Compassion for the Humans, Too

There’s something I didn’t think about when I got more involved in companion animal rescue: You have to deal with quite a few humans, too.

It’s easy to feel sympathy for the animals when they’re at shelters, living on the streets, or being surrendered by an owner. What’s harder is to reserve some compassion for the humans involved in these situations – especially when you don’t agree with their actions.

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Our Seamus, who was originally adopted by someone else but returned because of sneezing. Their loss, our gain!

I never really gave this much thought until a few months ago when Rescue Angels of Southern Maryland, the organization with which I volunteer, posted a picture to Facebook of an animal who had been surrendered by its owner. We were helping to find it a new home. I forget the circumstances of the surrender, but I do remember that there was more to the story than we could post. We needed to protect the owner’s privacy.

Well, many of those who commented on the photo vehemently disagreed with the owner’s decision. Their comments were nasty and judgmental. We ended up deleting some of the comments because of offensive language.

That led me to the Internet in search of an article to post that offered an alternate view. I found “The Case for Compassion” at the ASPCA Professional website. The article struck a chord. I bookmarked it because I frequently go back to it as a reminder. It’s definitely worth a read (and an occasional re-read).

Writer B.J. Rogers argues that we should approach animal surrender with compassion first. Most people who surrender their pet are heartbroken. They do not make the decision lightly. Many have already exhausted other avenues and tapped out resources to resolve the problem, whether it’s financial, medical, behavioral, or other. They don’t want to lose a member of their family. Surrendering is their last resort.

If we jump to conclusions and treat them as criminals, we make the process worse for them. We pile on to the guilt they are already feeling. There’s a saying that keeps popping up on my Facebook feed, and I think it applies here:

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Like Rogers, I readily admit that I am guilty of jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst about people in these situations. But I have learned a lot since becoming more involved in animal rescue the last few months. Now, when I have the chance to talk to people who inquire about surrender, I try to ask questions and learn more. There’s always more to a situation than they will initially let on, and many people aren’t aware of the resources out there for them and their pet.

Do some people lie about why they’re giving up their pet? Sure. Do some people treat their animals as possessions rather than sentient beings? Of course. But that is not the case for everyone. I am a firm believer that we help the animals by being kind to their humans. Energy and time spent hating the humans cannot be used to find a happy new home for a surrendered pet.

Compassion for the animals is a given. Some care needs to be saved for the humans, too.

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