I rarely write editorials, but one is due, as I have stepped back from something I am passionate about, and folks have noticed. And the strange truth of the matter is, that it's happened for reasons not at all what most people might expect.
It is with utmost certainty that this piece will ruffle the feathers of more than a few. There will be rescue people, even good rescue people, taking pause and asking themselves, “Is she talking about me?”
All I can say is this: if something you are about to read hits home with you, if there is something in the following words that you yourself have done or seen and done nothing about, well, then it is about you, absolutely. If nothing in this writing resembles the way you operate as a rescue person, you still have likely known others that it most definitely pertains to. Either way, just mull it around a bit, and examine how it is you conduct yourself on a daily basis. It can’t hurt, or maybe it will. I've far surpassed caring who it might offend. Life is not a popularity contest and none of us are going to make it out alive.
People who work animal rescue ask themselves almost daily why it is they continue to put themselves through the stress and heartache involved in this business, and it comes from all sides. They frequently tell themselves, “I just can’t do this anymore,” but they rarely say it out loud and hang tough as they continue to struggle on. The compassion fatigue they suffer is very real. But it's not just from the horror they see inflicted on animals each day, or the lack of understanding they get from the general public, or even because of bad pet owners who don't have the first clue about actually caring for their pets. The heartache and drama they witness comes frequently from inside the world of rescue, from other rescuers. It’s a crazy, cut-throat business, that no one, I repeat no one on the outside of it can understand, no more that they can understand what drives rescuers to do the things they do, and stay with it.
The world at large thinks that rescues work together in some kind of peaceful harmony. They are all in it to save animals, right? They have the same goal, right? So certainly they would all agree, get along, and strive together to improve the welfare of animals, right?
Well, yes, and no.
Most people in animal rescue do have the same goal; to save and rehome needy pets. But let there be absolutely no mistake, relatively few animal rescue organizations work together, much less in harmony, even though they all have the same general goal. Few have the same idea on how to rescue, how to care for, or how to find new families to adopt out the animals they take in. They are all in direct competition for support and funding as most are non profits that rely on every donated penny to survive, whether they’ll admit that or not. Some can agree to disagree, not step on each other’s toes, and network animals to get them into better circumstances. But more times than not, it’s a competition, pure and simple. It’s all about who saves the most, who rakes in the most donations, and frequently, whose ego can be charged to the hilt. Just hit up Facebook and check out rescue pages and see who rattles their own chain the most.
You can tell a lot about animal welfare groups by what they post on social media. Are they promoting the animals they have for adoption? Are they working tirelessly to raise money? Are they sharing the animals they have adopted out? Are they praising their volunteers? Do they build up the people who support them? Are they praising the families that adopt their animals? Or are they boasting about all they do, how little help they get, or how they struggle while no one helps or understands them? Are they showing you all that’s wrong with people who own animals or are they encouraging people to be better pet owners? Are they proactive in helping others be better pet owners? Or are they constantly brow beating pet owners who aren’t doing it right, based solely on their own opinion? Are they educating the public, or are they scolding the population for not doing things their way?
I have been rescuing and dragging home animals my entire life, but for more than a decade, about 15 years to be exact, I have worked deliberately and consistently in organized animal rescue, in one form or another. I have worked with rescues and shelters, for rescues and shelters, and done more behind the scenes than I could ever explain, nor would I want to. And although most local animal lovers, and many not so local, are well aware of how in depth I have I have worked with rescue, it’s not like I publicized my every move, searching for the recognition I see others in rescue looking for. I have always been quite content working in the background and speaking out only when the need arose, i.e. when I just couldn't keep my mouth shut a minute longer. I've never made it my mission to point out every animal I saved or the work I did to help animals find homes. I was just content to do it whether anyone knew I was doing it or not.
I have, however, been very vocal and outward about the organizations which I supported and drew as much attention to those organizations as possible. Good attention. Good support. I have been very vocal about how I feel about animal abuse and neglect. I have worked very hard and exercised extreme patience, many times, to help people be better pet owners, get help with vet care, and help them safely find new homes for their pets, and yes, called out more than a few atrocities, in-the-flesh and face-to-face, as well as on social media. So while I don’t advertise my every move, I certainly haven’t hidden myself. I often wonder how some rescuers have any time at all to do any real rescue as they seems to spend an awful lot of time, online, telling the world about every little thing they have done.
In all the truly good work I have witnessed over the years, with rescue people who strive to do more and better, daily, there have been equal amounts of shady business occurring all around me. Organizations that hoard; organizations that collect stray animals that they ship out to places hundreds, or sometimes thousands of miles away, without ever giving owners a chance to find them; some of the same organizations that ship those animals having no real idea where or what they are sending those animals to; organizations that claim to be no-kill but will transfer animals to other organizations that do kill, just to clear their own kennels; organizations that operate under the radar without licenses; organizations that spend thousands of dollars to import animals in from other communities, and sometime other countries, while thousands of animals go without help and die, every day, in their own back yards; organizations that find a way to justify buying animals from breeders and auctions under the guise of rescue, putting money into the pockets of the breeders they say they so despise, and claim to rise up against; organizations that do little in comparison to neighboring groups, that take away funding, needed by their neighbors that do so much more than they ever could; organizations that behave unethically and sometime form vendettas against individuals they deem unworthy, by their own personal standards, and justify those actions with half truths, manufactured 'facts', and mere fragments of the real story; organizations that run people in the ground for being less than their own idea of perfect; organizations that think that no one else can care for animals as good as they can and drive off potential adopters and supporters with their constant ranting and raving; groups, rescuers, and organizations that sit so high on their own self righteous pedestals that they have loss complete track of reality.
I really could go on and on, but you get the picture.
And for all the wrong I’ve seen, I've managed to continue doing what it is I do with animal rescue, telling myself that ever popular phrase, “Not my circus, not my monkey.” That is, until an organization I was deeply involved with did something not quite legal and certainly what I consider unethical; something that has eaten its way to my core.
No amount of advice or argument from me could convince them what they were doing was wrong, not only to the pet involved, but to the people who love him. I felt I had no other choice but to cut ties with the organization and everyone involved with them as I worked to do everything within my power to make right what I truly believe was a major injustice. In doing so it caused me to reexamine to what extent I would ever allow myself to become involved with an organization again. If I could not trust people I have known for decades, people that claim to hold the same values as me, to make decisions that I could stand behind, who in this crazy business could I trust? The answer that I arrived at was a real eye opener.
For years I thought that compassion fatigue would be what would drive me from organized animal rescue; the suffering and abuse we see inflicted upon animals every day is so profound and overwhelming. But as it turns out, it is actually rescue people themselves that caused the light bulb to come on, or go off, however you want to look at it.
So much I have believed in, for so long, has turned out to be a lie wrapped in the egotism, arrogance, and self righteousness of others, and it has nothing to do with abusive or uneducated pet owners, but rather the very people who claim to be “all about the animals.”
This is not to say that all rescues and shelters, and the people that run them, are bad. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are still very good people running excellent organizations, doing outstanding work, although it’s become increasingly difficult to distinguish the good from the bad in this ‘dog eat dog’ business.
In short, I’m taking my own advice, stepping back a bit, and taking the time to just breathe.
Originally published on Examiner.com
June 26, 2016
Author, Gila Todd