It has been a decade since I worked in our county animal control. Ten full years and there are moments I remember like they were yesterday. The beautiful moments where the most unadoptable dog finally finds the perfect home. And, the very ugly moments where I was forced to assist with the decapitation of a Mastiff who bit a small child. Those ugly moments don’t just haunt me when I least expect it, they force me to look in the mirror today and ask, “Why didn’t you say something?”
There’s no doubt that I have made an enormous amount of rescue friends in the last decade. Between the puppy mill auctions and my book, I have had the amazing opportunity to surround myself with true warriors. Not only do they each continue to teach me on a daily basis, but if I am ever struggling with any animal issue, I know I can count on them to get me through. I didn’t have that support system 10 years ago. I was new. I was naive.
Yet, I was still me and I tend NOT to take things lying down, especially when they concern the well-being of animals. Hell, the whole reason I was at animal control was to HELP animals. It certainly wasn’t the pay or great benefits.
What is it about working or volunteering in a shelter that brainwashes so many to look past all of the problems and all of the wrong-doings. So many, like me, choose silence over action as we watch horrible things take place. I look back on my days at AC and feel like I lost my voice for a few years. I mean literally feel mute when I re-imagine those years.
Why didn’t I contact the local paper or go above my superior? Why didn’t I quit sooner? Why didn’t I try harder? Yes, I loved so many of my days at the shelter, but the ones I didn’t like, truly those were grounds for media coverage and terminations. There were things done illegally, inhumanely. Yet, I looked away.
I think many people rationalize their inability to speak out for different reasons. Some people believe that if they left or got fired for speaking out, “Who would look after the animals then?” Yet, in hindsight, “Who is looking after the animals now, when the people who do care aren’t speaking out?”
I think while my heart knew better, I didn’t feel like I knew enough to take a stand. Many of the employees had been there a long time and had been doing the bad shit for years, who was I to question them? (Looking back… my stomach turns because I KNOW, without hesitation, I should I have reported it all.) There is something to be said about trusting your intuition. I should have trusted mine.
I think there are some people who don’t leave or question things simply because they enjoy the “god” persona. There is something powerful for them about deciding who lives and who dies each day. God help them.
As I look back on that time in my life, I can’t help but feel like a prisoner. A part of an institution that kept me from speaking out for reasons I wasn’t even conscious of. Unknowingly brainwashed to keep the status quo and just keep working. Truthfully, I am ashamed of myself when I look back on those days. Knowing what I know today, I could have done so much more.
I wrote this blog to encourage others who work in shelters to REALLY look around at their practices. If your gut is telling you that something is off, it probably is. If you are new, but question if the practices are ethical, reach out to someone outside of the shelter and ask them for their opinion – even if they aren’t in rescue.
There are laws to protect people from being fired or banned from volunteering simply because they speak out against the shelter’s practices.
I look back on my time at the shelter and remember it feeling like the shelter was its own microcosm. As if our actions were judged amongst only ourselves and never upheld to the ethical standards outside our 4 concrete walls. As if, in our world, it was okay to have different rules. It shouldn’t be like that. Animals deserve to be treated humanely in ALL shelters, regardless of demographics or financial standing.
It is easy to portray the dogs and cats in cages as prisoners in the shelters, but the real prisoners are the employees and volunteers who believe their only choice is to continue their day-to-day work in silence, praying that the illegal practices and inhumane treatment of the animals comes to an end.
Don’t be a prisoner, be a hero. Speak out today and truly change things for the animals. I promise there is an army of people ready to help you.