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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By Guest Blogger, W. Scott Yoder, HSBC Board of Directors

As a child in Berks County with the last name of Yoder I was introduced to all the “traditions” and “heritage’ items at a very young age: Shoo-fly Pie, Pig Stomach, Schnitz und Knepp, AP Cake, Montgomery Pie, Milk Tarts, Liver Pudding, Hunting, Local Gun Club Memberships, and Pigeon Shoots; the list is endless. Of the before mentioned items the one I’d really like to focus on today is Pigeon Shoots.

I seemed to get dragged along to every Pigeon Shoot that was held in many more venues than today (and in those days, there was public notice given instead of the modern “secret society” notification that must currently exist), by family members and friends’ fathers who, by the way, were all trying very hard to teach me how to become an ethical hunter. My job was to stand out in “center field” and shoot at “sleepers”, aptly named because these were the poor pigeons that were half-dead, flying low at a slow rate of speed, and easy targets for a kid of  9 or 10 years old.
   
Before leaving to go home, we would always go closer to the “traps” and watch the men shoot the pigeons from behind. This was where this Pigeon Shooting Tradition started to go south for me in a hurry. I watched the birds for the next round being carried in, packed like sardines, in wooden crates. I watched the young kids or “wringers”, whose job it was to pick up the dead or wounded birds inside the ring and dispatch them by wringing their necks before throwing them into a 55-gallon barrel, before being dumped into a dumpster, while the wounded birds lying outside of the ring were just left there to flop around and die of their own accord.
    
All of a sudden the mixed message thing started to go off in my very young brain about what my father and grandfather were trying to teach me about becoming an ethical hunter: dispatching of harvested game quickly and then preparing it, before doing anything else, for the table. Dumping these dead birds into a dumpster ran antithetically to what my young mind was trying to learn. The short trip home gave me more time to “process” all this and I spent many sleepless nights mulling this over in my brain. The final straw for me was going for Sunday breakfast at one of these clubs, the day after the shoot, and watching the wounded birds from the day before hopping pathetically around the parking lot, and looking up to the roof of the Gun Club, where many half-dead birds were perched waiting for certain death, or if they were lucky, to get picked off by a passing hawk. 
    
As a hunter, gun owner, and animal advocate, I realize that it’s time for Pennsylvania’s National Embarrassment of protecting and defending these distasteful, depressing, horrific spectacles, to come to an end and come to an end NOW! The NRA, and I’m a member, has even backed off the “Pigeon Shoot Question” because they don’t want to be associated, in my opinion, with a certain loser and I believe even they’re beginning to realize that banning  pigeon shoots has nothing to do with 2nd amendment rights. As a Sportsman and gun owner the least of my fears is the banning of pigeon shoots, but that’s another topic for another day.
     
I’m going to continue eating Schnitz und Knepp and Shoo-Fly Pies, as long as my doctor allows it, but the one tradition that needs to get thrown into the dumpster is the protection of pigeon shoots by our law-makers in Harrisburg. I’d encourage everyone who feels as I do to contact their representatives and encourage them to support and bring this Pigeon Shoot and Tethered Turkey Shoot Ban Bill up for a vote as soon as possible so we can all sleep a little better at night and carry on with traditions that still work in the 21st Century.        
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One would think that those of us who believe animal welfare is important and that animals deserve our protection would all be one happy family.  It makes sense that those who run puppy mills or hold pigeon shoots would loath animal welfare advocates and the work we do.  But in reality, the ones who are most likely to vilify and berate those in animal welfare are not our opponents.  They are our allies.

I just wrapped up an email exchange with a woman who was simply trashing me and our organization for not doing something she thought we should do, something that she decided was our mission.  This animal lover has been a long time correspondent, alternately telling us she “loves us” and telling us in profanity laced emails that we are horrible and don’t care about animals. 

I pride myself on always trying to convert every critic and my insistence on engaging every critic that comes to my attention.  I either get them to see it our way and agree with us, I get them to at least acknowledge we have a valid point (if they won’t agree with us), or I wear them down to the point they just get tired of attacking us.

But after years of this person’s love/hate whiplash and self righteous edicts of what we should be doing, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I hit a wall.  My response was professional, but it was blunt, direct and thoroughly unappreciative.  I must admit, it was barely polite and it was withering.

Now, I did check to make sure that she was not, in fact, a volunteer, donor or adopter.  As is so often the case who offer helpful advice, she was none of those.  She was simply an animal lover with an opinion.  An opinion that, in her mind was superior to mine.  Therefore, whatever I thought and whatever our organization did must be wrong.  Further, the implication is always that somehow by not doing what she thought we should, we were worse than those who run pigeon shoots or puppy mills because we are an animal welfare organization, we should know better.

While her attack was among the more pedestrian we receive, her sort of personal attack is not uncommon.  Animal lovers, both professionals in animal welfare and the general public, seem to feel free to fling their worst abuse at those on their own side.  I and others in animal welfare have been attacked for merely speaking to the wrong person during legislative meetings, for taking different position on issues- even minor ones.  I have never been threatened with picketing by the pro-pigeon shoot lobby.  But I have been threatened with it by a fellow animal shelter director because I was going to attend the same conference as another animal shelter director who he viewed as a traitor to the cause.

The worst attacks, gossip campaigns, mud-slinging, insults, innuendo, sabotage, and interference I have experienced as an animal welfare professional have come almost exclusively from those on my side of the aisle.  And if you ask other animal welfare professionals, I think they’ll tell you the same thing.

And this behavior isn’t just directed at people like me.  When animal welfare laws are on the table, these pro-animal people are often as effective at derailing them through their rude and abusive behavior directed at legislators as those who actually oppose the legislation.  They paint the entire animal welfare movement as being nut jobs because they can’t keep their tongues and engage the debate civilly.  Of course, they always tell us it’s because they love animals so much or that their heart is doing the talking.  But the reality is that they are simply rude, mean, and use the suffering of animals as an excuse to abuse those they disagree with.

That is why I am increasingly of the opinion that the real obstacle blocking the improved welfare of animals is not those in opposition to change; it is those who so rudely demand it.

There is a place for disagreement- even bitter difference- but merely having a different opinion of the solution does not make someone deserving of abuse.  People can be wrong without being bad.  But these people who hide behind “loving animals too much” to be civil do more harm than good.  Don’t believe me? 

Look at the organizations which have been most effective achieving real change.   Look at the Humane Society of the United States (no relation to the Humane Society of Berks County).  They attack their animal welfare agenda in an incremental, methodical, reasonable way, and by doing so they are among the most effective.  Some animal people trash them for being too willing to engage and compromise, too willing to work with the other side.  But they have the other side quaking in their boots.  They have put a reasonable face on their agenda and the people who oppose it can’t paint them as crazy fanatics- because they aren’t behaving like crazy fanatics.

You can see the same lessons repeated, sometimes inversely, elsewhere.  We’ve all seen the organizations with the shrill, certain voice.  They know exactly what should be done, expect everyone to do it, and try to demolish anyone on any side who disagrees with them.  But their victories, when they get them, are often shallow and short lived.  There is a reason that organizations become more moderate in tone over time.  It’s because it is more effective than screaming.

Until we stop being apologists for the people on our own side who behave boorishly, uncivilly,  and rudely, we will not be doing any favors for the animals we all say we want to help.  We need to cast them to the fringes where they belong and disavow them.  Not just because they are mean and rude but because they are doing more harm than good.  And that’s the last thing animals need right now.

So, I feel kind of bad that I even engaged this person today.  But enough is enough.  If someone wants to help animals by tearing down our staff, organization, volunteers, supporters and me, I will politely tell them to peddle their “love for animals” elsewhere so I can get back to the real work of effective change.

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After all the emails, phone calls, lobbying and work to get the Puppy Mill Bill passed and signed into law, when I heard that the kennel requirements recently passed three to one included an exemption for pregnant and nursing dogs from the solid floor and access to exercise requirements, all I could think was that we’d been cheated.

Getting dogs off of wire flooring and giving them access to exercise were among the central and most important parts the law that the Humane Society of Berks County and thousands of Pennsylvania voters demanded.  And we thought we had achieved that goal.  But with the stroke of a pen and some regulatory sleight of hand, a deal was cut with breeders to make it easier on- and more profitable for- them.  As a result, half the dogs or more in any commercial kennel (breeding females) will spend half or more of their time (when they are pregnant and nursing) subject to the same lack of exercise and solid flooring they had before the Puppy Mill Bill passed.

Breeders claim they have the puppies’ well being in mind.  But we know they have the bottom line in mind.

To top it off, the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, announces this “improvement” in a press release that barely mentions these changes while focusing on other parts of the regulations.  They make the case that because there has been some improvement over three years ago (like that would be hard) we should be satisfied and accepting of this deal they have struck.  That we should be happy that they came down so hard on the humidity levels in kennels.  But when a female dog is stuck in a puppy mill hell, I don’t think it will saying to itself, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

Now the rules are in the hands of Attorney General Corbett, who has the chance to decide that the regulations are a violation of letter or spirit of the law.  It’s a slim chance, but it’s the only chance thousands of dogs have.  Please take a few minutes to email or call Attorney General Corbett and urge him to join you in the determination that these new flooring and exercise exemption are a clear circumvention of the intent of the Puppy Mill Bill and ask him to stop the implementation of these regulations.

But if you are like me, you are asking yourself how this could possibly have even happened.  Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters could loudly voice their demand for some simple changes to how dogs are treated in commercial kennels yet 111 kennels can manage to force a compromise?  How could that equation possibly balance out?

Perhaps it is because the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement (BDLE) is part of the Department of Agriculture.  The Department of Agriculture’s explicitly stated mission is to protect and promote PA agriculture and farmers.  If breeders are “farmers” and commercial kennels are “agriculture”, then they are part of one of the largest lobbies in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Farm Lobby.

The BDLE is a regulatory agency, not an animal welfare agency.  The Department of Agriculture’s job is to help farmers.  The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have to balance the wishes of voters with the wishes of a major source of employment and revenue- farming and agriculture.  When you think about it, doesn’t it make perfect sense that a bargain would- should– be struck that gives breeders a disproportionate benefit?  So what if the argument is 1000 to 1 in favor of the dogs?  If the “dog farmers” get treated like real farmers, we shouldn’t expect much more.

But I do.  I expect a lot more.  Dogs aren’t crops and breeders aren’t farmers.  And the Humane Society of Berks County and dog lovers like you don’t have to accept that equation.  We don’t have to strike a legislative compromise.  We don’t have to accept half a law as the best we can get.  We can say that the law intended dogs to have solid floor and exercise.  Not some dogs- all dogs.  And we need to start saying that and saying it loudly.  And we need to look at the structural problem facing the improvement of the lives of dogs in Pennsylvania.

The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement (BDLE) needs to be removed from the department of Agriculture and made and enforcement agency, not a regulatory agency.  The days of its primarly function being to pay farmers for livestock killed by dogs and coyotes is are long past.  Let’s move them into the 21st century.  That might not sound like much, but you wouldn’t believe how hard that actually is.

The BDLE is a large government bureaucracy, run by political appointees whose jobs depend more on keeping their political masters happy than doing what’s best for dogs.  Unlike elected officials, they don’t answer to you and me, and their jobs last only as long as the person who appointed them allows them to stay.  And they don’t always take kidly to criticism.

There are many documented cases the BDLE targeting those who speak out against it with “surprise” inspections of kennels of critics, “random” home visits of critics by dog wardens, and slander and whisper campaigns against critics. Many non-profit animal welfare organizations have been slow to openly question the BDLE for fear of retribution, of having a kennel license revoked on minor charges, or in an attempt to work within the system and not make waves. 

We have been among the organizations which have been fighting this battle behind the scenes because we try not to be public in our disappointments with those who are supposed to be on our side.  We prefer forceful but quiet negotiation to public airings of grievances and dissatisfaction.  We have found that it is usually the most effective means of making real changes.  But it only works when you have a real partner in negotiation and we have reached the conclusion that we do not have that in the BDLE.

It is time for all of us to speak up and speak out.

So we are saying publicly what we have been saying privately for a very long time: 1. Hold those who profit from breeding dogs accountable and enforce the law as it was intended- give breeding dogs solid floors and exercise.  2. Get the BDLE out of Agriculture. 3. Stop the BDLE from putting more scrutiny on its critics than it has on puppy mills.

We hope you will join us in saying this loudly and widely.  But make sure if you say it too forcefully you double check that your dog’s license is up to date.  You might just find yourself getting a “random” visit from the BDLE.  You can bet I will be checking mine.

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Striking A Chord

March 26th, 2010 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The Humane Society of Berks County sends out regular e-newsletters to nearly ten thousand of our active supporters sharing information about events, programs and issues.  Sometimes we will send one out to just share a nice story.

Yesterday (3-22-10), I sent an e-news about a little dog named Chief (now Camper) who was helped by our staff and I thought it was a nice illustration of the work they do every day for the animals, the kind of work that doesn’t get in the newspapers because it is now routine for us.  The press often only takes notice when you do something “exceptional” but they don’t always notice how exceptional it is to make something previously exceptional not exceptional any more (and the Oscar for most use of “exceptional” in a sentence goes to me).

Anyway, judging from the immediate round of positive emails and kind words we received, I thought it would be a great story to share on our website, too.  If you didn’t get the enews, sign up here!

Success of the Day: Three Legged Chief Goes Home

It used to be that the Humane Society of Berks County had pretty limited options for most sick and injured animals entering our two shelters.  We didn’t have the veterinary resources needed to fix anything but the most basic problems.  Injured strays were lucky enough to get sent to an outside veterinarian while we hoped to find an owner who could take on the care (and vet bills).  All too often, that owner was never found and we couldn’t afford the cost to fix the animals, so they faced euthanasia.

It was even worse for sick and injured animals who came to us through owner surrender.  The worst cases never had a chance because we couldn’t afford to fix them.  That, too, meant the harsh reality of open door animal sheltering: euthanasia.  For a lucky few there were “emergency medical funds”, a small pool of money given by donors specifically for special cases.  But that might only help one in ten.  Or fifty.  Or one hundred.

But now, literally every day, we are saving the lives of animals coming into our shelters because of the expansions we’ve made to our veterinary capabilities in the last couple of years.  With four fantastic staff veterinarians, skilled support staff, new acquired equipment and capabilities like digital x-ray and ultrasound, and increased adoption rates giving us more space and time for recovery, what was once unusual is now the norm.

One story really jumped out at me today and I wanted to share it with you.  It is about a Beagle mix puppy named Chief who almost certainly would not have been saved just a year or two ago.

Chief came to us with a severely broken right front leg. Because the break was so severe, casting it was not an option.  His only option was an amputation, something that would have been impossibly expense for us in the past, even if we could have managed the recovery care and time he’d require without running out of space in our kennel.

But now isn’t then. Chief was scheduled for amputation surgery.  Two of our amazing HSBC veterinarians, Dr. Heather Westfall and Dr. Lori Schluth, performed the surgery and Chief came through with flying colors.  He recovered under the care of our HSBC veterinary assistants and kennel technicians.  After only a few days post-surgery he was cleared for adoption.  He was very active, played with toys and greeted anyone who approached him with a hello Beagle howl.

And today he went home with his new family.

The funny thing about this story is that it’s not very special.  We are doing things like this, things that would have been considered miracles a short year or two ago, every single day.  These stories won’t make the newspaper because they are not exceptional at the Humane Society of Berks County.  It’s what we do.  It’s what we have become.  We save animals.  It’s how we roll.

I just wanted you to read Chief’s story and know that there is a reason that, as heart warming as it is, it’s an every day occurrence.  It’s because of you and your support and the support of people and businesses in Berks and across Pennsylvania, the USA, and even the world.  The resources you so generously provide to us– financial, time, products, services– have turned our work upside down.

We used to be amazed when we could save a dog like Chief and he would be in the vast minority.  Now, we are managing to save all of the healthy and to fix and save the vast majority of the sick and injured. But not all.

However, the staff, board and volunteers of the Humane Society are committed to saving them all.  In one or two more years we want to be in a place where we can take them all in, fix them all, get them all adopted and have it be unthinkable that we should fail.

Just a few years ago a goal like this would have seemed like a joke.  But just a few years ago, Chief wouldn’t ever have survived.  Thank you for expecting more of us and thank you for helping us get were we are now.

Here are a few of the nice comments we got back in the first few hours after sending the e-newsletter:

Dear Everyone, Thank you so much for the wonderful story on Chief. We know from experience of your wonderful work at the Humane Society. We have our wonderful Evan from you great people since Aug.08 as we call him Evan from Heaven what a wonderful God’s little creature you have left into our lives and we cannot thank you enough for the blessing. Evan gets along so well with his sisters and brother,it is like he was here since a puppy.I know the people that Chief has been sent home with are special, the picture says it all,thankyou once again for sharing such a wonderful story. Bless all of you.
Sincerely, Your forever friends with love(5 lovable labs mom & dad too), Evan, Snickers, Cocopuff, Reesie Peace, Apollo and Michelle & Greg

Thank you for sharing the wonderful story of Chief. You and the entire organization do such a tremendous job! We have adopted one cat and two dogs from the Berks Humane Society and love each one. My son and I participated in the Walk for Animals the past two years to help raise money for the Humane Society, too. Keep up the great work! Warmest regards, Stacy

This is a great story! Thanks for sharing!

Thank you so much for that heart warming story. As soon as I can free up some cash, I fully intend to donate to your worth while organization. Thanks and God Bless for all your good work.

Hello, My name is Susan and I visit the shelter about once every two weeks to say hello to my furry friends. I adopted my dog Maggie from your shelter about 5 years ago and she is the love of my life. I met Chief on Saturday,and I didn’t even realize he was a fresh amputee. I couldn’t tell at first,because he was so lively and healthy looking. Thank you, and thanks for all you do to help the animals.

What a great story! When we lived on a small farm, we had a cat with three legs (she was caught in a muskrat trap). She did just fine. RMS

Excellent story. Thanks for sharing. This is why I bring all my pets to the veterinarian clinic at the BCHS. ~Kel

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