Animal Welfare has many sizeable obstacles that make our work difficult. In addition to the usual suspects like cruelty, breeders, hoarders, & overcrowded shelters, we face the “just an animal” mentality nationally. This mentality impacts giving so much that Animal Welfare and Environmental Welfare share the very smallest piece of the philanthropic pie. We don’t even get our own piece. With all of these obstacles standing between us and our goals for animal welfare, I can’t help but wonder if there is not an even bigger barrier preventing us from saving more lives.
Animal Welfare Goals
First, let’s talk about our goals. Obviously, every animal welfare organization has its own mission but I am confident saying as a whole, our collaborative and simplified goal is a world where animals are treated humanely in all arenas. But what is humane? I propose humane treatment can be defined by the 5 freedoms, globally recognized as the gold standard in animal welfare. These freedoms are:
- freedom from hunger and thirst
- freedom from discomfort
- freedom from pain, injury, and disease
- freedom to express normal and natural behavior
- freedom from fear and distress.
I’m worried we may be standing in the way of our own progress towards these goals: ALL of these goals!
At a seminar I recently attended, I was blessed to hear Cynthia Karsten, DVM, DABVP speak. The presentation was on Preventing Compassion Fatigue but I took away a far different message and everything that follows is from my brain and in my words so please do not hold her accountable if you disagree. She began by challenging everyone to put aside our beliefs, opinions, and the “way we always do it.” This is much harder than it seems. Being Open-minded is WORK!
However, once I pried my mind open and began thinking about some of her suggestions, my personal experiences in Animal Welfare and other’s experiences, I began to feel shame and regret. Though I don’t personally run or work for a shelter, I did do rescue before opening my clinic. I boarded the strays I found at a local vet clinic where they spent 24 hrs out of each day in a kennel, not unlike the dogs at any shelter or animal control facility. In fact, many well-intentioned rescues have dogs in crates stacked all over their homes. I had always justified this temporary placement as more humane than the streets where the strays were starving and in danger of being injured or killed. I don’t disagree and still believe that ALL of us are just doing the best we can with the resources we have. Kennels and crates allow us to save lives and I make no apology.
Reconsidering Adoption Criteria
What I do apologize for is the 3rd-degree application I required for adopters. Advocates, before you stop reading this because you “know” you’re right and THINK you know where I am going with this- pause, set aside your beliefs and opinions for this 5 minutes. What if this 5 minutes allows you to save one life?
Are they gone? Is your mind ready? If so, continue….
I’m not suggesting applications are bad. Applications are fine and needed but nothing has ever accurately been assessed in black and white. This is true of employment applications, rental applications, etc. Lives exist in the gray area and if we truly want to serve our pets and grant them the 5 freedoms they deserve, we will start meeting pet owners here- in the gray.
Let’s examine fence requirements. You either have them or know of rescues or shelters that do. They are common. No fence- No adoption. Period! We are literally saying that a dog is better off in our kennel than a home without a fence. He’s better off in a kennel where he’s definitely uncomfortable, exposed to diseases and suffering from a weakened immune system because of the stress long-term kenneling creates and he’s certainly not allowed to express normal, natural behavior. Dogs are companions. They want to be with a human. That is their normal, natural behavior.
Having a fence is just one aspect of pet ownership and many things are far MORE important. Like, the previous pet’s history for one. If the past 6 dogs were hit by cars on a busy highway, I’d say a fence is absolutely necessary but if their previous pets lived, long full lives, why would you not adopt? Your kennel is depriving the pet of the most basic humane freedoms. I have known many pets owned by wonderful pet owners WITH fenced yards that have still gotten loose and some were indeed hit by cars. Things happen and having a fence doesn’t guarantee anything. Let it go! Stop with the fences and check instead on the owners.
Could My Dad Adopt From Your Organization?
My Dad just lost his best friend and the most loyal companion a human could ever hope for. His dog Chet was 14 years old when my Dad made the agonizing but humane choice to say good-bye. The two of them were inseparable his 14 years. Dad bought a camper just so Chet could join him on vacation. In fact, he planned his vacations around destinations Chet would have the most fun at. Dad’s front seat belonged to Chet along with Dad’s whole heart. My Dad doesn’t have a fence and he does live on a very busy highway. Could I pull some strings with the rescues and shelters I work with and use my influence in Animal Welfare to get his application approved- yes. But what if my Dad came into adopt and didn’t mention me. What if he, a stranger to you, just pointed to a dog and said, “That’s him. That’s my new dog” and filled out an application? Would that dog get to go home and have the love Chet did or would he spend another night in his crate or in his kennel?
While discussing this topic with 2 of my veterinarians, I was appalled to learn that many rescues and shelters refuse to adopt to vets. Both of my vets had stories about other vets that were denied because they didn’t have vaccine history on their personal pets, work long hours, or would not keep the cat exclusively indoors.
Refusing to adopt a pet for any of these reasons is insanity. In some cases, we become so attached to the animals we care for that we refuse to settle for anyone other than Jane Goodall as an adopter. And we have become so used to doing things because that is how it’s always done, we forget to reexamine policy and focus on the things in between the lines. It seems we could learn a lot more with a conversation than an application. Maybe a marriage of the two would be a good solution but can we, as the last advocates these animals have, please get out of our own way.
How many great adopters have been denied for mundane reasons? If your answer is more than zero, that’s too many.