Saturday, March 26, 2011

Damn the Man: I Did It

Warning: personal post ahead.

(Written the day after I gave notice)

About 3 months ago I noticed I was waking up with my jaw clenched. I wasn't doing the teeth-grinding thing, but I was waking up with my chin all super-hero jutting style- tightly clamped down, ready to save the day. I've never had any trouble sleeping at night, and although I have a history of night terrors from when I was little, and talking/yelling in my sleep, this blatant sign of stress was new. It hurt my jaw and weirded me out.

About two weeks ago, I started having dreams about euthanasia. Dead dogs and cats started appearing in my dreams. One dream involved me and a coworker holding a cold, dead momma cat and her live day-old kittens, trying to warm them while explaining to a citizen why it wouldn't be practical to try to bottle feed them in the shelter. It was vivid and real, and kitten season hadn't even started yet, at least, not really. There were more, but I can't remember them all, fortunately. I remember 7 or 8 years ago, when I went to see my first euthanasia, and the woman who explained how it affected her told us about a dream she had about all the kittens she had euthanized bouncing around the room. She was telling us that this was a "normal" thing that happened to "us" who dealt with euthanasia and that it was important to let ourselves process, to get help, and to know when enough was enough. And since then, I've probably had under 10 euthanasia dreams. In the last two weeks, I've had at least 10.

What's changed?

I'd love to blame this on Nathan Winograd. You know I would. Since I really started thinking/reading about Winograd and no-kill, about a year and a half ago, rather than just writing it off as more PETA/animal rights bullpooey, I've had to question each and every act. This is proof of Winograd's effectiveness. Whether I agree with him or not on the overall theory that we can be a "no-kill nation," I've definitely come around to the idea that I don't do a whole lot of euthanizing. I kill animals. This is hard for me to reconcile when I'm in the euthanasia room. It's hard for me to feel like a token "Good Cop"- I really believe that I am a good animal control officer. I think that my agency does a great job. But the system is messed up. The animal control system as a whole, and the police agency I work for. Winograd is right- animal control needs to be rethought. A no-kill paradigm may or may not be the framework to use, but I am no longer prepared to go to work in the current framework. Damn the Man.

About 6 or so months ago, we had some personnel changes. I had to report to someone in the department who I felt was unethical. I work in law enforcement, and I felt that this person used his authority to overreach the law, bending it or disregarding it completely to suit what he felt was right. I never quite knew from day to day what would this was, but I knew that it sure didn't feel right or legal to me. Wearing a police uniform carries an immense amount of privilege and responsibility. I'm a civilian, not a sworn officer, but I still feel the onus of power that comes with my uniform. I could not bear to see my commander operate in this manner. It pained me to go to work and see him use this power this way. Remember Public Enemy? My dad loved this song. I felt like I was working for it. I was a authority mocking kid, and was reminded that I never knew how I ended up working for the police. Damn the Man.

It wasn't the work environment that made me quit, at all. I was also sick of being used as a human punching bag by citizens that hated what I represented. I can't blame them. The above paragraph and video would pretty much make me hate the police or any of their proxies, too, especially if I was part of a population used to dealing with them. On the other hand, as an individual member of the police department, I am a human being. A sensitive human being who loves her job, dedicated to making a difference. I took beatings from all sides: from people who hated me for being the police, to arm-chair rescuers, to people who could never do my job. I truly believe that everyone deserves respect. It's my intention to go into every interaction on the job giving people the benefit of the doubt, and to treat them as an equal, because we're all human beings. I would do this no matter what, but also because I'm a professional with the privilege of a badge. Only, that badge seems to give people the right to treat me with disrespect, dishonesty, and sometimes outright rudeness, and hostility. Some days at the shelter, it would be hours of person after person yelling at me. Of course they would be yelling at me for things that were not my fault, and of course I would tell myself this. I would respond with respect, but there is only so much and so many years that a girl can take. This is the same in the field: I do things that people do not like. Simple things like asking someone (or telling them) to put their dog on a leash can cause tirades. Writing citations can cause literally an hour of cursing or require backup units. And when seizing someone's animals for animal cruelty, I can be the enemy. I understand all of this. No amount of politeness can overcome what I am doing. But it still takes its toll. I am the man in these situations. I am tired of being the man. Damn the Man and Fuck the Police.

Here's what I want: I want to go back to liking dogs and cats and puppies and kittens. I still like them, I'm not THAT animal control officer yet. But I want to stop noticing every dog that's not on a leash, or to stop going "ahhh that puppy is too young to be on the ground, he's parvo bait!" I want to stop looking at a dog's gonads first before his face. I want to start enjoying spring again, and forget all about kitten season. (I know this one is a long shot.) I want to go to the county fair and just pet the animals. I don't want to know a house on every block because of animals I've seized, or negligent dog owners. I don't want to notice every piece of roadkill in the road, or be able to identify a piece of clothing vs a dead raccoon vs cardboard in the street. This is not a skill I need to maintain.

And while I try to maintain a reputation as a misanthrope and a curmudgeon, I'm not, really. I'm generally a pretty nice person, and if you promise not to tell, I like people. I'm ready to go back to liking people, to not questioning why I give people the benefit of the doubt, to regretting trusting people. Call me naive, but I think it's a good quality to trust people, to take things at face value. I'm ready for a job that I will be met in the middle, where people will also trust me, and be deserving of my trust. I'm ready to be out of the police business, where every interaction can be seen as a confrontation. I'm ready to be one of the "good guys" again.

Today is my first day without being an officer. I was always weirded out by being called "Officer Themacinator," it never struck me as "me." Today is the first day of funemployment, of true liberation. It's scary, but a good scary. I'm going shooting, in the rain, after gordos. Tomorrow I'm going to Disneyland, with my main man. I have no real plans. I know I'll always be an animal welfare nerd. But I'm ready to be a nerd that doesn't euthanize animals, that isn't a punching bag. Onwards and upwards.


Luisa said...

Got nuthin'. Just wanted to send hugs and best regards and best wishes for the future. Bad Rap should try to hire you. Oh, and your blog is so awesome. Take care -

Sarah said...

Wow! Uh, congratulations?

So much of this post rings true for me. My details are different, but a lot of what your wrote is similar to why I left shelter work. Enjoy your time off!

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth I can only hope all animal control employees and animal law enforcement are half as thoughtful and compassionate as you are.

Enjoy your time off!

themacinator said...

sarah- wow, i didn't know you left, too! we should hang out and make career plans.

anon- thanks. that means a lot. i hate patting my own back, but i know i did my job with integrity and compassion. i left before i couldn't say that.

and luisa, thanks a lot. means a lot. and the other part won't happen. ;)

thb said...

Hey, 911 is a joke in your town AND TH's on the road to nowhere (which, I believe is posted on travelsofthb: highway 50, the loneliest highway). Time to decompress...and, it is BASEBALL SEASON!!!!!!!!!!!!! damn, these coincidences are enough to make a grown man cry...

themacinator said...

THB- have you forgotten that there's no crying in baseball?!

Marie said...

Congrats and good luck! I'm sure you'll land on your feet in a place far better for you. Enjoy your decompression time. You deserve it.

KayVee said...

Dude, enjoy the rain, gordos and mac.


Anonymous said...

you write with clarity and compassion and did all that any one can ask, do your best. you show enormous personal courage and integrity in your action, thank you.