BOOKS: Redemption

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2008:

The Myth of Pet Overpopulation
& the No Kill Revolution in America
by Nathan J. Winograd
Almaden (, 2007.
229 pages, paperback. $16.95.

The very title of Nathan Winograd’s book
Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & the
No Kill Revolution in America offers a challenge
to conventional thinking.
Winograd introduces Redemption as, “The
story of animal sheltering in the United States,
a movement that was born of compassion and then
lost its wayŠThe story of the No Kill movement,
which says we can and must stop the killingŠmost
of all, a story about believing in the community
and trusting in the power of compassion.”

The opening portion is a succinct history
of how humane societies came to be doing the work
of animal control agencies, despite decades of
warnings from American SPCA founder Henry Bergh
that this would be a tactical misstep for the
humane movement. Winograd explores in depth the
origins of the prevailing belief among animal
control and humane workers that population
control killing is necessary, and responds with
a rebuttal from his own experience in humane
work. Since Winograd is still short of 40, this
goes back surprisingly far.
Winograd introduced himself to me by
telephone one afternoon in 1988, soon after I
received a PETA press release which hinted but
did not actually state that then-PETA board
member Jeanne Roush had released into the wild
several beavers who had been abandoned to starve
by a failed fur farm in the northern Rocky
Since beavers have never been farmed for
fur successfully, despite many attempts, the
failure of the farm and the investors’
abandonment of the beavers did not surprise me.
However, beavers spend all summer building or
repairing a winter-proof lodge and stockpiling
the food they need to survive the winter.
Knowing that these beavers had little more chance
of survival in the wild than at the fur farm, I
called PETA to ask what had actually been done
with them.
PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk herself took
my call. Without admitting in so many words that
the beavers had been killed, Newkirk recited an
extended and colorized version of the 1968
Phyllis Wright essay “Why we must euthanize,”
then seen on the wall of almost every animal
“Why we must euthanize” has always
reminded me of the elderly sisters in the 1939
Joseph Kesselring play Arsenic & Old Lace, who
poison old men for their alleged own good. Those
who internalize “Why we must euthanize”
frequently exhibit what even then I called “The
Arsenic & Old Lace syndrome,” continuing to
kill animals even when there are alternatives,
because to stop would be to contradict a
quasi-religious faith which has become integral
to self-image.
Winograd, then a Stanford University
undergraduate, called to tell me about the
success of a feral cat neuter/return project he
helped to coordinate on the Stanford campus. He
spoke with absolute poise and self-confidence,
quoting statistics about the cats in and around
each campus building, and refuting Newkirk point
by point when I threw her arguments at him to see
if he could respond.
Our conversation 20 years ago was similar
in gist to the comparison-and-contrast offered by on April 28, 2008. Author Jeneen
Interlandi juxtaposed Winograd’s positions with
those of PETA vice president Daphna Nachminovitch.
Since Redemption appeared, Winograd has
become perhaps the third most-quoted animal
advocate in the U.S., according to ANIMAL PEOPLE
searches of Without the help
of a multi-million dollar organization or any
public relations staff, Winograd appears to
trail in news media adjudged quote-worthiness
only Newkirk and HSUS president Wayne Pacelle.
Often Winograd is quoted in response to
comments from Pacelle and other HSUS
spokespersons, but he most often rebuts PETA.
This was not initially by choice. Between our
conversation in 1988 and December 1994, Winograd
tried repeatedly to win PETA endorsement of
neuter/return feral cat control, at least in
qualified situations.
“We do not support ‘right-to-life’ for
animals,” Newkirk wrote at last.
Winograd, a vegan since his early teens,
does support right-to-life for animals,
including feral cats, pit bull terriers,
neo-natal kittens, hard-to-adopt large black
dogs, indeed every animal whose suffering can be
relieved by treatment and who is not an imminent
threat to the lives and well-being of other
animals and humans.

San Francisco

A longtime volunteer for the San
Francisco SPCA, Winograd had already personally
rescued, rehabilitated, and placed for adoption
practically every sort of “impossible to place”
animal, and had recruited other volunteers to
help. After graduating from the Stanford
University law school, Winograd worked as a
criminal prosecutor, but left that job to start
the Department of Law & Advocacy at the San
Francisco SPCA. The department under Winograd
worked to further animal rights legislation,
promote neuter/return, and educate the public
about not eating meat.
Winograd was integrally involved in
making a success of the Adoption Pact, which in
April 1994 made San Francisco in effect a no-kill
city. The pact requires the SF/SPCA to find a
home or provide lifetime care to any healthy or
recoverable animal who is not rehomed by the San
Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control.
After then-SF/SPCA president Richard
Avanzino crossed the bay to head Maddie’s Fund at
the end of 1998, Winograd served for a time as
the SF/SPCA operations director, then took the
Tompkins County SPCA to no-kill status while
providing animal control sheltering for Tompkins
County and the city of Ithaca, New York.
A frequent speaker at the No More
Homeless Pets conferences formerly held twice
annually by the Best Friends Animal Society,
Winograd in 2004 founded the No Kill Advocacy
Center. His blog, at <>,
is read by more than 40,000 people.
Winograd’s once bluntly outspoken mentor
Avanzino now promotes let’s-all-get-along
projects such as the Asilomar Accords in hopes of
gently persuading the conventional sheltering
community to “buy into” life-affirming policies.
Rejecting the Asilomar approach, Winograd
indicts by name many of the most prominent and
best-respected leaders in sheltering and animal
advocacy for pursuing policies that Winograd
believes are contributing to the shelter death
Repeatedly Winograd challenges animal
advocacy leaders to rethink animal sheltering
policies, especially in terms of what kind of
example they set while trying to extend humane
consideration to livestock, wildlife, work
animals, and animals in parts of the world where
organized, well-funded animal advocacy is still
just a rumor.
Winograd has little patience with no-kill
critics who persist in conflating the
multi-dimensional package of services he insists
a no-kill city must have with “warehousing”
animals, a practice he regards as emblematic of
failure and of mental illness. Winograd does not
hesitate to denounce those who practice
“slow-kill” sheltering through overcrowding and
lack of disease control, yet is equally
contemptuous of shelter directors who object to
using the term “no kill” because of the challenge
it implies to population control killing.
Winograd may be most condemnatory of
those who claim to practice “no kill” by killing
only “unadoptable” animals.

King County

Winograd’s most prominent recent public
conflict is with Ron Sims, a longtime politician
in King County, Washington, now county
executive, who was widely lauded in the early
1990s for winning passage of a “mandatory” pet
sterilization ordinance.
Like most and perhaps all other such
ordinances, the King County version is actually
just differential licensing with an unusually
high fee for licensing an unsterilized dog or
cat. Like other such ordinances, the King
County version is no more enforced than any other
licensing requirement, and has not demonstrably
reduced shelter killing. In fact, the King
County rate of shelter killing per 1,000 human
residents, low when the “mandatory”
sterilization ordinance passed, has barely
declined at all since then.
Yet except for one 1994 statistical
critique by the late Robert Lewis Plumb,
published by ANIMAL PEOPLE, the King County
ordinance and aftermath for more than 16 years
received barely a glance from animal advocates.
A 1997 King County audit found that the King
County animal control department was chronically
underfunded. Little was done about that. A
veterinarian in October 1998 complained in
writing to the King County council about almost
exactly the same kinds of neglect of animal
health and well-being that Winograd noted and
detailed in March 2008, in a 147-page inspection
Winograd became involved as a consultant
after a 10-member King County Animal Care &
Control Citizens Advisory Committee in September
2007 informed the council that conditions at the
two King County shelters are “deplorable,” and
rejected Sims’ claim that King County remains a
“recognized leader” and “model” for animal
control agencies nationwide.
The county responded by ordering King
County animal control to achieve a “save” rate of
80%, but did little about providing ways and
Winograd in Redemption had expressed skepticism
of the value of the King County licensing
ordinance, based on a data analysis similar to
Plumb’s. Once Winograd actually spent time in
the King County shelters, he found much more
wrong than just an inflated sense of achievement.
Winograd was visibly shocked and upset when he
described his findings to ANIMAL PEOPLE–and so
was the community when the key findings of his
report were amplified by both the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times.
Sims and the union representing King
County animal control workers accused Winograd of
merely grinding an ax for no-kill. Nonetheless,
Sims and King County announced a $965,000
improvement package, to include “hiring a
director of operations, writing a new animal-care
protocol, hiring a shelter medical staff, and
starting a population management plan,”
summarized Seattle Times staff reporter Sharon
Pian Chan.
Sims had already invited an independent
evaluation by a five-member panel from the Koret
Shelter Medicine Program at the University of
California at Davis. The U.C. Davis panel in
April affirmed Winograd’s findings in a 151-page
The U.C. Davis team identified in
particular “a breakdown in care leading to animal
suffering, illness and likely unnecessarily high
levels of euthanasia and death.”
The Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Times
published slightly conflicting accounts, as they
often do, about what happened next.
According to P.I. reporter Gregory
Roberts, the King County council “approved a
motion arranging for private veterinarians to
volunteer their services and calling for a
stepped-up pet-adoption campaign among county
employees, businesses, and animal-rescue
groups. County Executive Ron Sims issued a
declaration of emergency at the shelters to
streamline the measures.
According to Seattle Times staff reporter Keith
Ervin, the council itself declared the “health

Other cities

Winograd’s No Kill Advocacy Center is
meanwhile pursuing a lawsuit against the Los
Angeles County Department of Animal Care &
Control, alleging multiple violations of the
1998 Hayden Act, which requires California
animal control shelters to make healthy animals
available to rescue groups, regardless of
whether the animals are deemed “adoptable.”
On the first weekend in May, Winograd
presented a “No Kill Solution Conference” in
Indianapolis, hosted by the local group Move to
Indianapolis, like King County, has long
enjoyed a progressive reputation, and until
recent financial reversals, the Indianapolis
Humane Society was among the wealthiest in the
nation. However, the Indianapolis Humane
Society and animal control department have
resisted most of the approaches that Winograd
recommends to reduce shelter killing. The major
provider of low-cost sterilization service to the
community is the Foundation Against Companion
Animal Euthanasia, begun by emergency room
physician Scott Robinson. Since the FACE clinic
opened in 1998, the Indianapolis rate of shelter
killing per 1,000 human residents has fallen from
28.8 to 16.7.
Winograd is also advising efforts to
lower the shelter killing rate in Philadelphia,
which just over 130 years ago became the first
U.S. city to delegate animal control to a humane
society. The Pennsylvania SPCA returned the
animal control contract to the city in 2002, as
Winograd recommends humane societies should do,
based on the San Francisco model–but the volume
of dog and cat sterilization done in Philadelphia
was nowhere near enough to put the city within
easy range of going no-kill.
Redemption contains a few statistical
hiccups, among them rounding off U.S. shelter
killing to five million when the current figure
is below four million; repeating the oft
repeated false claim that no one really knows the
size of the feral cat population, which can be
estimated in exactly the same manner as deer
populations and is now under 12.5 million at
summer peak; and frequently citing “euthanasia
rates” and “save rates,” which can vary up or
down without in the least reflecting actual
community success in reducing surplus dog and cat
births and shelter killing.
Winograd also repeats the false claim of
pit bull terrier enthusiasts that German
shepherds, Dobermans, and Rott-weilers were all
once feared fighting dogs. None have ever been
used in professional dogfighting, as Rick
Crownover has established through exhaustive
historical research. Neither have either German
shepherds or Dobermans ever figured more often in
dog attack fatalities and maimings than they do
right now–but they were much more feared for
decades, because pit bulls and Rottweilers were
a fraction as numerous as now, and dog attack
fatalities and maimings were almost unheard of in
the U.S. for most of the first 80 years of the
20th century.
The loose ends barely matter. Winograd’s
arguments would be only strengthened by using
better data–and as it stands, Redemption is
probably the most provocative and best-informed
overview of animal sheltering ever written.

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