Passing Judgment

There must be something about this field that makes people super judgmental. I think it has to be the passion animal welfare engenders in us – the animals cannot take care of themselves, so they’re like children. And we’re like animal moms – fiercely protective of our young. Or maybe animal lovers have burned out on people, and thus are overwhelmingly attached to animals of one sort or another. Whatever the reason, it does seem that we have a tendency to leap to the worst conclusions about our fellows humans.

This is constantly happening in a shelter environment, where both staff members and volunteers become quite cynical about those bringing animals in. Everyone who works in a shelter has heard people say they’re leaving their animals behind because they’re “moving,” or they have developed “allergies.” After awhile, you distrust everyone who gives one of those reasons – or many others – for surrenders.

This attitude crops in other areas of animal welfare too, where people tend to ascribe the worst of motives to their fellow humans. Take this recent listing from Craig’s List.

"You're not looking for them, but I found your two dogs.

Sigh. No one is looking for these guys. And I see why. They hump everything in sight, try to dominate our old doggies, try to eat our cats and pee on everything and bark at everything. Neurotic, lick constantly. They know no commands, either in English or Spanish. They are aggressive and probably lived in a puppy mill. You dumped them, probably, and we picked them up before they were killed by traffic. Unneutered, no tags, under 1 year old small males. I hate you, person who dumped these dogs. There are no lost ads on phone poles, no lost ad on Craig's list, no lost ad in the paper. We put signs up all over, put a found notice in at the local pounds and if you were looking for these filthy little ragamuffins, you would have found them. We are afraid to take them to the pound because under stress, your dogs were snappy and horribly afraid and dogs are judged by temperment for adoption placement. They would not have passed that test. However.....

They are, under their filth, mats and horrible habits, adorable. They have learned "Quiet," "Come," "Sit." They have stopped being so neurotic and we have broken most of their bad habits in just a few days. They are smart and sweet and are looking for guidance and WANT to be good little dogs. One is a purebred little white and buff guy with an underbite, the other is a brown little dog that looks almost exactly like a miniture version of a larger breed dog. They know each other and were obviously (by the same bad habits) raised (poorly) together. We will get them neutered, train them and get them into a good, loving home with people who use the brains God gave them.

If these are your dogs, come on by, I'd like to kick your ass.”

Now this person could be quite right – the previous owners of these dogs might have been irresponsible, even abusive. Unfortunately, there are people like that. But there are also people who leave their animals with sitters who then lose them (we’ve known of that happening many times). The owners may have fallen on bad times and can’t support themselves, much less their dogs. The owner may have gotten ill or even died (one of our volunteers has a Sheltie that lived a couple of weeks with her dead owner and another dog until she was found. The other dog died of starvation.) Sometimes, their landlord has decided to enforce a “no pet “ rule – or a “no dogs of this breed” rule, and the people have run out of time.

Occasionally people are afraid to tell the truth when they have to give up their dog or cat. They know they’ll be judged, so they make up a reason rather than admit to failure.
Oftentimes dog owners are afraid of their own dogs, but don’t want to see them put down, and just hope someone else can handle them.

When you’re a behavior consultant or a trainer, you’re used to people who want help, and who are willing to spend a great deal of time and money on their pet. You tend to think that all people should do that – but alas, it can’t happen all the time. I’ve always found that it doesn’t do a lot of good to assume the worst about people. You might be misjudging and alienating a decent human being. Better to assume that people do have good intentions, while understanding that some do not. As an old friend of mine says “trust everyone, but cut the cards.”