Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Learning from the misfortunes of others

For shelters and animal centres

Most obviously the importance of avoiding panic actions and the importance of using the best scientific evidence to confirm exactly what is happening.

For those in charge of health and safety decision-making

The need to respect the emotional well-being of staff and volunteers—in terms of unhappiness and stress the efforts to protect workers were probably much more harmful to them than the original infection risk.

For animal advocates

Treating large animal charities as if they were quasi-governmental bodies makes things worse. One of the reasons why OSPCA was reluctant to go down the route of expensive treatment and testing to eradicate the infection was a genuine shortage of funds (like the RSPCA they have a lot of money, but spread very thinly due to the demands put on them). And one of the reasons why large animal charities are short of resources is because they're treated as though it's self-evident that they already have enough funds.

Too many animal advocates try to punish the large charities for not having enough funds, or set up organisations to "fill the gaps", so diverting resources away from the animals in most desperate need of help.

Bottom line: the majority in society as a whole dislikes cruelty and wants it stopped, but it does not feel the same intense bond with animals that we do. Transferring SPCA functions to government or local authorities would almost certainly mean more, not less, pressure to be "realistic" and "responsible" (for example to accept killing as the quickest way to eliminate ringworm and reduce the risk of human infection). Demands that the government "does something" to make animal charities more accountable are quite likely to translate into requirements for higher calibre (and therefore more highly paid) management.

One of the volunteers at the Ontario shelter has a blog, though, sadly, it looks as if she got disheartened and stopped posting in July last year.

I think one of her last posts is so important for the general truths it has to say about working to protect animals that I'm reproducing most of it here:

"The shelter will, once again, fill up, and those animals will need our help. I don't agree with their decision, but I do believe in the organization's long-term goal of making sure each and every pet finds a safe forever-home. Thousands of animals have been successfully adopted from the shelter, and with your assistance, more will be adopted in the future. If we truly want to make a difference, we have to educate our kids, friends and neighbours -- don't let your dogs or cats wander, neuter and spay them, and report all cases of abuse. 

Volunteer. Be a part of the team that will make sure this never happens again. And if you're as heartbroken as I am, then just imagine how this has destroyed the souls of the wonderful staff who care for the animals each day. They deserve our support and encouragement. I don't know how they will deal with the emotional fallout from what has happened."

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