Nathan Winograd: ‘No-Kill’ or No Clue?
If you have ever spent time volunteering at an animal shelter, you’ve seen it: the endless stream of dogs and cats—scared, lonely, confused—aching for a kind word or a reassuring touch. Some of them have been abandoned by their guardians, others have been rescued from the streets, but they all have one thing in common: They are victims of companion animal overpopulation. Nathan Winograd, former executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA in New York, has seen the crisis firsthand but somehow maintains a firm “no-kill” position.
Every year, 6 to 8 million animals are left at U.S. animal shelters and half of them must be euthanized. The statistics alone show the severity of our country’s companion animal overpopulation crisis. Yet one so-called animal advocate, Nathan Winograd, is trying to convince the public that animal overpopulation doesn’t exist.
Nathan Winograd Misplaces Blame
In his crusade to make all animal shelters “no-kill,” Nathan Winograd blames the shelter workers—who have devoted their lives to caring for homeless animals, giving them a chance at a home, and providing them with a painless death when no other humane alternative exists—for the euthanasia of millions of animals every year. This is akin to blaming hospitals for deadly diseases. This false “logic” lets the real culprits off the hook: people who breed (or fail to spay or neuter) their animals and people who buy animals from pet stores or breeders instead of adopting homeless animals from shelters. No one wants to see animals euthanized—least of all, those who have to perform it—but denying that a crisis exists and blaming those who have devoted their lives to ending it is misguided and solves nothing.
Too Many Animals, Too Few Homes
Nathan Winograd’s calculations ignore the hundreds of thousands of puppies and kittens produced by breeders and sold in pet stores every year. When these animals are added to the millions of homeless animals who enter shelters each year, the number of animals in need of homes far exceeds the number of homes that are theoretically available to them. What’s more, not every household that is considering acquiring a cat or dog (even those that currently have animals) is a “responsible” home that would pass a shelter’s screening requirements.
The Key to a ‘No-Kill’ Nation: A No-Birth Nation
Our goal is a future in which no animal must be euthanized for lack of a good home, but that time will only come if we stop the problem at its source, by spaying and neutering animals to prevent more of them from being born. Even if we could somehow find homes for the 6 to 8 million cats and dogs who will enter U.S. animal shelters this year, what about the 6 to 8 million animals next year and the year after that? Let’s stop this cycle by practicing our ABCs—animal birth control. Always spay or neuter companion animals, and never buy them from a breeder or pet store.
Crowded Cages, Disease, and Death
Being blamed by their detractors for euthanasia, while the real culprits for the massive companion animal overpopulation crisis go unchecked, has intimidated many open-admission animal shelters into implementing dangerous policies and practices in an attempt to reduce their euthanasia statistics.
- After the Tompkins County SPCA in New York—where Nathan Winograd served as executive director and implemented a “no-kill” policy—became extremely crowded, it began accepting animals by appointment only and stacked animals in cages throughout the facility, including the laundry room and kitchen. According to a subsequent shelter director, the shelter slashed its adoption fees and lowered its standards for the homes in which it places animals—significantly increasing the risk of abuse and neglect—in an effort to move more animals out the door.
- Austin Animal Services announced reaching “no-kill” status in January 2012. In July 2012, The Austin Chronicle reported that the department was seeking a $1 million increase in funding because the Austin Animal Center (AAC) “is way past full. Hundreds of animals are in foster homes, and shelter staff have had to be creative in order to house the overabundance of animals sleeping under AAC’s quonset [sic] hut roofs. As of last week, wire crates filled with kittens could be found on tables in the shelter’s main conference room. For months, staff has been finding room for dogs in cages in the stray- and surgery-holding areas.” A City Council member “referenced anonymous statements from shelter volunteers claiming that the staff is overburdened, that health and safety issues are being overlooked, [and] that they’d seen one dog receive chemical burns on the pads of its paws after being returned too quickly to a recently cleaned cage.” In June 2013, the city released a news release with the headline “Animal Shelter: Find a home for your pet, do not bring it here” and gave away animals free of charge when the shelter had 100 dogs and cats for whom there was no housing. The city reported that the shelter was housing 1,000 animals at the time.
- The owner of Angel’s Gate animal hospice was charged with cruelty to animals months after investigators searched the facility. The official investigation was prompted by an undercover investigation by PETA, which documented that paralyzed dogs were dragging themselves around until they developed bloody skin ulcers while their wheeled carts hung on a fence unused, animals with open wounds and respiratory infections were deprived of veterinary examinations and care, and animals were kept in diapers for several days, causing urine scald.
Examples like these abound when shelters are pressured to put lower euthanasia statistics above animals’ welfare.
Turning Animals Away
Promoting adoptions, utilizing foster homes and volunteers, and encouraging guardians to work through behavioral or other issues that may otherwise cause them to relinquish their animals are all good policies that every shelter should follow. But when the shelter is full and there is no place to put even one more animal, what does a “no-kill” shelter do? Most simply refuse to take animals in, which leaves them at the mercy of people who don’t want them. This, too, often results in tragedy:
- At the Hancock County Animal Shelter in West Virginia, a man purposely ran over two kittens in the facility’s parking lot after being told that the shelter couldn’t accept them.
- At the Venango County Humane Society in Pennsylvania, a man who tried to surrender his dog threw the dog from his truck and repeatedly ran over him after being told that he needed to make an appointment and come back later.
- After being told she would have to come back another day because the Mahoning County Dog Pound in Ohio did not have room for four dogs for whom she could no longer care, the animals were abandoned in a nearby nature preserve, including an epileptic Chihuahua in need of medication.
- A Mississippi news outlet reported that some animals who are turned away from “no-kill” shelters are then “dumped alongside roads, abandoned at a neighbor’s house or shot and killed.” As a woman took her three dogs to an open-admission shelter, her husband said, “It was either that or shoot them.”
It’s true that “no-kill” shelters don’t euthanize animals, but by turning animals away, they sometimes condemn these same animals to terrifying, painful, and violent deaths. Open-admission animal shelters accept every dog, cat, bird, rabbit, hamster, rat, and any other animal who comes through their doors. They don’t pick and choose, accepting only the young, healthy, behaviorally sound animals who might be quickly adopted. They pledge to help every animal in need, even when the best they can offer is a painless release from an uncaring world. Please support open-admission shelters and help end the need to euthanize animals for lack of good homes by having your animals spayed or neutered and by urging everyone you know to do the same.