News Index > Sortable News 10/06 - now > AR News June 2010
Pet's Alive Rescue on Oreo's Law & Best Friends

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.

Pets 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.

We 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 embarrassed 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 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.

Wait 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 Gandhi 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 vilify 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 Gandhi 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.

They 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.

Gandhi 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?

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