Monday, December 22, 2008
All Creatures Great And Small
(Above: My first cat, Eliza Doolittle, when she was a kitten)
The cats and dogs of Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, Kensington, Emeryville and North Oakland are losing a good friend today.
Mim Carlson, who has guided the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society (which serves all these communities) for the last five years, is handing in her resignation this afternoon.
"Do you want the real reason or the politically correct reason?" she asked me.
"The real reason," I said.
"I'm tired, she said. "I'm just worn out. You have to be a little bit of everything in this position - program person, fundraiser and liaison between the board of directors and the staff. And you're also the public face of the organization. It's the toughest job you'll ever love."
Her immediate plans are to finish the second edition of "The Executive Director's Survival Guide," which she wrote in 2003, just before she assumed the reins at the humane society.
"It'll be a very different book. I've learned a lot in this position."
It's impossible to overstate the good Carlson has accomplished. Before her, the humane society was strictly an adoption center and animal hospital.
She expanded it into the community with a pet loss support group, humane education programs in the schools and a partnership with PAWS-East Bay, which sends volunteers to the homes of low-income seniors and people with disabling illnesses to help them take care of their pets.
And on her watch, thousands of homeless animals have been placed in loving new homes. One of my favorite innovations is the Golden Paws program, which has found new homes for hundreds of older dogs and cats.
But I think her greatest accomplishment is the strong working relationship she forged with other animal groups and agencies.
This hasn't always been the case. Some animal groups have an unfortunate tendency to see each other as rivals, not allies. But that's never been Mim's style.
"I shall miss her terribly, both professionally and personally," said Kate O'Connor, her counterpart at the Berkeley Animal Shelter. "They rescue some dogs and lots of cats from our shelter, which gives us a little breathing space. I can call them and say, 'I haven't got any room at the inn. Can you help us?' And they'll send someone right over."
Unfortunately, Carlson is leaving at a time when donations to animal welfare organizations are way, way down because of the slumping economy.
She and her staff have been stretching their resources to get the maximum bang for their bucks. But scrimping and saving can only go so far. I visited the humane society last Tuesday, and it broke my heart to see all the empty cages and kennels.
They represent all the additional dogs and cats who could have been helped if only the humane society had the money to pay for their food and care.
If you'd like to help, you can send a tax-deductible check to the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society, 2700 9th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. Or you can visit their web site at www.berkeleyhumane.org, where you can donate online and find out more about their programs and services.
One is a holiday toy drive for the dogs and cats in their shelter. You can drop toys off from Noon to 6 Thursdays through Saturdays, Noon to 5 on Sundays.
The site also has a long wish list, everything from volunteers to walk the dogs and cuddle the cats to a micro-centrifuge for the animal hospital.
In this time of terrible economic stress, nobody is suffering more than those at the bottom of the ladder, including helpless cats and dogs.
If you can help, it would be the best going-away present you could give Carlson. And she'd be the first to point out that if you don't live in one of the cities served by the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society, there's no shortage of equally deserving animal groups in your own community.