By: Patti Strand  Date: 01/16/2012 Category: | Shelter Issues |

In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird Gem Finch asked why his defense attorney father must take on a controversial court case. Gem was told, “There are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs.”

There are some difficult and often unpleasant tasks that face any responsible animal care-giver and most pointedly animal shelter personnel. These tasks are part of acting responsibly and of bearing the burden for someone else’s irresponsibility.

Animal care providers choose their occupations because of love and concern for animals, yet they must constantly pick up the pieces of society’s ignorance, neglect, abuse and irresponsibility. They must euthanize animals when necessary – and it is necessary at times. They receive a lot of flak from irrational activists who, while grudgingly conceding the inevitability of euthanizing some animals, focus their animosity onto the person who does the job because they are unable to separate that person from the job he does out of necessity. The logic is pretty twisted.

The public relies on animal control to pick up strays, control predation, find lost pets and protect public safety. Public opinion about the officers who carry out these duties can quickly fluctuate without warning or just cause. These people are performing a public service, one of our “unpleasant jobs,” yet they often bear the brunt of cruel accusations and constant criticisms that can be very hurtful and even personal.

Overburdened shelters are short on space, time and manpower, and the public doesn’t understand why they would refuse offers of help. But what if the volunteers have less than admirable reasons for being there? How many businesses are required to allow the public into their operations, risking liability, disruption, breach of security and privacy?

Unfortunately some volunteers give their time in order to achieve their own agendas, not from a sincere desire to help. In these cases, shelters spend many valuable hours training people who instead hinder shelter efforts by filing trivial criticisms and fanatical accusations of abuse. These volunteers may make unreasonable demands based more on emotional projection than good animal husbandry. There have been cases of volunteers filing criminal charges against animal control workers for imagined abuse and then continuing to participate at the same facility. It is not helpful for a volunteer to challenge every rule and rebel against proper procedures. Such tactics can create danger to themselves, the visiting public, shelter workers, and the dogs. Hard feelings can result in resentment, conflict and ultimately, loss of morale. Imagine having to work in the same location as someone that has filed criminal charges against you. There is no disciplinary recourse; because they are not employees, they really don’t have to answer to anyone.

There has been more attention paid lately to the intimidation and strong-arm techniques employed by animal rights activists against businesses. Why are county or city animal controls not afforded the same consideration? Caution needs to be exercised in interviewing, screening and allowing access to the inner workings of a care facility. The wrong people can cause more harm than good. Good volunteers will not balk at some of the smellier chores. They are willing to scoop poop, clean cat boxes, bathe or clip dirty animals. Animal care personnel have expressed a preference for volunteers performing mandated community service, obligated to fulfill a set amount of work hours and accountable for their actions. Shelter personnel learn to be leery of help offered and to constantly be on their guard. Sincere volunteers can meet so much resistance that they come away feeling suspicious and hostile. If they don’tunderstand the underlying reasons, they may begin to suspect and doubt the shelters true motives and method of operation. That feeling can spread through the community.

Animal control agencies perform many functions — lost and found, public education, rehabilitation and disease prevention. However, some segments of our society seem to focus solely on euthanasia, obsessively discussing and complaining to the point of being ghoulish . It is unclear if their motives are based on compassion or trying to express an egotistical “emotional superiority” over others. It is an imperative matter of self-preservation that technicians hold their own emotions in check and learn to be objective about the realities of their job. Setting personal emotions aside, in order to function properly is a sign of strength, not weakness or cruelty. However, I have heard activists in public forums demand that some technicians be fired from their jobs because they no longer let it upset them emotionally. These activists are speaking about someone’s life-long carreer, their livelihood, pension, benefits and the support of their family, yet they casually fire off demands for termination, based solely on vague, impulsive whims.

Valued volunteers is one that truly “help” as in “assist” — they do not take over. They do not take advantage of the situation to lecture or preach personal politics. They will not dwell on euthanasia. They will respect the agency’s privacy and not spread stories, especially to the media. They can function without being injured and do not risk public safety. They follow rules and accept advice from those more experienced than themselves, without question.

Shelter employees deal with these tasks on a daily basis and cannot just walk out if the going gets tough. They appreciate those who will put in the actual hours they signed up for and can be depended upon to ease some of the workload. What good shelter employees need is reassurance that their jobs are appreciated by the community. They need someone to pat them on the back once in awhile. Take some time to call, and actually say the words “Thank You, for what you do” Thank you, for performing some of our “unpleasant jobs” for us.

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