Tag Archives: Companion Animals

A Month of Vegan Research: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation


The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


Nathan Winograd.  2007.  Redemption:  The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America.  Almaden Books.


I first learned of Nathan Winograd’s work from a Vegan Freaks Radio interview many years ago.  Like most, I had been indoctrinated with the “common sense” of “euthanasia.”  Too many dogs and cats, not enough homes, what else can be done?

Well, a lot, actually.  Redemption demonstrates that “overpopulation” is a misnomer.  The problem is not a lack of homes, the problem is shelter management.  Bureaucracy and out-dated procedures have created a pathway dependency. There is an ethos of, “This is how it has always been done; this is how it will continue to be done.” Change is perceived as “risky” or otherwise unattractive.

Winograd outlines a practical solution to “overpopulation,” including working to make shelters more inviting to the public (instead of sad houses of death that we all avoid because we don’t want to feel sad and guilty), lengthening hours of operation, emphasizing adoption, and coming up with creative solutions to overcrowding.

My own personal experiences with shelters exemplify this irrationality. One of my cats once went missing in Fort Collins, Colorado (one of the biggest cities in the state).  The shelter would not allow citizens to phone in to check to see if their companion was there and its online records were not kept up to date.  I had to get up very early before work and drive 30 minutes into the prairie to the outskirts of town, only to find out that the shelter didn’t open until 11 A.M. I had to drive 30 minutes back home, then repeat the procedure after work.

Having previously volunteered at the shelter, I also knew that unclaimed animals were put on the kill list after five days.

Redemption asks readers to consider how these structural issues could be altered for efficiency. Lives would be saved if this shelter was located where people could easily access it, accepted phone calls about missing animals, had an updated online listing, was open during regular hours, and housed animals long enough to give them a legitimate chance for rescue or adoption.

Redemption is an “Ah ha!” book the challenges speciesist ideologies that we’ve taken for granted as true and necessary.  For that matter, PETA can’t stand him, often labeling him a radical–so you know he must be on to something!  You can also sign up for his newsletter and follow him on Twitter and Facebook for more information.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.


Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 25, 2013.

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Rebuilding and Reusing Rescue Dogs

Rebuilding Dogs

Anti-speciesism theorist Norm Phelps once noted that cat and dog “overpopulation” is a product of capitalism. That is, human society breeds these animals as designer products for purchase. The capitalist system relies on constant production and consumption. Regular disposal to accommodate these requirements is the unfortunate consequence of a capitalist system working as it should be. “Shelters,” then, become the landfill at the end of this production line, artificially sustaining this ultimately unsustainable consumer system.

I have noticed that many well-meaning rescue programs designed to intervene in this system to save lives also run on some rather problematic pro-capitalist ideologies (the Australian show “Give a Dog a Home” is especially relevant here).

First, these are reform-focused social services, and thus do little to challenge the system as it is. The companion animal production line churns on, while rescuers at the end of the line scramble to save the discards.

Second, survivors are extremely vulnerable, as they are frequently valued primarily in their utility to humans. Take many rescue shows, for instance, which boast their ability to “rebuild” “discarded” animals who were “tossed on the scrap heap” and make them useful, working animals. They may be assigned as “truffle dogs,” personal assistants, or entertainers trained to perform demeaning tricks on command. All of this “work” is unpaid and forced without consent, of course.

These survivors are framed as grateful to be both alive and “useful,” and no one questions the system that created their violent circumstances in the first place. Nor can anyone seem to imagine a future where other animals have a right to life independent of human wants. In this way, rescue animals remain products in a pro-capitalist system. To me, these programs are disturbingly similar to “trash-to-treasure” home makeover shows.

Why not allow cats and dogs to exist (in the words of animal law scholar Lee hall) on their own terms? Only in a capitalist society is one’s right to exist wholly dependent upon one’s productivity in the economy. This is a fundamentally problematic and unjust approach. Switching out designer dogs for “shabby chic” mutts and reject pure-breds who have been successfully “retrained” supports a post-speciesist ideology. Our goal should not be to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” Nonhuman Animals, but rather to liberate them from systems of human oppression.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the problems of vegan capitalism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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