Nathan Winograd believes that PETA’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, is mentally ill. That to him is the only credible explanation for her monstrous compulsion to kill healthy shelter animals. In contrast, I have argued that she is fully rational: Her viciousness has its own internal logic; moreover, it is counterproductive to psychologize evil.
This is a significant difference of opinion — it goes to the heart of an important moral issue. Winograd is the leader of the No Kill movement, and in fact I disagree with him about many things: We’ve been having a lengthy email conversation, and it’s remarkable how much we differ on crucial issues. Why then would I follow this man to the ends of the earth?
The answer is that it’s not about being correct. It’s not about his argument trumping mine, or his having the higher moral ground. It’s not about us at all. It’s about the animals. If what we do is right for the millions of abandoned creatures consigned to shelters, that’s all that matters. Everything else is unimportant. And I have determined — I am convinced — that Nathan Winograd’s No Kill program is the best thing to happen to the world’s domesticated animals in my time. Perhaps ever. It is a genuine revolution, of the sort that it is a privilege to experience: we are living in one of history’s rare moments.
Very few projects are unambiguously good. And, for that reason, very few lives are oriented towards something unambiguously good. Mine certainly wasn’t — art is morally neutral — until I began to devote myself to this cause. Writers tend to be useless creatures; this may be the first time in my life that I’ve been remotely useful.
And yet I stress that I disagree with Nathan Winograd, fundamentally. Why is this important? Because it indicates that, unlike PETA, the No Kill movement is not a cult. It is not a blind ideology. It does not command unwavering obedience.
Ingrid Newkirk has unapologetically described herself as a tyrant: “‘This is not a democratic organization,’ she said. ‘I never pretended that it was. I don’t know where exactly it would go if it were a democracy. And I am not willing to give it a try.'”
One place it might go: towards ending PETA’s mass slaughter of dogs and cats. It’s hard to imagine that every one of her employees feels all warm and fuzzy about working for an outfit that has — in one blood-soaked location — killed 27,561 pets.
Newkirk just hates it when you describe her pet organization as a cult: “I can’t stand to hear that word,” she told Michael Specter of the New Yorker. “If you put that cult stuff in, nobody will take what we do seriously.”
So I’ll let you come up with a word of your own, keeping the following information in mind.
If you intern at PETA’s headquarters in Norfolk, you are expected to condone the killing of shelter animals. On the official application (which you can download here), the only question that requires a response longer than a couple of factual words is:
Have a look at our Web site, review our stance on euthanasia, and let me know if you agree or disagree with it and why.
Now perhaps that means they hope to take in clever interns who disagree with them, so that they might have fruitful and interesting conversations while they tend to the cheerful business of killing animals.
The chances of this are small. They are even smaller than the chances of a healthy kitten surviving PETA’s headquarters. Three percent smaller, to be precise. (Do the math: 97 percent of animals delivered into PETA’s care are summarily slaughtered; hence a kitten does in fact have a 3 percent chance of dodging Ingrid’s hypodermic.)
If you want to join PETA’s “Youth Division” — a term that should make you shudder with very real horror —this is a description of what you must be: “Supportive of PETA’s philosophy and able to proficiently advocate PETA’s positions on issues.”
It’s not a cult, no, but if you work for Ingrid, you’d better be comfortable with the notion of lying on Ingrid’s behalf. Routinely. Ever since I started writing this series, the comments section of the Huffington Post has been swamped with posts by her faithful horde, almost all of them telling some version of the same lie:
1. I’m a shill for the meat industry.
2. Nathan Winograd (a vegan) is a shill for the meat industry.
3. We’re both nefarious co-conspirators with Richard Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) (who is in fact a shill for the meat industry).
Full disclosure, again: I have no time for the CCF. And let me disclose fully on Nathan Winograd’s behalf. I asked him, in an email, if he could give me the precise details of his relationship to Berman. And I quote:
Actually, it is not all that complicated. I’ve never talked to or met Rick Berman, do not have a relationship with them [the Center], and do not agree with their views about animals. They’ve never promoted my vegan cookbook and think I am, to them, simply the enemy of their enemy. In fact, they are against the rights-based approach I advocate. Someone started a rumor that they give me money, but I’ve never received a dime from them. A number of years ago, I got an e-mail from someone at his organization asking if I would be willing to answer some questions about my book, Redemption. It was just released and making waves. I sent them my standard reply I send to non-journalistic organizations who have views that are divergent from mine: I agreed so long as they did not change my answers and if they edited them, I retained the right to veto their publication….
For anyone who knows me, my politics are very progressive. I’ve made no secret of where I stand, much to the chagrin of my conservative supporters. But I’ve done a number of interviews with Fox News. I’ve worked with very conservative Republicans on shelter reform legislation and No Kill issues. That does not mean I agree with their politics. Nor does it mean they agree with mine.
I am not sure I told you this, but I actually used to volunteer for PETA. I share what should be their goal and what I thought was their goal (an end to the killing of animals), but I do not share their hypocrisy (as I came to learn) and so I walked away.
I believe that if people want to eviscerate any influence Berman’s group has, we need to get rid of the hypocrisy which provides grist for their anti-animal mill. That is what I am trying to do. Isn’t that more of a threat to Berman’s group?
I posted part of this quotation in a comment on the Huffington Post, and one of Ingrid’s mouthpieces immediately piped up: “And we should believe NW why?”
Here’s why: Winograd has no history of lying. None. Whereas PETA’s lies have been documented, again and again, in testimony by local veterinarians and accounts by ex-employees. Their obscene kill rate is detailed in documents submitted to the Virginia Department of Agriculture by PETA itself. They are animal killers who pretend that they don’t kill animals — who will lie to your face about how they intend to care for an animal delivered to them for shelter.
Even if they’re not, you know, a cult — they’re liars.
I’ll repeat for a third time a story that encapsulates PETA’s approach to animal suffering and truth-telling. Sorry, but I intend to tell it a fourth time, and a fifth time, and a sixth time. I’ll tell it until the earth is finally rid of this grotesque, hypocritical organization:
A former PETA employee spoke of one particular incident that burned into her mind forever: A teary-eyed man showed up at PETA headquarters one day with his beloved pet rabbit. The man had grown old and sick and was no longer able to care properly for his friend. He supplied a cage, bed, toys, and even vet records for this pet. He was assured by PETA workers that they would take ‘good care’ of his rabbit and find him a home. The man left distraught but no doubt believing that his friend would be able to live out the rest of his life in a loving, compassionate home… PETA workers carried him to the ‘death house’ immediately and ended his life.
Here’s the deal-breaker. Nathan Winograd and I may disagree on many things, but this is the dictum that anybody in the animal welfare or rights community has to agree upon, or they are — to be blunt — worthless: Do Not Kill Shelter Animals.
Note that this does not mean Do Not Euthanize. Mr. Winograd makes a very careful distinction between “killing” (unnecessary) and “euthanasia” (a last resort, when an animal is in terrible pain and incurable). Hence, “No Kill” is not a misnomer: It is a movement determined to end not legitimate euthanasia, but the unnecessary slaughter of shelter pets.
So. Why does this movement matter?
The single greatest cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in America is shelter killing. It dwarfs every other category, including accidents and owner cruelty. In fact, no known disease takes as many lives. “Shelters around the country kill 4 million animals every year; by some estimates, more than 80 percent of them are healthy.” It is a hideous epidemic. (This in fact slanders epidemics, which are not conscious and deliberate.)
While PETA is extreme in their butchery — you won’t find many shelters in the nation that can keep up with Ingrid’s 97-percent slaughter rate — the sad truth is that almost all shelters kill unnecessarily. All you have to agree upon, as an animal lover — the only thing you have to agree upon, to be of service to innocent creatures — is that this must stop.
The predictable response to this is some clever variant of: “Good luck with that. It’s a lovely thought. And would be super-mega-extra-special-lovely if it were anywhere near possible.”
I’m not sure I’m capable of over-emphasizing the ignorance of that sentiment.
The No Kill movement has proven — repeatedly — that it is possible: Shelters that have tried sincerely to adhere to a euthanasia rate of 10 percent or less have been exceptionally successful, as documented here. Entire cities have gone No Kill. Entire counties have achieved this. It has been accomplished in much less wealthy nations than the United States of America. Imagine what the malnourished shelter system in India could do with PETA’s finances (always freshly hunted and dripping with fat); yet even with their limited means, the Indian cities of Chennai, Delhi and Jaipur have been able to boast no-kill status for over seven years.
It is punishingly hard work, no question. Killing is easy. But since Nathan Winograd’s program doeswork, it is the only decent and ethical option. If anyone tells you that No Kill is impossible, or impractical, or utopian, then they are misinformed. Or lazy. Or, quite simply, vicious. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, and you are passionate about animals, then you have a duty to join together against organizations committed to the perpetuation of shelter killing.
This means that you are likely to find yourself sometimes allied with unlikely people. Winograd explained this in his email. No, you probably don’t want to break bread with meat lobbyists, or Ted Nugent. And you certainly don’t want to party with PETA’s fab and euthful. But — if you care about animals more than ideology — you should consider sitting down with other animal lovers you’ve long considered enemies. Yes, hardcore vegans should be joining forces with people who breed show dogs responsibly. (As I wrote that, a seismic cringe could be felt across the continent.) Why? Because it’s good for the animals. Also, because you disagree less than you think.
It’s time for a good Jewish joke. (It always is.) My people, like the Sufis, tend to tell jokes that have morals:
So, this Orthodox Jew gets stranded on a desert island. When they finally rescue him, 10 years later, they find that he’s happy and healthy, and that he’s built two synagogues.
“Why two synagogues?” his rescuers inquire.
“That,” says the man, pointing to the first synagogue, “is where I pray.” He points to the second one: “Whereas that place,” he sniffs, “I would never set foot in.”
The moral, of course, is that you often find the most bitter disagreement between people whose differences are in fact relatively minor. Buddhists and Jews aren’t nearly as likely to disagree as Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Jews. (If you don’t get the joke, not to worry: it just means you’re not Sufic.)
Sorry, my vegan friends, but I happen to have intimate contact with the Italian greyhound breeding community. You don’t want to hear this, but they are the most committed animal lovers I’ve ever met. Arguably to a fault. They breed very very few animals, and most of these guys wouldn’t even think of selling you a puppy without first coming over to your house and checking to see that the environment is conducive to a happy dog. If anything goes wrong, at any point in the dog’s life, the breeder will take it back in and care for it: they insist upon this in the contract (as well as requiring spay or neuter for non-show dogs). It’s a marvel to see the IG network whir into motion upon news that an Italian greyhound is in peril thousands of miles away: Somebody will arrange for a rescue, usually within hours.
Now, you may not agree with the breeding of purebred dogs. And you may not agree with anyone buying a dog, when shelter dogs need re-homing. Let’s face it — you will never agree. But you agree on one thing: these animals are of infinite value, and if they are healthy and adoptable, you must not kill them.
That will do.
By all means, argue over the rest of it until one of you turns blue and collapses. As long as you don’t kill animals. You may hate each other’s guts, but sorry: you’re allies. And it doesn’t in fact matter how you feel about this forced friendship. Why? Because you don’t matter. The animals do.
Later I intend to go into the very real disagreements I have with Nathan Winograd when it comes to the moral and legal theory behind animal welfare: specifically, the thorny question of whether animals have “rights.” That will be in a future article, which I intend to be extremely rigorous, and fantastically boring. Here I am more concerned with glorious, positive and interesting things, however, so I’ll end on an anecdote that I find uniquely inspiring.
Ten years ago, Nathan Winograd relocated from the west coast to become the executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca NY. This is his account of what happened on the second day after he arrived:
“My staff informed me that our dog kennels were full and that since a litter of six puppies just came in, I needed to decide who was going to be killed in order to make space. I asked for Plan B. There was none. I asked for suggestions. None of those either…”
The shelter workers were apoplectic: “We don’t have anywhere to put them,” they insisted. “We don’t have any foster parents who would take dogs or puppies.'” And, crucially: “This is how we have always done it.”
And so their new executive director gently laid down the law. Nathan Winograd is no autocrat — quite the opposite — but one principle remains non-negotiable: “Staff members are paid to save lives. If a paid member of staff throws up their hands and says, ‘There’s nothing that can be done,’ I may as well eliminate their position and use the money that goes for their salary in a more constructive manner… like hiring temporary boarding space at a kennel. So… what are we going to do with the puppies that doesn’t involve killing any animals?”
Refusing to take kill for an answer is quietly effective. After much gnashing of teeth, employees found water troughs that had been used for horses: they placed the puppies in these, right beside the entrance desk. Everyone who entered the shelter was immediately greeted with the sight of six puppies happily socializing and ready for adoption.
“The next weekend, 70 kittens were relinquished to the shelter, above and beyond the regular number of incoming dogs, cats, and other assorted animals (including 16 mice left out by our dumpster). As the humane officers informed me that they had just raided a residence and were bringing in 30 sick cats, I overheard one staff member say to another, ‘Maybe now he will euthanize some animals.’
“Back to square one. I explained that killing for space was no longer an option. Again, appropriate alternatives were found.
“Not all staff was supportive of the new order. Over the next five months, seven of the 12 full-time employees on staff moved on, eventually replaced with new co-workers who shared a vision of a no-kill Tompkins County. In the meantime, not a single animal was killed for lack of space.”
If someone does not find this story impressive — if they do not agree that their time and their money and their energy are better spent on this man’s program than on PETA with its loathsome kill record — then perhaps they should consider going into some other field of charity. I say this as politely as possible.
If someone does not have the elementary moral sense to distinguish between these two options, then they might be useful somewhere on this planet, but they really should stop trying to do righteous things for animals. Because the animals of the world have no use for them. And — I say this with the greatest affection I can muster — neither do I.
Douglas, your writing is so concept-dense and meme-challenging that I am going to have to read and re-read and digest this for a while before I can even comment intelligently on it.
But this much, I can say — your voice in this discussion is vitally important, and I am deeply, DEEPLY grateful you’re talking.