Thoughts on public reaction to the arrest of Bonnie Sheehan (along with a shelter volunteer, Pamela King-McCracken) of Long Beach Hearts for Hounds shelter. They were arrested for felony animal cruelty in Tennessee Jan. 17. About 140 dogs, mostly kenneled, were found in a U-Haul and minivan it was towing, as they headed to Virginia for a pet adoption event.
It is distressing to see so many people, even those in humane work - who should know better - abandon their own judgment and dance madly to the beat of sensationalized journalism and the outraged ignorant.
The vocabulary of the media reporting is inflammatory - "locked in a U-Haul" sounds so sinister - but would it have been better if it were unlocked? "Crammed into kennels" - my dogs have 2,000 square feet but three of them still choose to sleep right on top of each other. The dogs all had floor space in those kennels. "No food" - In general, minutes after giving a dog food it has "no food." Then there is the "dead dog." Sad, truly, but what do we know about it? One of my own beloved dogs, my heart dog, my shadow, jumped into my lap on March 20, 2011, threw back her head, howled, and died. Just like that. She had had a physical and complete blood work three months prior.The point is, a dog can die unexpectedly for a number of reasons. And we don't know why Bonnie Sheehan's rescue dog died.
When those of us who know Bonnie Sheehan say to look at her contributions, her selfless work, her track record, it is not to say that any amount of past good justifies abuse in the present. It is simply a call for rationality. We are asking you to look at all the information available, and see what makes sense. Likely you cannot decide based on the information available. And that is fine. Don't decide. The truth will emerge. For now, look at the dogs in the video. They are well-fed. They are recently groomed. They appear healthy. They even look clean! Look at their crates. They are clean too. Tennessee officials said they were "otherwise fine.". Remember, these are dogs that came off of some of the meanest streets in Los Angeles, and out of the most notorious shelters.
For those who feel passionately for the animals but have never gotten their hands (arms, legs, face, hair, house, car) dirty in rescue, you need to know this: rescue is TRIAGE. It is not theoretical or hypothetical. Rescue people work in real time. The sounds are real: the voiceless bark, whine, yap, growl and howl. The smells are real: and yes, they can turn your stomach. The need is real, it is endless, it is NOW - and the clock is always ticking.
If you count yourself among the compassionate, get to work. There are so many Internet heroes out there, wanting to "rescue" these Hearts for Hounds dogs. Get real. Do you want to save a dog, or just feel like a hero? Because there is nothing to stop you from going down to a public shelter and taking a fur baby off of death row. I'm betting if you leave now you can be there in an hour or less. Walk those aisles, pick one out, stand in line. Pay the fees, reassure him, wash the crud from his coat. See him through the nervous diarrhea, wash your floor, feed him, teach him to walk on a leash, wash your floor again. You won't get to be an Internet hero. You won't have time.
The infighting in humane work is wearying. We thin our already inadequate numbers with friendly fire. (Who would guess a largely vegan population would be so cannibalistic?) And while yes, there are bad rescuers - hoarders - that is clearly NOT what we are dealing with here, as evidenced by the reputation of the accused, the condition of the dogs, the myriad past adopters and fellow rescuers stepping forward to give their endorsements and support.
If you are an experienced rescue person who has judged Hearts for Hounds guilty, I hope you will apply your empathy to the situation, and your rationality. We ask only that you withhold judgment until we have all the facts. Ask yourself if there has ever been a time when things were a bit out of control, when a surprise visit from animal control and a news spread with pictures of your kitchen floor might have caused some to criticize YOU. Then think of the look of anguish on Bonnie Sheehan's face in her arrest photo. Not hostility, not offended entitlement or outrage. Anguish.
If you are not a rescue person, but aspire to help the animals, first humble yourself. Observe. Don't assume you care more than anyone else. If something a rescuer is doing doesn't make sense to you, watch long enough to see why it's being done the way it is. Then, if you think you can do better, roll up your sleeves. Please. We need your help.
Most in humane work are caring, dedicated, and ... inadequate. Inadequate, because in the face of a problem as huge as pet overpopulation, how can we be otherwise? Yet we fight on as both soldiers and medics, battling fiercely one minute, soothing a fragile, frightened life the next. We are battle-weary. We are hard on ourselves. We are hard on everybody.
But when we judge, blame and accuse each other for falling short, we shield and divert attention from our true enemies: ignorance and lack of empathy. Worse, when we hurl ourselves into the competitive race to flaunt compassion and hatred of those enemies, we instead join their legions.
This op-ed was originally posted on the Facebook page of Pet Assistance Foundation.