobacco industry, John Dunham, to create a fiscal calculator designed to advise governments on the cost of breed banning. Dunham’s sham BSL calculator, financed by the NCRC, over exaggerates these costs by nearly two orders of magnitude.
  • Level 5: The distributors. The animal care industry. “All the lobby studies are abundantly distributed by animal-based companies like shelters, breeders, trainers, etc. In Montreal, they are [distributed] by, amongst others, the SPCA, whose mission is to avoid euthanizing dogs and whose two most senior executives are themselves owners of pit bulls,” states La Presse. “On social media, pit bull owners deploy these studies relentlessly and accuse all their opponents of ignorance,” La Presse reports. More aggressive ones have even threatened the mayor of Québec City with death.

The methodology and conclusions behind the NCRC’s study “Preventable Factors Associated with Dog Bite-Related Fatalities” was also called into question by two members of the Department of Comparative Pathobiology at Purdue University, in a letter to the editor of the AVMA journals, published July 1, 2014:

“For instance, where the NCRC clearly knew what breeds were involved, they did not disclose same.  They also classified dogs as “resident” or “family” dogs without explaining what that meant.  They did not state how much time a dog had to be kept outside in order for it to be considered a “resident” dog. How was it possible for the researchers to determine, by any means, what the dog’s status was? The assumption is that when the NCRC knew what breeds were involved in fatalities they simply declined to disclose that information, and invented new characterizations (resident vs family dog) in an attempt to further confound the findings and minimize the number of fatalities caused by dogs that were actually determined to be “pit bulls.”

The NCRC reported that “Most DBRFs were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these.”  Since their report provided no data to support the conclusion, the Purdue University professors questioned the findings of the NCRC report since it conflicted with other studies that showed a correlation between the passage of BSL and a reduction in dog bite injuries. The Purdue professors were also not fooled by the statement that “dog bite-fatalities are exceedingly rare” either.

At several points in the NCRC narrative it is reiterated that child safety education and practices were one of the key factors in preventing dog bites.  There is no doubt that this is an important consideration for parents, and there is really no downside to educational efforts. But a study in the Cochrane Report on the effect of the role of education in preventing dog bite injuries in children and adolescents concluded that, due to a lack of evidence, education should not be the only public health strategy to reduce dog bites and their dramatic consequences.  (The Cochrane Report articles combine the results of research papers, while pointing out weaknesses in experimental design or quality – very useful for contradicting the standard pseudoscience retort. The Cochrane Report gives weight to properly designed studies and less to weaker ones.)

The naming of the “National Canine Research Council” itself may also be an attempt to capitalize on the legitimacy of the National Research Council, an American non-profit NGO that shapes policies, informs public opinion, and advances the pursuit of science.  Capitalizing on the name association with other more established groups appears to be standard operating procedure for the NCRC,  who also  purchased (or had purchased on their behalf) the top-level domain “dogsbite.com” for $11,000 to try to capture some of the bandwidth of the legitimate group Dogsbite.org.   (Dogsbite.com redirects to the website of the NCRC and this “cybersquatting” resulted in a domain name dispute) Both DNASalePrice and NameBio confirm this spend.  Why would self-described professional “think tank” researchers have a need  to cybersquat on an established internet domain?  Can they not generate enough traffic to their website through the legitimacy of their own “research?”

 

2. Omission Of Studies That Support BSL And Implicate Pit Bull Phenotypes In Serious Dog Attacks

A review of the Pubmed database provides the following evidence-based studies that suggest that a majority of dog bite hospitalizations are attributed to pit bull phenotypes, often after analyses of decades worth of data.  Had Ms. Binkowski included these in her analysis, I believe she would have been compelled to revisit her conclusion in Snopes:

Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog-bite injury hospitalisations in people in the Canadian province of Manitoba

Ocular Trauma From Dog Bites: Characterization, Associations, and Treatment Patterns at a Regional Level I Trauma Center Over 11 Years

Morbidity of pediatric dog bites: A case series at a level one pediatric trauma center

Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998

Fatal dog attacks, 1989-1994

Dog bite-related fatalities: a 15 year review of Kentucky Medical Examiner cases

Fatal dog attacks in Canada, 1990 – 2007  (Includes references to bite incidents that immediately preceded the implementation of BSL in Ontario)

Mortality,  Mauling,  and Maiming by Vicious Dogs

Dog Bites in Urban Children

Dog Bites of the Head and Neck

Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog bite injury

Periorbital trauma from pit bull terrier attacks

Characteristics of 1616 Consecutive Dog Bite Injuries at a Single Institution

I can’t explain why articles and studies that favoured pit bulls featured so predominantly in Ms. Binkowski’s research, but somehow she did not locate or decided not to include information freely available using  in-depth knowledge tools for reporters, such as Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, the Pubmed open-access library, Social Science Research Network, or the Cochrane Report.  Unless of course she intended to come up with an hypothesis and then set to work proving it right.  But without confirmation bias, many theories would fall apart.

 

3.  Failure To Distinguish Between Dog Bites Vs. Maulings

Ms. Binkowski is not the first reporter/journalist to fail to make a distinction between a dog bite and a mauling. While a bite by the oft-mentioned scapegoat the chihuahua may require stitches, a bite from a pit bull type dog will more than likely require that, plus plastic reconstructive surgery or oral/maxillofacial surgery in order to make the victim “whole” again. Most dogs respect protocols in behaviour when they fight, which includes a lot of posturing and growling, and usually very little biting – if there is biting most dogs practice bite inhibition – they bite once and then release, possibly not even puncturing the skin, retreating to protect themselves. There is almost never a fight to the death between most breeds of dogs.

Reducing dog bites overall is not something that BSL or the Dog Owners Liability Act in Ontario has ever set out to accomplish, indeed, it would be impossible.  No law that seeks to protect the public can ever eliminate all risks.  The aims of the DOLA were to reduce serious maulings and fatalities by banning or muzzling the breeds statistically most likely to be responsible. But any law that is enforced will be effective and mandatory muzzling, required in Ontario for pit bull phenotypes, would have prevented the following recent attacks if only it were consistently observed and applied:

A dog was shot dead by police after it grabbed a child by the throat and inflicted several bites during an attack (May 2016)

Two dogs were shot and killed after they attacked a man and woman in Ottawa’s east end. “The dogs were going in, they were biting, they were shaking the person. The person on the ground was very bloodied…[The dogs] were just relentless,” (August 2016)

Toronto Police shot and killed a pit bull “when it attacked a shih tzu and held the small dog down with a “locked-jaw grip,” police said. The policeman was hitting the dog so hard with his baton that it flung out of his hands but the pit bull would not let go. Police shot the dog twice in the leg and when it still didn’t release the shih tzu, they shot it in the head.” (September 2014)

 

4. Accusations That BSL Is Really A Form Of Covert Racism

pit-bull-lovers-quotes

Some of the most offensive and racially-derived posts come from pit bull aficionados themselves. Repeated references are often made to minorities as being comparable to dogs, as if the pit bull advocacy movement really believes their challenges are comparable to that of minority groups. At the same time, they often diminish or mock dog bite victims. Source 1 – https://heatherclemenceau.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/shana-expresses-her-disgust. and Source 2 – https://heatherclemenceau.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/jacqueline-tries-to-help.jpg

Binkowski mentions “racial parameters” in dogs when what she really means are morphological characteristics (because there are no races of dogs).  For a long time now, the pit bull advocacy movement has attempted to parlay BSL and discernment towards pit bull dogs as “canine racism” or overt racism.  With the Snopes article and a recent Washington Post article that echoed that theme, they’ve now carried that forward and attempted to show that BSL has been implemented to keep “undesireables” at bay. The cries of “racism” are further evidence that the pit bull advocacy movement are desperate to shift the blame for BSL on the cities or towns who express objections to bully breeds.  The goal is to further the cause of pit bulls as a social justice issue (while simultaneously ignoring victim issues).  Accusations of racism are intended to shame and squelch dissent and reasonable debate.

Looking into the data on breed bans turns up an interesting finding: each region that has enacted breed-specific legislation of some sort appears to have also experienced significant, if not dramatic demographic changes over a relatively short period of time.”  ~ Brooke Binkowski

The most recent available online Statscan report (2011) reveals that 6,264,800 people identified themselves as a member of a visible minority group in Canada. They represented 19.1% of the total

Fifth wave immigration since the 1970s has changed from the european demographic to that of visible minorities from the developing world. This was largely influenced in 1976 when the Immigration Act was revised and this continued to be official government policy. There was no sudden and singular immigration policy or event that triggered Ontario's 2005 Dog Owner's Liability Act as is suggested in the Snopes article.

Fifth wave immigration since the 1970s has changed from the European demographic to that of visible minorities from the developing world. This was largely influenced in 1976 when the Immigration Act was revised and this continued to be official government policy. There was no sudden and singular immigration policy or event that triggered Ontario’s 2005 Dog Owner’s Liability Act as is suggested in the Snopes article.

population. Of these visible minorities, 30.9% were born in Canada and 65.1% were born outside the country and came to live in Canada as immigrants. The vast majority of the foreign-born population lived in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta.  Since the 1960s, our immigration has steadily increased, but there is no single event that can accurately be described as a “significant, if not dramatic demographic change.”  Creating BSL as a means to racially oppress 20% of the Canadian population, only some of whom might actually own a pit bull type dog, is just laughable. Binkowski no doubt assumed that the overt racism seen across mainstream America during the current electoral process could also be (mis)applied to Canada with broad strokes.

The real reason for implementing BSL in Ontario was due to a number of serious bites immediately preceding 2005 (the year it became effective). Dog attacks were also the reason the First Nations community of Membertou in Cape Breton implemented a pit bull ban immediately after a pit bull attacked an elder and her grandchild, which coincided with “several other instances of close calls.”

From the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act:

In nonfatal aggressive incidents, the pit bull did rank highest in 2000 and 2001 (2.84 bite incidents per 100 licensed dogs of this breed type) in 1 Canadian municipality (Edmonton, Alberta). Other breeds that followed in this municipality included the rottweiler (1.60 bite incidents per 100 licensed), Akita (1.52), mastiff (1.47), Dalmatian (1.40), and Great Dane (1.21).”

In 2004, the last full year before the ban, there were 984 licensed pit bulls in Toronto and 168 reported bites. In 2013 there were 501 pit bulls registered in the city, and just 13 bites, according to a Toronto Star investigation.

The Ottawa Citizen has reported that:

“Most of the dogs Ottawa bylaw officers have sought to have destroyed as dangerous have been pit bulls, according to statistics released by the city. The city has initiated 10 prosecutions against owners who allegedly let their dogs bite another person or pet since the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act was passed in 2005. Seven of the dogs were pit bull types.”

 

5. Snopes Conclusion At-Odds With Competing Debunkers

politifact-imageFinally, Binkowski’s conclusion about BSL is at odds with that of rival fact-checking website Politifact, who found the statement that pit bulls were inordinantly dangerous to be “mostly true.”

“The past studies and research we’ve reviewed shows pit bulls are among the most aggressive dogs. Some breeds, however, have been shown to be more aggressive in each report.  However, the widely held perception is that they are dangerous, which was Boyer’s over-arching point. An Associated Press poll done in October found of the dog owners who would support breed bans, 85 percent would outlaw pit bulls.”

6.  Snopes Conclusion Not Researched In Accordance With The International Fact-Checking Network Declaration It Signed

Snopes,  as a signatory, clearly did not use the same standard of care for this article as they normally do  for every other fact check. There is a built-in bias if the writer of the article does indeed own a pit bull as has been suggested on social media sites – is this Binkowski posting about pit bulls on Live Journal in 2012?  If so,  it’s very illustrative of a pre-existing bias. Snopes needs to follow the code and recall this article.

 

Summation

It’s very tiring to read of shady attempts to distort the facts. Common sense would tell you that bans on breed restrictions have everything to do with the safety of the public at large and nothing to do with the race, class and ethnicity of the people who own those dogs since the law is applied to everyone.   It is also morally bereft to claim that it’s OK to patch up people after-the-fact when an attack has a chance to be prevented in the first place. Making a person “whole” again after an attack isn’t nearly as positive as preventing the attack altogether. BSL cannot prevent all dog attacks but it is designed to prevent the worst sort of maulings by dogs with the greatest propensity to commit them.

Binkowski cites the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the American Bar Association, AVMA,  HSUS, the ASPCA, and the Toronto Humane Society, among other lesser known references and publications.  In addition to those aforementioned groups, Best Friends, the AKC, Bad Rap, Pit Bull Rescue Central, and various other Humane Societies are all lobbying partners of professional pit bull advocacy.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is a professional group; sometimes its journal publishes articles with scientific intent. Other times it publishes articles that are intended to protect financial interests of its members — and in those cases, its “peer review” is done by hand-picked “peers” who will reject anything that doesn’t support a purely political position the AVMA or other self-interested groups are protecting.  None of these groups or the NCRC/Animal Farm Foundation are qualified to comment on the effectiveness of BSL or the impact to society of dog bites, which are a public health issue and are the purview of epidemiologists and those holding Masters of Public Health degrees or similar educational achievements.

Perhaps non-science writers can be forgiven for not understanding what constitutes a scientific study or the “peer review” process and what a “peer-reviewed journal” is. There are plenty of impartial, scientific journals out there, whose peer review process is to guard scientific integrity. However, there are also as many journals founded and funded by an industry or a professional group, whose peer-review is intended to protect the interests of that industry or group.

 

Still, Snopes is pretty accurate and I’ll continue to rely on them for myths, email rumours, and urban legends.  Snopes’ accuracy is not a foregone conclusion with more complex issues such as the efficacy of BSL or vaccine conspiracies (they recently declared that Presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein was not an anti-vaxxer, but I believe that the truth is less obvious).  Journalists should examine the full scope of the available evidence, whether they agree with it or not.  Avoiding biases in journalism is an important component of rationalism.  Merely repeating the propaganda does not challenge views or compel people to face facts.

 

 

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A Reply to Nathan Winograd…

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bignewyorkerbookofdogs2Written by:  Amanda Katz (Guestblogger Extraordinaire)

After a lengthy discussion that centered around my support for HSUS and the ASPCA,  I asked Nathan Winograd via Facebook whether he supported Caboodle Ranch a failed hoarding/rescue of 700 cats.   He responded that he had made no statement about the ranch, then asked me a number of questions that seemed to be sparked by my cover pic of the HSUS baby seal campaign.  Here is my response to him, which came after a long series of back and forth between Winograd, myself and several other people.

Mr. Winograd – You have asked posters on your Facebook page not to put words in your mouth, yet your latest reply to me certainly puts words into mine.  You seem to have made all kinds of assumptions and accusations about what I think and believe, when all I did was ask if I could post openly on your page!   I am going to go ahead and share my thoughts openly, even though you removed my civil comments and banned me.

First regarding Caboodle Ranch.  I am glad to see you say you would condemn a place that is causing prolonged suffering and death to animals, even if that place calls itself No Kill.  That is exactly what Caboodle Ranch did.

You seem to be questioning the evidence against Caboodle Ranch solely because some of it came from PETA and ASPCA, which you claim lie about the facts.  However, it is hard to see where the evidence that PETA and ASPCA got about Caboodle was a lie.  Photos and video don’t lie, which is exactly why Big Ag. interests in several states are trying to pass Ag-Gag laws banning undercover investigations — and why the Caboodle defenders sound exactly like factory farmers talking about Mercy for Animals when they claim the photos and videos were doctored, staged, etc.

In the Caboodle Ranch case, PETA sent an undercover investigator at the request of several former volunteers to document the cruelty and neglect that caused the death of hundreds of cats.  PETA’s investigation provided local authorities with the evidence required to shut down the ranch.  At that point, local authorities asked the ASPCA to remove all 700 cats.  The ASPCA housed the cats for months while the legal proceedings were sorted out, provided extensive rehabilitation and medical treatment, and eventually adopted all but the very sickest of cats into new homes.

Even if you don’t believe PETA or the ASPCA about Caboodle Ranch, there is plenty of other evidence available. Before PETA and ASPCA were ever involved, the owner sued a former volunteer turned whistleblower for defamation and lost — it is this court case that provides much of the evidence against Caboodle Ranch, such as the financial records showing that Caboodle took in much more in donations than it paid in care for the cats, and that its owner used donations for the cats to pay for trips and clothing.

That evidence, combined with evidence from PETA and the ASPCA was certainly convincing to the courts, as the judge cited it in his order awarding custody of the cats to the local sheriff.  If all you do is read this court order, you will get a good idea of conditions for the animals at Caboodle Ranch.

Yes, I support the HSUS — and Other Organizations

You have also asked several questions of me.  I will do my best to answer them, though you may not like the answers.

I do support the HSUS, as well as ASPCA and PETA.  I also support Best Friends, and believe it or not, I support some of what you do as well.  You may not think that is possible, as you have made a concerted effort to draw a line in the sand between yourself and every other national animal welfare organization.  But I do not take such a black-and-white view of these issues.

First, regarding HSUS, you have presented a number of allegations on your Facebook page.  I can’t answer all of those, but I can answer some, and I believe you are misconstruing their actual work and position on the issues. For example, bignewyorkerbookofdogs5regarding dogs rescued from fighting operations, your description of the HSUS position does not include the fact that they changed their position on this issue back in April 2009 — almost four years ago.  At the time of the Vick case and the Wilkes County case, when asked, they did advise the court to euthanize the dogs.  That is not the same thing as “lobbying” — the court asked, and they provided an answer.  Moreover, at the time euthanasia was the standard recommendation for all dogs removed from fighting operations — most humane organizations made the same recommendation.

Fortunately the HSUS was mature enough to reconsider this position and change its recommendations to advocate for individual evaluations.  Again, that happened almost four years ago now, yet you continue to write about HSUS as if euthanasia is their current position when it is not.  Moreover, the HSUS remained true to its word with the rescue of 200 dogs from a fighting operation in Ohio in 2010.  All but the sickest of dogs were rescued and placed into new homes.

One of those homes belongs to an HSUS employee I know personally who slept with him in the living room every night for weeks so she could be there when he woke up with nightmares.  This is hardly the hard-hearted pro-killing organization that you make HSUS out to be.  For more, see “HSUS Steps Up and Seeks Help for 200 Dogs Seized from Fighting Operation” by Ledy van Kavage first published on change.org.

Why do you not present this crucial part of the story when discussing the HSUS’s recommendations on fighting dogs?

bignewyorkerbookofdogs1Gas chamber and Michael Vick

Regarding the allegations that HSUS has lobbied against laws banning the gas chamber, I have a very difficult time believing the HSUS did that. On the contrary, the HSUS has given grants to shelters to transition them off of the gas chamber.  The HSUS also actively supports the proposed Congressional resolution by Jim Moran (D-Va.) to condemn use of the gas chamber and encourage states to ban it.

You told someone farther up this thread that the Moran resolution makes an exception for shelters, but again, I think that is a misconstrual of the facts.  It is a proposed resolution, not a law, so it is not binding on anyone.  The national Congress is not going to pass a law regarding shelter practices because animal shelters are regulated by state and local governments, and are not a federal matter.

However, if Congress passed a resolution condemning the gas chamber, that would be an important tool in pushing states like North Carolina to ban the practice.  This would be a win for the animals that we are all trying to help.  That’s why resolutions like this should be supported regardless of feelings about HSUS.

Moreover, the HSUS position on the gas chamber is clear: “The HSUS considers use of the gas chamber in a shelter setting to be unacceptable under any circumstances.”  The reasons are that “Gas chambers cannot provide humane euthanasia for shelter populations,” and “Gas chambers pose grave dangers to staff.”

As for Vick, I can see why the HSUS worked with him, but it is not something I actively supported.  As was pointed out to you, Vick can reach inner-city kids in African American neighborhoods in a way that you, I, or Wayne Pacelle cannot. He spoke to tens of thousands of them, and if he got even one kid to reconsider going into dogfighting, that is a good thing.  Unfortunately, the Vick partnership sparked a strong backlash in the animal welfare community.  For that reason, I do not think it has been a success.

However, regardless of whether the Vick program was successful, it was not done as a quid pro quo to get $50,000 out of the Philadelphia Eagles.  That money did not go to line anyone’s pockets but to the End Dogfighting program in Philadelphia.  The Eagles also gave $50,000 grants to two other humane organizations at the same time — the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society to build a spay-neuter clinic, and Berks County Humane Society to fund a mobile veterinary clinic.

Why do you not mention those grants in your discussion of the Eagles money?  Is it possible the Eagles were simply trying to improve animal welfare in their community?  All three of their grants went to animal welfare programs in Philadelphia, and with a $50,000 grant, each program could help a lot more animals.

herding catsOther National Groups

Regarding the ASPCA, I do not know as much about them as I do HSUS, but they stepped up to save 700 cats from Caboodle Ranch, as well as 350 dogs from a failed rescue in Ohio in 2011. In both cases they were asked to help by local authorities because local shelters simply do not have the capacity to handle so many animals. And in both cases almost every animal was saved, and these were very sick animals removed from horrible hoarding situations.

This demonstrates one reason why we need the national groups.  What other groups have the capacity to conduct large-scale rescues from hoarding situations, fighting rings, puppy mills, natural disasters, and other cases when hundreds of animals are in need?  I don’t see that any of your No Kill shelters, as wonderful as they are, have the capacity to do that.

Furthermore, in many cases in which animals were removed from so-called rescues that were really situations of great cruelty, the rescue group had a 501c3.  In fact, all the national animal welfare groups have been asked to handle major removals from 501c3 rescue organizations that were actually horrible hoarding situations.  Besides the ASPCA’s involvement in Caboodle Ranch in Florida and One More Chance Rescue in Ohio, the HSUS rescued, rehabilitated and rehomed 700 cats from Haven Acres in Florida, while Best Friends rescued 800 cats from For the Love of Cats and Kittens in Nevada, 150 of which still live at the Best Friends sanctuary in Utah.

All of these so-called rescue groups had a 501c3, yet they all involved extreme animal suffering.  Perhaps this is why the national groups have not testified in favor of CAPA laws that would require local shelters to turn over animals to any rescue group that asks.  While most rescues are wonderful organizations, clearly some of them are not — to send an animal to one of these places would condemn it to prolonged suffering and death.

A 501c3 alone is simply not enough to ensure that a place calling itself a rescue is not a death camp.  Again I think you have misconstrued the position of the national organizations on this issue.  While you say they have lobbied against the CAPA bills, that is not the case in the instances I have read about, such as Best Friends which remained neutral on the CAPA proposal in New York.

Personally, I think shelters should work more with rescue groups and would support a version of CAPA that provided some kind of standards for rescue groups to meet before shelters were legally required to send animals to them.  I am not sure what those standards would be, but would support, for example, formation of an accrediting body for shelters and rescues similar to the organizations that accredit top zoos (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), and quality exotic animal sanctuaries (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries).  Shelters and rescues would have an incentive to achieve accreditation because accredited organizations are more likely to draw donations and be awarded grants.

We All Want to End Shelter Euthanasiadogsandblogsnewyorker

As I said earlier, while I don’t agree with some of your positions, I do support other things you do.  The No Kill Equation is a list of best practices that every shelter should be striving to accomplish, and many shelters are already incorporating some, most or all of its elements into their operations.  Others are not.

There is no doubt that some shelters are in dire need of reform, and I am glad your group is there to demand that they do it.  But there is a difference between criticism meant to reform bad practices and a scorched earth campaign meant to destroy the very infrastructure we need to help animals.  I think that your rhetoric often crosses the line into destruction rather than criticism.

Moreover, I cannot agree that there is no such thing as pet overpopulation, or that adoption alone can end shelter euthanasia.  Increased adoption is certainly an essential part of what must be done, including concerted efforts at better marketing and placement of animals.  Other tactics to  help save large groups of animals should be supported, such as a creating a Parvo ward for puppies and a bottle baby ward for kittens, provided they are properly staffed to avoid suffering.

But we also must reduce the number of animals flowing into shelters, particularly from puppy mills and unaltered street cats.  Low-cost spay-neuter for low-income areas is vital, as is legislation regulating high-volume dog breeders.  Why endorse one tactic to end shelter euthanasia (increasing demand) but not another (decreasing supply)?  Surely there is room for a variety of tactics to achieve this important goal.

You say that no one can provide numbers showing there are fewer homes than animals needing to be placed.  That is because such national numbers do not exist.  We have an idea how many animals are in shelters, but we have no idea how many are being advertised on Craig’s List and other online forums, how many stray cats are on the streets, how many people get cats from accidental litters that a friend had, etc.

The actual number of homeless animals is much, much higher than what is in shelters.  For every person who gets a cat at a shelter, many more get cats from friends or the streets.  That is direct competition for shelter animals and must be considered in these calculations of supply and demand. Furthermore, the animals who are in shelters do not always match what people are looking for.  Most people don’t want pit bulls, yet half of dogs in shelters are pits or pit mixes.  People want kittens, not adult cats, yet shelters are overflowing with adult cats.  People don’t want black animals.

I’m not saying that’s right.  I think it’s terrible.  But regardless of what I think, someone who comes to a shelter looking for a kitten or a Pomeranian is not going to walk away with an adult black cat or a pit bull.  So it’s not a matter solely of numbers.  It is also a matter of preferences.  Shelter director Karel Minor makes this point eloquently.

Herblock Fire June 17, 1949We Need to Work Together

To say that people who disagree with your interpretation of these complex issues are “pro-killing” is simply not accurate.  On this page I have seen you tell people who spend their entire life outside of work rescuing animals that they are pro-killing.  I believe that is a misrepresentation of their hard work and counter-productive. With so many animals suffering, we need ALL tactics, ALL groups working together.

You have noted that the number of no kill communities is rising.  They achieve no kill by working with others in their communities to constructively solve problems, not through vicious attacks and infighting.

I look forward to the day when all animal advocates can work together to help animals in need, when there is room for all tactics and programs to end shelter euthanasia, and when we can end this vicious infighting that is a much larger threat to the animal welfare movement than any external enemy ever could be.