Editorial: Surviving the long, cold winter

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1993:

We knew this would be a long, cold, difficult winter. Here at the confluence of
the Berkshires, the Adirondacks, and the Green Mountains, winters are always long and
always cold. Bears stay in their dens. Deer and rabbits nibble bark. Coyotes prowl farther,
venturing into daylight to drag away half-frozen roadkills. Even the crows look lean,
reserving their caws for real occasions. Though free to come and go through a special kitty
door, the feral cats we’ve rescued huddle close to the basement heater. Several have even
moved into the house, sleeping with humans for apparently the first time.
Despite the length of the winter here, in the shadows of tall mountains that make
days short even in midsummer, despite the bitter Arctic blasts that turn our little hollow
into a wind tunnel, snapping off trees and driving our dogs inside within minutes no matter
how much they crave exercise, we felt six weeks ago as if spring was just around the cor-
ner. ANIMAL PEOPLE, we thought, was in great shape for such a young and risky ven-
ture. As indeed it is. Starting with only our own good names as collateral, we’ve built up a
respectable international circulation; distinguished ourselves for prompt, thorough, broad-
ranging coverage; become the periodical of record in the animal protection field.

Money has always been tight. We’ve accomplished what we have through plain
old-fashioned frugality and hard work. Unlike the editors of commercial publications and
the house organs of well-endowed charities, we don’t just sit and write while contracting out
our tedious jobs. Between reporting and editing, parenting, and looking after the 23 cats
and two dogs in our care, we stuff every envelope ourselves, maintain our own subscrip-
tion lists, do our own filing, answer our own telephone, and do all the other basic chores
of publishing a newspaper, always working late into the night. We gather the wherewithal
to pay the printing and postage bills each month in increments, a few subscriptions here, an
advertisement there, and maybe a small cash contribution from someone. Though we’re
attracting more subscribers and advertisers with every issue, we still have to stretch every
dollar. We don’t really have big donors. Commercial advertisers are only just beginning to
discover the value of reaching our audience. And apart from the handful of organizations
who advertise, we get no support from the various national animal and habitat protection
groups. Sure, they all call us for information. We use our extensive archives to assist any-
one who’s working in a good cause, without charge. But it’s no secret that many of the
biggest, richest organizations would shut us up if they could, to prevent publication of our
annual feature on Who Gets The Money. Those who pay themselves six-figure salaries from
donations people intended to help the animals don’t like anyone to know about it.
Because we are optimistic, we didn’t pretend to be in dire peril when we issued
our first-ever winter appeal for donations. We knew times were tough for everyone. Sure,
we had to raise money, as every charity does. Winter appeals are essential to build reserves
that will get charities through the summer slack period, when most people are slower about
responding to their mail and donations are correspondingly scarce. Since we’d only begun
ANIMAL PEOPLE during the summer of 1992, our need for a successful winter appeal
was considerable: we have no cash reserves, no securities, no other resources beyond good
will, and good will, unfortunately, doesn’t satisfy the telephone, gas, and electric compa-
Still, we pointed with pride to our economic successes. Most notably, we’d
retired our start-up debt, after just four issues, during a year that saw a record number of
newspapers and magazines go bankrupt. With your help, we’d demonstrated that enough
people who care about animals want regular, prompt, reliable access to information to
make ANIMAL PEOPLE both viable and essential, despite the concerted opposition of
both instititutional animal abusers and many of the national groups who have something to
hide. We hadn’t paid ourselves a red cent during 1992, but explained with naive optimism
that we would soon, of necessity, begin paying ourselves a minimum living wage. We
were sure we could do it because we understood we had a substantial refund coming from
the U.S. Postal Service, which would put us an adequate distance ahead of other publishing
This came about because back when we first set up ANIMAL PEOPLE, we met
bureaucratic delays of nearly five months in obtaining our Internal Revenue Service charita-
ble tax status determination and our nonprofit mailing permit––after waiting three months to
get nonprofit status from New York state. Such delays are not uncommon. Accordingly,
our postmaster informed us, the U.S. Postal Service makes a provision. New nonprofit
organizations, the postmaster said, are allowed to mail at the standard bulk rates until they
get all their nonprofit documentation, and then the postal service refunds the excess amount
it collected. Understanding we would eventually get a refund, we went ahead and started
ANIMAL PEOPLE right on schedule, as we’d promised our subscribers and advertisers.
When our nonprofit papers came through, we filed copies of all our postal receipts and
awaited the refund.
But our postmaster, who retired while the paperwork was being shuffled through
the system, had inadvertantly misinformed us. Our refund would cover only the few days
between when the U.S. Postal Service finished processing the nonprofit mailing permit and
when we received it, not the 20 weeks we waited for the IRS to confirm the tax-exempt sta-
tus we had already received from the state with our incorporation papers.
We got an apology, but apologies don’t pay bills.
No, ANIMAL PEOPLE is not going to cease publishing or skip issues. We’re
not going to threaten you with our imminent demise, because among other things, we do
believe that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We’re here to help you help
animals through thick and thin––on time, with the news, when you need it.
But we could really and truly use a little more help from our friends. Or, even bet-
ter if you can manage it, a lot more, to give us breathing space.
We’ve kept up with all our bills; we don’t owe anyone in connection with ANI-
MAL PEOPLE. It’s still on a sound business footing––better than ever, in fact, with a
broader distribution network, more subscribers, and more advertisers than we’ve ever had
before. But we’d only managed to pay ourselves for four weeks each when bureaucracy
clobbered us. And we haven’t been paid since.
That makes for cold, hard times on this side of the mountain.
This is nothing new. We’ve long understood the price we pay for doing service
journalism, instead of pursuing whatever captivates the public fancy. The editor won four
national awards for investigative work with other nonprofit papers, while making ends meet
through sportswriting; ghostwriting; running a printing press; shoveling manure, garbage,
and fly ash; slinging hay; chopping firewood––and is willing to do any or all of it again, if
necessary. We know how to pay dues to make worthwhile things happen. And somehow or
other, we will find a way to keep the baby, the cats, and the dogs warm and fed, and keep
There’s just one more thing to say:
Thank you. Thank you for whatever you can send, whether it’s $10, $25, $100,
or more. Any donations above the price of a subscription are tax-deductible.
Remember, your gift to ANIMAL PEOPLE is doing much more than just help-
ing sustain a unique and valuable animal protection newspaper. It’s also helping us maintain
an archive of information of global scope, so that whenever anyone anywhere suddenly
needs background or statistics or contacts or an informed opinion pertaining to anything hav-
ing to do with animals, we can quickly provide it. Every day, ANIMAL PEOPLE gets
calls and letters from reporters with the mainstream media, humane society directors, con-
scientious investment counselors, schoolteachers, students, people organizing community
projects and activities––from you, and your allies and colleagues.
Your gift is an investment in a future where compassion matters, informed by
accurate, honest information. Please contribute today.
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