Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's 3 pm: Did You Take Lunch Today?

Animal care professionals, who would never forget to feed the animals under their care, or would never even consider skipping an animal feeding because they were too busy with other things, are paradoxically particularly prone to skipping their own lunch break. I’m a former offender in this regard; I used to eat yogurt for lunch largely for its portability. I would jump from meeting to “crisis” to phone calls, carrying my little plastic container and swallowing spoonfuls of mixed berry between stops. Before we know it, this progresses from an occasional occurrence to an everyday one in which the idea of a lunch break becomes a distant memory, and skipping lunch or eating on the run becomes a bad habit.

A big part of how this happens relates to how we define the terms “urgent” and “emergency”. It’s so easy to categorize just about everything (except of course lunch) as a matter requiring our immediate attention. The client who needs some information; the employee who has a question or issue that needs to be dealt with; the animal who needs a cage change or a walk- all of these types of situations demand our attention, and our immediate response is that they need our attention now. But is this truly so? If we stop and think about it, most situations can be handled later, or someone else can take over for the time being. And in truth, taking the time for lunch restores and reenergizes us so that we are able to do our best work- and in the end, everyone benefits. If you are constantly running on empty, you will not be operating at the peak of your potential.

So, for all you lunch offenders (and you know who you are!) I call you today to take a small step. Start planning for a new habit in 2008: bring back lunch. Start with a baby step: if you’re a daily offender, start by committing to a fifteen or thirty minute break each day- or a full lunch break once a week. Work yourself up to a daily lunch break in which your goal is to nourish, restore and reenergize yourself.

And put this sign somewhere you can see it everyday:
It’s 3 pm: did you take lunch today?

-Liz Clancy

Monday, January 28, 2008

Under Construction

How can our industry influence both ourselves and others in the way animal welfare is viewed? Do we continue using the same language of yesteryear? Or do we look for innovative ways to create fundamental and lasting changes?

Evidence in our history proves that there were major pioneers in our movement. Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), George Thorndike Angell, founder of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) and Caroline Earle White, founder of the Women’s SPCA of Pennsylvania, are just to name a few. In their day, they introduced society to the reality of animal cruelty and its negative reverberations on humanity. In turn their actions eventually changed the American landscape, for all animals.

How would they see the world of today? Would they still be influential? Would they applaud or be appalled at how much or how little has been done to help animals and people?

Thankfully today’s pioneers are ever emerging and carrying the torch of our forefathers. Just look at any of the major national and international organizations that influence the 21st Century. We can see innovation from creation with the click of every key pad or the glance at any web site. Read a blog; see in action humane society staffers at disaster sites or lobbying congress. Watch the news and witness reporters covering animal stories each and every day. Do we as a movement have the capacity to go even further?

Just look at where some of today’s leaders are guiding us. They are reaching beyond the inner circle, gaining ground with political allies, forming corporate partnerships, and modernizing the theme of yesteryear. It seems like the future is finally here. Now, all we as individuals need to do are participate.

For me it’s an exciting time to be part of animal protection as a social movement.

-Cherylann Fernandes

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Play Catch Up or Scan the Horizon?

So often it seems that, in the animal care professions, we operate as responders rather than pro-actors. We run breathlessly trying to keep up, and when we finally do, that race is already over and there’s a new one in progress. Whether it’s finally getting new cage runs that in truth only bring you up to standards and technology from 10 years ago (in a building that is old and poorly located); implementing new veterinary care services years after pet ownership trends saw the need coming; or struggling to find funding for a program that you started to plan in the 1990’s, it seems that this approach is getting us no where real fast.

I’m not suggesting that we live in the future instead of the present; surely we need to address today’s challenges. But let’s strive for quicker problem solving and implementation so we have time, resources and energy left over to prepare for what’s to come. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be way ahead of the pack instead of lagging behind.

Liz Clancy

Monday, January 21, 2008

Seeing Clearly

What’s the reality of why and who actively participates in the world of animal advocacy? Some might want to stop all cruelty, neglect and use of animals for human needs. Others might focus on companion animal overpopulation and their euthanasia in shelters. While some might believe that all animals should have rights. But whatever one’s personal choice to engage in animal advocacy is, we as a compassionate community need to allow others their own reality yet strive for unity through vision.

Webster’s Dictionary lists 6 definitions of unity. The first one states: the quality or state of being or being made one. So with that said how do we as a community of advocates, activists and humanitarians establish an ultimate unification for the animals? And do this without losing our own self beliefs?

It begins through vision. .Vision has a definition of: unusual wisdom in foreseeing what is going to happen. The power of vision enables us to have hope, it allows us to organize towards a goal, it allows us to proceed forward and create changes. Sometimes our vision is small in scope, only seeing our present state of being, and not believing we have any influence in the bigger picture. But in reality, each and every one of us is somehow interconnected to that bigger picture. As an individual, one can take their knowledge and expertise and interface it with the current society of animal advocates and activists to forge a united front, a state of being or being made one for the animals.

If fused properly, vision combined with unity and focus equals success.

CherylAnn Fernandes

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cultivating Leadership

In her piece posted on the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Rosetta Thurman provides a wake-up call to all those interested in the stability and sustained future of not-for-profit organizations. Thurman describes an industry in transition- one in which large numbers of baby boomers are preparing to retire from senior leadership positions, with a projection that 640,000 senior not-for-profit managers will be needed by 2016. Clearly the future of not-for-profits is contingent upon how the baton gets passed- but are young emerging leaders being adequately prepared for this responsibility?

Certainly this issue has relevance for the animal care industry, and mentorship plays a key role in fostering the interest and career development of young people and adults in career transition. Humane education and other activities provide a spark to those individuals who have an innate interest in animal issues, but are we doing enough to sustain and cultivate that interest? Those attracted to the animal care professions still have to wander around a bit to find resources to help them develop their careers.

The growth of formalized training and academic programs in our field has provided a vehicle through which to prepare individuals for a wide variety of animal care professions. Mentorship post-graduation is just as important to the continued success of these individuals. Converting concepts and theory into practice, and moving from the classroom to the real world can be a daunting experience. I have found lessons gleaned from mentors to be among the most important aspects of my career development. Mentorship will ensure that our talented emerging leaders will have the support and preparation needed to prepare them to lead the animal care professions into the next century- and that they don’t become lost and wander away to another profession.

Mentorship can occur in many different ways: from an informal conversation to more formal relationships. As Thurman points out, all junior employees, regardless of position, should be given an opportunity to step outside of their job descriptions and experience a leadership activity. Given its importance to the future of not-for-profits, mentorship should be seen as part of organizational mission, and not only something that’s done as an afterthought.

You can read Rosetta Thurman’s article, “Preparing the Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders”, at

-Liz Clancy

Monday, January 14, 2008

Finding Your Center

Working with animals can sometimes be an overwhelming career. Whether we are in a hands-on position as caretakers or working behind the scenes in an administrative position, we work tirelessly trying to get our jobs done all the while making sure the animals we are serving get the most of our attention. We get to work early, forfeit our lunch breaks, opting instead to eat at our desk or snack on a dried out sandwich in between walking dogs and cleaning cages, leave work well past the end of our regularly scheduled shift, never seeing daylight and often times miss out on the Friday friends night of fun because we are just too exhausted to join them. Plus, most of our friends are already either foster homes or have been guilt-ed into adopting some death row dog or flea bitten cat, so why bother spending time with friends who can’t help the animals more than they already have anyhow?

We drag ourselves home, eat bad takeout or leftover food, only after we’ve fed our menagerie of collected critters that were rejected by society in general and turn on the television, just to fill the empty air. We collapse in bed that is, if we can make it off the couch, just to obsess over the days activities and which animal did or did not get their needs met. We dream about how tomorrow will be different and how we will dedicate more time and even more effort to finding that fear aggressive dog or semi feral cat a forever home. We awaken with the never enough rest hangover and start the day all over again.

At the end of all of this, what is left for ‘self’?

For me, I was never able to help as many animals as I thought I could in any given day. Though it wasn’t from lack of trying, that’s for sure. Ask any of my friends from my old ‘dog catching days’. They could tell you how I virtually disappeared into the world of too much work for not enough pay. They will tell you how my conversations always included some sad story of an abused and mangy kitten called Whiskers or some homeless three legged half blind dog named Lucky.
There was never a night that went by without my house filled with kitten mews or puppy poop. My own furry residents resigned themselves to a rotation of temporary tenants, these animals were in and out quicker than my house mates could hide their toys or gulp down their kibble.

I lived in a state of deprivation. Never feeding my soul, but hanging out the ‘free for the taking sign’ on my heart. I gave until there was no more to give. Then I gave some more.
I remember the sleepless nights and the fears that I wasn’t doing enough to make a difference on behalf of the animals. I almost couldn’t stop myself from over giving. I was
exhausted. There were lots little signals all along the way that told me to stop and take a breath. But I didn’t listen.
It took a number of failures (only now do I see they were fail forwards) until I finally realized that doing good for the animals wasn’t doing good for me. Don’t ask me how, because to this very day I still don’t know how, but I stopped. I can’t say exactly when I had that moment of Zen, but I did. I knew my life was on a path of emotional destruction, to an end with no means of escape. I took a deep breath and just stopped.

I haven’t stopped helping animals, but I have stopped engaging in behavior which doesn’t benefit me, and I don’t feel selfish. I do what I can, if and when I can. I say ‘no’ more often than I ever did in my whole life and I actually feel refreshed and better balanced and more equipped to help the animals. I now do what I can and let go of what I can’t.

For me I now believe that it’s about helping the people who help the animals, not just shelter workers, or animal caretakers, but anyone who has compassion and a willingness to be open to sharing this planet with other sentient beings. That, in part, is my new mission on behalf of animals.
I hope, if you find yourself in the midst of your own internal battles, that you too can find your center.

CherylAnn Fernandes

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Data is Not a Four-Letter Word

As the modern animal protection movement has developed into many different professions, there has been increased attention to the need to document what we know by performing and publishing research. In the 1990’s, a surge of activity in animal welfare research began- but the field has not effectively embraced a commitment to continued growth in research. Little attention is given at many of our professional conferences to advancements in welfare research, which are largely devoted to (with the exception of veterinary medical research) operational and philosophical issues. In addition, relatively few financial and staffing resources are set aside for data collection and analysis. For animal care professionals, direct animal care activities usually take top priority, and examining data is often far down the to-do list, or deemed unnecessary. Moreover, there appears to be a discomfort and, in some cases, an aversion to using data to inform our practices and to test our assumptions. Amazingly, large and well-funded program initiatives are still undertaken with little or no data to support the program premise. In our approach to data collection, our bark is bigger than our bite.

Collecting data certainly includes randomized studies, clinical trials and large surveys- all of which we need more of in the animal care professions. But at its root, data collection simply boils down to getting information. It means asking questions- of employees, colleagues, clients and the public. It means observing interactions- between people, between animals and between people and animals. It means questioning- our assumptions and perceptions, and those of society. Getting information is an activity that all animal care professionals can participate in, on every day on the job. It is really no different from researching different travel destinations, comparing interest rates on bank accounts, or getting to know a new neighbor- all activities with which we are well acquainted.

The more we know, the more we can do.

-Liz Clancy