Animal Welfare Has a Cruelty to People Problem

These are real quotes taken from different animals organizations’ actual social media posts:

“I told them never to get another dog again because they are shitty people.”

“Shitty humans should never have dogs, cats, children or any other dependents.”

“I would go live in my travel trailer hitched to my Jeep in the Walmart parking lot before I would dump my dogs anywhere let alone in a high kill shelter!”

“Horrible people, pray they never get another animal.”

“If you can’t afford a pet—don’t have one.”

“If you abandon your dog—you’re an a*shole, if you put your dog in a shelter where a large number of dogs are euthanized due to lack of space solely because you are moving you are also an a**hole.”

Is this what the public sees when they’re looking for help in a time of need? Is this the negative and attention-seeking language that you use to get donations? 

If so—this blog is for you.

As a society we’re so quick to judge other humans’ circumstances. We sometimes use people’s difficult circumstances to make our own organizations look better—like we’re the saviors. 

In reality, even with the good work you’re doing, with this language we’re creating a much larger problem. When we use language like the quotes above, we’re pushing away the very people who are most in need of our support. 

Why would someone want to reach out to surrender their dog to us, if we were just going to call them an a**hole for doing so? Why would they reach out to use our pet pantry if we believe, and say, that because “they’re so poor, they shouldn’t have a pet”? 

It’s important to remember that not all of our community members are aware of the resources available to them. There might even be barriers to receiving services so they don’t qualify; or maybe there is a long waitlist or they have to pay fees to gain access to services. 

Or, when it comes to having to move, they don’t have the privilege of time or money to find a place that accepts the whole family. Only 1 in 10 apartments is dog-inclusive across the country, and these rentals tend to be much more expensive. This is an issue I am intimately familiar with, as executive director of My Pit Bull Is Family, where we track, and advocate for, pet-inclusive housing across the country. I can tell you with certainty, there isn’t enough of it, it’s very expensive, and people and pets suffer as a result.

We could all be a little more like the Wisconsin Humane Society, when sharing stories of crisis without shame. 

This is a post that the Wisconsin Humane Society recently shared on Facebook, about a puppy who was found tied to a fire hydrant in Green Bay, along with a suitcase of her favorite things: 

A local news station in Minnesota did a follow-up story with Baby Girl’s former owner, who told the station she is undergoing chemotherapy, and is unhoused. This interview drives home the urgent need for more resources to be put toward supporting pet owners in crisis, so they have options beyond giving up a pet they love. 

We don’t know if Baby Girl and her owner could have remained together, but without that support in place—and without positive, constructive communication about available support—we know more pets will be given up, to shelters and rescues that are already strapped for resources and space.

“​​First and foremost, we are so sorry you had to part with your best friend,” WHS wrote. 

“It’s evident just how much you loved her and we can see you did your best while struggling with your own medical complications and challenges of life. We see your love in the bag you carefully packed with all of her favorite things. We see your love in the way you secured her leash so she wouldn’t get hit by a car. We see your love in the way you placed her in the middle of a neighborhood where she’d be quickly found. We see your love in how happy and healthy Baby Girl looks. And we see your love in the note you left, pleading for someone to help her when you no longer could.

While we’ll never let fees be a barrier and we welcome anonymous surrenders, we see that you did what you thought was best for your beloved pup and we are grateful for your compassion. Rest assured that she’s safe, she’s getting tons of attention from our team, and she’s on track to find her next loving family very soon. We wish you all the best and hope that if you see this, you can rest a little easier knowing your Baby Girl has a bright future ahead ♥

Not only does this post model compassionate storytelling that sends the clear message to the community that the Wisconsin Humane Society is a place people can turn to in hard times, it went viral and generated a lot of positive attention for WHS, too.

It also arguably helped shift attitudes toward people in crisis.

“What a compassionate response,” said one commenter. “I didn’t feel as compassionate when I first saw the photos, but you’ve helped me see with a new perspective.”

It’s amazing what a positive Facebook post or news story can do. For example, our North Minneapolis Pet Resource Center, a project of My Pit Bull is Family, was recently out of some items—pet food and kitty litter—that our community members regularly ask for. 

Local news picked up our Facebook post and did TWO news stories on us. The positive media allowed us to not only stock our shelves, and attract more volunteers. We also brought in over $4,500 for our program!

When writing your social media posts and monitoring the comments on your pages, it’s important to put your best representation of your organization forward and share resources in your community to support those in need. 

Because at the end of the day, if you were in need of support, what would you want to see?

I’d bet that it’s not being called an a**hole for needing help and support, but compassion. 

Shannon Glenn, MAPL, is executive director of My Pit Bull is Family and president of Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare. Shannon’s professional background includes working with people experiencing housing insecurity and managing the only pet-friendly homeless shelter in Minnesota.

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