Some Notes on Context

Today we’re noting a correction to the HumaneWatch profile of Nina Austenberg, a former HSUS state director in New Jersey who recently rejoined HSUS. We had noted that in a 1993 interview with PBS for a program called "Throwaway Pets," she was quoted as saying, "We don't have time for the miracle of life for dogs and cats."

Accurate? Absolutely. But now we've seen video footage of the whole segment, and the context tells a different story. And correcting the record is the right thing to do.

Here’s what Austenberg said on PBS, in full:

“Many people will say, ‘We want to have the cat have one litter, so that you can see what life is about.’

“We ask them to look at the shelter, and just look at what death is about.

“If you realize that the crying here—most of these animals will be euthanized – we can’t have, we don’t have time for the miracle of life of dogs and cats.

“We have to stop that right now.”

In this light, her meaning is clear. She was (at least back in 1993) against families allowing pets to have litters because many of the offspring (kittens, in this case) might end up euthanized in a shelter. Hence the TV special's title. This point of view is what has become known as "MSN," or Mandatory Spay/Neuter. With emphasis on the word "mandatory."

This is a reasonable position to take, even if it's not always going to popular. Lots of people disagree with it, to be sure, but it's hardly as looney (or as ghoulish) as the out-of-context quote initially suggested.

So we’re happy to revise Austenberg's profile. There’s a lot that’s wrong with the Humane Society of the United States. (For one, why wasn't it spending more in the '90s to help New Jersey shelters increase their capacity, or do a better job of marketing their adoptable animals?) But we're committed to avoiding the spread of the same kind of misinformation that HSUS has become so good at disseminating.

On that note, Wayne Pacelle (Austenberg's boss) often complains that people take him out of context, or even make up his quotations out of whole cloth. So here’s your chance, Wayne: If you think we're misquoting you, you’re welcome to write to us. Or have your ghost-writer do it for you.