Vii issue 1 2009 Journal for Critical Animal Studies

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Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No-Kill Revolution in America, Winograd, Nathan J. (Almaden Books 2007)

Adam J. Kochanowicz1

Every year, approximately 4 million animals are euthanized in the United States (Interlandi 1). As long as this practice has existed in animal shelters, the public has long accepted euthanasia as a necessary evil for controlling the pet population. However, in Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No-Kill Revolution in America, Nathan J. Winograd makes a case for an uncommon approach to reforming animal shelters called “No Kill”. The No Kill equation demands no animal to be killed for common reasons like space or adoptability. While most of the blame for euthanasia is put on the public, Winograd criticizes the very institutions and administration established to support unwanted animals. Winograd uses his lifelong dedication to rescuing animals and, among other qualifications, a conversion to “No Kill” for numerous animal shelters to suggest the norm of euthanizing animal for space is, among a list of common problems, a symptom of poor customer service, sanitary care, and a general misunderstanding of population control2 (22-31, 229).

In order to make the bold statement that euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals is unnecessary, Winograd not only criticizes the predicates of supposed necessity but the criteria by which shelter management judges as “healthy” or “adoptable.” Winograd reminds us of the foundations of lifesaving programs beginning with animal rescue and sheltering patriot Henry Bergh who in 1866 founded the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Bergh is described as “The Great Meddler,” an eccentric protector of animals known to directly confront strangers who mistreated their animals (9). From 19th century accounts of Bergh's work and animal shelters, we see a familiar dichotomy of sheltering formats in which one extreme a shelter is a sort of cleanup facility for the city to remove stray animals as opposed to the other extreme which may arguably be Bergh's model in which a drive for lifesaving and prevention of cruelty is central to the shelter.
Conventional wisdom would hope our city shelters are the latter. This public impression is catalyzed by the assumption that shelters are staffed by individuals with a passion for saving lives through adoptions or a general sympathy for companion animals. The assumption which tolerates euthanasia follows in thinking shelter employees do their best to find a home for each individual animal but were left with no other option than to end the animal's life out of necessity for shelter space. Yet as long as shelter management experience and not the aforementioned mindset is the criteria, shelter administration is likely to follow the traditional format of adopting some and euthanizing those believed to be unadoptable. The acceptance of pet overpopulation is strongly supported by some of the wealthiest animal welfare organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals which defends euthanasia claiming No Kill shelters “often find themselves filled to capacity....In the best case scenario, they [rescued animals] will be taken to another facility that does euthanize animals” . PETA plainly defends the notion of pet overpopulation saying “There simply aren't enough good homes—or even enough good cages—for them all....euthanasia is often the most compassionate and dignified way for unwanted animals to leave the world” (PETA 1).
Redemption sets out to systematically disprove the myth of pet overpopulation calling statements like that of PETA's “defeatism.” Animal Welfare organization the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has long objected to the No Kill approach taking on their own “no kill” approach which states the prevention of euthanasia as a worthy goal, but defends the practice of killing healthy animals as a measure which should be reduced as much as possible. This “no kill” philosophy is confusingly different than “No Kill” in that the mission of the latter does not accept euthanasia as an option3 (Pacelle 1). Winograd defends the possibility of euthanizing no animals for reasons of space with numerous accounts of animal retention from managing shelters (Winograd 56). While these accounts are very convincing, the thesis for this rebuttal is unclear.
Organizations like PETA and the HSUS commonly argue overcrowding is symptomatic of animal rescue. For instance, HSUS CEO and President Wayne Pacelle states:
If euthanasia is not occurring and intake of dogs and cats is significantly exceeding adoptions, then overcrowding and warehousing—and the attendant suffering—are the undesirable and also unacceptable outcomes (Pacelle 1).

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