Being the change

We are still reeling from the trouncing we took in the New York Assembly Agriculture Committee over Oreo’s Law.  Now we’re watching Nathan Winograd and the No Kill Advocacy Center take Best Friends Animal Society to task over Best Friend’s “neutrality” (read lack of support) for the bill, and Best Friends’ subsequent trashing of Nathan over it.

trudouroreoPets Alive has been part of Oreo’s Law since the beginning.  As you recall it was us who asked the ASPCA of New York to give us Oreo instead of killing her, and it was the ASPCA and its President Ed Sayres who killed her instead.  We have been intimately involved with this process, and we have first hand, behind-the-scenes knowledge of what has transpired.  Kerry and/or I have been on many phone calls and in many meetings.  Assembly Member Micah Kellner, who with his legislative aide Ilyana worked tirelessly to write Oreo’s Law and try to get it passed, was honored at our Hudson Valley Fur Ball.  He sat at my table and we had a great conversation.  We regret that we weren’t more personally active in helping to get this law passed, but you can be absolutely certain that come January when we try again we will be much more involved.  Hopefully at that time the Agriculture Committee will have a new chairman.

I’d like to offer our own insights that we gained from this entire process.  We commend Nathan Winograd for working tirelessly to get Oreo’s Law passed.  I’ve read the comments about Nathan — about people who “scorn” him but respect his ideas.  I’ve been involved in politics since I was 18 and heard the same crap.  “Matt, I like what you’re saying but you need to say it a different way.  You need to be more civil.  You need to say it this way or that way.”  Sometimes the only way to get your ideas across when the deck is stacked against you is through confrontation, which rubs some people the wrong way.  Shrug.   Nathan is both a leader and an asset to the no-kill movement.  He has vision and passion, is a brilliant writer, and retains the moral clarity that I think has left organizations like the ASPCA and seems to be circling the drain at Best Friends. Pets Alive and Matt DeAngelis are siding with Nathan Winograd over Best Friends?  On this particular issue, as with any issue we confront, we side with the animals.  In this case Nathan is on that side and Best Friends is not.

Before I get rolling I would hope that you look at this through the same lens that I do.  After 35 years we came up with a mission statement for Pets Alive: Our mission is to improve the lives of companion animals everywhere by any means possible, including rescue, adoption, advocacy, collaboration, intervention and education.

Very simple.  At least I thought it was.  Let’s apply that to Oreo’s Law.  There are no reliable statistics on the number of animals killed in New York each year.  I took the California statistics and matched them to the population of New York.  My WAG answer (Wild-@ss-Guess) is five hundred thousand.  So let’s cut that in half.  Let’s say two hundred fifty thousand animals are killed in shelters in New York every year.

kerrypatWe have Hayden’s Law to show us how many additional animals were saved in the first few years of the law’s passage.  Oreo’s Law in New York is Hayden’s Law in California, and gives us an opportunity to see the results of the law.  I used a very, very conservative 10% number as the number of additional animals that would be saved by Oreo’s Law.  So that means that my estimate is 25,000 animals will be saved by Oreo’s Law.

That is roughly the population of people of Middletown, NY.  Those of you who are in this area think about that for a moment…replace the entire population of Middletown, NY with dogs, cats, horses, goats, lizards, guinea pigs and any other animals you can think of.  Every single person.  That’s how many animals are killed each year in New York because there is no Oreo’s Law.

For our friends at Pets Alive Westchester, picture the entire population of Elmsford, Ardsley, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow the same way.

Why wouldn’t any animal welfare organization jump at the chance to save that many animals at one time?  Why would any so-called animal welfare organization make the law necessary in the first place?  But they did.  The king of animal welfare.  The original animal welfare organization in the US, the ASPCA, wielded the sword that killed this bill.  But there were other organizations and people, including Best Friends, that need to accept responsibility for its death.

One of the reasons I admire Nathan in this fight is that he worked hard (with Micah Kellner) to broker a deal that would make everyone happy.  He was told that the ASPCA was offended by the name Oreo’s Law because it embarassed the ASPCA.  He and Micah Kellner offered to change the name if the ASPCA would support it.  Nathan offered to disappear and shut his mouth if the ASPCA and the rest of their alliance supported the bill.   That gesture is the essence of Nathan Winograd — while he wears his personal opinions on his sleeve he never, ever forgets what is most important here, even if everyone else has.

I think No-Kill comes out of no particular philosophy. It comes out of using common sense. No-Kill really emerges when people have direct contact with an animal. It’s kind of a bottom up grassroots movement because it stems from people who are involved in rescue and can connect with the animal on a very personal basis and understands that this animal has intrinsic value. This animal has desires and makes choices and he/she has a life that cannot be minimised – that’s the basis of it.

Well said Nathan.

bftruckWait a minute…that was not a quote from Nathan.  It was actually a quote from Francis Battista, one of the founders of Best Friends.  What is the “value” of 25,000 of those lives?

Look…we owe our existence to Best Friends.  As do many other organizations I imagine.   We have been struggling with our feelings of disbelief and betrayal and disappointment over their role in all this, unsure of how to address it.  I was standing in line at the bookstore yesterday and I looked up to see the famous Ghandi quote:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

And I suddenly understood.  For us to remain silent in this means that we are doing exactly what Best Friends did…not pointing out to someone on our side that they are on the wrong side of this.  I guess where the wheels fall off the bus for me is that instead of admitting they screwed up and played politics with the lives of 25,000 animals, Best Friends decided to spin this and villify Nathan Winograd, one of their longtime supporters.

Looking over the debate on Facebook, they’re not really fooling anyone.  As far as Nathan is concerned (and I have to say I agree with him), the no-kill debate is very simple: either you are for killing animals or you are against killing animals.  On this issue it appears that Best Friends condones (or refuses to not condone) the killing of an entire city’s worth of animals.  They can spin it any way they want, but that’s the bottom line, as much as it hurts to say it and think it.

Best Friends apologists…save it.  You’re wrong in this case.  Yes, Best Friends has done much for the no-kill movement and until recently has been one of the leaders.  I don’t want to hear the spin.  Yes, Nathan Winograd personally doesn’t much care for Ed Sayres.  Neither do I.  That has nothing to do with right and wrong here.

Either you believe killing Oreo was wrong or you don’t.  I was told by Best Friends that they thought it was wrong to kill Oreo.  Early in this whole thing they asked why they hadn’t been contacted, just as we did.  That seems to have been lost in the ensuing support for the ASPCA.  And yes, I’m sorry, but the ASPCA opposed this bill.  They sent lobbyists (lawyers) to Albany who misrepresented the law and its intended results.  How do I know that?  I was privy to a conversation between a staff member of the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and one of our supporters.  I offered several times to set the woman straight but she had no interest in hearing the truth, nor did she apparently have an interest in reading the bill.  “Why would the ASPCA not be on the side of the animals?

And here’s where the Best Friends train hits the brick wall.

If you’re going to lead, you can’t be neutral when it comes to change.  As Ghandi said, you need to be the change you want in the world. The change Best Friends has been telling us it wants to be is the phrase they trademarked — No More Homeless Pets.  They weren’t the change in this case.  Best Friends supporters (including me) write them checks with the idea that they will always be on the side of the animals, even if it costs them money or they have to take an uncomfortable position against someone they like and respect, like they forced me to.

mattpupsThey failed in this case, and their supporters are taking them to task for it, as they should.

And they are not neutral.  It is clear by their Facebook post that they are against Oreo’s Law.  And that’s the wrong side of this.  Rescue people I know and Best Friends supporters know that we are close to the Best Friends organization and are asking us why they abandoned us and the animals in New York.  I have no answer to that.  The excuses for not supporting the bill (some rescues aren’t federally recognized charities so wouldn’t be able to get animals under Oreo’s Law) are frankly, insulting to our intelligence.

So…Francis Battista, Greg and Julie Castle, and the rest of the Best Friends senior management…what do you plan to do in January when Oreo’s Law comes up again?  10,000 emails were sent to the agriculture committee in the week before Oreo’s Law was tabled.  They were ignored.  Your own supporters asked you to take a stand.  They were ignored.  We begged you to help us.  We were ignored.

Either you are going to be the change or you are going to be just another large “welfare” organization that only cares about raising money.  The choice is yours.  We need your support and will be asking for it again later in the year.  No more private conversations or kowtowing to Ed Sayres and the ASPCA.  Either you are with us or you are not.  And we all need to make that known to the rescue community and our supporters.

Ghandi also said that A man is but the product of his thoughts.  What he thinks, he becomes.

What is Best Friends thinking, and what is Best Friends becoming?

Filed in No-kill by Admnistrator on Jun 27, 2010.  There are 30 Comments

30 Responses to “Being the change”

  1. Rose Travers Says:

    Matt, another excellent blog. BFAS says “Ultimately we believe it made no difference, with regard to its passage, whether or not we supported the bill.” How sad and ultimately frightening that they refuse to take responsibility for their part in the deaths they wouldn’t speak out against.

  2. Tweets that mention Pets Alive Blog » Being the change -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pets Alive, Pets Alive and Cristina Seiça, Nathan Winograd. Nathan Winograd said: Whose side is Pets Alive on regarding Best Friends' handling of Oreo's Law? The animals: […]

  3. Amber Says:

    That was a beautiful, well written, unemotional and well-reasoned summary. We will be with you in January. Hopefully Best Friends will be as well. They have lost their way.

  4. Mary Says:

    Matt, this just sums it all up for me. Thank you SO much for staying true to what is important and what matters: saving the animals.

  5. Sue Little Says:

    You stated the case very well! For those who accuse us of being divisive, this was not some minor issue, but crucial legislation that could have saved so many, many lives so thank you for pointing that out.

    As one of the people that sent emails to the NY Legislature for the web site you created, I just wanted to commend you for how easy it was to do and how I wish they were all like that!

    Yes, we will be with you in January. Thanks for speaking out!

  6. Bob Pomilla Says:

    It seems, in this instance, that Best Friends showed less concern for the future of homeless animals, than they did for the sensitivities of Ed Sayres and Jane Hoffman. Any “mud-slinging” directed at Sayres or Hoffman, was well-earned, by their self-serving and heartless opposition to “Oreo’s Law”.

  7. Bob Pomilla Says:

    One more comment, if I may.

    How deceitful and disingenuous it is, for Best Friends to make this statement in regards to Sayres’ and Hoffman’s opposition to “Oreo’s Law”:

    “It is completely unreasonable to attack an individual or an organization relentlessly, and then expect them to support your efforts.”

    Talk about putting the horse before the cart! Sayres and Hoffman were only attacked, as re “Oreo’s Law”, AFTER they had stated their intention to kill the bill.

    And what does personal animus have to do with the worthiness of a goal? Either “Oreo’s Law” was worth supporting on it’s merits, or it wasn’t. To oppose “Oreo’s Law” because you had personal issues with some of it’s supporters, is infantile.

  8. Olivia Says:

    Dittos to Rose, Amber, Mary, Sue, Bob.

    Anyone who is willing to defend animals’ right to life even if it means publicly denouncing a former friend truly understands what it means to put loyalty to principle over loyalty to politics, persons and past acts of kindness.

    I truly hope Best Friends’ management will search its collective soul, repent of (rethink) the wrong turn it has made, and return to the straight and narrow path of unselfed love for ALL the animals. It’s a path strewn with naysayers and persecutors, as Pets Alive has discovered, but it’s the only way to true goodness and greatness.

  9. Cassie Says:

    Getting animals out of shelters into rescue groups is a wonderful thing, IMO. In fact I worked very hard to do that at the shelter where I previously worked. For the safety of the animals, we checked out each rescue as thoroughly as possible, including speaking to vets that work with the rescue. Handing them out to anyone with a 501(c)3 (or for that matter anyone who knows someone with a 501(c)3) is not the way to do this.

    The papers are filled with examples of hoarders and rescues that meant well to start, but have gotten in over their heads and turned into living nightmares for the animals. It does no good to “save” the animal, only to have them live a miserable existence or end up in the horder’s freezer instead of the shelters. Perhaps if the law were rewritten so that “good”, responsible rescues, regardless of their tax status, were able to pull the animals rather than giving them to anyone who asks and hoping they’ll be OK, more people could get behind the law and support it.

  10. No Kill Houston Says:

    Excellent article. I was totally stunned when I read Winograd’s blog. I’ve been a big fan of Best Friends for some time; I donated, I get their emails, I advertised in their magazine; I went to their conference and I’m part of their “network”. I had heard nothing from them in support of Oreo’s law and I certainly didn’t know they were attempting to get others to withdraw their support. This really is a sad day when yet another “humane” organization succumbs to the lure of the almighty dollar.

    Luckily, the internet is a fantastic way to educate people about the organizations that they have been supporting, so they can decide if they want to continue that support. Personally, right now, I do not. I can only hope that Best Friends makes wiser and more compassionate choices in the future (and that they stop bashing Winograd and blaming him for their own mistakes).

  11. Admnistrator Says:

    Hi Folks,

    Matt here. First off, we’re not advocating turning our backs on Best Friends. They have made a mistake. I’m all for giving them a chance for Redemption (a little Nathan Winograd humor there). I will never forget walking down the driveway at Pets Alive with Paul Berry, then President of Best Friends. He spoke passionately about “the movement,” and how Best Friends could make a huge difference. I think Best Friends is having an identity crisis, and is making the mistake of wanting to be more like the ASPCA when the ASPCA needs to be more like (the old) Best Friends.

    We in the movement are a family, after all, and families have disagreements and make mistakes. I have three brothers, and once in a while two of us had to go out behind the house and beat the living crap out of each other to get things right again. But we are still brothers and would still do anything for each other. Let’s keep that in mind.

    Best Friends…all we want is your pledge to help us get Oreo’s Law passed. That’s all we’ve ever wanted. We need your help and we need you to lead. The money will come when people SEE you taking a lead, though I wish every day I had a $30 million a year budget.

    And a note to Cassie…the Hoarder argument was made in California and it didn’t turn out to be an issue in any way. It seems that hoarders can get animals without Oreo’s Law, and won’t go through the trouble. That’s also a variation on the “better off dead” argument, which we don’t subscribe to.

    If you look at the FAQ as listed below, your concerns are covered:

    Thanks everyone for caring. As always, we need to do this ourselves to make sure it gets done right.

    And to the folks at No-Kill Houston – I look at your stuff and you guys are doing a terrific job! Keep up the great work. There are so many of us out there, working hard in our particular area, making a difference, saving lives and getting things done without the need for recognition. The money always comes when you do the right thing, which is something that I have found to be true my entire life. There is no moral relativism here…no life is worth more or less than any other life, and certainly no life should be traded for money.


  12. Cassie Says:

    I’m not talking about the “crazy cat lady down the street” hoarder or dog fighters, I’m talking about legitimate rescue groups that get over their heads and pull more than they can handle or reasonably care for. I seem to recall that Pets Alive was in what could be called a similar situation about the time of Sara’s death, and I’m assuming many of those animals were pulled from shelters.

    Rescue groups pull under other’s 501(c)3 numbers all the time, I’ve seen in many times when dogs were pulled from Georgia shelters and other shelters down south. So by saying that the group has to be 501(c)3 means absolutely nothing, because they could be pulling for 20 other rescue groups, some good, some bad. And I’m sorry, but Nathan Winograd is not an unbiased source as to whether the law is working in CA or not.

    Creating a network of rescue groups that have been inspected and approved would be much more beneficial to the animals than handing them out to whoever wants them and hoping for the best. There are many good rescues out there, but also many bad ones. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen too much bad to live in a dreamworld fantasy.

    As to the “better off dead” argument, if you think slowly starving to death or dying of untreated illnesses is better than euthanization, I don’t even know what to say to that.

    I’m not saying the general law is a bad thing, it just doesn’t go far enough to protect the animals your trying to save and rather than bashing everyone that didn’t support you, it might be more constructive to look at ways to improve the law and gain more support.

  13. Amber Says:

    Cassie, could you point us towards ANY major figure in animal welfare who wants to repeal the CA law? Anyone? At all? Even Ed Sayers was in favor of passing it.

  14. Cassie Says:

    I’m not saying it should be repealed, and the CA law has many other important provisions like increased holding time of animals, etc. that are very important. What I’m saying is why not improve the law to protect the animals since you have the chance, especially if that’s what it takes to get support and get it passed, rather than bash other groups who apparently did not agree with the bill as written. All this name calling and finger-pointing does not benefit the animals, who are supposed to be our main concern.

  15. kerry Says:

    Cassie – so if that is what New York wants then they should organize and pass a bill to support it. In the meantime do you think that if 25,000 animals were to be saved this year alone by Oreo’s Law and say – 1% wound up in less than great places – that is 250. So the other 24,750 dogs or cats should die because SOME – SOME – might – MIGHT – wind up in less than wonderful places? C’mon. Think about what you’re saying. You can still pass this bill and then start another one that will help even that 250. But you still have over 24,000 that are safe and in homes INSTEAD OF DEAD.

  16. kerry Says:

    I’d also like to add that there is no such law now. ANY rescue or shelter or any person or 501(c)3 can pull dogs from rescue friendly shelters. So why be concerned about it with shelters that WON’T work with us but you’ve never brought this up before with all the ones that WILL work with us?? This argument doesn’t fly.

  17. Brie Says:

    Thank you for writing this, Matt. The whole situation has made me feel physically ill. I have supported Best Friends for years. Learning about the organization changed my life, quite literally. I am an ardent supporter of Nathan Winograd and while I am forever defending the name of a man I have never met, I believe his way is the way that works. Put your personal opinions about the messenger aside, people, and listen to the message. I was perplexed when I was told by a contact of mine at Best Friends some time back that they planned to remain neutral on Oreo’s law (which apparently is not quite how it went down). How can that be? It makes no sense to me. I genuinely hope that when this legislation comes up again, Best Friends will be there to support it in some way. Concessions were made to modify the bill language and I fail to see how the legislation would do anything but save lives. I rely on Best Friends to be the gem among rocks in the animal welfare movement and to walk the walk with my donations and those of thousands of loyal supporters. Don’t tell me about your campaigns and say you’re about life saving. Show me by taking a stand even when it is uncomfortable to do so.

  18. Erich Riesenberg Says:

    Thank you for this. It is so confusing to people who care about pets but do not spend a lot of time on these issues. We count on people we trust to educate us. Truth exists.

  19. Michael Says:

    Wow i am stunned after reading Nathan Winograd blog about what is going on with Best Friends. I respect everything Best Friends has done for animals up until the point where they were going behind the scenes sneakingly to kill oreo’s Law. What a shame.I need to go now to make a call to Best Friends.

  20. Michael Says:

    I called Best Friends, was transferred to Jonah and left voicemail for a call back. If you can also please call to see what is going on here even though we already know what is going on. This way Best Friends will see supporters, or once supporters, are not going to sit back and be okay with Best Friends opposing oreo’s law. Thank you. Their number is 435-644-2001 or maybe you can email instead. Email is

    Thank you again everyone.

  21. Cassie Says:

    But now the rescue friendly shelter has the option to say no to any rescue. Under this law the shelter would be required to give the animal to the “bad” rescue if they can’t find a “good” rescue to take it. Or they would be forced to keep euthanizing animals that no rescue has requested in order to make cage space to keep the animal away from the “bad” rescue. Why not just put something in place to weed out the “bad” rescues from the beginning. Especially if it would mean that more people would be able to get behind the bill. There’s absolutely no reason you couldn’t make that amendment to Oreo’s law to try and protect all the animals.

    In my experience, it’s very hard to even find a rescue that has space to get an animal into. Our animals were healthy, spayed/neutered, microchipped, heartworm tested, vaccinated, free, with transportation to the rescue provided by the shelter and it took hours of work and a lot of effort to find rescue for even one dog. Most rescues would never even reply to my requests, and most of those that did were full or had weeks or months long waiting lists. Pure-bred dogs had a shot, mixed breed dogs and cats were nearly impossible to find someone to take. No rescues were pounding down our door offering to help, I’m not sure where you’re expecting to find rescues that have the resources to save an additional 25,000 animals a year, I sure couldn’t find them.

    If you do have these resources to save 25,000 more animals, why not work on programs to have people surrender their pets directly to the rescue groups, keep them out of the shelter system entirely. Not to mention it would save you a fortune in medical bills. Programs like this: would work wonders while the supposed adults in this drama grow up and learn to compromise and work together for the sake of the animals.

  22. Michael Says:

    I got the call back from Judah from Best Friends. Before I go into that I would like to say what I told Judah: Let’s ALL get together, the big animal “welfare” organizations to the smaller ones and come up with a law that everyone can all agree on that is beneficial for the ones we all are here fighting for–the animals who through no fault of their own are the complete victims in all of this. Of course Judah says “yes of course” and he will be sending me an email next year about this bill showing where Best Friends stands at that time.

    I still encourage others even a few more people to call or email and express your concerns so they know people who care will now just stand back and be voiceless. After all, the true voiceless victims here are the cats,dogs,rabbits being killed when there are responsible alternatives. Just like I told Judah: If anyone doubts even for a second that these alternatives wont work don’t the animals have that right to see that we at least tried for them? He couldn’t answer my question.

  23. Michael Says:

    Giving an animal to a rescue group is not and was not the only thing about Oreo’s Law.Sure it was one of the many improvements that are needed but in no way was it the sole improvement. Besides the shelter themselves had the final say to what rescue group to give the animal to. There is no EXCUSES.

    More can be read at YesOnOreosLaw and Nathan Winograd blog. Thanks to all the cool people who take the time out of their busy days to think more about others than just themselves. Really thanks.

    Michael Pearson

  24. Michael Says:

    Okay my typing mistake from my comment number 22 written on June 29th at 3:27. I meant to write: express your concerns so they know people who care will NOT,*the operative word is NOT*,just stand back and be voiceless.

    *just had to correct this*

  25. Michael Says:

    I tried the link from your comment number 22 but it didn’t allow me to see the video. What Puppy Promises advocates sounds like something that could be included in what Nathan Winograd advocates in his books. Maybe you can write him an email about this through No Kill Advocacy Center? I’ve gotten in touch with him through that.

  26. Michael Says:

    Sorry. Again I typed the wrong comment number. Meant to write your comment 21. The link to watch that video from Puppy Promises is broken I guess.

  27. Pets Alive Blog » Kerry’s Update – July 4th 2010 Says:

    […] Being the change, & what we have accomplished in Paying it Forward. […]

  28. The Value of an Animals life | Best of Friends, Worst of Friends Says:

    […] Being the Change […]

  29. Viktor Larkhill Says:

    Principles only mean something when you stick to them when is inconvenient.
    Congratulations for having maintained moral clarity at a time when others would have rushed home to watch the storm pass.
    Viktor Larkhill
    Let’s Adopt!

  30. GP Says:

    It strikes me that the missing link in this conundrum is the weakness of rescue groups led by people with more compassion than cash and common sense.

    We’ve all felt it, the yearning to take save “just one more” when those sad eyes look at you through the bars. The “bad” rescues who end up overwhelmed are only guilty of not having enough self-control to know their limits (and not fundraising enough!). Surely, the vast majority of them had good intentions at the time.

    I feel we, as a movement, need to focus more on strengthening individual rescue groups, building their fundraising and business management skills, leveraging current volunteers more fully, tapping into untraditional business-savvy experts sympathetic with the cause, paying the “unpaid full-time staff” to avoid burnout, and aggregating the weaker rescues into larger regional groups that can withstand more variability and can rebalance their occupancy needs internally. Not everyone who starts a rescue is capable of keeping it running, but there are very few resources for them to turn to when things get rough. Right now, most simply fade away, losing a lot of intellectual capital and experience along the way…

    Until we can get the majority of rescue groups to maintain significant excess capacity (10%+ vacancy or more?), changing the laws won’t have much of an effect, and all this inter-movement bickering is a total waste of energy that serves only to divide supporters and unite opponents, IMHO.

    This animosity is sadly common in all non-profit advocacy sectors; the larger, well funded “get it done at all costs” groups soon tire of being “held back” by trying to work with underfunded, “empty promises” groups that come and go; the small “worthy” groups just “know” they could “make such better use” of resources than the big, wasteful “moneybucks” groups; we all start fighting amongst ourselves on the same side of the table; and everyone eventually forgets why we all got involved with a cause in the first place.

    We currently do NOT have the capacity in the rescue groups/networks to absorb the 3 MILLION animals we claim are needlessly dying each year…

    I know there’s a lot of good work and grants happening with regard to no-kill on the community or county level… Is anyone focused on or funding these broader systemic support and capacity building issues?

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