When to revolt

Knowing when to revolt and when to support leadership can be the difference between life or death for shelter pets.

If you do one when the other is more appropriate you are most certainly contributing to the problem.

When I was an executive director, the save rate was between 96% and 98% and still I was getting beat over the head by wanna be activists on topics that mattered most to them, but did nothing to contribute to the strategic long game of lifesaving or even the lifesaving of the pets still at risk. 

Mayor and council, new to their roles and wanting to be seen as transparent and inclusive, would listen to them not really understanding that their animal services department was modeling the very best lifesaving programs and policies in the nation. People around the country were emulating our animal services department and there I sat for hours on end explaining subjects like why open adoptions is not giving pets to dog fighters, why spaying and neutering was not the only answer, why we shouldn’t spend all of our donation account funds on dog walkers, why punishing people didn’t change their behaviors and other subjects that had been decided by data, science, research and best practices. I believe communication is very important, but this was more like running a gauntlet regularly than education or communication.

I spent precious hours every week at city hall explaining, educating, defending and answering ridiculous questions. I was forced to hire a full-time position to handle all the Freedom of Information requests that came through from activists that could not stop fighting. That full time position should have been focused on lifesaving or helping the rest of the state that desperately needed it, not searching for all the emails that said the word “walk” in them.  

And it didn’t end with me. The next director inherited that same situation. 

If you have a director who is open to learning, actively engaged in lifesaving problem solving and striving for improvement consistently, support them even if you don’t always see eye to eye. Keep the communication lines open. 

Don’t volunteer if you cannot be constructive and focused on being part of the solution. An activist that volunteers can wreak havoc on the internal cultural. Stay outside of the organization and continue in an activist role. It is rare that you can be both effectively without creating discord that gets in the way of progress.

Conversely, animal services leadership should make sure that volunteers have the same rules for conduct and behavior as staff do. If you believe a volunteer is better suited to an activist role, have that respectful conversation with them.

If you are working with animal services leadership that are not focused on lifesaving and learning, but instead they shut out people offering help, make excuses and refuse to change, that is the time for revolt. It is important to know where to put the pressure. Many shelter directors have been prohibited from asking the community for help and talking with the media. Find out who makes the ultimate decisions for animal services in your community at the highest level and put the pressure on more than one person. Storming the wrong fort is a waste of time and does nothing to save lives.

2 thoughts on “When to revolt

  1. This is a truly difficult issue I think. I do like that you value the role of advocate while pointing out there’s a distinction between that role and volunteer.

    I’ve been distressed when I see both individuals and organizations who’ve done tremendous work in the past become immune to criticism, however. I understand harsh critiques can impact operations and funding, but it seems at some point people and organizations can become “too big to fail.” That’s counterproductive in so many ways. Obviously for animals, but I also suspect it’s damaging for that leader or organization.

    I’m stymied. I really need to see leading people and organizations model their own willingness to acknowledge mistakes and keep learning and improving. Somehow I’m really not seeing that lately, and it’s been disheartening to the point that I no longer am clear on my own role in lifesaving and rescue.

    Just recognizing that there are times to support and times to revolt is a step forward, but I hope to see this broader concept revisited more and more fully by others.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *