I was that person. I looked at the animals in the shelter and online, and I got very angry. Very. In fact, I was also that person. That person that commented on posts of urgent animals with angry sentiments, and nonproductive ones at that. There was no excuse that I could hear about why an animal was in the shelter in the first place. No excuse was good enough for me. And let me admit right now…I hate excuses.
Embarking on our journey of visiting 48 states and 48 rescues was something that I could have never been prepared for. Yes, I had been in an animal shelter before, and I had fostered dogs. I looked at animals every day on social media, sharing their last minute, life saving pleas. Doing this for many years, I had a way of being able to “shut off” my immediate emotions to do what I had to do. But seeing the faces in person? Visiting 48 places of animal rescue? There was no way I could “shut off”. I was there.
The first few rescues that we highlighted in Florida and Georgia were certainly eye opening and inspiring, and they were a great intro to our trip. I was feeling pretty confident that this wouldn’t be so hard, yes, I could do this. But when we pulled up to our South Carolina rescue, it hit me. I was getting mad. I was getting angry. No, not at the animals of course, and not at the people trying to help them. I was angry on rescue #3 that there had to be rescues in the first place. As I looked at the faces of the hunting dogs there, many just like my own hound Digby, these feelings boiled up inside of me.
Who was doing this? What kind of person could discard their friend, their dog….any animal? Who would not think that it was important to spay and neuter your animal, year after year after year? Oh, I was mad. Madder. Oh, so mad. But, as I talked to the people here, I didn’t feel that from them. As I filmed their interview, it became clear. They didn’t feel the same why I did.
And I wondered, what was wrong with me? I wasn’t the one working here for the animals. I wasn’t the one spending my money for surgeries and food and kennels. So what right did I have to be angry when they weren’t? And the biggest question to me was why did they not exude anger to the very core of their being? And I had to find out. But it wasn’t a question I was willing to ask, it was one I wanted to find the answer to by observing. And so I did.
As I listened to the founders of this particular, rural, South Carolina rescue, Animal Lovers of Edisto Canine Rescue, I heard hope in their voice. They explained to me that when they started, they had no hope in changing the community’s way of treating animals, but they knew that someone had to step up to help. However, they were amazed with the progress that they were having. And even though to me, the situation here seemed utterly depressing, it was not to them. Their words didn’t convey anger, they conveyed hope. Their words were not judgmental against the animals OR the people in this town they were trying to help, their words were loving. They were happy, they were excited to be doing what they were doing. And I had to step back and really examine myself if I was to finish 45 more rescue visits. But I wasn’t ready to not be judgemental. I still wanted to hear no excuses. However, I did have to learn reasons.
You see, it surprised me to find out, not just by visiting rescues, but by camping in every state, and talking with every kind of person that you can imagine, that there was a lot more to this country and this world than I thought.
I have traveled in my past to may different countries, and I in no way considered myself close minded. But I found out that I was. Thinking that everyone felt like me about animals was just plain ignorant. We are all raised differently, whether that be in different family dynamics, different economic statuses, different pressures and different struggles. What makes up each one of us is different. How was I to judge how someone felt or handled things in their lives? I shouldn’t. Yet, I was. Why? I have always said that helping animals means that you have to help people too. And yet, as animal lovers, many of us are not disposed to loving people so much! Did I say that? I sure did. But if we truly want to help animals and end the problems of pet homelessness, overpopulation, cruelty and abandonment, we HAVE to start with the people. Why? Pets are not making these problems for themselves. And they cannot fix it themselves without helping the people causing these problems.
Now, let me make this clear also…I am not talking about forgiving abuse or worse. I am talking about life circumstances, changes and hard times.
I have talked to people that were raised in families where animals were not valued and they used their lives as adults to do the opposite, endeavoring to “make things right”. But I have talked to people that were taught the same, and they did not recognize the wrongs, continuing the path shown to them. I have talked to people that felt bad in the past for going thru hard economic times, losing everything, and having to take their animals to the shelter. We can all say that we would never do that. But were we raised like that person? Have you truly walked in their shoes? You have not. And so excuses? I still hate them. But I am willing to listen to reasons. And I realize that one reason, handled with love, consideration and no judgment can perhaps make a future “excuse” less likely.
When you are involved in animal rescue, it is easy to dwell on the fact that the situation for animals seems hopeless. But we have to believe, and we have to understand that every change starts with one person and for one person, you may BE that change.
If we neglect to look at each situation individually, what is that saying about us? For me personally, I gave up over a year of my life to showcase the good people were doing across the country from animals. But what I didn’t know was that these same rescuers rescued me. They rescued me from being hard hearted. I realized that being dedicated to saving animals did not give me an excuse to hate people. It did not give me an excuse to not help them as well. Things for animals will not change overnight, and it will take love, understanding and work to make a difference. I truly believe there is no place for hate in animal rescue. There is no place for ignoring people in bad situations themselves. We have to truly put our feet in people’s shoes to help the paws that need us.
Am I saying that on certain days I don’t want to scream at the people abandoning their pets? Am I saying that on certain days I don’t want to give up entirely? Am I saying I love people? Nope! But I’m working on it. Because I truly believe there is a place for forgiveness in animal rescue. 48 states and 48 rescues taught me that.
-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person, Owner, 2 Traveling Dogs