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.