Companion animal welfare and management people, we need to stop modelling our identities on Superheroes

Clarke Kent – Lois Lane – Superman

Peter Parker – Mary Jane – Spiderman

Bruce Wayne/Batman – Selina Kyle/Catwoman

It’s a trope that has been around for as long as superhero comics themselves – Superhero leads double life to protect their human identity and loved ones. Lowly human identity falls in love with person who not-so-secretly admires their superhero persona – ongoing drama ensues based on relationship built on deception. Thankfully, the romanticism of relationships built on deception is losing it’s attraction in the world of comics and superheroes (Thank you Charles Xavier for modelling healthier relationships for your mutant charges), but there are a lot of parallels between that age-old trope of ‘lonely hero living double life to protect those he loves’ and people who volunteer and work in companion animal management and welfare. You see, from the outside looking in the public see a bunch of really committed people who care about animals. They don’t necessarily know the difference between Animal Management Officers and RSPCA Inspectors, or even between shelters, pounds and rescue groups. All they know is that there is a system in our society that exists solely to take care of animals in the community and make sure that companion animals and people live well together. Sure, they understand that there are different people working in different roles and organisations, but they view us a bit like The Justice League or The Avengers – a bunch of people with different skill sets who work together to achieve the same goal. Sounds kind of romantic doesn’t it?

Why then, when it’s just us, do we struggle so much with our own identities and with the idea of working together? If AMOs are our ‘Dark Knights’ fighting crime in Gotham, while a bunch of Robins man animal holding facilities across the country, The Flash and Wonder Woman work in Not-For-Profit shelters of all sizes, and a whole team of Captain Americas are fostering and volunteering in rescue groups, why do we have so much trouble seeing ourselves as The Justice League and instead spend more time pointing out our differences than our shared goals? Is it perhaps because there’s a bit of miscommunication and competition going on, Batman Vs Superman style? Or maybe some of us believe that superhuman strength is the most important skill for achieving our goal, while others really want a Batmobile and a batarang, and a few of us think that Wonder Woman’s martial arts skills are the bomb? Or maybe we are all so caught up in making sure our superhero personas are kept intact, that we have forgotten that we are really just a bunch of normal people with very specific skill sets who wear different suits while we are at work but are all out to achieve the same basic goal?

As it stands, the animal welfare and management system in Australia is kind of like a restoration project for The Magic School Bus. If the bus was in good working condition, our Justice League could run frequent, targeted cat desexing drives to address free-living urban cat populations, owner support programs to prevent pet relinquishment, teams of behaviour people on hand to help with barking dogs and grumpy dogs, and we could have an educated and willingly compliant pet owner population with lots of happy and healthy pets. Instead, the bus is in bits and those bits have been rolled down a steep hill towards ‘The Town of Helping Animals’. Sure, all the bits made it to the bottom, but the wheels are buckled from bouncing around and one is in a dam outside of town, the engine and transmission have bits broken off and are no longer joined together, and the cab and chassis are pretty beat up and the windows are all broken. No one is actually sure where the brakes are but someone saw a calliper fly through the window of a parked car about half way down the hill. Now the townsfolk have gathered around to discuss their investment and they are not happy. When they paid their taxes and donated to The Magic School Bus Restoration Fund, they thought they were getting a working bus, not a pile of parts with bits broken off. This magic Magic School Bus has some potential but it needs repairs and a mechanic to put it together, so that we can actually load the Justice League on board. Problem is, that none of the townsfolk are mechanics and our Justice League are all off starring in their own individual movies.

I think at just about every animal conference I have been to, there’s been discussion about how to build a Magic School Bus and use that bus to pick up all the superheroes and turn them in to the Justice League. There’s talk about how animal-focused superheroes lack people skills so they don’t communicate well, about how Batmans and Robins are more hated by Gotham than Captain Americas and vice versa, how only Spidermans have the power to enforce animal welfare legislation and that’s really what’s needed because it’s impossible to get the public to believe in the Magic School Bus without a big stick (even if you could get the whole Justice League together heading in the same direction). What I don’t hear a lot of though, is that relationships require people, not superhero personas, to front up and engage, and that no healthy relationship is built on deception and poor communication, even if the superheroes tell themselves that they must maintain their personas to protect others. Just like Marvel Comics decided to toss out the ‘dual identity’ trope and have the X-men work together by communicating and playing to each others strengths, it’s time for us to consider that ‘animal management’ and ‘animal welfare’ are just flip sides of the same coin and work out how to do the same. After all, we are just a bunch of people with very specific but complimentary skill sets who wear different clothes to work in the same community – the community expect us to be The Justice League, but I think we should shoot for the X-men because they are a happier, healthy crowd and they have cool powers.

Before any superhero fans pull me up over my shaky analogies, you should probably know that the only superhero movie I have watched within the last two decades is Deadpool (I appreciate the guy’s sense of humour!). This post was inspired entirely by my reluctance to be ‘that blogger who uses too many vehicle analogies’ and the following exchange between Batman (Bruce Wayne) and The Flash (Barry Allen) that I came across while trying to learn enough about The Justice League to make sense…

Bruce Wayne: I’m putting together a team of people with special abilities. See, I believe enemies are coming…

Barry Allen: Stop right there. I’m in.

Bruce Wayne: You are?

Barry Allen: Yeah, I… I need… friends. People are difficult, they require a lot of focus. They, uh… they have a rhythm that I haven’t quite been able to – like brunch! What is brunch? You wait in line for an hour for, essentially, lunch. I mean… I don’t know. People are… a little slow.

Bruce Wayne: [smiles]  I’ll try to keep up.

Barry Allen: [holds up batarang]  Can I keep this?

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