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26 January 2010


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Since "aggressive" dogs are not physically suffering - I think of them more like "mentally handicapped" - it's impossible for me to think in terms of killing them when a qualified sanctuary has made an offer for care. So long as the sanctuary knows what it's getting into and can provide a reasonable quality of life for such a dog, I can't see why anyone would be opposed to this law. I understand that a dog with extreme aggression is not going to have any sort of life similar to the average dog. That's reasonable to me. But if the dog is fed properly, has some opportunity to exercise and get outdoors and has sufficient shelter to protect him from the elements, I think that's fine.

Gina Spadafori

Emily, Christie's column for SFGate.com is a an opinion piece -- she gets paid to have an opinion. Your constant inability to understand the difference between "news story" and "opinion piece" makes my head spin. (Although actually, you've regularly shown something else: If you agree, it's "fair and balanced." If you don't, it's "biased" and "unfair." Really, it's getting old.)

Your opinion aside, Christie has no problem with credibility.

Nathan Winograd

Emily, despite the nefarious motives you cast upon me, your comments shows how little you understands the situation. An exception for dangerous dogs would not have applied in Oreo's case. A dangerous dog in NYS is one adjudicated to be dangerous after a hearing, either by a hearing officer or a court. Oreo was not a dangerous dog. The ASPCA claimed she was "aggressive."

The amendment would not apply and it shouldn't for the same reason such language was removed in California - at the request of shelters and municipalities. It would have opened them up to liability (by certifying dogs were safe). From the rescue group's and animals' perspective, it would also have eviscerated the law by giving shelters unlimited discretion to call dogs aggressive and kill them, regardless of actual behavior, tests used, predictive ability of those tests, or based on breed alone.

As to your comment that my advocacy for Oreo's Law is driven by a hysterical hatred for Ed Sayres, once again your dime store psychology misses the point entirely. In order for people and legislators to understand why Sayres is opposed to the proposed law, even though he defended nearly identical language in CA, it is necessary to point out that it has nothing to do with the bill itself, but self-interest - which would cost animals their lives. Otherwise, people would defer to him: "If the ASPCA doesn't support it, it must be bad." That could be the kiss of death for a law that has the potential to save lives. And that is why it is necessary to point out that Ed's position is driven by his own agenda, irrespective of what is in the best interests of those animals.

Although I do not agree with everything that Christie wrote in the article - for example I do not understand the comment equating what the ASPCA does with animals to our own animals since the ASPCA holds the animals in trust as a steward - I thought the article was dispassionate, fair, and kind.

But I don't accuse her of being biased every time we may disagree. And, thankfully, Christie doesn't attack me every time she doesn't agree with everything I write.

I have to echo Gina's statement that, for you, it is "fair and balanced" if you agree and "biased" if you don't. It IS getting old.


If it's "not about ASPCA", you ought not use so much of your article to attack ASPCA (while sliding over the issues with Pets Alive). The law wouldn't be known as "Oreo's law" if attacking ASPCA wasn't a main point.

And again, while you were able to find the time/space to interview Kellner at length, you still declined to interview anyone from ASPCA.

And here's a telling quote: "Kellner's also tightening language to clarify that a shelter can put a dog or cat to sleep who is irredeemably suffering or dangerous"

That is precisely why ASPCA chose to kill Oreo.

Every reasonable person in the shelter/rescue movement, including those advocating socalled "no kill", accepts that some dogs cannot/should not be kept alive. Since that is true, Oreo's Law and the attacks on ASPCA have nothing to do with Oreo, but with some other agenda (which in Winograd's case, is an hysterical hatred for Ed Sayres)

Your comparison of ASPCA's decision with kill Oreo to Skeldon murdering thousands of family pets with no known behavioral/health issues, is totally and bizarrely off-base and damages your credibility. Are you truly not seeing the difference in these cases?

Fewer dogs/cats should be killed in shelters. Everyone agrees about that. How does driving wedges in the shelter community by attacking one organization over one controversial dog help this process along?

Creating a law based on a "poster child" dog and then complaining that organizations use "poster child" dogs is also a bit headspinning.

Christie Keith

Someone just commented on my column, wondering what Oreo did to get her owner to throw her off the roof.

Gina Spadafori

Accidentally get owned by a sadistic shithead with anger-management issues? You mean something like that?

Christie Keith

I'm done reading. The animal haters are out in full force now. Especially the pit bull haters, someone is REJOICING that even pit puppies are killed in shelters, and someone else said Oreo should have been killed from the get go.

If I read the comments on my SFGate columns I would hate my own species. So I just don't read.

I am said there are so few comments on the column, though. I guess it's just too "inside baseball." When will I ever learn?

Snoopy's Friend

I clicked to read your column in SFGate and stopped short at the opening where the dogs owner threw him off.....but I did skip that part and read to the end of the very well written article. I still have chills thinking about what that poor dog went through at the hands of such an evil owner.

I firmly believe shelters can be too "die" happy and even the scared and timid dogs are deemed unfit let alone those suffering anxiety and other fear based issues from mistreatment and pain.

Why a shelter would want to kill animals so wantonly is beyond me and especially if rescues and fosters are willing to care of the dog(s). I think their policies are demented.

Makes you wonder what happens to the human psyche after being exposed to so much "extermination" - soon killing dogs become the norm.

As if the rainbow bridge is so wonderful so shelters think they are doing the animal(s) a big favor. Life in paradise rather than a real life in the now with love and care - with four feet firmly planted on the ground.

I don't get people that hate certain breeds or that hate animals (dogs). These people don't seem human to me. I don't blame you Christie for not wanting to read those comments. I wouldn't want to read them either.

Linda Kaim

Christie, I don't envy you, and I must commend your tact in not eviscerating the haters.

The job and all...

It occurs to me that the problem is not so much of either just not knowing, but not caring.

I made the fatal mistake of going to read them. I have to articulate what I would say most carefully before I let it out there.

I wouldn't want to be fire-bombed in my bed.

Gina Spadafori

It has NEVER been just about aggression. When I was doing Sheltie rescue there NorCal "shelters" that would not allow us to pull a "shy" Sheltie. They killed them, instead.

Which meant that perfectly nice, normal Shelties who acted like perfectly nice, normal Shelties in a loud, stressful, terrifying environment were tossed into the gas chambers rather than re-homed.

Same kind of Sheltie pulled from a progressive shelter would be just fine in foster care -- and loved for LIFE in a new home.

So YES YES YES many pets need to be saved from "shelters."

Nathan Winograd

You've done a great service to the animals Christie. The number of comments is irrelevant. It's easy to write something that will result in lots of comments. It's a lot tougher to write something that will give people pause to think. Even tougher to write something that will have real impact. I think the latter two in combo are a better goal. And I think you did that here.

Sandi K

I read your article and am glad you wrote it. I will never understand,between the choice of death and giving Oreo a chance to thrive at a rescue that they chose death. So many animals dont do well in shelter or other stressful environments. Even our own kitty becomes a wild aggressive attacker at the vet clinic but once she is home in quiet surroundings, she settles down just fine. It would be over my dead body that she would ever be in a shelter but its sickening to think if she was, she would more than likely be one of them put down.

I guess another way I view this is, Oreo was not "their" dog, they are caretakers and should be doing everything they can to save each animals life and that includes seeking out help from rescue organizations if they feel an animal isnt adoptable as is.

As for the animal hater comments at SF Gate, it reminds me of the piece Gina wrote about Joe St. Georges recently rescuing the dog, the haters were out in full force then too. Its too bad you cant vaporize them like Gina was able to do. In fact, that day, I was jealous that only Gina had the vaporizing button...I wanted one too! Someone had written there that they love the haters. I wish I could be as gracious as they are...but Im not. I suspect any poor pet living in the haters households arent treated so well either so I have a hard time mustering up the love for them.

Sandi K

Also, it seems everytime we read about these awful cases, the offender just gets a slap on the hand, a little fine or some minor jail time. Tougher laws are needed for people like Oreo's owner and pets need to be considered more than a piece of furniture in the courts eyes.


The more I learn about "shelters," the more resolved I am to continue fostering for a rescue group even though I have five dogs and two cats of my own and every time I bring another dog home, oh! the drama!

Gina, I adopted a cocker spaniel with a "bite history." She was terrified of everything and "tried to bite" the people who picked her up off the side of the road and took her to a shelter. Fortunately, the shelter called rescue groups and found one to take her. She's still a bit fearful in certain situations, but she's not a biter. In fact, she has pretty powerful bite inhibition. What else can you say about a dog who'll put her teeth on you and then not bite you? If not for a caring person at the shelter, though, she wouldn't be snuggled up on a blanket at my house because of her "aggressive" tendencies.

I want to believe that shelters do the best they can. But the reality (in my opinion) is that the best they can do often just isn't good enough. It seems like Oreo's Law would only push shelters to do better.

mary frances

I don't know if laws will protect animals or lawsuits will change Animal Control (AC) - I don't call them shelters - I read yesterday Yesbiscuit's post on how we should work together...and that would do it. But from what I see AC isn't just about animal control it's about people control too - those that speak out are retaliated against (as Christie wrote) and I've seen it. I support Oreo's Law and thank you Christie for the work you do, and Gina and Nathan Winograd - and KC dog blog, yesbiscuit and Badrap and all the volunteers that are keeping the hope of No Kill alive.


I thought it was a great opinion piece, well written. For what it's worth, there is a similar trial happening here in NCal on Friday, where the judge will decide whether one dog, Otis, who was not part of an attack but was there, will be allowed to go to rescue. A qualified, verifiable and experienced rescue where he can be evaluated and monitored in an appropriate environment. Tia from Villalobos Rescue is pleading for one dog, the one not part of the attack who is being thrown under the bus with the other three dogs who were involved.


Wow, have I fallen through the looking glass and met Humpty ("a word means what I chose it to mean") Dumpty? So now Winograd, with no contradiction, has deemed Christie's post "fair and balanced". Though her piece doesn't communicate all sides (a characteristic I always thought --darn my stupid old obsession -- was the DEFINITION of "fair and balanced"). AND even though it's an "opinion piece" which, if I understand Gina's critique of my comments, means that communicating all sides is not required, expected or -- given the scorn she directs at me on this subject -- even desirable. Certainly there are people who use "fair and balanced" in Winograd's way... (http://www.foxnews.com/i/new/fn-header.jpg) but I didn't think that was the standard this blog was aspiring to. Which, BTW, is why I don't use that phrase, so I'd appreciate it, Gina, if you'd stop just making up s*** about me and attributing quotes and opinions that I have never expressed.

An opinion not based on consideration of facts isn't particularly convincing to me. An opinion based on the notion that it's not even necessary to consider facts is what we might call a "prejudice". Christie usually blogs AGAINST such prejudices, especially when they're being used to determine laws.

Just to contrast: No one would have taken seriously the initial distress over anecdotes about pets dying anomalously last year if the anecdotes hadn't been quickly backed up by solid reporting based on evidence and facts-- including requests TO the perpetrators that they explain their actions, explanations which were then also reported. You (Gina), Christie and all the other PC writers are justifiably proud of the actual reporting (which was not opinion blogging) on the pet food crisis and the lives you saved. So don't tell me you don't value facts, and the appropriateness of giving those you criticize the chance to explain themselves. Maybe you could tell your readers, though: when DO you value facts enough to include them in your blogs?

So shoot me; make me a villain: Why is "Oreo's law" any different from the various proposed MSN and BSLs that we scorn because they are prejudice-based and ignore contrary evidence? Why should I take seriously the opinions of no kill advocates attacking an organization for making a tough decision to kill ONE carefully evaluated human-aggressive dog... have these advocates now decided that ALL dogs, even the irredeemably sick or vicious, should be saved? If so, I certainly haven't read it anywhere. If not, what is the basis for their attacks on ASPCA's decision?

When someone equates the difficult, individual-animal- based decision ASPCA made about Oreo with the wanton "kill 'em all" methods of Skeldon and his ilk, why should I NOT conclude that the purpose of this defamation is solely to knock down ASPCA rather than to promote discussion of the real issue, which is too many dogs being killed?

To me the Oreo case itself is ONLY about the human aggression of ONE dog (there's a reason no major pit bull rescue group, to my knowledge, has publicly criticized ASPCA's decision). The multitudes of nice, unevaluated, adoptable killed dogs would be a good motivation to start talking about a law; so may the legions of shelter stressed Shelties Gina mentions. This particular ONE dog is not, and as long as the law's proponents insist on using this dog as the poster child, and ASPCA as the poster-villain, the effort to craft an appropriate law will continue to be sidetracked and marginalized.

In fact, given that organizations are made up of people with feelings and egos, the law seems designed to make it nearly impossible for ASPCA to support an effort whose goals they may largely agree with.

In what way does that further the cause of reducing the numbers of pets killed in shelters?


I did read it Christie. I don't think the NY public needs a poster child to pass a law who's time has come as much as they need the support of one of their largest animal welfare orgs. Attaching Oreo to this will always be seen as a way to punish the ASPCA, won't it? the whole mess should be shelved and re-visited at a later date under brand new pretense and with willing, cooperative partners. As it stands, it's been tainted by controversy and will never be the law it should be with this legacy attached. I'd rather see Oreo spark broader discussions on sanctuaries as a place to house troubled animals - When are they good for dogs, when are they hell?

We should probably talk off camera about the other stuff - ie, the fall-out of Hayden - as it lends itself to one of the biggest unspoken insider controversies going in the movement to "save lives."

Christie Keith

Heather... what do you think would happen to a dog like Buck in a California shelter under Hayden, that has you so afraid of this law passing elsewhere?

The straw men in this argument are so numerous they could make up an army, it seems.


As usual, Christie, great job. Thanks again for putting the animals first.

Christie Keith

I would support this law regardless of what happened to Oreo.

As I said in the piece.

I have said I have no idea whether the A was right or wrong, and I don't. You keep trying to ram my views into your template of this issue, and I have my own.

Let me repeat: I would support this law regardless of what happened to Oreo. We have had this law in California for nearly 12 years. I supported it then, too, and Oreo hadn't even been born yet.

As to what happened to Oreo, it inspired this law to be written and it bears her name. If you can't stand that, so be it. Neither can the ASPCA. I think it's a very moving and emotional lead-in to the issue. You disagree.

I am not responsible for what anyone says but me, so I won't get into your criticisms of things other people have said. Suffice it to say, my piece was an endorsement of Oreo's Law, plain and simple. I state right in it: I support this law, and here's why: Because it will help in situations like the following. I did not compare those situations to the ASPCA. If you want to believe I did, again, so be it.

Do you actually OPPOSE THIS LAW, Emily? If you do, then honestly, I have no freaking idea what to say to you.


What a lousy way to go about creating such an important a law. I'm sure the ASPCA would be valuable participants in writing legislation that smooths passage from overburdened shelter to rescue - they fought for the lives of Vick's most broken dogs after all - but like this? I have to agree with Emily here, this creates a wedge that the animal welfare community could do without.

With every good law comes abuse. In CA, the Hayden Law has hurt untold numbers animals by being routinely misused by less-than-ethical rescuers. We clean up their messes constantly. ALL THE TIME. Warehousing and hoarding problems. Bite cases and tragedies. Let me - or some of the trainers here maybe? - tell you some stories sometime! (just don't alert the media please)

Despite the ongoing headaches it creates, I'm grateful that responsible rescues have the right to walk into any shelter and pull a dog that someone else has deemed unsalvageable. But there is *compelling* reason that NY needs this law to have the blessing and the minds (and the hearts) of the ASPCA behind it. Change its name to something else, for starters.


YesBiscuit wrote: Since “aggressive” dogs are not physically suffering - I think of them more like “mentally handicapped” - it’s impossible for me to think in terms of killing them when a qualified sanctuary has made an offer for care. Suffering does not have to be physical to be acute. For an agitated, reactive dog under constant stress [and without carefully monitored prescription meds, some dogs can be like this in any setting, regardless of the quality of care], to be warehoused in a "sanctuary" is torture.

I imagine this is why veterinary behaviorists like Overall, Dodson and McConnell haven't joined the "No more Oreos!" faction. It might be interesting to ask them.

I'm quite sure it's one reason pit bull rescue groups haven't signed on.

YesBiscuit: So long as the sanctuary knows what it’s getting into and can provide a reasonable quality of life for such a dog, I can’t see why anyone would be opposed to this law. Maybe there is opposition because "nonprofit status is not given to animal organizations based on their behavior knowledge, training resources, the responsibility of their adoption programs, or even the quality of basic care they provide," as Stephanie Feldstein writes here. Maybe because "[i]t should not be a shock to anyone that animal rescue organizations are not invariably staffed by clear-headed pragmatists with healthy ego boundaries and rich sources of personal and professional validation," as Heather Houlihan writes here.

YesBiscuit: I understand that a dog with extreme aggression is not going to have any sort of life similar to the average dog. That’s reasonable to me. But if the dog is fed properly, has some opportunity to exercise and get outdoors and has sufficient shelter to protect him from the elements, I think that’s fine.

I couldn't disagree more. I think it's a rationale for warehousing animals that are suffering terribly. Even worse, it's a rationale for increasing their suffering: as Stephanie Feldstein points out, there's a reason solitary confinement holds so much power as a form of punishment in the prison system.

Like a few other commenters in this thread, I've had dogs that were basically sound but that might have been considered dangerous had they landed in the wrong kind of shelter. [Would Hayden's Law have saved them here in California? Were rescue groups clamoring for them? Get real. Better yet, get back to me after you've gone to a municipal pound and adopted a pit bull.]

But I've also kept and deeply loved an aggressive pit bull/AmBull mix with innumerable, debilitating fear issues, issues that could only be mitigated through careful treatment with various meds, acupuncture and constant monitoring in order to prevent the onset of stress-induced bloat, for example. The thought of him in a "sanctuary" [that is, warehoused for years in a glorified kennel run], with well-meaning people handling him with a catch-pole and waving treats at him through the chain link, makes my stomach knot up so tightly I could puke. Don't insult his memory, and please, please, don't insult my intelligence or denigrate my hard work and our vets' expertise by stating that a sanctuary somewhere might have been able to "take good care of him" by providing food and shelter and lots of wuv.

A few years back I was diagnosed with a serious illness, and my first thought [actually my second, after "Thank God I won't die of Alzheimer's"] was that I would have to arrange for my dear unadoptable dog to be euthanized prior to my death. [Before you ask: friends and relatives couldn't have handled him, even if they'd been willing to try. Also: get those wills and powers of attorney in order, people.] But I'm doing fine health-wise, and he died in my arms a year ago at the age of 12, and that's that.

No dog like my dear old boy should be warehoused just because it makes a rescue group feel good about itself for "not killing." To the extent that Oreo's Law makes it possible for any recue with a 501(c)(3) to overrule a euthanasia decision by veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists and skilled trainer/rehabilitators, it's a crap bill, and shouldn't become law.

Christie Keith

Donna, did you read my piece? Kellner did say he was willing to change the name and has amended the original wording of the bill to control for those issues you raise, all of which were raised like big hairy hobgoblins back in the 90s here in California -- and Ed Sayres, who was heading up the SF/SPCA in those days, supported and defended Hayden then -- but did not result in the sky falling when the bill was passed.

I know you've seen rescue groups screw up ("screw" was not my first choice of word, in case you think that's too mild -- I agree, it is), but having been out in California's shelters in the years before Hayden, and seen shelter directors kill animals RIGHT IN OUR FACES instead of letting us have them: Hayden saved animal lives.

I am haunted and scarred by the nasty, vicious, vindictive, gloating way they would kill dogs and cats we tried to get into breed or other rescue, or to take to the SF/SPCA Hearing Dog Program -- especially after Rich Avanzino tried to take San Francisco No Kill and didn't get on the "breeding ban" bandwagon. They gloated extra hard when they told us that our interest in an animal was its death sentence. *I* lived through that, Donna. It's not something I heard about from someone else.

And frankly, if shelters are doing bad placements and handing over dogs to people who shouldn't have them, to warehousers and hoarders, then they'd do that WITHOUT Hayden, too. Because right now, shelters have recourse if they don't want to place animals with a specific group. And if they don't care or don't screen, then they'd also hand those dogs over WITHOUT Hayden. They can blame it on Hayden if they want, but it's just an excuse.

Last, yes, the situation with Oreo and the opposition of the A to this law is unfortunate. But the ASPCA created that by its inept handling of communications around this issue. I have said from the start of this that I can't know if they were right or wrong about her condition and behavior, but I know for sure, on a PR level, this was bungled and badly.

When you get out of our own little "inside the Beltway" world of shelter and rescue issues, people know nothing about the ASPCA, or only know what they've seen on TV. They don't know who Ed Sayres is. They don't know who Bad Rap is, they certainly don't know who I am, nor Nathan Winograd, nor any of these things and people so familiar to all of us.

But those same people felt something for Oreo. Her story was the kind that Americans respond to, the young dog cruelly mistreated who somehow got saved, and became a "miracle dog" and a news story. And when they were cheated out of their happy ending, well, they got upset. That's how people are.

And if others took that grief and regret over Oreo and spun it to give impetus to passing this bill, well, that's also how people are. That's why they say, don't ask how laws and sausage are made.

I remember back in the 90s when San Mateo County, where I lived at the time, wanted to pass a law requiring anyone with more than two dogs to allow animal control to enter their home at any time to do a home inspection. I went down and fought them on it, and the then-head of AC for the county, Connie Urbanski, who was a friend of mine, was outraged when I said that it was a license for abuse by government. (And no, I'm not a libertarian. But equally no, just because I have four dogs does not mean the government can walk into my house for no reason!)

And I turned around and said, "Connie, just because I can trust you not to abuse this law, what if you get hit by a car? Who is to say your successor will be as fair and just? That's why we have the rule of laws and not of men."

That law did not pass in San Mateo County, and two of the supervisors told me it was because of what I said that day.

You can say, well, you can trust me to know if a pit bull is savable or not, and yes, Donna, I do. But I don't think we should institutionalize it so Bad Rap or pit bull rescue groups in general get the last word on every pit bull in the state, because you, too, could be hit by a car. Right? What happens when it's not Donna Reynolds, who I trust, but Jane Doe, who I don't?

You may have more trust in the ASPCA than I do. I remember Ed Sayres from his days in San Francisco, and I've followed his career at the A, and he, unlike you and unlike Connie, doesn't get that vote of trust from me. BUT EVEN IF HE DID... even if I could crawl inside his head and know for sure he dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" in trying to help Oreo, I would still be supporting this law, because one day, Ed Sayres could be hit by a car.

Last, saying, "Don't make this be about Oreo," is good policy in an "inside the Beltway" manner, because yes, it turns the A into an enemy and the A is a big player in New York City. That's unfortunate.

The problem is, I don't think anyone really was behind the fact that Oreo became a poster child for this issue. They latched onto it, but the interest of the public in her was genuine and spontaneous.

I don't want to hurt the ASPCA. They have some programs that I have written about and admire and respect, and there are some great people there. They were totally stand-up during the pet food recall, unlike other national organizations I could name. They helped found the Mayor's Alliance for Homeless Animals. They have put their money where their mouths are on a number of issues. If you google my name and "ASPCA," you won't find endless diatribes against them. I am not on a crusade.

But they betrayed something in people's hearts and minds when they handled Oreo's killing as if it was no one's business but their own. You just can't run those ads and engage with your community to get support for your work -- volunteers, donations, adopters -- and then turn around and slam the door in their faces if they want to know about your decisions, too. The world just doesn't work that way.

From the day I began writing about this, my focus has been mostly on that betrayal of trust, and I've always left open the question of whether Oreo could have been saved or not. I have NO IDEA.

Nor do I know what I think about Pets Alive -- certainly without resolving many of the questions that have been raised I would not be comfortable donating to them or advising an animal go there (although the Mayor's Alliance does send dogs to them). I have never advocated just sending Oreo to them willy nilly, as many have. I instead said that alternatives should have been explored, and I still believe that. In fact, the A believes it, too, because they later said that was, indeed, part of their process.

If you feel upset at how this has transpired, much of it needs to be laid at the door of the ASPCA's communications about Oreo, and their apparent belief that nothing they do can be questioned, and that anyone who criticizes them or even asks questions should instead be focusing on animal cruelty and other dogs, not Oreo.

Anyone with ten minutes experience in communications knows that defensiveness and finger pointing only make these things blow up bigger, and they would also know that you can't pick and choose what issues or individuals capture the popular imagination.

I remember during Iran-Contra, wandering around in a complete fog of incomprehension that the entire nation didn't rise up about it.

I'm sure the right felt the same way about Monica-gate and Clinton.

You can't make people care about things they don't care about, and you also can't stop them from caring once they do. It's just how it is.

From a PR standpoint, a group who wanted to pass a law like this would have been NUTS not to use what happened to Oreo as a platform, not because Oreo was necessarily savable, but because the level of engagement and sorrow people demonstrated underscored that the community did feel that it was a part of the decision making process over the animals in its shelters, that people wanted to have some sense that there was a process that was bigger than the people -- that there was some framework of "laws, not men" in play here.

Christie Keith

Folks, our spam filter is possessed or something tonight -- tons of posts are caught in it right now, and it's not letting me liberate them. I sent a note to the IT guys, but I'm sure they've all gone to bed. I KNOW Gina has. She normally gets up with the birds (or with Bernadette, at least), but as those of you who follow her on Facebook know, Faith is in the hospital and I'm not sure if she'll be attending to business in the morning.

If your comment is missing, just hang on until Wednesday morning, and hopefully someone more tech-y than I can fix it!


From a rescuers point of view - when I volunteered at a local humane society, I did a good deal of cat fostering. The last one I wanted to foster was a 7 month old kitten who had been a stray. Since she was shy and hid a lot and didn't like to be picked up the people in charge deemed her "unadoptable" and decided she needed to die. Mind you, this was a kitten who would crawl on your lap and snuggle and purr, but didn't want to be pulled out from her hiding space to be held. I begged to foster her to socialize her so she could be adopted, but she was killed.

I only care that animals who, with some help, could be adopted into homes or GOOD sanctuaries, be given that chance.

Thank you, Christie, for caring enough about the ANIMALS to take this on!

I don't know whether Oreo could have been helped or not, but I do know that if a decent rescue was willing to try, what's the hurry to kill her? If it didn't work, she could have been killed later.

I just don't understand people who are so bent on killing animals.

H. Houlahan

I keep coming back to three things.


Quality of Life.


Until any such law's proponents can show me measures that protect the community, the animal's welfare, and the rights and responsibilities of animal ownership, I can't get behind 'er.

I keep thinking of Buck.

I've never written about Buck for any but a professional readership. This is not because I'm ashamed -- it is to spare the feelings of someone else who is blameless in his fate, was powerless to protect him, and yet blames herself. I've changed Buck's name here, and details. I won't write about him on my own blog.

When I took ownership of Buck -- not as a rescue, I personally OWNED him -- I did not know how challenging a rehab project he would be, but I was committed to the long haul. I was his only option in the world.

He had a medical history that included serious trauma -- it was astonishing he was alive -- and a serious bite history secondary to that trauma. He was untrained, reactive, untrusting and in constant chronic pain. He was morbidly obese on top of obvious misalignments of his entire skeleton.

His radiographs -- one of the first things I had done when he came to me, and wasn't THAT a joy with a dog who trusted no one and would bite any vet or vet tech on sight -- revealed an orthopedic house of horrors from the prior trauma -- nothing had been treated. His back had a horizontal S-curve that you didn't need radiographs to see. The veterinary records were a study in professional neglect. When he suffered the major trauma, he'd been unconscious for twenty minutes; he never received steroids for brain swelling or any assessment or intervention for the head injury, much less anything for the rest of his brutalized body.

We worked with him for nearly a year, physically and behaviorally. He became part of our pack. He progressed, and trusted the two of us. He came down to a healthy weight. He did well in formal training. We addressed and managed his pain to the extent that was now possible. But he held on to strange triggers that would cause him to try to eat strangers at some times, not others. He was untrustworthy.

And there was something else. He seemed to sometimes forget who he was, who we were, to see demons instead of familiar people and animals. This was not a momentary startle and recovery. Once he saw the demon, it stayed a demon -- and, being a go-getter, he continued to try to kill it. This did not happen often, but it was dramatic when it did. And it started happening more often as his purely behavioral baggage stripped away.

One day I came home with Buck and Moe. The porch door was latched from the inside, and wouldn't open. Ken came to open the door, and Buck saw the demon inside. He raged at the door for five minutes. I stood back, holding Moe, to see how long it would take for him to come back to us. By the time he had exhausted himself, he was dripping slobber, heaving, and had red, glassy eyes. I leashed him and brought him in with Ken well away from the door, put him in a crate.

Moe, normally one to jump in and stop disorderly dog behavior, had stood there staring at him with an expression of astonishment -- "Dude, WTF?"

Ken and I discussed the prospect of failure; that we had come up against an organic problem that we could not fix. We dithered.

A week later, my 77 year-old father was standing in my front yard, and Buck saw a demon. Buck loved my Dad, but he didn't see my Dad. He closed the 100 feet between them in perhaps two seconds, leaped into the air, and slashed and chewed my Dad's hand -- raised in defense -- snarling. He landed, twisted, and was launching for another, higher attack when Moe took him down. Just put him on the ground and kept him there, like he was the goddamn Secret Service. I got there and got a leash around Buck while Moe kept him down; as I dragged him away, he was glassy-eyed and still snarling.

The PA we saw for triage at the emergency department was the same one who had treated my wounds from the boxer who tried to kill me (adopted out to nice people by a breed rescue group for whom all boxers are fluffy bunny rabbits) AND who was present when the ambulance delivered me with BP <50/30 from a wasp sting anaphylaxis. He offered Houlahans a "When Animals Attack" bulk rate.

I was for once not up for black humor, because Buck had just sealed his fate. The injury to my father's hand was serious; if not for Moe -- well, it would have taken me more like ten seconds to get there, time for several more salvos. Time enough to knock an old man off his feet.

If I was in danger of second-guessing during his quarantine, of searching for a "sanctuary" where a dog like Buck could exist in a pen, he made it clear that first night in the kennel -- howling his despair and loneliness, bloodying his toes digging at the gate. Buck was meant to be with his people and his pack. He was a loyal, loving, dependent dog whose brain happened not to work right. Isolation was torture.

So I said fuck it. He spent the rest of his legally-mandated quarantine with me. I tied him to my waist when we were outside. I kept the other dogs away from him for their safety. I fed him delicious crap and let him beg. I let him snuggle on the furniture. I petted him and loved on him for no reason. He didn't have to earn a thing. All the rules and rituals that had been designed to make and keep him safe -- who cares? If I got bit, so what? My choice.

And when his quarantine was up, I put his muzzle on and held him while he died and sobbed with my vet and took him home and buried him while crying so hard I could not see the end of the shovel.

Safety. Quality of Life. Ownership.

Any law that doesn't balance these absolutely crucial values against the entirely valid value of giving animals in public pounds a second chance is a recipe for disaster and suffering.

Was Oreo like Buck?

Nathan Winograd

Emily, how is Oreo's Law different from BSL? Are you kidding me? Let's see, for one, BSL is about killing dogs. Oreo's Law is about giving rescues access to save their lives, thus preventing killing. BSL says all dogs of a particular "look" are bad and should be killed. Oreo's Law says that the dogs of that particular "look" are as worthy of compassion as dogs who may look different. Should I go on? I can....


So shoot me; make me a villain: Why is “Oreo’s law” any different from the various proposed MSN and BSLs that we scorn because they are prejudice-based and ignore contrary evidence? Why should I take seriously the opinions of no kill advocates attacking an organization for making a tough decision to kill ONE carefully evaluated human-aggressive dog… have these advocates now decided that ALL dogs, even the irredeemably sick or vicious, should be saved? If so, I certainly haven’t read it anywhere. If not, what is the basis for their attacks on ASPCA’s decision?

EmilyS, you're the one who's ignoring contrary evidence in this case: the fact that a nearly-identical law is working in CA, that Christie has not made this about Oreo, that the author and sponsors of the bill are willing to make changes (including the name, but more substantive matters too) to address the concerns of the ASPCA.

But nothing will dent your certainty that anyone using the phrase No Kill is either a hypocrite or a fool, or your certainty that when Christie disagrees with you, she's a malevolent lying hypocrite. Because if she were honest, of course, she'd agree with you.

Christie Keith

Donna, personally I am 100 percent fine with changing the name of the law. I of course have no influence on that decision. But as someone whose profession is communication, I also recognize that sometimes the public itself chooses powerful symbols, and when that happens, well... resistance is futile.

Like I said, there are many things the ASPCA does that I admire and have praised. Even if an organization this big could ever do only good things and employ only good people, it's still possible for two perfectly rational, well-intentioned people to differ on important issues.

I'm happy to talk about Hayden any time. You know how to reach me. :)


To the people who keep bringing this back to an assumption that the ASPCA's evaluation was unassailable, and that it therefore follows that this law is ill-advised: why is it that the ASPCA will not release its records and tapes of Oreo's evaluation?

This isn't about a single dog, but if you insist on making one dog the test case, it would have been so easy, and so dramatic, for them to show a snarling, slavering, raging Oreo to shift public opinion. In law, we call this the "missing evidence" rule - in a trial, if there is evidence peculiarly in the possession of one party, and that party does not produce it, the Judge can instruct the jury that it may assume that the evidence would have been damaging to that party.


The detractors here rely on several other unreliable assumptions, including, but not limited to:

(1) that a receiving rescue/organization would invariably confine the dogs to runs with minimal human contact;

(2) that the dogs falling within this law's scope are per se incapable of improvement or rehab; and

(3) that, after evaluation and possible rehabilitation efforts, if a receiving organization found itself confronted with a dog whose temperament and mental state (and, where applicable, physical state) made the dog's continued life inhumane, that organization would not take steps to humanely end the dog's life.

That's a lot of assuming. I don't have the data or credentials to answer this question, but it has been my impression that shelters and rescues are far more likely to prematurely destroy animals than they are to save the unsavable. If that's not the general rule, please, show me the data.

Christie Keith

Okay, really, our spam filter is catching all kinds of posts that I can't figure out. It just caught one by a longtime commenter, and it was short and had no links or "marketing hype" buzzwords. I'm checking it constantly and am liberating as fast as I can!

H. Houlahan


We are talking about a proposed law that would make it illegal for a shelter to euthanize a dog like Buck if any damn fool with a 501(c)3 tax status decides it would be better for him to live his life out in a 4X6 run, or that he's just misunderstood and needs to go home with that nice couple and their kids today.

The actual text of the proposal, as found today on the NY Assembly website, is:
















The url is: http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=S06412&sh=t

Where is the safety net to protect the public? Where is the safety net to prevent exploitation, suffering, and warehousing of dogs exactly like Oreo, exactly like Buck? Where are the brakes on the notion that no one can make a decision about life or death for an animal that he knows better than anyone else if someone, somewhere wants to second-guess it?

And please don't tell me that having a 501(c)3 tax status qualifies a group as sane, sensible, and skilled. We all know how tiresomely long the list of contrary examples would quickly become.

You have stories of nasty, vindictive animal shelters. I believe you. (I don't accept that the ASPCA acted vindictively in this case, though.) What about crazy-as-a-bedbug "rescues?" They are out there too. Good law does not respect persons, and it does not assume that one category of actors will always be malicious and another will always be benevolent. It provides safeguards against misbehavior and incompetence by any parties.

During the recent mandatory sterilization attempts in CA, opponents of the bills, and those in the leg. who voiced their concerns during committee votes, were repeatedly assured that their legitimate objections would be amply addressed in favorable modifications. As we all know, Levine, Mancuso, Florez all lied when they did that; the promised amendments were not forthcoming.

So until I see safeguards for safety, quality of life, and ownership IN THE ACTUAL TEXT OF THE BILL, I believe nothing.

The only safeguard I see there is one preventing an animal suspected of being rabid from being claimed. Since such animal would normally be under rabies quarantine, and required to be observed, not euthanized, that safeguard would appear to be completely pro forma.

Christie Keith

Heather: I would not support this law without its amendments. I support it with its amendments. If the language changes in the future, I could stop supporting it, or, potentially, support it even more.

What qualifications would you put on rescue groups to prevent shelters from having the power to arbitrarily kill animals instead of letting someone else care for and re-home them? Because honestly, you should see the email that has poured in since I wrote this piece, of rescuers hysterical about bad situations they can't do anything about because they're being threatened with access to animals they're saving today. Do you think we should do NOTHING about this because an animal might go to a bad situation? Isn't that just the same as the obsessively strict adoption policies of so many shelters?

As to Donna's concerns, when I discuss them with her, I'll be able to comment on them. Until then, I stand by my own decades of observation in this state: Most shelters that turn their animals over to a-holes are not doing it because of Hayden.

Naturally if Donna has information to the contrary, I'll be happy to revisit my view.

But two things that will NOT change my mind about laws like this: A worry that they'll upset a powerful animal organization, and invocation of the boogeyman without a substantive basis.


Buck was a real dog, not a straw man.

Christie asks, "Heather… what do you think would happen to a dog like Buck in a California shelter under Hayden, that has you so afraid of this law passing elsewhere?"

Donna [back in comment #20] answered that question: "In CA, the Hayden Law has hurt untold numbers animals by being routinely misused by less-than-ethical rescuers. We clean up their messes constantly. ALL THE TIME. Warehousing and hoarding problems. Bite cases and tragedies."

Was Oreo like Buck? I suspect if videos or other evidence proved she was, it would make no difference, none, to the "all she needed was a place to take her in" folks. I suspect the ASPCA knows that.

Emily's questions still haven't been answered:

Have some no-kill advocates now decided that ALL dogs, even irredeemably sick/dangerous/aggressive dogs like Buck, should be kept alive in sanctuaries?

And if not, what is the basis for their attacks on the ASPCA’s decision?

[Also, Heather's last name is Houlahan. No i. My bad [slaps self].]

Christie Keith

As to Emily's unanswered questions:

Have some no-kill advocates now decided that ALL dogs, even irredeemably sick/dangerous/aggressive dogs like Buck, should be kept alive in sanctuaries?

And if not, what is the basis for their attacks on the ASPCA’s decision?

I can't answer for "some no-kill advocates," but only for myself. I do not believe that animals who are irredeemably suffering should be kept alive.

I believe that an aggressive or dangerous dog has as much right to live as any other dog, however, just as I don't want to see tigers roaming the streets of my city, NOR kept in barren cement runs, I feel the same about dangerous dogs. If they can be given an appropriate habitat and care at no greater risk to the public or handlers, OR THEMSELVES, than a really top notch zoo or wild animal park, then I'm fine with it. If not, then in most cases I would opt to euthanize that animal, just as I would if he or she were my own pet.

Beyond that, I have an open mind.

Regarding what I object to about ASPCA's decision vis a vis Oreo, I have said, oh, forty million times now, that I have no idea if it was right or wrong, it's the process that I'm objecting to.

mary frances

The eyes and ears of grassroots rescue efforts are threatened daily in numerous ways - maybe the cruelest is if you squack about the way animal control (AC) does biz then no animals for you (like the soup Nazi)and worse...(my opinion) lots of rescuers just avoid the AC system altogether - the system is so broken that there's no shortage of animals and people in need - quite an underground movement happening and it shouldn't be a shock the only guideline is save a life...it's a war AC vs. rescue (and the public if they are even aware of it)...any restraint on AC is good in my mind and thank you all for sorting out the devilish details...because the devil is hard at work killing innocent critters (that I know)

H. Houlahan

The only proposed amendment I see (linked from your article) is one disqualifying organizations whose board/officers have been convicted of, or have actively pending, animal cruelty charges.

Can we get that bar any lower?

Christie Keith

A few years back I was diagnosed with a serious illness, and my first thought [actually my second, after “Thank God I won’t die of Alzheimer’s”] was that I would have to arrange for my dear unadoptable dog to be euthanized prior to my death.

The law in California restricts the ability of an owner to require such a thing, although if it's reasonable (the dog is unhandleable by anyone else is one of the specific things mentioned as an exception) then the provision would be honored.

But in 1980, a court case brought by Rich Avanzino over a will stating that a dog named Sido should be killed when her owner passed away resulted in a ruling that a person's right to dispose of their property after death "cannot be interpreted to mean to destroy or damage," as well as a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown specifically sparing Sido's life.

I understand the fear all of us feel about our ability to protect and make decisions for our own animals, and to continue to protect them after our deaths. I'm concerned in just that way. But there are issues involved here that are solidly in the gray zone for me.

Christie Keith

Heather, I list other amendments in my column, which I got straight from AM Kellner's mouth in my interview.

What qualifications do you want to see for organizations? Or are you against any law requiring access to sheltered animals who are going to be killed?

H. Houlahan

You misread Luisa. She wrote "prior to my death."

Because, as you point out, afterwards, anything can happen.

If something sudden should happen to both of us, I should hope that our survivors will do the right thing and euthanize Dave the Trollcat, rather than try to move him one more time.

Because I promised him no more the last time.

If I saw it coming, I'd take care of it myself.

H. Houlahan

Or are you against any law requiring access to sheltered animals who are going to be killed?

When you retract that totally shitty "question" and apologize, then I will be happy to discuss the issue of qualifications with you.

Christie Keith

You misread Luisa. She wrote “prior to my death.”

It's true that the line I quoted didn't reflect everything she said, but given that she continued with a warning to "get those wills and powers of attorney in order, people," I don't think I misread.

Christie Keith

When you retract that totally shitty “question” and apologize, then I will be happy to discuss the issue of qualifications with you.

Heather, whether you want to answer or not is totally up to you, but I sincerely did not mean that in a "shitty" way. There are people who feel that laws such as this are a double-edged sword, and even Donna Reynolds, who in general supports the right of access to shelter animals, said she thought the energy being spent to pass this one would be better spent on other things.

I did not intend to slur you.

mary frances

OK one last observation from me regarding this, then i really have to get back to work...the betrayal of the public by animal control (AC) and the big animal groups is a big player in this chaos - there is such arrogance and anger directed at the public (with rescuers too - some of the nicest people suddenly get rabid at the public) It's misdirected and destructive to working with the public to making things better - Yesbiscuit does a real good job writing about this (I think 2 days ago) I'm guilty of demonizing AC though.


Consider this to be a plea for Donna and Christie to NOT take their discussion about the effects of the Hayden Law private. I for one would really like to know what you both see as the effects of this law. Maybe Hayden deserves its own blog post.

I don't need to explain it to Donna and Christie but for the benefit of others, the Hayden Law included more than just rescue groups' access to shelter dogs that's under discussion here.

I would really like to see a analysis revisiting all the impacts of Hayden.

My assessment is that since 1998 when the Hayden Law passed, shelter euthanasias of dogs have declined at a faster rate than before Hayden.


The shelter euthanasia trend doesn't prove that the Hayden Law is the reason for this improvement, but it's promising.

Christie Keith

I'm sure after Donna and I talk, we'll both have things to say. I don't think either of us was cut out for the "secret summit" approach to... well, ANYTHING!


Ultimately we can never know the answers to some of the questions surrounding the controversy about Oreo and I think that's hard to accept. We tend to think in terms of what woulda-coulda-shoulda happened and base our opinions on those ideas. But to me, in trying to keep it simple and fact-based, it boils down to this:

I support Oreo's Law because I strongly believe that all alternatives to killing shelter pets should be explored. (Note that I said "killing" because I intend my comment to differentiate between that and "euthanasia" which to me, is a means to end the suffering of a medically hopeless pet.)

I think the ASPCA was wrong to kill Oreo in the way they did because, based on what I've read, they did not explore the available alternatives.

As I understand it, Oreo's Law would help shelter pets have access to all available options before being killed.

Gina Spadafori

By the way, Shirley has been on a serious roll lately over at YesBiscuit. Go read!

David S. Greene

Shirley had a sad, infuriating story yesterday on YesBiscuit, and although I couldn't bring myself to write it up for this morning's post, please check it out. It could give rise to some interesting discussions... I give Shirley enormous credit for what she does with her blog. Great stuff, nearly every post.

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