Recently, law professor Gary Francione harshly criticized PETA for their euthanasia protocol, which is often derisively called PETA’s dirty little secret. In 2009, PETA euthanized 97% of the dogs and cats that they took in (and averaged 85% over the past ten years). For Francione, given PETA’s $31 million annual revenue and $20 million in assets, the deliberate killing of healthy animals is intolerable. Francione writes: “That is a disgrace. “Euthanasia” is death that is in the interest of the human or nonhuman euthanized. Euthanasia is never in the interests of a healthy being. …So those 2352 animals that PETA killed weren’t really harmed. They did not care about their lives anyway. Nothing was taken from them when they were killed. What unmitigated, speciesist nonsense.”
In defense, PETA claims that euthanasia was (is) not only necessary, but also compassionate. Animals deemed adoptable are referred to local shelters and rescue groups; many of the rest, those with physical or psychological maladies, are euthanized. A PETA spokesperson said: (AOL, 3/9/10) “Our euthanasia program has never been a secret. This is one of many, many things that we do to alleviate the suffering of animals. Money can’t buy a good home, so it’s not a matter of money. You could build the nicest shelter in the world, but if you don’t have homes for them, they’re still going to sit in a cage.” PETA emphasizes sterilization (8677 in 2009) and says: (Newsweek, 4/28/08) “Focusing on the animals that come into shelters is like emptying a river with a teaspoon. By investing in spay and neuter programs…we can stop unwanted births and prevent four times as much suffering.” For more, see Ingrid Newkirk’s Why We Euthanize.
The no-kill debate has intensified in recent years, and there is no more passionate voice in condemnation of the old-guard position (too many animals, not enough homes) than Nathan Winograd, author of Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation. Winograd argues that the American shelter system suffers from a crisis of imagination. In the Newsweek article, he says, “With better outreach and public relations, we can find homes for virtually all of the healthy animals [some estimate that 80% of those euthanized are healthy] we are now killing.”
Winograd’s prescription for a no-kill nation: TNR for feral cats, stronger pet retention/redemption policies, longer hours and offsite adoption clinics (to compete with pet shops and breeders), greater commitment to physical and behavioral rehabilitation, and, most importantly (for me), low-cost (preferably, free) and accessible sterilization. He concedes that some euthanasia is unavoidable (for the serious medical/behavioral cases) but should never exceed 10%. His vision (and success in NY’s Tompkins County: “…we did it with a simple, yet highly effective three-step process: 1. Stop the killing; 2. Stop the killing; 3. Stop the killing.”) is very persuasive. But, in a sobering counter, Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS told Newsweek, “No-kill is a noble goal. But the sheer number of animals make it almost unachievable.”
Gary Francione, Nathan Winograd, Ingrid Newkirk, and Wayne Pacelle are all highly intelligent, dedicated activists. That they can be so fractured on this specific issue is at once befuddling and disheartening. For me, I have a difficult time getting beyond the four million annual shelter deaths. That figure represents a lot of homes that Winograd insists are out there. In addition, how many millions more are languishing in unstimulating, sometimes abusive, families? On the other hand, Winograd’s energy (and creativity) alone would make a difference in any American shelter. Enough to make this a no-kill nation? Doubtful, but he’s trying.