A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

May 7, 2018

Loving a pet is not a disability

courtesy google images
UPDATE: American Airlines has now joined other airlines in restricting "emotional support" animals on planes.

Back in April of 2011 the misuse of "service" and "emotional support" pets was spiraling out of control. At that time the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) shrunk the definitions of permissible service animals to dogs and miniature horses which negatively impacted those relying on other animals to assist with their disabilities. Additionally, states enacted their own definitions of "service" and "emotional support" animals and mandated criteria for each. Sadly, in lieu of compliance, an industry of fraud was born to capitalize on the fact that people wanted to take their pets everywhere. Service and support dog vests, tags, and scarves in assorted colors and styles materialized on the internet, sales of "doctors' notes" for $1200 and up could likewise be obtained, and people took advantage of the fact that most places would rather not engage in interrogating a person seeking the shelter of our disability statutes. Predictably, the situation spun out of control as people asked to board a plane with a peacock, demanded that their dog accompany them on a ferris wheel (I was there for that!) and generally tested the public's tolerance, both of pet lovers and haters alike, to suffer pets everywhere. Suffer, because the majority of these pets are not skilled helpers but rather just the goofy family pet who is forced to be in places that he or she finds scary and intolerable.

I love the emotional support of having my dogs with me at the office or where appropriate. That does not magically turn my dog into a legal emotional support dog. As President of spcaLA I want everyone to understand and benefit from the intense human animal bond and bring a pet into the family for all the attendant emotional benefits. That is because we all have the capacity for love and not because we all share a diagnosis rendering us disabled under the law.

In 2011 I warned that continued abuse of these laws would lead to severe and additional backlashes which would impact negatively on those with bona fide and true needs for these animals. Now, due the level of fraud surrounding these animals, the uptick in bites, the complaints of those allergic to or frightened of these pets, 21 states have either enacted or are exploring new laws to address this and criminalize such behavior while airlines are also adjusting their policies and documentation requirements to bring a pet on board.

All of the above will hurt both those legitimately disabled as their options narrow,
those of us always seeking appropriate places to bring the family pet, and our pets who find themselves in horrifying situations where they can't succeed. Wanting to be with your pet is a symptom of love not of a disability. Let's make sure those who truly need service and support dogs have as much freedom to do so, while the rest of us be mindful of their needs and act accordingly.

Apr 25, 2018

Would you stop at a red light at 3 AM on a deserted street?

There has been a lot of discussion in the public square about the meaning of ethical leadership, or what is a true leader -  and is the presumption of morality implied in the definition. I muse about this as I am in a leadership position and frequently observe colleagues, politicians and read about the subject. There is a difference between being in charge and being a leader. Keeping the trains running on time feels different than motivating people to want to keep them running in concert with a particular set of ethics, moral standards and corporate or tribal culture. Sustaining vibrancy, loyalty, curiosity and a productive work ethic is the challenge. It is easier to use an authoritarian management or military style as it requires that your "followers" simply follow orders. As someone never known for following orders I always wondered if those that did wanted to do so as they believed in the leader, or they believed in the construct of the organization, or, if it was just easier. Easier in that no independent thought, decisions or friction was involved. Conversely, and particularly in a mission based organization, presiding over independent theorists, highly opinionated thinkers, and, in some cases radical ideologues can be more akin to refereeing a brawl or presiding over a vibrant, cohesive forward thinking successful organization. How do we get to the latter?

I think the secret sauce is trust in the ethical reliability of the leader, freedom to express dissenting opinions, belief that the leader believes in the mission of the company and safety in that the leader has everyone's back in good and bad times. Finally, evidence that the leader, is in fact, not just a follower and unworthy of earned respect.

It is important to get this right because the reality is that leaders, both good and bad, mold and mentor a lot of minds. As Tom Peters said "Leaders don't create more followers, they create more leaders". When my son was in grade school he had a trading card that belonged to a friend in his pocket, which he forgot was there, and jumped into a pool, ruining the card. He was distraught, thought he should say nothing as he knew his friend had a lot of these cards and wouldn't notice that this one was not returned, but he spoke to me first. He wanted to know what I thought the right thing to do was, how people learn that without asking their mom, and, what real ethical behavior looks like. I asked him if he thought a person should stop at a red light, in the middle of the night, when no one else was watching. His little face lit up, he showed his friend the wet card and apologized. His friend neither remembered that my son had the card nor did he care! But my son felt better and liberated from his burden. Imagine my shock when years later, he recounted this in his college application essay.

I write because I am troubled by things I am seeing in the Animal Welfare Field.

        If a politician tells you the city needs to be no kill by a certain date - do you stop taking animals in need into the shelter, dump shelter animals into unsavory hands, and /or fudge statistics to appear to meet that goal- or do you explain that we all share these goals, that these things take time, that you are the expert and lying to the people and donors never solved anything long term. In fact, lying digs a deeper hole than the one you're already in.

       If a donor tells you to go to another country and bring in high profile animals to your shelter for publicity and donations, and you know doing so would not be in the best interests of your animals and organization - do you say no and explain why or do you do it, suffer the bad consequences which cost you more in funds and credibility than the donor could ever provide.

       If activists hear about a program, like play groups for shelter dogs, kick up a media storm insisting that you are incompetent if you don't do it, maybe even offer to fund it - do you explain that you don't have the personnel to manage it safely and effectively, or do you just do it while dogs get beaten up and molested by the pack because you lack the trained personnel to handle these groups safely.

       Do you self-deal or decide to act or not act based upon your best interests rather than that of your organization.

Entering into Faustian bargains for an immediate short term solution usually leaves the leader with a larger future problem and no soul. Often that type of leader blames his people for the failure. It certainly won't inspire trust, loyalty, productivity, optimism, and excellence from the staff or the community. If anything, all they see is a weak follower.

Would you stop at a red light at 3 AM on a deserted street?

                  "A leader is not an administrator who loves to run others, but someone who carries water for his people so that they can get on with their jobs." Robert Townsend

Apr 12, 2018

Warning - Demand for puppy mill animals created by "rescues"

There has been more attention paid to alleged "rescues" and sham non-profits stealing funds from kindhearted people who wish to help animals in need and who are actually in financial cahoots with puppy mill breeders and for profit commercial dealers. Many of these "sham artists" purchase dogs from these mills, and posing as "rescues" sell them at high prices to those philanthropically motivated to pay those prices believing that they are helping a charity and furthering a mission of mercy.

In California, the Los Angeles District Attorney issued a rare Fraud Alert,  the California Attorney General has been working tirelessly to expose these pretend charities, investigative reporters have been turning over rocks under which such scams are revealed, and the Washington Post  wrote an in depth article about "rescues" purchasing from puppy mills rather than helping animal shelters place existing homeless animals.

To make matters worse, ignorant politicians, in an effort to reach unrealistic and arbitrary low euthanasia goals, routinely aid and abet this problem and are thereby directly responsible for causing pain and suffering to animals. For example, in Los Angeles, the Animal Welfare Committee led by Paul Koretz has yet to enact anything that not only doesn't harm animals but actually helps them. His solution for everything is to keep animals out of the shelters by manipulating pet limits, zoning ordinances, and redefining terms like "pet shop", the upshot being more pets are stashed around the city in the hands of sham rescues living in airline crates, or, handed over to individuals living in squalid hoarding conditions. These animals suffer horribly for years at a time out of sight of law enforcement or a kind soul to provide relief. These are exactly the conditions that allow these "rescues" to purchase, store and sell puppies from mills who have already suffered enough at the hands of financially motivated breeders and dealers.

People - please -
                    these "rescues" and self-promoting politicians are working against their shelters by increasing demand for puppy mill animals rather than encouraging the populace to adopt from a shelter.

                    these "rescues" and ignorant politicians are doing nothing to improve the health and husbandry of our pets, but only changing their location, often for the worse.

                     these bad actors may often be committing all kinds of larceny and fraud as to their charity status, the origin of the pet and the existence of vaccines, veterinary care and other required documentation.

Finally, we can never win the pet overpopulation war and find every adoptable and treatable pet a home if we don't pay attention to what we are purchasing and who we really are electing. We must be vigilant and focus on what we see and facts, rather than what we are told by those who want to make a profit or get our vote.

Mar 7, 2018

Ban on bringing elephant parts into U.S. rescinded

courtesy google images 
We were horrified to see that the ban on bringing elephant parts into the United States has been rescinded which would allow trophy hunters, "poachers" and others to bring the heads, tails, tusks, feet, of elephants into this country for bragging rights. 

Your spcaLA has been fighting for the humane treatment of elephants and other endangered and protected species, and against the cowardly, barbaric and uncivilized "sport" of mutilating and torturing animals since our inception in 1877.

We, of course have issued a statement against this action, and urge a reinstatement of the ban.

Also today, California, State Senator Henry Stern announced that he is considering legislative action, in concert with animal welfare advocates, to prevent the possession of elephant trophies in California. Californians can find their representatives to express support at www.govtrack.us/congress/members.

Furthermore, Americans who are concerned about the slaughter of elephants for their parts can contact their members of Congress (www.govtrack.us/congress/members) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service at www.fws.gov to express said concerns.

Is it just me, or does this feel like this came about because a couple of whiny spoiled kids desperately need to show their daddy what they did and make him proud? Are we proud?

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.