Herding Cats

"Dancing Sea Cats" drawing by BZTAT
"Dancing Sea Cats" drawing by BZTAT

I saw this statement posted on the Facebook page for the rescue group Rescue Ink (popularized by the National Geographic Channel TV show):

“Real Rescues don’t talk, they just Rescue.”

The statement was posted with a sign lamenting people who criticize the group’s tactics.

While I applaud the efforts of Rescue Ink and other volunteers who do the “in the trenches” work of animal rescue, I think that this sort of attitude is not helpful. It fosters a condescending attitude towards people who do supportive efforts that may not be in the trenches, but are extremely important to rescue efforts nonetheless.

Browbeating and “in your face” tactics may be called for in some circumstances to deal with problematic people who mistreat animals. But in many instances, more collaborative and understanding approaches can help people who are simply unaware that they have better options.

Certainly, browbeating others who want to help animals in whatever way they can is not helpful.

I have done a minimal amount of rescue, but I tend to focus my efforts on education and public awareness. I talk. These things are VERY important, I believe, to improving the lives of animals in my community and globally. Most rescue people do not have the skills that I have in these areas, so I believe that I can support their efforts with my unique skills.

But often the “in the trenches” crowd criticizes me, as does the statement from Rescue Ink, because I am talking and not rescuing like they do.

In creating Okey’s Promise, I have encountered both praise and criticism. Praise has come from those who appreciated my creative approach to connecting the dots between animal abuse and domestic violence. Criticism has come from a variety of people, some of whom I would have expected to embrace the Okey’s Promise mission.

The whole process has been intriguing to me.

I have learned one thing. Despite a few unifying principles, there is often a wide chasm between groups of people who dedicate themselves to animal and child welfare causes.

People who care about animals can be very passionate for causes related to animal welfare. They often become highly emotional for their cause, and they feel outraged when others do not share their passion.

People who involve themselves in the actual rescue of animals on an ongoing basis face daily hardship and emotional turmoil, finding themselves face to face with the pain of animal neglect and abuse. They engage in significant personal sacrifice, giving their time, money and emotional resources to saving creatures who did nothing to deserve their castaway status in society.

I applaud the conviction of people who do actual animal rescue. I deeply appreciate their efforts. When their passion translates into condescension of others, however, it can diminish the value of the great work that they do.

It is hard to know where to draw the line. Certainly, we do need to express outrage at outrageous things.

The realization that Canton’s Animal Control Program was leading to the euthanization of healthy feral cats needed to be exposed. The sudden change in policy that led to the deplorable devastation of the Loews Hotel feral cat colonies needed to be criticized and protested. The upending of New York City’s St. James Church’s successful TNR effort with a cat colony needed to be spotlighted. (Luckily, the Catholic Diocese had a change of heart with that colony.)

But criticism alone does not bring change. Doing actual rescue work alone does not bring about change. Working only with the people you like and excluding or disparaging others does not bring about change.

Building coalitions and collaborations brings about change in a systemic way that leads to longstanding and sustainable programs.

Building coalitions requires talk and compromise. It is a messy process. Coalitions are not effective if they only include those with whom you agree.

In Canton, we have achieved the goal of much of our advocacy efforts. As of May 1, 2012, Canton’s controversial Animal Control Officer, Phil Sedlacko, is  no longer filling that position. Furthermore, there are no immediate plans to replace him, as far as anyone can tell. Canton City Council has agreed to form a committee to explore and develop a TNR program for feral cats, and the City Health Commissioner, who initially was opposed, is now working with the committee to address health concerns of such a program. The Stark County Humane Society has agreed to stop accepting feral cats for euthanasia, and they too are working actively with the TNR committee.

The city is unlikely to provide funding towards a TNR effort, which will be an impediment. But they have granted our wish – there is no longer a trap-remove-euthanize program for feral cats in Canton.

The Canton City Council, the City Health Commissioner, and the Stark County Humane Society have all been the subject of criticism of animal advocates. They have listened and made some changes. Now it is up to the animal advocates to guide them in developing a new approach to animal welfare.

Can we do it?

Herding cats is easier than coordinating a diverse group of people like we have in Canton. Advocates have criticized other advocates, and have engaged in parallel efforts that do not support an over all coordinated effort. No one is perfect, so the criticisms likely have varying degrees of validity. Mistrust and personal differences between individuals has been present in Canton for a long time. I have not been immune to it myself.

The question is, will we all be able to sit down together and make a coordinated TNR program happen? Will we be able to set aside competing agendas and personal differences in order to make this dream we all have a reality?

It is my hope that we will. The only way it can happen is if the program brings people together for the benefit of the cats.

A program that separates us is doomed to fail.



Profiles of Hope: Amazon Cares – Caring for pets and people in Peru

Amazon Cares dog umbrella drawing by bztatWherever there are people, there are pets. We are a species that attracts, and is attracted to, animals whose own species have evolved through adapting to human interaction.

Even when certain dogs and cats and other companion animals are not socialized to humans, their overall species has adapted to us, and therefore, they rely on us for their survival. That is why there are growing efforts to address the needs of homeless pets who live off the discards of humanity and lurk on the fringes of our lives.

Humanity created their situation. They did not.

It amazes me to see people working to resolve the problem of homeless pets in their local communities. When someone travels to another side of the world to do it, well, that is just incredible.

Molly Mednikow did that.

Not only did she do that, she walked away from a thriving career in Atlanta, GA and started the charity Amazon Community Animal Rescue, Education and Safety (Amazon CARES) in the Peruvian Amazon. On her first trip to the region, she was struck by the awareness that numerous worldwide organizations were working on environmental issues affecting the Amazon, but there was no effort to address the needs of homeless domestic animals. “One could not walk three feet without stepping over a severely ill dog, lacking hope or opportunity in this environment,” she said. The experience compelled her to act.

Amazon CARES has since received international acclaim for its innovation and essential work to aid sick and injured animals, promote spay-neuter programs, and reduce the abuse and neglect of companion animals. Their programs aim to improve community health through working with both the animals and human beings in the region.

It is a daunting task. The concept of animal welfare is not as established in this society as it is in American culture, thus educating citizens about the importance of animal care is a big job.

The volunteers of Amazon CARES have made considerable progress in a few short years. Recently, though, they have faced serious setbacks. The Peruvian Amazon region has been experiencing the worst flooding in decades. The shelter in which they had housed sick animals and tended to their veterinary needs was washed away in the floods. The animals were rescued, but they are now in cramped quarters.

The Fondation 30 millions d’Amis has provided them with an emergency grant, and they have received generous donations from private donors. This has enabled them to build a smaller, emergency shelter on higher land. Local government is donating wood to assist with the project. More donations are needed, though. You can learn more here, and you can contribute to the fund raising campaign with the widget below.

The picture above is one that I drew to encourage hope amidst the losses facing Amazon CARES. Indeed, hope is what they are all about. Their work is so inspiring. I wish them well as they work to recover from the setbacks and continue the marvelous work they do – for the animals and for the people of Peru.

News Release: Be Kind to Animals Week and the Compassion Movement

I rarely print something in this space that is not of my own writing,  but I believe that this news release in its entirety is important to share. This week is “Be Kind to Animals Week”, sponsored by the longstanding American Humane Association, and I hope that you will share the information in their news release below with others, so that we can help the “Compassion Movement” grow. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Organization that Helped Found Humanitarian Efforts in the 1800s Joins with Celebrities and Supporters to Enlist Advocates for 21st Century Problems

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During this year’s “Be Kind to Animals Week®” (May 6-12), the organization that helped found America’s original “Compassion Movement” in the 1870s is putting out an urgent plea and opening its membership for the first time to the general public, imploring them to protect more of the nation’s 10 billion+ farm animals, 3-4 million shelter animals who are euthanized yearly, and thousands of animals who are being hurt in natural disasters and cruelty cases.

“The need has never been greater,” says Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane Association. “We have made gigantic strides in the past century, pioneering many of the key advances in protecting our nation’s children and animals, but there are still huge numbers in critical need of lifesaving care. We are putting out a call to the American public during Be Kind to Animals Week to get involved and become part of a new 21st century Compassion Movement that will help millions more of our most vulnerable to be kept safe, protected, and loved. So many animals are still suffering and can’t wait any longer.”

Some major names are heeding that call, including celebrities such as beloved actress and animal lover Betty White, who has a long history with American Humane Association and has agreed to be the chair of this year’s “Be Kind to Animals Week,” which the charity launched back in 1915. In an email message to half a million supporters, Ms. White is asking fans and animal lovers to help by joining as supporting members now.

“As far as I am concerned, every week should be ‘Be Kind to Animals Week,'” said Ms. White. “To make that possible for more animals, please join American Humane Association’s new membership program. In fact, as a challenge for my 90th birthday — I would like 9,000 new members to join this very week!”

In addition to the good feeling of helping helpless animals, those who visit www.behumane.org and join at the Compassion Club level of $50 a month will be entered to win two tickets to the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in Hollywood and a VIP visit with Hero Dog headliner Betty White!

Other major celebrities, charities, and companies are posting, tweeting, and otherwise spreading the word, encouraging Americans to get off the sidelines and actively become a voice for the voiceless, joining an effort that pioneered virtually every major advance in child and animal welfare. Did you know AHA:

  • Worked to champion protections for farm animals back in 1877?
  • Worked to save thousands of wounded horses on the battlefields during World War I?
  • Helped save the bald eagle?
  • Founded its famed Film and TV Unit in 1940 to make sure “No Animals Were Harmed®” for the sake of entertainment?
  • Was a leader in tackling pet overpopulation, spay and neuter, and “puppy mills”?
  • Created Adopt-a-Dog Month® and Adopt-A-Cat Month® to encourage adoption from overcrowded animal shelters and save millions of innocent lives?
  • Has rescued more than 64,000 animals following hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other disasters in just the past five years?
  • Ensures the humane treatment of more than 135 million farm animals?

“American Humane Association helped found our nation’s Compassion Movement 135 years ago and we made a huge difference,” said Dr. Ganzert. “Today, we need every American to join in an ambitious new effort to bring hope, help and comfort to millions in need. What better time to consider joining American Humane Association as a supporting member of the most compassionate club than during Be Kind to Animals Week? Please take just a moment and visit us at www.behumane.org. Thank you!”

Thank YOU American Humane Association for all of your good work!!!