Guest Blogger, Aubrie Kavanaugh (paws4change.com)
I manage a humane education website called Paws4Change. The name of my website and my advocacy work is an intentional play on words. My goal is to help educate you on some basic animal welfare concepts and lead you to subject matter experts who can help you explore topics in more detail. I want you to “pause” to think and then perhaps change some of your previously held beliefs.
So, why do I have this website and why do I do this? It all really boils down to five words that changed my life. Words have the capacity for incredible power over us. Most of us have heard things in our lives that just stuck for one reason or another. Such is the case for me and five words I heard in July of 2006.
Our Shepherd-mix was 16 when we let her go. She had become trapped in a body which no longer worked well and when she developed some cognitive issues, that meant it was time. After she left, I didn’t do well. I felt lost. I started donating supplies to my local animal shelter once a month in an effort to turn a loss into something positive as I honored the memory of my girl. I knew at the time that animals died in the shelter. Like most people, I assumed they were suffering or we had a pet overpopulation problem and we just could not save them all.
All that changed in mid-July when I was on the shelter’s website. I was looking for a wish list of items to donate and other information I could share with people to encourage them to adopt. I ran across a video promoting the shelter and it got to a point where a dog was being walked from a kennel to a room. Tail wagging. A look of anticipation on his face. It took a matter of seconds for me to realize what was going on. The video didn’t show the act of taking his life, that I know of. I could not stop the video fast enough as my heart pounded in my ears and I began to lose my breath. When I later told the shelter director how offensive I found the video and I asked if the dog was really destroyed. She confirmed that the dogs in the video had been destroyed and then she said
nobody wants beagles these days
For all the emotion behind the words, she could just as easily have said, “old couches get destroyed” or “broken tables go to the dump.”
I got upset and then I got mad and then I got smart and learned why this was happening not only at my local shelter but across the country. I learned about puppy mills and breed bans and dog chaining and Trap-Neuter-Return for community cats and something wonderful called the no kill movement. And now instead of taking dog biscuits or dryer sheets to my “shelter” each month, I am an advocate for change.
In the years since I heard those five words, my advocacy efforts have been varied. I do volunteer work for nonprofit groups across the country by creating slide shows and videos using music which belongs to friends and contacts (in order to respect copyright laws). I’ve dabbled in television PSAs for my own area. But perhaps the greatest focus of my advocacy in the last decade has been working to change the culture where local shelter animals are destroyed not because they are suffering or dangerous to the public, but for no good reason at all.
I tried rocking the community boat myself. That didn’t take me too far. It is too easy to be dismissed as a zealot or as being naive when you are the only voice saying “this is wrong. We can and must do better than this.” I ultimately ended up bringing others to the cause. We formed a coalition which is essentially political in nature and we began rocking the community boat together while speaking with one voice. That process is a whole different story for another day. Advocacy isn’t pretty and it’s often exasperating and draining. There are no days off and friends are apt to be lost along the way as you learn what is truly important to people through their behavior.
For not quite the last year, the shelter which is still run by the same veterinarian who destroyed the Beagle back in 2006 has had what we call a “live release rate” of approximately 90%. She resisted change for years and claimed she was doing a beautiful job at a time when 3 out of every 4 animals in the shelter were being destroyed under her leadership. The history here changed not due to her initiative, but due to the pressure of advocates as we took our topic to the public and sought support for change. There are still some issues at the shelter related to programs and sick dogs, but animals now have a better chance of making it out of the shelter alive than at any time in the history of the city. I am sure that but for our advocacy, animals would have continued to be destroyed by the thousands and the shelter would essentially have been answerable to no one.
Margaret Mead once said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Exactly, Margaret, exactly.
Paws4Change® is an animal welfare advocacy organization founded by Aubrie Kavanaugh. The organization seeks to help people understand some fundamental issues related to companion animals so they can make better choices which affect themselves and our society. Paws4Change also supports rescue groups across the country through production of multimedia projects to help the people who help animals.
Connect with Paws4Change on Facebook.