When you volunteer with homeless animals, it’s easy to start hating people.
Let me explain:
You really love animals so you start helping out at a rescue or a shelter. Petting the animals releases seratonin in your brain and you get warm fuzzies. It really is very relaxing and you feel good because you helped an animal.
Then you keep hanging around the shelter and you see something awful. For me, it was a frail, old, sick cat that was brought in because its elderly owner died and no one in her family wanted it. That beautiful cat spent its last few weeks on earth in an unfamiliar cage and it broke my heart into a million pieces.
So, now that you’ve seen something awful, you brace yourself for more awfulness. Every time you read “Owner Surrender” on a cage card, you picture your hands choking the life out of the heartless *&^%$#@#$%^& who dumped this perfect cat at a crowded, underfunded shelter where it may spend months before it finds a new home.
It’s so easy because most everyone in the animal rescue community will justify your rage because we’re all tired of euthanasia and backyard breeders and puppies in pet stores and people who insist they MUST HAVE A PUPPY despite the dozens of well behaved, adult dogs who fill our shelters and foster homes.
Sometimes I fantasize about decapitating every last person who swears they’re moving and “just can’t take their pets with them.”
It’s easy to assume the worst about people when we have limited or no information about them. Many times, animals come to the shelter with no backstory at all and since they can’t talk, we try to fill in the gaps ourselves.
And that’s where we have a choice.
We can choose to assume the worst about the animal’s previous owners and our blood pressure and mood will suffer for it,
we can just as easily assume the best. If there’s truly no way to know, then what’s the harm in making up a fantastic story?
Instead of “These stupid people dumped their cats here because they don’t care about them”, I can say “These people loved their cats very much, but they are moving to Uganda to build schools and orphanages and the locals would have eaten their cats, so they really couldn’t take them. They pray every night that their cats find a loving home.”
Which story makes you feel better?
Then that’s the one you should believe.
After all, we don’t know what we don’t know, and most people are doing the best they know how to do.
When someone drops off a box of puppies at your shelter in the middle of the night and drives off, think to yourself, “This is the best place in town these puppies could be right now. Here, they will have shelter, medicine, and a hopeful future. I’m so glad they’re not wandering around a dangerous highway where they would certainly get run over. They are safe here.”
Do this as often as you can, because it will make you a happier person and extend your life as a volunteer in the animal rescue community.
This article was inspired by a wonderful essay in Animal Sheltering Magazine’s Sept/Oct issue called Don’t Believe Everything You Think.