Before the recent presidental election, there was talk in the media about the “Bradley effect”—the difference between what voters say to pollsters and the way they mark their ballot in the privacy of the voting booth. As it turned out, in this election, the polls were accurate; people voted for the candidate they publicly supported.
Matt Piccone maneuvers his van through the streets of Rochester, a mid-sized city in upstate New York with the fifth-highest poverty rate in the nation. Beside him sits Hillary Cardin, a veterinary technician. He pulls the van to the curb in front of a beige, two-story, wood-frame house, and he and Cardin each grab an armful of straw from the back of the van. Piccone struggles to open a wooden gate obstructed by thick snow. Two Pit Bulls, Henny and Diamond, charge them.
Last August, my dogs and I took an eight-week road trip across the West, and it was awesome. We hiked through painted hills in rural Oregon, made a memorable drive to Idaho’s Silver City, marveled at the colors of fall in the Rockies, toured Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, survived the Loneliest Road in America (U.S. 50 through Nevada) and fell in love with the California coast. Maybe you saw us; we were towing a 1969 Airstream travel trailer, and the sign in the rear window asked you to do something: go walk a shelter dog.
The first time nicole and Brian Baummer took their newly adopted black Lab, Finn, to the vet, the clinic staff’s reaction surprised them. Finn is particularly social and well behaved, yet the receptionist looked stricken as she pulled out a folder bearing a bright-red “caution” sticker.
“We caused quite a stir,” says Nicole. “They immediately remembered Finn from a visit to their office with his previous owners—and not in a good way. Apparently, he had been very aggressive and interacted negatively with everyone. They even had to muzzle him.”
Many of us have experienced this conundrum: We love animals and want to help them— especially our local shelter animals, many of whom experience trauma, confusion, pain and fear. And yet, the very thing that drives us to help—their suffering—can also be the thing that prevents us from actually going into the shelters to help. It’s hard to witness suffering, plain and simple. It’s hard to stand in the midst of such need and fear and sorrow and not fall apart. Suffering can make us feel helpless, which in turn makes us feel that we cannot help other helpless beings.
According to the 2013 World Giving Index, an annual survey conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation, in 2012, the United States topped a list of 135 countries as the world’s most generous nation. As director of Animal-Kind International (AKI), a nonprofit that supports 10 (soon to be 11) existing animal-welfare organizations in poor countries, I was thrilled to read these statistics. But do they apply to animal welfare?