Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Different Side of the Starfish Story

I'm on vacation this week so I thought I'd re-post this blog from my old site since I've gained a lot of new followers recently. Thank you for joining me!

Most people in animal rescue have heard it a thousand times. The first time I ever heard it was at church. The pastor used it to exemplify how as Christians we should help each other - even if saving one soul at a time seemed like an overwhelming task. Animal rescuers say that is how they keep going - they save one animal at a time.
It's a beautiful story - I have two starfish necklaces and a starfish pin that I wear proudly. If you aren't familiar with it - here is the original version:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a woman picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the woman, he asked, "What are you doing?"
The woman replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die."
"Ma'am," the man said, "don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can't make a difference!"
After listening politely, the woman bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, she said..."
I made a difference for that one."

But I have also seen problems with the single-minded focus of the story. I envision the animal rescuer carefully cupping the starfish (a rescued dog or cat) in her hands. Focusing so intently as she carries it back to the water, she is oblivious to everything going on around her.

Thousands of people have come down to the beach - wanting to know how they can get involved, how they can help - but instead of looking up from her starfish and organizing the newcomers into teams and efficient distribution lines where they could save thousands of starfish - she can only focus on the one she carries. She says: "I'm too busy, I'm too overwhelmed - saving just this one - I don't have time to explain to you how you can help. I haven't had time to educate myself on the newest animal welfare practices and facts and figures." And so the newcomers stumble around blindly - some get discouraged and quit, some waste time re-inventing the wheel, most fall into the trap of carrying one starfish at a time back to the water.

Sound familiar? How many rescue groups and shelters do you know that don't have time to organize a volunteer program, a proper foster home network, an efficient website and social media program or an offsite adoption program? All of these things have proven track records of success for saving lives. How many shelters and rescues are out there that miss out on conferences, free webinars and seminars because they don't have the resources and the time? Yet how can they not make the time? How can they not find the funds? The knowledge gained by learning the cutting-edge methods will save lives, cut costs, and improve efficiency.

Please, look up from that one starfish once in awhile. See, read, absorb - because there are so many new wonderful life-saving strategies that are working around the nation. It is time to run up and down the beach and join forces. We are a No Kill Nation and we are closer than you have ever imagined.


  1. I completely agree with the shelters and groups focusing more on the whole beach rather than the one starfish, but individuals need to get in where they fit in. Some people are leaders who can rally those around them, some just want to focus on whatever their special interest is - even if it's a single minded focus on one animal - and there is a place for all of them, hopefully organized by someone who DOES have a broader perspective.

    I'm constantly absolutely staggered at the number of people in and around shelters who really have no idea of the broader fight we're engaged in and how many really have no desire to learn or become engaged in that broader goal. While I find that disappointing, it doesn't mean that I won't try to use their skillset to achieve that broader goal. Chiefs are great, but nothing gets done without indians.

  2. Amen, Kathy! I am just now giving up trying to bring local rescue groups together in Minneapolis. I have tried everything I know to do to get local rescue groups to lift their heads, if even for a moment, from their daily rescue tasks and help on larger issues.

    I am tired of being torn apart and accused of being all sorts of ugly things by these caring people. They are so intent on their little efforts to rescue one or two dogs/cats at a time that they never even see that nothing will ever really change until they are willing to help stem the incoming flood of unwanted animals.

    For every animal they rescue a thousand are killed across the country. Their mantra is "we're making a difference in our own way."

    I applaud their zeal and compassion, but I find that self-serving singular focus of no use in stemming this tide of animals that will be killed once they reach a 'shelter.'

    And not one of the groups I highlighted in my many articles would ever consider working with a shelter. I hate shelters for all they are not, but this American individualism divides us all and makes it virtually impossible to work on the larger issue of stopping the inbound flood.

    It's so frustrating to see caring people trying to catch in a tiny cup all the water overflowing the bathtub. It doesn't seem to occur to them how important it is to shut off the faucet!

    And nothing I've done seems to make any difference. I guess while they're all busy down at the beach with that starfish, they figure "they" will take care of plugging the dikes as best we can before they all give way.

    This is very discouraging trying to bring shelters and rescuers together. Each thinks they know best and refusees to share. At times it's like watching a bunch of self-involved kids in a sandbox.

    Thanks, your blog came at a good time.

  3. I have a really hard time with so called no kill shelters or sancutaries that put now humane shelters. Most humane shelters that I am aware of are low kill meaning they don't put down unless very sick or dangerous. Not because of space. A popular "no kill" shelter in Marion Wisconsin makes bad remarks about all shelters in general. Most shelters I am aware of DON'T REFUSE to take animals in as this santuary does. I believe the real NO Kill shelter is the one that NEVER refuses, yet continues to maintain quality care such at the Oshkosh Humane Shelter in Oshkosh, WI. We could all learn from them, and could do better if we all worked together rather than knock down other rescue efforts.