It does not take an advanced degree or high IQ to realize that social media is full of trolls, bad opinions, bullies, and folks who are just mean. It has, however, become the major marketing tool for animal shelters and rescues to promote the animals in their care for adoption. Since this industry is reaching the general public at a rate that was unattainable before social media we must consider the potential fallout when using certain phrases and definitions.
It is in this arena that many people have derived a “victory at all costs” motto which is not unique to animal welfare but is clearly in full practice. In taking the oath of this motto, it is ok to slander, bash, trash, call for termination, bully, and otherwise ruin another human beings life if it makes us feel better for and about that one animal. This is not to say that it may not make the world of difference for that one animal it is to say that while the stakes are high, we engage in and allow abhorrent treatment of our fellow human being under the guise of “passion”.
For the general public, the animal welfare jargon is very black and white even when those engulfed in this world know that it is anything but. One only needs to look at the perspective definitions of “kill” vs. “no-kill” in order to understand that the general public and the animal welfare industry have very different definitions of what those phrases mean. It is our duty to be open, honest, and transparent with the lay-person so they can make informed decisions regarding adopting, fostering, and advocating for animals.
The use of euphemisms, jargon, and technical language to obscure or downplay behavior issues is not only commonplace it is rampant. For example the animal welfare industry has decided that any display of aggression, warranted or not, should now be called “reactive”. This sleight of hand obscures the behavior that is being displayed as well as sets people up with an expectation that is often different than the reality. I do not know when aggression became a phrase that dare not be uttered, but, there are many cases where it is perfectly appropriate to define behavior in terms which are used and accepted by applied animal and veterinary behaviorists.
So, as the animal welfare industry continues to obfuscate clear behavior issues it is simultaneously placing animals with clear behavioral concerns. This is done in a landscape where there is no regulation on the training industry. So, whether directly or indirectly, as an industry it is imperative that we begin examining how we use the phrase “saved” in our descriptions of what happens to animals who were once facing euthanasia and now are no longer.
Save: keep safe or rescue (someone or something) from harm or danger
While we are using the definition correctly in one sense we are not acknowledging the long term care of this animal and if they are actually, in fact, free of harm. I do not say this lightly. I do not say this tongue in cheek. As long as there are trainers who engage in the use of an aversive as a first option, then animals placed with clear behavior issues are at a high risk to have those aversive devices used on them. This would be counter to “saving” an animal from harm and should make rescue groups and shelters take a pause before rushing to place these animals into the world.
Furthermore, when using the word “save” we should be taking the animals medical prognosis into account. At best it may be more appropriate to consider certain animals to be “taken into hospice” at worst there are animals where one could be contributing to the prolonged suffering of an animal.
Euthanasia: Also called mercy killing. the act of putting to death painlessly or allowing to die, as by withholding extreme medical measures, a person or animal suffering from an incurable, especially a painful, disease or condition.
This is merely to say that removing an animal from a shelter is not exactly the same thing as “saving” them and to show that the definitions we use are more complex than we would like them to be. Finally, when we portray such stark odds in a public forum in such black and white terms, we are inviting a really ugly and visceral backlash that may or not be intended. The uninformed public assumes that a perfectly happy and healthy animal is being slated for euthanasia which may or not be the reality on the ground. It also commits a type of blackmail that any organization which has clear organizational criteria is held in a less than positive light because of their unwillingness to take a problematic animal. This negative light is shown not due to a lack of care or inhumane practices. It is shown because the individuals who sit behind a computer screen have decided that they can make better decisions than the organization can for itself.
All of this should not be new information to those reading, but it should be a call for empathy to individuals who share a common goal but somehow stand at polar opposites. People who express empathy and care for animals but have decided that their fellow humans are not deserving of the same level of empathy. It is a call to realize that the picture or name of a rescuer, volunteer, or shelter staff person is, in fact, a life as well. One that has hopes, dreams, and responsibilities the same as your own and sharing that person’s information can result in many undesired consequences- the least of which is actually being able to save the animal you are trying to “save”.