A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

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.