Animal Writes
9 December 2001 Issue
But What About the Animals?

By [email protected] 

As Animal Rights Activists, we frequently shy away from mainstream organizations and causes. We do this because we have been made to feel unwelcome with our radical views and "fringe element" thinking. Consequently, animal rights activists tend to preach to the choir, a complaint frequently heard among activists and advocates who rarely think outside the box, and always tend to ban together, and always in the name of animal rights.

One day, I was discussing my position as Director of Education for a local animal rescue organization, with Wayne Pacelle, the Vice President of Government Affairs for the Humane Society of the United States. I shared with him that as an animal rights activist, it is sometimes difficult for me to think in an animal welfare role. His comment to me was that in order to educate the community, you have to get out into the community. I have always taken this to mean, the community that consists of our own "people," that is, animal-rights orientated thinkers. However, since taking this position I have come to the conclusion that the best way for us to be a strong and powerful voice for the animals is to become part of our own communities at home. As the environmentalists in the 70's used to say, "Think globally, act locally." This battle cry stands true today, as animal welfare, animal rights, and animal control people try to come together for the benefit of the animals. But in working together, sometimes we defeat our own purpose. I have made some very important strides in my own community where the rights of animals are concerned. I would like to share a few of the ways that I have been able to do this, in the hopes that you will adopt some of these ideas and make them your own.

Domestic Violence Awareness: I have joined the Domestic Violence Council of Palm Beach County, and have been attending monthly meetings. I also joined a sub-committee, the Children and Family Services sub committee. (Other sub committees of the Domestic Violence Council include the Newsletter, Membership, Judicial Review, Fatality Review, and the like). The committee for victims and family services seemed the best place for me, because I was trying to get the point across that animals are part of the family. We hear that said quite often, but do we really think about what that means; "animals are part of the family". You will often hear somebody say, "I love my dog, he's part of the family," but what does that really mean?

What does it mean, for instance, when the family has to evacuate because of flooding or a hurricane, and the animal is left behind? What does it mean when there is a divorce in the family, and the children are given over to one parent or the other, but the animal is sent to a shelter? My presence at these Domestic Violence Council Meetings assures that the animals will always be part of the consciousness of the group when they are coming up with new literature, posters, campaigns to raise awareness about domestic violence and legislative issues. More and more local humane societies have found that there is a great need in the community to take the animals of domestic violence victims so that they can go into a shelter themselves. But if those domestic violence victims do not know that this remedy exists, they won't make that all-important first phone call to the hotline. This is where membership in committees to raise awareness becomes very important. If they start putting comments such as "is your dog being beaten?" along with "are you being beaten," it helps us to raise awareness of the importance of animals as part of the family. This does take time and effort on your part, you do have to attend these meetings, build alliances, foster relationships, and cultivate friendships within these councils, but the benefit to the animals is well worth it. You can't just make an irate phone call, out of the blue, to a domestic violence organization and demand to know why they are not taking care of animals as part of their mission statement. It just doesn't work that way. However, if you are part of the committee, part of the group, part of the solution, your credibility is raised and they will listen to you more. They will also be more inclined to put you in touch with all the right people, (judges, politicians, and media people). Indeed, going mainstream has never been more rewarding then when done for the right reasons.

Another alliance I have formed is with our local fire department. Most departments have a community education specialist. I learned that our community education specialist has specially-made dog and cat mannequins on which to teach CPR, first-aid and the Heimlich maneuver. I have since been working to get this educator into the schools, civic groups, humane organizations and "pet" clubs so that she can teach CPR and first aid. When the fire department begins to take animal emergencies so seriously that they teach an animal CPR class along with their regular CPR classes, the rights of animals to be treated in emergencies is almost a given. Again, here was a mainstream solution to an animal-rights issue.

Another organization that I have joined is a support group for those who work with dying patients and their families. The Association of Death Education Counselors (ADEC) is a national organization with local chapters. As an animal-assisted therapist, I joined this group thinking that I could learn more about the dying process in humans. Instead, I have been able to bring much more than that to the table. My presence in the monthly meetings and my service on the board of our local chapter insures that the grief and bereavement over a companion animal, and the compassion fatigue experienced by shelter workers who perform euthanasia is a legitimate and important consideration for those who work in the field of death and dying.

I recently learned that there was a disaster drill being planned for our area. Fire departments, police agencies, the FBI and medical personnel were all present at a meeting where a mock disaster was being planned. Mine was the lone voice that raised any consideration for any animals that may be present during such a disaster, and what the ramifications and plans were in the case of animals being hurt as well as humans. It was a golden moment when the planners said, "We never thought of that, but we should!"

So thinking outside the box is more than just a good way for corporations to exist. It's a way for us to bring our message mainstream and help the animals in our community, our state and our world.

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