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Pet Project

National No Kill advocate Nathan Winograd brings his new film to Amherst Theater

In 1976, at the National Conference on Dog and Cat Control, Dr. John B. DeHoff, Health Commissioner of Baltimore, Maryland, summed up the thinking of the time in two short sentences: “Ownerless animals must be destroyed. It is as simple as that.”

For over a century, DeHoff’s opinion had come to be held as common, if unpleasant, knowledge. In popular culture, children came to understand it was so from an early age, when the character of the Dog Catcher was routinely portrayed as the cruel villain in cartoons—carting away the playful stray to a gruesome fate. An animal sent to the shelter or pound was in a perilous situation. The clock was understood to be ticking, and if the owner didn’t show up in time that animal would be “put away”—which is about as heartless a euphemism for killing as one can imagine.

But how did this come to be, and why did it have to be so? These are the sorts of questions that were asked by Nathan J. Winograd, a Stanford Law School grad who became involved in animal causes while still a student in the 1990s, working in the Law and Advocacy Department of the San Francisco SPCA—where they were laying the groundwork for what has become known as the No Kill Movement. The goal of no kill is to do just what the phrase implies: to save all healthy and treatable animals.

In 2001, Winograd became Executive Director of the Tompkins county SPCA in Ithaca, NY, with the goal of making the organization a no kill model. They were successful, and, bouyed by the support of animal lovers, the organization also went from running a $124,000/year deficit to enjoying a $23,000 surplus.

How could this be, when part of the old argument for killing animals was that it made economic sense for the community?

“It’s a logical assumption that keeping the animals alive and finding them homes would be more expensive than killing them,” says Winograd. “But nobody actually did the numbers. If you were to take in a stray dog in a shelter in New York you would have to impound that dog for five days, and feed the dog, and clean the dog’s cage, and provide care for the dog for five days—which has a cost—and then if you were to kill that dog and dispose of its remains, that’s also a cost, and the entire process is revenue negative. You’re just spending money and not realizing any revenue.”

“Now if you were to adopt that dog,” he continues, “then not only do you save the cost of killing and disposal, but you bring in adoption revenue. In Tompkins County, 40 percent of adopters donated back to the SPCA. And from a public policy perspective, if that dog lives 10 years, and the average owner is spending $1,000 a year on that dog in the local community—at the vet, at the pet supply store, the dog groomer, boarding kennels when you go on vacation—all of which provides a positive economic impact in the local community, and the tax rate on many of those services increases tax revenues that are then used in the local community.”

The same humane approach works for cats. What were once termed “feral” but are now called “community” cats don’t need to be killed. The trap, neuter and release approach will control the population and cause a once widely-roaming Tom to greatly decrease his territory.

This Saturday, (9/27) Winograd will visit the Amherst Theater (3500 Main St.)at 7pm for a screening of his film Redemption: The No Kill Revolution in America. But don’t expect the evening to be a big downer. There will be a reception immediately following at The Steer Restaurant (3151 Main St.) featuring vegan fare by owner/chef Erin Curtin who is a vegan herself.

“In this film we wanted to tell the truth, but we wanted people to see the good news—that things are changing, that animals entering shelters doesn’t have to end in tragedy and in hundreds of communities it’s not,” says Winograd. “So that at the end of the film people are going to be walking out of there incredibly empowered. At no time are we going to ask them to whip out their checkbook—it’s not like those ASPCA commercials that emotionally manipulate you to get your money. For those who want to learn more, I’ll be giving maybe a half-hour post-film presentation to show people how they can have the kind of no kill success that’s sweeping across the country in their own community.”

Tickets are available in advance by visiting, and also at the door. $5.

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