When dealing with homeless animals in any capacity – whether it be as a shelter worker, volunteer, or advocate – it’s easy to become jaded in the way you view the world. Often times when people ask me what it’s like to work at a shelter, my response is, “It makes you lose your faith in humanity,” because of how many awful stories we see first hand of people tossing their pets aside as if they were a piece of used furniture.
It’s so easy for us to judge anyone who makes the decision to not keep their animal. The judgements start flowing quicker and easier as more and more animals get dropped off with each passing day – an all too familiar site at an animal shelter. We think if people just cared more or put more time into it or thought harder about the consequences then they wouldn’t be giving up the animal and we’d have one less homeless animal to find a new family for, often times meaning one more open cage and one less euthanasia decision. How dare they, we say. How could they.
But the truth of the matter is: we don’t know them, we don’t know their situation, and we don’t always know their reasons for what they’re doing. It is rare that we talk to someone for more than just minutes or get more than one page worth of information about their situation when they give up a dog, and how is it possible that they can convey everything about why they’re giving up their pet – especially if they’re embarrassed or being reprimanded for it?
I’ve found it so incredibly hard to stop the judgements. It becomes so natural when all you see is a face behind bars after their owners have left them. But every once in a while something happens that reminds me I don’t know everything, and often times what I’m assuming is entirely wrong (which is the case for so many things in animal rescue, not just owner give ups).
This pretty girl was given up to the shelter two years after she was adopted. She is ten years old and, after losing her kitty best friend, started peeing in the house. Even with mid-day breaks, she wouldn’t hold it. The vet said that she was in perfect health. It was separation anxiety, and it was bad.
How dare her owners give her up, right? You would never part with your dog over peeing, would you? Well guess what, you are not them. You do not know what resources they have available to them to help a problem like serious separation anxiety. They had gone from an owned home to a rented apartment, so maybe their finances were tight. Rehabilitation, whether through a trainer or through medicine, is expensive. And it takes lots of time. And yes, if you own a dog you need to be aware of these possible responsibilities – but we have to remember that what one person is capable of putting into their dog is not the exact same as the next person or the one after that.
This dog’s owner was bawling when she brought her into the shelter. I suspect that they felt like they had tried everything they were capable of – which, a reminder, means in their own capacity, not what would be capable with endless resources. The chatter around the shelter for the next few days was, “Can you believe those people who dropped off the ten year old?” and my response was, “Well, yes. I can believe it. It sounded like a really awful situation with no good outcome. I am sure they did not want to bring her here, but felt like they were left with no choice.”
For those of you who are sitting here shaking your head and thinking, “But there were other choices!” I ask you this: how far do you expect people to go? Do you believe they should spend all their life savings? Do you think they should quit their job to be home with the dog more? Do you think they should keep taking the dog to the vet until they discover something that might be wrong? Perhaps you would do that (or, more realistically, think at this very moment without being in the actual situation that it’s what you would do). It’s so easy to point fingers. So, so easy. But we have to remember, like I feel like I’ve written a million times in this post already, we are not them.
It’s not black and white. Nothing is black and white when dealing with animals. Our friends over at Love and a Six-Foot Leash wrote a fabulous post about how sometimes it benefits everyone for a dog to be re-homed when one of their fosters found herself needing new digs, and we had the same discussion at a Your Dog’s Friend seminar about dog bites this past weekend. We often forget that the dog’s well-being is at stake, too.
I’m the first to admit that keeping the negative judgements to a minimum is tough to do. Really tough. And there are a lot of really awful people out there among those who have good intentions. But the more I work to think about things from a different perspective, the more helpful I find myself being. Instead of wasting energy complaining about that ten year old dog’s owners, I’m spreading how great of a dog she is. Instead of rolling my eyes at the next person who tells me they need to give up their dog, I’ll try to hear them out and gain some useful insight for potential adopters.
It’s tough because if less people decided to re-home their dogs, the rescue world would have more resources to put towards the endless amount of stray animals – but it’s the way things are and will probably be for a long time. It’s time to accept that and move on. Maybe we can save a little bit of that energy we use to judge and spend it on providing more easily-accessible, affordable resources to folks who feel like they need to give up their dogs. It’s not going to solve everything, but it’s a start.
Lexi is ten years old, loves people and is dog-selective. If you’re interested in giving this elderbull a chance to live out her years in a home, email firstname.lastname@example.org.