Nathan Winograd discomfits a lot of folks. By his steadfast devotion to no-kill principles and relentless advocacy, he has demonstrated that it is possible—and ethically imperative—to end shelter killing of healthy or treatable animals. Not just someday, either, but now. Many of those distressed thereby have built careers that acceded to expediencies, assuming most deaths were inevitable and the fault of a careless public.
Winograd is an admirer and intellectual heir of the visionary Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA and equally controversial in his day. Although a more conciliatory approach might lead to quicker conversions, Winograd instead seeks to drag people from the great middle ground of animal advocacy toward him, and past where they could go if allowed room for philosophical compromise. Starting with the title of his new book, he does little to signal any change in tone.
In Irreconcilable Differences, he writes clear and rigorously reasoned essays on 16 topics. Many make excellent reading, as he develops keen insights on timely issues of feral cats, the “underground railroad” of shelter animals from highkill areas, unnecessarily difficult adoption processes, and the fact that movies celebrating our pets should be welcomed and anticipated.
He further strengthens the case for nokill in other essays, developing comparative economics of shelter operations, and running the population numbers to show what is required to end most shelter killing. With 17 million new pets sought every year, the achievable challenge is to link a minor fraction of those seekers with the three to four million healthy pets who die behind bars annually. He also finds hope and vindication in the overwhelming approval of Prop. 2 in California (regarding treatment of food animals), as demonstrating latent critter love just waiting to be tapped.
A few entries are future-directed. His treatments of the ethical implications of spay abortions and a deeply personal rumination on true euthanasia (as distinct from the term’s misuse in shelter killing) reflect profound reverence for all life. Perhaps he is ahead of this curve, too, but I wonder whether other species cling to life in quite the way humans do. They have little conception of what might await them, and no reason to fear it.
One problematic passage involves his familiar theme of HSUS fear-mongering. In it, he attributes numerous quotations in the organization’s Animal Sheltering magazine to HSUS itself. While generally supporting HSUS positions, those benighted opinions actually come from author Jon Katz, in an interview.
Those who regret the rancor between no-kill and the sheltering establishment may find a glimmer of hope in the concluding essay, “We’re on the Same Team.” Most of that essay sets up a dichotomy between the no-kill and broader animal rights movement on one side, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on the other. Winograd castigates PETA for many of its policies, including the slaughter of thousands of companion animals in its custody.
Emphasizing the common philosophies of animal rights and no-kill, Winograd writes, “On the issues of dogs and cats, we can no longer afford to be a divided movement; the division is hurting our ability to achieve success.”
There is another, similar point to be made. In a 2009 San Francisco Town Hall meeting, no less an influential figure than Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS acknowledged no-kill as substantially raising the sights of the sheltering community regarding the life-saving results that can be achieved. Is it too much to hope for a movement unified around the principle of compassion, and adopting the proven strategies Winograd espouses?