Redemption's Nathan Winograd on the no-kill movement and his new film
Nathan Winograd released his book about animal shelters, Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America, eight years ago -- and the response was so successful that he decided to create a documentary about animal shelters not only to reprise the information in the book but also to discuss the impact the book had on the American no-kill movement.
That documentary, Redemption: The No-Kill Revolution in America, will screen in the Denver Post auditorium at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, July 12, and Winograd will be on hand. In advance of that appearance, we talked with him about the state of companion-animal welfare in this country (and how Colorado measures up), the complications of turning a book into a film, and the chicken-and-egg argument behind the need to kill dogs, cats and other companion animals in shelters.
Westword: Why did you think it was important to make this film? What message did you want to convey about animal shelters and the no-kill movement?
Nathan Winograd: I've been an advocate for ending the killing of dogs, cats and other companion animals in shelters for more than twenty years. And I've been advocating for that in a variety of ways. Once a year we have a conference in Washington, D.C., and it draws upwards of 900 people from all over the world -- shelter directors, rescuers, shelter veterinarians. Eight years ago, I wrote a book in the hopes of reaching beyond the movement, reaching the average American dog- or cat-lover who for so many years has been led to believe that killing was a necessary evil.
I wasn't sure what the reception of the book would be, but it was wildly successful. It wasn't J.K. Rowling-level successful, but it really started to make an impact in the movement, and we saw a growth in the number of groups around the country. No Kill Colorado was born of that book. A book is going to reach a certain demographic, and the hope was to reach an even broader audience by not just turning a book into a film but also by talking about the tremendous success this movement has had in the eight years since the book was published.
So I created this documentary that covers the history of animal sheltering, which is a long history, in one hour, and ultimately it's a message of hope. It deals with difficult subjects, the killing of companion animals, but the ultimate message is one, I believe, of hope and inspiration -- and, if I can use the title, redemption, because it does show how far this movement has come and how close we are to achieving a no-kill nation. And my hope is that it taps into the public's compassion.
Can you talk a little bit about why people believe that killing in animal shelters is a necessary evil?
Historically, people have rationalized the reason for killing backward. Collectively, we're talking about four million animals every year. So rationalizing backward from the fact that shelters kill, the argument has been that if killing wasn't necessary, nobody would do it, and it must be necessary because there are too many animals for the too few homes that are available. But there's a lot of information that mitigates against that belief. If that were true, why are pet stores and puppy mills still in business? These are commercial enterprises that wouldn't be in the business if homes weren't available. How is it that there are now hundreds of cities and towns that have ended the killing and done so through adoption? There are at least homes in those cities -- are there homes in other cities where the killing is still happening?
The people making the argument that killing is necessary couldn't tell you the demand side of the supply-demand equation, and if you look at the demand side of the equation, every year in the United States, upwards of 30 million people get a new companion animal. Some of those people already have an animal, and they get another one. Some of those homes are going to be replacement homes, meaning an animal dies and they get another one. And some are going to be new homes. So it's not a question of too many animals and not enough homes, it's a question of where people are getting the animals. It's a market-share issue. And those shelters that effectively compete for the market share of animals and keep animals alive long enough to get into those homes -- those shelters succeed.
And we now have a number of communities from across the country of varying demographics, urban and rural, northern and southern, in communities we would classify as affluent and in communities that have tremendous poverty, in very conservative and very liberal or progressive parts of the country. When it comes to saving the lives of dogs and cats and other companion animals, if shelters tap into the public's compassion, it proves that people of all walks of life want to do right by them, and that is a very positive message that I hope resonates with the people of Denver and Colorado.
Keep reading for more from Nathan Winograd.