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.
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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