I think I speak for a good deal of reasonable people out here on planet earth who have been fighting bad animal legislation (and the animal rights groups/lobbyists who push for it) for some time who can finally breathe a vindicated sigh of relief and say to Nathan Winograd, “It’s about time somebody came out and said it.” If you’ve ever worked, volunteered, or otherwise been involved with a shelter, you will probably not be surprised at Winograd’s claim that pet overpopulation is mythology, a yarn if you will, spun by those with an agenda. But Winograd in his book Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America did the footwork, wrote the book, and proved it.

I won’t go into how Winograd proves that pet overpopulation is a myth since you should check the book out for yourself, if only as armament against the next ignorant, self-proclaimed “do-gooder” who tells you that ‘No Kill’ as a rule is a fallacy or that the killing of animals in the millions is a necessary evil thanks to an irresponsible pet-owning public. What I will say is that this book is a must-read if you profess to be current on the issues of shelter intake numbers, spay/neuter, animal adoption/kill rates, and animal legislation.

That said, I would like to propose an addendum to Winograd’s book. In chapter four (pp. 53-63) Winograd conjectures about the reasons why more shelters, animal controls, and even national organizations (like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the National Animal Control Association) did not push the ‘No Kill’ philosophy after the demonstrated success of Richard Avanzino’s ‘No Kill’ program at the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: 1) Fear of being held to account for shelters’ high kill rates; 2) Guilt for having killed so many animals when there had been a better solution — ‘No Kill’ — all along; 3) Ignorance for not knowing there was another solution besides kill rates of 50-80%; 4) Shelter directors not caring enough about animals to change their policies, or to put that another way, the status quo was easier than a mass overhaul of the system. (Winograd calls this attitude the very definition of bureaucracy, which, he notes, often sacrifices its founding principles in the greater interest of self-preservation.)

These are all plausible theories, but I would add one more, which Winograd only briefly addresses in the chapter on feral cats: nativism. As Winograd notes, nativism is the “belief that the value of an individual animal comes from lineage and that worth as a species stems from being at a particular location first” (79). Winograd is fearless to point out, since most animal rights activists won’t, that nativism, as well as environmentalism and animal rights as concepts, had their roots in Nazi Germany. What Winograd can’t or won’t say, or is afraid to admit, is that some shelters and animal rights organizations (or so-called “humane” organizations which have been infiltrated with animal rights activists or by the animal rights mentality) are adherents of nativism and may not have an interest in saving pets’ lives, but may in fact be wilfully seeking to exterminate them. To many animal rights activists and environmentalists who subscribe to nativism, domesticated pets represent a violation of “Mother Nature,” or the living Gaia, which to them is the natural order of things.

The essay “The Ethic of Care and the Problem of Wild Animals” sums this view up tidily:

“Without addressing the difficult issue of the rationality of nonhuman animals, the autonomy and independence of at least wild animals can be and has been defended. In fact, environmental ethicists have long emphasized the difference between wild and domestic animals along these lines: Aldo Leopold wrote that the essence of environmental ethics was “reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free” (Callicott 1992, 67). According to environmental ethicist J. Baird Callicott, wild animals are autonomous and independent, while domestic animals are human creations which are metaphysically unfree. By this Callicott means that domestic animals are nothing but what we have selectively bred them to be, such that it is as meaningless to speak of setting free domestic animals as it would be to speak of setting free a chair.”

So in the minds of many environmentalists and animal rights activists, since you can’t set domestic animals free (after all, they are, according to them, unnatural human creations), you must necessarily “humanely” euthanize them. In other words, in order to return to the “natural order” of things, indigenous species should take precedent over human encroachment, which includes human domestication of animals, because wild (i.e. natural, indigenous), animals were there first.

Domesticated animals are not indigenous, they are, as Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has said, “…creations of human selective breeding” (Animal People, May, 1993). In other words, to many environmentalists and animal rights activists, domesticated animals, like humans themselves, are a bane to the “natural order” of things, meaning wild animals, the environment, and “Mother Earth.” I wonder if the majority of those donating to the HSUS know that, as Pacelle stated, the HSUS has “…no problem with the extinction of domestic animals” (Animal People, May, 1993). I wonder if the majority of those donating to PETA know that Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of PETA, thinks “…it would be lovely if we stopped this whole notion of pets altogether” (Newsday, 2/21/88). I bet not.

I think it safe to say that most if not all animal rights groups have the shared goal of ending domestic pet ownership (and animal agriculture) one way or the other whether like PETA, it’s by encouraging municipalities to ban specific breeds, or like the HSUS, it’s by pushing breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter, just as a few examples. Many animal rights groups have formidable lobbies pushing legislation behind the scenes. What these groups push for or how they push for it many in the public, including even those of us who are laser-beam focused on such issues, are seldom privy.

I don’t know why Winograd did not find the same damning quotes from the animal rights groups — like PETA or the HSUS — in doing the research for his book. Maybe he did and was afraid to admit that the killing is done on purpose since he himself has been labeled an animal rights activist, though to my recollection I do not believe he ever refers to himself as an animal rights activist anywhere in the book. (And even though he has been labeled an animal rights activist by the press, I’m going to try to give Winograd the benefit of the doubt in this case and hope that the AR label is something of a misnomer and what he should really be called is an animal welfare advocate since, unlike many animal rights activists, he doesn’t want to see domesticated animals die en masse.) Either way, I cannot speculate. But a more in-depth look into the nativism theory, which is perhaps the most plausible theory for why many so-called “humane” organizations, animal controls, and shelters are more interested in killing than saving animals, is certainly warranted given the heads of these groups’ own damning words. Perhaps in Winograd’s follow-up book he can take a closer look at these animal rights groups and get to the bottom of their true agenda: the end of domestic pet ownership (and animal agriculture) as we know it.

Elizabeth Pensgard
Illinois Director, Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States