I cover a lot of topics on my website in an effort to help educate the animal-loving public on some serious issues regarding companion animals in our country. What all of these topics have in common is the fact that they all relate to the topic of the destruction of animals in buildings we ordinarily call shelters. Although most of the animal loving public may give little thought to what happens in shelters, the reality is that we are all paying for what happens there whether it is good or bad. Whether it involves life-saving or death. In all but the most progressive communities in our country, healthy and treatable animals are being systematically destroyed in municipally operated buildings using public funds while the public is blamed for that very process. If only the public _______________, the argument goes, this would not be necessary. You can fill in the blank with "was more responsible," "would only spay and neuter pets," "did not treat pets as disposable" and so on. While there are more and more no kill communities emerging with the passage of time, those places are still in the minority as public officials continue the decades old practice of adopting out a few animals and destroying the rest, doing nothing to stop that cycle.
Some events of recent weeks have caused me to reflect on the whole subject of political advocacy related to shelter animals. As the concept of "no kill" has evolved over the years and across the country, there are factions which have formed which are essentially at odds with each other. There are some who say that in order to reform our animal sheltering system, we should not be overly critical of those who manage shelters where animals die and that we should work harder on bridge-building to change what is happening. There are people in this faction who go so far as to say that governments are really only required to house animals for property reasons so we really shouldn't push them too hard. There are others, like me, who believe in diplomatic communication about this topic, but who also believe that it should be handled with a sense of urgency. As Nathan Winograd once aptly wrote, "with each day we delay, the body count rises." Because we are talking about the lives of animals (and their potential death), this subject is unique in terms of seeking accountability for the manner in which our tax dollars are spent. People complain to police departments all the time about increased patrolling related to reducing crime. They complain to public works departments about garbage pick-up. They complain to traffic engineering departments about the timing of traffic lights which they think are too slow or about roadway conditions. They complain about a host of issues most of which do not relate to the imminent threat of death.
I am, and have been, openly critical of the animal shelter in the city where I work. For me, this is no different that seeking municipal accountability for any other public service function of local government other than the fact that I think we simply cannot delay in implementing change. It is perfectly logical for me to not only say "I think you can to better" but to also make recommendations on how that can happen which are based on proven results in other communities using established programs which do not cost more. I know that the topic of animals is an emotional one for most people. The American public simply does not want tax dollars spent to destroy shelter animals when those same funds can be spent to ensure public safety and still keep animals alive. When progress is made, as is the case in the city where I work, I am fully capable of applauding that progress. I absolutely give credit where credit is due.
Where I differ with some is on this idea that I cannot applaud progress while still asking for more. This is not an episode of Let's Make a Deal where my choices are Door Number 1 (give praise) and Door Number 2 (be critical). Both of those behaviors have value. But when the lives of shelter animals are still at risk for whatever reason (lack of commitment, lack of program development, defensiveness to criticism), I not only have the right to remain critical, I also have an obligation to do that for the sake of my values and my exercise of the right to free speech. Does change take time? It sure does. But the truth is that we have to act with a sense or urgency when lives are at stake. As a veteran, I believe strongly in accountability for how our government operates at local, state and federal levels using public money. But I also believe that it you feel strongly about something, it is up to you to speak out about it so that those who govern us know what you want. Complaining to your friends or posting on social media is of little value and you have to take your complaints to those in positions to effect change.
I have been told by some in animal advocacy circles that I should stop criticizing my local shelter because they have done so well. I simply will not. I can acknowledge that a lot of things have changed and animals are safer here now than they were in the past. Since I know that healthy dogs still die in the shelter here, I simply will not stop being critical just because it makes some people uncomfortable. The lives of animals in our nation's shelters often depend on the outspokenness of advocates. If it is permissible for me to complain about a pot hole in the road, it is absolutely permissible for me to complain about a dead dog named Jackson who was a year old when he was destroyed to make space in the "shelter." And while I am sure shelter volunteers will demand that I spend hours in a shelter in order to have the right to complain, I am equally sure that no one would ask me to become a worker on a paving crew in order to help this city do a better job. Those who are public servants would do well to remember that role in our governments. We are paying them and they are using our money whether we approve of their behavior or not. Public service is not for everyone and we should not confuse branches of municipal government with private businesses which are more insulated from public comment.
I'm sorry we failed you, Jackson. I will not be silent. I will not go along to get along.
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