In the years since I had my unwelcome epiphany about the plight of shelter animals – which led to greater awareness about a host of issues concerning companion animals in general – I have had the privilege of connecting with people across the country whom I consider trailblazers for the sake of animals. If you are new to the topic of animal welfare, you may not know their names. I call them Nathan and Mike and Theresa and Rudi and Dan and Mary and Ryan and Tamira and Davyd and Becky and Brian and Valerie and Debi and Terri and Kathy and Christie and Doug and Bett and Karen and Keith. All are very active related to the topics of no kill animal sheltering and ending puppy mills and ending the chaining/tethering of dogs and getting lost dogs back home and TNR of community cats and ending breed stereotypes and bans. What all of these contacts of mine have in common is that they don’t work for large national animal welfare organizations. Some of them manage nonprofit organizations, but most of them work full-time jobs and aren’t paid a dime for their advocacy. It is something they do because they are compelled to take action to improve our society and improve the welfare of the dogs and cats we say we value and care for. They act because they have to and it is part of who they are as people.
I get a lot of email from people in other states about a variety of issues due to my outspokenness. Many want to know how to bring about change in their own areas and really don’t know where to start. Most have put some reliance on large national organizations to bring about change and have been left disappointed in that process. They ask, “what could I possibly do as one person? How can I possibly make things better related to _____________ (fill in the blank on the topic) in my city or my state?” I think that for most of us, the idea of taking on an issue ourselves is pretty daunting. We know we want to help, but may feel overwhelmed at the work we see before us to bring about change. The problems just seem so – to use an overused word – HUGE.
Take heart, animal advocate. Because you do have the power to bring about change and your voice is louder than you may imagine. You do need to educate yourself on your topic. An informed advocate is an effective advocate. But speaking out on your own can be of more value than you may realize in your current state of mind.
I was reminded of this recently while reading a book written by a contact of mine named Becky Monroe called Bark Until Heard: Among the Silenced Dogs I Found My Voice. Becky and I just recently connected on the topic of puppy mills as a result of one of my earlier blogs on the topic. I have yet to blog about her book, but the reasons she wrote her book got me thinking about this whole topic of advocacy by individual people. Without taking away from your enjoyment of Bark Until Heard, the premise is pretty simple: Becky ended up at a puppy mill auction somewhat unexpectedly, saved a dog she named Thorp and was forever changed by the process, making it part of her life’s purpose to educate others about the horrors of the puppy mill industry in an effort to bring an end to it. I’m sure when Becky started what could be described as a crusade to end puppy mills, she had no idea how successful she would be. But that didn’t matter to her. She connected with like-minded people, she sent emails and composed letters, she wrote articles which helped people get a glimpse of what she had experienced and now she has a very successful book she is using as a means to reach more of the public. She truly did find her voice.
I was also reminded of this recently while engaging with fellow advocate Steve Shank of Lake County, Florida. Steve has been working for years to shine a light on the dark corners of the house that is animal sheltering in his county. He has been met with opposition, resistance and most recently what I would consider at best deception and at worst lies by the current shelter leadership to make things seem better than they are. Steve is just one person. But he did not give up and he stayed true to his vision. He ultimately connected with a county commissioner who got on board with his goals right away and in just a couple of weeks, a no kill consultant will be traveling to his county to meet with local officials and talk about plans for the county to run a no kill animal shelter using progressive and proven programs. I am sure that much like Becky, Steve had no clue where all this would go when he decided to take the risk of being the one to speak out for the animals who could not speak for themselves. The future of Lake County is still unfolding, but I’m sure we can all agree that there are many changes ahead and that the animals in that area are soon to be safer than at any time in the history of the county. Steve and his contacts will face opposition from a host of sources which will surprise many people. PETA, local rescuers and general naysayers will say that no kill is not possible or it means institutionalized hoarding or it costs too much. The problem with the pushback like that is that it seldom survives the reality of communities which change drastically and in very short periods of time. It’s hard to say the world is flat or we didn’t go to the moon or no kill communities are not real when they continue to emerge with increasing speed.
Being a voice for animals is hard work. It may cause you to lose what you thought were friendships. It may baffle the people you love who are closest to you who support you, but who may not truly understand the depth of your commitment to bring about change. It may cause you to be vilified by organizations or individuals as they defend the status quo and focus more on the messenger than on the reasons why the message was necessary in the first place.
But never doubt the power of individual advocacy related to companion animals whether it is on a general topic or whether is it focused on a state or municipality which is using tax dollars related to animals in ways which are not consistent with our culture and our values in America. Sometimes all it takes is one person putting themselves “out there” to help others find the courage to do the same. Which means that instead of being an army of one, you may find that you are one of many as you work together to change our society and help many more animals than you may ever realize.
To borrow a lyric from Sara Bareilles, show me how big your brave is.
(images courtesy of Becky Monroe and Steve and Hank Shank)
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