When technology is misused in animal rescue, you’re not helping
Email and internet have proven to be double-edge swords for animal rescue groups. On the one hand these are great tools for instantly communicating with thousands of animal lovers when there is a need, a crisis, an emergency, an animal in jeopardy On the other hand, in the hands of lazy or unskilled users, the technology only serves to infinitely increase the number of people driven to distraction by it’s misuse, and it can be maddening.
If you work in rescue you are probably deluged by those mournful, sad-eyed images of animals slated to die pretty much momentarily in some remote area of the country where you live or even somewhere else in the world. Posting at midnight that a dog a thousand miles away is ”scheduled to be PTS (put to sleep) in seven hours” usually does little except guarantee that everyone who sees the post but is powerless to do anything to help is going to go to bed extremely depressed and get very little sleep thanks to being haunted by that image. And this happens on a daily … even hourly … basis.
So in addition to doing the wondrous things it does, technology is also heavily contributing to “compassion fatigue,” or in laymen’s terms, “burn-out.” How many images of ill-fated animals beyond your reach can one tolerate before feeling the need to turn away? How many hopeless cases can be shoved in your face, laid on your doorstep, and stabbed into your heart with the plea “Can SOMEBODY help?!” before you can’t bear to look because your answer has to be “Well no, in this case, I can’t!”
And then there’s the person who wants this image off THEIR virtual doorstep and goes through the motions of helping while really doing nothing beyond frustrating everyone they contact. How? By posting outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete information just so they can feel as if they’ve done something. These are the same people who end up being un-invited to participate in real life rescue organizations because they are a study in frustration for everyone around them. Here’s an example:
The post under the tear-jerking photo says “Black lab needs home by 7 a.m. or will be surrendered to high-kill shelter. PLEASE HELP! ”
This is not even close to being enough info to be effective. Does the poster think that everyone receiving the message is going to drop everything to begin the wild goose chase of research required to try to help this dog? And how many other animals could have been helped during that wasted time?
Animals can and are being saved by the thousands thanks to email and internet efforts, but only by the people who are using it correctly. Here are some basic tips:
1. Remember, the “www” in a URL stands for “WORLD wide web.” There are animals in need EVERYWHERE so start by stating WHERE this one is located. That information should be made apparent without the reader needing to click or research ANYTHING. It doesn’t have to be LOCAL for someone to help; just somewhere where they have contacts … but they need to know where that is.
2. Make sure the information is CURRENT. Nothing is more counter-productive than passing on an old post and having everyone who receives it passing it on and cross posting it to everyone in their sphere of influence only to find that the situation has already been handled. Do this many times and you will find your emails blocked and your posts ignored REALLY FAST by serious rescuers. And when the situation is resolved ALWAYS POST THE ALL CLEAR so those working on it around the world can move on PLEASE!
3. If someone sends YOU incomplete or questionable information, don’t pass it on. At least not in its current form. If you are too busy or lazy to delve in and secure the info needed for a post or email to actually make a difference, just delete it.
4. Include as much ACCURATE, verified INFORMATION as possible and when that’s not possible make note if any information is unconfirmed. (“Shelter workers suspect by the dog’s response to human contact and physical condition that it may have been dumped by a puppy mill.” )
5. At the very least the information you should try to confirm to include would be:
a. CURRENT INFO: The animals breed, sex, size, age, physical condition including (if available) current medical records of annual inoculations and boosters, tests such as heartworm, temperament, etc. having been performed.
b. ALL KNOWN HISTORY: WHY the animal is homeless. Do NOT make the mistake of sugar-coating or failing to mention negative factors that could again get the animal in trouble. If it has bitten or snapped-at someone, you MUST disclose that. If it killed another animal, tell people. If it is not good around cats, kids, one sex or the other… anything that could jeopardize successful re-homing,.. PUT IT OUT THERE. If it needs to be the only animal in a household, make that clear. If there are behavioral issues that could possibly be handled by an experienced pet parent, state what they are (not housebroken, chews incessantly, food aggression, barks when left alone, etc.) If you don’t disclose the negative factors that led to this animal becoming homeless, you’re just shoving it into a revolving door of inappropriate homes and return-trips to shelters … and with each new situation, this poor animal becomes more confused and frustrated as its chance of a forever home is diminished.
c. TIMELINE: Is the animal on death row? Safe in a long-term foster home until an appropriate forever home can be secured? On the verge of being surrendered for some reason that is time sensitive? And DON’T use terms like “in two days” but specific dates: “Must be re-homed by May 10, 2013 to avoid surrender to high-kill shelter.” (Yes, include the year; the internet is forever.)
d. CONTACT: Is this re-homing being handled by a foster parent? A private rescue? A county facility? How and when are they available for contact? And PS to those on the receiving end of calls, visits, or emails: PLEASE clear your answering machines and check your email OFTEN to make sure when someone DOES try to contact you that you don’t make it difficult.
6. If you can’t get the info you need but for some reason cannot just move on, post the info you DO have as a question and tell readers the research you have done: “Can anyone identify WHERE this dog is located? I’ve researched all the shelters in the stated county and none are the right one” or something like that. And please don’t do this on a daily basis; your contacts are not your free research team.
7. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t post ANYTHING just for shock effect. Posting pictures of abused animals serves no purpose other than upsetting anyone who is the type of person who cares … UNLESS there is included a call to action. Are you raising money to meet medical needs of confiscated animals? Do people need to be on the look out for someone the authorities want for doing this? Are you sharing information about the people these animals were confiscated from because they are currently trolling sites to get animals? Just showing an awful photo or posting an upsetting article that someone passed on to you serves no purpose without a CALL TO ACTION.
8. BE RESPONSIBLE: With so many rescue groups seeking tougher sentences for those who abuse and neglect animals, many have divisions that quietly show up at court hearings in respectful but identifiable rescue shirts to silently bear witness and monitor how cases are handled. Information on trials of predators and abusers is also often shared by email and internet … partly for the above stated monitoring and also so that all shelters and rescues can be sure to add the criminal to their “DO NOT ADOPT TO” lists.It is EXTREMELY important to impart only confirmed-by-authorities accurate information and identifying photos. Making a mistake when identifying an offender can endanger not only that person’s reputation but their very life. Not everyone in rescue is level-headed and law-abiding. Technology is a far-reaching and powerful tool that can land on the computers of thousands of people not even known personally to you. Use it respectfully and wisely, please.