Animal Shelter Activist Answers Critic

Friday June 11, 2004

It’s never nice to open up a newspaper and read a spiteful piece by an angry critic. But as a published author and photographer for nearly 30 years, I’ve had my share of bad reviews. So Bob Brokl’s commentary piece (”Nexus Artist Blasts Animal Shelter Decision,” Daily Planet, June 4-7) wasn’t a new experience for me, but it has left an especially nasty taste, as the critic is someone I had considered an ally, with common goals. 

From the title onwards, Bob’s commentary paints an absolutely false picture of the progressive steps taken to develop a true community-serving animal shelter for the residents of Berkeley. Brokl’s use of artistic license produces a strategically divisive account of the collaborative efforts to develop a model animal shelter. There has been no “decision” regarding the animal shelter for Brokl to blast and so the entirety of his diatribe is based purely on fear. 

Though it is tempting to respond point by point to his misinformation, I do not believe the pages of a local newspaper are the appropriate forum. Suffice it to say that while Bob casts my pursuit of an optimal site for our new animal shelter in a negative light, I am proud of seeking excellence instead of settling for mediocrity. An animal shelter is a vibrant element of civic life. Even if the animals don’t appreciate the efforts or the aesthetics, the people who use the shelter certainly do. It makes a statement when you put a public agency by the railroad tracks; it reflects a government’s priorities when you put a public facility in a place where it is unsafe to walk after dark. 

The Berkeley East Bay Humane Society has moved slowly towards working jointly with the City of Berkeley Animal Shelter on a shared facility and functions. Recently, with new leadership, this has changed and now we have an amazing opportunity to deliver better public service to the taxpayers of Berkeley, who spend almost $1.2 million a year on animal care services. 

Our first discussions with the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society took place in the full glare of an Animal Shelter Sub-committee public meeting. Nexus was invited to the meeting. Not belatedly, but exactly on time. At this meeting a motion was made and agreed to that supports the formation of a working group—to determine the feasibility and desirability of establishing a joint facility and operating agreement. No decision was made as to the location or design and won’t be until this working group has begun meeting and develops a shared vision.  

As is the case of any egalitarian process, arguments will be put forth, different “visions” shared, problem solving and compromise will be necessary. Brokl must recognize that complex issues require complex solutions and that, difficult as they are, discussions need to take place that might include proposed compromise on all sides. 

The private discussions between Nexus and their landlord, the Berkeley Humane Society are their business, not mine. As an artist myself, I hope a plan will be developed that meets all of our needs, bringing the community closer rather than pushing us further apart.  

I am not now and never have been a representative of the city. I am an activist, from head to toe, and proud of it. There are some in city government who wish—as Bob seems to—that I would just go away. 

Sorry, can’t do it—my vision of a model animal shelter is a beautiful thing, and I won’t quit pursuing the best site and the best design just because it doesn’t seem convenient to some. Berkeley residents deserve nothing less and those of us leading this effort—City Councilmembers, the Humane Society, city staff, and animal welfare activists—intend to deliver just that. 


Jill Posener is a community artist and chair of the Animal Shelter Sub-commitee.