Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friendly Fire, by Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

CreateSpace, ISBN 9781479268931, October 2012

It's fair to say up front that Nathan Winograd is not a calm, easy-going kind of guy. He's a passionate advocate for shelter reform and animal welfare, and he does not mince words or give quarter to those who disagree with him.

This is a tough discussion of what's wrong in the American animal sheltering system, what can be done about it, and what, or rather, in his opinion, who the problems are.

The Winograds discuss, in sometimes painful detail, what's wrong in many American shelters: bad hours, bad hygiene, bad procedures, poor standards, high kill rates that have nothing to do with the animals that come in and everything to do with bad standards of care, inaccessibility, and obstacles to, rather than promotion of, adoption.

Nathan Winograd is a primary, and fiery, advocate of the No Kill Equation, a set of principles, policies, and programs that taken together, should bring any community to a status of killing no healthy or treatable animals. It sounds very pie-in-the-sky, but it is working in many communities in the US. Nor is Winograd an armchair expert. In the 1990s, he was part of the team that brought San Francisco nearly to No Kill, and in 2001, he became the director of the Tompkins County animal control shelter, and transformed it into a No Kill community, a status it retains to this day.

However, he's also harsh in his judgments of those who do not agree with him. Anyone who has paid close attention to sheltering in the US knows that there are bad "shelters" run by bad people who clearly do not care in the slightest about the animals--who are abusive, indifferent, and corrupt. What Winograd misses is that there are also good people who haven't garnered the support and the funding to make changes they know their shelters need, and people who are overwhelmed and don't see the path out that Winograd says is there--sometimes because of the harshness with which Winograd delivers his message.

I have other issues with this book, including the Winograds' denunciation of "biological nativism," which they flirt with identifying with Naziism, coming that close to committing a Godwin violation. The occasion for this is cats; the hostility to free-roaming cats by, especially, bird enthusiasts, is frequently well over the edge into fanaticism, tossing around entirely fanciful numbers on both the reproduction rate of cats, and the rate at which they kill birds.

What the Winograds fail to recognize is that while cats are not the dire threat they're made out to be, and mostly do the job they signed up for a few thousand years ago in Egypt--controlling the rodent population--some invasive species do in fact do major damage, not just change, but major damage, reducing biological diversity and the overall health of local ecosystems. And, frankly, there's no reason we should not seek to preserve unique local species, even if some newly introduced species can fill the same niche. I think we can defend cats without also defending purple loosestrife. We can judge individual invasive species (ourselves included!) on their individual merits and impacts.

Nevertheless, if you're interested in improving your local shelter, there's a lot of practical advice and inspirational material here.

Recommended with caveats as stated.

I received a free electronic copy of this book.