Monday, June 28, 2010

On Oreo's Law

"While everyone in the room has had successes, we can’t let that past success blind us to new possibilities. Don’t be afraid to question the status quo. Don’t be afraid to challenge your colleagues."
- Julie Castle, Best Friends

I haven't commented at all in public about Oreo's Law since the tabling of the bill by the NY State Legislature. This is mostly because I don't want my difference of opinion with Best Friends over their support to seem like sour grapes; I don't want it to seem like I'm going up against my former employer because I have a personal ax to grind - I do not.

So let's start this post with some full disclosure: up until two weeks ago, I was employed by Best Friends Animal Society as a Dog Caregiver. I loved my job, I loved my dogs, and I loved where I worked. It was an absolute privilege to be a part of the sanctuary at Best Friends and it is truly a unique place. It was a joy to be able to give sanctuary animals the physical, social, mental, and medical support they need to live happy, fulfilling lives. There is truly nowhere else like it on earth, and it is and always will be part of my heart. I am immensely proud to have worked there.

As you might imagine, a caregiver has little contact with the executive team and I have no special knowledge, no magical insight, and no smoking gun regarding the lack of Best Friends' support for Oreo's Law. I am breaking no confidences and I'm not making anything public that is confidential or privileged information - quite simply, that's not something I had access to. What follows is simply my guess and my opinion.

I was disappointed but not entirely surprised by the initial lack of support for Oreo's Law and the policy statement that left many wondering... so do you, or don't you? Best Friends has a history of being the kinder, gentler group and attempting to stay out of divisive issues within the animal welfare movement, at least publicly. They are especially loathe to start a public spat with any other animal welfare group, which usually makes a lot of sense - but there are occasions when you have to, when you should, and this was one of them. This law runs so close to the core beliefs of the organization that it wasn't hard to imagine Best Friends not just supporting it, but taking up the cause and promoting it like the leader within the No More Homeless Pets® movement should.

I believe why they didn't was not only that well known tendency to avoid public conflict with other groups but also for political ease and monetary gain. Best Friends is expanding its presence in New York City - if you monitor the employment section of the website, you might have noticed job listings for New York positions. I think it's safe to assume that the increased activity will come with increased visibility and of course, fundraising, in what is very firmly the ASPCA's home turf. Best Friends may be hoping for some collaboration with the ASPCA or perhaps they're just trying to antagonize the ASPCA as little as possible while attempting to access a rich pool of untapped potential donors, and the very existence of this bill and the reason it came into being is very, very embarrassing for the ASPCA.

Francis Battista is a man who I have incredible respect for and admiration of, but his response to the controversy was weak sauce at best and disingenuous at worst, because we now know that Best Friends spoke of neutrality in public while privately trying to undermine support for the bill. As Nathan Winograd pointed out, when all the players in animal welfare were on the same page about shelter policy, we were killing more than twenty million animals per year. Sometimes, to get things done, you have to take a principled stand and make some noise; sometimes you have to get involved in a fight you may lose because it's the right thing to do. If Rosa Parks had yielded her seat instead of staying put and creating conflict, the course of history may have been markedly different.

This will all begin again in January, when Oreo's Law will once again be introduced to the legislature, and I hope that this time Best Friends will support it and acknowledge that they were wrong to previously withhold support, because that's the right thing to do. After all, both they and Ed Sayres, now President of the ASPCA, supported the Hayden Law - the CA ordinance that Oreo's Law is based on that is credited with saving many thousands of animal lives in the decade-plus it has been on the books. The only difference between the Hayden Law and Oreo's Law is additional safeguards built into Oreo's Law to protect against abuse - provisions that the Hayden Law have shown to be unnecessary but added to attempt to gain support within the animal welfare community.

On a slightly different but very, very related note I would like to offer an unsolicited suggestion to Best Friends, which has been pretty clearly facing a crisis of direction in recent years. I'm under no illusion that anyone will pay any attention, but it will be good to get it out.

It is a basic tenet of business to concentrate on your core business - that is, to figure out what it is you can do better than anyone else in the world and focus on doing it to the best of your ability. What Best Friends has the capability of doing better than anyone in the US, better than anyone in the world, is to operate the finest animal sanctuary anywhere, a shining beacon of inspiration and hope to every animal rescuer, shelter worker, animal lover and activist in the world. I do not say this because that is the side I worked on, I say this because they have a unique combination of resources that makes sanctuary and rehabilitation what Best Friends can do better than anyone, anywhere. The transformation into a national advocacy and policy organization is one that they are ill suited to. For one, there are already three major national animal welfare organizations that focus primarily on advocacy and policy, and they all have a higher national profile. More importantly, as an organization, they're awful at it. Best Friends has always sought to be the good news people, the kinder and gentler org, the one that stays above the fray - and advocacy is all about the fray, all about political fights, all about conflict, all about the things they've spent years branding themselves as being different from. Additionally, the organizational bloat of recent years has led to attachment to expensive programs without metrics of success that are not modified or abandoned even when they are clearly failures - like a social network for animal lovers - that make it difficult if not impossible to focus maximum organizational resources on things that do have a chance of working.

You can find your way again by focusing on what you're best at and eliminating what you do badly. Go back to your roots, go back to basics, and re-think it all. Focus on what you're best at and the rest will sort itself out.

Before the multi-million dollar income and the glossy magazine and the star-studded events and the political concerns born of money, back when you were a bunch of crazy people rescuing animals in the middle of nowhere, when sanctuary was the core of who you were, would you have kept quiet, issued a non-statement statement of non-support and then privately labored to kill the bill? Or would you have cheered on a law that would have allowed many more lives to be saved?

I love Best Friends, and I am one of many. We want to see you succeed, and we want you to regain the moral compass that you once displayed so clearly. We, I, remain hopeful. I may be disappointed, but I still love Best Friends. We need you to step up right now and do the right thing. We need you to show the moral clarity that you started this journey with. We need your help.


Blogger NoKillNation said...

Thank you! As always, excellent post!

8:23 PM  
Blogger Happy Tails Acapulco said...

If your last paragraph is a Petition please tell me where I can sign my name. I am one of the many who also loves Best Friends and wants them to step up to the plate once more.....

8:49 PM  
Blogger MHaus said...

Perfectly stated. Thanks, John.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog and insights. I hope they do as you suggest.

9:58 PM  
Blogger jain said...

How sad that Best Friends has gone the way of other prominent animal welfare groups, trying so hard not to offend anyone, they offend me. Either you're there to be popular or to rescue animals. Sometimes its a choice.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Viktor said...

Congratulations.. this is one of the best written, most insightful and balanced posts on what is, or should I say, what should be, Best Friends stance on Oreo as well as their own future as an organization
Be the best in the world at whatever it is you so... absolutely.

Viktor Larkhill
Let's Adopt Global!

3:02 AM  

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