Best Friends Blog

The Paranoiacs’ Handbook

A short, alarmist tract seems to have escaped from the basement of the ASPCA giving the impression that the organization has a black-ops counter-insurgency team engaged in a covert war against the no-kill movement. No worries, though, the offending document (please see bottom of blog for document) was recaptured and returned to the vault from whence it came and is no longer available for questioning on the ASPCA website.

The document in question is titled “The Tactics of the Extremist Agenda” but might as well be titled “Our Paranoid Assumptions About People We Refuse to Speak To.” The tract reads like a John Birch Society leaflet about how to spot a spy and presumes to deconstruct the motives and mechanisms of virtually every grassroots, local no-kill movement in the country.

The document was available for download from the ASPCA’s “Pro” website, where the organization offers resources for rescuers and shelters. As soon as the document was discovered, the alarms of advocates across the country went off — and rightly so.

The document created a stir and considerable amusement in the social media world before being recalled by the ASPCA, but copies of it are still floating around on various no-kill sites.

First, let me say that I strongly disagree with the ASPCA document’s assessment of no-kill campaigns. Local no-kill movements are not sleeper cells acting on coded instructions from above, and they are not following a scripted playbook as implied in the document.

They are, for the most part, gut-level reactions to the needless killing of homeless pets and a rejection of the status quo that wants to make that killing OK.

Before people get organized, if they ever do, they get pissed off at the killing. People pissed off at the killing blame, not unreasonably in some cases, the people and institutions doing the killing. I don’t mean to suggest that how we communicate doesn’t matter — reasonable dialogue does make it more likely that our position will be heard and understood — or that some in our movement don’t make a point of being inflammatory and over the top. However, it doesn’t take an “Extremist Agenda” and a local “proxy,” as noted in the document, for the animal-loving public to reject the notion that killing homeless pets is the best that we can do for them and to call for change.

Instead of cooking up fevered fantasies about an Al-Qaeda-like no-kill operation that is on the loose and may be coming to a community near you, one would hope that the ASPCA would be rattling the cages of local SPCAs and shelters and using their considerable influence in those circles to get such organizations to address the actual cause of public unrest, which is not an extremist agenda, but the killing of healthy, adoptable pets.

From one organization to another…I know the ASPCA, and I know you can do better than this. Profiling imaginary enemies only makes you look small and, well, paranoid. Rather than counseling your constituent organizations on how to defend the status quo and suppress no-kill activists, I would hope that you would counsel them to acknowledge the need for serious change and on how to engage the passion of the so-called “extremists” to help them save more lives to bring about a time of No More Homeless Pets.

ASPCA, the train has left the station, and we are en route to a no-kill country. We would love for you to be at the victory party.


Francis Battista
Co-Founder, Best Friends Animal Society



The document below is from the ASPCA “Pro” website. The link to “Tactics of the Extremist Agenda” has been disabled.


The Tactics of the Extremist Agenda, from ASPCA Pro

Step 1: Establishing a Proxy

A member of a community will begin to adopt the talking points of the Extremist Agenda, using aggressive and divisive language to describe the state of that community’s animal welfare organizations.

Step 2: Creating a Local Organization

The proxy forms an organization (i.e. “No Kill Austin/Louisville/Houston/Philly) that will act as the local brand for the Extremist Agenda and begin to use social networking to expand.

Step 3: Engaging in Local Politics

The no-kill organization lobbies local public officials and candidates regarding the existing euthanasia rates at the municipal shelter. In most cases, there does exist public attention to the need to reform the sheltering system to increase lifesaving.

• The proxy organization will get involved in local elections, providing questionnaires and financial support to candidates perceived as sympathetic to the Extremist Agenda.

Step 4: Slandering Existing Animal Welfare

The Extremist Agenda slanders the existing shelter director and any local humane organization that is deemed to be sympathetic to the status quo. The aim of the slander is to put enough pressure on the director to step down (which is often achieved).

Step 5: Installing a Puppet Regime

A new “compassionate” director sympathetic to the Extremist Agenda is put in place through effective lobbying. The Extremist Agenda organization will often advocate a candidate with little or no experience who will essentially do as they are told.

Step 6: Saving Face when the Agenda Fails

The Extremist Agenda displaces blame when the program becomes unsustainable by blaming either their own director or local public officials for not backing them sufficiently.

Step 7: Slandering Media

Attacking unfavorable media is commonplace for the Extremist Agenda when a story runs that questions any component of implementing overnight solutions while demonizing hardworking animal welfare organizations.

  • Francis, thank you for this article. It’s one of the best and most fair articles describing people that believe in the no kill equation that I have read. 

  • Mrcartel

    I have a ticket to ride that train, so save me a glass of champagne.

  • John Conwell

    Francis… The shame of it is that they have so much good material but it pains me to use any of it not only because of this recent paranoid reaction but because of their overall operation and need to feel like they are the sole source of shelter reform when in many cases they continue to support the same failed programs.  Being a relatively newbie to ths whole No Kill community I have learned so much very quickly… it makes me wonder why some who have been in so long are resist so strongly to success?  Thanks for the blog and thanks for all we do together! 

  • Anonymous

    I am one of those who are enraged by the killing at my shelter. And the executive director would rather prioritize purchasing $1.5 million in land for a dog run than fund a low-cost spay neuter program in this City. He blames the public for the overpopulation, when really, it is everybody’s fault. We have all failed the animals – the city, the citizens, and especially the ‘shelter’ which is anything but a shelter for the animals. I’m sad to see the ASPCA is regressive, instead of progressive, on this issue. They must look at the evidence, at the proven cases of success. It is all about the leadership and the community’s willingness to support them.

  • Lisa Kay Peters

    “… to dismiss an entire group of people working to end the killing in our shelters as “extremists” not only hurts those working to help but it, ultimately, makes those outside the general animal-loving public dismiss animal advocates as unthinking creatures who only respond to emotion.”

    I support NKN – but that is exactly my frustration with it as well. What I read from NKN tends to do just that — dismiss an entire group of people working to end the killing in our shelters — the ones WORKING in some of the shelters. Not all shelters are as horrible as the examples being cited, and even in some of the failing ones there are individuals trying to make a difference from within. When people are new to the concepts and no little to nothing about what their community’s shelter is struggling or succeeding with, but read “Redemption” and promptly light their torches and call for an wholesale overthrow … well, it’s hard to keep good people in the fight, it’s so awful to commit your life to making a difference and then be instantly dismissed as being part of the evil status quo.

    BF, you have the voice and the following … please help people who are “pissed off” better channel their efforts. How does that saying go — be the change you want to see? If you don’t want to be dismissed as an entire group, stop dismissing your opposition as an entire group.

    • Francis Battista


      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Nothing in the blog
      was intended to excuse negative behavior or “collective punishment”, so to
      speak, carried out by no-kill advocates. You are quite right in saying that
      there are many people in the shelter system who want change or who are working
      for change to save more lives. Attacking them personally or collectively lumping
      every shelter and animal control agency into the same category doesn’t advances our cause
      and often sets us back. Best Friends, as you probably know, advocates for
      positive, constructive engagement and if you attend our No More Homeless Pets
      National Conferences you will see (or have seen) that none of the models for
      success that we present involve shredding shelter staff.


      What is disturbing about the ASPCA document and why we felt
      it appropriate to comment publicly about it is because it gives shelters a free
      pass by claiming that the root cause of public dissatisfaction with shelters or
      the formation of local no-kill efforts stem from the actions of outside
      provocateurs rather than from legitimate complaints about a shelter or an
      animal control agency’s efforts of lack of effort to save lives. Moreover, if
      this is how the ASPCA really feels about no kill and if it reflects their
      belief and values, then that is not good for our collective movement and hits a
      sour note with Best Friends particularly since no-kill is our core belief and


      I understand that we are a contentious community with loads
      of opinions and an abundance of emotions and passion, but animal control
      agencies and shelter managers have a responsibility to the public and the
      animals in their care. If they are coached by one of the leading animal welfare
      organizations in the country to regard public discontent with their performance or no-kill advocates as some kind of conspiracy, then that is just wrong.

    • Fastgurrrl

      It’s not about groups, it’s about the lives and killing of innocent animals.

  • Judith Lautner

    I am a strong no-kill advocate. I don’t always condone the language used by others in this movement but the above document certainly suggests that the ASPCA deserves at least part of the anger thrown its way. I am really disturbed by this document and delighted at Best Friends’ taking it on.

  • Becky Dodge

    Francis, Thanks for pointing out, in a reasonable, factual, tone how ludicrous this document is. Things like this do so much harm and the idiocy needs to be pointed out whenever it occurs. Living where I do, in a town with only one community “shelter” which kills at least 50% of the animals it takes in, blogs like yours are a reason to hope that things can eventually get better – even here.

  • John

    Thank you for your work for all of our companion pals.

  • Adrienne Clegg

    Thanks for publishing the document. How sad that the largest “animal welfare” agency is afraid of change and dooms millions of animals to death because it can not imagine a better way. Love you best friends!

  • Tina Clark

    Thank you, Francis, for speaking out about this.

  • Thank you for your blog!

  • Andrea

    The Extremist Agenda/Proxy??? I have to laugh, although this is truly too sad for such a large organization like the ASPCA. Seriously?!
    Alrighty then, next time I get envelope #2,301 from the ASPCA asking me for a donation, I’d like to ask them why they need to raise funds from some Extremist like me, who can’t wait to see the end of homeless pets and euthanasia in city shelters. Without our local groups here in L.A., we’d be totally under. Thankfully, most shelters appreciate the help they can get from private groups and volunteers. We’re all in the same boat.

  • KJLieber

    Thank you Francis and Best Friends. Someone already said this means a lot coming from you and they were right!!!! Keep it up!! 

  • Lynette

    Thank You Francis!  Well said!

  • Thank you, Francis!
    Kathy Pobloskie
    Wisconsin Voters for Companion Animals

  • Jessica Reid

    Bravo! Thank you for being another voice for reason in the animal welfare movement. Whether all of us agree or not, to dismiss an entire group of people working to end the killing in our shelters as “extremists” not only hurts those working to help but it, ultimately, makes those outside the general animal-loving public dismiss animal advocates as unthinking creatures who only respond to emotion. 

    All of us can make mistakes and learn. We are human and not quite as cool as cats or dogs. 😉 But those of us in the No Kill movement are just as you said “pissed off at the killing”.  I volunteered and witnessed so much unnecessary death. I was ready to quit until an employee told me there was another way, and I read Redemption.

    The No Kill movement gave me hope and a belief in the possibility of real change.  At best – imagine if we succeed!? (which we will) But, at worst, if we failed why is it so wrong to try?? Why so much anger about actually calling attention to what’s happening in our shelters? Isn’t that the ONLY way it can ever truly change? A dialog where we challenge each other to do better and get more creative while helping more pets should be welcomed rather than demonized. 

    It’s a dangerous road the ASPCA is going down, and I hope this serves as a wake-up call and that the organization does indeed get on the train at the next stop. 

    Jessica Reid
    President, No Kill Louisville

  • THANK-YOU!! Francis Battista and Best Friends Animal Society

  • dottie

    Thank you for the reasonable and well-thought out response to what is becoming a very “unbalanced and extreme approach to animal welfare” by the ASPCA. They are not who they would like us to think they are and I think their “agenda” is proof of that. Good for you, Mr Battista, for being the voice of reason for the animals.

  • jackcarone

    Nice. How can any thinking person look at an organization like the ASPCA and not see the absurdity of defending the mass killing of those they exist to protect.

  • jeff

    ASPCA is scared. they have a big bureaucracy  and a lot of money tied up in knowing the “right ” way to do things. they are afraid of being exposed as wrong as the no kill movement succeeds
    they are like entrenched politicians.willing to say/do anything to protect their way of doing things and their perks

    • Fastgurrrl

      Yes, well said, Jeff.

  • Evelyn in Cincinnati

    I LOVE it!  “ASPCA, the train has left the station, and we are en route to a no-kill country. We would love for you to be at the victory party.”

  • Ryan

    Thank you, Francis!

  • Kellee Kilmer

    Thank you Francis, It means alot coming from BFAS!

  • Well said, sir.

  • Well said, sir.