My interest in reading Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America by Nathan J. Winograd (Jun 16, 2009) was fueled not only by my commitment to helping homeless dogs (and cats), but by the flurry of charged reviews and comments it generated–for or against, some with great emotion, frustration, and defensiveness.  I knew the author must have hit a nerve to elicit such responses, and I wanted to find out what that nerve was. It turns out there are two – his position on pet overpopulation and his indictment against shelters and national associations (think ASPCA, PETA, and the Humane Society), which in our shared opinion should be devoted to preventing animal cruelty and saving as many lives as possible. Instead, they have a long history of laying blame on the public while promoting mass killings as the way to control homeless pet populations. As badly as dogs suffer with this mindset and policy, feral cats fare worse.

As Winograd states, much of this book is about history, beginning with Henry Berg’s founding of the ASPCA in 1866 and his commitment to stopping the cruel treatment of city work horses and other animals, to the atrocious policies and conditions of so-called “shelters”, to the challenges and successes of the No-Kill movement (through 2005).  This history is laced with the good, the bad, and the ugly of animal control, legislation, and sheltering, which unfortunately even today is still more often than not bent on killing than saving animals.

If I were to boil down my most important take away from of Redemption, it would be that instead of laying blame and setting up a punitive system (which doesn’t work) against the public as a primary strategy for opting out of lifesaving in favor of killing, shelters have a responsibility to do right by the animals they take in as their first priority. This means implementing a multi-pronged approach of providing good care, fair, reliable behavior testing, rehabilitation if needed, and a commitment to making adoption an appealing option to the public by way of education, a foster home network, cooperation with rescue groups, good customer service, clean facilities, spay/neuter before adoption, and liberal adoption hours. Only animals that are hopelessly ill or vicious are euthanized (about 10% of incoming animals) and all others, most of whom are young, healthy and friendly, are candidates for adoption. As for unadoptable feral cats, trap-neuter-release and vaccinate. Allow people to feed and care for them instead of legislating against them.

Euthanasia is ...killing someone who is very sick or injured in order to prevent any more suffering. ~Merriam Webster Dictionary
Euthanasia – the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease. Mercy killing

The most heated discussion among reviewers and people commenting about Redemption was caused by Winograd’s stand that pet overpopulation is a myth.  One would think that with 4-5 million dogs and cats killed in shelters every year (down from almost 18 million in the 1980s), and facilities inundated with more animals than they can handle, that overpopulation surely is a problem. Not so. Winograd maintains that while overpopulation in shelters may be problematic at times, the use of foster homes and space in facilities is often not maximized, which contributes to the problem. Seeking convenience and maintaining the status quo trumps change and life. He claims there are more than enough homes available for adoptable dogs and cats. The US Humane Society backs up this claim. So where are these people? They are getting their pets from pet stores (think puppy mills), breeders, friends, anywhere but shelters. Why? Because of the misperception that homeless animals are damaged goods and facilities are often perceived as dirty, unfriendly killing places where the public is not really welcome.


 Today in 2014, in northern NY where I live, I thankfully see a somewhat different picture than Winograd paints.  I say somewhat, because our SPCA has a disturbing policy of not always taking dogs over 5 years old or animals that are sick, even with easily treated conditions.  On the more positive side, they have a foster program, support TNR, and  have liberal adoption hours. They maintain a satellite site at PETCO (cat adoptions are way up because of that), a committed staff, lots of volunteers, a play area and dog park, and they spay/neuter/vaccinate before adoption. Our dog pound (renamed  dog shelter), where dogs once had seven days to live if not adopted, now has a 90 day policy. I know for a fact that the staff goes above and beyond to keep them alive longer. Several  residents, many of them pit bull breeds, live there over six months before the happy adoption announcements are posted.  Unfortunately, they do not allow volunteers, but they do welcome donators, including me with my gifts of cushions for the seniors and bones and toys for all.

 I wish I could say this shift toward No Kill and decency were widespread nationwide, but I know it is not. Winograd’s point and indictment of many facilities still stands valid. Although the tide is surely turning since Redemption was published and before, mostly due to public pressure, we as a nation have a lot of work to do. Since writing Rescue Me, and becoming more connected with rescuers, I see daily post after post pleading for the lives of dogs in shelters, many with 72 hour policies or less.  I read of dogs being injured while their cages are pressure washed, sick and injured animals receiving little to no treatment, animals living in deplorable conditions, and shelters with a no-adoption policy (REALLY?!!). I read of corruption and animals killed cruelly and too soon, sometimes to spite advocates.  I see videos of animals being neglected and abused in places where they should find refuge.That’s what the word shelter means, but in some places, it is nothing more than a word that covers up what they really are – horrible places where their number one mission is disposing of animals, including healthy, friendly adoptable ones, primarily by murdering them.

Recently, this unfortunate realization personally hit home with me. A plea went out by Julia Buie, one of Rescue Me’s contributors, for vetting and transport funds for several dogs. I donated the $95 needed to gain freedom for a young coonhound named Wesley, only to learn that he was killed shortly before his rescuers arrived.  It may have been a mix-up, but for Wesley it was still death. How sad to be in such a hurry to kill. And what’s even sadder is that some staff members have been brainwashed to believe they are doing a good deed for the dogs and society by killing. How sad.

The truth is, No-Kill is achievable with committed shelter leadership and a well-functioning network in place. When the organizations do their part, and the public does theirs, very few animals will ever have to die for no good reason.  Isn’t that what you would want for you and yours? Should it be any different for them?

Do you want to know how to bring No-Kill to your shelter? Download the No Kill Advocacy Center’s FREE No Kill Advocate’s Toolkit, 13 step by step guides to help you reform your local shelter.

Take a look inside Redemption and get your copy here.

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Winograd’s Redemption and No-Kill
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5 thoughts on “Winograd’s Redemption and No-Kill

  • September 19, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I agree that dogs adopted from shelters or rescues make fabulous pets. Unfortunately not all staff at these places are trained properly to assess the dogs in their care or to pair them up with a suitable family. In the last 2 years alone, I have dealt with at least 5 dogs who were adopted out to unsuitable families and found out that two of our biggest rescues do not carry out home assessments on all prospective adopters as they claim to. In some instances a person only has to confirm that they’ve adopted a rescue before and provide a letter from their vets stating that they’ve taken their dog for their annual check up and have never cancelled an appointment! We have dogs by us that spend most of their lives in tiny back gardens and never get to see the outside world or inside the house. But according to the RSPCA it’s fine as long as they have a kennel and water and the garden is generally clean and tidy. For us to get the message out that dogs from rescues and shelters make good pets, we first need to ensure the staff are adequately trained to assess a dog and pair them with a suitable family. As usual it’s down to the people in charge to take responsibility!

  • September 19, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    I don’t want to say much about this as I could go on and on here, but I worked at an SPCA that was also considered a low-kill shelter (which is just something based on faulty statistics). I do just want to mention one thing that is often overlooked about shelter environments.

    There is something called “warehousing,” which is holding animals indefinitely or for extended periods in a kennel environment. The thing I noticed about this is that after a few weeks, most dogs started to deteriorate in behavior (more reactivity, jumping, spinning in kennel, chewing on kennel bars, etc.) and would effect the other dogs around them and cause them to deteriorate faster. It raised the kinetic energy of the entire shelter, which even caused the visitors/potential adopters to not want to stay as long. During the slower times, when the kennel environment had less animals and was much quieter, the people were a lot more peaceful, less on-edge, would hang around longer, and were more open to listening to the adoption counselors.

    One proposed solution to being able to take in more animals and euthanize less animals was to add more kennels, but in reality, this only magnifies the warehousing problem and creates more issues – more staff, money, kinetic kennel energy, etc. – and would only cause the dogs to deteriorate faster.

    Unfortunately, at our shelter, the president would not allow us to implement our ideas for keeping the animals calmer… things like playing calming music like “Through a Dog’s Ear” through the speaker system in the kennels, which would also keep the people calmer, or using Rescue Remedy in the dogs’ water bowl or on the dogs themselves.

    This topic is heated because there is no quick-fix solution. I believe everyone has a small piece of the solution. If everyone could put their pieces together, and had unlimited time and money and resources, and all dog owners would suddenly become responsible, the solution would arise and the issue could be resolved. In the meantime, we just keep putting the band-aid on.

  • September 24, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Two of my three dogs are from rescue situations. I will not attempt to “buy” a dog again. I think every animal (particularly dogs and cats) are God’s gifts to us and we should cherish that gift whenever possible. I am 1000% behind the no-kill shelter movement. With this in mind, we need to encourage people that cannot have animals (or don’t want to ), for any reason to donate to these shelters (all shelters) b/c space is still a problem in some areas. Money can be used for everything from medicine, food to training of staff and families adopting dogs. No one is going to save us from ourselves so we must all make the effort to work to save the animals and each other.

  • December 4, 2014 at 2:40 am

    I hate seeing homeless animals, it always just breaks my heart!

  • December 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    A very interesting take. I don’t think it is black and white on either side of the issue. I think that there is a lot of learning both sides can do from each other.


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