By Lisa LaFontaine, President & CEO
True mastery is a rare thing to see. In a world where people are frequently changing jobs, cities and professions it is difficult to acquire the skills, the wisdom and the perspective to become truly elite at what you do. On those rare occasions when it happens, it is beautiful to see.
Today, Sergeant Ted Deppner celebrates his 30th anniversary with the Washington Humane Society. During those three decades, he has worked as an Animal Control Officer and now serves as the department’s deputy director. He does some administrative duties, trains other officers and works a more than full shift on the streets, every day. Ted has seen his city, his organization and his profession change in ways that were unimaginable when his career began. Through it all he has retained his center, his focus and his heart – at the same time becoming completely and thoroughly proficient in his role.
Everyone who likes animals fantasizes at some point about working in a field that serves them, and being an animal control officer is one way to fulfill that dream. And yet, very few can actually handle the demands, and fewer still can sustain themselves through a career.
The work is hard in every way – physically, spiritually and emotionally. It is dangerous – involving volatile encounters with angry humans and frightened and injured animals. It often means having to climb great heights, navigate underground or perform a complex rescue in a small space. The work is perplexing, and requires you to figure out how to perform a rescue or resolve a dispute with the resources at hand. And it is taxing, because you are often working outdoors in extremes of climate – and seeing and experiencing things that go against every fiber of what called you to work in the field in the first place.
During those thirty years, hundreds of animal welfare professionals have worked beside and learned from Ted. Untold numbers of community members have welcomed him into their homes to solve a problem, provide advice or help them with a difficult situation. Tens of thousands of animals have been rescued, have experienced his tremendous skill and compassion – and have had a second chance at a fantastic life as a result.
But here is what is truly remarkable. Ted does his work in a quiet and low-key manner, without expectation of praise or honor. He does it because he believes in it and because it is the right thing to do. Mastery with humility is one of the most inspiring of combinations.
A couple of weeks ago, Ted’s colleagues gathered around him to honor his work. They presented him with a scrapbook of his career so far – leaving many pages in the back blank because we all fully expect to fill it over the next couple of decades with more memorable rescues and encounters.
If you get an opportunity in the next couple of days, I hope you will shake Ted’s hand, or drop him a line to thank him. If you love animals, but don’t live around here or never met Ted, please say your own private thanks. If we all did so a hundred times, we wouldn’t come near to thanking him enough for the difference he has made for his community, for individuals within it and for the cause of animal welfare.
Throughout history people have tried to define a life well lived. What about thirty years of increasing excellence in a role where you get to enhance the lives of people and animals – without expectation of return? Thank you, Ted – it is a privilege to work with you.