“No Kill” Bill Returns to Reignite Animal Wars

Richmond’s Tommie during the five-day effort to save him from horrible burns a year ago. The man who burned him said he tried to put the dog in a shelter but was refused.  Photo: The News and Advance.

By Steve Haner

Another attempt to impose the “no-kill” philosophy on Virginia’s animal shelters is pending in the Virginia Senate, sponsored by a rural Republican who is the great champion of that (so-far) failed cause. After a long subcommittee hearing Thursday, his bill was put back in the shelter pen to await its fate for another week.

If you think gun control is the most contentious issue facing legislators year in and year out, sit in sometime on a meeting of any subcommittee dealing with animal bills. Read the emails generated by the passionate advocates, which can be among the nastiest in inboxes. Legislators dread these issues.

For five years I was in the middle of the Animal Wars as the lobbyist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Its world headquarters is in Norfolk and as part of that it runs a regional animal care operation that includes a private shelter with a wide-open admission policy. That means PETA’s licensed shelter has a high euthanasia rate, making it a national and even international hate target for the no-kill movement. 

State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, had a bill to basically prohibit euthanasia at private shelters in 2015, which got me hired by PETA. It took five years to work that through, ending with a new state regulation put in place last year requiring private shelters to have adoption as their purpose, and to take various steps toward that goal, but with no prohibition or numerical limitations on euthanasia.

Having failed in their goal to prohibit the practice or impose a quota that could be slowly reduced toward prohibition, Stanley and the no-kill advocates are back with Senate Bill 304. If a shelter puts down more than half the animals it takes in its care, his bill will take away its ability to obtain the fatal drugs used by its technicians. A veterinarian would have to do any future euthanasia procedures, a major impediment.

But Stanley told his fellow senators they really “need to work toward a 100 percent save rate, that we become a no-kill state.” His principal supporting witness, Debra Griggs of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, said “the goal of my organization is at least a 90% save rate.” The three-member subcommittee they were addressing includes two relatively new Senators, discovering the downside of low seniority.

The deep and abiding divisions the “no-kill” ideology creates among animal rights groups has another consequence: It destroys their chances of passing other bills they can agree on, such as restrictions on tethering dogs outside. This is another case where moderate bills are proposed, but the real goal is to prohibit tethering period.

Here’s the deep dark secret of the no-kill movement. The “no kill” shelters maintain their pristine statistics by (1) refusing to accept animals that are not easy to place (including most cats) and (2) letting sick or injured animals suffer and die by natural causes, since that won’t count as “euthanasia.” On the state report that animal counts as having “died in facility.” Far too often they also knowingly adopt out dangerous animals, who then injure their new humans or other animals in the home.

Was that an element in the story behind the now famous pit bull who was fatally burned by a Richmond man a year ago? Before his trial the accused told  Richmond’s WTVR-6 “he tried to give the dog away to various shelters, but no one would take it in because the dog was deemed too vicious.” He said he killed it after it bit his daughter, which was not the first incident.

There have been other cases where desperate owners were turned away from no-kill shelters and just killed the animals themselves. Of course, Tommie’s case makes another point, because the cruelty continued when he was allowed to suffer from his horrible burns for five days. He had zero chance of recovery and the pain should have been ended quickly. That situation epitomized the flawed ethics of the no-kill movement, which now wants to put the animal on a fundraising license plate. “Died in facility.”

The PETA operation will accept and euthanize such dangerous animals (and get attacked for it). It also accepts unadoptable feral cats, which drive up its euthanasia numbers. It offers compassionate euthanasia for families who cannot afford to pay a vet $300 to $500 for that service to a suffering or aged animal. That alone accounts for about one-third of the animals PETA puts down.

The lobbyist for the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association was there Thursday to oppose Stanley’s bill, again, complaining this time about an anonymous telephone call deriding it for “supporting PETA.” The director of a Danville area shelter, another regular target of Stanley’s derision, said its high euthanasia rate is directly tied to the surrounding no-kill facilities turning away hundreds of animals. A lobbyist for the state association of shelters said she was insulted by Stanley and Griggs’ implication that her members do not seek adoption as the best possible outcome when it is possible. They do.

And most local governments recognize that the burden will fall on them and their budgets if the private operations are forced to go “no-kill” or close. Then the activists will be banging on their doors and calling their local elected leaders with complaints about euthanasia. It was a story I did for the old Roanoke World-News more than forty years ago, about that city’s public shelter.

Stanley’s bill went by for another week with the subcommittee chairman asking him to try to find compromise. The effort will fail. The choice is a simple one, to impose a visionary and flawed philosophy that leads to animals being abandoned, set loose or suffering, or to allow each shelter board to set its own policies on which animals to take and which lawful outcomes are best. No other state has imposed the “no-kill” approach and Virginia should not either.

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14 responses to ““No Kill” Bill Returns to Reignite Animal Wars

  1. Steve – I did not realize you were of that world!

    And I agree with you – reluctantly – and was curious – do you think this is something that taxpayers should pay for or that govt should regulate?

    I know.. it’s a dumb question probably but there are people out there who say they are Conservatives and who take that position – it’s the responsibility of those who have the animals and imposing those costs on others is taking money from the ones that are responsible to pay for problems created by the irresponsible.

    I wonder almost every day , how long it took for some poor critter to die after being hit by a car… including dogs and cats.. but raccoons, possums, skunks and deer also.

    If you do believe this is the responsibility of govt then it becomes a policy issue of what to do or not to do and my county, Spotsylvania is real big on adoptions …not sure about euthanasia.

    I LIKE this place – gets my Amazon Smile points:

  2. Thank, Steve, for this post. It shows the painful truth underlying an emotional issue. It is also a perfect example of how an issue is not as simple as it might seem on its face.

  3. Interesting controversy. I have to say, my initial reaction upon hearing (a couple of years ago) that PETA euthanized so many animals was, “What a bunch of hypocrites!” I expect that’s the same visceral reaction that many people have. But you make a powerful case that PETA is actually dealing with the fallout from no-kill policies at other shelters.

    I confess, it never occurred to me that there are issues relating to feral animals and unadoptable animals, or that no-kill shelters just let animals “die naturally” — and suffer in the process. It is the nature of existence in an indifferent universe: Sometimes there are no easy answers. No two cases are identical, and applying blanket remedies to all is no assurance of compassion.

  4. I and my family extended members have adopted animals from rescues, shelters, SPCA’s, etc. The fact remains animal cruelty will skyrocket if you don’t allow euthanasia. I think those who want this should have to witness what goes on when you don’t have it. Physically be there. Suffer. It saddens me to say it but there simply needs to be a way for people to get a true understanding of what that means. As for “It offers compassionate euthanasia for families who cannot afford to pay a vet $300 to $500 for that service to a suffering or aged animal. That alone accounts for about one-third of the animals PETA puts down.” I’ve never had to pay for that any animal. I don’t know any one who has. There is such a thing as Care Credit. There is also such a thing as if you can afford cable TV, a cell phone, etc. then you can afford that. Sorry but I’ve heard that message before, and while there are those who do have a claim on the money deal, once you look at their finances, it can fall apart pretty quickly.

  5. Any clue why Sen Stanley has such a strong feeling against euthanasia of animals that he would try to forbid it, with such predicable results as higher rejection of less-adoptable animals at the front door and painful “died in facility” stats?

    • I don’t think that view is that unusual. Many shelters up my way use the phrase “no kill” in their names. and emphasize “adopt” and “spay and neuter”

      And it’s not just dogs and cats.

      Rikki’s Refuge in Orange County, Virginia, is a 450-acre, no-kill, all species peaceful sanctuary supported solely by donations of kind and loving individuals. The refuge is home to almost 1300 animals of over 22 different species, including but not limited to cats, dogs, sheep, goats, rabbits, pigs, emus, cows, chickens, ducks, geese, a chukar, peacocks, and more. It is owned and operated by Life Unlimited of Virginia, Inc. an approved not-for profit Virginia Corporation and IRS tax code 501(c)(3) corporation as determined by the IRS.

      What Rikkis Refuge says it does is not kill. But with that many animals, I suspect it’s tough to maintain. They are always asking for donations for food and volunteers for their critters.

      The have a fair number of livestock from goats to horses, pigs, cows, etc.

      Rikkis may be not a typical example, but it proves that if there is committed people that it can work but the conveyor belt of abused, abandoned and unwanted animals just keeps on.

      Like a lot of “government problems” – the root of it is irresponsible people and behaviors. that cause other folks to pay taxes to fix but taxes alone can’t fix it because people can’t agree on the “fix”.

      I suspect something along these lines is also involved in the abortion issue and no, no equating the two – just the sentiment about “killling” – it runs deep.

  6. Mr. Haner’s logical argument against the bill is very persuasive. Is there any NON-emotional argument FOR the bill?

  7. From what I have read, PETA has a long history of seeking out then euthanizing feral cats that could have otherwise been “trapped and released” (TNR). PETA claims TNR is not in a cat’s “best interest,” and seemingly uses the potential for future cat suffering as justification for immediate euthanasia. Other shelters decline to take in feral cats because it’s not necessary. Instead, those shelters leave the cats be, or refer citizens to a TNR rescue, which can alter, vaccinate, release, and feed the cat (not kill it.)

    Back to the bill: I find this bill problematic. As Steve mentions, it’s a non-funded mandate for shelters lacking space (although some of the space could undoubtedly be freed up with TNR.) Second, it takes medical decision making away from veterinarians.

    I suggest a better option is to better fund TNR and rescue organizations. The research suggests that targeted TNR is very effective for reducing feral populations over time. If PETA is the real policy target, perhaps put the commonwealth’s attorney on it.

  8. feral animals are a problem even if spayed and neutered. Not only cats but goats, horses, dogs, hogs, etc.

    Feral Pig Eradication Begins on Santa Cruz Island

    A Plague of Pigs in Texas
    Now numbering in the millions, these shockingly destructive and invasive wild hogs wreak havoc across the southern United States

    here’s PETAs position on feral cats:

    https://www.peta.org/issues/animal-companion-issues/overpopulation/feral-cats/

    It is estimated that between 60 and 100 million homeless cats live in the U.S. Since feral cats, like those who share our homes with us, are domesticated, they depend on humans to feed, water, and shelter them and to keep them safe from harm.

    Feral cats live short, hard lives on the streets. They never die of “old age.” Contagious diseases such as herpes viral conjunctivitis, feline AIDS, leukemia, and infectious peritonitis are common in cats left outdoors. Even easily treatable conditions can become deadly for cats who are not seen by veterinarians and are not routinely handled and examined.

    Minor cuts or puncture wounds can turn into raging infections and abscesses.

    Rikki’s Refuge that I’ve mentioned before – has between 500-600 cats at their nokill refuge. Just imagine the food and vet bills for that many animals.

    If the cities and counties could each establish regional shelters the size of Rikki’s Refuge (400 acres) – then it might be possible to turn them lose but keep them fed and cared for rather than keep in cages or turn lose on the streets.

    In the end – it boils down to how we feel about the welfare of the animal.

    I don’t think letting them run loose is responsible myself. Like PETA says, they will live hard and short lives and likely die in horrible ways.

  9. I agree with your analysis, Mr. Haner. Forcing a “100% no kill” policy on every animal shelter in Virginia sounds like an excellent way to drive up the costs of running shelters and to potentially “incentivize” animal cruelty.

    I hope this bill fails.

  10. re: ” an excellent way to drive up the costs of running shelters and to potentially “incentivize” animal cruelty.”

    yep, but who should pay to fund? everyone?

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