After reading “Heel Thyself” (3/26), I wished that I were a professor, because I surely could use the article to teach and discuss yellow journalism. The article is replete with undocumented statements. It distorts and exaggerates occurrences, and leaves implications and half-truths dangling in the air.
I must first disclose that for almost 13 years, until Sept. 4 last year, I was a volunteer (unpaid) with the Washington Humane Society at the D.C. Animal Shelter on New York Avenue, and though I witnessed the kind of problems that any agency has in fulfilling its mission 100 percent of the time, I stood in awe of the paid staff and the organization’s board of directors. Almost to a person, each was awesome in discharging his or her responsibilities to protect this city’s largely neglected, abused, and unwanted animals.
A few examples of what I perceive as yellow journalism:
Michael O’Sullivan, the executive director of the Humane Society of Canada, “reported that he had received a death threat against his family over the contract.” What is the implication here, and where is the documentation proving that such a threat was made?
Your reporter said that the mayor’s spokesperson, Tony Bullock, asked whether the city had exercised “due diligence” on the Humane Society of Canada during the bidding process, but this was never addressed in the article. The article failed to report that after the offer of a contract had been made to the Canadian group, there were reports that the group had never before run a shelter and had had questionable financial dealings in the past. Why didn’t the reporter go into this? Why didn’t the city exercise its “due diligence” responsibility?
Peggy Keller, the contract monitor, wrote that a Humane Society employee went to the D.C. Animal Shelter the day after the society left the shelter and behaved inappropriately in the adoptive placement of a dog. If this is important enough to be reported, why in the world didn’t your reporter ask the employee about the occurrence? Was this the only example (and unsubstantiated, at that) of the reporter’s assertion that the Humane Society believed that “the shelter belonged to them?” If so, not very convincing.
When the D.C. Council held public hearings last October, a month after the shelter closed, most of the animal-care community was supportive of the Washington Humane Society and its past work at the D.C. Animal Shelter. These people are mostly hardworking, unpaid volunteers who toil long and hard on behalf of unwanted, mistreated animals. Why does your reporter imply that this “joining hands with the Humane Society” is a negative thing?
Why did your reporter choose to use information primarily from Humane Society critics? There is no indication that any of the organization’s horde of supportive, caring volunteers was interviewed. I myself was at the shelter until almost midnight the day it closed, and I saw the events leading to the closure and the closure itself in quite a different light. I also saw the city’s disagreements with the Humane Society about oversight monitoring in quite a different way. (In a previous life, I was a contract monitor, and I know some of the essentials of effective monitoring.)
And finally: “The shelter’s trigger finger appears to have made it a destination for unwanted animals.” Ignore the fact that this is a poorly constructed sentence that denotes the finger as the destination point, and look at how sensational the underlying sentiment is. Yes, too many animals are killed at the D.C. Animal Shelter, but everyone knows this already, including Washington Humane Society staff and volunteers.
What needs to be said is that until people become more responsible about breeding, buying, nurturing, and caring for their animals, this will continue to be the case. Too many unwanted animals. (And it’s not just the teenagers with their pit bulls. A Ph.D. friend of mine recently let her own cat, still a kitten, have a litter of eight kittens—and cannot see what was wrong with this.)
What also needs to be said is that the Washington Humane Society was making great strides in increasing the numbers of animals adopted. In 1990, 792 animals were placed for adoption. The numbers began to rise soon after and have continued the upward turn. In the most recent year for which statistics are available—last year—2,128 animals from New York Avenue were adopted. It is a sin and a shame that momentum has been lost; rebuilding the adoption program will take some time.