It was only a month ago: February 2010. Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. The dog—a white pit bull with a black patch around her left eye—had been whining and barking and crying for days. Hungry, confused, hungry, tired, hungry. She would sit on the third-floor fire escape whining and then jump back into the open window of the abandoned house. She repeated this routine for hours, day after day, for at least a week.
A single question resonated repeatedly from the inside of her being: Why? Why was she left here? Why was there no food? Why was everything so scary? Why wouldn’t anyone come to help her? WHY?
No one seemed to hear her cries. Finally, the continuous distressed barking and whining found the compassionate ear of a woman who lived in the building next door. The woman, Sam, started making phone calls searching for help for the dog, climbed down her own fire escape to throw food to the starving prisoner of the abandoned house, and worried about the dog’s future. Eventually she called Empty Cages Collective (ECC) and Brooklyn Animal Foster Network (BAFN), as well as other organizations. BAFN volunteers rushed into action to access the abandoned building, gaining entry to the vacant apartment via the fire escape. BAFN rescued the dog and ferried her to safety and care in the form of food, veterinary treatment and temporary boarding. Then the work to find the dog (now named Valentine) a good, loving, permanent home began.
When an animal rescuer asked Sam why she didn’t call for help sooner, she said she had tried but kept coming up with dead ends. Sam had been truly struggling with what to do for the young dog before BAFN intervened. Her quandary is one shared by many people concerned with stray, abused and homeless animals throughout the state of New York (and in fact, the nation). Sam didn’t want to see the starving, abandoned dog “rescued” only to end up killed in a shelter that adheres to antiquated and unethical policies or attitudes that dictate killing for space, (treatable) health conditions and “behavioral problems” determined through archaic temperament testing. Sam had heard that many pit and pit bull mixes end up being killed at NYC Animal Care & Control, which they do. Even the ASPCA—an organization that, in recent years, stopped killing most healthy and treatable animals in its shelter—was known to kill pits rescued from abusive situations (e.g., Max, Oreo). Sam didn’t want to send Valentine—already a victim of human cruelty and callousness—to be further victimized by being unnecessarily killed. No thinking, compassionate person could blame her.
Early the next morning, an Empty Cages Collective volunteer was shaken awake by the vibrating ringing of his cell phone. Barbara, the caller, was someone whose feral cat colony in Canarsie, Brooklyn, ECC had helped trap, sterilize and return. She was calling because someone had abandoned a small brown tabby kitten on her porch the night before, leaving nothing more than a box of food. The kitten was confused, terrified, and freezing! There was already several inches of snow on the ground, and more snow was coming. When ECC realized that the kitten had been left outside overnight and was found shaking uncontrollably at daybreak, we knew we had to help. ECC immediately agreed to accept the kitten (now known as Julio) into our adoption program. When asked why she didn’t rescue the cat sooner, Barbara’s reply was similar to Sam’s. Barbara didn’t want to take Julio to Brooklyn’s Animal Care & Control, where he could be unnecessarily killed instead of being merely frightened and cold. “What would be the point of rescuing him just to turn him over to a place that would kill him?” Barbara asked. (Luckily for Julio, it only took about a week post-rescue for ECC to find him a terrific home!)
Much like Valentine the dog, Julio the kitten awaited rescue, suffering simply because the institutions in place to care for companion animals in crisis utilize killing as a method of problem-solving—a method that many members of the general public will not accept. The point is simple and yet profound: the public leaves animals in egregiously cruel, neglectful or unacceptable situations rather than bring those animals to shelters who kill healthy or treatable animals and show no active intention to stop. Animals stay in abusive situations because the institutions that are designed to help and protect them kill them instead. This ethical inconsistency has forced the public to remain hands off, refraining from reporting cruelty and neglect situations lest they aid and abet the killing of adoptable animals.
Oreo’s Law (A. 9449/S. 6412), is New York State legislation proposed by Assemblyman Micah Kellner and State Senator Thomas Duane that has the potential to save the lives of countless puppies and kittens, dogs and cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other companion animals who find themselves in animal control facilities in NY State. Oreo’s Law (A. 9449/S. 6412), if passed, will make it illegal for an animal shelter, animal control establishment or pound to kill a healthy or treatable animal if a 501(c)3 non-profit animal rescue and adoption organization in good standing is willing to accept that animal into their rescue and adoption program. By legislating that no-kill shelters and rescue organizations have access to adoptable and medically treatable animals who are to be killed in shelters, the state of New York will send a clear, necessary message that killing healthy and treatable shelter animals is inhumane and should be avoided whenever viable alternatives exist. But that’s not the whole story. Oreo’s Law will have wonderful, broad-reaching consequences. In passing Oreo’s Law, the state of New York will take the first step towards creating an environment where animals are not left in abusive and neglectful situations simply because their would be rescuers live in fear of making bad situations worse. Oreo’s Law will represent a milestone in protecting animals in shelters. Furthermore, Oreo’s Law, if passed, will enable, inspire and strengthen partnerships in the name of saving the lives of companion animals.
Throughout the state of New York, animals remain in less than ideal situations—sometimes abusive, often neglectful—simply because the traditional animal control model has created a false dichotomy of defeat: death or abuse. The apologists for these traditional shelters and animal control establishments tell us they are doing the best they can, that killing is currently necessary, and that animals who are leading imperfect lives in imperfect homes are better off dead. Yet conscience, intelligence and compassion show us the truth: No healthy or adoptable animal is “protected” through killing.
By reinforcing a schizophrenic paradigm where killing poses as love, the animal control establishment force the public to compromise the welfare of animals by asking them to do something they won’t do: participate in a system that pulls animals from abusers only to unjustly end their lives—lives these animals value and struggle to keep intact. When killing is no longer treated as the go-to move for the countless animals entering traditional shelter establishments, existing humane alternatives will be utilized, perfected and expanded, while others will be discovered or created.
While justifications for killing abound, the truth is that shelters all over New York State kill animals who reputable and responsible animal rescue organizations are or would be willing to take, rehabilitate and place in loving homes. Animals are being killed in New York City, Rochester, Buffalo and cities and towns throughout the state because animal control establishments are not working with rescuers at all or will not work with them to the extent they could. Even in New York City, where NYC shelters do a better job working with rescue organizations than almost anywhere else in the state, animals are still killed while hardworking and knowledgeable individuals who run 501(c)3 non-profit animal rescues are denied the ability to pull animals destined to die.
Without Oreo’s Law, there is no recourse for the animals and their rescuers when a pound, shelter or animal control establishment is determined to kill an animal for reasons other then irreparable suffering. Without Oreo’s Law, healthy and treatable companion animals have no hope to live and find a loving home if the shelter they find themselves in has policies or staff determined to kill first and ask questions later. Just some of the individual animals who fall victim to unnecessary shelter killing are cats too terrified to show their true friendly selves, orphaned kittens and puppies young enough to need round-the-clock bottle-feeding, pit bulls in communities whose shelters have antiquated must-kill mandates on bully breed dogs, cats with slight colds and dogs with nothing more than a runny nose.
Right now as you read this, dogs and cats and other animals are marked to be “PTS” (“put to sleep”) tomorrow morning or “EHR”’d (“euthanasia for humane reasons”) tomorrow night at animal control establishments throughout New York State. Right now as you read this, 501(c)3 non-profit animal rescue and adoption organizations are willing to save many of those animals, incur the costs to provide food and veterinary care, and work hard to find those animals wonderful, loving homes—but will not be permitted to “pull” the animals from the establishments that will kill them. Those animals will be killed, just as Oreo was unnecessarily killed. Oreo’s Law will save many of these lives and help to ensure that dogs like Valentine and kittens like Julio don’t wait longer than absolutely necessary for help to arrive.
Oreo’s Law will not bring back Oreo—the abused, but resilient dog who was killed when viable alternatives existed—but it will ensure that future “Oreos” (including tiny kittens, friendly cats, scared and hungry dogs, and even rabbits and hamsters) are given a fair shot at a good life. Oreo’s Law is commonsense legislation that people who care about animals should vocally support for the thousands of animals who pass through shelters and rescue organizations—animals like Oreo, Max, Valentine, and Julio.