A little serious, a little satire, and all opinion on animal welfare.
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In the November 1 Newsweek, George Will, drags out a great quote to hit the nail squarely on half its head, as he does so frustratingly expertly.  In a column about a particularly loathsome Democrat, Rep. Alan Grayson, who has been waging a campaign of nastiness and half (or no) truths, Will quotes Daniel Webster (1782-1852) as saying, “Anger is not an argument.”

Of course the other half of the nail would have been to mention the waves of Republican advertisements berating “bailouts” without mentioning that they were first passed under a Republican President or that some, like the auto bailouts, not only saved jobs and an American industry but have actually returned a profit.  Or that simply because someone held office in the past two years the ruination of the economy is not entirely that person’s individual fault.  While I personally believe these ads are just as calculated and contrived as any offered by Grayson, they work because they play on the anger, not the intellect, of those watching the ads.

When people are angry enough about something, a “close enough” argument becomes good enough.  And close enough arguments can slip into claims that are patently false or constructed on such tortured logic or fact strands that they would be laughable if we weren’t so pissed off about something that we can’t stop to evaluate them.  “I noticed that the fire department is always at a fire.  Hey, the fire department must be setting houses on fire!”  Close enough for a political ad.

In the same way that anger is driving this election cycle, anger seems to be driving so much of the debate surrounding the plight of animals in shelters, nationally and locally.  And just as no politician will accept any part of the blame for the economic downturn, no one in animal welfare will accept any part of the blame for why so many animals are being euthanized, entirely unnecessarily, in shelters in Berks County, Pennsylvania and around the United States.  We will blame someone, anyone, everyone else, but there is rarely any willingness to set aside our own anger over the problem long enough to be introspective.

Too many strays entering shelters?  Blame the public.  Accidentally euthanize the wrong animal?  Blame the finder.  Getting bad press and fewer donations?  Blame the organizations getting good press and strong support.  And do it angrily; the angrier the better.  If you are angry, you must care more.  And you certainly can’t be held accountable for your dubious claims, shady math, or outright lies.  After all, you just care so much and you are so darn angry about what’s happening.

But as Webster said, anger is not an argument.  It works to deflect responsibility, to cloud the waters, and to give you something to do other than the hard work of finding solutions.  But it solves nothing.

Several years ago the HSBC recognized that we were very angry over the number of animals we were euthanizing.  We blamed the public for letting them roam and breed.  We blamed the State and local governments for not providing the resources we needed to provide proper care and adoption services for the animals we received from them.  We blamed our staff for not having the skills to do their job right.  We were righteously angry and we blamed everyone and we succeeded at solving very few of the problems we faced.

But finally we recognized that we had personal responsibility for much of what we were so angry about.  We accepted the abusive and underpaid animal control contracts that were euthanasia contracts in disguise.  We failed to have policies and protocols in place that would avoid tragic errors.  We failed to provide the highest level of training to our staff and to make the hard decisions to let go staff who didn’t measure up.  We could have offered more programs and services which would help the public do the right thing rather than surrender animals to us.  And, finally, we did the hard work of looking at our own organization and making the changes that have led to an improvement in the welfare of the animals in our care- and resulted in a lot less anger on our part.

It also allows us to have a little more credibility when we do raise tough issues.  What is government, the public, other organizations doing to improve the problems?  Are they doing their part or are they just complaining and laying blame?  It also puts us in the habit of looking in the mirror regularly and seeing what we can do that we are not.  Where are we weak, what can we improve, who can we reach out to, if one approach is working what other one will? 

The HSBC is still not saving every single savable animal.  Why not?  We know that much of our success comes from selecting particular approaches to our mission and choosing not to take on others.  How do we do both?  Our job is to continue to improve steadily, not reel from one crisis to the next pointing fingers everywhere but at ourselves.

I am still angry at the reality I see and that does motivate me.  It might even motivate a few people out there to support the HSBC.  But it won’t motivate the majority of people to join in our mission and it won’t cause real change to come about.  Thoughtfulness, hopefulness and hard work will.  And, yes, I get very angry when I see people in animal welfare screeching about this and that, hurling voodoo math around and saying all kinds of crazy things about all the others out there who are to blame without any acknowledgement that we are all the others.  But I truly believe they are playing a losing game.

 So when it comes to animal welfare issues- or the elections- let’s all be very suspect of the angry and ask them what they will actually and personally do to solve problems.  Tell them we don’t want to hear about whose fault it is or how put upon they are, we want to hear solutions.  Ultimately, you will decide whether these approaches work and you will decide if we continue to incentivize the continued use of anger as argument.  Whether you vote with your ballot, your choice of where to adopt, or with your charitable dollars, do it thoughtfully, not in anger.

“But if you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is, brother, you’ll have to wait.”  John Lennon (1940-1980)

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Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service… When I say I want a square deal for the poor man, I do not mean that I want a square deal for the man who remains poor because he has not got the energy to work for himself. If a man who has had a chance will not make good, then he has got to quit… Now, this means that our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics… For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.

Theodore Roosevelt

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When I received a call last week telling me that the leadership in the Pennsylvania House had once again shot down an effort to vote on a pigeon shoot ban, all I could wonder was, “What more do they need from us?” 

Those working for years to simply get a vote on this issue have been bending over backward to address every single objection put forth by the politicians.  None of them will come out and say they actually support pigeon shoots, but so many seem to have this reason or that problem which they would like see addressed before they can support a vote to ban the shoots.  Point by point these reasons have been addressed, yet still the leadership in the House and Senate won’t allow a simple vote.  What more do they want?

When they expressed concerns about a pigeon shoot ban infringing on hunting or gun rights, ban supporters in the legislature wrote a clean, short bill that specifically ensures that these rights will not be impacted.  Do they need us to pinky swear on it, too?

When some asked for stand-alone bills, they got them in both the House and Senate.  When they wanted the ban included as an amendment to something else, they have had that opportunity given over and over.  The bills have many sponsors from both parties, a true bi-partisan effort.  Do they need an actual majority sponsoring the bills?  Would even that be enough support to get a vote?

Some legislators said they’d prefer that we simply make shoots go away through community pressure.  And when we managed to do just that in Berks when one of the clubs hosting shoots decided to stop doing so, we thought maybe we were on to something.  Until new shoots started to pop up outside of Berks County for the first time in years.  Now Bucks and Dauphin Counties are holding shoots along with Berks.  Do legislators need these shoots to be in their own districts before they will hear the pleas of those who have been stuck with them for years?  Just wait, they may get their wish if these shoots continue to spread.

When some legislators noted that many of the other 49 States which don’t have shoots simply prosecuted under existing cruelty laws and wondered why we didn’t do the same, we tried.  Except District Attorneys are all under the (we believe mistaken) impression that the shoots are legal and have intervened to stop prosecution, telling us that we should work through legislation.  Which is it to be?  We can’t do both.

When they told us that those calling about a pigeon shoot ban were being “too emotional” we helped our supporters make an intellectual case: That these shoots are banned in the other 49 states, that they aren’t covered under the four exemptions of cruelty under Pennsylvania law (agriculture, pest control, hunting and self defense), that they bring in unsavory out-of-state elements to our community, or that children are used as “wringers” in these unsporting, gambling spectacles.  Yet as unmoved as they were by emotion they seem to be equally unmoved by intellect.  What argument will work?

Perhaps the legislators have been just too busy to fit it in to the calendar.  Maybe they couldn’t find time last week to sneak in a vote on a pigeon shoot ban between their votes for non-binding resolutions supporting “Juvenile Detention Centers Week” and “Credit Union Week”.  Could they not find ten minutes for a vote on something that has a real impact on our community?

I wonder of those who say they do support a vote on the ban: Can’t you press your leadership in the House and Senate for a vote?  If for no other reason, it will get this issue off of your plate and us out of your hair.

And I wonder if they realize that their legislative inaction is resulting in our organization, which creates jobs, pays taxes, and serves their community and constituents in Pennsylvania, being attacked by out-of-state groups who come to us with their extreme agendas and purity tests?  These shoots are a problem in our community and the solution lies in our community- with our legislators.  How long do we need to both be host to gambling, hostile pigeon shooters from other states and be attacked by animal extremists for not doing enough to stop shoots when we have no legal ability to do so and have been among the only local organizations even addressing this issue? 

Do the legislators not see that their inaction is impacting us, their constituency, negatively?  Must they continue to side with the interests of those from other states and turn their back on the pleas of organizations and voters from right here in Pennsylvania? (See postscript at end for most recent out-of-state intervention)

Do we need to return to the days of the Hegins shoot when white supremacists defending shoots and animal rights extremists opposing them screamed it out in front of the national media?  What more do they need from us to simply bring the bills or amendments for a pigeon shoot ban up for a simple vote?

Some politicians wring their hands about “voter enthusiasm gaps”.  This year it’s one party, two years ago it was another, it is sure to swing again in the future.  The politicians ask us, “What can we do for you people so you’ll understand how hard we’ve been working for you?”  I’ll tell them what they can do.  They can do something that inspires us.  They can finally put this up for a vote.

Help us in Berks County and Bucks County and Dauphin County and wherever the next one of these shoots pops up finally join the other 98% of the United States and put this ridiculous practice to bed once and for all.

Post script: Perhaps some were once again swayed by a little out of state advocacy group based in Fairfax, Virginia.  You may have heard of them: the NRA.  They seem greatly concerned for us in PA and worry we would be losing a “proud tradition” that is 100 years old.  100 years ago Pennsylvania also had a proud tradition of not letting women vote.  Sometimes we manage just fine leaving some traditions behind.  Read the NRA’s concerns for our “heritage” for yourself- it’s touching:

NRA Alert (10-13-10)

Pennsylvania’s “Castle Doctrine” Bill Needs Your Help Immediately!

Please Contact Your State Senator ASAP!

As you will recall, State Senator Richard Alloway (R-33) filed an amendment to House Bill 1926 containing vital “Castle Doctrine” language.  Unfortunately, anti-hunting extremists have filed their own amendment to HB1926 that seeks to outlaw organized Pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania.  Harrisburg needs to stop playing political games with our important self-defense rights and pass the “Castle Doctrine.”     

Pigeon shooting is an historic and legitimate activity steeped in tradition with many participants throughout the Commonwealth and around the world.  For over one hundred years, shoots have been held in Pennsylvania by law-abiding, ethical shooting enthusiasts, hunters, and sportsmen who would not tolerate an activity that would constitute cruelty to animals.�

National “animal rights” extremist groups, led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have organized and funded efforts in Pennsylvania and around the country to ban this longstanding traditional shooting sport.  Make no mistake; this isn’t just about banning pigeon shooting, but banning all hunting species by species.  

In contrast, Senator Alloway’s proposed amendment to the bill seeks to protect our rights.  It would permit law-abiding citizens to use force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their homes and any places outside of their home where they have a legal right to be.  If enacted, this law would also protect individuals from civil lawsuits by the attacker or the attacker’s family when force is used.

Please contact your State Senator TODAY and respectfully urge them to vote for HB1926 without any anti-gun amendments, including the ban on pigeon shoots.  Contact information can be found by clicking here.

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Today a case will be argued before the Supreme Court which would seem to have nothing to do with animals.  A creepy, mean-spirited Baptist minister (I’m pretty sure he played the minister in Poltergeist II) is arguing to overturn his five million dollar loss to the family of a US serviceman killed in Iraq.  The minister and his flock demonstrated outside the funeral, as they have at many others, shouting that God hates America and allowed the soldier to be killed because our government allows abortion and homosexuality.  Yuck.

Now, I think this guy is wrong on so many levels.  Beyond the logical disconnect that we still had servicemen die in battle in eras when we did, in fact, criminalize abortion and homosexuality or the moral disconnect of one Christian attacking the family of another whose loved one sacrificed himself for  a greater good, the demonstrations are just mean and rude and the family does not deserve the added pain.  But to provide some new class of unprotected speech, clearly political and religious speech, just because we find it repugnant and it occurs at, outside, near, or ten miles from a funeral, is a terrible idea.  And one which could come back to haunt those working to help animals.

That’s because once you start smudging that line between the primacy of freedom of speech over the “damage” that can be done by protected speech, the government starts to find all kind of reasons to restrict what we can see, hear, say, and write.  Judicially allowed obscenity restrictions were and are used widely and indiscriminately to limit speech of all types in the name of decorum and community standards.  National security is now widely used to not only prohibit speech but to deny US citizens the right to due process, even citizens deemed to be completely innocent by our own government. 

And let’s not forget the “food libel” laws which routinely limit free speech.  Before Oprah she had fully tapped into the Universal Power and could simply incinerate foes with a glance, she had to defend herself against meat processors for simply saying she would stop eating hamburgers.  Cattlemen claimed she had defamed and libeled an entire industry by merely expressing her intention to not eat a burger.  Although she won that specific case, food liable cases are common and frequently used to limit the speech of advocacy organizations and authors.

Even in Pennsylvania, efforts are underway to create “bio-terrorism” protections for agriculture- maybe even including puppy mills- which could potentially render cruelty investigators terrorists for investigating cruelty and discussing what they found.  Al Qaida will be infiltrating puppy mills?  Really?

And it goes both ways.  Remember the law that would have made it illegal to “traffic” in images of animal cruelty?  This restriction was, however understandably, unwisely supported by animal people, despite the fact that the law had the potential to open us up for prosecution if we showed images of the very cruelty we combat.  In that case the Supreme Court wisely denied the creation of a new class of unprotected speech and opened the door for the banning of crush videos under existing obscenity restrictions.

We cannot pick and chose our Constitutional protections and we must always remind ourselves that the limitation applied to someone else today could be the limitation applied to us tomorrow. It is up to us to ignore and condemn hate speech and to shun those who engage in it, not the government. 

So if you want the HSBC and others to continue to be able to speak out against the cruelty of puppy mills or pigeon shoots, speech which could certainly bring “harm” to those who engage in those deplorable activities, you should be pulling for that bigoted scum-bag to win his case.  Because if he can’t say what he wants, we may all find ourselves standing squarely in the middle of the next un-protected class of speech, witnessing cruelty and abuse but being unable to say a word because we have been fitted with a shiny, new Constitutionally sanctioned muzzle.

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I am a recovering addict.  I will admit it, and from what I hear admitting it is the first step to recovery.  My addiction is the same one seemingly afflicting virtually everyone working in animal welfare, whether they are professional or volunteer, careerist or dilettante.  My addiction is being right and being certain of my rightness.  And it is a hard one to kick.

Since I started into animal welfare work I have had a clarity about the problems facing animals and their solutions.  And that crystal clarity is a real rush.  I see that rush in the faces of those I come in contact with in my work when they are telling me or someone else what The Problem is and how he or she has The Solution and if everyone would just do it, we’d solve the problems facing animals.  You can see that these people are getting off on their rightness.  Oh, and do I know that feeling, the feeling of being the most right person in a room full of people who are right.

But just like any addiction, it gets ultimately you nowhere.  It is not a sustainable high.  Worse, this high requires the existence of the very thing us addicts claim to have the solution for.  It requires animals to be imperiled so we can save them with our unique solution.  No imperiled animals?  No need to be right.  Not being right means no rush.  We addicts need the problem to exist if we want our high.

But it takes little more than the most cursory look around us to see we can’t all be right and that, as far as I can see, not one of us has The Solution to The Problem.  Many of us have solutions to problems.  This little solution for that little problem.  While a problem solved, no matter how small, is probably a life saved, it’s just not as satisfying as claiming ownership of the one shining path, the one true way, the sole keeping of the one door through which we must pass.  The small solution is just a shadow of the rush of mainlining The Answer.

I’m not sure if there is a twelve step program for animal welfare junkies, but there probably should be.  So I’m trying to kick my habit on my own and recognize that maybe I don’t really hold the key that unlocks the door to the transcendent solution.  In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, I’m trying to accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

After twenty years in animal welfare I’ve come to recognize that the problems facing animals in our society cannot be solved with a magic bullet, that I certainly don’t wield that gun, and I’m yet to meet the person who does. 

But I can take aim at some specific targets and hit them.  I can help this group of animals and that group of people.  I can resolve this conflict and that problem.  I can make a real difference in the real lives of real animals and people.  And I can be a little right and a little wrong- and hopefully be a little less wrong tomorrow than I am today- and still have some success.

I don’t have to be the person with the ultimate answer.  And even if I think I am, what power do I have to apply that solution universally?  There is a difference between believing and acting in a way that makes me feel right and feel good and acting in a way that does good and makes things right and improves lives for animals and people.  I imagine that those small, substantive victories are ultimately going to prove more satisfying and lasting than the sporadic flood of, yet intrinsically empty, satisfaction of knowing how much more right I am than everyone else.

In animal welfare work we exist in a room filled with those we blame for the problems facing animals: people, society, government, the animals themselves, competing organizations, speciesists, ethnic groups, religious groups, economic classes.  But mostly we blame them for not recognizing that our door, among all the many doors to choose from, is the one which will fix everything.  If they would just be smart enough to recognize it and choose it.  I have been one of those people.

But I am starting to see that there are so many doors out of this room.  Open access, no kill, low kill, sterilization, advocacy, research, interdiction, intervention, TNR, legislation, education, and on and on and on.  Door after door to choose from and they all lead somewhere.  But no one door is big enough to move out on its own the entire room.  As good as it feels to believe that, as easy as it is to be sure that our own door is the only way out, it’s simply not the case.

So I’m trying to kick my habit.  I’m knocking on other doors and seeing where they lead.  Many will probably lead nowhere, despite the wild eyed insistence of their rightness-addicted doormen.  But they can’t all be dead ends.  With any luck, we’ll all get out of this room.

PS- My apologies to Lou Reed for so torturing a line from his beautiful song, Stephanie Says.

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