“I hate people.”
If we had a nickel for every time we saw a post like this on Facebook, we would have a lot of nickels.
Every time a post is made about a dog or cat coming into an animal shelter in a substandard condition, you see them. And it’s understandable. Animal suffering is painful to see, especially when you think it was avoidable. But we can’t know the circumstances of the person who was the caretaker of the animal. Sometimes the animal came in as a stray, and we don’t know how long they have been out and on their own. We don’t know if the owner themselves had enough to eat, a safe place to live or medical care.
Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People, used to tell a story about seeing a group of kids on a subway in New York with their father. The kids were running around, acting up and misbehaving, and he felt himself judging the father for not being able to control them. He spoke up and asked the father, “Can’t you control your children?”
The father answered, “I’m sorry. Their mother just died, and they don’t know how to act, and I’m afraid I don’t, either.” It was a powerful lesson in not judging others when you have no idea what the full circumstances of their situation are.
The same principle applies to judging owners who need to surrender their pets. People think that they would never do that, but often they have never been in a situation where they truly had no choice. In Philadelphia, we have one of the highest rates of people living in poverty of any large city. That poverty is at the root of the majority of animal surrenders. The shelters and their rescue partners try to point people in the direction of resources like community pet food pantries or low cost veterinary clinics, but if your animal has a serious injury or medical condition, there is no free veterinary care—and very little that is truly low cost when you do not even have one extra dollar.
So, the next time you may be tempted to think or say “I hate people” when you see an animal surrendered to a shelter, try to remember that we can’t make progress in animal welfare without addressing the welfare of their humans as well. Animal welfare—especially in communities challenged by poverty—is a social service and should be treated as such.