When I first became an advocate and started doing volunteer work to help rescuers years ago, my presence was simply a Youtube channel. I stored my slideshow projects there and I still do, even though I have moved my voice to this website and to the other websites I manage related to my advocacy.
One of my early projects was a slideshow simply called "Find Me." I used a Fisher song which was unreleased at the time and which was written about the disappearance of Natalie Holloway. Although I have reworked a number of my slideshows over the years to keep them fresh, I have left Find Me as it was originally created. I put it together at a time when I was incredibly frustrated and exasperated and it is one of my darker projects. My thought now is that there is enough negativity "out there" related to issues about companion animals and I'm better off taking a more educational or positive approach. I know how I react when a commercial comes on TV for the APSCA or the HSUS. I just don't want to be seen in the same light. They can keep the doom and gloom approach and I'll try to reach people using other methods. One of the recurring frames in Find Me is the traditional see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil image which is ordinarily associated with the Three Wise Monkeys.
I was interacting with a contact of mine with No Kill Houston recently and she let me know she had been contacted by a filmmaker after reposting an old "rant" of mine about shelter volunteers who enable failed shelters through their silence or who otherwise defend the destruction of savable animals. The documentary film is called Silent Shelter and it is currently in production. What caught my attention about the film was not only the image which leads off the trailer, but also the subject of the film itself: the rights of volunteers who help in animal shelters related to their free speech.
I am the first to admit that I have very little tolerance for people who volunteer for or otherwise support shelters where healthy and treatable animals are destroyed. There are proven programs to end the killing and they have been known for about 15 years. My own advocacy has been made more difficult not only due to shelter leaders and employees mired in a dysfunctional system, but also by rescuers and volunteers who refuse to speak out about what is broken. Some of the most toxic opponents of my no kill advocacy have been rescuers and volunteers who spend their time defending the killing and enabling the process when common sense would dictate that they would work just as hard as I am to end the needless killing. I cannot count the number of times I have been told by volunteers that they essentially "go along to get along" so they won't be "cut off" from helping animals. I've never really understood that position at all. If you really want to help animals, then look further than X dog or Y cat to resolve the systemic issues which cause them to be destroyed in the first place. Your silence is, ultimately, your approval.
In spite of my criticism for enablers and apologists, I know of numerous other people within the system who have spoken about about wrongs they have seen, heard and experienced only to be banned from a shelter or told they must sign some type of document saying they will not criticize the shelter. Is it this subject which is explored by the film and for that I am thankful. This subject has been covered by a lot of people a whole lot smarter than me so I won't go into detail on the issue here. The bottom line is that shelter volunteers and employees cannot be silenced because doing so violates the free speech provisions of our Constitution.
I look forward to seeing the film. I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch the trailer. If you are a volunteer or employee at a shelter where bad things happen, I hope you will take some time to educate yourself on no kill philosophies and issues related to free speech.
If you don't speak out for the welfare of animals in shelters, who will?
Silent Shelter Trailer from Dana Keithly on Vimeo.
6/22/2016 01:22:27 pm
Thank you for so succinctly explaining the enabler syndrome coinciding with this extraordinary film.
6/22/2016 06:28:48 pm
Thank you for this film!! I will share it again and again.
6/23/2016 08:30:53 am
I've read through the information in the links you provided that pertain to the specifics of the law, but did not see that private rescues are addressed by it. Do you know if this law applies to private shelters which do not receive government funding, nor have an animal control contract with a municipal shelter? I know for a fact of a private 501(C)3 shelter, which operates solely on donations and has no contracts to perform any services in conjunction with local AC, that fired an employee and dismissed two of its longest-term volunteers out of *suspicion* that the three individuals had been reporting information to Animal Control, which the shelter believes resulted in a raid on their facility by AC. The individuals were told not to return, the day after the raid, and the shelter even went so far as to attempt to deny unemployment to the employee, claiming "insubordination." The employee has been fighting them on this issue for close to a year. I am wondering if it would be worth their while to contact the ACLU, and I believe this would depend on if the law extends to cover this kind of shelter.
6/23/2016 10:21:16 am
I am afraid that the free speech right does not extend to issues related to shelter or rescues which are not funded by the government in some way, either as the primary operator or through a contract. As Nathan Winograd wrote in his blog, "The Right to Speak Out": the protections of the First Amendment protect against government intrusion, so long as they receive funding to provide a government function (i.e., animal control contract), Sec. 1983 has been held to apply to both government shelters and private SPCAs.
6/24/2016 08:32:59 pm
Thank you so much for your feedback on my question. I had a feeling that would be the case, unfortunately. As for taking action on the situation...the individuals mentioned are all part of a much larger group that has attempted to effect change (relating to the welfare of the animals) at this rescue, pursuing it through proper legal channels, all to no avail, unfortunately. Pursuing any matter related to concerns of the welfare of these animals with their board of directors would be simply laughable.....their board supports the owners, unequivocally.. And yet, many of the board members never even set foot in the shelter, so they are largely uninformed/ignorant about what goes on, and simply take the owners' word for it that those who complain about the welfare of the animals are simply troublemakers. Sadly, those who voice concerns would get about the same results from shouting into the wind. Even the Dept of Ag has turned a blind eye, despite complaints of neglect at this facility that date back to 2012 from various unrelated sources.
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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