I have a love/hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, I like being able to keep up to date with what’s going on in the lives of the people I care about.
But there’s a really dark side to social media: bullying and shaming.
Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of news reporting about the “pandemic puppy” phenomenon. With people spending a lot more time at home, the pandemic was the perfect time to adopt pets. So many people did. Then, over time, we started to see stories popping up of people getting “bored” of having pets, or deciding it wasn’t really for them, and abandoning them.
This alleged evolution has given many people on social media an excuse to do what they love most: act morally superior and express harsh judgment.
It is too easy to insist that you would never do such a thing or to demonize the people who deliver animals to the shelter under any circumstances. If you’re one of those people who’s posted how shameful it is for people to give up on their pets, I have some sobering news for you.
People entrust animals to shelters for a variety of reasons. But being bored with a dog or fed up with finding black cat hair everywhere aren’t among the top causes of pets being abandoned in shelters. On the contrary, serious problems and circumstantial crises in the life of pet owners are more likely to lead to abandonment than to bad temper.
An analysis by the Best Friends Animal Society found that pets are abandoned at shelters for reasons related to the owner’s situation (housing/eviction, financial insecurity, etc.) at a ratio of about 3 to 1 compared to to animal-specific reasons (behaviour/health issues). Contrary to what many may believe, the behavior of the animal is not a major reason for surrender. A study by the ASPCA found that nearly half of buyouts involved family or housing issues.
If you’re one of those harsh critics, you might be thinking right now, “Well, I wasn’t talking about those people. »
Here is the problem with this thought. These people are the ones who get the overwhelming message that surrendering under any circumstances is always grossly cruel abandonment: it’s reckless, heartless, and anyone who abandons a pet is just a bad person. Nuance it however you like, but the overall judgment is clear: giving up a pet is always a mistake.
Sorry Judy, that’s just not true. There are many cases where abandoning a pet is the best choice for that animal and for the family.
The shame of giving up pets makes people feel like failures for something that is already extremely traumatic. And here’s the problem with piling up that shame and adding to the stigma with public ridicule: it unwittingly encourages people to abandon pets in dangerous situations, hastily rehoming them, or stay in dangerous situations. just to avoid the onslaught of judgment on their personal character. .
And by the way, all this shame and guilt that pet owners feel makes it harder for us to work on the shelter side. People often lie about why they give up an animal to us because they’re afraid of judgment, or omit important information about the animal’s behavior and health because they’re afraid of what it says about their character and their ability to take care of an animal. . This makes it more difficult for us to understand the true picture of that animal in order to find the best placement outcome, resulting in longer dwell time and unnecessary trauma to the animal.
We are missing an opportunity to talk about better ways to approach animal welfare as a whole.
There are also better ways to handle surrenders in the event of difficulties. Here at Santa Fe Animal Shelter, we offer a wide range of admission alternatives to help keep pets with their owners, such as helping cover unusual veterinary expenses, providing food and supplies for people experiencing financial hardship and connecting guardians with other social service organizations to help address housing insecurity.
Here’s the gist: Postures on social media are unlikely to have a significant impact on people callous enough to treat animals like last season’s shoes. But it could make someone struggling with an incredibly difficult choice feel even worse.
Jack Hagerman is CEO of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society.