Nov 282012
 
Okey's Promise: Art for a Cause public art mural sketch by BZTAT

Okey’s Promise mural sketch by BZTAT

I spent 20 years working as a professional clinical counselor. In that time, I met a number of children who had been abused or exposed to domestic violence. The trauma was profound and the emotional effects were deep for these children.

Most of these children are now adults. Some have recovered from their painful experiences and have gone on to be successful in their endeavors. Others still struggle, but are working towards recovery.

And there are a few who have ended up in prison for violent crimes. That is the reality of recovery – some do not get to the place where we want them to be.

I met up with a young woman recently with whom I had worked towards a healing journey from her painful history. This young woman continues to struggle. She has a support network that stands by her, though, and a family that she has accrued through the years. She knows how important that is to her.

I had not seen her in probably 5 years. The reunion was emotional for both of us.

I was completely disarmed by her genuine gratitude for my past efforts on her behalf. As a child, she had many moments of reacting angrily against me, so I was surprised that she had recognized that I was helping her. One by one, she recounted incidents where I had stood by her despite her ingratitude at the time.

And she thanked me.

Not just for standing by her, but for understanding her pain.

This young lady loved animals, but when she experienced her emotional torment, that love turned to hate. She did not understand why, and she hated herself for it, but when her pain became too great, she attempted to harm the very pets whom she loved.

Luckily, she had foster parents and a treatment team that understood this. Plans were in place to protect the child and the animals from the dangers of her pain.

As we walked down memory lane recalling this, she was profuse in her gratitude about my help in keeping her from hurting the animals who were her best friends.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead has said, “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” My young friend told me in so many words that she believed it to be true.

She rekindled my belief in the necessity of educating the public about this important issue.

Okey’s Promise is not just about animals. It is not just about children. It is not just about abuse and domestic violence.

Okey’s Promise is about bringing widespread awareness to the connections of animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence through public art, so that we can help animals AND people be safe in our world.

I cannot do it alone. Will you help me?

My young friend, and many others out there deeply appreciate your understanding and willingness to share it with the world.

BZTAT

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May 192012
 
"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.

BZTAT

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 Posted by at 3:12 pm
Apr 092012
 
Asian boy painting

Painting by BZTAT

The first painting for the Okey’s Promise: Celebrating the Human Animal Bond project is complete! This is the first painting in the series, based on a photo of a young man named Isaac who lives in Rochester, NY (We will get a better photo of the painting soon).

The background contains images created by students at 2 local schools who are participating in the project through the Domestic Violence Project, Inc. (DVPI). I met with the students along with a therapist from DVPI, and we talked with them about the importance of treating animals in a humane manner. We also talked about how animal abuse and domestic violence are linked, and encouraged them to share their own experiences.

Asian boy painting close-up

I was encouraged to hear many of these students sharing how their animals were spayed and neutered and otherwise well tended. Some shared of loss of a pet. One shared that he had difficulty understanding boundaries with a pet, leaving him with frequent scratches on his arms. He seemed to gain new understanding from our discussion. His teacher was hopeful.

Okey's Promise Gallery installationThe project will include a series of 10-12 professional artworks (approx. 48” H x 32” W each) that relate to the links between animal abuse, domestic violence and child abuse. These artworks will become a traveling exhibit that will be used locally by the DomesticViolence Project, Inc. (DVPI) and other interested agencies at events and other designated activities to raise awareness about the issues of domestic violence and pet abuse.

My hope is that the project will travel nationwide. If you are interested in having it visit your city, contact me.

Each face depicted in the exhibit will represent the outcome that we seek – safe, happy children and animals – with the backgrounds depicting the artwork of youth on the issues of animal abuse and domestic violence.

Follow posts here to see the project develop!

BZTAT

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Mar 252012
 

I have written about a colony of feral cats in Tuscarawas County, OH who helped me learn about the Trap-Neuter-Return process. I even drew their pictures, as they were very inspiring to me. You can see a slideshow below of the drawings.

The cats taught me A LOT. I am very grateful to them. I am sure that they are grateful that I am done, and pretty much out of their lives at this point! They all scatter when I come to visit my friend, their caregiver, which is fine by me.

In all, I trapped 13 cats and 5 kittens. There were two who simply would not be trapped (that I know of). My friend, who recently had heart surgery, will endeavor to trap them when she feels better.

The timing for the trapping turned out to be more urgent than anticipated. Because of our unusually warm weather in both February and March this year, females are going into heat early. We had 7 adult females, some of which had already gone into heat. Do the math. We were able to prevent the colony from growing significantly larger.

The overall clinic costs between One is One of a Kind Pets in Fairlawn, OH who did the spay/neutering, and the Tuscarawas County Humane Society cat shelter, who accepted the kittens, was $305.00. This was due to the very generous offering of One of a Kind Pets Spay Neuter Clinic to do the surgeries at a very low $20 per cat. (THANK YOU OOKP!!!) There were some additional food and supply costs, and transportation costs as well. There was not a feral cat clinic in the area (other than a mobile unit that was not accessible at the times needed), so the cats had to be transported 60 miles each trip. Add to that a 60 mile round trip from my home to the trapping site, and I covered a 994 miles for the intervention.

We had $315 donated to aid in the intervention, and additional monies were contributed by the cats’ caregiver that offset these costs. I am deeply appreciative to those who contributed. The money helped to cover clinic costs, feeding costs, and transportation costs.

One of a Kind Pets Iams food donation

Presenting food vouchers to One of a Kind Spay Neuter Clinic

I am grateful to One is One of a Kind Pets and the Tuscarawas County Humane Society cat shelter for their help with the process, and to Iams Pet Foods, who donated 60 lbs of pet food to both organizations in thanks.

I am also very grateful to Peace For Pets, who loaned me the traps and educated me about the actual TNR procedures.

I have read that you can consider it a successful TNR intervention if you are able to neuter 70% of a colony. We managed to neuter 90%, so I feel that, as a team, we did pretty well!

Doing the intervention was an adventure. I feel that I need to stress, however, that there are many people in my community and across the country who do TNR every day in much more complicated situations than this was. I was in a rural area with a garage enclosure where the cats and I were safe. Often, trappers go into urban areas where the circumstances are much less luxurious. They are true heroes in my book.

I do not know if I will do further trappings. I will assist others when needed, and I am doing some community education about TNR. I am participating in the Canton, OH citywide effort to make TNR the official means of feral cat management for the city. We’ll see where it leads me.

Thanks for following the adventure!

Life is an Adventure!

BZTAT

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 Posted by at 5:46 pm