Saturday, July 29, 2017

Armchair pet activism can easily deep dive into a sea of vitriol, and sometimes unfairly so

As most of you already know, I spend a lot of time engaging on social media. There's a constant flow of insight, ideas—and a willingness to help when there is a pet in need. Despite what many might think because of today's political climate, there are a lot of folks who are using social media platforms to do things for the greater good. And then there are some who think they are, but are seriously misguided. This of course has nothing to do with the quarterly jobs report or health care or goodness knows what else floats through our feeds. 

It's armchair pet welfare activism. But, it goes even deeper than that someone eager to make that first comment time and time again on how they'd love to adopt that sweet homeless dog that's been featured on Twitter if only they didn't already have enough canine mouths to feed, but that's as far as it goes. Deeper than those who foolishly admonish the [over]use of life-saving vaccines when they see and share an out-of-context online post by a less-than-reputable source (oh! fake news!), if they even bother to read the article. It's almost as downreaching than the loathsome bashing of the veterinary industry; "...they're only trying to make money off of people by ordering all of that unnecessary bloodwork and those tests," when said people haven't given the doctor enough to go on because they've not kept track of how long any number of symptoms that the pet is presenting with have been plaguing them.

We've all seen it, and I've watched more than my share of it, though I'll admit that my lens is probably different because of my profession. Sure, I read things and exchanges between people online that cause a knee-jerk eye roll, but others infuriate me. One of which is the intense judgement of people on their fellow pet owners. 

A few days ago, I was browsing Facebook and saw a photo of a small breed dog on a well-known lost pet page based in Michigan. He needed some grooming at the time he was found (a few of my charges do too, not uncommon) and he was wearing a doggie diaper (also not as uncommon as you'd think). The photo was accompanied by a couple of snide paragraphs written by the individual that found the dog (and continued in the comments), which clearly set the stage for what was to come next: a seemingly endless string of seething, judgmental comments about the owner. Even a bit of a witch hunt ensued. There wasn't one happy comment that the dog had been reunited. There was, however, plenty of vitriol toward a woman whom the countless number of commenters—nor the finder—had ever spent a [measurable] amount of time with.

What struck me from the start was that there was no context—something that is vital, in my opinion when reading anything about humans and pets. No context to the relationship between the human and the dog, how the pooch get separated from their family (they're a family, remember) and so much more. There wasn't one glimpse of what kind of life that woman has. All that was illustrated was that the owner is a neglectful, selfish woman who doesn't deserve to have the dog.

Ignorant b****



 These are just a few of the words. 

What I mindfully gather from the limited exchange that the finder and the family had, is that the owner could very well be feeling the effects of being frantic over their pet becoming lost. She could have been frazzled, overwhelmed and have few resources, financial or otherwise to have help with their dog during the time they're at a job they might really hate. Who knows? Maybe she also has to take care of an ailing parent, or maybe she got the worst news of her life the morning her dog went missing. She might have lost her husband a month ago or have a child with special needs. Maybe she's mentally ill. She just might be doing everything she can all the while hoping she doesn't lose her s**t and everything with it. There's a chance that the animal/human bond has been degraded somehow for reasons unbeknownst to the outside world, and she's giving her all so that it doesn't break.

But no one knows, because no one asked, they only judged—from the safety of their smartphone. 

In my professional life, I've seen this: families who are frazzled, disempowered, lacking in resources of all kinds. They are some or all of that and more and most of the time, people want to do better but if they don't have the resources, they can't. But maybe they could if they had a little encouragement. And they often do. 

Judgement like this does nothing. But empowering others does. Maybe it'd be mindful to think about that the next time we're in the midst of another human who is demonstrating a reaction that we don't quite understand or doesn't fit a situation when it comes to their pet or otherwise. Who knows. We might be in their shoes one day when we least expect it, but one thing is for certain: we'll be judged in some way.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. She has been a featured guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue Podcast, talking about her career working with companion animals and in animal hospice -- and the benefits of introducing palliative care with one's pet earlier. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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