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, treatable 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.

  • Anonymous

    BFAS is doing what other’s can’t or won’t… It’s easy to take the adoptable dogs and leave the undesirables… the sick, the seniors, the “aggressive” breeds, the “ugly” unadoptable dogs.  It’s easy to front load with adoptables to keep your numbers up… The real challenge and success comes in taking the dogs no one else wants and finding them a forever home…

  • Mxipp

    Good grief. Since when is saving lives an “extremist agenda?”  And when the “status quo” is killing healthy animals because it’s easier than finding homes for them, who wouldn’t be against it?  Is the ASPCA that worried that some of their millions in donations might go to grass roots groups working to save animals? Is that the source of this nonsense?

  • Jean Shea

    Oh, those extremists, how dare they form organizations and lobby for change. Seriously the idea that there an organized network of true believers out there ready to pounce when the signal is given makes me laugh. Francis’ comment is the one the speaks loudest to me: “Before people get organized, if they ever do … .” That’s the key, getting organized. Most people have trouble organizing their closets let alone the teeming dozens who dream a no-kill nation. Not that the numbers of no-kill are minuscule, but they do seem shrink in comparison to such cash-hoarding behemoths as the ASPCA. But it only took a little shepherd kid to kill a fierce giant, and I don’t recall that there was any organization involved there.

  • Guest


  • Anonymous

    Hahaha… I had a 25% chance!  :)

  • Cheri

    This is a bit belated but I just want to thank you for speaking out about that paranoid document. 
    Just because people  seek advice from other no kill organizations & proponents doesn’t
    mean they didn’t first have legitimate reason to be upset about  the
    policies and actions ( or inaction) of animal control  in their own
    community.   It is sad (okay, it’s beyond sad, it’s PATHETIC) that ASPCA is advising shelters and AC agencies to regard such public dissatisfaction  as being all directed by some evil puppet-master conspirators using  “proxies” and “puppet regimes” to advance their “extremist agenda”.    It sounds like something out of a bad spy movie… or as you say, like a John Birch Society pamphlet.
       Nice to know they consider you an “extremist” isn’t it?