Friday, April 4, 2008

Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation in America by Nathan J. Winograd

An initial reaction to Mr. Winograd's book by those involved in the animal protection movement is that his assertion that the problem of pet overpopulation in the United States is a "myth" is utterly indefensible. Everyone in this movement is painfully aware that millions of healthy dogs and cats are killed in shelters annually. Indeed, the author himself puts the figure at about five million. (Mr. Winograd's website can be found HERE. At the bottom of his home page is a YouTube interview where he explains his theory of No Kill.)

Thus, if millions of companion animals are put down every year, how can there not be an overpopulation problem?

In his well researched, extremely persuasive book, Mr. Winograd provides the answer. One paragraph sums up his position:

In theory, we could be a No Kill nation tomorrow. Based on the number of existing households with pets who have a pet die or run away, more homes potentially become available each year for cats than the number of cats who enter shelters, while more than twice as many homes potentially become available each year for dogs than the number of dogs who enter shelters. Based on the existing lifespan of existing pet dogs and cats, every year more families are potentially looking to bring a new dog or cat into their home than currently enter shelters. According to one commentator, "since the inventory of pet-owning homes is growing, not just holding even, adoption could in theory replace all population control killing right now--if the animals and potential adopters were better introduced." In other words, if shelters did a better job at adoptions [and elsewhere in his book the author argues convincingly that too many do a rotten job], they could eliminate all population control killing today. This does not include the fact that the market of homes (the number of homes that do not currently have a dog or cat but will acquire one) is expanding rapidly. If shelters increased market share by just a few percentage points, we could be a No Kill nation right now. But we are far from it. (My emphasis.)
If the author's figures are correct, that would mean that the vast majority of the five million cats and dogs killed each year (allowing for the sick, seriously injured, and otherwise unadoptable) could find homes--and indeed "No Kill" could be a reality.

But there's a catch--which is why Mr. Winograd hedges his argument with the "in theory" qualifier.

The catch is that the "overpopulation" mindset must be radically altered, and shelters must do "a better job at adoptions"--which is not impossible.

In the meantime, what is to be done?

To his credit, the author strongly supports spay/neuter, making that point throughout his book.

For example, he notes that the American Veterinary Medical Association "opposed the endorsement of municipal- or SPCA-administered spay/neuter clinics that provided the poor an alternative to the prohibitively high prices charged by some private practice veterinarians."

"Sterilization of animals to curb their reproductive capacity thus leading to the birth of fewer dogs and cats and consequently fewer surrenders to shelters, is one of the keys to substantially reducing shelter killing."

"While laws were passed to force people to spay or neuter their pets, little was done about the high cost of sterilization that kept poor people from complying."

"The genesis of the failed model [solution] can be found at the 1974 meeting at which self-proclaimed animal welfare 'leaders' failed to demand the one thing that could have achieved results: low-cost and free spay/neuter, particularly for the pet of the poor."

"Study after study had already confirmed that unaltered pets tend to belong to the people with the lowest incomes. If there was a solution in front of them, it was not hard to see: make spay/neuter affordable."

"At a time when every shelter in the country was telling people to spay and neuter their pets, many of these shelters were not altering the animals in their own care prior to adoption."

"Until its low-cost spay/neuter clinics were closed . . . the City of Los Angeles had begun the march toward No Kill with its municipality funded program that provided affordable access to spay/neuter services and incentives to increase the number of animals sterilized."

"Studies show the primary reasons people do not sterilize their pets are cost and lack of access to spay/neuter services."

Who is to blame?

In 1974, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, the ASPCA, and other animal welfare groups had an opportunity to take a decisive stand [for spay/neuter]. Had they endorsed and succeeded in promoting municipally funded low-cost spay/neuter nationwide, the lifesaving results could have been dramatic. Sadly, they failed to do so. * * * Despite two more years of indisputable proof that high volume spay/neuter clinics in Los Angeles were having a decisive impact on lowering shelter deaths . . . the [conference] participants again failed to support municipally funded low-cost spay/neuter programs for fear of alienating veterinary business interests. (My emphasis.)
And so the beat goes on: too many shelters do an incompetent job, spay/neuter programs fall far short, dogs and cats continute to breed (and be bred!), and as they multiply the dead bodies of their predecessors go up in smoke--in a neverending cycle of birth, suffering, and destruction.

Nathan J. Winograd has come up with a challenging, and perhaps workable, solution to the massive annual killing that goes on relentlessly in our enlightened nation. His book should be read, his ideas studied, and his leadership of No Kill applauded.

In the meantime, ISAR will continue its spay/neuter humane education in the hope that at least some companion animals will be spared the fates of many too many of their ancestors.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Get Political for Animals and Win the Laws They Need by Julie E. Lewin

In a forthcoming law review article entitled “The Birth of Animal Rights Law: The Role of Lawyers in the Animal Rights/Protection Movement from 1972-1987” Joyce Tischler, Esq., founder and president of Animal Legal Defense Fund, sets out to “explore the roots of a large scale, organized movement, which started in the early 1970s in the United States, spearheaded by attorneys and law students with the express purpose of filing lawsuits to protect animals and establish the concept of their legal rights, regardless of the species of the animals or the ownership interest of humans.”

In that article, Ms. Tischler graciously names as “the first animal rights lawyer” ISAR’s chairman and general counsel, Henry Mark Holzer, professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School.

She credits Professor Holzer, then a practicing attorney professionally associated with ISAR, with three accomplishments crucial to establishing the field of what today is known as “animal rights law”: with ISAR, having brought the first federal and first state lawsuit to invoke the moral concept of “animal rights”; with ISAR, having founded the Animal Rights Law Reporter, which became “the legal clearinghouse for animal rights law information”; and, again with ISAR, having organized the “First National Conference on Animal Rights Law”—an undertaking, in Ms. Tischler’s words, “[t]he significance of which cannot be overstated.”

One of the topics addressed at that conference was how activists can foster the enactment of statutes and ordinances protective of animals. We included that topic because while on the legal side of the ledger it was not difficult for capable lawyers to write the appropriate laws, on the legislative side of the ledger getting them enacted and signed was an entirely different, and extremely difficult, matter.

Over the years animal protective legislation has of course been enacted, but the problem has been that except for the very few national humane orgainizations with deep pockets and strong legislative connections everyone else has lacked the requisite information and skills to lobby successfully.

No more!

Julie E. Lewin of the National Institute for Animal Advocacy (Guilford, CT) has written a book that can alter the landscape of animal legislation in the United States. Its complete title and subtitles are: "Get Political for Animals [GPFA] and Win the Laws they Need; Why and how to launch a voting bloc for animals in your town, city, county or state; A step-by-step manual for animal rights and rescue advocates and organizations."

This description promises a lot, and it delivers!

GPFA has been rightly endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States, In Defense of Animals, ASPCA, Animal Legal Defense Fund, legislators, and others.

Lewin's book has rightly been called "important," "groundbreaking," "superb," "wonderful," "a masterpiece" and "a great resource."

It is all of those things, and more.

Indeed, the Table of Contents alone consists of eleven letter-size pages, providing an overview of
the 276 page book.

The scope of what is covered in GPFA is so comprehensive that attempting to relate it here would be a disservice to the research, writing, and experience that the author brought to this invaluable project.

To illustrate this point, here are the chapter titles, without the abundance of material that each one contains.

1. "We can be power players who win strong laws for animals."
2. "The dynamics of social change: from charity to political organization."
3. "The structure of government--and why activists need to know it."
4. "The structure of politics, the culture of politics, and the political mind."
5. "The dynamics and mechanics of political campaigns and voting blocs' role."
6. "How the lawmaking process really works--and the role of the voting bloc system."
7. "Playing to win: the pro-active lobbyist for a political organization is a power player."
8. "The legal side: how individuals, informal animal rights and rescue groups, and charities can
launch political organizations for animals."
9. "How to use media to help win laws for animals--and when to avoid it."
10. "Make it happen: how to launch your voting bloc for animals."
11. "Political quiz: read between the lines."

In the history of social-cultural-political movements there have been defining moments--a speech ["Tear Down That Wall"], a book [Uncle Tom's Cabin], a judicial decision [Brown v. Board of Education]--that sent our nation down a new road.

That is what Lewin's book does for the protection of animals through the legislative processes of the United States of America.

More animal protective laws will be introduced--and thanks to Julie E. Lewin and the National Institute for Animal Advocacy, many of them will be enacted. The animals should be, as we are, extremely grateful.

To purchase a copy of Ms. Lewin's book, please visit