BOOKS: Disposable Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1997:

Disposable Animals:
Ending the Tragedy of Throwaway Pets
by Craig Brestrup
Camino Bay Books (POB 1945, Leander, TX 78646-1945), 1997.
220 pages, paperback, $14.95.

In February 1994, after 20 years in mental health
work, Craig Brestrup became executive director of the
Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Lynnwood,
Washington. Like Richard Avanzino, who 18 years earlier
became executive director of the San Francisco SPCA with a
background as a pharmacist and attorney, Brestrup was
shocked to find himself in a milieu where life itself was
devalued in the name of humane ideals. Like psychologist
Alan Beck, 15 years earlier, Brestrup discovered that the
culture of animal shelters often centers on dispensing death.
As in elite military units, efficient killers enjoy the highest
prestige; becoming a killer is the universal rite of passage.

Like Patrice Greanville about 10 years earlier,
Brestrup noted a likeness between the evasive rhetoric of
military staff and sport hunters, who “secure” and “harvest,”
and the rhetoric of shelter workers, who “put to sleep” and
“euthanize,” all instead of killing. Like Temple Grandin in
her 1984 study of the psychology of slaughterhouse workers,
Brestrup observed––with much less definition––that people
who kill for a living tend to adopt one of three common
approaches. Some distance themselves, mechanizing their
actions and denying the moral import of the deed; some
become sadistic; some ritualize, insisting to themselves and
anyone else who can listen that the wrong they do is for the
greater good. Hence vivisectors “sacrifice”; hence the
humane movement has for the century-plus it has done animal
control insisted on the one hand that killing animals is
wrong, and on the other has killed animals at a rate comparable
to killing in association with biomedical research and the
fur trade, often by similar methods: chiefly the decompression
chamber and the gas chamber at laboratories, mink
farms, and shelters alike until under 15 years ago, more
recently––at least at labs and shelters––the lethal needle.
Like Kim Bartlett and Ed Duvin in 1987 and 1988,
respectively, Brestrup realized that the inherent conflict
between what the humane movement advocates and what its
most ubiquitous institutions do must be resolved, by means
other than just killing the animal victim of abuse, if the
movement is to keep credibility as it pushes toward fundamentally
changing human ways. Humane workers may be
able to persuade themselves, for instance, that there is a
meaningful difference between their treatment of cats and
dogs and how the poultry industry keeps chickens, but the
niceties are lost on the public, who tend to see just cages and
quick high-volume killing in either instance, with the moral
distinction that the chickens are to be eaten, while the cats
and dogs are just wasted lives.
Brestrup, in short, came to ideas with many much
discussed antecedents. Like Victoria Wellens, who brought
a background in child protection to the leadership of the
Wisconsin Humane Society at about the same time, he
resolved to move his organization toward a no-kill policy,
more-or-less along the trajectory pioneered by the SF/SPCA,
which implemented the Adoption Pact making San Francisco
a no-kill city in April 1994, after a decade-long focus on
high-volume low-cost neutering. Unlike Avanzino, now one
of the longest tenured of animal welfare administrators, and
Wellens, who has chilled her critics with the form of a
Margaret Thatcher, Brestrup did not long weather the ensuing
storm. PAWS has for at least a decade been perhaps the
most visible exponent of the PETA philosophy in hands-on
sheltering. PETA director Ingrid Newkirk has espoused and
practiced the theory of killing-as-sacrament throughout her
career in animal protection. In this Newkirk echoes her mentor,
the late longtime Humane Society of the U.S. director
for companion animals Phyllis Wright, whose 30-year-old
essay “Why we must euthanize” is still reprinted often by
leading animal protection organizations. Forgotten is that
Wright wrote it not to argue against alternative approaches,
but to argue for replacing decompression killing with the
needle, at a time when shelter killing proceeded at a rate six
times higher relative to human population than now. Friends
of Animals had introduced low-cost neutering just 10 years
earlier, and six more years would pass before any other organization
considered the experiment successful enough to
copy it. The North Shore Animal League, then 13 years old,
was just beginning to compete for pet placement with pet
stores. Current alternatives, in short, scarcely existed.
Historical revisionism
Short though his tenure was, Brestrup did change
the rhetoric and stated direction of PAWS; time will tell
whether his promises will be fulfilled. He has now written a
book about what he saw and did, and why. Because he was
and is an accepted member of the PETA-influenced animal
rights constellation, not tainted by association with heretics,
his book has already become the foundation document for a
sort of Trotskyite rebellion against Newkirkism. A more
cynical way to put it is that PAWS, the Animal Legal
Defense Fund, the Doris Day Animal League, Farm
Sanctuary, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal
Rights, the Fund for Animals pet overpopulation project et
a l have belatedly recognized the fundraising cachet of the
phrase no-kill, want a piece of the action, and Brestrup’s
book gives them a way to grab it without having to acknowledge
that others outside their clique got there decades sooner.
An appendix steers readers to 24 organizations purportedly
leading the animal protection movement, of which
14 have significant ethical problems associated with accountability
and fundraising, several including PETA are longtime
aggressive foes of no-kill, and only three have any real background
in either developing or advancing alternatives to shelter
killing. One of those is next to defunct; the other two
have been involved for under four years each.
Of the pioneers of alternatives here mentioned,
Brestrup acknowledges––anywhere––only Duvin. Also
omitted are Andrew Rowan and the Tufts Center for Animals
and Public Policy, Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends, Leo
Grillo and DELTA Rescue, Bob Plumb and the Promoting
Anmal Welfare Society, Wally Swett and Primarily
Primates: virtually everyone, in short, who has had a real
role in implementing the ideas Brestrup ponders.
Brestrup told ANIMAL PEOPLE six months
before the book came out that these omissions were from
naivete and ignorance. We tried to rectify that. We later
recalled that Brestrup had already spent at least a weekend
surrounded by most of the people to whom we tried to introduce
him, at the 1996 No-Kill Conference. Naivete is one
thing, ingenuousness quite another. Overlooking pioneers of
a concept in developing it for oneself as a newcomer to a
cause is easily pardonable, but to seemingly credit with the
pioneering role those who tried to bury it is to perpetuate the
sort of misrepresentation Brestrup himself decries.


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