Come On In, The Water’s Fine?

*The thoughts and opinions in each post on this blog are those solely of the attributed author and do not necessarily extend to all program collaborators or to Ethics in Animal Care itself.* 

By Ethics in Animal Care


This project, Ethics in Animal Care, has been years in the making. It’s an idea that’s been tossed around in parking lots, over drinks, and during time spent with those who’ve been its consistent inspiration…dogs. It’s really quite a simple project, albeit for a subject on which the complexity and depth is near boundless. So why did it take so long to come about?

In the world of animal welfare and within all its smaller subsets, passionate disagreements rage almost constantly. Our various factions are not immune to the us verses them mentality that currently pervades much of our society. Every issue has two sides. Two teams. And each team either retreats safely into our respective bubbles where we are always right or wages an ugly surface war in places like the cesspools of internet comment sections.

We don’t engage to share ideas or have a genuine dialogue. We fight to win. In a field that’s already dangerously prone to self-righteousness, there exists no higher horse than the one we sit on when we tell someone they’re being wrong on the internet. The name calling, the character assassinations, the accusations and deep, personal hurt. It’s a place free of complexity and nuance and not one many of us want to wade into.

And yet, while authentic dialogue may have a hard time breaking through in web based discussions, the exchange of ideas and the capacity to bring people together and create positive change is equally strong. We can engage and speak clearly and strongly about issues of importance without descending into the worst versions of ourselves, even if it means we need to take the conversations off the internet. We have to be able to do that if we want to exist in a place of forward evolution and progress on behalf of the animals we profess to be fighting for.

It does not follow that because someone does something with which you disagree, that they are a bad person or somehow a lesser person than you are. The repercussions of that line of thinking are serious. They are what got us to the level of discourse we often find today where all the things we have in common and all the reasons we should be working together to make things better get lost. But it also doesn’t follow that we can’t stand up and critique practices we know to be damaging. This is the trap so many of us have fallen into. You either attack the other team or you become afraid to challenge something you know is wrong because a friend or ally does it in good faith. You can critique a practice without denigrating a person or an organization. And we most certainly can lead by example and show that there is another way.

Once upon a time, the idea that quality of life should be a priority when addressing and seeking to impact behavior or working to get dogs adopted was scoffed at or viewed as a waste of time and resources that just didn’t exist. Now it’s becoming increasingly mainstream and is actively embraced by professional training organizations, shelters, and rescues alike. Training and handling methods are part of that quality of life equation and their potential consequences are just as far reaching as the rest of it, sometimes even more so. There is a vast space for ideas, approaches, and philosophies out here in the world of animal welfare but we need to work towards a place where they are all built on the same foundation of fact, science, research, and compassion.

water2Slowly but surely, we are moving towards a more humane and ethically coherent relationship with the non-human animals who share this planet. Our progress sometimes feels glacially slow and peppered with one step forward, two steps back, but it is happening. Imagine how much faster we could get there if we were able to replace our self-righteousness with empathy and engage in the kind of dialogue, debate, and exchange of ideas that seek as their mission simply to make things better for the animals. That’s why we’re all here, right?

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