23 Jul Talkin’ ‘Bout Dis Information
Part 7 in a Series About Saving Chicago’s Healthy and Treatable Animals
(Author’s note: Because I frenetically channeled my inner Little Orange Buddha for this post, it has been revised many times, and thankfully many angry paragraphs have been deleted, and most of the wistful wrung out.)
“Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted …” — Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), Political Lying
My observations over the past couple of years as a City employee and citizen confirm a firmly held belief that there is, indeed, an obligation to be truthful in public discourse. I’ve witnessed first-hand how misinformation and, worse still disinformation fed to the press and social media pages by one alderman in particular became deleterious to the cause of animal welfare in this City, slowing progress — and sowing discord, sadly between the very people who passionately believed in the same goals.
Imagine if two years ago, the alderman who once purportedly championed the cause of No Kill in this City decided to work with the municipal shelter instead of constantly working against it, how much further along we might be. Luckily, despite all of the ill-informed publicity, everyone forged forward toward the goal of saving Chicago’s healthy and treatable animals resulting in the considerable progress we see today.
“Truth in Aldermantising” — to wit, when facts and law inform an alderman’s comments in the press or his Ward’s social media pages — should be the norm in this City when it comes to the municipal shelter. To those that know the history of the past two years, I would argue that if an alderman is going to talk about euthanasia at the City shelter, he should first understand why and when it occurs. If an alderman is going to present an ordinance requiring the City shelter to have a “written policy for euthanasia” he should do the basic due diligence, and ensure the City doesn’t already have one. If an alderman is going to talk about dangerous dogs and related investigations, he should pull out the ordinance that actually governs them (MCC 7-12-050) and give it a read. If an alderman is going to talk about bites at a shelter, he should do some comparisons of other shelters that house beings with teeth, and discuss the context of the bites and why they might occur. If an alderman is going to talk about shelter dog behavior, he should actually visit the shelter occasionally, talk to those in the know, and actually have some knowledge, experience or education regarding the subject matter or tap into the considerable expertise that is out there. If an alderman is truly interested in understanding the concept of No Kill, then he should talk to the experts and do a little research, and attempt to ascertain what it actually might cost.
If the media, informed by the agenda of this particular individual, found the shelter to be “chronically troubled,” the effect of the false narratives constructed about the City shelter can be described as chronically troubling. And it has not been insignificant. I’ll never submit that anything is perfect: Lessening the degrees of imperfection is truly the goal, especially when the shelter’s function is to address a most imperfect situation, the challenge of homeless animals entering day in and day out. But I can say with certainty that the false narratives perpetuated by this particular alderman have done nothing to help the thousands of animals that have come through the doors.
But there is hope. I still truly believe aldermen have an important role to play in helping make the good stuff happen for people and pets in Chicago. I continue to say that 50 Wards are 50 opportunities. I also believe they have an important role of providing constructive criticism when it is warranted, so that improvements can be made and resources can be allotted to do so. Some alderman like Nicholas Sposato have rolled up their sleeves and ventured down to the shelter; they have engaged constructively with the shelter; and they have engaged earnestly with their constituents as to how to help the City’s homeless animals. These actions show commitment and support for all who have worked very hard with limited resources to help the people and pets of Chicago.
It takes courage to seek out facts, learn the laws and put away personal agendas. More importantly, it takes courage to actually listen. If this City is going to move forward productively, there needs to be an unvarnished look at the very real challenges of the municipal shelter; not just ignorant criticism of its function. If the City is to move forward in an informed manner on animal welfare issues, then we need to have those honest conversations with our elected officials, and ensure they have the facts about the City shelter, its role, and how they can help.