When I was about 14 years old, I overheard my father and my friend’s father discussing an incident in which the behaviour of a few teens had disrupted the community. The local paper was full of letters to the editor condemning youth en masse, and my friends and I were pretty upset at being lumped in with the losers who had dragged bales of hay into an intersection and set them on fire on Hallowe’en night. (Okay, this may seem tame by comparison to some of today’s hijinks, but in a small town in the 60s, this was BIG news!) Our dads were discussing this, and my friend’s dad made a statement that has stuck with me for over forty years: “Teenagers are a lot like airplanes – you only hear about the ones that crash.”
Whenever I feel like I cannot watch another newscast, read about another scandal, or deal with another pessimistic person, I think of that statement. We are bombarded with bad news stories, and while there are a few “fluff” pieces of feel-good news, we lose perspective when we give so much attention to the negative and so little to the positive.
While I am in no way recommending we ignore social injustice or the truly horrible things that occur in human society, I think it serves us well to try to balance the horrible with those acts worthy of applause.
Yesterday, Hearts on Noses rescued yet another pig – they are stretched to the limit yet this one little (or rather, BIG) potbellied pig, with ears and tail bitten off by rats that shared its terribly inadequate and horrific living conditions, is now sleeping safely and comfortably at the sanctuary. Yes, we could focus on the abhorrent acts of the person who had responsibility for this pig –and I certainly believe he should be criminally charged – but if we dwell solely on the negative we will forget to celebrate the positive. And so I invite a mighty cheer and a standing ovation for Janice at Hearts on Noses, and for the others who brought the pig to her attention and helped with the rescue. There is one fewer animal being tormented tonight.
My friend’s dad’s phrase came to mind also when I was browsing through some of the animal rescue** blogs and forums I read from time to time. Ongoing wars, backstabbing, rescues fighting with rescues, rescues being exposed as brokers or as neglecting animals in their care, rescues that run amuck and lose sight of their original purpose – the stories are numerous, the knee-jerk reactions many.
The fact that rescues argue among themselves about such things as ethics, animal welfare, and policies and procedures is, in my opinion, an excellent thing. Such issues need to be debated and critically evaluated by people who are in the thick of it. But the fact that all rescues sometimes get branded negatively when one rescue is exposed as a broker or as neglecting its charges or when an organization makes what proves to be an unpopular decision, is, to me, the parallel of seeing only the plane that crashes and not the many safe landings that occur every hour of every day.
In my internet browsing today, I came across an attack on an organization for which I am a proud volunteer – the SPCA. One branch of the organization made a decision regarding an animal, a decision which was based on their best information, veterinary advice, resources, and sense of what was manageable for them, at that point in time……and that decision was vigorously debated by various rescue groups and individuals. One group in particular, which devotes a considerable section of its website to derogatory commentary about the SPCA, publicly attacked not only the SPCA’s recent decision but also anyone from other organizations who dared to voice support for the SPCA.
All animal rescue organizations make unpopular decisions from time to time. All animal rescue organizations have to face financial and human resource realities. All animal rescue organizations have “planes that crash”. But when it comes to the SPCA, I can think of no organization that on such a wide-spread basis does so much in this province to educate the public, to provide care for animals, to confront issues of cruelty and neglect, all on the same non-profit, donation-based budget as every other rescue organization.
Every day, at the SPCA shelter near me, every dog gets walked. Every Single Day. Every day, at the SPCA shelter near me, every dog receives personal attention. Every Single Day. Today, a dog whose penis had been virtually ripped off received his reconstructive surgery, another went in for her spay, a third was hopping around the office while she recuperated from surgery to fix internal injuries caused by someone’s boot. There isn’t a week goes by that my heart isn’t touched by the survival stories of animals in the SPCA’s care, and that I don’t feel a deep, deep gratitude to the staff and volunteers at my SPCA and at others all over the province.
Animal rescues are a lot like airplanes – you only hear about the ones that crash. It’s time to recognize the everyday successes, the thousands of animals who are helped every day and the thousands of people who help them. It’s time to acknowledge and celebrate safe landings.
To do anything less is to lose sight of the reality.
**( Note: I use the word 'animal rescue' very broadly in this entry, to encompass all not-for-profit groups and individuals who help bring animals to safety - from the individual working out of their home to foster, train, vet, and place in appropriate homes dogs that no one wanted, to community-based shelters that take in strays and owner-surrenders, to the province wide organizations like the SPCA who work on a much broader and more public level.)