Social media can be a helpful tool for anyone seeking help with something because a post can get replies from a wide range of people who have tried and tested stuff before you even have to. It was no surprise when Facebook started trending that soon after people started using it to find new homes for their “unwanted” pets. While the majority of people will simply scroll past these posts because they are not relevant to them, or try to help or share, a very vocal minority can always be relied upon to vilify the person seeking a new home for their pet.
Having volunteered and worked in rescue now for eight years I have seen my fair share of “unwanted” pets and people seeking to rehome them. While I started off frustrated about it, much like that vocal minority, I also had twentyseven years of being human under my belt and with that came a sense of empathy with people because I know that life sometimes throws you a curveball you never saw coming.
In these eight years working in rescue, two cases have left a deep impact on me and the people involved. The first one happened about six years ago. A friend and colleague became ill from a zoontic disease which kept him in hospital for several month and on sick leave for some more months. When this was happening, his dog could not cope with being kenneled so he had to be rehomed for his own good and his owner’s. To cut the story short, my friend slowly recovered although not fully but continues to love his dog even though he had to part with him, but he never felt that he could ask for help on Facebook to rehome or to track down the dog’s whereabouts, because he feared backlash.
The second, happened about three years ago. A lovely lady who had adopted a dog from the MSPCA returned a couple of months later to give the dog back without giving a reason. Just the sort of story that would call for the vocal minority to start throwing vile comments from the comfort of their desk. The difference is that this happened in my office at the MSPCA and I could see the woman was visibly upset and didn’t want to give up her best friend, yet something made her feel she had no other choice. I love my dogs and I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must be, so my instinct told me that she might have bigger problems. I could have been cold and made her feel worse. I could have also taken the dog without asking any questions. I did none of that. I closed my office and offered her tea. We talked for two hours. She cried and confessed her situation. Could you vilify that person after you knew she was a victim of domestic violence? I certainly won’t. We took the dog back and put the woman in touch with a refuge home the same day.
We don’t always know the whole truth about why people choose to rehome their pets. When their reasons have hurtful and personal dimensions to them, most don’t want to share and they don’t have to. If you consider that some of these cases could have a background of domestic abuse, remember that the animals could possibly be under threat of abuse too and if rehoming is part of the victim’s attempts to leave that abusive situation, it is the most dangerous time for them because if their abuser catches on to them the abuse becomes more severe. Most femicides happen when the woman is trying to leave. We all have a right to our personal lives remaining private, so we are under no obligation to make anyone feel worse than they already do, especially since for many it is a painful choice which they feel they are forced into. If you are worried about the pets in there, just imagine how much worse it is when there are children involved too.
I am writing this because three months ago a woman fleeing a violent home felt forced to sleep in her car with her dog. Research shows that there is a link between animal abuse and domestic violence: men who are violent to women may threaten to harm or kill a beloved pet in order to intimidate their partner. 1 in 3 women worldwide experience abuse some time in their life. US statistics show that 70% of cases also include abuse of animals. In 2009, Karen McGraw was murdered just hours after she turned down refuge because they refused to take her pet. Why should an abuse victim have to give up her main source of support, the only friend she has had through her ordeal, a friend that probably sustained similar abuse, in order to get help? As if it wasn't hard enough to be an abuse victim now they have to also let go of the one thing that's helped them through it? It doesn't sit right with me.
Even in the best of circumstances, vilifying people seeking a new home for their pet basically sends the message that seeking a new home is bad without providing an alternative. The person who for whatever reason no longer wants that pet in his life is potentially left with no alternative but to throw the animal on the street, just to avoid the vocal minority that doesn't have to walk in their shoes and live their life, ever. Is that what a true animal lover really would wish for?
So, I leave one last plea here. Don’t vilify people seeking to rehome their pet. You might not know the full story and you can’t expect people to share their private matters. Vilifying them could put them and their pet in a dangerous or more vulnerable situation. Unless you have supportive words for them or can help, the kindest thing you can do is keep scrolling.
Follow Christian Pace discussing the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse on Familji T’Ghada on Radju Malta 1 (93.7 FM) Friday 7pm – 8pm.