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.



Anonymous said...

I too am concerned that the animal care professions are losing talented and dedicated individuals because of a lack of attention to those aspects of work culture that affect employee retention. In my experience, two key aspects particularly important for employees starting out in their careers are having a helpful mentor at work and the ability to develop new skills and talents in a supportive and encouraging atmosphere. -LC

CA said...

thank you for your comments. AVR would like to focus on helping the field recognize and keep the employees who want to and can make a difference. CA