Editorial: White hats and black hats
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:
Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley executive director Vicki Crosetti has for a
year now endured a nightmare of harassment, just for doing her job.
Until mid-1996, Crosetti was best known as an early leader in borrowing adoption
techniques from the North Shore Animal League, including opening a downtown adoption center
that displays animals more attractively and conveniently than the aging HSTV shelter, and
sending adoptable puppies for whom there was no local demand to the North Shore adoption
center on Long Island. Adopting through satellite facilities and transporting animals to meet
demand in lieu of killing are fast becoming standard procedure, but just five years ago were so
controversial that some conventional shelter operators derisively accused Crosetti of trying to
turn HSTV into a “no-kill,” meaning either an overcrowded, diseased animal collection, or a
“turnaway,” which would not help problem animals.
It is thus ironic that Crosetti is now routinely sizzled by Knoxville tabloids and talk
shows as a purportedly needle-happy animal killer hellbent on an anti-no-kill vendetta, and has
been sued for euthanizing animals whom she as a veterinary technician believed to have little or
no chance of being recoverable within the limits of HSTV resources.
Perhaps the trouble began when Crosetti cracked down on cockfighting, technically
illegal in Tennessee but openly practiced, or when she called for stronger humane laws to protect
livestock and animals in exhibition. She made more enemies by impounding dogs for
Knoxville animal control, enforcing neutering requirements, and refusing to adopt to people
who didn’t clear standard adoption screening. Crosetti also dropped veterinarians who didn’t
comply with normal procedural and accountability requirements from the HSTV “recommended”
list. She annoyed anti-vivisectionists by serving on the University of Tennessee Institutional
Animal Care and Use Committee, to see to it that the Animal Welfare Act is enforced. She irritated
some people just by being assertive, female, and a “Yankee,” albeit from the
Pennsylvania coal country, differing from Tenneesee more in accent than in prevailing culture.
Her foes didn’t coalesce into a mob, however, who call her at midnight with death
threats and from whom she has required police protection, until she raided and prosecuted two
alleged animal collectors who called their unlicensed, unaccredited accumulations “no-kill shelters.”
One had prior convictions for animal collecting elsewhere. The other was widely suspected
of collecting within the no-kill sheltering community. Yet Crosetti became a public target.
In some respects her situation parallels the political lynching earlier this year of former
New York City Center for Animal Care and Control executive director Marty Kurtz. Like
Crosetti, Kurtz was seen among peers as a leader in learning from no-kills, who modeled the
CACC after the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control, and envisioned a relationship
with the American SPCA similar to that the no-kill San Francisco SPCA enjoys with
SF/DACC. Kurtz made enemies, however, by enforcing the New York City anti-vicious dog
law, by firing staff for various alleged offenses they apparently got away with during the 100
years that the ASPCA handled New York City animal control, and by welcoming volunteer help
from grassroots adoption/rescue groups––if they followed rules intended to insure that none of
them became collectors. When some volunteers broke the rules, Kurtz was obliged to dismiss
them. Together with disgruntled ex-employees and pit bull terrier fans who insisted Kurtz just
wanted to kill dogs, they became a deadly if unlikely-seeming coalition––and their success
against Kurtz, considered one of the most media-savvy and politically astute of all shelter
administrators, has scared off some qualified potential successors.
A similar seemingly unlikely coalition of collectors and conventional shelter advocates,
normally bitter foes, would now like to portray the Knoxville and New York disputes as
the essence of the no-kill v e r s u s conventional sheltering debate underway since the SF/SPCA
agreed in early 1994 to accept, treat, and place any recoverable animal received but not placed
by SF/DACC. This deal, called the Adoption Pact made San Francisco the first major city
which does not kill animals for population control, where euthanasias are done strictly to relieve
hopeless suffering or to protect the public from animals of known aggressive nature.
The Adoption Pact recognizes that the function of a humane society is preventing suffering,
not performing animal control. The SF/SPCA quit doing animal control in 1984, forcing
the formation of the SF/DACC, in order to concentrate on doing charitably funded cruelty
prevention: chiefly low-cost and free neutering, along with humane education. Over the next
decade this dramatically cut the number of animal births in San Francisco––and the animal control
workload. The SF/SPCA replaced the loss of animal control allocations from government by
achieving a ninefold increase in donations, made possible largely by getting away from the
unpopular dogcatching and animal-killing functions of animal control.
The Adoption Pact recognizes the value of the no-kill cachet in promoting responsible
care of animals and obtaining the resources necessary to do serious cruelty prevention.
Avanzino’s most important insight was that homeless animals end up at large not because people
are inhumane, but because they believe it is more humane to give an animal they cannot keep a
chance at life, however marginal, than the near-certainty of death in a conventional shelter.
Parallel to that, Avanzino recognized, many people get animals from pet stores or breeders
instead of shelters because they can’t bear to choose an animal from a shelter cage, aware that
every animal they don’t choose will be killed. Finally, Avanzino understood, the public will
support basic animal control pick-up and disposition costs with tax dollars because it is an essential
service, yet the unpopularity of the work and the reluctance of taxpayers to give anyone
“something for nothing” will always keep the service from doing high-volume low-cost neutering,
or anything else much beyond the minimum. Yet the public will generously support a nontax-funded
charity that serves animals, if it isn’t confused with animal control.
Finally, in the least understood aspect of the San Francisco model, SF/SPCA president
Richard Avanzino and SF/DACC executive director Carl Friedman recognized that a no-kill
humane society and conventional animal control department are n o t in competition with each
other, even though they represent opposite concepts. The no-kill humane society wears the
white hat and is the hero for doing popular things, while the animal control department wears the
black hat and is villified––but both are part of the essential cast of the same morality play. Both
benefit by the contrast: because people don’t want to meet the black hat, who takes money at tax
collector’s gunpoint, they follow and donate to the white hat. The more menacing the black hat
and the more enticing the white hat, the less animal catching and killing the black hat actually
has to do. Neither benefits by muting stark black and white into existential shades of grey.
Only the very best actors, like Animal Services Center director John Seales of Hot
Springs, Arkansas, can play both roles at once. A Sunday morning radio preacher, Seales can
deliver hot hell as “the dogcatcher” in the first five minutes of a speech, jerk tears with an appeal
for neutering, then pass the collection bucket successfully. Just about everyone else is better off
picking a specialty, concentrating effort, and doing it well. Animal control itself exists to provide
one specialty, protecting public health and welfare. Humane societies, no-kill and otherwise,
most effectively furnish the “extras” that animal control shelters cannot and do not.
Animal control can catch and kill animals, and enforce nuisance laws, but tends to have more
difficulty doing anti-cruelty enforcement, because taxpayers and politicians too often see that as
unproductive use of public funding. Animal control usually can’t provide low-cost neutering
because of the political ramifications of appearing to compete with private veterinarians––
although study after study affirms that most low-cost neutering clients would not patronize a fullprice
vet. Animal control usually can’t spend money to treat sick or injured animals, or promote
adoptions, if killing animals seems to be cheaper. Animal control certainly can’t provide carefor-life,
even when animals come with an adequate endowment of at least $500 per animal per
year of life expectancy. Nor does animal control often have the freedom to do humane education
beyond dog and cat care, since this may involve political controversy.
All of these jobs are specialties which may be most effectively performed by humane
societies that don’t do animal control––whether or not they do any sheltering.
Conversely, if a community has no animal control agency, humane societies cannot do
their jobs as effectively, as Randy Skaggs of the no-kill Trixie Foundation has recognized in
suing a number of Kentucky counties, seeking to force them to create animal control d e p a r tments
in compliance with a 1954 state law. Skaggs understands that white hats need black
hats to advance their dramatic message, to the extent that he’s willing to play the black hat
himself as the guy who obliges counties to pick up and kill animals in order to get the public to
recognize the extent and the cost of pet overpopulation.
Specialists vs. “full service”
Specializing to do a better job long since became the basic model for industry and
commerce. Even big department stores now know they sell more goods if surrounded by specialty
boutiques. The leading obstacle to specialization (pioneered by high-volume adoption
shelters like North Shore, low-cost neutering clinics like the Animal Foundation of Nevada,
and care-for-life facilities like Delta Rescue), is the concept of the so-called “full service”
shelter advanced by the Humane Society of the U.S. and others since the heyday of the standalone
department store 40 years ago, before the invention of the modern shopping mall.
Baffled and threatened by the success of speciality organizations, especially those
that wear the no-kill white hat, conventional shelter leaders who don’t understand and resent
the black hat role have for several years struggled to recast the morality play as “turnaway” or
“collector” versus “full service,” without recognizing that the specialty organizations exist and
succeed precisely because “full service” is a misnomer: one type of shelter rarely can provide
the complete range of services that being truly “full service” would require, because many of
the jobs are in conflict. Doing animal control inhibits humane work; high-volume adoption
requires a central site but not large enclosures; care-for-life requires large enclosures far from
neighbors; low-cost neutering might best be done from a van, with no fixed site.
To be “full service” is to have an adoption program with appropriate facilities and
trained personnel who do screening and follow-up without the hostility toward the public often
developed by intake personnel; to have appropriate intake facilities staffed by experienced
veterinary and behavioral diagnosticians; to have fostering programs to deal with both taming
and socialization of animals, and transient care of animals whose people may be temporarily
incapacitated; to have outreach to assist feral cats and cat rescuers; to work with breed, bird,
reptile, equine, and exotic animal rescue networks; to do 24-hour-a-day injured and stray animal
pickup; to neuter all animals before they leave the shelter, and to provide discount neutering
to the public; to do cruelty investigation and prosecution; to do authentic humane education
and public relations, addressing values and lifestyle issues as well as basic animal care;
to participate in local disaster relief; to provide in-service training to keep personnel up-todate;
to participate in relevant legislative matters at the state and local levels; to be able to
serve the public in the major languages spoken within the community; and to provide euthanasia
for relief of immediate animal suffering, as necessary.
Whether or not a humane society does population control killing has little if anything
to do with whether or not it is “full service.” In truth, there are very few real “full service”
shelters. The closest approach we’re aware of is the SF/SPCA, a no-kill. All the rest specialize
in one or more aspects of animal welfare. The trick is to pick the specialty most appropriate
to the purpose of the organization.
The onus is on responsible no-kills to see to it that this is understood––and to make
plain that they have no tolerance for either animal collecting or lynching conventional shelter
personnel because they raid collectors, enforce laws, and, of necessity, kill animals.
Among the topics we raised at the first No Kill Conference in September 1995 was
the need to form a representative accreditation and self-improvement umbrella for no-kill shelters,
to set baseline standards of care appropriate to each specialized function. The American
Zoo Association provides an excllent model of how a democratically administered but strict
accreditation procedure can raise the standards, public standing, and fundraising capacity of
an entire animal care sector in an inclusive, mutually supportive manner––and to distinguish
the organizations of sincere, serious intent from the daydreamers and quick-buck artists,
whose shortcomings harm the whole field.
We’ll be following up this year in panel discussion. See you there.