With all of the snow this past week, I spent a lot of time indoors and specifically online. Keeping everyone updated on the things GPG has done for the community in all of this cold weather has been fun! It’s also given me the opportunity to see what a lot of other people are saying via Twitter, and now it’s prompted me to get on my soap box for a bit and address a particular mentality that I see in the animal welfare community that I want to address and perhaps attempt to broaden some perspectives.
A couple of days ago, I came across this tweet from an animal welfare organization. Just this morning, there was another similar tweet that actually prompted me to unfollow this organization.
I get where they’re coming from, I do. A lot of open-admission shelters out there have to deal with dogs and cats who are given up for the flimsiest of reasons and unfortunately a lot of those owners don’t fully comprehend – or don’t want to comprehend – the consequences of giving that pet up. Luckily for Gateway Pet Guardians, we only accept owner surrenders from East St. Louis, and typically when we accept one of those surrenders, life in our shelter and eventually their new foster home and adoptive home will be much more comfortable than life where they were.
There are a couple of things about this tweet that makes my hair stand on end. First and foremost, it promotes the notion that all shelters are a place of despair and hopelessness for animals. Any person who has ever visited our small facility knows that we do our best to make our shelter a happy place and we aren’t the only shelter out there who does this, whether it’s open admission or closed admission. In fact, I can’t think of a single animal organization in St. Louis that isn’t attempting to do anything and everything that it can within its own capacity for the animals in its care.
“Treachery” is an exceptionally strong word that assumes every person who releases their pet to a shelter does so with malicious intent. We know from experience that there are people out there who don’t want to give up their pets but have to do so because of circumstances in their lives that are simply out of their control – death of the owner, financial hard times, and terminal or debilitating illness are just a few examples. Of course there are irresponsible people out there who adopt or buy pets without thinking of the long-term implications of their decisions…but if these people are so irresponsible, in some cases their pets may BE better off in a shelter than in their former homes.
I fully acknowledge the fact that animals in some open-admission shelters have a limited amount of time to find a new home, but the way to combat the ignorance of irresponsible owners is to work WITH them, to educate them and the larger population about the responsibility that comes with owning a pet rather than resulting to name calling and shaming. That’s only going to serve to alienate people, and some times people who would otherwise be sympathetic to your cause, like me.
From the standpoint of an animal welfare organization who believes in positive reinforcement, collaboration and engagement… this way of thinking is a step backward. It paints a black and white picture of a situation that is, in reality, varying shades of gray. It even serves to drive a wedge between animal welfare organizations. On the whole, we’ll never be able to make life better for animals in America if we can’t even work with each other, much less the general public – including those who need to be educated.
Gateway Pet Guardians believes in cooperation – cooperation with other animal organizations, we’re all working toward the same cause. Cooperation with community residents – you’ll never change a mentality, a culture of a community without working WITH them and educating them. We are seeking a long-term solution, a way to END homelessness for animals in East St. Louis, not just a short-term way to band-aid the problem. And we couldn’t do any of it without your support.