Who Are We to Judge?

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.

Lexi01

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.

Lexi04

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 peacelovefoster@gmail.com.

17 thoughts on “Who Are We to Judge?

  1. Teresa

    I have to admit I do judge people when I read stories on some of the facebook pages when someone has turned in their dog. And I am very quick to judge thinking I would never do that but you are right we don’t know their situation although sometimes I do think people just want to get rid of their dog and not care but I also know that for some it is a last resort. Good write up though I think you are right and I couldn’t handle what you see on a daily basis. Kudos to you for looking at the positive side of a very sad situation!

  2. Katie

    About a year and a half ago, my husband and I were looking for a second dog. We met and adopted a beagle mix from our local shelter. He was heartworm positive but we got him treatment and were nursing him back to health. Once he was feeling better, we realize he wasn’t the same dog we thought we had adopted. After he bit one of our dinner guests, unexpectedly, we met with a trainer and found out he suffered from almost paralyzing fear. Had he not been muzzled the trainer would have been torn up. We were in completely over our heads and made the very difficult decision to return the dog. Having worked in a shelter previously I never thought I would be turning in a dog. I can tell you it was the hardest thing I have ever done and I cried the whole weekend. I can tell you I learned a great deal from that situation, particularly about dog behavior/fear and my limitations as a dog owner. Shortly thereafter, my husband convinced me to meet a pitbull being fostered through Midatlantic Bully Buddies and have been a two-dog household ever since. Sometimes things happen that you just don’t expect. Be open-minded and don’t judge others!

    • Thank you for sharing your story! Like I mentioned in the post, no one really knows what they would do until they’re in the situation themselves. Good for you for making the safest decision for you and your family.

  3. peaceabull

    I can think of three separate situations where rehoming was necessary and one of those lead me to adopting Ray. I wish I wasn’t so judgemental, but as a human, I’m just trying to keep fighting the good fight.

  4. Thank you for posting this. Late last year we had to give up one of our dogs, a girl we had for just over four years! She had escalating problems with the other dogs to the point where it was getting to be a safety issue not only with the dogs but with the people in the house as well. This went on for months, and I felt that I tried everything I possibly could. She was pretty, relatively young, healthy, trained…she needed to be in an ‘only dog’ living situation. I was very, very fortunate to find a young couple who ended up adopting her; she ended up far better off than if we had kept her.I admit that prior to that I would judge people in my mind, and while I do still often wonder how certain dogs end up in the shelters I do realize that something that’s the only option.

    • Glad things worked out for you! Yes, sometimes I am almost relieved when people bring their highly adoptable dogs into the shelter (when it’s a shelter with a decent adoption rate, at least) because I know the dog will be going to a better home than it was in before. Most of the time it works out for the best.

  5. Your posts never fail to give a new perspective to the world of rescuing. My husband always refers to me as an old soul, and I think that the same can be said for yourself. You have so much wisdom in not as many years as many of the people you likely work and/or deal with. Thank you for being such a great role model :)

  6. Kate

    Oh how sad…I hope that she is rehomed somewhere with a resident kitty to become best friends with. Thanks for the awesome perspective, as always!

  7. Lynnie

    Wow, Juliana, that was an amazing piece. I’m posting it to my Veterinary Technology students. Today I lectured on effective communication and your beautiful piece here is perfect after what we talked about today. Beautifully written and offered. Thank you again. You astound me sometimes. :)

  8. Pingback: Trainer Tim | peanut butter & cheese

  9. Trish

    I think it is wonderful that you have such a great perspective on this and so much empathy for those who surrender their pets. I know people who have been in some tough situations, and I do feel for them as well. I also work for an animal welfare organization, and we’ve seen it all. My question on this particular situation (and many others) is “what was the expected outcome this family had about bringing their dog to a shelter?” I’m not sure if yours is no-kill or not. But were they fine with her being euthanized? If so, why didn’t they just go to the vet and do it themselves? Or were they hoping someone would adopt her? If so, couldn’t they have “fostered” her until a new family stepped up? While I understand and believe that this dog will be much better off in a new home, I have an issue with the current family not being part of the solution. I do expect people to be committed to the livelihood of their pets for the pets entire life, and if they encounter problems, I think animal welfare organizations should step up to be part of the solution. I like the idea of a joint solution – not just making this situation someone else’s problem. But until that day comes, exercising compassion as you do is a very good path to follow.

    • Again I think this is a matter of knowing all the details before passing any judgment. In an earlier comment I wrote about our situation with a dog who needed to be in an only-dog home. I had actually contacted the shelter who said she stood a good chance of being adopted because of her age, training, health, and the fact that she didn’t look like a pit. This is a kill shelter and we discussed arrangements for me to bring her home if she still wasn’t adopted after a certain amount of time. Fortunately I was able to find her a home on my own before it came to that, but everyone isn’t that lucky. I realize that there are many people who don’t try, who treat their pets as disposable.

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