As a follow-up to my “People Do Not Suck” post, I offer this- a reminder that people- you know, humans…maybe the guy you let into traffic, or who smiled at you as you both got in line at the same time….are NOT a side effect to rescue. Or training. My life intersects with both, so those are my points of reference, and though I hear and see negative comments related to both (much more often than I’d like), I am mostly referring to rescue and adoption and the judgment that seems to be par for the course. Knee-jerk reactions that not only don’t help the cause, but sometimes, actually hurt it.
Let’s talk first about economics. It’s nice to know that one is financially secure. I mean, it’s one of the things we are taught from a very young age is Very Important. Financial security is something that a lot of us take for granted. It doesn’t matter if that security is real or imagined. Ever maxed out a credit card? I have. More than one. At a time. Years apart. Life is expensive. Ever wondered how you were going to pay an emergency vet bill? I have. And as I said in my previous post, I have a safety net, but things….very human things, such as pride, have sometimes stopped me from tapping into that safety net. What if credit cards weren’t an option? What if the safety net didn’t exist? Would I be more reliant on the kindness of others? Well, yes. Yes I would. Would their judgment make me feel worse than I already did? You bet it would. Which would be more likely to help me? Kindness wins. Every time. And I am not even talking about *giving something* (like money) when I talk about kindness, I’m talking about the most basic of human decency- a smile, an “I’m sorry to hear that” or at the very least, the hope that my hardships don’t become fodder for a meme.
And while we are on the topic of economics, if you’ve ever supported a pet food pantry, a low cost spay/neuter or vaccine clinic or a free behavior workshop (like the ones I host monthly) then, guess what? You support PEOPLE. You support the very beings that make your endeavors worthwhile. (Wink and nod to my boss for pointing this out.) Here’s the bottom line: without other people, we might as well just throw in the towel. People are the ones who donate, the ones who adopt, the ones who volunteer, the ones who advocate. And sometimes they are the reason you share your life with the dog who changed your life for the better.
So, let’s get to the point: the thing that seems to make so many people’s heads explode, though there are less of you than you might think. But, a vocal minority is still heard loud and clear. Do some people suck? Of course they do. One only need to look at politics, women’s rights, racism, health care, or whether or not pit bulls should be pets to know that there is always going to be someone who brings us down, makes us humans look bad or question whether or not we should just call it a day.
But, how about this? The people you thought were great when they adopted the dog are now returning him and they suck? Wow. That’s some serious self-serving hypocrisy. And while I have a moment of blood-boiling anger when I see it, my thoughts more quickly return to “Well, isn’t that convenient?” Because focusing on how much the people who wronged the dog sucked makes us look like heroes, garners sympathy and makes someone else the villain. We humans love nothing more than being the hero of our own story. BTW- this doesn’t mean you or I suck when we do it. It just means that we are HUMAN. We all want to be the hero, even if we aren’t aware of it.
Beyond economics, there’s the supposition that everyone has the same mental acuity, or awareness that we do. I see this so often with training clients. I am a professional trainer. My timing is good, my reading of body language is good, my ability to know when your dog has clocked out is good. Yours? Probably not as much. You might frustrate me, but I am going to try my very hardest not to let you know that. Why? Well, because I want you to keep showing up. I want you to want to keep trying. If I said, “You suck”, you might be ashamed, you might be appalled….but worse, you might not come back. That would kinda be defeating both of our purposes, wouldn’t it? In the case of people who surrender dogs- let’s talk about behavior issues (though I do think economic ones tend to be more pressing). You’ve got a dog who escapes. You can’t afford a fence or you rent and your landlord won’t replace the existing one. BTW- fencing is not cheap, says the woman who spent $7k and didn’t make her money back when she sold the house. You have no idea that this is an issue that can be addressed through training. Another BTW- the percentage of people who have their dogs professionally trained is startlingly low. You think your only recourse is to surrender your dog to a shelter. And so you do. And then you are judged for:
A- not being able to afford something that is out of reach for most people
B- not knowing that training might help, and/or not being able to afford it
C- surrendering your dog to a shelter. A place that exists for this very purpose.
WOW. That’s super harsh. And I get that it sucks for dogs. Believe me when I tell you that. My heart breaks pretty much daily for dogs. Though I am willing to work through the human stuff, I am in dogs because I love dogs. But, one of the things that keeps me going is that I’m willing to work through the human stuff. Self-righteous moral superiority isn’t helpful towards sleeping well at night. For me, at least.
Consider this, though. We pray for people we don’t even know. We are “friends” with people we’ve never even met on social media due to other shared interests, and we all do all sorts of mental gymnastics to find a way to make all sorts of things fit in our brains (cognitive dissonance is a very real thing). Maybe, just maybe, not thinking about people as an unfortunate piece of the rescue puzzle, we accept…a lack of perfection, we accept our disappointment at outcomes…and we accept the humanness of others, we can stop looking at them as the source of *our* problems, and start looking at ourselves as vehicles of change, of better futures…without the “people suck” baggage. The dogs kind of need us to do that.
In regards to my last post, the vast majority of comments and shares were positive. The ones I saw that were not mostly made me scratch my head….though the “You are wrong” ones did make me angry. I’m wrong for sharing my experience, my point of view? If your overwhelming experience with people has been sad or angering or infuriating, I’m truly sorry, but we get to choose what to focus on. As for me, I stand by my belief that people do not suck.
As people invested in shelter and rescue animals, we need to recognize that our definition of value and someone else’s might be different. Not only can that help preserve our sanity, it’s just reality. Moving might be a crisis for someone else, while we might be more able to go with the flow, and moving *is* often cited as a major life stressor, so is losing a job, major illness, divorce and death in the family. And these are among the most common reasons I see listed on surrender sheets. Instead of judging someone for their choice to surrender an animal (and I don’t know about you, but I’m sure glad the option exists, because opening the door and letting the dog go would be far worse as far as options go), maybe we ask ourselves what their motivation might be. We might acknowledge that surrendering their animal might have been harder than they let on or that quite frankly, it’s really none of our business and unless we have the ability to intervene (via a pet food pantry, sponsoring a spay or raising funds for an emergency situation), keep moving forward. If not for the person- for the animal. Staying stuck on what we decide are other people’s poor decisions and what we would have done better is a recipe for burn-out, compassion fatigue and general misery in one’s day-to-day life.
My background is in Psychology and Social Work. I’ve been counselor to hardcore heroin addicts, teens caught up in the juvenile justice system and single moms transitioning from homelessness. This may have given me a different perspective. It could have hardened me. It didn’t. Instead, it made me much more aware of how fragile a thing stability can be.