In recent weeks, I have encountered several cases of bad behavior within the animal welfare community. Political strife between rescue groups, disputes over veterinary decisions, nasty Facebook attacks over intake policies, personality conflicts between volunteers…we’ve got enough material for our own little reality show going here.
Let me say this as gently as possible.
Working in animal welfare is consistently heart-breaking, stressful, and endlessly rewarding, regardless of whether we do so in a paid capacity or, like most of us, as a volunteer. The worst part for all of us is that we know we’re trying to bail out the ocean with a dixie cup. We KNOW we can’t save them all.
Animal welfare people see the results of human neglect, indifference, and cruelty every single day. We try to repair the damage done to starved, abused, injured, neglected, sick animals that other pseudo-humans threw away. We win some, and that keeps us going. We lose some, and it wears us down.
We literally deal in life and death on a daily basis. And when you deal with such irrevocable consequences, disagreements and differences of opinion are inevitable. It is not unusual for two good rescuers or volunteers to reach radically different conclusions about what to do with a particular animal. That doesn’t necessarily mean one is wrong and one is right. It means that they have differing opinions about whether that animal can be safely rehabilitated and adopted into a forever home. Or maybe they don’t agree on how to handle a veterinary or behavioral problem.
I’m not going to pretend that bad rescuers and fosters don’t exist. They do. The ones who take on more than they can handle. The ones who take a dog home to foster, but don’t follow through with any effort to get the dog adopted and then return it to the shelter a year later, when the now adult dog will be harder to find a home for. The ones who don’t follow basic safety protocol and end up spreading contagious illnesses through their entire animal population. The ones whose animals are out of control and drive the neighbors crazy. The ones who show up for adoption events with filthy unkempt animals. We all know they exist.
But they are NOT the majority. The majority of animal welfare people are self-sacrificing, sincerely devoted to the animals in their care, and constantly looking for ways to help more.
As a community, let’s acknowledge that none of us can do this alone. We need each other. Shelter volunteers, fosters, rescuers, fundraisers, transporters…we are all necessary parts of a symbiotic system. Some of us may not have the best people skills in the world, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t good at what we do. It just means that we might like dogs better than people…no surprise to anyone in animal welfare.
Take time to appreciate the other volunteers and paid animal welfare workers you deal with. Support each other. Offer help instead of criticism. Ask for help if you need it. If someone does something you disagree with, address it privately and tactfully.
Like the dogs we work to save, some of us have behavioral issues and personality quirks. That doesn’t make us bad; it makes us…unique. Treat the other animal welfare people around you the way you treat your dogs…with kindness, patience, and attention to their well being. Treats are good too. One suggestion – save the belly rubs for your closest friends.