I am a self-professed keyboard animal welfare advocate. What that pretty much means is that most of my volunteerism to help animals is done using my laptop, my phone and my brain. I do "incidental rescue" when my husband and I come across animals needing our help, but I do not run a rescue group and I have never managed an animal shelter. I am not even a nonprofit because in all my years of advocacy, I just haven't found a good reason to seek that status and all that comes with it. I would much rather handle my own legal and administrative costs myself and have people make their donations in ways which help animals directly.
I work a full-time job as a timekeeper in the legal field which means that all of my time is accounted for and billed to clients. I commute to that job. I manage four websites, administer multiple social media pages, do video/slideshow projects for nonprofits across the country and do small task in my own area from flyers to networking for animals to helping with promotions and events. I lead a group of people who do TNR with a managed cat colony at my office. My point is that I'm pretty busy on any given day and I have to work really hard to have boundaries so I can have a life of my own in addition to my advocacy. I don't ask for credit for any of what I do; it truly is all about helping animals and I'd like to think that my role has some value. If I can persuade someone to behave differently to save the life of an animal as the result of something I wrote, said or did, I consider that a good thing.
I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in the last year or so, being a keyboard advocate became a bad thing. From what I can tell, it happened on a national level around the same time there was a split between factions in the no kill movement and some of those who were formerly the talkers, thinkers and bloggers became the hands-on doers. I guess their transition from keyboarding and philosophical discussions about no kill concepts to handling animals somehow led them to believe there either is no room for folks like me or that somehow my advocacy is less worthy than their own.
I have been told many times by rescuers and shelter volunteers that if I am not at an animal shelter doing hands-on tasks with animals, I am part of the problem and not part of the solution. I'm not sure where that type of advocacy arrogance comes from or what it really accomplishes. I would love to be able to either retire or work part-time so that I can be more involved in a more hands-on way. One day when I do retire, I am sure I will be able to do more which helps animals directly. I have never faulted those in rescue or who volunteer at shelters for doing what they do to save the lives of animals or enrich those lives so I'm not really sure why it is that my contributions are seen by some in such a negative light. I admit that I am hard on people who help at shelters where animals die needlessly and who refuse to seek better for those animals; to me, silence is approval.
I have been in conflict with some rescuers in my area for a few months now and it is this situation which has finally led to this blog post. In December of last year, I organized a bed drive to help homeless pets in my county. The drive was a success and the homeless dogs in our county who are helped by animal control no longer sleep on concrete floors. On a holiday in late December, I was attacked in social media by a rescuer who said that the bed drive I promoted was going to lead to the death of 45 dogs. Huh? I had to threaten that person with legal action for cyberdefamation. I was told just this last weekend by another rescuer that instead of having a bed drive, I should have worked to help her reduce the $20,000 tab she had run up at a local veterinary hospital housing dogs she had "rescued." I was told that it was very inconsiderate of me to divert attention away from fundraising to keep dogs alive and that "a dead dog doesn't need a bed." She went on to say that I should spend 15 hours a day helping dogs like she does so that I can know them as she does.
But here's the thing. Sometimes a bed is more than a bed. Sure the bed drive was to help get dogs up off of the floor at a veterinary hospital where they are housed for their property hold period. But the bed drive was about much, much more than beds. At the time we did the drive, there was a need to help bring the public to the plight of the dogs being housed by animal control personnel and the need to get them out into adoptive homes. How else was the need for boarding ever going to stop? The drive was just as much (or more) about public awareness and community involvement than anything. Every person who decided to donate a Kuranda dog bed for a homeless dog now feels connected to the animal control and life-saving process in our community. And that person probably told another person who told another person who may then decide to adopt a dog the next time they bring a new pet into their home.
I make no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of long-term boarding of "rescued" animals. No kill does not mean you house dogs in kennels for months or even years on end with little or no socialization, making them institutionalized and less adoptable with each passing day. It is not rescue to collect more and more dogs, exceeding any foreseeable resources and having no plan to rehome the dogs. I really did not know that rescuers had run up a 20k tab trying to keep dogs alive and even if I had known, I simply would not have done any fundraising to help them chip away a few hundred bucks on a bill that continued to grow with each day. My focus was on negating the need for the boarding at all.
Everyone who works hard to help animals brings something to the table whether they are walking a dog, cleaning a kennel, helping at an adoption event, helping with a website, creating a flyer, making phone calls or any other task to help make a difference. It takes a lot of different skill sets to help educate the public to encourage them to make better choices for companion animals.
I'm proud to be a keyboard advocate. And I don't plan to stop what I'm doing any time soon. As for working 15 hours a day to help dogs? Perhaps I will be able to do just that some day when I retire and I open my Rescue Shop to help place shelter and rescue animals.
I originally posted this a few years ago as a way of honoring my parents. They say that story telling is good for the soul. I am re-posting it here in advance of the 5th year anniversary of my mom's passing and as I reflect back on times shared and values forged through family bonds.
I’ve often told people that I grew up in an animal-friendly household. Thinking back, that’s probably an understatement. It was more like an animal-integrated household. We never had a dog. I just recently learned the story behind that and while I’m a huge dog fan now (often accused by my husband of speaking with a “cat accent”) it all makes perfect sense to me in hindsight. We always had cats and sometimes had many of them. In our childhood home, animals were family members to be loved and respected - quirks and all - just like humans. It started with Spot and led to Callie and Mark and Leroy and Barbara and Annie and Dave and Tommy and Batty. Most had “people names” and that pretty much reflected their status in our house. We never questioned how animals were to be treated and the fact that my siblings and I all have animals as adults (all of whom are rescues) speaks to the values taught to us at a young age.
In the Fall of 2009, Time’s Winged Chariot took two swipes at our family. Dad’s lung cancer was diagnosed in September; mom’s stomach cancer diagnosis came in December. To say we were all in shock is another understatement. Dad’s cancer was somehow easier to rationalize. He had been a long-term smoker and had worked his entire life in an industry which was at one time replete with carcinogens. Mom’s was less fair somehow. She was a 20 year breast-cancer survivor and I think I had allowed myself to believe she had paid her dues to The Fates and would live for decades.
Both of our parents were in really good health before being diagnosed. No serious chronic conditions. Very physically active. That state of being “otherwise in really good shape” served them both well in the months to come. They began this dueling schedule of chemo and radiation as they tried to keep balance and make sure one of them was in reasonably good shape at any given time. At one point, dad’s oncologist (whom mom later worked with) commented that our parents really were taking the whole concept of doing things together way too far. My sister and brother, both of whom live close to our folks, were there each step of the way and I’m eternally grateful to them. I can only imagine the juggling acts they both went through as they tried to retain a degree of normalcy in their own lives - work and family - while being there for mom and dad and doing everything possible to help keep our parents in their own home. With the cats. No one really talked about how long the arrangement could be sustained. We knew they wanted to be in their own house and we all pretty much assumed that dad would outlive mom by years. I distinctly recall a conversation with dad at Scripps Green in La Jolla (mom was doing prep work to have a power port implanted) in which dad said he really thought he had another good 8 to 10 years left.
I made multiple trips back in the ensuing months to see my parents and to help in some small degree. Each time I’d visit, I’d marvel at their strength. Dad said he felt good. Mom was as funny as ever. During that time, I came to have an even greater appreciation for creatures who can only be described as Feline Therapy on four legs. I know that the concept of therapy animals is normally associated with dogs, but the cats were as empathic and as nurturing as any mutt I ever met. Batty loved to stretch out on dad’s legs as dad sat in his favorite chair with his feet up on an ottoman, sometimes pushing whatever book dad had been reading out of the way and demanding attention. Mom couldn’t rest in her bed or sit on the couch near dad without at least one therapy cat at her side, providing comfort just through breathing and the touch of hand on soft fur.
Time’s Winged Chariot returned in the summer of 2010. We didn’t know exactly what was wrong at first, but dad’s cancer had moved to his brain. We lost him in late October. It was quick and it was awful. And it was only then that the subject of the cats came up. Mom was devastated, of course. She and dad had been together pretty much their whole adult lives and as she tried to process the loss of her life partner, she also knew she had to make plans for the cats. They would outlive her. I remember her asking me in a phone call if I had rescue contacts I could reach out to who might take them together. She did not want them separated. I said, “sure, mom. Don’t even worry about it.” She had a similar conversation with my aunt (who was also doing the back and forth visiting routine), soon after and the deal was sealed: the cats would move to Austin and that’s just the way it would be. A great weight was lifted from mom’s heart by her sister and she was able to return her focus to her own treatment as we all grieved the loss of dad. Mom had one condition on the relocation of the cats: they could not be transported in a cargo hold. She just would not hear of it. We assured her that we would come up with some other plan.
And we did. Mom left us in April of 2011, less than six months after dad left. It was quick and it was awful. But I guess there’s a degree of poetic justice to that. Together in life, together beyond. As we began the “what do we do now?” process, the cats were a priority issue. We had to relocate them soon and had to come up with a plan. In the end, it was better than our folks could have ever hoped for and was totally in keeping with how we were raised. They could fly on American Airlines in the cabin but each cat had to be in a separate crate and each had to have a human escort. We had two friends who were willing to escort the cats, having been offered an all-expenses paid trip to beautiful Austin, Texas. My brother had a lot of frequent flyer miles and while I’m not sure how they work, he was able to get flights quickly even though the flights were almost fully booked. Each cat took a separate flight with a separate escort and both Feline Relocation Operations went off without a hitch. How'd he get seats on such short notice?
Not to worry, mom, dad. The cats flew first class.
In June of 1992, I was staying with my folks as I transitioned back to civilian life from my GI Jane days. I got a call from Rich that was a game changer. He had met a girl. She was young, came from an abusive situation and he had decided to take her home. “You'll like her, I know you will,” he said. I was a bit taken aback. I didn't know he had been looking.
Her name was Snake and she was a young German Shepherd/coyote mix he had saved with the help of a local game warden in northern California. She had no fur around her neck, having been chained to a tree by a heavy logging chain her entire life. “It may not grow back,” the vet had said, “and she has never really been socialized to people. She could be a challenge.” I had never met anyone quite like her before and I just didn't realize at the time that she would change not only my life but that she would change me as a person. She was wicked smart and incredibly athletic and completely devoted to our little pack. She was beautiful and graceful and Heaven help the person who got a little too close to either of us without her consent. She looked like a Shepherd but was the size of a coyote and was a wild child in many ways. She loved her Frisbee. She loved to out on the lake in our pontoon boat and jump into the water to retrieve a tennis ball over and over again. She was just a sight to behold.
It was October of 2002 when our vet gave us the bad news. “She's got a degenerating spine condition and she probably has about a good six months left before there will be quality of life issues.” We did what any good animal caregivers would do: we completely overreacted. We were devastated. I could barely look at Snake without bursting into tears. She had been with us around the clock for so many years that she was just part of life, like breathing. Rich made a heavy duty ramp that would hold a half ton person so she would no longer need to use stairs to get in and out of the house. I bought a super ortho bed from Foster & Smith that could have been used for a small child. We limited her impact activity and were careful to keep her from being too sedentary. We worried and we wondered and then one day life just went back to normal and we tried not to look too far into the future.
Snake was with us another three and a half years. In her final months, we knew our time with her was coming to a close. Her vision and hearing were almost gone, she had trouble getting up and down on her own and she had trouble digesting food consistently. Rich began the labor of love that was to become her homemade casket. Much like her bed, it was suitable for a small child. We had talked about what we would bury with her when the time came. Her beloved Frisbee. Her dishes. Her squirrel toy, on which I had performed “surgery” so many times that it was almost as much heavy-duty thread as it was fake fur. Her hand sewn Christmas stocking. I wanted to do something to help and was of no use in Rich's woodworking shop so I came up with a plan. “I'm going to make her some homemade dog biscuits and put them in an air-tight container to go with her,” I told Rich. He smiled, tilted his head to the side a bit and said, quite softly, “shes' not Egyptian, Babe.” I laughed. He laughed. The mood was lightened. And I began making her dog biscuits anyway.
We let her go on Earth Day of 2006: April 22nd. We didn't know at the time that it was Earth Day. We just knew we could not keep her here any longer for ourselves and we had to be selfless for her sake. Our vet came to our house to help her and on that day, our lives were again forever changed. We gave her wings.
I have continued to bake Snakey's favorite treats in her honor. I share them with friends and with people who have helped in my advocacy to which I am devoted in the memory of a beautiful girl who changed my life. And who change me as a person. I became an animal welfare advocate because of her. I miss you, Snakey. I am sure your soul lives on and perhaps we will meet again some fine day.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson