I’m not a bleeding heart type. Most people would consider me an asshole. I speak my mind, call it like I see it with no regard for PC pleasantries, and I make an effort to clean my own house before I bitch about the filth of others; that is often mistaken as arrogance, condescension, and projecting vibes of superiority. So be it.
I don’t generally share my feelings outside of my inner circle, and I find strangers and acquaintances gushing their personal feelings and business to me about as tasteful, appropriate, and interesting as them sharing their farts.
That being said, Nathan Winograd‘s Redemption has my eyes watering, my head spinning, and my stomach in knots. What a horrible disillusionment it is to find out that large and powerful organizations with names that include “Humane” and “Prevention of Cruelty” are for the most part apathetic and defeatist butchers who do little more than lecture and kill and cash checks.
Now, I realize that my disgust is just about as relevant as a bystander to a crime, hamming it up for the news cameras… when the witness is neither the victim nor the perpetrator. But this is my soap box, and as I disclosed in my first post, it goes with the territory. My interest is not all academic, though, but I don’t feel like telling a personal story right at the moment.
I was going to type of a few passages from Redemption that I wanted to share and ended up retyping almost everything. This is a book you need to read even if you’ve never been to a shelter. The book opens with the history of the animal welfare movement and documents where it all went wrong. The first two chapters alone are worth the price of admission, and here are just a few of the choice bits:
New York City offered Bergh’s ASPCA money to run the dog pound… Henry Bergh [Founder of the ASPCA] refused.
He believed that the ASPCA was a tool to champion and protect life, not to end it. He believed that its role to protect animals from people was fundamentally at odds with that of a pound. Bergh understood implicitly that animal welfare and animal control were two separate and distinct movements, each opposing the other on fundamental issues of life and death.
- Redemption, p.11
Each SPCA and humane society was a unique entity with its own funding, leadership, staff, set of rules, policies, and governing structure. In other words, no SPCA was (nor to this day is) affiliated with or gets funding from any other SPCA or humane society.
Following his death–and contrary to Bergh’s wishes–the ASPCA capitulated and accepted a contract from New York City to run the dog pound. It was a tragic mistake. In little more than a decade, animal sheltering became the ASPCA’s primary role. By 1910, the ASPCA was doing little more than impounding dogs and cats on behalf of the city, with all but a small percentage put to death. Other SPCAs around the nation fell in line. The guaranteed source of income provided by contracts helped sway many SPCAs and humane societies to abandon their traditional platforms for advocacy and cruelty prosecutions in favor of administering dog control for cities and counties.
Within a decade or two, most mainstream humane societies and SPCAs did little more than kill dogs and cats.
From the ASPCA in New York City to humane societies throughout California, the twentieth century saw killing become the centerpiece of shelter strategy. It is the paradigm we live with to this very day. And while many of these organizations became very large and influential, they also became bureaucratic, with none of the zeal for reform that characterized the movement’s early founders.
Historically, SPCAs made the tragic mistake of moving from compassionate oversight of animal control agancies to operating the majority of kill shelters. The consequences in terms of resource allocation and sacrificing a coherent moral foundation have been devastating.
- Ed Duvin, Redemption, p.15
It makes me feel disgusting that this is where we are in America today. That we’ve institutionalized killings for all the wrong reasons. And reasons matter. I’m no “lifer” who thinks that anything that moves is sacred and thus holy and untouchable. I believe in many forms of justifiable killing. I’m all for the death penalty for criminals, and I feel that War is not only the natural extension of politics, but that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Some people “need killing.”
If you eat meat or hunt, you practice justifiable killing. If you are pro-Choice, you practice justifiable killing. If you wash your hands with soap, turn on a bug lamp, use paper products, take antibiotics, step on a spider or use a wasp spray, you practice justifiable killing.
We all draw our line in the sand at a different spot, but I think all of us do so based on the belief that some killings are justified and others are not.
After reading a score of pages in Winograd’s book, I can’t help but think that few of the 130,000,000 dogs and cats that have been killed in our shelter system since I’ve been on this planet are justified.
What a way to start the week.
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