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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Striking A Chord

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

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

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

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

Success of the Day: Three Legged Chief Goes Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

And today he went home with his new family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a great story! Thanks for sharing!

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

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

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

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