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Some Day, There Will Be No " " Marks

This letter was sent to the heads of the Dumb Friends League in Denver, Colorado, by League adoption counselor Mauri Dimond. A relative newcomer to the field of animal care, Dimond was inspired to write after attending a meeting about the development of the Denver Metro Area Shelter Alliance, a coalition of local animal protection organizations. Frustrated by the “no kill”-related language problems that have often created rifts between groups with common goals, the Alliance has set out to use words in a more fair and inclusive way, ensuring that member organizations use consistent terminology when speaking to staff, the media, and the public.

This letter was sent to the heads of the Dumb Friends League in Denver, Colorado, by League adoption counselor Mauri Dimond. A relative newcomer to the field of animal care, Dimond was inspired to write after attending a meeting about the development of the Denver Metro Area Shelter Alliance, a coalition of local animal protection organizations. Frustrated by the “no kill”-related language problems that have often created rifts between groups with common goals, the Alliance has set out to use words in a more fair and inclusive way, ensuring that member organizations use consistent terminology when speaking to staff, the media, and the public.

Dear Dumb Friends friends,

Adoption counselor Mauri Dimond is inspired by the cooperative efforts taking place in Denver and by her 11-year-old adopted greyhound, Pepper.
I am writing this on my day off, a few days after the Shelter Alliance “Guinea Pig” training session. I wanted to let you generals know how this thing looks from the point of view of a plebe peon in the trenches.

THIS IS FANTASTIC.

I came to this work late in life. I took the job at the DFL for a paycheck. It swept me off my feet and I realized quickly that this is where I belong, this is where I want to be. I plan to keel over in a kennel at the age of 106. Coming to this work late, I had life and experience under my belt and I think that has given me a nice perspective on the commitment involved.

So many of my coworkers have been doing this for years, or are young and have a depth of commitment that I am just now finding at the age of 40. The level of experience and knowledge in you “old dogs” makes me drool; I want that. The level of commitment in the “puppies” makes me envious; I want that, too. I do worry about the “puppies” sometimes; many of them seem to grow into “old dogs” with us versus them mentalities. “All animals are wonderful and all people are stupid morons who suck” is not a realistic point of view. I’ve been able to sidestep that, probably because I came to this field late. Also, I’ve done stupid things myself, and been ignorant myself. Hell, I declawed my cat. He was five. I can appreciate a patron who loves their animal but is dumber than dirt about the realities of animal ownership, caring, and commitment. Been there, done that.

I saw the infighting between shelters. I heard the comments directed at “no kill” shelters. I grew up calling animal control facilities “pounds.” I was a DFL representative in offsite events and had reps from other shelters treat me poorly when they learned I was from an organization that euthanizes. I have heard the undertone in the voices of workers at shelters that don’t perform euthanasia. I had my nose rubbed in the mud of this fight.

So this week I sat at a table and listened to people in charge of other organizations talk about coming together, agreeing on definitions. I was a philosophy and English major; I know the importance of language and the absolute necessity of agreeing on definitions. It is the first step in dialogue. You get nowhere without it. And here are the bosses talking about agreement on definitions. Oh my god. Here are the bosses talking about different organizations coming to the table. Oh my god. Here are the bosses talking about a discussion that did not descend into emotional namecalling and infighting. Oh my GOD.

It took a few days to sink in. I sat on the bed this morning petting my dog, thinking about this week and the Shelter Alliance training and the euthanasia criteria meetings and what the hell am I going to have for lunch, and it hit me. I had to take some Excedrin it hit so hard.

Open-access shelters accept all animals, knowing full well they will have to euthanize. Limited-access shelters accept certain animals, knowing full well they are committed to placing all animals in their care, no matter the cost to the caregiver. We need to respect each other’s choices, respect each other’s limits, and share our pain. Share our commitment. It means reaching past our comfort zones. It is easier said than done and it won’t happen overnight. For some it will always be words on a page. It will never sink in and affect their views, choices, and actions. But that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook of trying, of reaching. It must be done. Animal welfare is like a huge pie and some workers deal with this piece of it and some deal with that piece of it and it is time everybody grew up and accepted that we are all dealing with the same nightmare of a pie. If we can share our resources, we can do so much more. We can explain so much more, educate so much more, and back down the naysayers who deny the problem and use our own infighting to back up their claims.

Humane work has always seemed to me to be about so much more than animals. I was raised a Christian and my personal beliefs revolve around balance, responsibility, and stewardship. (OK, there is supposed to be joy in there too.) If I can help someone grasp the concept of stewardship of a guinea pig, for crying out loud, I have set them on a path of personal growth. If a kid can grasp the care of a rodent, how much closer is he to grasping the responsibility of a cat, a dog, his children, his community, his world? Every person I talk to, every child I tickle, is a chance to change the future. What humane workers do touches eternity, in tiny little ways. The infighting between animal workers also changes the future. I don’t like that thought.

In recognizing the strength of our differences, how much more can we do? How much more can we accomplish? How many more animals will be saved? More importantly, in the long run, how many more people will be reached, educated, changed? When the outside world sees us fight, it can only tarnish our image and the work we are trying to do. When the time comes that the outside world sees us work together, there will be fewer ways they can deny our truths.

Some day that vocal “no kill” will call us and say, “We are sending over a patron with an aggressive dog who requires euthanasia.” Some day we will call them and say, “We are sending over a wonderful, amazing three-year-old cat with FeLV.” Some day, the “no kill” and “kill” shelters will work together and share their resources and respect. Some day, there will be no “ ” marks.

I started to cry. Really. Silly, huh? But I was thinking of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. and how huge changes in thinking start like this. Huge movements forward, in thinking, in attitudes, in hearts, started like this. If Denver animal workers sit down at a table and agree to define, agree to work with their differences, imagine it spreading to the rest of the country. Imagine our kids sitting down with the kids of breeders and AKC folks, at some future table (probably on Mars), agreeing to define, and agreeing to respect each other and work with their differences. What will that world look like?

Okay, maybe that is truly reaching, but doesn’t it sound wonderful?

This is rambling and I apologize, but I am not going to go back and fix it up and make it pretty. I wanted those of you in charge, those of you doing the work, building the foundation, to know that a peon plebe in the trenches GOT IT. I wanted the generals to see that a foot soldier is jumping up and down screaming “YES!” I thought that might give you a warm fuzzy. Generals need warm fuzzies.

And I wanted you to know that this is exciting as hell and I can’t wait to tell my coworkers that a wonderful thing is happening, a wonderful new breed of animal is being born. I don’t expect to see this change the world I live in, I’m not that optimistic. I expect to see it change my cousin’s kid’s world. Kenzi wants to be an animal worker when she grows up and maybe when she steps into my shoes, there will be fewer “ ” in her world.

Thank you for letting me sit at the table and see this pregnancy progress. I like knowing this particular animal will be out there prowling our community.

Sincerely,

Mauri Dimond

To read more about the Metro Denver Shelter Alliance, see “The Language of Cooperation” in the July-August 2003 issue of Animal Sheltering.

 

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