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'No Kill' or Torture? Nathan Winograd and His Animal Sheltering Movement

Posted: 10/15/10 12:24 AM ET

Nathan Winograd is an "activist" that purports to stand up for the most helpless of society. By declaring war against animal shelters that euthanize strays, abandoned pets and feral cats, he's made himself the de-facto face of the "No Kill" movement. Winograd's polemic, Redemption, the Myth of Overpopulation and the No-Kill Revolution in America is a strident attack on virtually every animal shelter in America, save the two or three that have adopted his shelter model. In a nutshell, his argument is that shelters should follow a three-step plan to get to zero kill: "1) Stop the killing. 2) Stop the killing. 3) Stop the killing." According to Winograd, any shelter that, for any reason, comes up short of his model may as well be considered an animal death camp.

The "No-Kill" animal shelter movement has certainly chosen a sympathetic name for itself. After all, who wants more kills?

Unfortunately, sometimes life is a bit more complicated than the latest catchy slogan or absurdly simple three-step plan. For example, if zero tolerance for killing means that we must warehouse animals in overcrowded, disease and pest-ridden cages, and there are not enough staff of volunteers to provide these animals with adequate exercise, aren't we actually torturing these animals for the sake of our own vanity? What if this warehousing resulted in fewer animals being placed in homes because people stopped visiting the shelters, or came to believe that shelter animals were unhealthy or otherwise inferior?

The flat truth is that Winograd's "No-Kill" model is limited. It can work when shelters serving smaller towns decide to limit intake (by turning away older, unsocialized or less attractive animals). It is simply unworkable in larger municipalities.

Sheltering policy is difficult; it's a field in which the utopian ideal is seldom achievable. Instead, the animal lovers that run shelters make must make difficult choices and strive for best outcomes after considering the totality of the circumstances. The decision to euthanize is always dispiriting and sometimes heart-wrenching. But if it is the merciful decision, it may be the correct choice. Across America, there are thousands of shelters. Each respective community served is unique and comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. "No kill" is probably suitable and the ethically sound choice for some shelters, but for many more, a "no kill" policy condemns animals to a miserable existence. In those communities, mercy must prevail.

Nathan Winograd does not agree; he doesn't see nuance. He has run a scorched-earth campaign against the thousands of animal lovers that disagree with his black-and-white vision of sheltering policy. The question is, "Why?"

Does it have anything to do with his ties to the puppy mill industry? To Rick Berman, the anti-everything decent public-relations lawyer that is famous for his astro-turf campaigns on behalf of large moneyed interests (like puppy breeders)? In the coming weeks and months, a new blog I've launched, 4k2.org, will explore the answers to these questions while arguing against Winograd's ridiculously simple sheltering notions. "No Kill" sounds wonderful, but there are good reasons many of the most respected animal welfare organizations oppose Winograd's brand of no-kill.

 

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