For Picks of The Litter, a regular book review series, Ranny Green critiques “Nipped in the Bud, Not in the Butt: How to Use Mediation to Resolve Conflicts over Animals" by Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton.
Stop, drop, and roll sounds like an intense gym workout or a military exercise, doesn’t it? Well, I learned here it’s the heart of mediation and resolving conflict, too. And that leads to the Triple A’s – address, acknowledge, and appreciate – and you have the potential triggers for producing smiles and wagging tails.
The author, a New Yorker, has spent 30 years as a practicing litigator and is now a full-time mediator and conflict coach for people in disputes over animals. In this guidebook, she quickly takes the reader from the edges of the litigation corridor to the threshold of mediation, building a strong case for the latter while recognizing that many clients are apprehensive and out for blood – no, make that sole possession of a pet or settlement of a dispute involving a breeder or veterinarian.
In the Foreword, Hamilton says, “Divorce lawyers repeatedly tell me that custody of the dog can be a greater source of conflict than is custody of the children! An animal is someone to hug and hug you back – someone to play with, to laugh with, to take a walk with, to share beautiful days with, to cry with.”
But she takes it a step further in the big cities – where a dog is a “social lubricant” that opens doors and cultivates new friendships for owners. The author puts that special human-animal bond in an ever sharper context when noting that if you go on enough road trips you’ll eventually spot a bumper sticker reading: “My wife, definitely. My dog . . . maybe. My gun, never!” Then she movingly flips that around a bit: “My spouse, definitely. My gun . . . talk to my lawyer. My dog, never.”
Organized in three sections – Mediation: Nuts and Bolts, How Mediation Works, and Get Started – Hamilton notes that litigation is almost always the first route taken in animal conflicts, but it should be the last.
“It never provides the solution the parties are seeking,” she emphasizes.
Packed with fresh insight and striking examples, Hamilton carefully connects the dots while not undermining the flow in convincing the reader that with an animal’s life and psyche at stake, mediation, not litigation, deserves being a No. 1 option for the disputing parties.
We’ve all been there, done that in the unmoving argumentative intensity of the moment that sometimes lingers into hours and days.
“In most conflicts involving animals,” she writes, “people fail to appreciate how the other party perceives the unfolding situation,” whether it involves a spouse, veterinarian, or breeder.
Consequently, it is incumbent on the mediator to listen to every “original and bizarre solution” offered up. “We do this because everyone’s desires need to be acknowledged and respected. Once we do this, the parties are usually surprised at how many of the solutions from the opposing side are similar or identical to their own.”
Keeping relationships alive is the driving force of successful mediation, Hamilton argues.
“An observer can offer a huge insight that gets the person thinking about how they’re coming across and helps them become less confrontational.”
The author’s six tactics for conflict mediation are: 1. Stop talking; 2. Drop the need to be right; 3. Let what the other party says roll off your back; 4. Address the conflict; 5. Keep the relationship; 6. Acknowledge and appreciate the other party.
There is much to savor in Hamilton’s poignant view of mediation over litigation. She provides the reader a sharp-edged, nourishing understanding of the subject in a sobering, passionate playbook designed to minimize opponents’ combustible feelings and maximize Fido’s welfare.