TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic photos of an abused dog appear in this blog post
This topic comes up a lot in rescue work. It’s very much on my mind as I watch puppy millers and backyard breeders dump their dogs on rescues and shelters. And it came up again due to a couple of high medical pugs that ended up with us. And foster folks are, rightfully, feeling a great deal of anger about the lack of care their fosters received in their previous homes. So, I wanted to talk about this as it is prevalent, and we need to know how to grapple with it.
A couple of additions to this, given the times we live in….the pandemic has NOT helped. We are all stretched very thin. We are all feeling the impact of two+ years of uncertainty, isolation, frustration, unending free floating anxiety and the constant need to assess risk. Recognize that having less of a grip on your emotions is a perfectly normal response to an utterly abnormal time.
Recognize you’re likely tired. So tired. Take care of yourself. You don’t need to have an immediate response to everything. Give yourself time to process and to exhale. And remember…….while we can’t save them all, we can sure as heck change the world for the dog in front of us.
Rescue work, sadly, has a lot of anger attached to it. Anger from owners who surrender their dog, anger from folks who didn’t get selected to adopt a dog they wanted, anger from adopters when a dog they adopted doesn’t turn out to be the dog they imagined. And anger felt in the rescue community about all of the above.
Feeling anger about a dog that has clearly suffered, sometimes horribly, at the hands of humans is a natural response. However, it can also end up consuming you and making you less effective at dealing with the animals in your care. Anger can eat you up and can have ripple effects across your life. Anger that piles up and is not somehow channeled will, ultimately, burn you out. Ask any veterinarian, vet tech, shelter worker, rescuer or animal behaviourist.
What do we do with our anger?
I’ve been involved in rescue/shelter work for 30+ years. I’ve seen some stuff that will curl your hair. I’ve had to grapple with anger or resign myself to being consumed by it. Here is my advice, for what it is worth.
1. Find a way to channel it. Direct that anger to giving the dog in front of you the best care you can. Use the anger to begin to look at best practices in behaviour modification and training. Put your energy into becoming skilled at this work.
2. Remember, you likely cannot change the person who caused this damage, but you may be able to change the world for the dog in rescue.
3. Write about it. That’s my primary outlet. But if writing doesn’t work for you, talk to folks who will understand. Channel the energy anger can give you into another outlet….crafts, sports, music, learning. Make no mistake…in its early stages, anger can be very energizing. Over the long haul, however, it will suck you dry
4. Be really clear about the anger. Is it really at the person or organization? Or are you also resurrecting old unresolved anger from something else? I say this because I spent a LARGE chunk of my life as a social worker…and I know that anger is often suppressed and can pop up in unexpected ways…so don’t be afraid to take a hard look at the anger and what may be its root cause.
5. Be aware of the ways in which many of us, especially women, are trained in our lives to suppress anger. That suppression may also mean that when it does rear its head, it overwhelms us.
6. Start to recognize good anger from bad anger. Good anger motivates. Bad anger consumes and punishes.
7. Get help if needed. There are many folks who need some safe place to blow off their emotions. Recognize that while emotions aren’t aberrant or wrong, they can be terrifying to us and to those around us. And it can be VERY hard to remember that you are there to drain the swamp, when you are up to your arse in alligators.
8. Hang with folks who have developed a successful relationship with their anger. They do exist. They have to or no one would be able to function.
9. Pick your struggles. Evaluate what makes you angry. Is it every damn thing or only some things? Has your ability to not get outraged at everything diminished? Why is that? What can you do about it? 10. Last, but by no means least, DO NOT take your anger out on your vet or their staff. They are stretched to the absolute limit and have put up with way more rage and aggression from humans than anyone should have to.