|MF: Mike Fry|
BN: Beth Nelson
JS: John Sibley
MF: We’re in the middle of a special edition of Animal Wise Radio where we’re celebrating the recipients of the Henry Bergh Leadership Awards that are given out each year by the No Kill Advocacy Center. The next person on the line, the next award winner we’re talking to is John Sibley, who is in New York. He’s a blogger at www.johnsibley.com. He’s actively involved, boots on the ground, rescuing animals. He is working on legislation. He’s in it up to his eyeballs.
BN: He’s got some old, decrepit dogs that hang out at his house, too.
JS: I’m distributing peanut butter Kongs right now.
BN: He’s trying to keep some peace in his home. We want to welcome you, John Sibley. We’re fans of your writing. We’re fans of your work, and we’re thrilled that you were able to make time to join us today.
JS: Thank you very much. It’s wonderful to be here. Thanks for having me. Congratulations to you, Mike, and I know there’s some great stuff happening in Minnesota right now.
MF: Well yes, but we’re here to talk about you. I am curious – one of the things we didn’t really get a chance to talk about a lot about Kerry Clair was this quick kill bill that you were very instrumental in also helping to kill. Can you talk a little about that work, and what is it that drives you to continue digging in and doing it? I’ll just add this caveat, that whenever I get involved and roll up my sleeves and deal with legislation, if I have to go to the legislature, it’s not a good day.
JS: It’s very frustrating, and it’s very slow. I hadn’t been as involved in it until this year, but I’ve been watching Kerry bang her head against the wall with rescue access legislation for a long time.
This bill that was introduced would take us so far back, and I knew that I could do something about it – and not just me by any means; there were many, many people involved in fighting this bill – but it was something that I knew that I could take on. It was surprising when she withdrew it, but we knew that it was possible.
MF: One of the things that I know that you did that I watched – and I’m guessing you were the coordinator of some advertising that was placed …
JS: I had a role in some of the advertising, but I was not by any means the only one.
MF: But that was part of the whole message, and I thought it was just a very effective campaign.
JS: It was. Guerrilla Marketing. One of the advantages that we all have in being small is that we don’t have to pass ideas by a giant committee and have meetings about it and wait a week. If we come up with something interesting, we can do it right now. A lot of the things that we did, there would be two or three of us on a phone call and we’d say, “Hey, what do you think? Yes, I can get that done tomorrow. Okay, let’s do it!”
BN: The being small part is inherently one of the challenges that I know you and other advocates in New York have faced, because some of your next door neighbors include the ASPCA.
JS: Absolutely. When you’re going up against a much larger organization, they have money, but you have speed. It doesn’t mean that they can't be beat.
BN: That’s part of the message that I love when we have a day like this where we celebrate different people in different communities across the country doing different types of work, but it all goes back to how can we do better for the animals that we say we are trying to serve?
John, you’re a talented writer, a talented communicator, you’ve got an artistic sense that some people may not have, and I think this is part of the message, that you can step up into a role and help in this movement, even if you’re not going to be able to house ten cats in your house, or even if you can't be taking home dogs or sitting at the PetSmart or whatever – there’s roles for people with all sorts of different types of talents, and I think you embody that.
JS: Absolutely – all skill sets. That’s absolutely true. Also, that you don’t necessarily have to sit on the sidelines and wait for somebody to ask you. There are a lot of things where people just step up and start doing them, and that’s how they get done.
MF: There’s a question that I would like to ask each of the award winners, and that is, do you have any words of encouragement for others in the community who are trying to affect change in their community?
JS: That’s interesting, and that’s something that I struggle with a lot because there are some times when I think all of us get very discouraged ourselves. Not everything is a win by any means, and there are certainly times when I have to step back and say, “Hold on. I have to take a rest here. I just got beaten down pretty badly. I need to take a rest and regroup so that I can move on.” That’s the first thing I would say – it’s not all going to be successes, and you have to take time to be healthy and consider yourself and regroup, gather your thoughts, and move on.
The second thing I would say is that I see a lot of people who want to get involved in the movement who think that there will be a Superman who will sweep in and solve a particular problem, who think that, “If we only had the right reporter on board, if we only had the right person on board,” – that somehow, somebody is going to come along and solve it. The other message that I have, if any, is that frequently that person is you.
If you see the problem and if you have an idea of how to fix it, how to attack it, then don’t wait to find the reporter or find the coordinator or find the organizer. Get started on what you can do. If it’s a good idea, people will join you and they will help you. Mike, I think that’s a lot of what you did with Just One Day. You had a great idea and you went forward with it, and people stepped up to help.
BN: He doesn’t want to talk about himself.
MF: I’m just going to put this out there – I don’t feel like I did that much. I feel like I put the word out, and a whole bunch of people swooped in and helped.
BN: But that’s what John was saying.
JS: That’s exactly it – if you have a good idea, instead of waiting, instead of saying somebody’s got to come along the make that real, start to make it real, and people will join you.
MF: I have a question on that note. I’m curious, we’re talking about Henry Bergh, who did that very thing, but he also oftentimes had the opposite experience where people were angry with him and didn’t like him. He had a lot of hate thrown at him, which is why people called him “The Great Meddler.” As a great meddler, I’m guessing you’ve had that same experience, and I’m curious how you deal with it when the other side of that shows up in your face.
JS: I think we all have some of that. I’m very fortunate in that I don’t seem to get as much of it as certainly Nathan does or Kerry does, or other people do. I do get some of that, and for the most part, I think that if you’re doing what you believe to be right and what you know to be right, then it gives you the courage to ignore the people who disagree with you.
As I know you’ve seen many times, it’s not that I won't get involved in a spirited discussion debating my position, but ultimately if I feel that I’m on solid moral ground, I don’t spend a lot of time concerned with what other people think of it or what they think of me.
BN: I think those are some sage words of advice. It was brilliant what you said earlier, by the way, “Be healthy, consider yourself, regroup, and move on,” when you get dumped on a with big pile of whatever comes out of the back of the dump truck. Sometimes with that type of embroiled exchange, sometimes you have to stand your ground, but I think that’s the type of position your opponents will take just to waste your time.
JS: Absolutely – tie you up.
BN: You as well as many of the other people that have received this award over the years, you have a day job and you do other things with your life besides animal rescue and welfare work, and I just want people to know that as well.
Sometimes, as you said, people are waiting for Superman or waiting for the person who’s profession it is to fix the problem, but sitting with a fellow here, Mike Fry, whose job it is to lead a shelter and do a lot of things with animals, sometimes we need the people like the John Sibleys to just come out of nowhere and to be that other voice out in the community that’s not the Mike Fry or not the head of this or the head of that, because people may listen to another voice. We are inspired by you taking up that mantle in New York and beyond.
JS: Thank you. There are distinct advantages to being an amateur. I don’t have to get bogged down in day-to-day stuff, and I get to do things that I really care about and that I really feel strongly about, and that’s the advantage you have as an amateur or a volunteer. I agree, you’re no less important than anyone. You can have just as much of an impact as anyone.
BN: You do have some background, though. You spent some hard time out in Utah working …
JS: Absolutely, yes. I worked for Best Friends as a dog caregiver. I’ve actually worked for Pets Alive for a while. I do have background in the industry, but currently I do not work in the animal welfare field. I may again someday.
MF: If I had been selecting you for the award, one of the reasons I would have done it is simply because of your blog. We barely even mentioned www.johnsibley.com. We’ve said you’re a writer, but you put those skills to work in a very effective way at your blog. What was it that made you decide you wanted to have this blog, and how do you feel that that contributes to the conversation?
JS: It’s funny, because I don’t actually … I tell people this all the time – I don’t actually write because I want to. I didn’t start writing because I wanted to. I started writing because I had to.
BN: I could have answered that question for you, John Sibley. I had a feeling.
JS: I was up at four in the morning and couldn’t sleep. I had to get this out of my head. I had to get it on paper. That’s kind of how it starts. I think anybody who has any interest should start blogging and not particularly worry about whether anybody reads it or not. It’s been a great exercise for me to organize my thoughts and to figure out and work out how I feel about things, because writing about them brings a clarity to those issues.
As it happens, people do read it and I love that there are people out there reading it, but even if I only had five readers I would still write it, because I have to.
MF: I think there’s a certain kind of writer that you know that’s true when you read their stuff, because there’s an authenticity to the writing that goes right to the core. I think that comes out loud and clear in your writings and in your blogs.
JS: Thank you.
MF: I think that the purity of that message – there’s no self-promotion, there’s no marketing, there’s not anything mixed in it. It’s just what you believe and see as true without a lot of other stuff mixed in.
JS: Yes. I’m not interested in advertising or any of that. I’m just writing down what I think.
BN: John Sibley, I have a question for you for 2013.
BN: For 2013 as you look in your crystal ball or your bucket of wishes for New York and the state of animal welfare in your city and state, is there something that really comes to the top of your list of wishes?
JS: There are two big things in New York in 2013. One is that we are going to start seeing ramping up for the New York mayoral election, and the way that the shelter works in New York City, the mayor has pretty much open control of the system. The new mayor could potentially make a huge difference. As those campaigns ramp up, I am greatly looking forward to trying to get involved with that. It can be rather difficult, but I’m definitely going to try to get involved with the campaign that wants to take this on as an issue.
I’m very, very hopeful that in 2013 we may see some progress on a rescue access bill in New York. Getting things passed in New York is very difficult. It can take many years of evolution, but we’ve been banging on that door for a while, and eventually it’s got to open.
MF: It will be a fascinating year to watch. We’ll be watching along with you and we’ll be staying in touch.
BN: We’ll be cheering along.
MF: We absolutely will. Once again, congratulations on your honor. I think it was a wise selection.
BN: Thank you for everything – all the work and leadership you show, John.
JS: Thank you very much.