A little serious, a little satire, and all opinion on animal welfare.
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Just kidding, I wanted to get your attention.  As a 501c3 non-profit corporation, Humane Society of Berks County is prohibited by law from making candidate endorsements.  We can lobby for legislation.  We can push for policy changes.  But we cannot say, “Vote for X!” or “Oppose Y!”  

We actually like it that way.  That’s because as soon as you stand beside one candidate, no matter how awesome that specific candidate is on our specific animal welfare issues, you alienate half the world.  The half in the party voting for the other candidate.  To be clear on endorsements: We can’t, we don’t, we won’t and we don’t want to.  So if you get something in the mail endorsing a candidate that seems like it’s from us, it isn’t from us. 

Every election cycle I get a couple irate calls and emails from people who get an endorsement mailer from an organization with a name similar to ours and they think we have endorsed a candidate.  I only get the calls when they don’t like the endorsement.  I always have to remind the caller of our 501c3 prohibition against endorsement.  I remind the caller that there are literally thousands of organizations with Humane Society in the name, that none are related to us in any way, and that some are State and Federal Political Action Committees (PACs) which are permitted to endorse specific candidates.  But they don’t represent us. 

Still suspicious, as so many tend to be in this era of poisonous and underhanded politics, I usually end up having to track down the origin of the endorsement mailer to confirm that it was someone else and that they weren’t using our name (since the mailer has inevitably long since been pitched).  That usually calms the person down and HSBC gets our friend back now that they realize we aren’t endorsing that dirty, stinking [insert name of your personally despised candidate here]. 

These mailers are going out and more will.  Again, if you get one, not us

Here is what we do promote:  If animals and animal welfare is important to you, whether you are Republican, Democrat, Green, Tea, Constitution, Socialist— actual socialist, not just a Democrat.  I’ll leave that joke be your personal Rorschach test, wink, wink — it is up to you to hold your political party responsible for the candidates it selects for general elections.  I’m not saying animal welfare needs to the single issue on which you decide your vote.  For most people it’s not since most people tend to vote along party lines. 

But your job as a partisan voter who cares about animal welfare is to make sure that you don’t have the nagging feeling that the candidate running against your candidate is better on animal welfare issues.  I know I’ve had that feeling all too often. 

The reality is that most elections are decided in the party primaries.  That is where you as a voter concerned about animal welfare have your chance to define who your candidate will be.  You need to let your party know that while you may be a sure vote for their candidate in the general election, in the primary you will select the candidate you think is best on animal welfare issues.  If enough people did this we would get to the point where all candidates for elected office all equally support good animal welfare policy.  Then we can vote for whoever we want to and know that on at least one issue, animal welfare, we can count on getting what we want.  Then we can leave the candidates to get back to accusing each other of wanting to destroy America without interruption (please pass the popcorn). 

Your job as an animal welfare voter is to make animal welfare a new third rail of politics, one which candidates in your primary scurry away from being on the wrong side of.  You need to make them feel that having bad positions on animal welfare, or ignoring or dismissing the issues, would be like coming out against God, babies, apple pie and the U.S. of A. Believe me, there are plenty of candidates who are agnostics, find babies disgusting, are allergic to apples, and are maybe even a Manchurian candidate — Rorschach again, wink, wink again — but none of them are stupid enough to admit it.  At least not if they want to win a primary or general election. 

If animal welfare is a single issue vote for you, you probably don’t mind those mailers.  Either way, there are resources out there which will rank and score the candidates for just about every office on just about every issue.  Just Google “animal welfare + candidate + endorsements” is you want to know where candidates stand on these issues.  You’ll get plenty. 

And you’ll be able to ask your candidate why that dirty, stinking [insert name here] got a higher animal welfare rating than he or she did.  And then ask them if they hate babies, grandmothers and veterans along with puppies.  You’ll have fun watching their eyeballs spin around in their heads. 

Oh, and one final thing.  Candidate endorsement mailing?  Not us.

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It’s getting to be the time of year again when we begin all the year-end stuff non-profits organizations have to do these days.  Service, program and strategic plan reviews.  Audits, budgets, and annual reports.  As much as these things can seem like a distraction from our “real work”, the fact is it’s all of these activities that give us the guidance to move forward, the discipline to keep our plans, and the awareness of opportunities which might come our way.

They are also great reminders of just how many wonderful people and organizations we have had the honor to work and partner with in the past year.  Although we’ll have them all listed in our annual report early next year (fingers crossed we can manage our online version so we can save the cost of printing on dead trees), the list will be split up among the pages describing various and sundry programs and services.  So, I thought I’d list them all at once, or at least all the ones we’ve compiled in the last few weeks.  We’ve undoubtedly missed a few, with apologies.  Below are a good chunk of the non-profits and charitable organizations we’ve been lucky enough to work with in the last year or so. 

Emergency Response Partners: HSBC assists with national, state and local emergency response organizations in event of emergencies and disasters.

  • ASPCA Disaster Response Team and Joplin Humane Society- Following the Joplin, Missouri, tornado devastation Scott Yoder, HSBC volunteer and former board member, assisted in directing the emergency animal sheltering effort.
  • Berks County Animals Response Team (BCART), Berks County Red Cross, Berks County EMA, Chester County EMA- As lead agency of BCART, HSBC staff and volunteers established emergency shelters in both Berks and Chester Counties during this year’s historic flooding. 

Adoption Transfer Partnerships (Incoming and Outgoing):  HSBC works with any organization requesting our assistance in transferring animals for adoption at our shelters which might face an uncertain at their home shelter.  We also gratefully work with breed rescues to transfer harder to place pets out of our kennels or to open space for other animals.  Adoption transfers are truly a two way street! 

  • Chester County SPCA (During CCSPCA’s kennel upgrades HSBC has worked closely with them to transfer pets while 2/3 of their kennels are closed for construction)
  • Delaware County SPCA
  • Lehigh County Humane Society
  • Ruth Stienert Memorial SPCA
  • The Humane League Lancaster County
  • York County SPCA
  • Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society
  • Pennsylvania SPCA
  • Dauphin County Dog Law & Montgomery County Dog Law (transfers of animals from closing or downsizing commercial kennels)
  • Twin Tiers Rescue
  • Karni Mata rat Rescue
  • Open Arms ResQ and Refurral
  • Siamese cat Rescue Center
  • Best little cat House in PA
  • One by One Animal Rescue and Protection Org.
  • Dad’s my Angel Puppy Rescue
  • Plain and Fancy Animal Rescue
  • Brookline lab Rescue
  • Dogs Den
  • Save a Yorkie
  • Cocker Spaniel Adoption Center, Inc.
  • Echo Dogs White Shepherd Rescue
  • Mid- Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue
  • German Shepherd Rescue of SE PA
  • Small Paw Rescue
  • Tri State Weimaraner Rescue
  • St Bernard Rescue Foundation
  • Italian Greyhound Rescue network
  • Mid-Atlantic Basset Hound Rescue
  • German Shepherds to Love
  • Animal Rescue League of Berks County (Reciprocal transfer of microchipped adopted animals originating from one another’s shelters)

 Service on Boards and Advisory Councils and Educational Presentations and Organizational support- HSBC staff are proud to be represented in a wide variety of organizations representing animal welfare, to present workshops on a variety of topics, and to assist other agencies through direct assistance and consulting.

  • Pennsylvania Animal Response Team (HSBC represented as board chair)
  • Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania (HSBC represented as board member)
  • Humane Society of United States Companion Animal Advisory Council (HSBC represented with Council seat)
  • University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical School Shelter Executive Summits
  • Humane Society of the United States Animal Expo (invited workshop presenter)
  • New York Humane Association Annual Conference (invited workshop presenter)
  • PetsMart Charities (invited webinar presenter)
  • The Humane League (Philadelphia, invited speaker)
  • Philadelphia Corporation for the Aging Annual Meeting (invited workshop presenter)
  • Family Services of Montgomery County (MontCo Ani-Meals On Wheels partner)
  • Berks County Office of Aging (BerksCo Ani-Meals On Wheels partner)
  • Operational consulting with agencies in Delaware, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, Missouri, California, and Oregon.

Non-profits joining us as exhibitors at the 2011 Walk for the Animals.  Exhibit space is offered free to any non-profit who requests it.

  • Concern: Professional Services for Children, Youth & Families
  • LABMED
  • South Mountain YMCA Camps
  • Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue
  • KidsPeace Foster Care
  • GSP Rescue of PA
  • Mid Atlantic Great Dane Rescue
  • Buddy Rescue Foundation
  • Mentors for Berks Youth
  • Berks County Office of Aging
  • First State Greyhound Rescue
  • Berks County Conservancy
  • Girl Scouts of Eastern PA
  • Reading Eagle
  • Save A Yorkie Rescue
  • New Spirit 4 Aussie Rescue, Inc
  • Tri-State Weimaraner Rescue
  • Fairview Counseling & The Play Therapy Center
  • IM ABLE Foundation
  • Russell Rescue
  • Berks Women in Crisis
  • No Nonsense Neutering
  • Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines

And of course HSBC works with local and State law enforcement, and local animal control in our joint efforts to stop animal cruelty and provide resources.  Without a doubt, this is an incomplete list and I hope we will make it much more complete by the time we put all this in an annual report. 

It’s a great exercise to run through a list like this.  It’s a reminder that we are not in this alone and that for every hand we extend, two are extended back.  Our very survival in the extremely hard financial environment is a testament to both the support of our donors and volunteers and to the strength of our partnerships and friendships with others in the non-profit and charitable sectors.  In our line of work and our charitable missions, we definitely know that what goes around comes around. 

With friends like these, it’s hard to imagine you could even have enemies.

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Buried in the posthumous accolades for all the cool stuff Steve Jobs was responsible for are interviews with friends, partners and competitors which all circle around the Jobs’ real gift and skill: vision.  Jobs was no mediocrat. 

Mediocrity has a negative connotation but, by definition, mediocrity just means being in the middle.  And the middle is where most of us, and most business and organizations, live.  For a corporation it is the ideal place to be since that is where most of your market will be.  For an organization, including non-profit charities like HSBC, it may seem the smart place to be because it puts you in the middle of your charitable “market”, the people who support your work. 

For us as individuals, being in the middle is just usually the easiest place to be and there are no demerits for being where everyone else is.  So when I say that Jobs had the gift and skill of not being a mediocrat, it is not a slight on those in the middle, it is merely a compliment for him.  No more than saying that Jimi Hendrix was a gifted and skilled guitarist is a slight to me- a person neither skilled nor gifted on the guitar.

President George H. W. Bush famously said he didn’t have the “vision thing” and most people don’t.  The “vision thing” is often a gift but depending on when and where you live and work it can be quite an unwelcome one.  In the Middle Ages being a “visionary” was as likely to get you burned at the stake as anything else.  It can still get you proverbially burned at the stake today, depending on how far out of the middle your vision draws you.  And a gift of vision alone is little more valuable than dreaming of a painting a masterpiece, if one lacks the skill to execute it. 

Even lacking the gift of vision, some can cultivate the skill of implementing vision.  The best CEO’s have this skill.  They can take what’s floating around out there and shift the bell curve of the middle, that medio-spot, right up to the line that separates the mediocre from the great.  But skill alone can’t break through that wall. 

What Jobs really seemed to master, and what I have heard again and again from those who knew him best, was the combination of the gift and the skill of seeing and working outside of the middle and of determining how to drag the entire bell curve with him so that he and his vision were no longer outliers, they were the new norm. 

He did not always succeed in this because there is a great tyranny of mediocrity.  It is the greatest tyranny of all because it is the norm and it works incessantly, actively and passively, to keep the middle from moving.  Mediocrity tends to explicitly avoiding, if not block, change and those in the middle often genuinely fear what is around the corner or over the curve.  Our natural tendency is to want to believe we are not actually in the middle, that we are somewhat more visionary than we actually are, and to suspect those who lead us to a place, a future, or a way of doing things we can’t easily see for ourselves. 

It doesn’t help that visionaries are often perceived to be- and sometimes genuinely are- a bit arrogant, as Jobs was reported to be, especially in his younger years.  This perceived arrogance is often the convenient excuse of those who do fight against a vision of change, even one laid out in excruciating detail before them, not because they do not see the correctness of the course but because they resent not having seen the path themselves.  They are the ones who blindly hold to dogma in the face of reality.  We’ve all experienced their blind, mediocre wrath at times when we’ve presented a “What if we did this…?” to them. 

There is no doubt that Jobs repeatedly saw not just where he could take something but he looked around to see what pieces were already there to build with.  He combined gift and skill.  The Apple (and Disney, where he was also the largest individual shareholder) he left behind on Wednesday were built on ideas, inventions and people relegated to the scrap heap.  Graphic User Interfaces, the mouse, desktop computers in the home, digital music, even Pixar Studios, were all considered unpractical novelties or even threats to the status quo in which the corporate world existed until Jobs and his vision thing came along and cobbled the parts and concepts together into something which would have been terrifying to the powers that be ten, twenty, thirty years ago but is now the new normal- and wildly profitable for them. 

He was booted from Apple because his vision wasn’t being realized quickly, and profitably, enough for even those who had invested in his vision.  But when highly capable mediocrats had failed in their efforts to do something with Pixar Studios, he came in and built a behemoth.  When the vastly skilled mediocrat Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, failed to see the real potential of Pixar and was prepared to scuttle the partnership it had with Disney, he was ousted by new CEO Bob Iger, a person who has at least cultivated the skill of visioneering. 

The end result was that Jobs, ousted from Apple and purchasing a floundering Pixar from George Lucas for five million dollars, received over seven billion dollars and became Disney’s largest shareholder.  It also meant that John Lassiter, the Walt Disney of our time and a gifted visionary in his own right, was returned to the management bosom of the company which had previously fired him.  Fired him for having the vision to do more with computer generated graphics.  The vision Disney later paid seven billion dollars to get back.

The way Jobs described finding the right thing to do and the happiness it brings one personally in a commencement speech he gave a few years ago is making the rounds but it seems to me to be widely misinterpreted due to the media’s selection of sound bites.  They focused their doe eyed sap on a sentence or two about doing what you love, without the context he placed that advice in.  He did not mean, as so many seem to think, that doing what you love is the same thing as doing what necessarily makes you the happiest.  Doing what you love is often extremely difficult and leads to the greatest heart break.  Jobs paid a price repeatedly for doing the visionary things he loved, the things which we now ultimately see where the right things but which often led to personal failure and rejection for Jobs.

In reality, it was doing the visionary thing which brought him happiness, success or not.  I liken that need to do the visionary thing, the thing that feels right, even when few if any have any idea what you are seeing or talking about, with the feeling of rightness someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder must feel from knowing the light switch is in the correct position.  It’s not just that feels wrong in the wrong position.  It’s that one feels compelled to put it right.  I imagine that is no more comfortable or “happy” for a visionary than it is for an OCD sufferer.  Jobs clearly had that compulsion to put his work and world right as he saw it.  Even when he found himself on the wrong end of a pink slip from the company he created, when he was hardly happy, he knew we was doing what he loved and was walking his true path. 

Despite suffering from failure and rejection he maintained a trust and love in the correctness of his vision and he would have been proven right eventually, even if given no credit and it was in obscurity.  What he saw was correct.  He didn’t always have the resources, the people, the timing, the luck, or probably the skill to realize his vision all the time, but when he had that correct combination he transformed the world he worked in and we live in.  And that gave him happiness and success.  That attempt to have the gift and skill of visioneering and bring together all the external components which will realize their full potential is what we should all strive to emulate. 

What does any of this have to do with animal welfare?  Well, animal welfare is largely a domain of staunch, even prideful, mediocrats and has been for decades.  Most of the professionals are not only happy to be in the middle, they savagely defend their position there.  They not only cannot see beyond their point on the bell curve, because of the life and death consequences of our work, they cannot even embrace the possibility that there may be a new way forward.  To do so would be to admit they had not seen that way and, as a result, animals had paid the price. 

Not only is this bad for animals, it opens the field to those who can come in claiming to be visionaries.  The success of the most strident of the No Kill movement is largely due to the mediocrats claiming the immutability of the status of animal welfare so devoutly that any prophet of change, whether gifted with true vision or not, can make any claim and it will be accepted as at least some other way.  But the mere gift of vision is not enough; the skill of doing something with that vision must be there, too. 

Animal welfare mediocrats have been engaged in a tyranny of mediocrity by denying that the torrential rains of animals entering shelter and facing euthanasia could be stopped.  Fringe visionaries have come along at times with little more of a vision than “pray for sun”.  Some have finally come along with enough skill to suggest building a roof but then ask us to deny that rain is continuing to fall elsewhere on others.  Until we can all see and accept and implement a vision in which all are equally under cover from the rain, we will be at best gifted mediocrats.  We will only move along the curve to a certain point and no farther.  We will never move it to a new normal in the way that Steve Jobs did in his industry. 

As long as those in the middle are terrified of change and those who offer a vision of change provide only the shallowest of alternatives and only thumbnail sketches rather than detailed blueprints of their visions, very little will change for animals. 

What would the lives of animals be like if we could create the Apple of animal welfare?  What if all the others working in animal welfare were striving to keep up with visionaries who have jumped the wall instead of shackling themselves to the middle in terror of change?  What would that mean for the animals we all claim to care about?  Hell, what would that mean for our own happiness and success in an “industry” wracked with misery, attrition and burn out? 

What if we all became the visioneers of animal welfare rather than its mediocrats?  We may not be able to be the Steve Jobs of animal welfare but we should all try a little harder to be like the Steve Jobs of animal welfare.

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