A little serious, a little satire, and all opinion on animal welfare.
Header image

One would think that those of us who believe animal welfare is important and that animals deserve our protection would all be one happy family.  It makes sense that those who run puppy mills or hold pigeon shoots would loath animal welfare advocates and the work we do.  But in reality, the ones who are most likely to vilify and berate those in animal welfare are not our opponents.  They are our allies.

I just wrapped up an email exchange with a woman who was simply trashing me and our organization for not doing something she thought we should do, something that she decided was our mission.  This animal lover has been a long time correspondent, alternately telling us she “loves us” and telling us in profanity laced emails that we are horrible and don’t care about animals. 

I pride myself on always trying to convert every critic and my insistence on engaging every critic that comes to my attention.  I either get them to see it our way and agree with us, I get them to at least acknowledge we have a valid point (if they won’t agree with us), or I wear them down to the point they just get tired of attacking us.

But after years of this person’s love/hate whiplash and self righteous edicts of what we should be doing, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I hit a wall.  My response was professional, but it was blunt, direct and thoroughly unappreciative.  I must admit, it was barely polite and it was withering.

Now, I did check to make sure that she was not, in fact, a volunteer, donor or adopter.  As is so often the case who offer helpful advice, she was none of those.  She was simply an animal lover with an opinion.  An opinion that, in her mind was superior to mine.  Therefore, whatever I thought and whatever our organization did must be wrong.  Further, the implication is always that somehow by not doing what she thought we should, we were worse than those who run pigeon shoots or puppy mills because we are an animal welfare organization, we should know better.

While her attack was among the more pedestrian we receive, her sort of personal attack is not uncommon.  Animal lovers, both professionals in animal welfare and the general public, seem to feel free to fling their worst abuse at those on their own side.  I and others in animal welfare have been attacked for merely speaking to the wrong person during legislative meetings, for taking different position on issues- even minor ones.  I have never been threatened with picketing by the pro-pigeon shoot lobby.  But I have been threatened with it by a fellow animal shelter director because I was going to attend the same conference as another animal shelter director who he viewed as a traitor to the cause.

The worst attacks, gossip campaigns, mud-slinging, insults, innuendo, sabotage, and interference I have experienced as an animal welfare professional have come almost exclusively from those on my side of the aisle.  And if you ask other animal welfare professionals, I think they’ll tell you the same thing.

And this behavior isn’t just directed at people like me.  When animal welfare laws are on the table, these pro-animal people are often as effective at derailing them through their rude and abusive behavior directed at legislators as those who actually oppose the legislation.  They paint the entire animal welfare movement as being nut jobs because they can’t keep their tongues and engage the debate civilly.  Of course, they always tell us it’s because they love animals so much or that their heart is doing the talking.  But the reality is that they are simply rude, mean, and use the suffering of animals as an excuse to abuse those they disagree with.

That is why I am increasingly of the opinion that the real obstacle blocking the improved welfare of animals is not those in opposition to change; it is those who so rudely demand it.

There is a place for disagreement- even bitter difference- but merely having a different opinion of the solution does not make someone deserving of abuse.  People can be wrong without being bad.  But these people who hide behind “loving animals too much” to be civil do more harm than good.  Don’t believe me? 

Look at the organizations which have been most effective achieving real change.   Look at the Humane Society of the United States (no relation to the Humane Society of Berks County).  They attack their animal welfare agenda in an incremental, methodical, reasonable way, and by doing so they are among the most effective.  Some animal people trash them for being too willing to engage and compromise, too willing to work with the other side.  But they have the other side quaking in their boots.  They have put a reasonable face on their agenda and the people who oppose it can’t paint them as crazy fanatics- because they aren’t behaving like crazy fanatics.

You can see the same lessons repeated, sometimes inversely, elsewhere.  We’ve all seen the organizations with the shrill, certain voice.  They know exactly what should be done, expect everyone to do it, and try to demolish anyone on any side who disagrees with them.  But their victories, when they get them, are often shallow and short lived.  There is a reason that organizations become more moderate in tone over time.  It’s because it is more effective than screaming.

Until we stop being apologists for the people on our own side who behave boorishly, uncivilly,  and rudely, we will not be doing any favors for the animals we all say we want to help.  We need to cast them to the fringes where they belong and disavow them.  Not just because they are mean and rude but because they are doing more harm than good.  And that’s the last thing animals need right now.

So, I feel kind of bad that I even engaged this person today.  But enough is enough.  If someone wants to help animals by tearing down our staff, organization, volunteers, supporters and me, I will politely tell them to peddle their “love for animals” elsewhere so I can get back to the real work of effective change.

Share

After all the emails, phone calls, lobbying and work to get the Puppy Mill Bill passed and signed into law, when I heard that the kennel requirements recently passed three to one included an exemption for pregnant and nursing dogs from the solid floor and access to exercise requirements, all I could think was that we’d been cheated.

Getting dogs off of wire flooring and giving them access to exercise were among the central and most important parts the law that the Humane Society of Berks County and thousands of Pennsylvania voters demanded.  And we thought we had achieved that goal.  But with the stroke of a pen and some regulatory sleight of hand, a deal was cut with breeders to make it easier on- and more profitable for- them.  As a result, half the dogs or more in any commercial kennel (breeding females) will spend half or more of their time (when they are pregnant and nursing) subject to the same lack of exercise and solid flooring they had before the Puppy Mill Bill passed.

Breeders claim they have the puppies’ well being in mind.  But we know they have the bottom line in mind.

To top it off, the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, announces this “improvement” in a press release that barely mentions these changes while focusing on other parts of the regulations.  They make the case that because there has been some improvement over three years ago (like that would be hard) we should be satisfied and accepting of this deal they have struck.  That we should be happy that they came down so hard on the humidity levels in kennels.  But when a female dog is stuck in a puppy mill hell, I don’t think it will saying to itself, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

Now the rules are in the hands of Attorney General Corbett, who has the chance to decide that the regulations are a violation of letter or spirit of the law.  It’s a slim chance, but it’s the only chance thousands of dogs have.  Please take a few minutes to email or call Attorney General Corbett and urge him to join you in the determination that these new flooring and exercise exemption are a clear circumvention of the intent of the Puppy Mill Bill and ask him to stop the implementation of these regulations.

But if you are like me, you are asking yourself how this could possibly have even happened.  Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters could loudly voice their demand for some simple changes to how dogs are treated in commercial kennels yet 111 kennels can manage to force a compromise?  How could that equation possibly balance out?

Perhaps it is because the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement (BDLE) is part of the Department of Agriculture.  The Department of Agriculture’s explicitly stated mission is to protect and promote PA agriculture and farmers.  If breeders are “farmers” and commercial kennels are “agriculture”, then they are part of one of the largest lobbies in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Farm Lobby.

The BDLE is a regulatory agency, not an animal welfare agency.  The Department of Agriculture’s job is to help farmers.  The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have to balance the wishes of voters with the wishes of a major source of employment and revenue- farming and agriculture.  When you think about it, doesn’t it make perfect sense that a bargain would- should- be struck that gives breeders a disproportionate benefit?  So what if the argument is 1000 to 1 in favor of the dogs?  If the “dog farmers” get treated like real farmers, we shouldn’t expect much more.

But I do.  I expect a lot more.  Dogs aren’t crops and breeders aren’t farmers.  And the Humane Society of Berks County and dog lovers like you don’t have to accept that equation.  We don’t have to strike a legislative compromise.  We don’t have to accept half a law as the best we can get.  We can say that the law intended dogs to have solid floor and exercise.  Not some dogs- all dogs.  And we need to start saying that and saying it loudly.  And we need to look at the structural problem facing the improvement of the lives of dogs in Pennsylvania.

The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement (BDLE) needs to be removed from the department of Agriculture and made and enforcement agency, not a regulatory agency.  The days of its primarly function being to pay farmers for livestock killed by dogs and coyotes is are long past.  Let’s move them into the 21st century.  That might not sound like much, but you wouldn’t believe how hard that actually is.

The BDLE is a large government bureaucracy, run by political appointees whose jobs depend more on keeping their political masters happy than doing what’s best for dogs.  Unlike elected officials, they don’t answer to you and me, and their jobs last only as long as the person who appointed them allows them to stay.  And they don’t always take kidly to criticism.

There are many documented cases the BDLE targeting those who speak out against it with “surprise” inspections of kennels of critics, “random” home visits of critics by dog wardens, and slander and whisper campaigns against critics. Many non-profit animal welfare organizations have been slow to openly question the BDLE for fear of retribution, of having a kennel license revoked on minor charges, or in an attempt to work within the system and not make waves. 

We have been among the organizations which have been fighting this battle behind the scenes because we try not to be public in our disappointments with those who are supposed to be on our side.  We prefer forceful but quiet negotiation to public airings of grievances and dissatisfaction.  We have found that it is usually the most effective means of making real changes.  But it only works when you have a real partner in negotiation and we have reached the conclusion that we do not have that in the BDLE.

It is time for all of us to speak up and speak out.

So we are saying publicly what we have been saying privately for a very long time: 1. Hold those who profit from breeding dogs accountable and enforce the law as it was intended- give breeding dogs solid floors and exercise.  2. Get the BDLE out of Agriculture. 3. Stop the BDLE from putting more scrutiny on its critics than it has on puppy mills.

We hope you will join us in saying this loudly and widely.  But make sure if you say it too forcefully you double check that your dog’s license is up to date.  You might just find yourself getting a “random” visit from the BDLE.  You can bet I will be checking mine.

Share