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Animal Cops

Sometimes I watch the animal cop shows on Animal Planet. I usually can’t watch a whole episode at once. They intervene in cases of abuse and neglect: a dog left in a yard with a chain embedded in her neck, kittens left under a porch without care, a horse starving in a filed, a duck with a knife wound in its backside.

Watching those shows makes me feel guilty for not wanting to be a veterinarian or animal cop or doggy social worker. And then the guilt expands from neglected and abused dogs to neglected and abused children, until I end up curled in a ball on the floor, feeling useless and awful, and still having no idea what to do.

There used to be a show on TV called Dogtown, about a well funded animal rescue facility in Utah, called Best Friends. They had areas for all kinds of animals, but the show focused on the dogs. They had trainers and groomers and veterinarians on staff, plus volunteers and adoption counselors and caretakers and on and on. It seemed like somewhere I’d want to go myself, to be rewired and retrained and adopted out anew. They also had a policy that any dog who couldn’t find a new home would always have a home with them.

Orphanages would come back into style if they were run half as well and with half as much compassion as Dogtown. And it makes me wonder why we can’t do better for children in foster care, or for dogs across the country who are being put down by well meaning people at understaffed shelters.

It was an aspirational show, but nothing I could imagine living up to myself. After each episode I’d think, maybe I could learn how to train dogs, or join a local rescue operation, or at least foster dogs while they’re waiting for their forever home. But then I’d crumple again, and feel guilty for having only the one dog and not even being able to train HER.

I guess my question is, could the people who create these shows take the next step, the one that allows people like me to step out of the guilt and have a manageable task to do that would actually help. Is there a think tank working on this? How can rescue organizations marshal the millions of pet owners and animal lovers to help, instead of overwhelming us with so much guilt that we can’t think straight or even remain upright?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

5 responses »

  1. If you do right by your dog, you are already helping. Don’t feel guilty. Do what comes from your heart however small it may seem:)

  2. Those programmes can be quite stressful to watch.

  3. Hi, Rachel … I know this is an old post, but you visited my blog today (thank you!) and that spurred me to check you out, and of course I had to find out how you came to get Cricket. So in the years since you’ve started your blog, you may have found an answer to the question you ask here, but in case you haven’t I thought I’d pipe up. (I’ve been in dog rescue for several years – I write about it sometimes.)

    Anyway … I can’t speak for all rescues; some are run by complete whack jobs, frankly. But some of us are at least borderline normalish and possible to talk to. I’d encourage you to look around and try to find a rescue, or a shelter, in your neighborhood, and ask them what volunteer help they need. Sometimes it’s really simple – managing their Facebook page, for example, or writing the posts they put up on adoption sites – those can be SO uninspiring, and it’s possible to write them in a way that makes the dog stand out from the crowd, and improves its chances of adoption. Or, in the case of shelters, there’s often a need for people to take dogs for walks, or just spend time socializing them; some of them are so scared, and sitting on a quiet lap listening to you read makes a huge difference.

    It hurts, of course .. Every time you go to the shelter, you have to leave again, and leave all the animals behind. That really hurts. On the other hand, every time you go, you take the sunshine in with you, which is an important thing to do.

    Anyway, I thought I’d share that, in case you were still looking for a way to help without being made to feel guilty.

  4. I was in rescue for years. I found that if my attitude was: “people don’t care about their animals, they mistreat them and throw them away like garbage”, I was constantly angry and tended to develop what the animal rescue world calls a “rescue complex” (nobody can do this but me/my organization).

    On the other hand, when my attitude changed to: “most people care and want to do the right thing, and many people want to help”, it not only made me roil less inside, it also made me a better communicator with the public. Donations and volunteers rose like crazy.

    Big picture: we kill fewer than half the pets we did just 15 years ago, and fewer than 10% of the pets we did in the 70’s. We’ve gotten much much better at it. Bad part of big picture: there will always we cruelty in the world, and we could spend literally all day every day innumerating the instances, starting with chicken factories.

    What you can do: Stop feeling guilty! You can only do what you can do. You love and care for your animals, and share your love in your stories, and that is enough. In fact, just being you is enough. You are sufficient as you are. Doing good deeds is important, but you must take into account the depth of the water in the well from which you are drawing. Your happiness counts too, as you too are one of “God’s” creatures. (I’m an atheist, so take me metaphorically or literally as you wish.)

    In your blogs posts over and over I see a lovely, generous, caring, hard-working woman who is constantly criticizing herself for not being “enough”. YOU ARE ENOUGH. Heart, heart.


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