Battered Rescuers, Dead Shelter Pets
May 11, 2012
I receive tips on a regular basis from caring advocates reporting that their local shelter kills animals needlessly. What motivates the tipster to write is often one of the following:
- There are empty cages at the shelter but the pets were killed anyway.
- Rescue was already lined up for the animals and the staff knew that but the pets were killed anyway.
- A small percentage of the animals (or even just one animal) were sneezing/coughing but every animal in the room was killed.
I report on very few of these stories for the simple reason that, although the person was upset enough at the time to contact me, they almost always back out when I offer to post the story, even if I promise to keep them anonymous. Sometimes they just fall silent, other times they write me back to say something along the lines of, “Please don’t publish my story because I’m afraid the shelter will ban me and then I won’t be able to help any more animals” or “I’m afraid the shelter will retaliate by killing this animal I have on rescue hold there right now.”
I understand these concerns and as such, I don’t post about the killings. But I do have strong opinions about the issue and want to go on record once again here. I’m not a doctor but this kind of behavior from shelter pet advocates puts me in mind of Stockholm Syndrome. If you are unfamiliar with Stockholm Syndrome, this is how Wikipedia describes it:
In psychology, Stockholm syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.
Just as actual hostages may come to believe that, because their captors are not inflicting violence upon them, the captors are good people, animal advocates may mistake a lack of killing by the shelter for an act of kindness. This is how I believe many volunteers and rescuers come to defend the killing that goes on at their shelter.
But make no mistake. The killing will continue. By holding compassionate pet advocates hostage – in the sense that they fear speaking the truth publicly or taking political action to force the shelter to stop killing – the status quo is guaranteed to remain in place. The fearful rescuers will always be allowed to save a few and the shelter will always kill the rest.
While I understand that a rescuer’s greatest desire is to save animals, I think it’s important to maintain perspective. If you want to continue the save-a-few-and-kill-the-rest paradigm, keep doing what you’ve always done. Remain silent about the abuse and needless killing at your shelter. Don’t rock the boat. You will be rewarded by the positive feelings that accompany saving an animal here and there.
But if you have had enough of scrambling to save a few while the rest are killed, if you are tired of being afraid to speak the truth, if you want meaningful change that will force the shelter to do its job and save every healthy/treatable animal – do something different. Speak out publicly. Empower yourself to stand up and demand an end to the killing. Maybe do everything different.
Yes, if the shelter bans you, some animals will die that you may have been allowed to save and that is tragic but it’s not your fault. The blame lies solely with those doing the killing while lifesaving alternatives exist. By working for meaningful reform, you are making it your goal to save not just the few, but every animal. The power is in your hands.