Saturday, April 23, 2011

Defending the Indefensible

My very first job for a newspaper was in advertising sales in a tiny little town  in northern Alberta. There were three staff - an editor/reporter, a typesetter/secretary and myself. We published a weekly paper that was absolutely horrible, not worthy of lining a birdcage.  Back before the days of desktop publishing; everything was typed, sight unseen into a huge blue machine that I have since forgotten the name of. There were many typos and factual errors, the pictures were blurry, and the stories were poorly written.

But I beat the streets day after day, defending the newspaper and trying to convince the local businesses to advertise. We needed the advertising revenue to keep our jobs and keep the doors open. I had no control over the content of the paper (I was the newbie on staff) and I was embarrassed by the whole thing. But you do what you gotta do to put food on the table.

Luckily, after about six months, I relocated to another town and got a job at an award-winning weekly newspaper that I was extremely proud to work for.

Now that I've become involved with animal welfare, I often see staff at shelters defending bad practices. I honestly think these staff took a job in animal sheltering because they love animals. They probably started the job with enthusiasm, thinking they were going to be able to make a difference, saving the lives of  homeless animals.

But then something went wrong. All of a sudden those enthusiastic employees begin to see the cracks in the system. Instead of saving lives, the shelter is cutting corners or killing healthy animals or making costly mistakes. It becomes an embarrassment to work there. But you gotta do what you gotta do. Staff need their jobs and they need for the shelter to keep it's doors open. So instead of speaking up for the animals they love,  they defend the shelter's bad practices. Even when the shelter is killing pets when better life-saving methods are available.

Somebody has to bear the blame.  So it's much easier for the staff to point the finger at the irresponsible public than to criticize shelter management, potentially losing their job. It's much easier to blame lack of donations, or lack of public support, or the No Kill advocates that are rallying for change. It's much easier to try to discredit the better methods than to embrace change and learn new things. It's much easier to call the advocates "bashers and trouble makers" and reject their good ideas. Because it's hard to not defend your employer. Until one day, you realize that killing healthy or treatable animals is just plain wrong.

I know. I was there. Defending something that I didn't believe in. But killing healthy or treatable animals is wrong. Just plain wrong. And it's indefensible.

Leadership that makes a difference includes a personal willingness to do the right thing. It makes tough choices - moral choices, spiritual choices, ethical choices, right choices.
- Stan Toler


  1. CHEERS again Kathy!

    We are capitalists and in my position I do financial reporting, which gives me a peculiar perspective. In the private sector, change might happen more quickly because dollars drive the changes. In the public sector, the financial pressure is less apparent I've always thought. If we could quantify dollar savings in terms of saving companion animal lives somehow, we wouldn't be having this discussion. We'd be saving every healthy, treatable companion animal. I wonder how we could do that? Hmmm.

  2. I guess it takes a moron to think that it was ok in the first place... I would starve before working anywhere or with anyone that kills animals because it's just "easier"!!! Fight for something that you believe in! Don't just let innocent animals put killed because no one bothered to speak up or fight for them!!! Come on now people.. get with the program!!!

  3. I am torn on this subject. I volunteer for my county pound. It is truly a terrible place for a dog to be and the pound is overwhelmed with animals due to the high volume of owner surrenders (150-200 animals a day). I have seen the employees there that really love animals and the ones that are only there to make ends meet.

    I do not support or defend any of the practices of the shelter that involve euthanizing healthy animals. I was going to volunteer at the No Kill shelter here. It is a wonderful shelter! But what happens to the dogs at county if there are no volunteers? There aren't enough people on staff to help with walking the dogs or helping with adoptions. They would sit in their dirty kennels for days on end without getting out.

    So once or twice a week I go down to the county pound, because I don't support what they do. I go there for the animals. I post animals online for rescues to see and hopefully pull. If every employee and volunteer turned into bitter employees and embarrassed volunteers what middle man would No Kill shelters and rescues have? Who would the animals have? I will continue to volunteer there and support the No Kill movement until every healthy animal has a second chance of finding a forever home!

  4. Money has nothing to do with any of this to the the first commenter. Statistics show time and time again for that to be true. I also believe we underestimate the public. Get rid of the apathetic, so called leadership in these kill shelter and put out a call to the public to help. It's time for change, and the time is now. I for one plan to be apart of that change in my community, not part of the problem!

  5. To Anonymous - who works at the county shelter because she can't bear the consequences for the animals if she didn't - my heart goes out to your compassion and your ability to be kind and give comfort to the animals there. I wish someone like YOU could be put in charge!!!!

    Great point in original post. People doing what they've got to do, etc. But it does seem like the time has come for public uprising and outcry - and change for the better for animals in shelters.

  6. "To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being". -- Mahatma Gandhi.

    "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being". -- Abraham Lincoln.

    I am a Roman Catholic priest, and I believe that there has been and continues to be a great misconception about the word "dominion" cited in Genesis: "Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.” Tragically, the word "dominion" has been misinterpreted and twisted to benefit those who have ravaged and continue to ravage the living earth, including animals, for the sole purpose of making money. A more appropriate English translation of the ancient Biblical text would be stewardship, rather than "dominion."

    Gandhi and Lincoln, spiritual and political giants of their time, got it. Quite frankly, there is no reason--including religious or political--that excuses or gives license to the killing of treatable and healthy animals -- none whatsoever.