In animal welfare circles, the most important phrase which comes to mind of late is equally simple:
if you’re looking to save lives, ask the advocate
Let me explain.
There are a host of huge, multi-million dollar organizations which tout themselves as being focused on animal welfare. We often call them the alphabet soup of animal welfare: PETA, the ASPCA, the HSUS, BFAS and TZ. For those of you not familiar with some of those, I’m referring to organizations going by the names People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Best Friends Animal Society and last, but not least, a newcomer on the scene called Target Zero.
Common sense may dictate that large organizations with national exposure and millions in the bank would be in the best positions to advance the causes of animal welfare toward not only saving more animals, but toward helping our society as a whole make better choices related to spay and neuter, adoption and general animal care. It may also make sense that these same organizations would be at the forefront of educating the American public on key issues like shelter killing, puppy mills, free roaming cats, breed bans and chaining of dogs. The presumption is that the people running or working for those organizations must surely be the most dedicated and the most knowledgeable and therefore in the best positions to affect change in our society.
Not so fast.
I will not provide my laundry list of what is wrong with each of these organizations. There are a lot of people a whole lot smarter than me who have already done that or are actively doing that. What I will say is that if you do a little homework, you will quickly learn that the alphabet soup is not all that great after all and that most of these organizations exist in order to remain in existence. One of these organizations routinely destroys the vast majority of animals in its care. Another is really just a single office building in New York as opposed to some national organization with offices and centers across the country. Yet another organization routinely spends only single percentage points of the millions donated by the animal-loving public on animals or animal welfare while using the rest for marketing and salaries. The newest of these organizations is going around the country, touting itself as providing expert animal shelter consulting services toward creating no kill communities when the people who lead the organization have never created a no kill community anywhere.
The bad news and the good news about animal welfare is that the people who are in the best position to help save the lives of more animals in any community, thereby changing our society, are the grassroots advocates. These are the people who work each and every day not only to help animals but to share what they know and have learned freely and without reservation. They don’t have millions. You may never see them on a television commercial. Most work full-time jobs in addition to their advocacy and it is a way of life. There are no days off. These are the people with the know-how and the smarts and the passion. They are the doers of the animal welfare movement who have learned from trial and error and research and networking, all for the sake of their belief system which says we can and must do better for companion animals in our society.
So I say again: if you’re looking to save lives, ask the advocate.
(image courtesy of Nathan Winograd)