A few weeks ago, I was speaking at the Michigan Partnership for Animal Welfare conference in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and had the chance to meet Debby MacDonald from the Michigan Humane Society.

If you’re a fan of Animal Planet, you might recognize her as one of the animal cruelty investigators from the TV show “Animal Cops.” My daughters grew up on that show, and it was a delight to be able to sit and have dinner and drinks with Debby.

There was one burning question on my mind, so I asked it.

“How do you keep your cool when you’re dealing with people who are clearly abusing or neglecting their pets, and they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong?”

Debby said that lots of times she sees things that make her angry, but it doesn’t do any good to get mad at the people. It doesn’t help the animals.

Instead, she tries, in her gentle but firm way, to educate people and help them understand. If that doesn’t work, then they follow protocol to get the animal the help it needs.

In other words, she focuses on the outcome she wants, which is to help the animal.

“It doesn’t help the animal if I lose my temper with the person,” she told me.

Makes good sense to me. And, I know she has a lot more patience in that situation than I would!

I think this is a good example of how we are each cut out for something specific, and something we’re good at.

Investigating animal cruelty would not be my thing. But advocating for animals is something I can do. Teaching people how to raise money for animal causes is something I definitely can do!

So, what are the lessons for you from this story? I think there are a few.

  • Focus on the outcome you want. Just like Debby does with the animals she’s trying to help, you must stay focused on the people or animals you’re trying to help. Many times, that will carry you through tough times and give you the courage and strength you need to face challenging tasks.

  • Do the things you’re good at. In small nonprofits, it’s easy to wear many hats. Wear the hats that only you can wear well. In other words, do the things that you do well, and that only you can do. If you were hired for your leadership skill or your ability to communicate and develop relationships, then you don’t need to be cleaning the bathroom! You need to be out making friends for your organization and spreading the word about the work your nonprofit is doing.

  • Don’t give up when things look hard. I’ve seen episodes of Animal Cops where they are dealing with hoarding cases, with hundreds of animals involved. I imagine those aren’t fun days for Debby and her team. Yet, they do whatever it takes, because they know they have to for the sake of the animals. Likewise, you must hang in there and keep going when things get hard, because there are people or animals depending on you.

What are your biggest takeaways from Debby? Post your thoughts in the comments below.