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  • Davyd Smith

Violence is the Last Refuge of the Incompetent

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” Foundation, a new series based on Isaac Asimov’s books by the same name, has brought an old saying to life. This quote comes from a character, Salvor Hardin, in the Foundation saga. Hardin uses this saying to mean that violence is such a useless option that only the incompetent would use it, and even they would only use it as their last resort.



In short, if your movement is about preserving life of one creature, you can’t succeed by endangering another.


There has been an ongoing conversation in animal welfare about public harassment, threats and personal attacks on shelter employees and rescues in the community. Some people feel threatened, and in some situations, they have a point.


These types of interaction with people that are not performing well in their position is not acceptable. Calling out their non-performance is. There is a difference between advocating and harassing. Advocating based on evidence-based issues, without any personal attack on an individual, is not harassment. Calling someone a killer, fat, stupid, etc. is harassment. Threatening their life is not just harassment, but illegal and wrong. Acting to harm someone is not just harassment, but illegal and unethical.


You cannot take the high road if you are using these tactics. You cannot help the general public understand how you change systemic failures of an organization with threats of violence.


It’s the same when we hear about an altercation with police and animals and a dog gets shot. People want to punish the cop (which they should be held accountable, but training, history and other factors may have led to this incident). The issue is not usually the one police officer; it’s systemic. It is a lack of awareness of how to handle situations with animals by officers, not one officer. That’s what we need to advocate to change. The officer should face consequences, but if it is only him that is punished, there has been no systemic change. The better focus is on ensuring officers have adequate training on use of less than lethal methods of force on dogs. Once they are trained, that makes it easier to differentiate between an officer who acted appropriately and one who reacted inappropriately.


This same holds true for shelter management who are performing poorly by failing to embrace proven programs that end the killing of healthy and treatable pets. We have seen shelter culture change. We have seen shelter directors change. We have also seen that sometimes we have to replace the individual person with new management in order to get the results desired. These changes are often based on good advocacy for animals.

But just attacking the person does not facilitate positive change effectively. Drilling down on the programs and services that are failing because of poor management, policy or procedure is. If shelter leadership are responsible for poor policies that cost the lives of animals, or for failing to pursue progressive programs, we can call that out. We can call out the competency of their leadership while never physically threatening or attacking the person. That is how we should advocate.


In doing so, it is okay to say the performance of the shelter is directly related to the performance (or lack of performance) of an individual. Shelter directors are often overseen by people with little to no experience regarding animal sheltering who presume the shelter is functioning well absent some information to the contrary. For nonprofit shelters, there are boards who can be held accountable. For municipal tax funded shelters, there is accountability in individual directors, department heads, managers and elected officials. Accountability for how the shelter functions should always be pursued if there is a regressive individual or individuals with the power to bring about change and refuse to do so.


And we cannot lump thoughtful advocates with those who harass/threaten as a means of diminishing criticism and smearing those leveling it. This is dishonest. In reality, those who make violent threats are a fringe minority, condemned by all, including those advocating for change. To be cliche, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.


We cannot allow the concept of advocacy by the many to fall victim to the extreme behavior of the few. While some people advocate, others harass. I have been labeled “fanatic”, “terrorist”, and once a “pitchfork wielding crusader”. I do not believe any of those words define any action I have ever taken in over a decade of advocacy for homeless pets.


The media, in turn, is often more interested in the conflict – Not in the common good, or building civil society. When talking about the lack of performance at an organization or a violent threat of an individual, the shelter issues take a back seat, and we create a victim whether the reports are true or not.


We need to quell the rhetoric of emotionally charged accusations and threats or risk all of us being painted with the same description of zealots who attack using words and threats. That type of behavior is literally counter to everything No Kill stands for: the valuing of life. You cannot be a protector of animals if you threaten the lives or well-being of people.