There’s a phrase that goes something along the lines of, "if you want something done, go ask the busy person." The meaning is pretty simple. Busy people are doers. If you want to get something accomplished quickly and accurately, it’s better to go to that doer than it is to someone who is not busy and who may very well lack the commitment and focus to perform the task. The busy person will carve out time to help because that’s part of who they are.
In animal welfare circles, the most important phrase which comes to mind of late is equally simple:
if you’re looking to save lives, ask the advocate
Let me explain.
There are a host of huge, multi-million dollar organizations which tout themselves as being focused on animal welfare. We often call them the alphabet soup of animal welfare: PETA, the ASPCA, the HSUS, BFAS and TZ. For those of you not familiar with some of those, I’m referring to organizations going by the names People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Best Friends Animal Society and last, but not least, a newcomer on the scene called Target Zero.
Common sense may dictate that large organizations with national exposure and millions in the bank would be in the best positions to advance the causes of animal welfare toward not only saving more animals, but toward helping our society as a whole make better choices related to spay and neuter, adoption and general animal care. It may also make sense that these same organizations would be at the forefront of educating the American public on key issues like shelter killing, puppy mills, free roaming cats, breed bans and chaining of dogs. It may also make sense that these organizations are working in communities across the country to bring about change so that change can spread in positive ways in geographic pockets or areas. The presumption is that the people running or working for those organizations must surely be the most dedicated and the most knowledgeable and therefore in the best positions to affect change in our society.
Not so fast.
I will not provide my laundry list of what is wrong with each of these organizations. There are a lot of people a whole lot smarter than me who have already done that or are actively doing that. What I will say is that if you do a little homework, you will quickly learn that the alphabet soup is not always that great after all and that some of these organizations exist in order to remain in existence. They are not created equal and some are better than others. One of these organizations routinely destroys the vast majority of animals in its care and seeks the extinction of domesticated dogs and cats. Another appears to have national reach but occupies a single office building in New York. Yet another organization routinely spends only single percentage points of the millions donated by the animal-loving public on animals or animal welfare while using the rest for marketing and salaries. One of these organizations talks a good game, but very little of the millions it takes in makes it to "ground level" in all but some select locations even though it could be doing a whole lot of good with all that money in real world ways in communities across the country. The last of these organizations is going around the country providing shelter consulting services while marketing off of places in which it had little involvement or in places which are still destroying healthy and treatable animals for space.
The bad news and the good news about animal welfare is that many of the people who are in the best position to help save the lives of more animals in any community, thereby changing our society, are the grassroots advocates. These are the people who work each and every day not only to help animals but to share what they know and have learned freely and without reservation. They don’t have millions. You may never see them on a television commercial. Most work full-time jobs in addition to their advocacy and it is a way of life. There are no days off. These are the people with the know-how and the smarts and the passion. They are the doers of the animal welfare movement who have learned from trial and error and research and networking, all for the sake of their belief system which says we can and must do better for companion animals in our society. They network, they help each other, they learn from each other and they ask nothing in return. The lives of animals saved is sufficient reward and although you may know their names (just so they can be shown to be real people) they could care less if you did know their names. Why? Because it's not about them.
So I say again: if you’re looking to save lives, ask the advocate.