Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Where is your line in the sand?


What's the one belief you won't compromise on?

I'm facing a personal ethical challenge and it's making me re-evaluate who I am and what I believe in. I'm going to be self-indulgent here and put it all into words. I don't expect any magical relief will come from putting it out here...but just maybe...I don't know...

I became a member of the Board of Directors of my local Animal Protective League back in February. The organization is experiencing some growing pains and I've been trying to help get them back on course (read = they're transitioning from "the way we've always done things" to "the right way.") . They haven't been following their corporate directives except in the most generalized ways (read = they still have an animal shelter, but all established business practices have ceased). Procedural things have just fallen by the wayside and nobody has bothered to address the resulting substantive deficiencies for quite some time. For example, they are a membership organization and they're supposed to have a list of members in a membership book. Simple, right? They didn't. In fact, they couldn't even say WHO their members were. Even worse, they didn't have a policy and procedures manual for the employees. Everyone just sort of bumbled along however they were used to or however they felt like. It is a mess. And I say that both personally and professionally.

I joined the organization knowing that while they have aspirations to prevent the need to euthanize animals, they have enacted policy that limits the shelter population. In the rescue community we call it "euthanizing for space." I hate it, but I understand the options can, at times, be to either euthanize unwanted animals or house them indefinitely and stop taking in any other animals in need. I pledged to work with rescues as much as humanly possible to make sure that "my" shelter doesn't have to euthanize for space. I guess you could say this was my first ethical compromise.

Recently, it has come to my attention that our shelter practices the abortion of canine pregnancies (they may also do felines, but I do not have any information on that at this time). This thought makes me sick to my stomach. I asked about it and was told that "everyone does it," and that other shelters accepted this practice (allegedly) as an effort to address the overwhelming generalized problem of pet overpopulation. Another symptom of the larger problems within this organization...there is no formal policy regarding this abortion/pregnant-spay practice. I'm not sure there was ever even a discussion. The Board President tells me this was "sort of adopted as policy" by herself, the then-Shelter Director, and the Animal Welfare Director. I asked how the decisions are made regarding selection of animals for this "procedure" and I asked if this practice was ever disclosed to membership. I received NO response. The silence concerns me. A lot.

I emailed the Board President again and told her I'm going to formally request that this procedure cease unless/until the Board adopts a formal policy allowing it. As you can imagine (probably because she was involved in the initial formation of this "sort of policy"), I didn't get a real positive response. I told her that I believe if this is a policy the organization wants to have, then it should be discussed and adopted out in the open...particularly since we are a member organization and we MUST be open with our members. I told her I plan to introduce it as new business at our next Board meeting

I have thought about this for weeks now and have decided that if they do adopt this policy, I will immediately resign. This is the line I will not cross. This is not something I can be a party to. I haven't told anyone this because I don't want it to seem like a threat from someone who is too self-important. I just want/need to do what is necessary for my own peace of mind.

I know where this conversation will lead because that's where it has gone in my head over the past few weeks. The A-word. The big debate. My brain is tired from turning it all over...inside out and upside down.

And underneath all the "big" issues this has brought up for me, I'm just really really sad that I may have to leave this organization that I so badly want to help. All I would have to do is make another compromise to stay. Unfortunately, I think it would end up costing me more than I can imagine and I just can't do it.

I hope that any and all comments to this post will be respectful. I'm not talking to the people I know (I know you will behave yourselves)...I'm talking directly to anonymous people who may choose to post drive-by comments. Rude or disrespectful comments will be deleted.


Kathy McC said...

It is quite a conundrum. It certainly doesn't sound right...and not so much because it's happening, but because there is no "good reason or rules" stated. The fact that you have gotten little response and that it has been so rigid and negative raises a big red flag.

I say (not that you asked my advice) go with your gut. I find that it helps me with a lot of situations where I feel stuck. Usually, my gut is sitting back whispering and I just have to get really quiet so I can hear it. Gut feeling is always the best for yourself. I think your gut is speaking loudly. Good for you for sticking to your guns.

Kathy McC said...

I also meant to say that animal abortion doesn't sound good to me. It kind of defeats the purpose of animal shelter and rescue. There are so many people who want puppies...I can't imagine why they would do such a thing.

marcia said...

Catherine, as I read this, I couldn't help but draw numerous parallels between what you are dealing with, and something, even though a totally different scenario, that my husband and I had to struggle our way through a couple of years ago. We had to leave an organization, and many close relationships, after 28 years of investing our lives into it on many levels, because we came to an absolute impasse, even after a couple of years of conversations, between decisions being made and acted upon, and what we believed to be wrong in a very deep moral and ethical sense. It was heart-wrenching, and we essentially went through a deep grief process after coming to the conclusion that we had no choice but to sever the relationship. That was two years ago, and I can honestly say, now, that we have had many more doors of opportunity opened up to us, to serve in areas that fulfull us on a very deep level, that never would have happened if we had not gone through that experience. And we, now, have totally lost any desire to ever go back. We are experiencing a great sense of freedom from knowing that we acted on what was a deep conviction and truth to us, even though it was not popular with some people at the time. We worked within the system, trying with everything in us, to right the wrongs, for a very long time...as it seems you have been trying to do. We left knowing that we had done all we could...and with the peace of mind that comes from doing what you know is right. Do not compromise, Catherine....there is great freedom and satisfaction in knowing you have done the right thing.
Way back in the Dark Ages, when I was in sixth grade, I, along with every other girl in my class, had an "autograph book" that we had all our friends sign. My teacher wrote in mine(and probably all of them!) "Have the courage of your convictions." He would probably be very pleased to know that has stuck with me all these years....very wise words to live by! Do so, my friend!

Aurelia said...

Ok, so the question is, is your issue the a-word, or is your issue the procedure around authorizing the a-word?

Just because we have a similar issue in our city and it turns out that the vets who do this stuff like euthanizing have specific procedures and processes and they in fact do not want to be dictated to by well-meaning but non-medical boards because some of them take the no-kill shelter thing too far. Like to the point where there are hundreds of unwanted animals, some disabled and seriously ill.

They want to save animals, but not ones that will suffer. (Like say the mom has serious injuries or illness, then the pups will not be ok, even if we want them too.)

Maybe it would help if you or the board spoke to the vets who do this. Do they have a governing body who has standards on this practice?

And before you take this any further, think about what might happen if you push it. Do you want to be the head of the board? Do you have the time? If this gets resolved but everyone hates you, are you okay with that outcome?

Just some thoughts....

Michele said...

Catherine, I say, follow your heart. That is my line in the sand. If something leaves a bad taste in my mouth, then I stop. I wont go against my heart. I ended up leaving a group about 5y ago because some things were said that left me speechless... angry... against my very core beliefs. Times change, people change, and administrations change and almost 2y ago, I was able to return to that very same organization. Sometimes we have to stand up for our beliefs and, if things are meant to fall that way, we may find ourselves back where we were, but in a much better place.

As to the A word... I completely agree with you. It turns my stomach. With the amount of puppymills out there, it isnt a lack of people wanting to adopt animals- it is the way that we are going about it. You would think that organizations promoting the protection of animal life would protect all animal life and would try to make policy changes to make that a possibility.

Follow your heart, dear one. Follow your heart. It wont steer you wrong.

Pipsylou said...

I guess I'm confused. I know you are pro-choice in regards to human abortions. But animal abortions you are uncomfortable with? I am struggling to understand that. Maybe there is some other circumstance I don't know about.

I agree with the other posters in following your heart.

Catherine said...


"I'm facing a personal ethical challenge and it's making me re-evaluate who I am and what I believe in." :o)

Pipsylou said...

C -

Can I blame that one on the moving?

And really, isn't it my job to annoy you a little bit? ;)


Sarah said...

I didn't know shelters did such a thing. I thought they were suppose to be a place where unwanted animals would be safe. I can see the dilemma. What a hard decision you have ahead of you.

kate said...

For what it's worth, it would bother the hell out of me too. I can totally see leaving the organization over such a thing. I hope you can find a compromise.