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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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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