When My Inner Dog Barks
November 13, 2009 by Nathan J. Winograd
No Kill, Marriage Equality, Karl Rove, Cross Dressing, and the Fly. What’s all the Fuss?
It won’t come as a surprise to my readers that I have had my share of negative “feedback” over the years. Thankfully, it is much less than the positive feedback the message I advocate receives, but it is there. Some of it comes from those with ugly personal agendas. But for the most part, all you have to do is follow the sodium pentobarbital to understand where the bulk of the criticism is coming from. And not surprisingly, it is mostly driven by killing shelters and their apologists. I am touching the raw nerves of those who engage in untoward actions because they know what they are doing and supporting is morally reprehensible, and they lash out in anger.
I also have had some negative feedback that is well-intended and equally well-accepted. I don’t mind criticism, because criticism helps me grow. And when it is on issues regarding which reasonable people can differ on, I’ve accepted some; I’ve agreed to disagree on others. I recently read a blog post where someone asked the question of why I spend so much time talking about “reforming HSUS.” Why I keep saying that when they lead on the issue of No Kill, I’ll follow. And I gave it a lot of thought and realized they were right. While historically, I have made that claim because HSUS is so large and influential that their leadership on the issue could make immediate and widespread change, I think the person who posted his frustration with my approach was correct. And I actually found it refreshing to read that someone thought I was being too moderate. So I’ve stopped speaking this way and no longer will. Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of HSUS, is inherently incapable of leadership and is, in fact, a roadblock. He can best serve shelter animals by resigning or being fired. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, not HSUS (or ASPCA or AHA for that matter).
But there is one type of criticism—though it occurs very infrequently—which I want to put to rest once and for all. Whenever I go “off topic” such as when I make comparisons to the movement for marriage equality, or when I bring in political references such as linking the tactics of character assassination by killing apologists to the strategy Karl Rove used against those who opposed the Bush administration’s agenda, I usually get one or two very emphatic e-mails of condemnation. Not because they agree with the shelter killing crowd—they do not—but because they disagree on those other issues. They don’t want me to say anything political in nature or on other topics they don’t agree with me on.
And recently, it happened again. On my twitter page last Sunday, I posted a blurb about a New York Times article on children in school who cross-dress. The article was about dress codes and how school administrators were trying to formulate policy around the boy who feels more comfortable in a skirt, or the girl who wants to wear a tuxedo to her prom. As usual, administrators of my generation were mostly confused, unable to see the forest through the trees, blinded by religious dogma, or just plain out of touch—trying to “protect” kids who cross dress from peers who have moved beyond such prejudices. By contrast, the students quickly got to the heart of the matter: Who cares? Who does it hurt? Why can’t we let them be who they want to be?
When I was in school, it would have been a source of taunting and worse. At other times and places, any behavior that opened a student up to suggestion of being gay would have been a lynch mob. But, increasingly, not so anymore. And then I got to the part in the New York Times piece about Jack:
One student … born male and named Jack, has long, straight hair and prefers to be referred to with a female pronoun. Jack is careful not to violate the dress code. She favors tops that are tapered but not revealing, flats, lip gloss.
“One day I heard a student say, ‘Man, there was a girl in the guy’s restroom, standing up using the urinal! What’s up with that?’ ” Mr. Grace [an administrator overhearing the conversation] recalled [in surprise]…
But the other student replied off-handedly, “That wasn’t a girl. That’s just Jack.”
And I found myself welling up with tears. That’s just Jack. And I thought of a new generation of kids growing up free of the small mindedness that defined previous generations. I thought of a new generation of kids for whom tolerance and acceptance of those scorned by previous generations is natural and second-nature: what’s all the fuss?
That’s good stuff and I wanted to share it with my readers. Not just because of the obvious value in and of itself, but because what this has to say about the social issue I do blog day in and day out about. Doesn’t this article give us hope for the future for all progressive social movements? Aren’t there parallels here we can take solace in about the future for shelter animals? Indeed, for all animals?
And so I wrote that the future looks bright because the fact that Generation Z kids are rejecting the intolerance of our generation and embracing all their classmates shows, once again, how humans have a remarkable capacity to change for the better. It shows that we will leave the cave if someone just shines a path for us to see the opening. And that with the right information, we will quickly emerge into the light. There are few things in this life that leave me feeling as hopeful, as inspired, and downright euphoric as evidence of this fact, and I wanted to share it.
But then it came, as I knew it would: the condemnation. The same criticism I’ve received whenever I make allusions to other social movements. I am told I should not talk about those other issues in my blog or on my twitter posts because it dilutes the support I receive for the No Kill message. I am told it upsets my readers who might disagree with the politics, those who do not support marriage equality, or those who do not accept the Jacks of the world and expect people like Jack to change, instead of what the situation demands: that we change our attitudes toward them. Once again, that is a very small number. I can count the complaints on my fingers, so I could have easily just ignored them. I also thought that responding will just open up Pandora’s Box. It is certainly easier not to make these references. But, then my dog started barking.
Not my actual dogs, though they bark too whenever something is “wrong” such as when the UPS guy thinks he can actually come onto our porch and deliver a box (the hubris!), or when our neighbor has the audacity to walk his dog by the front of our house. Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark. I am talking about the “barking dog” in the back of my mind: my conscience. Unlike my flesh and blood dogs, who I affectionately call “Tom” and “Ridge” whenever they needlessly increase the threat safety level to orange, I ignore the barking dog of conscience at my own peril. And I’ve come to learn that that dog is always right in the long term, even if he causes me short term problems. When my inner dog says, “Jump!” I say “How high?” And, on this issue, my inner dog refuses to compromise.
The crackpots, I can handle. The killers and killing apologists, I can handle. They are par for the course and I write about them extensively in my upcoming new book. But these latter criticisms, which come from people who clearly see how wrong it is to kill animals and who embrace the No Kill philosophy, I can’t and won’t abide.
The idea of social media is that it levels the playing field in that voices on any side of any issue can be broadcast to the world and people can opt in or opt out in terms of getting the information at their leisure. In an age when we have seen the increasing consolidation of the mass media by a relatively few corporate entities that have limited our ability to get the truth, the ability to get information around the country and world without interference from bean counters, political ideologues, and corporate interests is a breath of fresh air. In the animal protection movement, the dialog about shelter killing has been so completely controlled by HSUS & Company that social media allows us to share our point of view on par with the media muscle of organizations with $100 million dollar annual budgets. In 2008, I was the third most cited person on animal sheltering issues in the U.S., without the financial wherewithal of an HSUS. But thanks to the social media, unencumbered by the almighty dollar, my voice can still be heard. And so any interference of my prerogative to share my beliefs, I simply cannot accept. But that isn’t even the core reason I reject those criticisms.
The real reason comes down to this: I am not asking anyone to support or embrace me. I am asking people to embrace the compassion of the No Kill philosophy because the animals deserve it. Once again, as I write in Irreconcilable Differences:
I could go away tomorrow and that wouldn’t change the facts, or the inescapable conclusion. The cat is out of the bag, and is never going back in.
The No Kill message I advocate is powerful because it is the truth and because it resonates so strongly with the experiences that animal lovers have with their own brutal and regressive shelters.
So, while 99.99% of my writings deal with the single issue of No Kill, I am a human being with a strong sense of right and wrong, and those larger beliefs will continue to inform my writings. I believe in No Kill. But I also believe in animal rights, human rights, gay rights, gender equality, and racial equality. I believe that rights are essential for all these groups and I’ve argued that repeatedly because, in a legal republic, rights ensure the fair, thoughtful and compassionate society we all deserve. And I laud those who fight for them because history always vindicates them. Always. No matter how uncomfortable they made their contemporaries; in fact, because they did.
I believe that you must embrace compassion wherever and however it presents itself. That is who I am. And that is what I will promote publicly and privately. Compassion, compassion, compassion, compassion. For animals, for cross dressing kids, for that fly that President Obama should have left alone rather than killed. It is the unending drumbeat I will play until my time on this Earth is finished.
I know we can do better; that we can construct our communities in a way that is truly kind, fair, and compassionate to everyone—regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or species; that we can bring to our society the fullest expression of our common pledge to promote the general welfare for ourselves and our posterity, and I do not doubt that ultimately that pledge will be interpreted in ways which we—trapped in our own time—cannot even begin to imagine. History reveals this to be the case. From the moment we came together to form civil societies: from Hammurabi putting down the first known written codes in human history, to the Magna Carta, to the Enlightenment which includes the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, all the way to the progress of our time on civil rights, environmentalism, and animal rights, the arc of history not only bends toward greater compassion, but for greater compassion to a wider circle of groups; indeed, to include the planet itself. From that perspective, the No Kill movement is an extension of all that historical progress that has come before it, and will be an extension—and a part—of those movements yet to come that will push the envelope even further. Taking the long view, the issues are the same. I am not “off topic.”
And that is why when I see an injustice, as I see in shelters every day, I clench my teeth and then I fight back with an opposing force of compassion equal—and hopefully surpassing—the forces of cruelty; that they would dare subvert the goals of kindness, fairness, and compassion or forestall progress along the journey we are all on to build a better world. And so I speak out, whenever my conscience demands it, with the wise words of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison playing deafeningly in my ears:
I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation… I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch…
Of course, it is up to you whether you choose to listen.