Tuesday, February 26, 2008

One More Thing

On the list of to do’s for the day there is but one more item, and it is defending yet another category of animals, those used for food; the slaughter house animals.

With the recent events circulating about the horrific conditions caught in an undercover video and in the possession of the Humane Society of The United States (www.hsus.org) , of the inhumane treatment of animals for human food consumption, discussions and debates around the work water cooler, local supermarket meat departments and even classrooms have been similar; people disgusted and outraged after witnessing the video of downed cows being tortured on their way to slaughter.

It can no longer be denied that animals are being treated with such disgusting and unacceptable cruelty. Even if there isn’t a slaughter house or meat packing plant in the local community for people to witness it firsthand, the fact is, these animals are being killed in horrifying ways just for human needs.

Now that the message has finally reached beyond those in the animal movement, there is no denying this message and animal advocates should be just a few of the spokespeople to stand up for them. Anyone working with or around even companion animals knows how important it is to give them a voice, so why not allow our professionalism help factory farm animals as well?

As humane advocates the message ought to be that all animals be part of the regular dialogue for compassionate treatment. Collectively this field needs to acknowledge and defend the rights of all animals. There is an excellent article in the Saturday, February 23, Wall Street Journal by David Desmodel, called, "Meatpacker to Shut Down In Wake of Massive Recall."
If you’d like to see the entire article, please click on the link below:
Also to keep updated with the leading organization (the HSUS) on this issue and for their Presidents Message, make sure you check out Wayne’s blog at http://hsus.typepad.com/wayne/


Friday, February 22, 2008

My Litter Mates

Recently I was reminded that my animal advocate friends are a special breed all to themselves. No matter how long it’s been since we have been in touch, or out of touch, seeing them is good for my soul. It keeps me connected to like minded individuals, even if we don’t always agree about controversial welfare issues like Kill/No Kill, TNR or Animal Transports.

It’s too bad that often times many advocates become overwhelmed with non-essential issues and don’t take the time to attend the town next doors fund raiser or won’t register for the upcoming 3-day training conference because they either claim to already know everything there is about the topic or simply just don’t make the time to attend. Either way it denies them of the chance to bond and re-connect with old friends and work associates.
I can’t encourage welfare workers enough to try and find the time to spend together. This is a great opportunity to learn from one another, get re-fueled or just let loose in a safe environment.
After all, our fellow litter mates are essential in the teachings of how to become socialized, properly.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The New Wave: Social Entrepreneurship

As Einstein is believed to have said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And while there are a few things that withstand the test of time: Classic Coke, jack-o’lanterns and New Year’s Eve at Times Square, most everything in our world is constantly changing, mutating or evolving. It is tempting to stick with policies and practices that have demonstrated some success historically, but with societal trends changing constantly, it’s a given that our relationships with animals also change over time. In order to continue to be relevant and effective, we must evolve along with the times.

Social entrepreneurship is the new revolution that provides a new vehicle for enacting strategic, positive social change. To paraphrase the management guru Peter Drucker, a social entrepreneur “always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity”- within the context of a broader social mission. As stated in Enterprising Nonprofits: A Toolkit for Social Entrepreneurs (J.G. Dees, J. Emerson and P. Economy), “entrepreneurs are innovative, opportunity-oriented, resourceful, value-creating change agents.” As social entrepreneurship occurs both in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, it can create a powerful unity of vision that utilizes the best of both worlds, so to speak, toward a greater goal of social change. Social enterprise, social innovation and social change theory are among the new terminologies associated with social entrepreneurship. Universities across the country are now opening centers and programs devoted to fostering the study and development of social entrepreneurship. Check out the Stanford Social Innovation Review (www.ssireview.com) for articles, interviews and discussions relating to this new movement.

It’s easy to imagine how this new philosophy of achieving a social mission could have far-reaching positive implications in the field of human-animal relationships. As humans, we often avoid change at all costs- even change that is not ostensibly negative. But by playing it safe and sticking with the tried and true, we may be looking at issues with rose-colored glasses and not maximizing our ability for success. It’s really about getting to the next level of effectiveness. In our world, the difference between getting a C for average and an A+ computes into the number of homeless companion animals; the percentage of pets receiving quality health care; the number of human-animal relationships effectively supported; the number of animal cruelty cases; the number of wildlife “culls”; the frequency of food supply crises; the percentage of animals displaced by natural disasters- you get the picture. We can rest on our laurels, or keep pushing the envelope. We can pretty much guarantee that continuing more of the same will give us more of the same; previously effective strategies will only take us so far before they start to lose their power and effectiveness.

Simply put, social entrepreneurs find new and better ways of doing things for the benefit of society. Try on the social entrepreneur hat for size this week. Instead of problems, see opportunities. How can you apply the entrepreneurial spirit to create an innovative approach to an issue of importance to you?

-Liz Clancy

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I Just Want to Help Animals

How many of us started out in the field with the simple, straightforward goal of just wanting to help animals? I recall starting out at sixteen as a volunteer, walking dogs for 3 hours every Wednesday after school. I would mop out the cages and refill the water bowls, leaving the dogs exercised and more comfortable, at least for the moment. At the end of my shift I would head to the subway, exhausted, but feeling great. It was a visceral feeling of satisfaction, of having done a good thing. I was helping animals.

As my understanding of animal welfare issues grew and my career developed, my roles changed. I began to see that helping animals often gets complicated. Staffing, funding, resource issues. Mission conflicts. Board of director struggles. A disconnect between the reality of the issues and public perception. Legal loopholes. Too many animals, not enough time. Sometimes the work of the day seemed far removed from helping animals.

But I’ve come to realize that writing a policy memo or holding a departmental meeting can be key to ensuring positive progress. The contributions made outside the arena of direct animal care are an integral part of effecting positive change for animals.

Some days we need to gain satisfaction from walking a shelter dog. And some days we need to be fulfilled by writing a program grant. Both are important. Both help animals.

-Liz Clancy

Monday, February 11, 2008

If You're Happy and You Know It

Remember that old elementary school rhyme? Some school teacher or camp counselor gathered everyone in a circle having each kid make up their own version of the chorus. It would begin with “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it and you’re not afraid to show it, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” By the time every kid chimed in their rendition, pulled ears, patted heads, stomped feet and the like were all ways they displayed a state of well being.

Now imagine having a bunch of animal welfare advocates standing in a circle trying to mimic the joys of childhood revelry. With the overwhelmed and overstressed lives many of us lead what if a supervisor implemented that exercise at the next staff meeting? I have thoughts it might go something like: “If you’re happy and you know it deny an adoption, if you’re happy and you know it arrive to work late, if you’re happy and you know it and you’re not afraid to show it, if you’re happy and you know it yell at your staff.” It’s interesting that people become so frustrated and express it in unhealthy and inappropriate ways, without even realizing they are doing so.

There is no denying that professionalism is a requirement when dealing with fellow workers, employers, staff and the public. Why then does a bad morning or earlier frustrations affect the way one deals with the person in front of us?

I once heard a speaker mention the term ‘transfer of aggression’… the reference was in a story about two sibling dogs being walked by their pet parent on a coupler leash. When the pooches spotted another dog across the street they went crazy, barking incessantly and trying with all their bodily force to lunge across the road for a confrontation with their adversary. They worked themselves into a type of chaotic frenzy, focused only on getting at that other dog. But once the dog passed and the focus was no longer available, they turned their frustrations on each other. They snarled at and bit one another and continued their argument until the person holding the leash separated them. These two dogs regularly slept together and shared a food bowl yet were so out of control at the lack of having their needs met they became aggressive to one another.

Often time that same behavior comes into a person’s every day life, especially when working with animals. There might be an dispute with a co-worker regarding the over or under feeding of cats, or a volunteer isn't abiding to the proper dog walking safety rules or maybe a supervisor requests some overwhelming task requiring a days end completion.
It’s no wonder that when a single mom and her 3 year old walk into the shelter to adopt a 6 week old kitten the adoption counselors head practically explodes. With that one uneducated statement, their mind is already made up, there is no getting a kitten from this shelter.
To begin with 6 week old kittens are too young to be adopted. And a three year old toddler would certainly be too rough on the tiny little kitty. In a feeble attempt to educate this unenlightened mom, she is shown a nice calm 5 year old torti cat; explained the benefits of adult cat adoptions, only to offer a deaf ear to the worker.
There is no budging; this woman and her sniffling little child are not qualified candidates for a kitten, end of story. The mom gets angry, only to leave the shelter and adopt elsewhere. If that doesn’t contribute to an already toxic morning, then the next boob, a guy looking for a guard dog, does.

Now let’s admit it, the day isn’t going very well and it’s only getting worse from here. Maybe it’s high time for some self evaluation and possibly even self care.
Is asking a supervisor for an early lunch, a break from the front desk or a trip to the store for a cup of coffee such a bad request? Is there a confidant or co-worker who can be a trusted ear and not commiserate with the already miserable mood? What about deep breathing exercises, sitting still for a few minutes or if things are really out of control, taking the rest of the day off as a mental health day?

Remember, if you’re happy then you probably already know it. But if you’re not, you should know that too.


Thursday, February 7, 2008


It’s been a jubilant week here in New York after the Giants’ victory on Sunday. It reminded me of the coordination and communication required to pull off a well-executed play that scores a touchdown.

The animal care professions are growing in number and specialty. Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal care specialists, shelter and kennel managers, receptionists, trainers, behaviorists, animal communicators, pet sitters, humane educators, senior administrators, pet supply store owners, ethicists, professors, groomers, doggie day care managers, zoo curators- and the list goes on- all play a role in supporting and promoting positive human-animal relationships. In order for the efforts of each segment to be effective, every profession needs an awareness of who their partners are and what they do. In turn, this information needs to be conveyed to those who can utilize these services- members of the public.

If you work in an environment in which many different types of animal care professionals work closely together, are your activities well coordinated? Are the lines of communication open? Or do you operate on separate floors and with separate goals and priorities? If your work environment reflects a single profession, do you know your animal care partners in your community and what services they can provide to your clients? Do you think your clients are aware of all the animal care resources available to them?

Our collective effectiveness and positive progress depend upon our ability to coordinate our activities and play the positions that are our strengths. Make a point this week of getting to know one of your professional partners better.

-Liz Clancy

Monday, February 4, 2008

Orphaned or Embraced?

Do you remember when you decided or discovered you had a passion for animals? What was your primary and motivating factor? Did you have an ability to connect with them? Did you feel safe around them? Did you want to help them? What was it? What was your true desire?
Now, think back to the first time you either applied for a job in animal welfare or volunteered on behalf of animals. Try to awaken the feelings you had and the joy you felt in thinking you could make a difference in their lives. Can you recall just how simple your thoughts were for your desire to make such a monumental difference?

For me, it began before I could even remember. I always found myself clinging to all which was furred, feathered or scaled. As a pre-teen, I often walked through the neighborhood, clutching a clip board with one palm while the other sweaty fist rattled change in an old donations canister (which was plastered with pictures of bloodied baby harp seals). I hoped against all hope that maybe, just maybe, if I raised enough money and got enough signatures, I would end the senseless slaughter of seals everywhere. That was years ago. The killing continues. But I believed and I hoped, and that is what embraced my spirit and desire to help animals. As it does to this day.

Ok, let’s get back to where we were.
Did you feel welcomed by the organization or establishment where you applied? Do you remember what the application asked for? Did you need experience? Many overwhelmed and understaffed organizations tend to hire those with experience rather than train someone new. Why did you choose that particular organization? Was it local or did their reputation sound like the type of place you thought you could make a difference at? What did you think of the person conducting the interview? Did you believe you had similar aspirations and could help the animals jointly? At that time did you pay notice to the expectations of long hours, low wages, and the limited, if any at all, benefits package? Or were you just so thrilled that this was your best opportunity to help animals?

When your application was accepted and you showed up for day one of your new mission to save animals did you at least get some type of basic ‘how to’ course in whatever it was your job required you to do? I’d assume it wasn’t the fireworks and grandiose we all want for our first day, but that was ok, you got the job and that was all that mattered, then.

So there you were, on the job. How long did it take before the realities of working for someone else’s agenda take to sink in? Days, weeks, months, or are you still hoping someday that all animal cruelty will end, people will spay and neuter their companion animals and no longer will animals be cast off by a merciless and inhumane race? And if so, is it here, with the current organization you work for, going to help make your reality happen? Did you find that on your first day, or your 5,000th day that your needs got met? Did you get the satisfaction and the rewards you so hoped for before you began your journey to save lives and educate people on behalf of animals?
So how long did you last at your first animal job? Have you moved to another organization just to find that many things seem like the same old rhetoric from your last job? Or have you stayed with your first choice because it still works for you, sometimes?
Circumstances change, yes, but emotionally do you? Have you forgotten why you made the decision to help animals? Did you get caught up in the politics of the organization, the volunteers, or the public persona of who you are and forgot what you originally wanted to do?

But here is the real question, how is it that what we believed so wholeheartedly, upon entry into the world of compassion and the saving of animals, do we now often times find ourselves disillusioned? Why do some of us make it, and some of us just can’t seem to, no matter how hard we try? Is it the odds, like a numbers game, the lottery of human souls who try and fail for the animals? Are the odds stacked against certain advocates before they even get into the vocation?

I recall two very similar people who I have been fortunate to have worked with. One, a young girl who was about 13 at the time we met. She never held a paid position working for me, but her quality of work, her dedication and her desire pushed her passion to help animals, regardless of the lack of pay. She needed school credits and used her passion for the animals to get almost perfect grades throughout school. Her entry into my life taught and continues to teach me lessons of mentorship and how important it is to be kind and compassionate to my fellow human beings, so they can carry our mission on behalf of animals. She remains uninterrupted in the offerings to help animals and is well on her way to college, where her major is in pre-veterinary medicine.
Then there was this young, hip twenty something animal enthusiast. She came to a job fair advertised in the local paper; all dressed up and hopeful she would find a job working with animals. I liked her style and her attitude, not to mention her aptitude. She was also ‘present’ during our discussion. She brought experience, hope and willingness to the interview. She was hired on the spot.
We worked well together. I saw her as a giving and spirited employee, with animals and adopters always on her mind. She worked long strenuous hours, cleaning cages, arriving early, staying late and even making decisions to euthanize animals (never an easy thing to carry in one’s heart). After I left that employer she continued her tenure for about another year and a half, but we kept in touch.

We once reminisced on her disappointment that I wasn’t still her boss. See, her birthday passed and she didn’t get the expected birthday cake, which was then and still is a tradition with my staff, wherever I go. I saw the gift of her giving from her soul, even sacrificing time away from her daughter to go to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and help with animal welfare issues there.

Then one day I heard she was leaving the organization, out of frustration and a lack of overall good energy from her employer. She left the field, it seems there was no hope and no place for her to turn, the meager salary didn’t allow her to pay for even basic living expenses, but the money as a secretary would. Now, she types away at some desk in some far off corporate office, away from her soul’s desire. I believe her servitude for the animals didn’t last long enough.

Why do some welfare employees become orphans while others get embraced?
How does the field of animal welfare allow such gifted people to slip from its grip? Can’t the industry recognize talent and passion? Why does the pay and hard work not match the dedication to helping that which we so desire? Why do people leave the field? Are they pushed out by low pay and lack of decent health benefits? Is it the long hours or is it simply compassion fatigue? How about an under appreciation from the employer? Could that be? Or is it the employer who is disillusioned by too many expectations from their staff? Can the employer somehow recognize and cultivate long term relations with their employees and honor the capable individuals who are the faces, guts and grit of the organization? Can the field offer to its workers security, safety and abundance, which in turn will allow them to stay and flourish, both personally and professionally?

I say, why not embrace them and keep them in the clutch? There are too many ‘others’ who have been orphaned in the animal world.