A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Nov 30, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want ...

This piece was inspired by some letters to the editor (Long Beach Press Telegram) written to complain about spcaLA denying a person's applicaion to adopt a pet. An abridged version of this was submitted to the newspaper as my response.
Occasionally, an adoption is denied. Sometimes the client becomes angry, writes a letter to the editor, asks friends to also write – all in an attempt to make it appear that it is a widespread problem. It is not unlike a neighborhood panicking over multiple coyote sightings that turns out to be one coyote seen multiple times. An adoption denial is not a common occurrence and is always done in the best interests of the animal.

spcaLA has been in existence since 1877 and has been combating pet overpopulation for 133 years. The main contributors to the problem are ignorance of its causes, bad habits and lassitude in the willingness to solve it. Despite significant progress, pets continue to be purchased from unscrupulous vendors, allowed to remain unsterilized, and permitted to roam outside sans identification. This is due to the belief that pets are disposable commodities – endlessly replaceable and lacking value. We have even been called enablers who make it guilt-free for others to give up on a pet as our shelters are too nice and our staff too compassionate! Of course, it is far better for a pet to end up with us rather than struck by a vehicle, attacked by feral strays or simply left sick and starving to die a slow death on the street –all possible if placed in the wrong home. After all – where do these unwanted pets come from? Some from people who were not ready to adopt in the first place.

We rehabilitate and provide many animals a chance at a home whether it is through rescue groups, adoptions, transfers to other cities and so on. The effort to medically rehabilitate and provide behavioral stimulation to the animals is gargantuan and must not be wasted with lax placement guidelines. The brief pre-adoption questioning and discussion is designed to assess the readiness of the prospective family to commit to the pet. The staff has no crystal ball- only the drive to find a compatible family and an ever present optimism that the match will last. When such commitment is lacking, it hurts us all.  For example, some allow cats outside (against our adoption policy unless supervised or confined to a secure space) without identification, making it impossible to find the owner should the cat become lost. We must then use our limited resources to find that cat a new home, perhaps at the expense of a cat who never had one. Instead of giving every animal an opportunity for a family, we are giving some multiple tries, and others, no chance at all. Should we deny the adoption if the client insists that cats must roam? I submit we should. Allowing it does not move us forward to towards our goal.

These adoption policies, which served to consummate tens of thousands of successful adoptions over the years, will continue until we awaken the blissful ignorance of those who do not accept the responsibilities commensurate with adopting a pet. They will continue, so that to the best of our ability, every homeless pet will have a good home and our shelters will not be revolving doors and dumping grounds. Blithe letters to the editor will not change that.

They say ignorance is bliss – for whom – us? Certainly not for unwanted pets.

Nov 23, 2009

postscript to domestic violence blog - what about men?

A comment was made that men who are victims of domestic violence do not have the same help available as do women. spcaLA’s Animal Safety Net program regularly helps male victims of domestic violence, victims of same sex relationships, and victims of elder abuse. In fact, we have discovered that in traditional under reporting groups such as men, Asian women and parent victims – using the existing cruelty towards, or fear of future cruelty to the pet  often provides cover for getting help. In other words, those who would not report harm to themselves will report harm to their pets and seek to protect them. As a result – spcaLA’s program frequently aids these vulnerable but invisible victims.

As a society we have an obligation to treat a victim as such without regard to gender, race or lifestyle and ensure that all victims have access to Domestic Violence assistance programs. In each community we need to make sure that resources are fairly allocated to both traditional and nontraditional victims so that everyone is helped. Carl Rowan said “It is often easier to be outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home.”  

We need to get our own houses in order ….


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Nov 8, 2009


I find myself  trapped in an existential pit.

In thinking of  the gargantuan efforts to increase pet adoptions, reduce the national euthanasia rates, and dig out of the seemingly inexhaustible supply of animals - the question dawns on me. Am I spending my time finding homes for pets who actually have homes but are lost, or homes for the truly homeless pets? I fear it is the former. This is particularly true with cats as they are deliberately allowed outside to roam, for some misguided purpose, with no collars (lest they hang themselves) and no way to find their humans should they stray.  I then must use our resources to find a cat who already has a home, a new one, perhaps at the expense of a cat who never had one.  Instead of giving every animal an opportunity for a family, we are giving some multiple tries, and others, no chance at all.
Imagine if humans accepted the responsibilities commensurate with adopting a pet i.e. to safeguard,  meet their needs and to love them for their entire lives. Imagine if humans placed sufficient identification on their pets to maximize chances of reunion after accidental separation or disaster. Then imagine if all the funds, food, medicine and cage space were freed up for those pets who truly needed a home rather than for those just needing a different home with a more committed owner/guardian.  This effort alone would result in a substantial decrease in the number of animals in shelters, the amount of euthanasia and would propel us forward in our resolve to end the pet overpopulation crisis. As an ancillary benefit, we would learn to value the pets we have, thereby reducing the market for unscrupulous breeders. Only then would we begin to live an ethic that treats companion animals  like family members rather than like disposable commodities or Doritos. 
It would certainly help hoist me out of my existential pit.

Nov 4, 2009

A Zoo Is No Place For An Elephant

The zoo is no place for an elephant. Elephants are majestic creatures that love to walk, need mental stimulation, crave friends and enjoy grazing and problem solving. Elephant experts, well informed state of the art zoos and specialty veterinarians concur that health issues and death are certain consequences of an insufficient zoo space. In the 21st century many enlightened zoos have made a policy decision not to keep elephants at all. Yet, it is now, that the LA Zoo has decided to spend $42,000,000 dollars on an exhibit that experts have already declared obsolete and insufficient.

Councilmember La Bonge continues to chant that children need to see elephants and therefore $42,000,000 dollars is an essential expenditure for this cage. I respectfully submit, that the message children will learn from seeing elephants in such an exhibit is that it is ok to keep large roaming animals in a confined space. Bob Talbert said “teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best”. Let us use the $42,000,000 dollars to improve and expand other deficient exhibits, send the lone remaining elephant to sanctuary and “teach our children, and parents, well”. (Crosby Stills Nash and Young)

Nov 1, 2009

Don't Drink Your Own Kool-Aid

   The animal welfare/animal rights tent has many planks, factions and a cast of diverse leaders. As such a leader myself, I frequently study the styles, methods and track records of other CEO s both in and outside my industry. What I find interesting in a cause based mission driven organization, is the ability of the CEO to ascend to cult leader status thereby blurring the distinction between the accomplishments of the organization and his or her persona. The healthy leader understands this and remains grounded - the narcissist does not.
   The narcissist CEO believes the public praise  for the good works performed is for him/her and quickly becomes addicted to the adulation.  This addiction to the high becomes so acute that it subverts the mission of the organization to the full time job of feeding the leader's habit. The addicted leader believes in and can no longer distinguish between the public relations Kool-Aid and reality, but worse, he/she cannot make judicious business decisions that are neither tainted by nor designed to satisfy the addiction.  The result over time leads to the neglect and pollution of the actual corporate purpose and the deterioration of the leader's ability to make moral and ethical corporate decisions.
   Unlike the listener of Carly Simon's "Your so Vain" fame who would think this piece is about him/her - the narcissist CEO - thinks - no way this is about me! Unfortunately, the constituency in my business, abused animals, cannot voice their complaints or participate in an intervention.  They cannot remind the narcissist that the work of the organization is required to serve them. They are instead silent victims - yet again.