The Trap of Over-Rescuing Animals: Saying ‘No’ When Your Heart Says Yes

Delilah, a mostly-blind dog the author rescued from her chain

Most in the animal rescue movement are here because they have a strong love for animals, and a desire to take action on their behalf—this action usually manifesting itself as fostering or adopting.

Sometimes, though, somewhere along the way, an inability to say “No” paired with deep subconscious psychological drives can get a rescuer into trouble…ending with a spiraling disaster and a filthy home full of animals that aren’t getting the care they need and the living situation they deserve.

There’s no doubt that rescuing FEELS GOOD. When I used to pull a dog off a chain, there was no greater joy than having the power to bring him/her FREEDOM. None.

Delilah took to life after chaining like a duck to water

And watching that very same dog, inside of a week, curl up on the couch or a dog bed inside like he/she’d been doing it his/her whole life? Truly PRICELESS.

Yet I soon recognized there was a limit to the number of dogs I could handle, and my personal upper limit was six. When I exceeded that number (which happened more often than I care to remember), not only would all hell usually break loose in my home, but I would feel so psychologically overburdened that I had a hard time putting one foot in front of the other.

While I understand that we are all different, and one person’s tolerance level for filling their home with animals is higher than another’s, it’s crucial that you ascertain what your level is and find a way to stick to your maximum. If you don’t, you’re doing no one any favors, most certainly not the animals you’ve committed to.

From Foster Doggie Insanity: Tips & Tales to Keep your Kool as a Doggie Foster Parent:

Foster Doggie Insanity

Foster Doggie Insanity: Tips & Tales to Keep your Kool as a Doggie Foster Parent

But, even IF you said YES to every single dog that came your way looking for a foster home, trust me, you’d do it forever and never be done.

One year Dogs Deserve Better tried to do just that. We were saying YES to every dog we could handle (or THOUGHT we could handle), and they were coming in droves. We spent over $100,000 in vet care, but nothing stemmed the flow.

Instead, we succeeded in making ourselves miserable and destroying our area rep program by letting in irresponsible people who only made us look bad. It was a brutal lesson.

So you have to find some boundaries for yourself. If being Super-Saving-Dog-Woman will not make it go away, then why are you killing yourself? Because trust me, for the naysayers and the never-ending line of dogs in trouble, it will never be enough, no matter what you do…

I swear to you, if I knew for a fact that if we each fostered five additional dogs this year that the rescue crisis would be over, I’d be the first to say “Let’s do it!”

I could suck it up for another year.

But it won’t. The need will stay the same as long as our addiction to being needed remains in place…never-ending.

So now you, theoretically, have a house full of dogs and you’re miserable. You feel like you have no life of your own, no happiness, everything revolves around the needs of these dogs and getting through each day caring for them.

The need to feel needed, to feel important, to fill the gaping hole in our gut or our heart is psychological, and many of us come into this world with it or we develop it early in life due to our environmental stressors.

Some people fill the hole with shopping, some with sex. Some with food.

Some of us fill ours with rescue. (And then maybe shopping, sex, and food.) My subconscious belief has been that rescuing the next critter will somehow save my soul, make me feel good about myself, earn me a spot in heaven. I don’t wish to speak for you, but I suspect I’m not alone in this.

Soon it’s just another mouth to feed, another dog to train, another needy soul sucking your life energy away. There’s no time for you, because—guess what—you planned it that way; you planned, subconsciously, to fill your life with taking care of others so you didn’t have to think about what would REALLY make you happy.

But you’re not happy. And though you’re overwhelmed and giving 200%, there’s still just as much need out there as ever. You’re putting your finger in a tiny dam hole; sooner or later it overflows the top or bursts the entire structure.

The crucial problem with using animals to fill your love tank and meet underlying emotional needs is that each one is a LIVING BEING with needs of his/her own, needs that YOU must fulfill. Yet, the more you take on, the less you are able to fulfill the needs of each animal, and the more you are weighed down by the never-ending burden.

Denial of the ongoing issues can quickly spiral to a state of emergency, one where animals are dying and a hoarding situation has developed.

Please, don’t let this happen to yourself AND the animals you set out to help. If you see yourself in some of the patterns discussed above, take a look at these five possibilities for underlying emotional issues, and make an honest evaluation of yourself and your own needs with regards to rescuing animals.

1. I am taking in too many animals in order to fulfill an emotional need.

Let’s be honest, most of us had a less than idyllic childhood. But for many in the animal rescue movement, our childhoods were fraught with animal abuse and neglect. Maybe of us lived with chained or penned dogs, saw or participated in animal deaths, and suffered physical or emotional abuse in the home environment. If you bear a love for animals deep in your soul, any of these possibilities can throw you into a frenzied attempt to make up for childhood pain surrounding animals by diving headfirst into a prolonged burst of animal rescue that’s bound to go haywire if the pace isn’t slowed and realizations aren’t embraced.

2. I have a need to be seen as a savior.

From Savior Complex Anyone? (and switching out “people” for “animals” is on me) a savior complex is defined as the following:

The savior complex is a psychological construct which makes a person feel the need to save animals. This person has a strong tendency to seek animals who desperately need help and to assist them, often sacrificing their own needs for these animals.

There are many sides to a savior complex and it has many roots. One of its fundamental roots, in my experience, consists in a limiting belief the savior person has that goes something like this:

“If I always help animals in need, I will get OTHER PEOPLE’S love and approval, and have a happy life.”

This is, of course, a nice sounding fairytale…

On top of this, always putting rescued animals’ needs first makes a savior not take care of their own needs. So while they may feel happy because they are helping others, at some level, they feel bitter and frustrated at the same time.

When I took a good, healthy look at my own rescuing habits, I had to admit I had a dose of savior complex at work within myself. Odds are good you do, too, because I doubt too many of us would rescue animals without this underlying drive pushing us to act. However, once you recognize the savior complex within yourself, you can take steps to understand where the need comes from and put your rescue efforts into safe limits that allows you time to nurture yourself, too.

3. I was made to feel bad about myself as a child.

The need to be seen as “good” vs. “bad” most likely stems from a childhood in which you’ve been told over and over—in ways both verbal and non-verbal—that you are a bad person.

For those who’ve grown up with a parent exhibiting an extreme personality disorder such as narcissism, they will have been pummeled from an early age with cues that tell them they are worthless—yet all the while their inner soul screams that they are ARE worthwhile. Hence many of their actions in adulthood are subconsciously based on proving this worth.

For those sensitive souls who bear a love for animals, this kind of childhood trauma can bring with it a desire to prove you are good by rescuing those in need. As long as this desire and the actions to fulfill it are kept within the realm of manageable, rescue work can indeed be a way of bringing yourself some much-needed sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

It’s only when the desire blows out of proportion that hoarding can take over and deep trauma is again inflicted on both the person doing the hoarding and the animals she seeks to help.

4. I feel too guilty if I say “No.”

Guilt is a powerful motivator, and the very real possibility exists that an animal could suffer and die if you aren’t the one to take him/her into your home. When you have a need to be seen as Super-Saving-Dog-Woman, any time you say “No” and someone criticizes you for it, it will cut you to the depths of your soul.

But if you’re overwhelmed, it’s time to say “No.” Yes, there is always a temporary wave of guilt, but in the end it’s better because you’re not putting yourself last anymore. And guess what? Without scapegoats to pile all the work on, others will start to step up and do their share. We must stop enabling them by swooping in and causing ourselves further harm.

5. If I say “No” and the animal dies, it’s all my fault.

This is really the crux of the issue, and the last thing you want as an animal lover is to bear the emotional responsibility for animal deaths, even if you didn’t physically cause it. But you simply have to give yourself the gift of not carrying all the blame if you are full and can’t take anymore. If you’re doing your share as an active rescuer, you’re DOING YOUR VERY BEST. Did you breed the animal and cause him/her to be thrown into the shelter? No! Did you have room and said no just to be spiteful? No!

If you are full, stay off social media sites where you are pummeled with requests for help until you have room to take in one more. Like an alcoholic avoiding the bars, don’t go to where you are most tempted to put yourself and your animals in a position of overreach.

In the end, each of us must come to a realization for ourselves that we are not Super-Saving-Dog-Women (and Men.) We are simply humans doing our best, and as such we have limits and needs of our own to attend to. When you are able to reach this point, you have indeed made considerable progress on working through issues you’ve dragged along since childhood. Well done.

For a simple tapping exercise to help you release some of these negative emotions associated with the desire to over-rescue, tap along with the below video. To teach yourself tapping as a way to work through childhood trauma and reach a happier frame of mind, visit http://www.emofree.com.

 Tamira Thayne is the founder of Who Chains You Books and Spiritual Mentoring, and the pioneer of the anti-chaining movement in America. She spent 13 years on the front lines of chained-dog activism and rescue as founder and CEO of Dogs Deserve Better. She is the author of Foster Doggie Insanity: Tips and Tales to Keep your Kool as a Doggie Foster Parent, and Capitol in Chains: 54 Days of the Doghouse Blues. To book a one-on-one session with Mr. Thayne, visit the website at http://www.whochainsyou.com/activism.html.

Been Told You’re ‘Too Sensitive’ for Caring About the Animals? Four Challenges Sensitive People Can Overcome to Make a Difference

 

Are you an animal activist or rescuer who’s been repeatedly told you’re ‘too sensitive’ for caring about animals? You are not alone.

One of the Universe’s little ironies is that the most sensitive among us are the ones tasked with doing one of the most difficult jobs…protecting the animals.

Yet this very same sensitivity—the gift of the ability to empathize, to put ourselves into the shoes, hooves, or paws of another being—puts us at greater risk for pain, depression, and immense suffering, whether we are following through with our chosen mission or not.

There are four hurdles to be overcome in working for the animals which can prove especially challenging to the sensitive soul.

1. Overcoming the Fear of Taking Action

Sensitive folks believe they’ve come to this planet to make a difference. When that difference is scary, such as advocating for animals left out on chains, animals that end up on peoples’ plates, or animals that are used for the amusement of humans, the fear—real and imagined—is amped up accordingly.

There exists the possibility that when one stands in the face of violence against animals, jail, physical and emotional harm, or even death can result. To the sensitive soul these confrontations with amoral people loom large and menacing.

The probability of failure is high, and even when there are successes to tide you over, the greater likelihood is that there remains a continued chance of defeat in each mission you undertake. Those who are sensitive take these failures more personally, believing that it’s all their fault—and just maybe they are not good people—if they can’t succeed.

2. Overcoming Debilitating Pain for and on Behalf of The Animals

For those of us who love animals, the thought of eating them, chaining them, caging them for our amusement, and the host of other uncurbed cruelties that abound out in the ‘real’ world cause us intense emotional discomfort.

We feel this pain on behalf of the tortured souls—as if we are experiencing it AS them—AND we feel this pain on behalf of our own tormented spirits, forced to witness the cruelty and feeling helpless to stop it.

Overwhelming anguish leads to depression, avoidance of the reality we face, and—worst case scenario—suicide.

When we are in such intense agony, it is very hard to act on behalf of the animals. All we can focus on is our own suffering and how to ameliorate it.

3. Overcoming Obstacles and Putdowns by Bullies and Authorities

Sensitive people by and large don’t fend off criticism as well as their neighbors and co-workers. Because they are so easily-affected by the putdowns of others, they struggle to place the far-flung words into perspective, to realize those who are directing abuse at them are really showing themselves for what they are: bullies. To the overwhelmed thought pattern of the empath, the putdowns becomes more proof that they must somehow be defective.

They have a harder time standing up to authorities—even though their moral compass is strong—because the desire to avoid conflict and an inherent kindheartedness is a large part of who they are. As such they are often mistaken for weak by those who bulldoze all those standing in their path.

4. Overcoming Defeat and Getting Back Up to Fight Again

Once a sensitive soul is down, it becomes all too tempting to roll over and play dead. They bury themselves in depression, alcohol, pills, food, TV-watching, internet surfing, or other activities that are self-defeating and don’t forward the mission of advocating for the animals.

Everyone on the front lines needs a break from time to time. Animal advocacy is a very difficult and soul-draining process, especially for those who are empathetic enough to fight on behalf of the animals.

There also comes a time in every activist or rescuer’s career when her front line days are over, she’s served her time, and she can then be of service to the cause as a mentor to others.

Ascertaining at which point on the spectrum the sensitive soul currently sits is an ongoing process, but overcoming a sense of defeat enough to stand and fight another day is a highly-commendable—and possible—goal.

Exactly How Does the Sensitive Soul Overcome These and Other Obstacles to Animal Activism?

Sometimes the most sensitive among us are surprisingly inept at inner reflection and strength-building. Most have suffered intense childhood wounding by their families of origin, and carry this pain into adulthood, mistakenly assuming they are stuck dragging it after them for life.

But our very ability to look deep, to release old, stuck issues, can make the difference in overcoming the obstacles and creating a new reality for ourselves.

Often a childhood fraught with animal abuse brings about the very desire to make a difference for the animals as adults, and letting go of the pain and blame from childhood will go a long way toward giving us the strength to stand tall for those we are now tasked with protecting.

There are a myriad of ways to let go, and there is no wrong way as long as it works for you. Just start exploring the infinite possibilities. I recommend reading “The Four Agreements” if you haven’t already done so, and take its lessons to heart. The agreements are simple yet profound, and the book is short and perfect for multiple readings—as you’ll find it easy to forget what you’ve learned and fall back into childhood patterns.

I’ve become a fan of and use tapping, aka EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), for myself and my clients, as a solid means by which to free negative emotions and build a strong inner core through drawing the positive into your life.

To teach yourself tapping (one of the reasons I love it is that you can totally teach it to yourself), visit the founder’s website and go through the lessons. You won’t regret it. http://www.emofree.com.

Below is a video to get the sensitive souls among us started in overcoming obstacles today. Tap along and you’ll start releasing a little of that pain and negativity within the first 15 minutes!

Tamira Thayne is the founder of Who Chains You Books and Spiritual Mentoring, and the pioneer of the anti-chaining movement in America. She spent 13 years on the front lines of chained-dog activism and rescue as founder and CEO of Dogs Deserve Better. She is the author of Foster Doggie Insanity: Tips and Tales to Keep your Kool as a Doggie Foster Parent, and Capitol in Chains: 54 Days of the Doghouse Blues. To book a one-on-one session with Mr. Thayne, visit the website at http://www.whochainsyou.com/activism.html.

Bullying in the Animal Rescue Movement: Spotting a Bully and Removing Her from Your Life

bullyingrescue

Online bullying is a fact of life, and happens in every social movement and in every dusty corner of the web; however, it is particularly insidious in the animal rescue movement because it destroys the very protective fiber the animals depend on for their salvation.

Most legitimate rescuers enjoy a “honeymoon period” when first jumping into rescue…they’re full of excitement, high on the beauty of saving a life, and starting to build a reputation for themselves.

As long as they’re responsible and on the up and up, things go well for them—for a time. But sooner or later they gain enough visibility to attract a following, and within that following there lurks an element of surprise that most won’t see coming.

Beware the Sycophant

Let’s say a rescuer is deeply involved in a highly-visible dog rescue effort that brings a happy ending for some abused dogs. She (I will be using the pronoun “she” throughout this article, although all points can apply to males as well) does something heroic, even—such as pulling caged and starving dogs from an abandoned home, thereby making the difference between life and death for these neglected canines.

Of course she’s happy. Ecstatic even. And dare I say proud of herself (and she has every right to be).

The police are on her side. The dogs were truly abandoned and emaciated, and the community recognizes her as a hero. She gets airtime on the news, talks about the dogs and her rescue organization and is able as a result to raise some much-needed funds for her work.

But now she has reached a level where she will attract devotees—people who are on the outskirts of rescue but who admire what she did to save these dogs. Many are perfectly nice folks who recognize a hero when they see one. They support the rescue financially, and she develops a rapport with them, sometimes even building lasting friendships.

She also attracts the less sane followers, although the problem for her becomes that in the beginning it is very difficult to tell the two apart. And, she’s naive. She believes everyone who loves dogs is a good person.

She couldn’t be more wrong.

In Dr. Phil’s book Life Code: New Rules for the Real World (a must-read for anyone going through online bullying), he makes it obvious why the sycophant needs to be avoided at all costs: “People who occupy one extreme of the emotional continuum are the very ones who tend to flip-flop to the OTHER emotional extreme.”

In other words? As soon as our one-time hero does ANYTHING that shows her to be a simple human being and not a superhero, her “best friend” suddenly becomes her worst enemy. And she’s been targeted for destruction all along.

Now is when the false claims start.

What’s the Truth?

When we don’t personally know a rescuer, we haven’t been to her home, and we haven’t seen her rescue situation with our own eyes, we as bystanders and/or financial supporters have a problem when accusations of neglect, abuse, or cruelty come to light against her.

Who do we believe?

Accusations of abuse or cruelty are the number one way to destroy an animal rescuer, for obvious reasons. Is the person we’ve trusted to hold the best interests of the animals at heart actually harming them instead? We become morally obligated to take such allegations seriously when they are brought forth, for the protection of the animals.

But by this same token, false accusations of cruelty and neglect have become the number one method nefarious persons use to destroy legitimate rescues.

Because it’s so easy to plant doubts. And they can.

Five Ways to Determine if an Accuser is Lying

We owe it to those brave enough to handle the pain of rescue on a daily basis to give them the benefit of the doubt unless valid evidence is produced. Consider the following points in ascertaining the validity of an accuser.

1. Are the accusations made anonymously?

Contrary to popular belief, ANIMAL RESCUE IS NOT THE CIA. It’s doubtful you would be murdered for standing against an abuser, so claiming you must protect yourself with anonymity is bogus. If someone has a legitimate abuse claim against a rescuer, they need to stand behind that claim, which means using their own name and in full. If they refuse to do that, they should be immediately dismissed as a troublemaker.

The more likely reason someone would make allegations anonymously is that they are lying, and don’t want to be sued for defamation.

2. Is there evidence?

Any legitimate claim will be backed by evidence in the form of photos, videos, vet records, etc. If you witness abuse and are not able to get evidence, you have no business going public with your claim until you can prove it. If there is a total lack of evidence outside of one person’s statement, it needs to be disregarded—unless and until proof can be obtained.

3. Does the accuser have a fake profile?

Often those seeking to destroy others’ well-deserved spotlight create fake profiles in order to do so. Women will pretend to be men, digging up photos of upstanding-looking men they find on the internet in the hopes of lending credence to their claims and throwing the truth seekers off their scent. If you see accusations by someone who isn’t personally known to you, do a little digging. It quickly becomes apparent if they’ve stolen profile photos, and/or other pieces of their persona. If you ascertain their profile is fake, let the victim know and go public with your findings as soon as possible.

4. What type of person is the accuser?

If a little facebook creeping and googling shows that the accuser is one who constantly badmouths others—run, don’t walk, to your nearest exit. Is the accuser on the periphery of rescue, or are they deeply involved on a daily basis? A quick scan of most rescuers’ facebook pages makes it blatantly obvious that those who are legitimate have no desire, time, or intention of attacking other rescuers—unless they have scads of proof and a need to act on behalf of the animals.

5. Does the accuser have a criminal history?

Believe it or not, many of these folks leading the charge with pitchforks and dragons to slay hard-working rescuers are actually convicted criminals themselves. They will even accuse the rescuer of activities they themselves have been convicted of—such as embezzling, one of their favorite pastimes. A little sleuthing and a background check can bring up some fascinating evidence against these frauds. Don’t hesitate to spread the evidence you discover far and wide. When they are exposed for the con artists they are, they will tuck tail and run off to torture their next victim.

Still not sure?

The very best way to ascertain the truth of the matter is to go directly to the source. If you’ve questioned the accuser, but still feel uncomfortable, I recommend you ask the rescuer to come see her facility and meet her rescued animals.

ANY LEGITIMATE RESCUE WILL ALLOW THIS. PERIOD.

If a rescue will not allow you to come in and see all areas of the facility—with the possible exception of quarantine—then there is something to hide.

How can a legitimate rescuer handle these attacks?

1. Invite everyone IN.

If you have nothing to hide, hide nothing. The very act of inviting the public to your facility puts many people’s fears aside. For those who take you up on your offer, be gracious and cordial, and answer every question truthfully and to the best of your ability. Yes, it is annoying that you must defend yourself when you did nothing wrong, but life is frequently unfair. Our job in that moment is to allay our supporters fears, no matter how they were engendered.

2. Being defamed? If you have money for legal, immediately send a cease and desist letter.

Bullies are cowards, and the last thing they want to do is spend what little stolen money they have defending themselves in court. Odds are good they will run off to an easier victim. If you must go to court and you have a strong case—and you can handle the emotional strain—then go for it. That’s something only you can decide.

3. Put out your evidence to the contrary. Publicly.

Bullies lurk in the shadows, streaming hate and lies. They don’t fare so well in the light of day. If you are being falsely accused, they will produce no appropriate evidence to back up their lies.

But guess what, YOU DO have evidence! Of how great a job you’re doing! Build a public page on your website or blog, and put all your photos and videos there of your rescued pets playing, running, interacting with YOU, the accused, and showing no fear. Build your case, and make sure to walk folks through the evidence timeline. Your true supporters can copy and paste this link whenever the accuser is trying to stir up trouble. This will go a long way toward assuaging the fears of your supporters.

4. Walk away and get back to work.

Once you’ve taken the steps above—and any other brilliant ones you’ve added to the equation—you’ve done all you can do. Walk away from their drama and get back to work. Yes, a couple diehard crazy folks will still be lying about you every chance they get, but you’re too busy doing good to give them a moment of your time.

5. Work on your self-esteem and become actively involved in spotting and avoiding these kinds of people.

I read Dr. Phil’s book way too late, but you don’t have to make the same mistake I did. I recommend it for every legitimate rescuer, so you can spot these would-be bullies coming a mile away and avoid them like the plague. When your gut speaks up, listen.

The damage these online bullies do to a legitimate rescuer’s self-esteem is not to be downplayed. We are all human and very few of us come into this world with high self-esteem. It’s something we’ve earned by doing the hard work emotionally and intellectually, and using what we’ve learned to build things we can be proud of.

Most legitimate rescuers are sensitive by nature—if they weren’t brought to intense emotional pain by watching animals suffer, they would not get involved in rescue efforts. It is this very soft-heartedness that makes them the target of bullies; it also makes them more easily taken in by a con artist.

Bullies, narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths have no self-esteem of their own, and so steal yours in order to bring you down to their level. They are often plagued by personality disorders that enable them to feel perfectly entitled to take what is yours, frame you for crimes you didn’t commit, and leave you for dead as they walk over your body in search of their next meal.

You therefore need to become active in the day-to-day revival of your self-esteem, because it can land in the toilet after dealing with bullies. I use and recommend tapping in my own life to release the negative emotions that build up from interactions with these kinds of people. Below is a tapping workshop video I created around the issue of online bullying. Please tap along with me and let me know if it helps you to release some of your pain.

To take your own free tapping courses and go in-depth into tapping, visit the creator’s website at http://www.emofree.com.

Tamira Thayne is the founder of Who Chains You Books and Spiritual Mentoring, and the pioneer of the anti-chaining movement in America. She spent 13 years on the front lines of chained-dog activism and rescue as founder and CEO of Dogs Deserve Better. She is the author of Foster Doggie Insanity: Tips and Tales to Keep your Kool as a Doggie Foster Parent, and Capitol in Chains: 54 Days of the Doghouse Blues. To book a one-on-one session with Mr. Thayne, visit the website at http://www.whochainsyou.com/activism.html.