Saturday, 24 December 2016

Charity? It's a very personal business...

 Charity working at its best in the shape of our beloved Lady Dog.

 Every Christmas many of us try to take the spirit of giving beyond our families and friends by donating to charities. Whether it’s through the cards we buy, the SVP envelope through the door or a bucket shaken in the street, we extend our generosity to others who need our help.

Some used recent charity-related scandals as an excuse to stop giving, but not this scribbler. If a charity is registered I consider it worthy, and anyway, for me, giving to charity is a personal matter.

Rather than getting dazed and confused, wondering which charity deserves the most, I simply follow my feelings. 

Many cannot understand how anyone can donate to help doggies and donkeys while there are people starving to death in the world, but we humans are a wonderfully mixed-up bunch, and what twangs your heartstrings might make no music on mine.

My Christmas cards go three ways. Croi, for my father who died after many strokes throughout a long decline; Crumlin Children’s Hospital, for the loss of Alana, and the Galway Hospice, for Sonja and for helping me and so many others.

I give what I can afford and then I give a little more, because for goodness sake, it’s not as if I’ll be going without, compared to so many others.

However, a few weeks ago I discovered that when it comes to charitable giving, I do not like to be bossed around. Two parcels arrived at the same time, from two different charities.

The first I opened was from Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, an incredible crew of creative people who have overcome the most challenging disabilities to express themselves through art.

Thankfully I’ve some idea of their challenge, as I’ve been watching Landscape Artist of the Year on TV. One of the painters was a Thalidomide victim, born without arms. It was moving and inspiring to watch as he drew a precise line pencil plan of his painting with his toes, and then painted the colours into the picture with a brush in his mouth. 

He explained that unlike able-bodied artists, he could not apply paint while standing back and looking at the picture as a whole. Instead each brush stroke had to be pre-planned to perfection, as he was forced to paint incredibly close to the canvas.

What a shame then that the marketing strategy of this charity decided the best approach was to send me cards and a letter telling me how I’d be happy to pay for them.

I need to be clear about this: I think it’s a wonderful charity, but if only they’d sent me a leaflet, or an invitation to order some cards, everything would’ve been different.

Instead I felt as if they were making an assumption about me and my money, and when I looked for an envelope to return their cards, so as not to waste them, I found none.

Somehow the experience just turned me off. Up until then I hadn’t realised how important it is for me to decide to whom I give, yet their strategy left me feeling guilty and wasteful as the cards are not the kind I’d send anyway.

The other package was a small cardboard box, sporting only a sticker saying: #stopkeepingmum. The box had been addressed to me as a Tribune Columnist, so clearly someone wanted publicity. Curiosity developed into intrigue as I opened the box to find no letter, no leaflet, just a very cute little blonde toy doggie, wearing a #stopkeepingmum label.

I’ll never know if the charity were aware of how much the toy looks like my own Lady Dog. Maybe it was happy coincidence, but my interest was now piqued, so I put #stopkeepingmum into my web browser and arrived at a home page with a short tragic video about the plight of the mothers of puppies at puppy farms:

“The first thing that will hit you is the stench. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness you’ll see them. They’re kept in cages, covered in their own faeces and soaked in urine. They have no bedding and limited access to fresh water. They are nameless mothers who have never known daylight. To the people in charge they are breeding machines, forced to have litter after litter until their bodies are exhausted. Their only experiences with people have been cruelty and neglect.”

Nothing had been presumed. I didn’t feel lectured. At the risk of sounding cold-hearted, their marketing was perfectly pitched.

As a species, the absolute least we must aspire to is to be benign. Being cruel and vile to intelligent animals for monetary gain is not something anyone needs to do.

What did #stopkeepingmumwant from me? How much was this going to cost and for what?

The first commitment their website asks for is merely a promise to ask to see a puppy’s mother before you buy one. Then comes an invitation to share your promise on social media and only then, finally, comes a chance to donate money.

Did I send them a wedge of my hard-earned green folding?


I didn’t, because I’d already contributed through Christmas cards and must now put all my remaining resources into the needs of my family, which alongside the Snapper includes one Lady Dog, aged five and three quarters, adopted years ago from - the most splendid charity, whose hard work has deeply enriched our lives, as well as providing a lost soul with a loving home.

Donating money can be complex, but compassion is not. 
Combine the two and the world becomes a better place.

Enjoy a peaceful loving Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice and Diwali, and may your God be with you.

©Charlie Adley

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