Veterans Day Reflections From the SPCA’s Melanie Rushforth

Veterans Day 2021 — After almost 30 years of holding a role that serves the public in some way, I’m never without gratitude. I began my social service career following military service, and while the two may seem quite different, they are actually more similar than not.  These days I wake up and look forward to the moments and challenges that come with being the Vice President of Veterinary Services at the SPCA Serving Erie County, and around Veterans Day I tend to lean heavily towards reflection. This year, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on what being a veteran off of the battlefield looks like through my eyes.

November 11, formally celebrated as Armistice Day, has been known as Veterans Day since 1954 when it was renamed. Veterans Day officially marks the anniversary of the end of World War I in 1918 and honors those who served in the armed forces.

To those who served, and for those who love the men and women who have served, Veterans Day is more than just a holiday, and for some (myself included) it is a time of reflection on years of service and the impact that service has on the work in which we are involved now.  The ongoing pandemic may be fostering an environment in which resilience is front and center, but this year seemed to call for a written reflection on the ways in which my military service shows up in my work as an animal welfare professional.  Dogs and cats are very different than tanks and battlefields, yes.  But the basics of teamwork, trust, and training span across different industries where veterans may find themselves serving in a different capacity.

As a United States Army veteran, I’m proud of my service.  It was never easy, but it was always meaningful.  I could probably apply that statement to my work in animal welfare, especially as animal welfare has shifted over time to serve whole communities and commit to tackle issues from a social justice approach, versus simply treating the symptoms over and over.  My time in service shows up on a daily basis with regards to the value I place in people, and the trust we need to have with one another to do good work in an effort to really make lasting change.

Veterans bring a sense of resourcefulness, boldness, and leadership that is often not replicated in employees with civilian backgrounds. They’ve been faced with the challenge of getting a job done without access to the resources that would ideally be available.  This resourcefulness is a highly-desirable employee trait within the nonprofit sector, since it is always trying to grow, adapt, and meet the needs of people and animals with limited resources at hand. Veterans also bring a sharp ability to stick through difficult tasks and see them through to completion.

The military cultivates many traits that serve well in business and community service. It champions collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving. Innovation shows up because of people having to think on their feet. There were many circumstances where no one knew what was around the corner, or what challenge would arise, but a standing belief that runs deep in the military is that ‘there is always a way.’ When it comes to executing a mission, there’s a strong adherence to relying heavily on the collective creativity of the team to get the job done.  Teamwork truly does make the dream work.

The military produces individuals with uncanny adaptive thinking and a capacity and passion for continuing to learn. This learning environment focuses on personal development, as well as training and developing subordinates and peers. This acts as a force multiplier when a veteran is added to the staff of any organization, whether for-profit or nonprofit. Veterans work to develop a crew that can perform well together rather than focusing on the individual. This commitment to a greater cause becomes an ingrained culture that can improve the work habits of the entire team.

For fellow veterans, I thank you for your service.  For the loved ones of fellow veterans, I thank you for your support, trust, and commitment.  In the community where we all intersect, I invite us all to continue to find ways to collaborate, grow, and strengthen the bonds that truly unite us.  We are stronger together.

— Melanie Rushforth, SPCA Serving Erie County Vice President of Veterinary Services and former member of the United States Army