If you follow our work and communications at the Humane Society of Berks County, you know we tend to go with a pretty light touch.  We think that people don’t just want us to do a good job on their behalf; they want to feel good when they connect and communicate with us.  That’s why we try to instill a smiling voice if what we do, why we use humor, why we make sure our events are actually a lot of fun.

That doesn’t mean we don’t take our work very, very seriously.  We do.  We simply try to do “serious” effectively and with measure.  When a hand shake and smile will work- which is most of the time- we use them.  When the handshake needs to turn into an arm twist, we’re not shy about it.  But we try to keep that to an as needed basis.  Even here in our slightly more angst and gravity ridden blog pages, serious issues are discussed in a slightly satirical and humorous vein.  At least that’s the intent.

But this lightness of approach can sometimes lull people into a false sense of security and when we break out of that mold as is sometimes required, it can be a real shock.  Last summer we did something that is quite common for other animal shelters to do but extremely rare for us.  We publicized, very bluntly and directly and with zero humor, that if we did not get a wave of adoptions over the course of a weekend, we would be force to euthanize cats simply for space- perfectly happy, healthy cats dying for no other reason than more were coming in than going out- for the first time in three and a half years.

We promote adoption heavily at all times because the reality is we euthanize animals on a nearly daily basis for a variety of reasons.  Illness, injury, age, aggression.  But we have been trying, by bits and pieces, to decrease euthanasia by targeting populations for adoption.  Animals with minor injuries are now routinely saved because we have staff vets.  Bone fractures are now commonly fixed and the pets adopted.  More behavioral issues are being addressed, saving more lives.  But the key population, the first that we decided we were targeting for saving four years ago when we decided we were going to stop accepting the “there’s nothing we can do about it” model most shelters accept, the primary target group, was healthy, happy animals.

For three and a half years, we were able to get everyone one of those healthy and happy cats, dogs, hamster, turtles, and others adopted.  To the point where we often can take in happy, healthy animals from other animal shelters which are unable to reach that goal.  To the point where some of our donors and supporters started to take it for granted.  But when we had done every adoption promotion we had up our sleeves, when we had shifted around as many cats between our facilities as we could, when we had finally run out of options, we had to say, “But seriously, folks…..” and lay it out.

It worked.  We had tons of adoptions and got the breathing space we needed.  Now that the year is winding down we won’t face that again, probably, until next summer.  And I still run into people who ask me about that announcement and say, “Good God, Karel, you killed me with that one!”  And I tell them what I’m telling you now.  We do great, wonderful, happy work.  We like being positive and strong.  We won’t be a place that sends out countdown to euthanasia lists, which fundraises on our instability and wears our weakness as a red badge of courage.  We won’t play the suffering victim.  But when we say something seriously, with no joking, no cleverness, take us seriously.  It means the need is acute.

So let me take a moment to be deadly serious.  While we have been fortunate not to contract and cut services in this economy, it has been a very delicate balancing act.  It is a tightrope that we could fall off if we do not continue to receive strong support from the donors who fund our work.  Fewer adoptions, fewer medical interventions, fewer cruelty investigations, no new dog parks and equine and adoption centers.  This is not crying wolf, this is reality.  Do not let our recent accomplishments lull you into a sense that we do not need you now more than ever.  Next summer, we will face a crisis of euthanasia for space again, probably earlier and more acutely than this year.  We will need your help to avoid it.

But we want to be the happy-go-lucky organization you know and love.  So we will make you a deal.  Help us keep that smile on.  When our Holiday Appeal hits your mailbox, make a big enough donation that gives you a little discomfort.  When your thank you letter comes, pass the enclosed brochure along to a friend.  Attend one or all of our events.  Forward our emails, hang our posters, talk about how great we are.  I promise you, you will not be keeping us from collapse, you will be keeping us strong.  That is a very different thing entirely.

We can remain the happy successful place you want us to be and we want to be.  Or we can diminish.  You will decide which it is.  Seriously.  And sorry about that cat email.

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I think I’ll die my hair blue

November 10th, 2010 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

It wouldn’t be the first time and don’t worry, I’ll get to how this relates to the animals eventually.

But I thought the suggestion sounded reasonable in the wake of an election won by slivers but proclaimed as landslide, a march on Washington attended by 200,000+ people but deemed irrelevant, and of our “representatives” in Harrisburg deciding to call it a year and go home with five voting days left and a pile of important bills awaiting consideration.

I happened to be wondering, again, many times again, how so many people seem to be so completely missing the point and, worse, getting on TV to tell me, completely inaccurately, what my point was in the first place, when Dale Bozzio came on the iPod.  “My lips are moving and the sound is coming out.  The words are audible but I have my doubts that you realize what has been said.”  Believe me, sister, I know how you feel.  Maybe dying my hair blue might get someone’s attention.

I’m not generally an ardent populist but I can’t help but feel like we are represented and reported on by a bunch of narcissistic people viewing the lives and demands of “we the people” via the reflection of a carnival mirror.  We just had an election that was decided in the nation as a whole by a few percentage points total.  The losing party crawls around like they were the last picked for dodge ball.  The winning party puffs up and crows about their new “mandate” bestowed by “the people”.  Well, to quote Gil Scott-Heron, “Mandate, my ass.”

I am not making a political case; there is plenty to go ire to go around.  I am making a case for the utter lack of reality being perceived by either political party.  In 2010 election, the total number of votes cast for all Democratic candidates for US House was 35.4 million compared to 41.1 for Republicans, or a 5.7 vote margin for the Republicans.  A win? Certainly.  A shellacking?  Maybe.  A mandate?  Hardly.  If 41.1 million votes count as a mandate- not even 41% of Americans but 41.1 million votes- then certainly the Democrats had also had one in 2008, when they received 65.2 million votes with a 13 million vote margin- 50% more votes than the Republicans received this time.  And certainly many Democrats claimed their mandate then, too.  The Dem Mandate- now with 50% more mandatey deliciousness!

So winning between 5 and 13 million more votes- about 10% of the total votes cast and only 2% to 4% of the total US population gives a political party a mandate?  It gives a party the right to claim they are doing the will of the American people?  Who do they think they are? I’m 20% of my nuclear family and I can’t speak for my three daughters without catching hell.  And John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi is going to speak for me?  How presumptuous. 

After all, nearly half the voters voted against each of the two of them (I know I did).  That would be like a football team winning by one point on a two point conversion and claiming ownership of every fan in the opponent’s city.  And as much as I wonder where these people get off telling us something that they must know is patently, baldly a lie, I wonder more why no one calls them on it.

Poor John Stewart (and it’s hard to say “poor” about anyone making $7 million a year) wondered the same thing.  He got over 200,000 people to join him in wondering why the media treats every event as an equal crisis and every claim as equally valid.  Without making a political point, he made a serious point that the fuel that is driving our damaged politics is in part a media and journalists who should be calling “Bull****!” when they see it and that failing to do so results in a state of white noise in which everything is a crisis and we fail to respond to anything any longer or even recognize when we are being lied to.  Or are lying to ourselves.

Well, of course the media didn’t like their former darling to call them out for being part of the problem.  Dance, little monkey boy, entertain us!  Throw your poo at Fox News, what a lark!  Hey, where are you aiming that…don’t throw it at me…hey, you’re not funny anymore…bad monkey boy, go back to being a comedian.  John Stewart had a point all right, they just didn’t like this one.

And finally, we get to Harrisburg.  In the PA House, with five voting days left, the Democratic leadership packed up and went home (see end note).  Apparently there wasn’t enough important work to do.  Except 68 Democrats and Republicans did stay.  They said the Pledge of Allegiance, identified themselves, and then had to leave since no work could be done.  That 68 knew that there was work to do, much of it uncontroversial work that simply required votes.  Some of it controversial but important work that simply required true leadership.

After a year of hearing that there were other more important things to do than vote on bills I and many others in animal welfare wanted, the leadership decides they are too busy to even show up.  After being told there is not the political spine to vote on some issues, why not take a shot of lame duck courage and at least take a final principled vote?  I guess they were as short on principal and courage as they were time.

I had things they could have voted on.  What about the Gas Chamber ban?  That would have been a good one.  What about the pigeon shoot ban?  Now there’s one they’ve been avoiding for a while.  Oh, I know!  Why not help the HSBC and other cruelty law enforcement agencies who are now the victims of frivolous lawsuits which are the new tactic of disgraced or convicted breeders.  There was a bill that would extend us the same immunity given normal police agencies.  Maybe they had to run home to write us a donation check to cover the legal bills.

Think about it.  Would you accept it from me if I stopped working in November and told you I had helped all the important animals, the rest didn’t really matter?  Could you get away with that at work?

I know a lot of people out there (present company excluded, of course) don’t think animal welfare issues rise to the level of importance of other vital interests right now, and I understand that.  But many of these issues have the overwhelming support of “the people”.  Yet our politicians are so busy claiming to speak for the people and wielding their razor thin winning margins that our actual pleas fall on deaf ears.  Our press, which is supposed to be our surrogates in naming wrong doing and doers, leads with bleeding and doesn’t stop long enough to ask themselves simple questions like, “Wow, these guys string a lot of words together, but exactly how will that make jobs/keep us safe/take your pick?” 

And our elected representatives in Harrisburg, who had plenty of time to pass “Lights On After School! Day”, couldn’t stick around for five more days to do the work they were sent there to do.  Guess what?  While they are at home for the holidays, being paid with my taxes, I’ll still be at work trying to figure out how to help animal shelters who want to get rid of their gas chambers but don’t have the resources to do it; I’ll still be here fielding cruelty calls about pigeon shoots; I’ll still be getting sued for doing the State’s cruelty enforcement work for them; and I’ll still be helping take care of the animals abandoned without any government resources- just like lots of other “American People” who work in animal shelters.

I doubt I’ll be getting any volunteer time from any of those State Reps to help out this holiday season.  I doubt I’ll get much attention by from the press.  I doubt I’ll be first and foremost in mind when politicians tell me they are doing the things I sent them to Washington to do.  Don’t pay any mind to the American People.  But just in case they can’t tell, we’re not waving, we’re drowning. 

Somebody pass me the hair dye.

End Note:  While I was penning this, the House leadership was recalling all it’s troops back to Harrisburg on Monday (hope they enjoy the six day weekend).

End, End Note: And when they returned they passed the bio-security bill which give puppy millers a way to cut off access to their “farms” by making them “bio-security zones” and by turning Humane Society Police Officers into “eco-terrorists”.  Sweet.  Read more here.

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The Ambivalent Voter

November 1st, 2010 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

When it comes to voting for an animal welfare agenda, it’s pretty easy to be ambivalent.  Among the candidates, there are a few in both parties with exceptionally good- and bad- positions on the animal welfare issues of the day.  A very few.

Most seem to fall right in the middle.  They are the ones who reply to constituent inquiries with, “Thank you for contacting me, I am studying the matter.”  Or, “This is a very important issue and I will take your input into consideration.”  Or they simply don’t reply at all.  Who wants to vote for that?  If they can’t answer a simple question about whether pigeon shoots are hunting or whether puppies should be on wire flooring, what will they answer?

I think kittens are cute, do you think kittens are cute?  “Thank for contacting me, I will take your input on this very important kitten matter into consideration.”

It is made even worse when you have a district with an incumbent who has generally dodged even speaking about an issue that impacts his very district fighting a rival with potential ties to the issue itself.  Such is the case in PA House 125, which sees incumbent Democrat Tim Seip facing Republican challenger Mike Tobash, with a No Party challenge by Dennis Baylor (whose No Party affiliation might be better termed No Chance of Winning Party, and will likely only serve as spoiler between Tobash and Seip).  According to Pennsylvania Independent, this race is a toss-up.  But a toss-up between what?

The 125th might ring a bell as the long time home of the Hegins Pigeon Shoot, now gone but not forgotten.  If you care about the fact that Pennsylvania is the last legal refuge of pigeon shoots and that shoots are once again spreading across our State like mold, you might wonder where these two candidates stand on the issue.  Good luck finding out.  Neither seems to want to make a comment on it. 

Seip has been deft at avoiding any public comment about the shoots, in my personal experience not even returning phone calls or emails about the issue.  One wonders what that means.

On the other hand, Mike Tobash is a charter member of the Tri-Valley Lions Club, which raised money vending food at the Hegins Pigeon Shoot.  He has presumably spent his fair share of time at the shoots.  One wonders where he stands on them now (or if he’s the same guy quoted here).

Of course, not taking a public position of something doesn’t mean you endorse it.  Neither does being a member of an organization which has a peripheral involvement in something repugnant.  But what are we to think when neither will tell us where they stand on something as black and white as whether launching birds from catapults is “hunting” or cruelty?  So the 125th is the poster district for “inspiring” the ambivalent voter.

I’m sure they will tell us they think taxes are too damn high.  And that we should be tough on criminals.  That they love all ten amendments on the Bill of Rights.  Maybe even that they think kittens are cute.

How about something with some meat on the bone, something that will separate one from the other, like where they stand on passing the short and sweet pigeon shoot ban legislation that has languished in the House for the past year?  Give the voters of their district something to vote for.  Or against.  But give your ambivalent voters something.  It might just get one of you elected.

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Anger is not an argument

October 27th, 2010 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

In the November 1 Newsweek, George Will, drags out a great quote to hit the nail squarely on half its head, as he does so frustratingly expertly.  In a column about a particularly loathsome Democrat, Rep. Alan Grayson, who has been waging a campaign of nastiness and half (or no) truths, Will quotes Daniel Webster (1782-1852) as saying, “Anger is not an argument.”

Of course the other half of the nail would have been to mention the waves of Republican advertisements berating “bailouts” without mentioning that they were first passed under a Republican President or that some, like the auto bailouts, not only saved jobs and an American industry but have actually returned a profit.  Or that simply because someone held office in the past two years the ruination of the economy is not entirely that person’s individual fault.  While I personally believe these ads are just as calculated and contrived as any offered by Grayson, they work because they play on the anger, not the intellect, of those watching the ads.

When people are angry enough about something, a “close enough” argument becomes good enough.  And close enough arguments can slip into claims that are patently false or constructed on such tortured logic or fact strands that they would be laughable if we weren’t so pissed off about something that we can’t stop to evaluate them.  “I noticed that the fire department is always at a fire.  Hey, the fire department must be setting houses on fire!”  Close enough for a political ad.

In the same way that anger is driving this election cycle, anger seems to be driving so much of the debate surrounding the plight of animals in shelters, nationally and locally.  And just as no politician will accept any part of the blame for the economic downturn, no one in animal welfare will accept any part of the blame for why so many animals are being euthanized, entirely unnecessarily, in shelters in Berks County, Pennsylvania and around the United States.  We will blame someone, anyone, everyone else, but there is rarely any willingness to set aside our own anger over the problem long enough to be introspective.

Too many strays entering shelters?  Blame the public.  Accidentally euthanize the wrong animal?  Blame the finder.  Getting bad press and fewer donations?  Blame the organizations getting good press and strong support.  And do it angrily; the angrier the better.  If you are angry, you must care more.  And you certainly can’t be held accountable for your dubious claims, shady math, or outright lies.  After all, you just care so much and you are so darn angry about what’s happening.

But as Webster said, anger is not an argument.  It works to deflect responsibility, to cloud the waters, and to give you something to do other than the hard work of finding solutions.  But it solves nothing.

Several years ago the HSBC recognized that we were very angry over the number of animals we were euthanizing.  We blamed the public for letting them roam and breed.  We blamed the State and local governments for not providing the resources we needed to provide proper care and adoption services for the animals we received from them.  We blamed our staff for not having the skills to do their job right.  We were righteously angry and we blamed everyone and we succeeded at solving very few of the problems we faced.

But finally we recognized that we had personal responsibility for much of what we were so angry about.  We accepted the abusive and underpaid animal control contracts that were euthanasia contracts in disguise.  We failed to have policies and protocols in place that would avoid tragic errors.  We failed to provide the highest level of training to our staff and to make the hard decisions to let go staff who didn’t measure up.  We could have offered more programs and services which would help the public do the right thing rather than surrender animals to us.  And, finally, we did the hard work of looking at our own organization and making the changes that have led to an improvement in the welfare of the animals in our care- and resulted in a lot less anger on our part.

It also allows us to have a little more credibility when we do raise tough issues.  What is government, the public, other organizations doing to improve the problems?  Are they doing their part or are they just complaining and laying blame?  It also puts us in the habit of looking in the mirror regularly and seeing what we can do that we are not.  Where are we weak, what can we improve, who can we reach out to, if one approach is working what other one will? 

The HSBC is still not saving every single savable animal.  Why not?  We know that much of our success comes from selecting particular approaches to our mission and choosing not to take on others.  How do we do both?  Our job is to continue to improve steadily, not reel from one crisis to the next pointing fingers everywhere but at ourselves.

I am still angry at the reality I see and that does motivate me.  It might even motivate a few people out there to support the HSBC.  But it won’t motivate the majority of people to join in our mission and it won’t cause real change to come about.  Thoughtfulness, hopefulness and hard work will.  And, yes, I get very angry when I see people in animal welfare screeching about this and that, hurling voodoo math around and saying all kinds of crazy things about all the others out there who are to blame without any acknowledgement that we are all the others.  But I truly believe they are playing a losing game.

 So when it comes to animal welfare issues- or the elections- let’s all be very suspect of the angry and ask them what they will actually and personally do to solve problems.  Tell them we don’t want to hear about whose fault it is or how put upon they are, we want to hear solutions.  Ultimately, you will decide whether these approaches work and you will decide if we continue to incentivize the continued use of anger as argument.  Whether you vote with your ballot, your choice of where to adopt, or with your charitable dollars, do it thoughtfully, not in anger.

“But if you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is, brother, you’ll have to wait.”  John Lennon (1940-1980)

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Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service… When I say I want a square deal for the poor man, I do not mean that I want a square deal for the man who remains poor because he has not got the energy to work for himself. If a man who has had a chance will not make good, then he has got to quit… Now, this means that our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics… For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.

Theodore Roosevelt

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When I received a call last week telling me that the leadership in the Pennsylvania House had once again shot down an effort to vote on a pigeon shoot ban, all I could wonder was, “What more do they need from us?” 

Those working for years to simply get a vote on this issue have been bending over backward to address every single objection put forth by the politicians.  None of them will come out and say they actually support pigeon shoots, but so many seem to have this reason or that problem which they would like see addressed before they can support a vote to ban the shoots.  Point by point these reasons have been addressed, yet still the leadership in the House and Senate won’t allow a simple vote.  What more do they want?

When they expressed concerns about a pigeon shoot ban infringing on hunting or gun rights, ban supporters in the legislature wrote a clean, short bill that specifically ensures that these rights will not be impacted.  Do they need us to pinky swear on it, too?

When some asked for stand-alone bills, they got them in both the House and Senate.  When they wanted the ban included as an amendment to something else, they have had that opportunity given over and over.  The bills have many sponsors from both parties, a true bi-partisan effort.  Do they need an actual majority sponsoring the bills?  Would even that be enough support to get a vote?

Some legislators said they’d prefer that we simply make shoots go away through community pressure.  And when we managed to do just that in Berks when one of the clubs hosting shoots decided to stop doing so, we thought maybe we were on to something.  Until new shoots started to pop up outside of Berks County for the first time in years.  Now Bucks and Dauphin Counties are holding shoots along with Berks.  Do legislators need these shoots to be in their own districts before they will hear the pleas of those who have been stuck with them for years?  Just wait, they may get their wish if these shoots continue to spread.

When some legislators noted that many of the other 49 States which don’t have shoots simply prosecuted under existing cruelty laws and wondered why we didn’t do the same, we tried.  Except District Attorneys are all under the (we believe mistaken) impression that the shoots are legal and have intervened to stop prosecution, telling us that we should work through legislation.  Which is it to be?  We can’t do both.

When they told us that those calling about a pigeon shoot ban were being “too emotional” we helped our supporters make an intellectual case: That these shoots are banned in the other 49 states, that they aren’t covered under the four exemptions of cruelty under Pennsylvania law (agriculture, pest control, hunting and self defense), that they bring in unsavory out-of-state elements to our community, or that children are used as “wringers” in these unsporting, gambling spectacles.  Yet as unmoved as they were by emotion they seem to be equally unmoved by intellect.  What argument will work?

Perhaps the legislators have been just too busy to fit it in to the calendar.  Maybe they couldn’t find time last week to sneak in a vote on a pigeon shoot ban between their votes for non-binding resolutions supporting “Juvenile Detention Centers Week” and “Credit Union Week”.  Could they not find ten minutes for a vote on something that has a real impact on our community?

I wonder of those who say they do support a vote on the ban: Can’t you press your leadership in the House and Senate for a vote?  If for no other reason, it will get this issue off of your plate and us out of your hair.

And I wonder if they realize that their legislative inaction is resulting in our organization, which creates jobs, pays taxes, and serves their community and constituents in Pennsylvania, being attacked by out-of-state groups who come to us with their extreme agendas and purity tests?  These shoots are a problem in our community and the solution lies in our community- with our legislators.  How long do we need to both be host to gambling, hostile pigeon shooters from other states and be attacked by animal extremists for not doing enough to stop shoots when we have no legal ability to do so and have been among the only local organizations even addressing this issue? 

Do the legislators not see that their inaction is impacting us, their constituency, negatively?  Must they continue to side with the interests of those from other states and turn their back on the pleas of organizations and voters from right here in Pennsylvania? (See postscript at end for most recent out-of-state intervention)

Do we need to return to the days of the Hegins shoot when white supremacists defending shoots and animal rights extremists opposing them screamed it out in front of the national media?  What more do they need from us to simply bring the bills or amendments for a pigeon shoot ban up for a simple vote?

Some politicians wring their hands about “voter enthusiasm gaps”.  This year it’s one party, two years ago it was another, it is sure to swing again in the future.  The politicians ask us, “What can we do for you people so you’ll understand how hard we’ve been working for you?”  I’ll tell them what they can do.  They can do something that inspires us.  They can finally put this up for a vote.

Help us in Berks County and Bucks County and Dauphin County and wherever the next one of these shoots pops up finally join the other 98% of the United States and put this ridiculous practice to bed once and for all.

Post script: Perhaps some were once again swayed by a little out of state advocacy group based in Fairfax, Virginia.  You may have heard of them: the NRA.  They seem greatly concerned for us in PA and worry we would be losing a “proud tradition” that is 100 years old.  100 years ago Pennsylvania also had a proud tradition of not letting women vote.  Sometimes we manage just fine leaving some traditions behind.  Read the NRA’s concerns for our “heritage” for yourself- it’s touching:

NRA Alert (10-13-10)

Pennsylvania’s “Castle Doctrine” Bill Needs Your Help Immediately!

Please Contact Your State Senator ASAP!

As you will recall, State Senator Richard Alloway (R-33) filed an amendment to House Bill 1926 containing vital “Castle Doctrine” language.  Unfortunately, anti-hunting extremists have filed their own amendment to HB1926 that seeks to outlaw organized Pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania.  Harrisburg needs to stop playing political games with our important self-defense rights and pass the “Castle Doctrine.”     

Pigeon shooting is an historic and legitimate activity steeped in tradition with many participants throughout the Commonwealth and around the world.  For over one hundred years, shoots have been held in Pennsylvania by law-abiding, ethical shooting enthusiasts, hunters, and sportsmen who would not tolerate an activity that would constitute cruelty to animals.�

National “animal rights” extremist groups, led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have organized and funded efforts in Pennsylvania and around the country to ban this longstanding traditional shooting sport.  Make no mistake; this isn’t just about banning pigeon shooting, but banning all hunting species by species.  

In contrast, Senator Alloway’s proposed amendment to the bill seeks to protect our rights.  It would permit law-abiding citizens to use force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their homes and any places outside of their home where they have a legal right to be.  If enacted, this law would also protect individuals from civil lawsuits by the attacker or the attacker’s family when force is used.

Please contact your State Senator TODAY and respectfully urge them to vote for HB1926 without any anti-gun amendments, including the ban on pigeon shoots.  Contact information can be found by clicking here.

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Today a case will be argued before the Supreme Court which would seem to have nothing to do with animals.  A creepy, mean-spirited Baptist minister (I’m pretty sure he played the minister in Poltergeist II) is arguing to overturn his five million dollar loss to the family of a US serviceman killed in Iraq.  The minister and his flock demonstrated outside the funeral, as they have at many others, shouting that God hates America and allowed the soldier to be killed because our government allows abortion and homosexuality.  Yuck.

Now, I think this guy is wrong on so many levels.  Beyond the logical disconnect that we still had servicemen die in battle in eras when we did, in fact, criminalize abortion and homosexuality or the moral disconnect of one Christian attacking the family of another whose loved one sacrificed himself for  a greater good, the demonstrations are just mean and rude and the family does not deserve the added pain.  But to provide some new class of unprotected speech, clearly political and religious speech, just because we find it repugnant and it occurs at, outside, near, or ten miles from a funeral, is a terrible idea.  And one which could come back to haunt those working to help animals.

That’s because once you start smudging that line between the primacy of freedom of speech over the “damage” that can be done by protected speech, the government starts to find all kind of reasons to restrict what we can see, hear, say, and write.  Judicially allowed obscenity restrictions were and are used widely and indiscriminately to limit speech of all types in the name of decorum and community standards.  National security is now widely used to not only prohibit speech but to deny US citizens the right to due process, even citizens deemed to be completely innocent by our own government. 

And let’s not forget the “food libel” laws which routinely limit free speech.  Before Oprah she had fully tapped into the Universal Power and could simply incinerate foes with a glance, she had to defend herself against meat processors for simply saying she would stop eating hamburgers.  Cattlemen claimed she had defamed and libeled an entire industry by merely expressing her intention to not eat a burger.  Although she won that specific case, food liable cases are common and frequently used to limit the speech of advocacy organizations and authors.

Even in Pennsylvania, efforts are underway to create “bio-terrorism” protections for agriculture- maybe even including puppy mills– which could potentially render cruelty investigators terrorists for investigating cruelty and discussing what they found.  Al Qaida will be infiltrating puppy mills?  Really?

And it goes both ways.  Remember the law that would have made it illegal to “traffic” in images of animal cruelty?  This restriction was, however understandably, unwisely supported by animal people, despite the fact that the law had the potential to open us up for prosecution if we showed images of the very cruelty we combat.  In that case the Supreme Court wisely denied the creation of a new class of unprotected speech and opened the door for the banning of crush videos under existing obscenity restrictions.

We cannot pick and chose our Constitutional protections and we must always remind ourselves that the limitation applied to someone else today could be the limitation applied to us tomorrow. It is up to us to ignore and condemn hate speech and to shun those who engage in it, not the government. 

So if you want the HSBC and others to continue to be able to speak out against the cruelty of puppy mills or pigeon shoots, speech which could certainly bring “harm” to those who engage in those deplorable activities, you should be pulling for that bigoted scum-bag to win his case.  Because if he can’t say what he wants, we may all find ourselves standing squarely in the middle of the next un-protected class of speech, witnessing cruelty and abuse but being unable to say a word because we have been fitted with a shiny, new Constitutionally sanctioned muzzle.

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I am a recovering addict.  I will admit it, and from what I hear admitting it is the first step to recovery.  My addiction is the same one seemingly afflicting virtually everyone working in animal welfare, whether they are professional or volunteer, careerist or dilettante.  My addiction is being right and being certain of my rightness.  And it is a hard one to kick.

Since I started into animal welfare work I have had a clarity about the problems facing animals and their solutions.  And that crystal clarity is a real rush.  I see that rush in the faces of those I come in contact with in my work when they are telling me or someone else what The Problem is and how he or she has The Solution and if everyone would just do it, we’d solve the problems facing animals.  You can see that these people are getting off on their rightness.  Oh, and do I know that feeling, the feeling of being the most right person in a room full of people who are right.

But just like any addiction, it gets ultimately you nowhere.  It is not a sustainable high.  Worse, this high requires the existence of the very thing us addicts claim to have the solution for.  It requires animals to be imperiled so we can save them with our unique solution.  No imperiled animals?  No need to be right.  Not being right means no rush.  We addicts need the problem to exist if we want our high.

But it takes little more than the most cursory look around us to see we can’t all be right and that, as far as I can see, not one of us has The Solution to The Problem.  Many of us have solutions to problems.  This little solution for that little problem.  While a problem solved, no matter how small, is probably a life saved, it’s just not as satisfying as claiming ownership of the one shining path, the one true way, the sole keeping of the one door through which we must pass.  The small solution is just a shadow of the rush of mainlining The Answer.

I’m not sure if there is a twelve step program for animal welfare junkies, but there probably should be.  So I’m trying to kick my habit on my own and recognize that maybe I don’t really hold the key that unlocks the door to the transcendent solution.  In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, I’m trying to accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

After twenty years in animal welfare I’ve come to recognize that the problems facing animals in our society cannot be solved with a magic bullet, that I certainly don’t wield that gun, and I’m yet to meet the person who does. 

But I can take aim at some specific targets and hit them.  I can help this group of animals and that group of people.  I can resolve this conflict and that problem.  I can make a real difference in the real lives of real animals and people.  And I can be a little right and a little wrong- and hopefully be a little less wrong tomorrow than I am today- and still have some success.

I don’t have to be the person with the ultimate answer.  And even if I think I am, what power do I have to apply that solution universally?  There is a difference between believing and acting in a way that makes me feel right and feel good and acting in a way that does good and makes things right and improves lives for animals and people.  I imagine that those small, substantive victories are ultimately going to prove more satisfying and lasting than the sporadic flood of, yet intrinsically empty, satisfaction of knowing how much more right I am than everyone else.

In animal welfare work we exist in a room filled with those we blame for the problems facing animals: people, society, government, the animals themselves, competing organizations, speciesists, ethnic groups, religious groups, economic classes.  But mostly we blame them for not recognizing that our door, among all the many doors to choose from, is the one which will fix everything.  If they would just be smart enough to recognize it and choose it.  I have been one of those people.

But I am starting to see that there are so many doors out of this room.  Open access, no kill, low kill, sterilization, advocacy, research, interdiction, intervention, TNR, legislation, education, and on and on and on.  Door after door to choose from and they all lead somewhere.  But no one door is big enough to move out on its own the entire room.  As good as it feels to believe that, as easy as it is to be sure that our own door is the only way out, it’s simply not the case.

So I’m trying to kick my habit.  I’m knocking on other doors and seeing where they lead.  Many will probably lead nowhere, despite the wild eyed insistence of their rightness-addicted doormen.  But they can’t all be dead ends.  With any luck, we’ll all get out of this room.

PS- My apologies to Lou Reed for so torturing a line from his beautiful song, Stephanie Says.

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There was a time when animal welfare issues were considered by politicians to be fringe, if they were considered at all.  Over time, many animal welfare issues began to be taken up by elected officials, although they were often addressed by the liberal/environmentalist/hippie end of the electoral spectrum.  But more recently, animal welfare policy has ceased to be a partisan issue at all.  No longer would one only expect liberal democrats to take animal welfare seriously.  Increasingly politicians on both sides of the aisle are taking animal welfare issues seriously, judging them on their merits, and taking into account the expectations by growing numbers of their constituents for action on important animal welfare issues.

Animal welfare efforts have become so mainstream and acceptable and the goals sought by its supporters so reasonable that political party is not nearly the factor it once was.  As a former Democratic Committeeman I used to appreciate that often (not always, but often) you could count on the Democrat to be on the right side of these issues.  However, as an animal welfare advocate and professional in the field, I now recognize that in my region of the country Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to have exceptionally good –or bad- records.  Party affiliation matters less, if at all, on many issues.

In the Congressional district of my organization the incumbent Republican, Jim Gerlach, has a very good voting record based on the Humane Society Legislative Fund (no relation to HSBC) criteria, better than a majority of Pennsylvania Democratics.   His Democratic opponent, Manan Trivedi, has openly expressed his support for the animal welfare issues and there is every reason to believe he would also have a very good voting record.  Both are actively engaged in making that support known to my organization’s donors and volunteers, and to voters. 

This did not happen by accident.  It happened because increasingly large numbers of citizens have been telling their candidates that they expect good animal welfare policy, that they don’t consider themselves to be “fringe”, and they began to de-couple animal welfare from other third-rail issues.  In other words, every animal issue was not a fight between us and them- farmers, hunters, gun owners, constitutional conservatives, veterinarians, breeders, or whatever the “them” of the hour was.  It could be about the issue itself and how we presented it. 

And once it was about the issue, you could find reasonable people on both sides of the political aisle with a continuum of reasonable positions from which real movement- and real votes- could be garnered.  Once the zealous red paint hurling fringe ceased to be the perceived face of animal welfare and that face was replaced by you and me and our neighbors and Oprah, who had very real concerns about the welfare of animals and very reasonably questioned the political inactivity we saw, our politicians were forced to engage us.  Once the passionate animal welfare supporters on our side began to see that a positive, civil dialogue was effective, we began to build partnerships with politicians.  And once the politicians saw that there was a real political benefit to be had by being on the right side of animal welfare, and maybe a real penalty from being on the wrong side, they have increasingly sought to demonstrate to us that they care about animal welfare. 

Somewhere along the way supporting animal welfare issues became about as expected as supporting the troops, wearing a flag pin, and kissing babies.  And this is exactly what we should want and have been seeking all along, no matter what political party we support.

As voters, we need to ensure every candidate for elected office includes an animal welfare policy platform statement as a matter of course, regardless of party affiliation.  As professionals in animal welfare, we need to ensure that the appeals we make to animal lovers and animal welfare advocates span party lines or political molds and that we are encouraging polite, effective interaction with elected officials.  And when they don’t live up to our new expectations, voters need to get behind candidates who will, either in general elections or in party primaries.  Democrat or Republican, I think we can all take away one lesson from the Tea Party folks: Politicians, ignore your constituents at your peril.

It is time for those of us who think good animal welfare policy is good for our nation to forcefully make the same case and politely demand that all candidates of any party, in every election, take these issues as seriously as we do.  If they won’t, we need to find candidates who will.

Fingers crossed we can do it without having to wear silly hats.

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1. My family and I attend a Lutheran Church.  Please do not direct hate mail to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

2. I would like to extend my apologies to Tom Cruise and his family.  Oh, and to Governor Ed Rendell.

3.  Don’t worry; it will make sense in a minute.

As much as I campaign for animal welfare, I have also increasingly campaigned for a civil dialogue among those who represent the efforts to promote the welfare of animals in our society.  I have repeatedly made the case that one of the biggest obstacles facing us in our efforts to pass good animal welfare laws are the rude, self-righteous, and hyper-emotional on our side of the aisle.  These people, using their depth of belief as a shield to excuse themselves and their behavior, indulge in viciousness and vulgarities against those they see as opposing them.

And their vitriol is not reserved solely for the opposition.  Sometimes their greatest abuse is directed at those on their own side who choose different methods, have different beliefs or agendas, or are not as extreme in their demands.  But I recently saw an escalation of personal attack which I found stunning, despite my years of seeing what those who “love animals so much” are capable of.

I recently received an e-newsletter from an animal welfare group who shares my profound disgust for the pigeon shoots which blight my organization’s home county, Berks, and Pennsylvania, the sole state in the Union still allowing them.  This group’s rhetoric has always been pretty strong, pointed and sarcastic.  But it has generally been reserved for those committing the horrible acts they (and I) oppose.  I may promote civil discourse, but skewering a local pigeon shooting attorney who was caught on tape calling a female protester a name so indecent it seems impolite to make so much as an oblique description of it here will generally get a pass, even from me.

But this email caught my attention because it referred to Governor Ed Rendell as “sleaze”.  And that made me cringe.  Governor Rendell has done more in Pennsylvania to promote improvements for animals, and dogs in commercial kennels specifically, than any we’ve had.  True, you can argue with many, many things in the legislation he signed, the way his Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement has acted and enforced our laws, the lack of forceful leadership he has shown on issues such as the pigeon shoot ban, and others.  But overall, he’s done a great deal and politics is about more than what I want so my job is help convince him to do more.  “Sleaze” seemed harsh to me, even directed at a thick skinned politician.

However, when I read on to the next article about rodeos, another issue this group feels strongly about but is not a practical issue for me or my organization since we have no rodeos, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

The article was about Tom Cruise being linked to a movie about a rodeo star.  This group is appalled he or anyone would make a film glorifying a rodeo star.  No problem, I get that; it is one of their issues.  They went on to mention he had been filmed at a rodeo with his children and made a mocking comment about his parenting.  As a father of three young daughters, I found that offensive.  There was no need to even bring his kids into the discussion, especially for a cheap shot.  The group then encouraged readers to write Cruise and express their displeasure.  Fine, they don’t like rodeos, he’s making a movie about them, I get it.   

What I found so stunning, so horrible, so profoundly un-American, was the next request.  They wanted readers to write to Tom Cruise’s church, the Church of Scientology International, to tell them that “he and his church will carry the stain of it for the rest of his career and beyond”. 

This injection of Cruise’s faith into their perfectly valid attack on the treatment of rodeo animals is not only insensitive, it comes at a time when our entire nation appears to be grappling with whether an entire faith can be painted with the “stain” of the actions of some of its supposed adherents.  Even President Bush, faced with the height of our Nation’s 9/11 convulsions, made a strong and clear statement that the actions of Muslim terrorists who killed 3,000 of our citizens could not be assigned to Islam. 

Yet this animal group will fault an entire congregation with the choice of motion picture jobs made by an actor who belongs to it?

Interestingly, they do not ask us to write the churches or synagogues of others they mention in their piece.  Does Cruise’s choice of church merit some special exception?

This type of attack must be called what it is: intolerance and bigotry.  It is wrong, it has nothing to do with animal welfare and it is fascistic.  It flies in the face of the very tenets that founded the United States and no justification can be made based on their strength of conviction or love of animals. 

One of the cases I make for ending pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania is that they invite the participation of individuals and groups from out of our communities, out of our state, who have agendas and axes to grind at our expense.  Do you remember who arrived to defend the pigeon shoots in Hegins, Pennsylvania, years ago?  The Ku Klux Klan.  Now we have an out-of-state group who rightly opposes the shoots but brings their hate speech with them as a consequence.  I want neither and I hope that we can send them all packing by passing a pigeon shoot ban now.

But until we do, I feel the need to apologize to Governor Rendell for the comments made by those who claim to share my views.  I feel the need to abjectly apologize for the slurs directed at Tom Cruise, his family and his church.

And to those who have a problem with that, do me a favor and send the hate mail to me.  I’m not sure my church will know what you are talking about.

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