It has become very popular to post stories on the internet about people who "cruelly" surrender pets to a shelter. Stories about pets surrendered as seniors, after a break-up and neither party wants the pet, or pets who are surrendered as soon as their kid goes to college...
I remember once when I surrendered a kitten to our local SPCA that had been abandoned at the college where I was staying over Christmas break. Most everyone had left, and someone left this kitten behind. I tried to bring him in out of the cold in with my own cat, but my cat was beating the kitten up. I took him to the SPCA and while I was saying goodbye with tears in my eyes, the shelter staff just looked at me and shook their heads. They didn't thank me for helping the kitten. They did not smile or thank me when I put all the money I had in the donation can. I realized in shock and guilt that they thought the kitten was mine, and that I had lied that someone else had abandoned it, because I was crying as I left him. It was an awful experience, even though I was doing what I had always been told was "right" to do with an abandoned kitten if you could not keep it. Take the cat to a shelter.
I really have issues with surrender-shaming--a practice that is becoming more common, because it can reach a larger audience with just a single Facebook post. We tell people if they don't want or can't keep a pet that they should bring the pet to a shelter, then we give them hell when they do.
When I worked for a shelter, yes, it made me sick to my stomach when a car pulled in and someone started walking toward the door with a crate with a cat in it, or walking a dog on a leash. But you know why it made me sick to my stomach? Not because the person was irresponsibly surrendering the pet (although sometimes they were). It was because we would often have to kill that pet, and the person bringing the pet to us was hoping we would find the pet a home. Even after I was volunteering for that shelter's spay/neuter clinic years later when they were "no-kill" I still could not suppress the nausea I felt when I saw a person coming to the door with a crate. I knew the pet in that crate was safe, yet that mere two years I had spent in the 80s knowing every pregnant cat would be killed, every sneezing kitten would be killed, was embedded in my soul.
We would be angry at the people who brought them in, but most of our anger came from our inability to provide the services we felt we should be providing...providing the safety for that pet that we promised them when we said "Don't abandon them...don't neglect them...bring them here instead."
We now have more options than we had in the 80s, although we still have a long way to go. And we still tell people: Don't abandon pets. Don't tie them outside. Don't ignore them. If you can't keep your pet, bring it to a shelter to find it a better home.
Yet more and more often it seems like these surrender-shaming stories come out, supposedly the same day the pet was surrendered, shaming the person who abandoned the animal, in order to find the pet a home. "Poor Rainbow was thoughtlessly dumped at the shelter today by her uncaring owners. Please help find her a home!"
What does this teach the next person who is desperate and is thinking about surrendering a pet, or is thinking about bringing in a stray they can't keep?
"If you take an animal to a shelter, you will be treated like a criminal, even if you are doing something good." "If you take your pet to the shelter because you don't know what else to do, it will be on Facebook by noon that you are a heinous person, along with a photo of the pet you took in."
Is this what we want? What result do we expect? That people will magically decide to keep these pets? Or will pets instead be more likely to be left tied out in a shabby doghouse, or abandoned somewhere, or totally ignored---because what we are really teaching the public is that "a person who surrenders a pet, or brings in a stray is-- by virtue of the fact that they brought the pet in--a bad person."
I understand the impulse. I recall my anger when I found Goggles on my porch. And guess what. Wasn't my first impression wrong?
Are we surrender-shaming to help a pet and teach the public? Or are we surrender-shaming to make ourselves feel like embattled heroes?
Is it about the pet? Or is it about ourselves?
Stop surrender shaming. The people we are shaming are the people we WANT to bring pets in, rather than have them neglect the pet with inattention. Or they are innocent people who have a good reason to need to ask our help by bringing us an animal they found or legitimately cannot keep.
Remember? Isn't that our mission?