Maddie’s Fund Suggests Animal Shelters Start Breeding Pets
Updated: Mar 5
As I am sitting down to write this blog, I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I am needing to do this. I have known for quite some time that Maddie’s Fund (MF) has had, at best, a controversial impact on animal sheltering in the USA and beyond. Though it was started with an interesting vision (and seed money of about $300 million dollars donated by David Duffield, one of the founders of PeopleSoft software) the organization has gone from an interesting idea to being one of the greatest threats to homeless pets in nation. I do not mean that hyperbolically.
Over my decades of working on behalf of animals, I have worked with various people from MF in a variety of capacities, including attending meetings with Richard Avanzino set up by the American Bar Association (ABA) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The ABA had set up a steering committee to help address legal issues relating to animal rescue after the largest natural disaster to effect pets in our nations history. I was honored to work with them on that effort. I was also excited to be working and interacting with Avanzino, who I considered to be a hero of mine at the time. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work with many people at and associated with Maddie’s Fund. I have written for them, including some writing that is still on their website today. They have hosted me as a speaker at conferences. I have presented to their senior staff on multiple occasions and worked with people in the organization at every level over many years. Over those years I have watched with sadness the deterioration of MF, the organizational equivalent of a seeing a grandparent descend into dimentia. Unfortunately, the situation with MF is worse than a mentally deteriorating geriatric, because the average person has little knowledge of the things about which MF speaks. People can, therefore, take the wildly crazy things MF says as truth. The damage that results is real and important. I was well aware of all of that for many years. Yet, I was still utterly unprepared for what I saw in my social media feed yesterday.
What I saw was so shocking I could hardly believe what I was seeing. As I write this, I can still hardly believe it.
The NJ Animal Observer wrote a post on Facebook saying that MF and some associated organizations were promoting the idea that animal shelters start breeding pets.
Had this been posted by some other source, I would likely have written it off as nonsense. I mean, really: The notion that animal shelters should breed animals is so wildly insane that it is nearly impossible to believe that anyone - even the dysfunctional MF - would promote it. But, NJ Animal Observer has consistently been a reliable sources of accurate and well-researched animal sheltering news and data. The site routinely finds and publishes public records that document the needless killing of healthy and treatable dogs and cats in animal shelters throughout the Northeast USA and beyond. Yet, in spite of the credible source, I felt a need to check it out myself, because the idea of shelters breeding animals is, well, to be candid, completely crazy from my perspective. It was so crazy that in spite of the credible source, I could not believe it without checking it out myself. It was like I was reading The Onion or something.
Fortunately, NJ Animal Observer (as usual) included some links that made fact-checking their post easy. One of those links was to a piece published by MF themselves. (Note: Since this blog post was published, MF has deleted the page on their site promoting breeding, but a YouTube video of the discussion is - for now - still available here. There is an interesting story about how MF deleted, restored, and then deleted the page again as a more detailed note at the end of this post)
It turned out that the writting on the MF website was exactly as described and even included a YouTube video of various participants discussing the idea.
Reading the MF site and watching the video only made my head spin more wildly. Below, I paraphrase the discussion with some of my own commentary.
The suggestion that animal shelters begin breeding animals stems from the false notion that there is a “shortage” of pets in animal shelters. You read that right. I am not making it up. Participants in the discussion say that because intake to animal shelters is declining, they need to find other sources of pets in order to ”fill the demand” for pets.
While it is true that intake to animal shelters is declining it has to be pointed out that a large part of that decline has been that many animal shelters have changed their intake policies to stop taking many animals in need, even stray dogs. The National Animal Control Association, for example, has gone so far as to adopt new policies that make it harder for people to bring stray animals to shelters. Unfortunately, this means is that highly desirable, easy-to-adopt pets might get into shelters quickly while those that are more challenging might never get in.
It should not have to be said that when animal shelters deliberately restrict intake, to the point of leaving friendly stray dogs to fend for themselves on the streets, the reduction in intake that results should not be described as a “shortage of pets in shelters.” It is mind-boggling to me that I even have to type those words.
To be clear: animal shelters throughout the USA, even those in areas where they claim to have a “shortage of pets,” are still killing scores of healthy and treatable pets. While the number of animal shelters that have stopped killing is growing, No Kill shelters are still very much in the minority. The notion, therefore, that there is a “shortage” of pets is lunacy. The problem with the discussion is even worst than that, however, because even if there were a “shortage” of pets in shelters, that would not be a reason for shelters to breed them.
The role of animal shelters is not to “fill a demand for pets,” unless it is to find homes for the animals they have rescued.
The role of animal shelters is to provide comfort, care and - you know… “shelter” for pets in need. The fact that I even have to explain that to organizations like MF, and the “shelters” involved in this discussion proves how far these organizations have drifted from their missions/purposes.
Even if there were a "shortage" of pets in shelters (again, there isn't) that still would not mean shelters should breed them. There is something else going on here. For decades one of the ways wealthy animal shelters have made money is by killing animals that need extra care, like adult or senior pets, while importing more desirable younger puppies from other parts of the nation with higher supplies. By keeping only the most easy-to-adopt animals alive, animal shelters can turn a hefty profit while doing the least amount of work possible. It's a practice responsible shelters call "retail rescue." The notion of breeding pets is just an extension of that, where shelters work to take in the most profitable pets and kill the others. An organization with the financial resources that MF has promoting this idea will no doubt result in the ongoing needless killing of pets in animal shelters so that shelters can profit from breeding desirable animals. One of the shelters involved in the video says in the discussion that they want hypoallergenic and dogs with special coats. Another says they think partnering with “large-scale breeders” is another great opportunity. Meanwhile, the dogs and cats that need their shelters are going out the back doors in body bags. That MF is promoting this idea is simply mind boggling.
Note about MF deleting the page from their website:
When I first read the page and watched the video, I and others sent complaints to MF. Shortly thereafter, the page was removed from their site. About 12 hours later, it was put back. Then, it was later deleted again, but - as of this writing - the YouTube version is still available. This proves to me that while they profess to be “leaders” in the No Kill movement, they are anything but. They are disorganized, incoherent, and don’t seem to know what their own positions are, what they stand for or what their purpose really is. They seem to be a boat on the water with no steering system. They just bob and float around saying whatever pops into their heads and then try to pretend they never said it when they get caught saying completely crazy things. Then, they can’t even get that right, because they have left the YouTube version in place. I wonder how the Duffields feel about that $300,000 gift they gave as startup money, and all of the gifts they have given since. MF has become an embarrassment. But they are so insulated in an echo-chamber of the high kill shelters they have surrounded themselves with that they cannot they cannot see or hear how they look and sound to the outside world. It is my hope this episode will help them get a clue.