There’s a saying I’ve heard from many people involved in pet rescue and adoption: “The only thing two animal rescuers can ever agree upon is that the third is going about it all wrong.” It’s worth a good chuckle, but there’s more than a grain of truth to that one-liner. Rescuing pets brings out the best in people–generosity, love, selflessness–but when emotions run high in a rescue situation or when debating a shelter’s policies, this passion also brings out the worst in many well-intentioned individuals.
The Problem With Rescue Drama
There’s nothing wrong with a friendly disagreement within a thriving organization, but many good rescues and shelters have suffered after an interpersonal conflict led former volunteers and supporters to trash the group publicly. It’s unfortunate that so many of the disagreements common to animal rescue organizations hinge on a moral dilemma rather than facts. When people with radically different values clash, it’s hard to find a resolution that doesn’t leave someone angry.
But when those clashes happen in a shelter or rescue environment, lingering anger isn’t the worst problem that is created. If volunteers withdraw from an organization and discourage others from joining or supporting the group, animals in that organization’s care may suffer. At the very least, the rescue’s ability to take in and help addition pets will be compromised. Because conflicts between individuals can be so toxic in this environment, animal rescue groups have a responsibility to anticipate disagreements and actively work to prevent drama from spiraling out of control.
Helping Everyone Feel Heard
One strategy that can help to minimize the ubiquitous “rescue drama” involves listening actively to all opinions. A single angry volunteer or foster parent can do a great deal of harm, particularly in the Internet age. But if those same people feel heard and appreciated rather than marginalized, they’re less likely to go on the offensive.
Someone working with the rescue group should be recruited to work specifically with people who have complaints about the organization. This individual should be kind, an excellent listener and capable of listening to criticism without becoming personally offended. If possible, schedule personal meetings with anyone who is angry at the organization. The person meeting with a disgruntled individual should listen and take notes, then follow up later to thank that individual for taking the time to express an opinion. People who feel heard and appreciated often suddenly transform from outspoken attackers to constructive critics or even supporters.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two, where we’ll discuss when an organization should separate itself from a toxic person and when responding officially to public criticism is a must.