Wearing the black hat well
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1998:
GREENSBORO, N.C.––Sheriff B.J. Barnes
of Guilford County, North Carolina, on September 10
relievedly turned the county animal shelter over to the
United Animal Coalition, a consortium of 13 local
organizations including both the Guilford County
Humane Society and the Greensboro SPCA.
Forced to run the shelter temporarily through
the summer, when no one else wanted the contract,
Barnes on August 7 jolted viewers of his weekly
“Sheriff’s Beat” cable TV program with a 35-second
clip of himself killing a homeless dog.
Over the next six weeks, the Guilford
County adoption rate jumped 300%, and the UAC
formed in response to public outcry.
It was classic black hats vs. white hats strategy,
as ANIMAL PEOPLE outlined it in September
1995 and July/August 1997 editorials–except that
Barnes is leaving animal control and the humane socities
are taking over, instead of the agencies continuing
to play off each other as alternatives, with the public
choosing which sort of service they want.
ANIMAL PEOPLE framed the utility of
keeping a sharp distinction between humane societies
and animal control in terms of western melodrama.
Humane societies, the white hats, ideally do what
well-meaning donors will support, to save animals’
lives. Animal control agencies, the black hats, destroy
alleged threats to public health and safety, grudgingly
funded by taxpayers who rarely endorse “extras.”
That doesn’t mean the black hats are actually
bad guys. Both roles are played by character actors,
working together from the same script.
When the same organization tries to be both
the white hats and the black hats, the drama loses the
dramatic tension that can bring an ambitious humane
society the means to reduce the community killing rate.
Instead, the public mentally links the humane society
with the dogcatcher, depressing donations and adoptions––the
later because people often hate to have to
choose one animal over others with the knowledge that
those they don’t choose will be killed.