Name a clock, a jock, and a crock.
There is a tendency in our animal welfare industry, one which I engage in as much- OK, more- than most, of pulling the old Carnac the Magnificent routine and claiming we saw everything coming. A few of us are better prognosticators than most and have the blog, article, award or speech transcript to prove we saw it coming first. Good for us! We bought the concert tee that proved we were their and we heard of them first! I was reminded of that in a recent article about No Kill prognostication.
But what caught my eye was one line in the article which presumed to tell “shelters” (prolific ironic quotes warning), whatever than even means these days in the wonderfully fragmented and diverse animal welfare world, what our “job” is. Or more to the point what we should be doing to prove we are “doing our job”. In this particular case it is that “shelters” should be taking in, and presumably killing, dangerous dogs, and shouldn’t be “neglecting birth prevention” which sounds as much like code for not spay aborting animals which could be birthed for 100% adoption chances as much as it does simply offering sterilization services.
Fair enough, tell us what you think our job is. But expect us reply that the random person on the street doesn’t get to define what “our job” is any more than we get to tell the person on the street what his or her job is. Your job is to file by date, not alphabetically. Your job is to give everyone free braces. Your job is to do oil changes at 3,000 miles, not 6,000 miles, no matter what those fancy new cars say, because my dad told me so when I learned to drive.
Our “job” is defined by our board, staff, and most importantly, our supporters, volunteers, and donors who make the work possible. Without enough of them, we can’t do our job no matter what any of us think it is. So, when one writer or one guy on the street tells us what “our job” is, I simply think, “Good for you! How lovely it is to have an opinion!” Then I go back to my actual job.
Interestingly, in the context of the article about the rise of No Kill in the US in the past 20 or so years, not doing our jobs is exactly what lead to the widespread successes of the past two and especially past one decade in sheltering and the utter and complete sea change in how we approach sheltering in America. When I started working in shelters in 1992 my job was to kill all feral cats because “better dead than on the street”. My job was to kill every pit bull, regardless of history or temperament. My job was to refuse adoptions to most renters and most brown people, because “those” people are a bad adoption risk. My job was to kill animals rather when I could give them away through adoption promotions because people who don’t “pay” for a pet don’t appreciate them. My job was to kill animals that sneezed because my job wasn’t to have a vet on staff, let alone have a public vet practice. My job was to be the dog catcher and kill strays for the government. My job was to take every animal, even if I knew I would probably kill it and even if I knew that some minimal help would keep it safely at home because, once a person decided to give up a pet, they became a horrible person. Basically, my job, the job I was told was my job, sucked.
It was not doing my job that made things better and started to save lives. It was dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of other people and shelters like mine not doing their jobs which has resulted in so much success and so many lives being saved now which weren’t before. It was other people doing jobs that weren’t theirs, like starting small rescues, creating Facebook pages, and creating fostering networks, that helped change things for the better. It was basically all the people who said, “F*** you, you don’t get to tell me what my job is,” and changed what their job is that turned our industry from one based on killing more than we save to saving more than we kill who did the real hard work in the past 20 years.
We’d all do well to do our jobs less, or completely opposite what we have been told we should, because the first hundred years of “doing it right” didn’t do the animals any favors. For the past decade at every workshop I’ve given on any topic, I’ve always shared my opinion that half the people in animal welfare just shouldn’t be doing the job at all and should find new ones, because they are terrible at the job they do. That percentage has gone down in my estimation because so many new people are getting into animal welfare work and doing the job in a new way. Sometimes the new way works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it beats the alternative of 20 years ago. I might tell them what I think works well or even best, but unless they work for me, I don’t tell them what their job “is”. That’s on them to decide, not me, not writers, not loudmouths on Facebook or online comment pages.
I knew what wasn’t working 20 years ago and so did lots of other people. I predicted what might work better and was even right in a few cases, and so did lots of other people. But anyone who tells us with certainty what the one right way to do our job has better testicular endowment than a big brass monkey. For them I revise the answer to the query: Name a clock, a jock, and a crock.
Answer: Big Ben, Joe Namath, and anyone who thinks they know the one true way for you to do your job in animal sheltering.