Or at least that’s what I may be considered thanks to the passage by the house yesterday of SB 906, the “bio-security” bill.  That’s because the vague language included in the bill is more likely to be applied to me as a State trained and sworn Humane Society Police Officer (HSPO) than it will to Osama bin Laden.  And this designation is pretty serious stuff.  Somewhere right now a government computer is reading the words in my opening paragraph and flagging them.  All because I’m discussing a bill that will be used primarily to protect puppy millers and bad farmers from appropriate prosecution or from damning video exposes.

While I’m sure the unanimous vote indicates a genuine wish on the part of legislators to protect us from bio/eco-terrorism, commercial dog breeders see this law as the next tool in their arsenal to avoid prosecution for animal cruelty or to retaliate against HSPO’s who do their job.

SB 906 allows any “farmer”, and let’s not forget that dog breeding is considered agriculture in Pennsylvania, to take a couple simple steps to designate their “farm” (or puppy mill) as a bio-security zone.  Slap up a couple signs and let the fun begin!  Although the revised wording is somewhat more explicit in that it does not apply to a person “privileged to [enter a farm]”, which one would assume means a law enforcement officer legally investigating a reported crime such as animal cruelty, there is plenty still in it to cause trouble.

For example, entering a property to “threaten” the owner or occupant is considered ecoterrorism.  I’m guessing that citing a puppy miller for animal cruelty would be construed by the puppy miller to be a threat.  Will that result in the arrest of my officer on eco-terrorism charges?  There are also other intended targets of this law besides police officers.  What about the person who lawfully works on a farm, sees evidence of a crime and reports it or documents it?  Will the filmers of all those hidden videos of tortured dogs and dying livestock which result in massive cruelty cases be charged or sued as ecoterrorists?  You bet they will.

In fact, lawsuits and false criminal claims are the new weapon of choice by breeders since Humane Society Police Officers do not have the same protection from frivolous lawsuits as municipal or state police officers.  We enforce the same laws under the jurisdiction of our County DA’s, yet the officers and our organizations are open to lawsuits by the very breeders who have been prosecuted and stripped of their kennel licenses.  Even when the cases are thrown out of court, as was recently the case in a Federal suit against Mainline Animal Rescue, the bills to defend are staggering.

And I would know.  The Humane Society of Berks County is currently defending itself against such a federal suit filed by a breeder featured on the notorious Oprah puppy mill show who had his licensed revoked by the State.  Despite the fact that our County DA office handled the entire court case and a judge signed off on all action and warrants, the former breeder could still find an attorney (who previously represented the criminal breeder Skip Eckhart) who would be willing to bring a Federal case against the HSBC.  We have no doubt we will prevail over the frivolous suit but it will likely cost us tens of thousands of dollars to win (feel free to make a donation in support of our legal fund).

Since the Pennsylvania House and Senate declined to take up Rep. Siptroth’s HB 593 this year, which would provide our officers and the HSBC with the same immunity municipal police have, we are already weighing whether we should continue humane law enforcement.  I know the first time we are served with “ecoterrorism” charges for doing the job of enforcing PA cruelty laws, it will be the end of our law enforcement work.  I’m not sure that was the intended outcome for the legislature but it sure was for the breeders who wanted this bill so badly.

I want to keep cholera out of my daughters’ corn flakes as much as the next person.  But let’s be honest: Is the threat of a misdemeanor charge going to keep a radical jihadist or even some Earth Liberation Front type nut from doing whatever they are going to do on a farm?  Of course not.  All it will do to make those in animal welfare think twice before they pursue appropriate legal remedies to protect animals and people. 

The very least the House and Senate can do now is protect humane societies like ours from frivolous lawsuits.  It will give some small, cold comfort when I get added to a no fly list.

 Somewhere a puppy miller is rolling with laughter in his barn and a terrorist is rolling with laughter in his cave.


Over the past few months and years, issues surrounding the problems of animal control and stray animals been a recurring theme in the local press.  Throughout Pennsylvania the old model of animal control service delivery has been breaking down, resulting in turmoil and confusion.  Citizens, taxpayers, state and municipal governments have long relied nearly exclusively on charitable animal welfare organizations to provide animal control and euthanasia services for stray animals.  This near complete reliance on charities is somewhat unique to Pennsylvania.

Municipalities have balked for years at providing a reasonable payment for animal control services.  Counties have largely avoided any responsibility at all by leaving it entirely in the hands of municipalities.  The State, through the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, has generally relied on private animal shelters to either take dogs from them or do their job for them, while offering paltry “grants” in exchange.  The result is that the charitable donors of private animal shelters have long subsidized animal control and the other animals helped by these shelters have had resources diverted from them in order to provide this subsidy.

Increasingly, animal welfare organizations, after years of being underfunded (if funded at all) for these services and who have grown weary of subsidizing these municipal responsibilities and of having the burden of being the final destination for tens of thousands of strays each year, have begun divesting themselves of their animal control contracts. 

Municipalities, despite years of pleading and begging by shelters for greater resources and warning of the potential for a cut off in services, often claim to have been blindsided when services are dropped.  Municipalities and the State now face the very real problem of not having any place to take stray animals as private shelters focus other mission imperatives.  The shelters who still offer animal control services or stray intake and euthanasia services are increasingly overwhelmed and often attacked by a public who blame the shelters for the reality of euthanasia thrust upon them.  Sometimes the attacks are undeserved.  Other times shelters use the animal control reality to deflect legitimate concern about bad organizational management and policies.

The result is bad care and increased likelihood of euthanasia for the animals, little or no accountability on the part of animal shelters or government, no incentive for improving the root causes of pet overpopulation and strays through policy and legislation, and the unfair charitable subsidy of a government responsibility.  This problem impacts our entire community.  The responsibility is borne by our entire community.  Yet the burden is placed on an increasingly small group of charitable organizations. 

The solutions offered, if any are offered at all, tend to be versions of the current system but with a higher price tag.  The Humane Society of Berks County believes the past and current model of animal control service delivery is broken and new proposals must be made to break the cycle of rampant stray euthanasia, poor public policy, shifting responsibility and escalating costs.

We are putting forward a proposal for a plan that will provide comprehensive animal control services for Berks County which will share costs and responsibility and will lead to better care and outcomes for stray animals, less expensive service fees, increased accountability for taxpayers, and a new, replicable and scalable model for animal control in Pennsylvania.

This plan is intended to be a serious proposal to address a serious problem.  There are certainly other models and ideas which could be developed.  Unfortunately, they are simply not being proposed.  We hope this proposal begins a conversation that leads us all to a new era of animal control service in Pennsylvania.

Read on for the Humane Society of Berks County’s Plan for Comprehensive Animal Control Service Reform….

Humane Society of Berks County’s Plan for Comprehensive Animal Control Service Reform

The Problem:  Each year in Berks County thousands of stray animals (perhaps as many as 8,000) enter private animal shelters.  These animals face great likelihood of euthanasia and cost enormous sums of money to catch, care for, and adopt or euthanize.  The vast majority of those funds come from charitable donors via private animal shelters.  The average cost per capita to fund animal shelters in Berks and the US is about $8.  However, the amount provided via State, municipal and County funding sources for animal control services is approximately .50 per capita in Berks.  The remaining $7.50 in per capita expense comes from charitable donors.

Municipalities often claim they should not pay more money because charitable animal shelters spend their money on other things that have nothing to do with animal control such as veterinary care, behavioral training, adoptions, education, etc.  And while this is true, it does not take into consideration the actual per capita costs of strictly providing animal control services exclusively for stray animals.  These average per capita costs run from $8 to $13 or more nationwide.  That means that in Berks County, with a population of about 400,000, the average annual expenditure on animal control alone each year should be between $3.2 million and $5.2 million if national averages determined the investment.  Yet the actual government investment in providing animal control services is about $200,000.

Until animal control services can be evaluated on a true cost basis, it seems unlikely that government will pay more for a service which is viewed as a “donation” to animal shelters.  Until the payment for these services goes up, the quality of animal control services will remain low and government will face the ever looming specter of further animal shelter refusals to provide the service.  Until the cost of these services are equitably shared, the expense will be prohibitive for any one organization, donor, or governmental body to provide.

The Solution:  The cost of animal control services must be shared throughout the community and the delivery of animal control services must be delivered independently of charitable organizations.  If this is done the per person and per government cost for animal control services can be greatly diminished, the exact cost can be directly determined, accountability for the success or failure of service delivery can be exactly assigned, and all parties involved with this community wide crisis can play the part they are best suited to.

The Humane Society of Berks County’s Plan for Comprehensive Animal Control Service Reform provides a solution to each of these problems by assigning the means for specific responsibility, funding and accountability in a transparent manner.

Key Points of the Reform Plan

Severing of Responsibility from Charitable Organizations:  Animal shelters will always be forced to balance their strictly charitable mission with their contractual animal control mission as long as they do both.  Decisions about staffing decisions, product choices, service options and law enforcement will always become entwined as animal control management decisions bump against charitable mission imperatives.  The two imperatives must be severed.

Unfortunately, the only entities with the expertise in handling and housing large numbers of domestic animals in a shelter environment are private sector animal welfare organizations.  Even if government were capable of developing the expertise required, the operating costs would be vastly higher.  That is the reason the average per capita costs are so high for municipal animal control operations compared to private shelters.  Privatized service is key to maintaining lower costs.  But how do you accomplish both privatization and segregation from the charitable missions of animal welfare organizations?

This can be accomplished through the creation of an independent Management Services Organization incorporated under the control of a highly functioning animal welfare organization but directly contractually serving the government for the exclusive purpose of providing animal control services.  The scope of the services and expectations of the contract relationship would be clearly delineated.  Payment would be provided for specific service, with no touchy-feely bells and whistles which are vital to a charitable mission but not required of, or wanted by, a government seeking only animal control services.

The contracting government would then have a stand-alone service to evaluate, selected to provide a specific service for a specific price.  Like with any vendor, if the service is not provided satisfactorily, a new vendor can be selected to provide the service.  However, a direct negotiation for price and service can take place within the framework of the service required.

Services Provided:  When talking about animal control services there are several key functions expected.  They include intake of strays from the public, pick up of confined strays, care for strays, stray return-to-owner services, legally mandated medical care for animals, euthanasia of animals which are injured, aggressive, not claimed by owners or not accepted for adoption transfer by charitable animal welfare organizations, and animal law enforcement (non-cruelty animal law).  Active partnerships could be formed, as is the case in most other major US cities, with animal welfare organizations to transfer unclaimed strays to private organizations for adoption.  In this way the long term expense is transferred to these charities, voluntarily and without coercion.

Distribution of Responsibility:  This reform plan would allow all actors to play the role appropriate and the role they choose.  Government would provide oversight and funding.  The contracted MSO would provide direct service.  Local animal welfare organizations would be able to partner to the extent of their interest and means to assist in saving the lives of animals through adoption transfer services.  Members of the public who wish to support specific animal control efforts would be able to target their support directly at the stray animal population (via direct stray adoption, promotion of stray issues, donations to government in support of animal control efforts).  The responsibilities of each party would be clearly defined.

Distribution of Cost:  Currently in Berks County approximately half the funding for animal control services are provided by the State and half by County municipalities (about $100,000 from the State for dog control services, about $90,000 from the City of Reading for animal control services and the remaining few thousand from various other municipalities).  This is not sufficient to provide comprehensive animal control services, even when subsidized through charitable donations provided to shelters delivering animal control services or accepting and housing strays.

Because stray animals and animal control issues tend to fairly closely trend with population statistics- i.e. the number of stray animals from an area is tied to the number of people in an area- a per capita charge would be a reasonable mechanism for funding animal control services.  The fee would be directly related to the number of people being serviced.  Since our taxes flow in three directions, our municipality, our county and the State, it would be fair to share the cost between these three taxing entities.  Our proposal would call for splitting the cost of service between the State (20%), the County of Berks (40%) and individual municipalities (40%).  In Berks County, the State already provides a payment for services derived from the sale of dog licenses.  This would continue, requiring little or no change in investment by the State.  The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is only tasked with dog control so their contribution would be smaller (one half the contribution of each of the other two funding parties).

Determination of Cost:  Doing some extremely basic calculations of the cost of staffing and operating a strictly animal control facility, some broad costs can be determined.  Assuming animal control pick up services seven day a week (2.8 full time staff), general kennel and animal care positions seven days a week (7 full time staff), and clerical support seven days a week (1.4 full time staff), the total number of full time staff equivalents would be 11.2.  Assuming a wage of about $12-$15 an hour and benefits, let’s say a staff cost of $400,000 annually.

For operations let’s say about $100,000 since operations will be strictly intake, short term care and housing, transfer to charitable entities for adoption, owner claim or euthanasia.  We’ll add 10% to the total for good measure and get a total operating fee of $550,000 and add a 13% management fee (about what a United Way might charge) and we end up with a total proposed contract fee by the MSO of $621,500.

Payment for Service:  Based on the proposed contribution breakdown, the State’s portion of the cost would be $124,200 annually, very close to their current payment for dog control services in Berks County.  Additional fees could be assessed to the State in the event that it would wish to transfer additional dogs to the Berks facility from regions without comprehensive animal control services.  The County of Berks and the combined Berks Municipalities would pay $248,400 each.  That would be a per capita cost of $1.22 per person in Berks County (based on 2009 Census population estimate of 407,125 residents), or .61 per person from the County and .61 per person from each municipality.  As an example, Amity Township with 8,876 residents would be required to contribute $5,408 annually, Muhlenberg Township with about 16,305 residents would pay $9,460, Reading City with 81,207 residents would pay $49,536, etc.  A flat sixty-one cents per person, per year for comprehensive animal control services, 365 days a year.  Pocket change.

Facility:  Our proposal would suggest that a dedicated animal control facility be owned by the County and operated by the contracted organization.  The cost of the new facility would vary with design, size, whether it was built on county owned land, etc.  Assuming a cost of one million dollars at a 30 year mortgage rate (an appropriate facility could be retrofitted for far less), the cost of the facility could be covered by adding an additional fifteen cents per person annually.  By owning the facility, the county would not be at risk for a contracted MSO dropping a contract and cutting off access to a proprietary facility.  The County could also decide in the future to take on animal control by itself and have its own facility.

What Municipalities and Taxpayers Would Get:  Under this model all residents of the county and municipalities would have access to animal control assistance- stray pick up, animal control law enforcement, police assistance, etc.  The cost would be borne equitably.  Stray animal would have a dedicated service provider and place to go.  The contractor could be held accountable for poor performance and a new contractor chosen if needed.  Animal welfare charities would be free to pursue their missions without being cajoled, bullied and pressed into providing animal control and euthanasia services which might violate their missions and divert charitable donations.

Animals would still be getting euthanized.  But the residents of Berks County would know precisely how many and why and would hold the government accountable.  They could ask why there is no vision in place for improving and implementing public policy which would save lives in the long term and reach the vaunted goal of a low kill/no kill community.  That will be good for animals and the community.  Charities couldn’t hide behind the animal control problem any longer and blame management mistakes or failures on being overwhelmed with strays.  We’d have to defend what we do on the merits of what we do.  That would be good for the non-profit community. 

And ultimately this will simply bring us up to speed with what other communities are doing around the nation.  Although this proposal offers some funding specifics unique to our State and region, the core notion of a community wide partnership and acceptance of responsibility for the problem is being modeled in communities around the nation.  We just need to open our little Berks County eyes and look around.  Not only can we do it, it is being done elsewhere.

Summary: The proposed plan is a plan, not the plan.  It would provide for the needs of animals, government, residents, taxpayers, and charitable organizations equitably, with transparency, and at a fraction of the actual cost of the current charitable donor subsidized system or of the municipal based system practiced elsewhere.  It is not intended to be exact in its calculation or a bid for a contract.  It is intended to be a starting point for a discussion by all parties on a way out of the unsustainable mess we face now in Berks County and Pennsylvania.

Undoubtedly, anyone can and probably will find something “wrong” with this proposal and they may very well be correct.  What we at the Humane Society of Berks County want to know is are we going to keep complaining about the problem or are we going to find a solution we can implement?  Here is an idea we have.  Do you have a better idea?

Update 12-3-10: Another domino may fall: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/griffin-pond-animal-shelter-may-stop-accepting-animals-from-municipal-officials-1.1072049


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I think I’ll die my hair blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody pass me the hair dye.

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

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


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.


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)


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


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.


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.


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.