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A couple of weeks ago, I posted how Best Friends is trying to reduce holding periods in Wisconsin, thus putting animals at greater risk for killing and killing more quickly. It is not the first time Best Friends has betrayed animals in shelters. They helped kill a rescue rights law in New York, effectively condemning 25,000 animals a year to death. Best Friends is not what it pretends to be. It is, at best, a mixed bag, doing some good things, doing some harmful things, but generally receiving unfettered and unquestioned allegiance because it buys supporters, much like the ASPCA.

In response to my post, people went on the attack, defending Best Friends by claiming that giving shelters the power to kill quicker is necessary to give them the power to adopt quicker, a claim that is singularly disturbing, internally contradictory, ethically dubious, and demonstrably false. I proposed a bifurcated holding period that would allow quicker adoptions, indeed allow shelters to transfer animals to rescuers the day they come in, while protecting the rights of families to reclaim their animals, protecting animals from being killed too quickly, and protecting animals from being killed without ever being offered for adoption.

Second, I previously showed how the claims that “holding periods do not save lives” are also demonstrably false and how the data is misused by those with either limited knowledge of sheltering, lack vision of what our movement can and should be championing, or simply put allegiance to Best Friends over minimal protections for animals in shelters.

To which they responded: people who disagree with them have “zero experience running open admission shelters. These people are merely keyboard advocates…”

And there it is…

The ad hominem attack. When attacking the message fails, they attack the messenger. Ironically, those who champion this message are, by their own definition, “keyboard advocates” themselves or were at one time. Some of them have never actually worked in a shelter and have little to no history even volunteering, but the rules do not seem to apply to them; only to those with whom they disagree.

Of course, I have run shelters, I’ve done training and consulting with shelters all over the world, I currently do training and consult with shelters throughout the U.S. I write books, produce movies, write legislation, work with elected officials, rescue animals, litigate, run an organization, and more. And I oppose this legislation. Nor am I am the only one. Others who likewise object to this legislation also have rich, complex lives that define them more broadly than “keyboard advocates.” Like me, many of them rescue, lobby, run organizations, work in shelters, work outside of shelters, and more. But even if they, and I, did none of these things, what does it mean to be a “keyboard advocate” and is being one a bad thing?

When I posted about Best Friends’ embrace of quick kill legislation, I braced myself for what was to come, as I knew it would: the vitriol, the self-serving statements devoid of evidence, the thought police who declare that we should not even be allowed to have this discussion and that any questioning of the “wisdom according to Best Friends” amounts to heresy, regardless of what the evidence shows. Sadly, for such people, a misplaced trust and need to identify with such groups or the people who work at them at some point became more important than the professed values that presumably led them to support such organizations in the first place. The ideals that animals have rights and interests independent of humans—including the right to live—are casually discarded so long as those causing the suffering or death are self-proclaimed members of the animal protection movement. For them, it is not what is right that matters, but who is right—even when they are clearly wrong.

The No Kill philosophy, the No Kill movement, the No Kill Equation, and the focus on high-volume adoptions are ideas that require abandoning old ones. Without exception, these were once unilaterally opposed by our nation’s wealthiest “humane” groups. To win support for these new ways of doing business required abandoning deification of ideas, leaders, and groups that experience proved to be wrong. And in order for a bad idea to be abandoned, it must be directly challenged. We do that in several ways: direct action, litigation, legislation, education, and—last, but certainly not least—advocacy, the tools used by every social movement in American history.

Contrary to their assertion, we need more “keyboard advocates,” not fewer.

To bash the “keyboard advocate” is to bash Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Thomas Clarkson, William Shakespeare, Upton Sinclair, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and legions of newspaper reporters who spend most of their time advocating via keyboard. It is to deny the power of the written word and relegate the protection of a free press and free expression of ideas to the dust heap.

That the venue of such advocacy is increasingly on cyberspace—such as blogs and social media—rather than books and newspapers is of no moment. That we are debating and discussing remotely rather than in public squares is also irrelevant. The 17th and 18th century Europeans had their coffee houses, the colonists and early Americans had their taverns, we have Facebook. This is where we come to talk, debate, discuss, learn, and then go do.

But that is not what these people want. They simply want to dismiss anything they disagree with by demonizing people as “keyboard advocates” because they prefer to stay within the safety of platitudes. They do not believe they have anything to learn by looking at what the research shows and how experience is changing what we think we know or how our own myopia might cause us to misunderstand what we are seeing. Instead, they want us to defer to groups like Best Friends because they are a “solid organization” who deserve our “gratitude” no matter what they do.

If you see someone condemning “keyboard advocates,” you can rest assured those “keyboard advocates” are onto something. Bashing “keyboard advocates” is code for “I object because their assessment is devastating to my case.”

The power of Facebook does not lie in hand-wringing about problems while ignoring viable solutions or the perpetuation of white noise about how “people should spay and neuter their pets.” It does not lie in deification of the so-called “leaders” of the movement simply because they are large, wealthy, or because if you lionize them as they require, they write your group checks. And it does not lie in accepting false “either-or” propositions, such as holding periods have to be longer or shorter, but can’t be both.

It lies in truly talking: about what works, what doesn’t work, what needs reevaluation, and where we go from here. In other words, the power of the keyboard lies in collectively imagining the bright future we want for animals and then working to achieve it. Behind every revolutionary movement is an intellectual tradition. Behind every movement that has ever made our world a better place is a quill, typewriter, pen, or computer keyboard. Keyboard advocates change hearts, minds, laws, policies, and nations. With a keyboard, we can challenge our society to do better; to be better, arriving at the brighter future we are striving for; on the road we paved that led there.

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