Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Demonizing the American Public - Are We Shooting Ourselves in the Foot?

Facebook, Twitter and social networking are great. I can't imagine where we'd be without it. It has given the No Kill movement a huge boost to propel us forward in ways never thought possible a few short years ago.  But I think it has it's drawbacks also.

We can pass along information with the click of a button. Some of it helpful, some not so helpful to our cause. Now every time a dog has been abused, starved or beaten - we share it so that the whole world can see the horrors of animal abuse. We have demonized the American public.

Pretty soon, every time I glance through my Facebook newsfeed I see the same stories being shared and reshared. Don't get me wrong, animal abuse is horrible and the perpetrators need to be severely punished; when they are found guilty. Plus, it's nice to see the public enraged and willing to act.

The problem is that since the No Kill philosophy has a basic premise that most people are good and should be trusted with animals; when we overpost cruelty, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. We need adopters, foster homes, volunteers, and staff to make the programs of the No Kill Equation work.

Our common sense tells us that 95 percent of people in the nation are good people. But it's kind of boring to share and reshare the stories of the good people. It's far more satisfying to share the horror stories of the 5% evil. It is much more dramatic to post a cruelty story than a kindness story.

You would think, we of all people, animal welfare advocates would have learned from history. Isn't this what happened to pit bulls? They were demonized by the press. They became victims of an overzealous media seeking sensational stories to sell newspapers.   A few bad stories and pretty soon the whole breed has to bear the burden of the crime.

If you want more background on the plight of the pit bull and how the media played a part in their downfall, check out the National Canine Research Council and Karen Delise's book - The Pit Bull Placebo, The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression. It is available as a free download.

Another good reminder is that the number one cause of death to companion animals in America is not dogfighting or animal abuse or puppy mills. It is shelter killing. Let's focus our energy on that.

Maybe, it's time to think before we click that share button on an animal cruelty story. Is it credible? Is it local? Has the perpetrator been found guilty?  Are we helping our cause? Or hindering it?

There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience,
and that is not learning from experience. ~Laurence J. Peter


  1. I'm going to have to disagree with this one. For example, this past summer, facebook followers rallied to support a pit bull named Louie, beaten and set on fire, by inundating the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to deny parole to his abuser, Juan Daniels. They would not have received the overwhelming response they did (from every state in the country), if it wasn't for the viral spread of the horrific story of Louie.

    Those who should be running shelters already know that the public is good, and are the solution to the problem. If a director doesn't know this already, and sees these posts as fuel for their excuse that the public is irresponsible, well, that's just more evidence that they shouldn't be running a shelter to begin with and their replacement should be sought immediately.

    The premise of no kill is to uncover the truth. Tip toeing around these "shelter staff" who believe in an "irresponsible public" only enables them, and censoring doesn't get us any closer to our goal.

  2. Turning away doesn't make the problem go away.

    When there are no consequences, bad behavior persists. We need to fight for stiffer penalties for animal abusers as well - its a movement unto itself, and not completely separate from the no kill movement either.

  3. I agree slightly with this post. I'm concerned most about the outrage that is heaped upon people who abandon animals at shelters. With 9.0 percent of the public unemployed (and double that amount probably underemployed or so discouraged they've stopped looking), sometimes people have to abandon a pet. That doesn't make them evil - just a victim of adverse economic circumstances. So I've gently chided people on Facebook to be a bit more generous about those situation. So from that standpoint, I'm with you. Cruelty, however, is another story. If you think how long it's taken for public officials/police to get serious about child abuse and domestic violence, then maybe we do need to pound responsible parties over the head. One example of child abuse or domestic violence is one too many.

  4. I agree that it is wrong to assume someone is guilty of a crime without a lot more information that is generally offered in a cruelty post. However, some incidents are more self-evident that others. For instance, accusations of hoarding or of bad conditions at sanctuaries rescues or hospices may be correct, or may be the result of political agendas or justifications for overreactions by Animal Control agencies who have conducted "raids" when less drastic measures were really more appropriate. In contrast, incidents in which someone was publicly witnessed beating a dogs to death or setting an animal on fire, or has even admitting killing or hurting an animal with a lame excuse, are more straightforward. I don't, however, think that we need to suppress these posts for fear that people who love animals will not foster, volunteer or adopt because they are part of a cruel species. As far as the comment asking for understanding for people who dump their pets at shelters, regardless of the circumstances of the humans, in many instances they have not looked for other common-sense solutions for the animals, or even attempted to rehome them. I am not sympathetic to that. Do not expect people to stop sharing these stories, let's just use a discriminating eye, and use the energy to do something positive from learning of a negative situation.

  5. Kathy, As an animal cruelty investigator I have to totally agree with your article. I know first hand that amongst people that we have to visit for animal neglect or cruelty that the vast majority of them just need education or a helping hand to turn into responsible pet owners. So many people in our field glory in shouting from the roof tops that the evil public is going around willy nilly performing acts of cruelty on a daily basis. This is simply not true and does exactly what you suggest in your article, it demonizes the very people we need to make a difference in our movement...the public. I consider the ultimate cruelty to be the vast majority of shelters that kill dogs and cats without a second thought, now that's wide spread institutional cruelty that we as no kill advocates should be shouting from the roof tops...Steve @ No Kill Revolution

  6. Actually, I agree with this post. On my FB page, I see so many dogs in need and abuse; sometimes I cannot look any longer. I know what is happening out there. I know we can be effective using social media @Alice T. but I also know Shirley at YesBiscuit has been waging a war on Memphis Animal "Shelter" for weeks - they are not impressed :( and the community does not seem to be involved, either. And yes, I know about the floods - it went through MO before reaching Memphis; Shirley was writing and posting photos re: their disrespect for their animals before the flood.
    I need to see a balance. I do share a balance on my page. People who are continually bombarding me with horror are subdued for a while. We need to know we can make a difference - and we can, with the help of the public. We need to share with them and ask them to help us solve the problem of animal abuse, neglect, abandonment as well as that of SHELTER ABUSE AND KILLINGS. Sigh.