I have had the experience of working in “the South” four times. I have discovered that the South still resents the outcome of “the war” and resents northerners. I had heard rumors that the South was different and I eventually found out for myself. When I accepted my first job working in the South, someone approached me and told me that while I worked in the South, I should hang on to my Northern ethics; it takes living and working in the South to understand what that meant.
My first exploration into the South was along its northern border of Fairfax Virginia. Here I discovered that everyone is important and deserved special treatment; everyone was a congressman, worked for a congressman, was a friend of a congressman, or walked the congressman’s dog. It was obvious that everyone thought they should be treated as royalty.
My next exploration was Atlanta; it was here that I discovered that I was white. I had never given it much thought, but the Atlanteans sure had. I discovered the bigotry was a two-way street. The fact that I was white was never an issue until I came to work in the Atlanta area.
Next, I moved to the southern border of the South, Jacksonville Florida. It was in Jacksonville that I was first called a carpet bagger. One of my employees was upset that a Yankee had interviewed for the top dog position and my qualifications took the job away from one of the locals. I don’t think he ever considered that he lacked the necessary job skills or education.
Jacksonville was the first place that I ever worked that had an Ethics Office. I found that odd because I believed that ethics is the core value of a person’s integrity. Apparently, ethics was a problem in government and they needed someone to keep reminding them of the right thing to do. Eventually, the Mayor got tired of being corrected and eliminated the Office. It is in Jacksonville that I impacted with the good-old-boy system of doing things. My core value is to treat everyone the same, but I kept getting calls from the Mayor’s Office as to how I should treat his friends. In discovering this dual system, I regretted the loss of our Ethics Office. Once you moved south of Jacksonville, you find yourself back in the north again. I guess the influx of Yankees retiring in Florida changed the culture.
Jacksonville had the largest population of people claiming that they were disabled. These folks thought that claiming that they were disabled would entitle them to a free service animal at the shelter or reduced impound fees for their dog running at large. The City had a very large segment of people trying to scam the system; any system.
Jacksonville is the first place that I discovered the abuse of our Americans with Disability Act (ADA): people were claiming that their pets were service animals to get around pet policies in their rental agreement. The abuse was wide spread.
Jacksonville had an ongoing issue with Cities north of Jacksonville giving their homeless population bus tickets to Jacksonville. Instead of dealing with homelessness locally, their solution was a free bus ride to Jacksonville.
My employment came to an end in Jacksonville when the City was undergoing a reduction in force (RIF). Animal Control’s management was eliminated to make openings for sanitation workers who were friendly with our department director. Within months, animal control began to experience problems and the University of Florida was called in to determine what was wrong. The problem was that the organization was being run by unknowledgeable people. One good benefit that came out of this mess was that the City was pressured into building a new animal shelter.
My final resting place was Roanoke Virginia. Although deeply Southern, it lacked the gentile nature that the South is so well known for. I encountered some of the meanest people of my life in Roanoke. The people had such a love for animals and a hated for people. One animal organization spent a majority of its time trying to undermine the public shelter. It was hard to recognize the good they were doing through the smoke screen of being mean. I discovered how people could be persuaded by social media to take up a torch based on lies.
It is tempting for an animal welfare professional to want to go where they believe they can do the most good, Taking a job in the south would be tempting. When moving from place to place, it is important to realize the effect of changing cultures and prepare for it. Every place is different and many places won’t measure up to your ethical standards or your humane values. The south is a good place to visit once, but not four times. To all the nasty people that I’ve met in the south, “Well bless your heart.”