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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.

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  • KK says:

    If you guys don’t think shelter employees have anything to do with animal suffering, then you have absolutely no idea of what’s going on in county shelters. I spent months undercover in a county shelter in GA as part of a news investigation and witnessed the cruelty on a daily basis. The workers at the shelter, and all county shelters I’ve visited, do not want to be there. They take the job, because they can’t get another one. We witnessed feral cats being hung from catch poles until they passed out, little dogs being placed with bigger aggressive dogs and fatally injured, injured dogs being left bleeding to death in cages while employees went to McDonalds, pit bulls being hit with catch poles over and over on the head even though they didn’t act aggressively, and dogs go without water or food over a weekend, because the kennel worker “didn’t feel like dealing with this shit.” We also caught several workers on camera stealing supplies from the stock room. Folks, this is ROUTINE! It happens at most county shelters I’ve visited. Most of the workers are poor, uneducated people who don’t care about much, especially the animals, and they seem to enjoye abusing them. If you don’t believe me, go to your local county shelter, claim that you’re looking for a lost pet, and walk around for at least 45 minutes. You’ll see.

  • Nessa says:

    Nessa, Nathan is now affiliated with the puppy mill registering AKC and affiliated animal exploitation business.

    They deny pet overpopulation because they don’t want to take responsibility, and they fight against spay neuter laws because they don’t want to get licensed.

    Winograd is actually now speaking AGAINST spay neuter.

    Unfortunately times have changed.

  • Ronny Alterra says:

    Nathan Winograd and his friends took over animal control in Philadelphia a few years ago. They came this close to being arrested for animal abuse because animals were dying in cages, killing each other in overcrowded cages, and staff was giving animals to hoarders despite the warnings of rescuers.

    Now Nathan Wuinograd’s people are suing some small rescue groups who save animals from shelters and rehome them. All because the rescue groups asked Winograd’s group how they were spending the donations they were collected.

    Winograd speaks at AKC lobbying events. The AKC is the number one register of puppy mills puppies and routinely supports animal abuse. They deny there is pet overpopulation to protect breeders. They also hire a certain Rick Berman, lobbyist for animal exploiters, and Nathan Winograd has issued propaganda from Mr. Berman.

    I feel betryayed and disgusted by this turn of events.

    The animals don’t need more enemies.

  • V.C. says:

    This saddens me. Nathan Winograd, how can you blame the shelter employees?

  • Nessa says:

    Nathan Winograd alleges to be so educated on animal rights issues, yet he is in denial of the pet overpopulation issue?! I don’t understand at all.

  • Patti Scott says:

    I volunteer at a shelter near where I live. It is heartbreaking to see all of the animals there. I get some of the cats out of their cages so they can at least get out for a little while and stretch their legs, possibly play and be loved on if they want it. It infuriates me to think of people buying animal companions from breeders or pet stores when so many need homes. We as a country are being irresponsible and the animals are suffering for it. Please please please adopt from a shelter and give these animals a home and have your animals spayed or neutered.

  • Amber says:

    I’m not typically a fan of the things you guys at PETA say, but I think you hit the nail on the head here. Thank you and well done.

  • Ashley-P says:

    Hi Barbara, thanks for your comment regarding the overpopulation crisis. Sadly, in any given year, an estimated 6 to 8 million dogs and
    cats enter U.S.
    shelters, of whom an estimated 3 to 4 million are euthanized. Even if limited-admission
    facilities were available to house the 3
    to 4
    million animals who would otherwise be euthanized in a single
    year, the following year would still yield 3 to 4 million more who would require equal resources.

    There are only two real solutions to the animal-overpopulation
    crisis: wide-ranging spay-and-neuter programs and the end of the “pet” trade. 

    We seek to end the need to euthanize homeless animals, but until we achieve that goal, we see no sense in criticizing those who perform euthanasia as a humane option in the present crisis. The real answer to this crisis is in working toward a “no-birth” nation, not a “no-kill” nation.

    To learn more about effective ways to help animals, please visit

  • Barbara Roman says:

    Instead of just dismissing no kill shelters why don’t you put the media machine spotlight you have on the plight of the no kill shelter. Get them some help fund raising so they can expand instead of just putting them down.

  • Kelli Smith says:

    WOW! I recant my previous comment. The Nathan Winograd I heard speak is NOTHING like the person who wrote this post. He has clearly lost his way. Thank you to whoever wrote this post for opening my eyes to who he has become. He is living in la-la land I’m afraid. If he thinks companion animal overpopulation is not real… how can you really talk to someone like that and make any real progress. Would I rather kill baby kittens than bottle feed them? Well, you know what… that absolutely depends doesn’t it? Is that kitten going to find a home… or is it going to be relegated to a crate in a shelter for it’s entire life… or end up buried and suffocated under a hoard… or in a feral colony… or “set free” when it’s human gets tired of it or it pees on the rug? I would absolutely rather a kitten be euthanized than to live a horrible life. But, then I suppose that’s subjective isn’t it? My idea of a horrible life for a kitten may be different than that of Mr. Winograd… or the author of this post. For me, there are worse things than a pain-free death. I really feel saddened at the way Mr. Winograd has turned what I thought was a noble platform and cause into such a polarizing one. What a shame.

  • Kelli Smith says:

    I’m sad to read this post. I heard Nathan speak in Kansas City many years ago and I did not get the impression that any blame was being placed on the shelters themselves. I volunteered for a group called No More Homeless Pets while living in Kansas City. He spoke at an event there. Obviously this was only one speech and maybe it was simply tailored to the audience, but from my perspective, “No Kill” is a goal to strive for… not a quick solution. He spoke the majority of the time about the importance of spay/neuter, and that this was the way he had helped other cities work toward the goal of having all no-kill shelters. I did not get the impression AT ALL that he was denouncing euthanasia as the most humane alternative when overpopulation is rampant and there are no homes or safe havens for the animals. The focus of the talk I heard was specifically on spay/neuter… and to eliminate overpopulation… which would RESULT in “no kill.” I did not leave the speech feeling that shelters were the enemy or that workers were being blamed. This was probably 3-4 years ago, and maybe he has changed his position… but I did want to express another side in terms of what I heard. I found it inspiring… and continued to work as hard as I could to raise money for low/no-cost spay-neuter in the KC area in the hope that the city would some day be “no-kill” – when that was the possible and the best for the welfare of the animals.