Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thoughts on the Killing of Oreo

People who care about animals are legitimately outraged at the cruel final betrayal of Oreo by an organization charged with rescuing victims of abuse and offering them better futures. We call dogs our best friends, but in the case of this one our friendship has proven itself to be fickle for the second time. People committed to animal liberation must ensure that the outrage over the killing of Oreo doesn’t end with this one dog. We must use this tragic opportunity to fight for recognition that killing health animals is no more “euthanasia” than the death penalty is a humane response to crime. Saying “we are all working towards the day when no animals will be killed in shelters” is a cop out. Animal organizations need to say that killing animals for any reason other than preventing acute suffering in terminal cases is murder, plain and simple -- not “some day, when we’ve cut populations through spaying and neutering” -- today, right now.

Once we start deciding that we are entitled to take animals’ lives, we embark on a slippery slope that butchers the logic of animal rights. We also cannot allow organizations that kill animals because they are “unadoptable” to call themselves “No Kill.” It’s a horrible abuse of language and undermines both the concept of “no kill” and “shelter.” The argument that “no kill shelters just defer the problem to kill shelters or allow animals to stay on the street” is absurd. No-kills aren’t asking the kill shelters to kill, and no one would make this argument about any other kind of shelter. No one would ever argue that battered women's shelters are allowing women to stay in abusive situations by not killing women who stay in them too long to make space for new ones. Applying a double standard like this is blatant speciesism.

And who are we to say that animals are better off dead than on the street? I’ve know a cat that vociferously chooses to live on the street and will run away any time he’s taken in. By what right do we have to say that death is preferable to his chosen living situation? We need to move beyond the
paternalistic speciesism of “animal protection” and start asking ourselves what it truly means to be in solidarity with the liberation of autonomous beings.

The bottom line is that every time a humane organization kills an animal, it diminishes the perceived value of an animal’s life and delegitimizes outrage over the killing of animals, forcing animal advocates to claim they are only against suffering and not killing to avoid being perceived as hypocrites. Compare the human rights movement to the so-called “humane movement.” Human rights groups protest, vigil, write letters and make calls against EVERY EXECUTION. And what this does, even if these are often futile efforts to stop executions is send the message that EVERY HUMAN LIFE MATTERS. In the
process they elevate and legitimate the cry for human rights everywhere and validate our innate sense of horror at the taking of life.

What message is sent about the value of animals’ lives when shelters treat them as disposable commodities? Think about the underlying message of the term “unadoptable.” It essentially reduces shelters to pet shops selling adoptions with unadoptable animals as the spoiled and damaged merchandise that they discard. And it tells us that we should look at shelter killing as at best tragic and unfortunate, but NOT as unacceptable -- because if it was unacceptable, the people who claim to defend animals WOULDN'T DO IT.

Rest in peace, Oreo. May your death be a turning point that forces the “animal protection movement” to wash off the blood on its hands and to stand instead in defense of the lives of ALL animals -- including the “unadoptable.”

How I Became a Soldier in the War Against Killing Animals in Shelters

I’ve been an animal rights activist for several years, and a vegan for longer. I became vegan when learning what farm animals go through, and after that it was on – I would fight any fight that had a chance of saving animals’ lives. I’ve worked against the fur industry. I’ve worked against vivisection in terrible laboratories. I’ve worked with vegan outreach programs. I’ve worked to abolish animal use in circuses.

In the short six years that I’ve been vegan, I’ve been around. Blisters on my feet from long days of protesting, hands sore from typing madly to reach more people about the issues that I hold so close to my heart.

Then I heard about Oreo.

Oreo was scheduled to die at the ASPCA, and when I heard about it she had but one day to live.

I knew all about Oreo’s story – the ASPCA was not shy about publicizing her incredible story of survival – thrown from a 6 story rooftop by that bastard Fabian Henderson, then “saved” by the ASPCA, who gave Oreo surgeries and fixed her wounds.

But then, a short few weeks after healing up physically, the unlicensed and unqualified behaviorist at the ASPCA, Victoria Wells, decided that Oreo was aggressive and unadoptable, so she signed off and ordered that Oreo be killed.

I heard about this story and thought to myself – had I been horribly abused my whole life and then thrown off a six story rooftop only to be “rescued” and given painful surgeries and kept in a cage in a separate room with other behaviorally challenged dogs would I not also be a tad untrusting after healing up? Would I not also growl a little when the same species that abused me my whole life tried to touch me?

Well, I can say that I would be a tad untrusting. I’m not the most forgiving person on the planet, and I’ve gone through some terrible abuse in my life – I can say with certainty that I, a human, would take a long time to get over that kind of abuse, pain and misery.

So I found out all these details and quickly got on the project of making protest signs calling for the saving of Oreo. The poor pup went through so much, so why should she die? My fiancĂ© and I worked into the morning, making signs for the next day, as the protest at the ASPCA was scheduled for early morning, when the A opened. Fliers were made by another activist, and we were set for a protest – a quiet one of course. No yelling or chanting at the ASPCA headquarters, as we wanted to be sure not to upset any animals.

The protest brought many activists who also cared about this issue, and during the protest we learned that Pets Alive, an animal sanctuary that specializes in troubled dogs, had offered to take Oreo to further rehabilitate her and give her sanctuary for life.

We thought we’d won. We really did. We thought “No way will the ASPCA turn down this offer – why would they go ahead and kill a dog when a sanctuary wants to give them life?”

The protest ended – we all went our separate ways, happy and satisfied, content that the ASPCA would send Oreo to live out her life in peace at Pets Alive. I went to work. Then I learned – Oreo was still going to die.

Phone calls, emails, phone calls, emails – the ASPCA was inundated with pleas to save Oreo.

We were told that Oreo had died. We cried, we mourned, we couldn’t believe what had happened.

Then we learned that she was scheduled to be killed later that day. We had already mourned her death and we felt betrayed that we would be given the wrong information on such an important issue.

Phone calls, emails, phone calls, emails – the ASPCA was again flooded with urgent begging to send Oreo to Pets Alive and give her life.

Oreo was killed at 3PM that day. I broke down and couldn’t believe that the ASPCA had done this. Why? Why?

We all had theories of why the ASPCA would kill Oreo rather than give her life, but coming up with those theories wouldn’t save lives – what we needed was a law that would make what happened to Oreo illegal.

The news was flooded with accounts of Oreo, the protests, and Oreo’s death. It really seemed like the whole world was watching and the whole world knew Ed Sayres and Victoria Wells’ dirty little secret.

Even now, as I write this blog entry, I feel myself getting emotional – I feel my eyes welling up and my head getting hot. I see Oreo’s little face in my mind and think “What could I have done differently – what more could I have done – to save that little girl from death?”

When she was killed I posted my thoughts to an animal rights listserv. My thoughts at the time are below.

After waking up at 5AM to protest the ASPCA in an attempt to save Oreo... after making signs all night and getting people activated on the internet... after getting our building's security to distribute the information... after finding out that THERE WAS A SANCTUARY WILLING TO TAKE OREO WHERE SHE COULD LIVE OUT A GOOD LIFE AND THE ASPCA KNEW ABOUT IT - I find out she's been executed.

I'm at my desk, trying to gather my thoughts and stop crying. I don't have cubicle walls to shield me as my eyes well up and the tears splatter on my desk.

It's just not fair that Oreo has been murdered. It reminds me of the Lucy tragedy, when that heartless puppy killer David Kahn decided to play executioner and rip a family apart, breaking a young boy's heart...

It's just too much like Lucy. Both Lucy and Oreo were good dogs who only wanted to roll in the dirt, eat, and play; Oreo had that chance - she had the chance to go live out her life at Pets Alive sanctuary where she would get head scratches and belly rubs, eat and play with other dogs, and have a great life. She had that chance for happiness and love and the ASPCA murdered her anyways.

I thought I wouldn't be able to compose words but as I type out my feelings I can feel my sadness turning into anger - anger at the way the world treats their fellow non-human earthlings - anger, which in short time will turn into resolve - resolve to do whatever I can as an aboveground activist to stop the senseless killing: on factory farms, fur farms, and laboratory death camps like Huntingdon Life Sciences.

I urge everyone reading this to turn their anger into action.

Until all are free, Matt

Luckily, legislation was introduced almost immediately after Oreo’s death, which would make killing a healthy animal in a shelter illegal if a rescue group or sanctuary offers to take them. Similar legislation has been in place in California for years and has been very successful.

Please join the fight to pass Oreo’s Law.

For Oreo we will fight,