Archive for December, 2011

Christmas Wish

We just got our 2011 Christmas present.  One hundred and two survivors of a horrific puppy mill in western Arkansas arrived at our shelter and Medical Center to begin their new lives of hope.  Boston terriers, dachshunds, Pomeranians, Westies, beagles, and others who have never known the feel of human kindness, affection, or compassion.  Only bars and filth, crowded cages and noise, hunger, loneliness and sickness. And even death, as a few unfortunate dogs were found dead on this property before the ASPCA came in and shut down the mill, ending the torment that has no business existing this or any other time of year.

But the holidays came a few days early for these dogs. And for us. Because taking in animals with “nowhere else to go” is our mission. And no creatures have fewer options than puppy mill survivors.  So we’re gearing up for their arrival by making room available “in the inn”—our shelter, clearing the deck on our current medical cases, getting ahead of current spays and neuters, and getting this week’s adopted animals home so we can  turn around their dens like a New York City hotel during the holidays.

“Shelters are dying out there,” Maureen, my shelter director, said to me as she soon as she got back from one of our local partner shelters. In spite of clearing the deck for these new arrivals, she had just picked up eight dogs and even more cats from a local partner shelter. And she has had dozens of calls from other shelters asking us to take “just one more dog.” So, when we open our doors to take in more than 100 dogs and puppies from Arkansas, what does that mean for our local partners? 

It’s really Sophie’s Choice. Truth is, no one has infinite room for all the homeless animals out there.  And choices do have to be made.  But to us, it’s never the dogs’ fault where they’re from. And the fact is, that there are too many animals where there aren’t enough adopters. My staff knows that we help our local partner shelters first. But sometimes, the call comes in from beyond the beltway and we have to say “yes.” Like this Arkansas puppy mill rescue.  And we’ll do everything in the world never  to say “no” to our local animals. 

My Christmas wish is for everyone who ever wanted a puppy or dog or kitten or cat, to go to their local shelter first.  And never, ever, go to the Internet. Because that is where the pipeline to the puppy mill begins. We have to stop the demand for these animals. And look to our local communities to responsibly end homelessness, abandonment and neglect. Because even when Christmas comes early, it’s still never early enough for so many who need it.

‘Tis the Season for Collaboration, Not Combat

Our Winter Open House on December 4

It’s happened again. And just a little more than a few weeks before Christmas. A new non-profit organization called the Humane Society for Shelter Pets (HSSP) was formed by  the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). The latter is run by Rick Berman, who has battled such “tyrannical” organizations as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and who seems to have a personal vendetta against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This may be based on the fact that the CCF gets significant funding from meat producers and processors. He is using HSSP to create a veritable public coliseum over his claim that HSUS does not support shelters or shelter animals. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.  

No legitimate movement can afford to discourage “discourse.” That’s how causes thrive, educate and grow. For the past few years, though, the animal welfare profession has suffered from some of the most hostile attacks I’ve ever seen. All in the name of saving animals. Something we all want to do. So whether it’s from the “no kill movement,” or puppy mill business interests, or egg manufactures, we’ve been hurt badly by the “dis-cohesiveness” of our support base. What CCF and the new Humane Society for Shelter Pets are doing now is just the latest toxic attack in this game of thrones. 

They claim that HSUS is misleading the public about where their funds go. Nonsense. Anyone at any time can pull up the HSUS’s IRS Form 990 and see that millions of dollars go to helping local shelters each year. And millions more go to the fantastic education programs such as the National Animal Care Expo that we all benefit from. Many more millions go to shutting down puppy mills, saving animals from hoarders, and rescuing wildlife. The simple truth is that HSUS supports shelters and companion animals.  Period. They are not—and they never say are—the single umbrella entity under which we all work. What they are is the largest and most effective voice for animals and against suffering in a world with far too much of it. 

Thanks to HSUS, there is cohesion in our struggle to protect animals and move the nation forward on humane issues: shutting down puppy mills, promoting spay/neuter, encouraging shelter pet adoption, and other issues that are crucial to our joint success. And they are always ready to mobilize their rescue teams to work with local shelters responding to natural disasters, hoarding cases, dog fighting rings, puppy mill raids, and other large-scale, often overwhelming, problems. 

There is just too much work to do; we can’t be successful if we’re divided.  Let’s drop the factional language that separates us. We need to increase cohesion between animal groups who share the honor and the grave responsibility to care for the most helpless among us. Using strategies to harm good organizations like HSUS hurts the cause for all involved.  My shelter, The Washington Animal Rescue League, is proud to partner with HSUS. For all they do for animals and all they contribute to shelters across the country, they deserve the undivided support of everyone in the animal welfare field and, indeed, the public as a whole.

Fact is, we’re all trying to take care of animals, and we need to do this job together. Creating organizations such as this new shelter pets group that uses hate and vitriol to manipulate the public harms the backbone of our movement and, worse yet, pits all of us against each other. We could move closer to our common goal of helping more animals by working together, collaborating to conquer the immense problem of animal homelessness. Groups such as the CCF and HSSP hurt not only us, but the animals we are all trying to help.

I’m all for accountability.  But let’s not make up facts to serve our own self-aggrandizing goals. We should all be doing everything we can to ensure that homeless animals get into the homes they need and deserve. But we will be much more effective in pursuit of that goal if we work together and stop creating divisions. 

We can help animals, and each other, best by working together. Not by being divided and conquering each other to further  self-interested agendas. In this season of peace and joy, let’s not hurt animals more by dividing those  dedicated to saving them. CCF and its new group HSSP, may, in fact, have done the best thing in the world for animals by shedding light on the animosity that got animals into their homeless predicament in the first place:  self-interest, dishonesty, and ignorance. So let’s drop the factional language which separates us.  Let’s celebrate collaboration—not combat— in this season of giving and work together to save those who need us the most. I, for one, am thankful to have the support of the Humane Society of the United States whenever we need it. And I personally know a few thousand animals who are home for the holidays today precisely because of that support.