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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

8 September 2004 Special Pound Seizure Issue

By Judith Marie Gansen

- We Lost Our Pound Seizure Fight - What Can We Learn?

This article does not have a happy ending--we lost our pound seizure fight.   The sad thing is we lost even though we presented overwhelming evidence, research, testimony and reasons why pound seizure should be stopped.  I am still very angry--injustice is hard to tolerate.  My family, both 4 legged and two legged, were neglected during this long fight.  I lost sleep, spent money copying and passing out fliers, making long distance phone calls, etc. for our campaign.  Wonderful other volunteers did even more.

The Problems Were Many

I am on a "stop pound seizure" email list working to stop pound seizure county by county.  When I knew pound seizure would be heating up in my area I took packets of information to all 12 county commissioners hoping to educate them.  PCRM magazines, anti-vivisection information and copies of the National Animal Control Association's own policy statement which states:  "No shelter animals should be released for laboratory purposes."  Our pound was violating its own national policy. 

Sadly, one lost dog already crossed over into our county, ended up in our pound, was sold to research and was killed.  The people were devastated.  I pointed out to our commissioners that we have liability issues--could our county afford lawsuits from pets accidentally sold to research?   Some people can't get to the pound in time. I was also terrified that our dogs were at risk since no identification system for pets was failsafe.  I spoke of elderly and handicapped people who were fearful their pets, sometimes all they had left in life, might accidentally end up in the pound. 

Many postcards were handed out for people to mail into their commissioners (some people do not feel this is an effective tool because they can question their authenticity).  My commissioner told me that they were being bombarded with them.  Several commissioners became angry that their own constituents could not email them they got so many emails.  One complained about "outsiders" being involved.  They got emails from other countries even.  Small communities can't handle the mob of animal people who will descend on them.  I explained to our commissioners that with the internet all it takes is one person to sound the alert and while we tried, we really couldn't control it.

Our own humane society would not go on public record as being against pound seizure.  I wrote letters to the Board and so even ended up having to lobby them which was a big surprise for me.  They did not support us sadly.

Problems between the local people and the email list group began.  They could not work together.  I tried to act as liaison between the two groups.  If we were divided then we would end up duplicating the same work and we had precious little time.  We would end up bugging the same commissioners with the same information.  We needed to work together.  I debated how to us more visible in the audience.  I came up with the idea of red ribbons.  Red shows up well and would represent the lost and homeless pets killed.  I spent hours cutting ribbon and used a hot glue gun to attach the fasteners to them.  Ribbons are more conservative looking and have been used for many other causes.  Both sides agreed to wear them thankfully.

I spoke at 3 meetings and I can't tell you how hard that was for me.  I once got physically ill.  I looked into the eyes of our dogs and thought: it's not how can I do this, but rather, how can I even think of not doing this?  They surely couldn't go down there and speak for themselves!  I had to find my courage.   I thought of all the animals this would affect and how some might die with stress and pain.   One elderly man who could barely walk came to a commission meeting-he asked for a red ribbon to wear.

One lady emailed me from another state and said they had stopped pound seizure in their area by bringing in a TV camera to the pound.  Two women went in with the cameraperson.  Their commissioners had argued that the pound dogs were not adoptable.  So one woman hid a squeaky toy in her pocket and when they arrived the dogs were cowering in fear in their cages.  She brought out the toy and squeezed it and the dogs all came running to the front, wagging their tails ready to play.  That played on TV and the commissioners were bombarded with phone calls.  They stopped pound seizure there.

I tried to find all kinds of info on stopping pound seizure but was basically told that every situation is different and there really is no "guidebook"--just use your own instincts.  Several anti-vivisection organizations wrote to our paper which was great. We did letters to the editor and continued with the fliers-some businesses put them out too.

The Media Problems

Our right-wing newspaper's coverage made me angry.  They were clearly biased on the side of research even though we had proven that stopping pound seizure did not stop animal research.  I called the News Editor who was definitely not an animal person.  I threatened to cancel my subscription if they didn't present both sides fairly--this was their responsibility as journalists.  Things improved to some extent after that.  All the good research I sent to the paper never even made it into any of the articles unfortunately.  The best evidence I found was a chart done for the City of Calgary, Alberta Animal Services in Canada (from the Animal Alliance of Canada website)  Animal Alliance of Canada or
   showing how dog bites went down, adoptions improved, etc. once pound seizure was stopped.  This was a good argument for the non-animal people.  

I spoke at committee meetings first.  I brought up how our county could save money by stopping pound seizure.  I mentioned that the candidate who surprisingly just won in our primary for our district had been endorsed by the humane community and that pet people spend billions on their pets every year and are a huge lobby.  I pointed out how would their political careers fare once people found out they voted against pets?  I found some passages from the Bible in an attempt to reach the Christians on the Board.

One thing that shocked me was that a farm bureau got involved.  What did a farm bureau have to do with pound seizure?  One farm bureau representative spoke and he thought pound seizure was picking up dogs off the street.  They even supported pound seizure on their website, yet he didn't know what it was!  I called and complained to the farm bureau.  It wasn't their fight at all and they were interfering with our fight to protect our pets.  We had farmers on our Board and that could influence the vote.  If farmers were having problems with loose dogs that is an animal control issue I told them.  I tried to show them that pet people and farmers had much in common--we both don't want pets running loose.  If we stopped pound seizure, they would benefit too.  It didn't work-- they showed up at the next meeting to speak.  Only one farmer voted for our side.  I was told later that farm bureaus often show up at pound seizure fights.

The Final Fight

There were TV cameras and a radio station was there.  I left boxes of fliers outside the building so people could get them.  We had some signs.  We packed the commission chambers with people wearing red ribbons--they had to set up more chairs.  Once again, people spoke eloquently.  We believed we had 5 votes for sure on our side--we needed 7.  We even had professional people speak--one said he was proud to be part of the group wearing red ribbons.  I got tears in my eyes.  I was exhausted from all the stress and work.  I thought about the wonderful people who came from other communities and drove far to help us out--their sacrifice was more than mine was.  I sat there thinking how will I handle this if we lose?  It will break my heart.

We not only lost, but we lost big--we only got a few votes.  It was obvious every piece of excellent information we gave them was ignored by the majority. The postcards didn't matter to most of them although my commissioner told me he got the postcards and he voted our way because of them even though he supported animal research.  The researcher and vet who spoke for our side didn't matter either.  Nothing mattered because they had their minds made up.  My feeling is it was either the influence of the farm bureau or antiquated thinking (we need animals for research to cure diseases). I also wondered why the university that purchases our pets did not bother to send anyone important for the final vote-was it possible they knew beforehand it was a sure thing for them?  I was and still am devastated--months of work down the drain.  I caught the news when we got home and the news reporter held up one of the ribbons I made and said (paraphrasing) "the people wearing these ribbons say they will not give up."  Then I really broke down--my husband hugged me and we hugged our dogs.  We lose some battles trying to help animals.  We have to be willing to "take a punch" for them from time to time.  Sometimes it hurts like hell.  This was one of those times. 

The "Up" Side

Yes, there is one.  In the process of this campaign we educated many people.  I met with other pet people and the energy that came from this fight has spread to other endeavors--our pound is being helped more.  One woman is going down as often as possible and getting the animals before the dealer can get to them to get them into rescues.  This morning I took a bunch of towels down to the pound and offered to put a list of things they need on a statewide website--someone else had already thought of that and volunteered!  As I was getting fliers out early in the campaign, I saw an elderly man read the flier and frantically yell for his dog to come into the house.  Maybe now more people won't allow their dogs to run loose because now they know our pound sells to research.

One commissioner who voted against us admitted that he had no idea so many people cared so much about their pets.  He said he had learned a lot.  The press was educated and after the fight was initially made public I noticed an increase in the amount of animal stories in the paper.  It was sort of a "culture shock" for our community--one it needed.

This fight has energized some of us.  When you support your pound and show you care about the animals there, it follows that the employees there will take greater pride in their difficult jobs and this may likely prevent cases of abuse that once in awhile we hear about.  Pounds are sometimes smelly, horrible places.  In addition to trying to keep them as clean as possible, I think we need to think about decorating and landscaping them. 

Sound crazy?  The more clean and attractive a charity or animal shelter is, the more likely it will get volunteers.  Paint, bouquets of flowers, pictures or kind sayings about dogs and cats on the walls, etc. may help with adoptions and keep the employees in a more positive mood.  I remember reading that the color pink calms down aggression in people.  So we don't take away from volunteer time of animal people, maybe contact a local horticulture hobby group or decorating business who would like the publicity such a project would generate.  It has also been proven that trees and shrubs cause our blood pressure to lower and we de-stress.  They also clean the air.  When I worked at Hospice (for terminally ill people), being able to look at a beautiful vase of flowers or a tree reminded me of the beauty in our world even though at times I would get so sick of dealing with death.  I think the same could apply to pounds.  Employees can also benefit from the volunteers--their caring attitude is sure to affect them and how they treat the animals under their care.

Suggestions on Fighting Pound Seizure

1.  Try to work together.  Everyone has a different solution to any problem.  Look to people with experience who have had success.  Elect leadership.  Things need to be delegated.  Use order in meetings.  In one meeting everyone talked at the same time--how can you accomplish anything that way?  Learn about parliamentary procedure or raise your hands.  We lost several people who couldn't get along with others.  Remember this:  Volunteers are worth their weight in gold--treat them that way.  In other charities volunteers often get dinners held for them or some other recognition.  We can't do that--remember to thank each other. We don't do this for the thanks, but it sure helps.  Also don't think you know everything--you'd be amazed at how many people are out there who know more than you do.  Learn to compromise.

2.  READ the local paper.  It not only shocked me how few people knew about pound seizure, but it also shocked me how few people get the newspaper.  Some people said they get their news on the net--you miss things that way.  Local functions where you can flier will be put in the paper--like dog walkathons for instance.  Since we subscribe, I found out that the reporter doing our story was being sued on another matter, along with our paper--that makes them somewhat "gun-shy" when they do their next articles.  You will learn things about what is going on in your local government too.  Who is up for election.  What political parties they belong to.   Are they involved in any scandals?

3.  Keep organized--I kept a folder with sections on the press, my speeches, research, etc. and put contact people's phones and emails on the flap so I always had it handy.

4. Never underestimate the power of elderly people!  I spoke to a former county commissioner to learn from him when he fought this issue many years ago.  He is now 80 years young and came to our meeting and spoke for us--God Bless him!

5.  I was told by people with experience not to focus on animal research or we will lose.  We didn't but it's hard not to since people on the other side think it is noble to sell pets to research to cure diseases.  We had to refute that. 

6.  Unless you have been active in your county commission, ask for rules for speaking.  It's good to let everyone know you care about things like that.  It helps to be friendly with the office people (who work hard anyway usually) as they will be giving you the agenda so you know how many minutes to speak, etc.

7.  Don't allow anyone to tell you "outsiders" can't speak or should not be involved unless there is some specific rule.  In our case we even had a letter inviting people from outside our county to speak and one commissioner complained about it anyway.  A favorite tactic of the opposition is to discredit outsiders to split us up.  I doubt this would happen on anything but an animal issue.  Dogs and cats obviously don't respect county lines should they get loose.  Also anyone traveling an interstate or other road can be in an accident--where do you think the officers will take your pets?  Pound seizure matters to everyone--it is a REGIONAL issue.  Your county is not an island.  If your area had a disaster like a hurricane, I doubt anyone would gripe that the volunteers coming in were from "out of town."  Also any "outsiders" coming to your area to assist you are also spending their money at your copy places, restaurants and motels.  Some may come later to visit for the fun places too.

8.  Know your opposition--it helps to know everything you can about the people who you will be interacting with.  At meetings dress like you were going to church--it makes a difference in how you are perceived, right or wrong.

9.  Whenever negotiating, always ask for more than what you expect to get.  Unions have always done this.  Don't just ask to Ban B dealers, ask for a complete ban on pound seizure or a better term is pound release since "seizure" confuses people.

10.  When making up your fliers or contacting commissioners, divide your arguments in half--present the side you or I would listen to, the compassionate one but also present arguments for people who could care less about animals--money issues, political futures, fear of lawsuits, etc.  You can argue all you want about compassion for animals but some people who fear or hate them will just tune you out.  If you live in a hunting community and the Board is filled with hunters, they may feel threatened (from ignorance) that next time you will be going after their "hunting rights."  To me this is why I believe it is necessary to distance some campaigns from "animal rights."  Really, what does not selling lost and homeless pets to research have to do with not eating meat or wearing fur?

11.  Keep track of what press attends a meeting.  It helps to have a good relationship with them too.  With a smile I asked one young female reporter to please refer to us as animal advocates.  She was glad to do it and later wanted to know if I would like to be interviewed.  Some of the press may feel uncomfortable contacting us too--especially if all they know of us is what the read in most papers which is generally not positive.  We must lobby the press too because they have an influence over which clip to show on TV or the best quote to write in the paper.  Watch their coverage and if you don't feel it was fair, contact them.

We have decided we are not giving up.  I want to find research or stats done by any of the East coast states where pound seizure is illegal now.  I need info on farm bureaus in those states and whether they backed out of the fight there and why.  In November we will have some new commissioners and hopefully with them, people of wisdom.  A good friend of mine reminded me of scripture that speaks of sowing seeds that you will reap later.  I pray she is right.  I am asking that any of our readers who have helpful information on successful ways to fight pound seizure to please email me--put Pound Seizure in the subject line.  I remember seeing a piece written about how Abraham Lincoln failed at so many endeavors in his life yet ended up being our most beloved president.  We must never give up.

I believe there is always a book helpful for any problem in life:

1) How to Argue and Win Every Time By Gerry Spence (St. Martin's Griffin, New York)--I found my copy at a bookstore for $14.95 
One thing he mentions on P. 199 is ".....we never attack the decision maker."   On P. 203 "The power argument begins and ends by telling the truth.  Truth is power."      "Giving respect to one's opponent elevates us."   Mr. Spence is a lawyer and writer and he never lost a criminal case.  I highly recommend this book since animal advocates often must function as lawyers.

My favorite quote is on P. 26 where he says:  "The great men of history were great dissenters.  Christ was a dissenter who kicked the money changers out of the temple and dissented from the ideology of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  ......Jefferson, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr.--all were great dissenters.  ....... But they argued out of strength, not weakness, out of conviction, not insecurity.  They argued toward the fulfillment of a purpose and in service to mankind."

2)  Doing Democracy:  The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements by Bill Moyer with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley and Steven Soifer, New Society Publishers  (P.O. Box 189, Gabriola Island, B.C. Canada VOR1XO) 2001 $16.95

3)  Organizing for Social Change (Midwest Academy Manual for Activists-Third Edition) by Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendell & Steve Max (Seven Locks Press (3100 W. Warner Ave. #8, Santa Ana, CA 92704) 2001 $23.95
(these 3 books have nothing to do with animal issues but are very applicable)

****Great Non-profit organization who can teach us how to lobby for animals and who needs donations to produce a training manual for all of us who speak for animals--please send whatever you can--even $1 goes a long way if everyone sends just one:

National Institute for Animal Advocacy - President, Julie Lewin (203)453-6590
Website:   NIFAA  or

Send donations to help get a manual published for all of us:
c/o Lewin
6 Long Hill Farm
Guilford, Ct  06437

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