I was talking to a contact of mine in Chicago the other day about the issue of toxicity in animal welfare advocacy. She said, “I wish I could list all the people I meet who tell me they have stopped giving money to animal causes because they can't stand dealing with the rescue people anymore. I am not talking small dollars either. Now they give to people causes, or the symphony. Shame on the animal community.”
Yes, shame on the animal community.
Most people who are not “in the weeds” of animal welfare advocacy and who simply want the best for animals likely have no idea of the battles being waged each and every day between people who claim to advocate for animals. I would like to think this is a testament to the emotional nature of our attachment to animals; we care deeply and so when we cannot agree, we argue passionately. I'm afraid that the dysfunction within our ranks has gone far beyond what I could ever consider passionate discourse.
I engage regularly with people who don't share my belief system or at least have differing opinions. Although my beliefs are firm on certain points, I have no issue at all with having an adult conversation with someone who does not agree with me. That's what adults do. We share thoughts and opinions and ideas and while we sometimes find common ground, we come to terms with those items on which we will simply have to disagree.
There is a certain level of toxicity and hostility in animal welfare circles, however, which just never ceases to amaze me. If you don't agree with me or my belief system, that's perfectly fine with me. Please walk away and let's each just continue on our own path. But when you don't agree with my belief system and you make a direct effort to attack me personally, I am left to wonder what you really hope to accomplish and if your time would not be better spent doing something to actually help animals instead.
There will always be differences of opinion in animal welfare circles, but it is my position that those who engage in hostile attacks on a personal level and who engage in behavior that even children know is wrong, truly do a disservice to the causes they claim to support. Someone who does not share my belief system recently took the time to download a PSA I did for television, edit my voice out of the PSA and create a video with the audio file which they surely would not want to share with their mother. Using my voice in this manner and without my permission is not going to cause me to suddenly change my opinions as I throw my hands up in the air and say, “oh, okay. You were right all along. And please stop being mean to me.” I am quite certain the time spent on that particular project would have been better spent trying to find a home for a shelter animal. This is just an example of a series of things done and remarks made about my advocacy and that of others in my community, some of which is actually libelous and about which an attorney is being consulted. The people engaging in this behavior? Rescuers and shelter volunteers, one of whom is the vice-president of a well-respected nonprofit group.
I am not suggesting by any means that we all sit around and sing kumbaya and hope that things get better while we focus on not offending anyone. There is a time, place and style which is appropriate for advocacy. It is one which focuses on facts and policies and programs and not on personalities and people and pride. I work very hard to be logical in my advocacy and while I have referred to the destruction of healthy and treatable animals in our nation's shelters as killing – because it is most certainly not “euthanasia” - I have never engaged in name calling or personal attacks of any kind because doing so serves no purpose. Some would say that our issues in our country are animal issues, but they really are people issues related to making better personal choices related to companion animals and doing a better job of spending our collective funds to help shelter pets and not kill them.
I am sure I will continue to be attacked by those who do not share my belief system and who are so diametrically opposed to my values that they lash out against me. This behavior is quite telling for me. Because if they are attacking me, it means they have no real, logical arguments to counter my beliefs they think are "wrong" and which they claim to oppose. Attacks and bullying are tools of desperation.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson