A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Feb 5, 2018

When Sexual Harassment Occurs at a Charity

Sexual harassment, in its many forms is an abuse of power that gratifies the harasser, but, is also always accompanied by a demand for secrecy. Typically, the threat takes the form of "if you tell, then terrible things will happen to you" or, "tell whoever you want because you won't be believed".  Victims, women, men, children, often accede to silence as the disparity in power is real, people don't listen, and one could try to fight and still be shoved to the curb, blackballed as a trouble maker, and viewed as a victim of hysterical and wishful fantasies.

What happens when the work place is a mission driven charity? 

In assorted accounts of the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) sexual harassment scandal it was revealed that victims were also told to stay mum lest they hurt the movement or cause suffering to animals. This is coercion on steroids as presumably the belief in the mission of the organization is the tie that binds victim and abuser together. It is holding an innocent, or vulnerable living thing hostage, to be harmed if you speak out. Imagine telling someone in a pro-life organization that if they report harassment and disrupt the work and reputation of the company babies will die. Imagine the same regarding AIDS work, child abuse, bullying prevention, or the care of veterans. Of course, one could posit that taking down someone like Harvey Weinstein could negatively affect his capacity for philanthropic giving. True, but his victims may not share his charitable leanings, let alone, be working for said charity.

In other words, you must be groped for the greater good. Truly horrifying. It is unconscionable and a level of harassment that must not go unnoticed. 

spcaLA has always sought to speak for those most easily exploited and abused. In 1877, we incorporated to not only protect animals but also women and children. At the time, all were considered property under the law.
For 140 years, spcaLA has been independently serving the Southern California community. We are not an affiliate or chapter of HSUS, nor any other spca or humane society.

Your spcaLA is in the business of preventing cruelty, which includes abuses of power in all forms. 

Jan 22, 2018

Why would you punch a police horse and other musings from "she who is pushing a boulder uphill"

courtesy Google Images
In an effort to spare lobsters from pain, authorities in Switzerland have deemed it illegal to toss a live lobster into boiling water. Regardless of your opinion of this, the effort represents a trend of mindfulness of the suffering of sentient beings and a movement toward kindness to and mercy for animals.

Yet, for the second consecutive week, a Philadelphia Eagles fan punched a police horse, respectively, in the shoulder, face and neck when asked to disperse. This is already behavior that is against the law, and they were each arrested, but in a world where global efforts to protect animals are prevalent, some still take out their anger on animals, significant others and children.

One step up the hill and two steps back.

In recognition of the human animal bond, and the value that people derive from service, emotional support animals and family pets, laws are changing to allow more shared activities, as well as opportunities to travel with, dine out with and live with pets in contravention of "no pets" clauses.

As a result, there is now an epidemic of impostor service dogs, pretend support dogs and general hubris at the expense of those who truly need these dogs and the general public at large. Of course there is a corresponding lucrative industry of fake vests, certificates and medical vouchers available for purchase to anyone at all. After a 70 pound dog, claimed as an emotional support dog, bit a passenger, twice, in the face on a Delta flight, Delta is instituting new rules before such a dog can board their planes. Besides a health statement Delta will now require a certification of the dog's ability to behave. Since more "emotional support" dogs have materialized, there has been a parallel increase of bites, peeing, pooping and other accidents on planes primarily because people refuse to be mindful of others and want a bulkhead or free upgrade for themselves and their "service" pet.  The backlash will hurt everyone, including the exploited pet. After all, what could happen to the pet, without whom you can't travel, if he or she bites someone? Besides liability exposure, the life of your pet can be put at risk.

One step up the hill and five steps back.

If you can hear me from underneath my boulder, please, a little less self-service and a lot more community service would be much appreciated. Some kindness and empathy would not hurt either.

See you at the top of the hill!

Jan 5, 2018

The Focus on Optics is Really a Polite Way to Opt Out

A colleague sent me an article about an 81-year old veteran, dehydrated, malnourished, with ulcerated skin and broken ribs, who needed to be admitted to the local veterans hospital. After keeping him waiting for 9 hours, and despite the availability of beds and the recommendations to admit him by the medical staff, the hospital administrator denied him admission due to ratings and statistical concerns. Fewer patients, yield fewer bad outcomes, and result in an appearance of more favorable good outcome percentages. The colleague was wondering if this "business" sounded familiar to me in the animal welfare world.

Sadly, it is a familiar problem in the animal business. Does an empty cage mean that no animal needs shelter, or rather, that there is an organized effort to keep numbers down so percentages of adoptions appear higher and euthanasia numbers are lower?  The constant susurrus of verbal directives to deliberately reduce intake of strays, to re-characterize stray cats as "community pets" thus leaving them in the streets, to drive through the night and dump animals brought to the shelter back into neighborhoods, and to not do the hard work to properly manage the husbandry and health of the animal population, all keeps pets away from essential care while creating the "optics" of success or lies politicians and administrators love to tell.

The above efforts are further augmented by schemes to alter zoning laws, redefine pet stores and increase personal pet limits, all designed to deny animals admission and abdicate the responsibility and public reliance of and in the shelters. The crown jewel of this process is the massaging and manipulation of statistics to create the appearance of success in dark contrast to the reality. Imagine the result if some of this energy were used to actually solve the problems and provide care where needed.

I have written before with disgust how poorly, we, society, treat our vulnerable residents. Whether the reasons are apathy, sadism, doctrinal (as in Ayn Rand capitalism) or ignorance, there is no shortage of suffering in the news. Veterans are ignored, children starve, the sick can't get help, and injured stray pets die on the streets, while others crow about their statistical success rates and lie that the problems are solved. The common denominator between these industries, whether a government or private entity, is that the pressure to appear competent, to earn more funding, not only causes a distortion in reality, but actual harm. In other words, optics over achievement. An appearance of success that masks failure.

The focus on optics is nothing more than a premeditated and malevolent plan of opting out.

The danger here, is that when the common fiction is such that we believe the problem is solved, there isn't a chance in hell that help will arrive. Be forewarned that this can backfire - why provide resources to solve a solved problem?

The door is slamming on all of us.

Dec 3, 2017

The Horrible Fate of Turntle the Turtle - A Warning

Courtesy Google Images
The latest innocent victim of a feud is a turtle named Turntle.

Turntle had his shell ripped from his body, allegedly by two or three Florida State football players who broke into a fraternity house to settle a score. The residents of the house awoke to celebration activity coming from the first floor and found football players Ricky Aquayo, Ryan Izzo and a third person "Shane" dancing around and holding the dead Turntle whose shell had been torn of his body. How very brave of these big athletic football players to challenge a turtle to a grudge match rather than the fraternity members.

What is also disturbing is the abdication of the prosecutor to prosecute these cowards. The decision of the fraternity brothers not to press charges is not binding on the prosecutor. The prosecutor's excuse that they couldn't prosecute because they didn't know who actually killed Turntle is gibberish, shameful and lazy. There were three people there who, in concert conspired to kill Turntle. I am sure that statements were made on scene, that there was biologic and other forensic evidence there, perhaps planning conversations in front of other witnesses before the trio left for the fraternity house, all of which could constitute a strong circumstantial case to achieve justice for Turntle and obtain counseling for the perpetrators.

Tearing apart a turtle is pretty violent and callous behavior to say the least, and does not augur well for the future of these young men.

That said, how often we have seen parents, on television, cry into the camera that they had no idea that their son or daughter could be capable of committing a violent crime against a person or persons.

To the parents of these young men I say - here is your warning sign. Get them help now.

Margaret Mead said "One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture and animal and get away with it."

I suspect that the Turntle horror was not the first clue of trouble.

Nov 21, 2017

The Season for Giving and Thieving

Courtesy Wikimedia commons
Holidays, disasters, tragedies and social causes bring out the best and the worst in us. It is as common as dirt for con artists to pretend to be charities, to fake a sick children and to concoct a variety of tall tales in order to steal funds from an extremely well-meaning and philanthropic citizenry. Yes, stealing. Obtaining funds by misrepresentation and false pretenses is larceny. That said, it is also not uncommon for legitimate charities to behave badly and misrepresent material facts to secure donations that should go elsewhere or for another use. Charitable scamming is so prevalent that this year the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office issued a "Fraud Alert" specific to the animal rescue industry among the variety of alerts issued in other industries.

The  California State Attorney General has a Department dedicated to the regulation of, and, if needed, the shutting down of fraudulent charities which also includes a consumer friendly search tool that anyone can use to research a charity that is registered and/or fundraising in California. It is also important to protect yourselves and use the available tools to check the legitimacy of an organization, to ensure that the programs important to you are occurring, and where, why and how funds are used before donating. If you send funds to an organization in New York believing that they are an umbrella organization for spcas everywhere, and expect that local animals will be assisted, you would be wrong. Donating locally is recommended as you can visit and see your charity in action. Funds sent for hurricane victims, wounded warriors, disease research and anything else must go to those efforts and doing the proper research before investing will help achieve that.

This holiday season is the last one in California where predatory "lease to own" financing (analogous to subprime mortgage loans) for dogs and cats will be legal. Very simply, if a pet dealer offers an installment plan to pay for a dog, that plan might, in fact, be a lease where a huge balloon payment is due after the lease period in order for you to keep the dog. In other words, despite what you think, you didn't buy the dog. This "payment plan" can be catastrophic for a variety of reasons from having your pet repossessed to ruining your credit rating. As of January 1, 2018 this type of transaction will no longer be legal in California, but is legal right now.

The bottom line is that the world is a better place because we care about vulnerable classes and are willing to do something about it.  As such, there are always those willing to exploit our generosity and run a scam for their own benefit. Let's be more vigilant about this so those that need our help, get it.

Let's make sure that this holiday season we give to those in need rather than to those who thieve.

Nov 10, 2017

Do More than Just Say Thank You This Veterans Day

I was dealing with a project today involving multiple players with diverse views and a fair amount of baggage, when it was suggested by one that further discussion should occur away from the group, privately, although the matter concerned the entire group. Usually, this happens when someone is disagreed with and doesn’t want everyone to see that, or worse, he or she senses dissent and is forming an “enemy camp”. I began thinking that this behavior has become common from the heights of government power, to the television networks and often when religious or social issues are involved. It helps not the world at large and surely not our animals and vulnerable classes as it is a form of discourse that accomplishes nothing but petty score setting with the stated goal becoming an excuse for a fight rather than an achievement.

Trying to force people to stop sharing opinions publicly, whether via a list serve, news program, schoolroom or Twitter should shock our collective conscience. We can all choose to agree or not, participate on a list serve or not, watch a program or not, donate, tweet, protest or not. We can participate in any project or not.  We cannot, ever, shut each other up.

On this Veterans Day I ask all of you to stop trying to hide comments that you disagree with, stop trying to silence the dissemination of information that you don’t want to hear, and honor the freedoms that we have that allow us to both brawl and hug in public. These are the freedoms for which our veterans fought, and continue to sacrifice their time, health and lives. Saying “thank you for your service” or “our prayers are with you” is a nice easy social conceit that honors them not at all if we squander our freedoms and their valiant efforts to protect them.

Nov 6, 2017

Time to Speak Truth to Power - Words Matter

The term "no-kill" has been abandoned and seriously debunked by legitimate animal welfare professionals. My prior article "No-Kill does not Mean No Death" discusses the inherent divisiveness, misdirection, dishonesty and cruelty suborned by this characterization, as well as the appropriation and pollution by irrational ideologues of the original and noble aspiration of the concept, which is that no adoptable pet should be put to sleep simply for lack of time and space. The further aim was to also

rehabilitate those pets that could be made adoptable as well. This is actually what reputable shelters and rescue associations do! The term continues to survive because it connotes something quickly and graphically to the public. By public, I refer to the reasonable citizen consumer and not to the politician who knows better but silently stares guiltily at his shoes while demanding the achievement of arbitrary no kill goal by a set time. Such a politician prefers to be lied to rather than demand the transparency and honesty to which the public is entitled.

It is interesting that when you talk to said consumer and ask her expectations of an animal shelter, she will tell you clean, humane, safe, honest, reliable and committed to social responsibility and public safety - not inconsistent with what we all already practice. She further will tell you that she does not expect the experts, (us) to ever give her, a non-expert, either an unsafe pet (animal or people aggressive), or a sick pet without full disclosure of these conditions. Finally, she thinks that both dogs and cats, in fact any animal lost or hurt, deserves the safe harbor promised by government animal control centers. She thinks that no animal that is adoptable or could be made so should be killed while understanding the heartbreaking realities of pet overpopulation.

What is crystal clear, is that the animal welfare professionals, members of the public, and the legitimate no-kill followers all concur that it is the moral, ethical, and socially responsible thing to treat the animals both inside and outside the shelter with care, and to be honest, transparent to, and mindful of the safety of the consumer. Additionally, behaving responsibly promotes and reinforces the belief that adopting from any of these sources is safe - a desire we all share.

Only the pathological ideologues and the politicians are outliers. To that end, these outliers will sanitize the records to hide prior bites or medical issues. Not only is this dangerous to the new adopter, but, if you allege to love animals what about the dog ripped apart on the street by this newly "sanitized" family pet? Do we not care about that dog? These outliers will even mask the breed name to trick an unsuspecting or perhaps first time dog adopter.  Of course, we can't be responsible for guessing with certainty the breeds of shelter dogs or represent that because they physically resemble a specific breed we can predict behavior and temperament consistent with that breed. But we can explain and educate that reality. What we cannot say is that a dog is a "brown male dog" to try to push a bully breed on someone who doesn't want one or doesn't know what he is looking at. Does this inspire confidence in the system?

These extreme ideologues will force an animal to suffer mercilessly, maintain them in hoarding conditions, and deprive them of any quality of life to feed their contorted statistics. They will even treat cats like squirrels i.e. another species of wildlife to reduce shelter intake.  All of this creative writing is intended to manipulate and produce illusory no kill statistics. The consumer neither expects, nor condones this once the truth is revealed. Do you think she would return to another animal shelter after learning this? How does this help us convince people to adopt rather than to purchase pets and actually achieve the desired goal of not leaving an adoptable animal behind?

It is time that the legitimate and responsible animal welfare professionals unite behind a better, honest and more realistic collective vision. Socially responsible and humane behavior towards animals and the public we serve rather than sustaining antiquated yet lingering no-kill dividing lines. Protecting animals from people and people from animals are both critical parts of our responsibility.

I am asking that we, as an industry shed this itchy, divisive and inflamed skin of the ideologues, and emerge with a new uniting, truthful characterization and message of "engaging in progressive and socially responsible animal management", something that most of us and our public already agree upon, expect and should have.

Let us turn this fiction into truth. What say you?