Editorial: You get more flies with honey than vinegar

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1993:

“We appeal once again for stronger ordinances for companion animals,” the
address to the city council began. “It looks as if more will be killed this year than last year.”
So far, so good: a succinct statement of the problem by a humane group with an estab-
lished record of accomplishment. The councillors were at attention, awaiting the statistics
and the proposed solution. But instead the humane society director mounted a figurative
pulpit, her voice rising to fill the room.
“Deciding that death for other beings is preferable to a risk-filled life is not
euthanasia in its traditional form,” she lectured, “but rather a lethal manifestation of
speciesism that projects our own fears and values onto another species.” As the perplexed
council members glanced at each other and scratched their heads, she raised her voice
another decibel and continued. “Mass killing manages an animal control problem for soci-
ety, but only a morally bankrupt community would continue to participate in such institu-
tionalized slaughter. Humane euthanasia may be indeed the lesser of evils facing aban-
doned animals in a hostile world, but it is still an evil. Instead of confronting the sources of
injustice, as represented by public ignorance, apathy, and cruelty, we have chosen to
punish the victims. Our city shelter is not much more than a killing machine.”
And then, as her supporters climbed up on their chairs to cheer, she asked for

She didn’t get it. About all that the councillors understood from her speech was
that they’d just been accused of representing the interests of a town full of stupid, cruel,
indifferent moral degenerates, who were supposed to foot the bill for a program propound-
ed by the person who’d just called them names. If their constituents really were all that stu-
pid, cruel, indifferent, and degenerate, supporting a humane society could be political sui-
cide. If they weren’t, supporting a person who accused them of such could also be risky.
Voices crying in the wilderness can afford to insult the public because no one is
listening. Politicians can’t. The politician who disrespects the people is soon a former
politican, no matter how astute his or her political career in other regards. When we go to
the public seeking sympathy, cooperation, and financial help, we too must become politi-
cans––unless we want to fail and remain just voices in the wilderness, true to our beliefs
but ineffective in advancing them. Every word the humane society director said may have
been true, at least from her perspective, but pronouncements of truth from limited perspec-
tives don’t get laws and appropriations through negotiating committees.
The humane society director could have told the councillors, “This is a progressive
community in many respects,” briefly listing recent positive accomplishments in promoting
public health and safety, before noting that, “Unfortunately, our animal care and control
programs have slipped below the rising national standard. Certainly you have other priori-
ties,” she could have continued. “Human priorities. At the same time, animal care and
control problems are human problems, because there is a relationship between how young
people perceive the treatment of animals and how they learn to treat human beings; a rela-
tionship between the presence of homeless animals and public health; and a relationship
between endlessly spending money to kill homeless animals and never having quite enough
money to deal with human social issues. Statistics from other communities show,” and she
could have offered them, “that if we spend $30,000 now to prevent pet overpopulation, we
will be saving up to $300,000 in animal care and control costs over the next ten years. Even
more important,” she could have pointed out with a brief switch to her preaching voice, “by
teaching our children that we believe in preventing pets from breeding, rather than in throw-
ing away puppies and kittens, we will be teaching them a lesson in respect for all of life that
will extend to their still-developing attitudes toward other people, including eventually their
own children. Your investment in more effective animal care and control is thus an invest-
ment in improving overall community well-being,” she might have concluded. “Your help
will be gratefully appreciated, not only now but as the years go by.”
Could that speech have won the appropriation? Since it wasn’t delivered, we’ll
never know for sure. But versions have been delivered successfully in many other commu-
nities, and many other communities with problems as severe as those of the one in question
have learned that improved approaches to animal care and control bring multiple benefits.
The point to remember, when your turn to address a public body comes––whether
directly or in a letter or through the media––is that no matter how frustrated you may be, a
blast is going to get you nowhere. Link your concerns to those of the public. Give people
good reasons to want to help you, not reasons why you think they’re going straight to hell if
they don’t, and thank them in advance. There’s no absolutely surefire way to succeed in pol-
itics with a difficult program, but avoiding surefire failure is a good beginning.
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