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  • No Kill Learning

How Did We Get Here?

Updated: Jun 8, 2019

What the story of a dog's death has to say about where we are...

In a recently published Op-Ed in the New York Times, written by Carol Mithers, (whose primary credential as published in the Times is that she is "writing a book about dog rescue") we are asked to ponder if we are "loving our shelter dogs to death." Her piece was in fact titled, "Are We Loving Our Shelter Dogs to Death?"

Mithers opens her piece with a dramatic, heart-tugging story that had been enraging animal lovers for days. Mithers wrote:

"On the night of Aug. 6, someone tossed a 5-year-old black pit bull from a car onto a South Los Angeles street corner, where she lay unable to move. A nearby resident found her and called Ghetto Rescue Foundation, a nonprofit active in the city’s low-income communities, and a volunteer took the animal to an emergency vet. The dog was badly dehydrated and had injuries that a veterinary technician said indicated sexual abuse. Despite treatment, she died a few hours later."

The problem for Mithers is that none of that appears to be true. By the time Mithers wrote her piece, the Los Angeles Police Department had already issued a report indicating that nearly all of the rumors circulating about this poor dog were not true. You can read the actual report below. (Blog continues after LAPD News Release)

To be clear, it does not appear that Cargo was sexually abused or thrown from a car. What actually happened with this poor dog is not known. But, it seems very possible that much of or most of what has been going around about her story has been simply made up. Mithers addressed that in her piece by simply stating that the Los Angeles Police Department had issued a report that "contradicted some of the story details." No. The report says that there is no evidence to support any of the claims and it also explains how some of the story came to be.

Cargo, apparently, had been a breeding dog that was only recently spayed. Veterinarians said that she had produced "multiple litters of puppies," and that likely explains why any "vaginal trauma" was reported by a veterinary technician. There were also no signs of scrapes or abrasions consistent with being thrown from a car.

As I write this, I still don't know what actually caused the death of this dog, and I am unwilling to speculate. What I do know is that many people have been latching onto the made-up version of the story as a way to disparage No Kill animal sheltering, and to even cast aspersions on large-scale animal adoption events from animal shelters, which save millions of animals lives every year. The subtitle on Mithers piece in the Times suggests "[No Kill policies] may be making things worse for America's pets."

Mithers then goes on to recount the apparently bogus version of Cargo's story to make her case: See! If animal shelter's don't kill animals, they get sexually abused and thrown out of cars!

The most shocking thing about Mithers piece is that she had to have known in advance that she was dangling on a pretty thin wire telling that story. She had to have known - or at least should have - that the official police report contradicted all of her key statements about this case. She even referenced the police report in her writing, although I noticed that she conveniently neglected to link to the report while also minimizing its impact on her story. She gets so much else wrong in her piece that it is impossible to untangle it all. One thing she gets right is that animal sheltering and poverty are two issues that affect each other. That is specifically why the No Kill Equation includes important efforts under the category of Pet Retention to help poor families to be better stewards of their companion animals. I have personally helped to coordinate some of the first low-cost and no-cost spay/neuter and vaccination services in my home state, as part of our No Kill efforts.

In short: the very thing Mithers seems passionate about (helping low income people) is a core part of the No Kill Equation, which she disparages. It is sad to see Cargo's name used in that way.

It seems that many people may have had personal reasons to embellish, stretch or even outright lie about Cargo's story. Shelters, rescues and even animal advocates in general have been known to latch onto horrific stories of animal abuse, sometimes without checking their facts. There are all kinds of reasons why: they are responding emotionally rather than rationally; they may get more attention for their cause; they may get more money in fundraising. The list could go on and on. But, when it rises to the level of being published in the New York Times, a top-rate news source in the USA for which I have great respect, in a piece that seems to make the case that dogs are better of dead than adopted from animal shelters, it seems obvious, at best, that a bit more vetting of the Op-ed was needed before it was published. I can forgive a volunteer-based group trying to save animals for being at their emotional wits-end and making some bad choices. I can't be quite so forgiving of a self-professed journalist/Op-Ed writer or a major, well-respected, publication that I hold in high regard like the New York Times. I mean, really... how did we get here?

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