Misguided Assumptions That Hinder Animal Welfare
Written by Becky Monroe
Well, it is only Tuesday, but it has been an eye-opening week already. Yesterday, I was on the beach in the morning when I saw two young children with their mom. The two young kids, both under 5, were chasing the small shore birds we call Snowy Plovers.
Snowy Plovers are protected on the island as they are becoming rare, but the state run commission, Florida Fish and Wildlife (and all wildlife animal agencies), teach not to chase all birds as they are typically on the beach resting between flights or nesting for the season.
I am not a confrontational person in anyway. Heck, my voice, at its loudest, can barely be heard across a small table. But, certain things like chasing birds and puppy mills, will get me to respond.
I made eye contact with the mom and gently said to the boy, “You should not chase birds.”
To which his mother looked at me and said, “They have only chased three.”
I thought to myself, “Well, as far as I know, the only right number is zero.”
When I got home, I went on Facebook and posted in a few groups what had taken place and used it as a friendly reminder that chasing birds is not acceptable and in fact, harmful to the birds.
There is scientific evidence to prove this and that can be found here.
One of the FB pages I chose for my post is a community page for people who love our island. Within seconds, numerous people were agreeing with me and sharing their own stories.
Numerous comments have been made now on that page and while not all of them are 100% in agreement, it wasn’t until this morning one was made that just sent me into a tailspin.
His first comment was to say that my concern was a first world problem for a rich person. His second comment was that if kids playing on a beach was my only problem, I was lucky and that I shouldn’t shame families who are having fun.
Needless to say, I had a few replies for him.
However, his commentary really got me thinking about these two separate but often made assumptions and how they apply to animal welfare, in general.
The first one which implied that only rich people care about animals is not only ignorant, but unfounded.
I have had the beautiful opportunity to help at low cost clinics in the challenged neighborhoods of Chicago thanks to the organization Lost Dogs IL. Each time I went, I was reminded that income does not in any way suggest how much someone loves his or her pet.
Most of the pet owners at these events got in line hours before we opened and often walked miles in any kind of weather to get there — just so their pets could get the things they needed.
For some, it wasn’t even the cost it was the availability of resources in their area. When the resources were there, they made sure to utilize them to benefit their pets.
I did a story years ago about homeless people and their pets. I was able to get in contact with the group, Pets of the Homeless. They shared with me how they help provide food and veterinary care to the pets of the homeless because they know, despite the obvious circumstances, those pets are loved and cared for better than many living in suburban America.
What could make a dog happier than spending every single day hanging with his human?
I think between my volunteer opportunities and my own research, hearing what that man was saying in response to my Facebook post made me even angrier as I know that income and compassion do not slide together on any scale.
And, I think assumptions like this one have also made adopting a pet more difficult for those with financial hardships. This judgement that if you can’t afford the adoption fee, you can’t afford the pet is heard in the animal welfare community a lot.
I would only argue that with so many dogs and cats being euthanized simply due to lack of space, surely those animals would be grateful to join a family and feel love regardless of that family’s income level.
At the very minimum, I think it is critical to be aware of these types of broad judgments that not only are inaccurate but can create a very negative impact on the number of animals rescued and adopted.
His second comment that suggested I shouldn’t shame a family who is just having fun (chasing birds) is also one that relates to domestic pets.
How many Facebook posts have you seen showing a child riding a dog or pulling his ears or laying on him? These posts usually have a meme stating, “This is not cute.”
Like the birds who deserve to be left in peace, domestic animals also should not have to tolerate any type of behavior that is stressful, painful, or irritating.
Sure it might make the child happy to ride the dog, but it is important that children learn at a young age to respect animals as sentient beings. We don’t have the right to put our pleasure above their well-being.
Those children on the beach could have been swimming in the ocean, building a sandcastle, playing catch or flying a kite. There are many fun activities to do on a beach. Chasing innocent birds should not be considered one of those activities.
It angers and saddens me to believe that some people really don’t get it. They don’t see animals in the way that I do (or you do). Since I was a child, I have felt genuine empathy and compassion for animals. It is near impossible for me to understand a person who does not.
This man reminded me that our job of educating others on animal welfare whether they are domestic or wild is never ending.
I have often said that it is both a blessing and curse to be born with a heart for animals. A blessing because we get to share this amazing connection to animals. A curse because it can really hurt when other people don’t share our kindness.
We have to always remember that these animals we love so dearly don’t have a voice and even when it feels uncomfortable to speak up or when words exchanged get personal, we have to keep speaking up for them.
If we choose to be silent not only are we wasting the precious gift we were given, we are letting down the animals we hold so close to our hearts and allowing others to continue to mistreat them.
We have to be their voice. Always.