Puppy Mill Awareness Day and the Art of Reserving Judgment
So many of the lessons learned from working with dogs are applicable to other areas of life. People can do some horrific things to animals and each other. While it’s a challenge to understand how someone can act so callous or inconsiderate to a defenseless animal, it’s important to remember that when we open our hearts and our minds there is a takeaway in every experience.
The fact is that many people are not aware that pets purchased online or at pet stores like Petland originate from mass breeding facilities called Puppy Mills. The dogs bred at such facilities often lack the most basic of husbandry and veterinary care. Due to these conditions, the puppies bred at these mills routinely suffer from behavioral and health conditions.
Recently Courtney Thomas, Top Dog at Great Plains SPCA, one of several local organizations that help combat this inhumane practice of mass breeding, shared an informative blog on some of the experiences she’d had with puppy mills. ‘Generally speaking,’ she wrote, ‘in breeding situations, dogs are just a number. They are a number without a name and a number that equates to dollar signs.‘ Certainly no one could fault an individual in Courtney’s position for having a few preconceived notions.
Regardless of her previous experiences and despite Kansas and Missouri being two of the most puppy mill besieged states in the nation, Courtney reminds us that, ‘Our end game is to ensure this never happens again – being aggressive, being judgmental isn’t a way to gain compliance.‘ Her amazing message is applicable to all facets of life.
It’s totally normal to view others from our own perspectives. It’s also easy in this global society to forget that people have different experiences from us that shape their beliefs and behavior. From a dog training perspective I see this exhibited in several ways. Perhaps in the way the person views the dog, sometimes to the extent that they forget that the dog is a different species altogether. It could also manifest in the way the individual processes the information furnish to them. Perhaps a trusted friend or prior trainer told them to do something one way and now I am delivering a different message. Frequently I see it in the dialogue between spouses or parents and children as one attempts to ‘correct’ the other’s behavior or actions.
When we are made to feel as if we are doing something wrong we often become withdrawn, uncooperative, and frustrated. This defensiveness is a normal response verbal sparring that activates our fight or flight reflex in much the same way as a physical assault. This influx of adrenaline and cortisol limits our capacity to process new information in that moment and makes introspection virtually impossible. It also has the potential to jeopardize the message and the relationship between two individuals as fear and anger compel one to act.
Remember when dealing with others, two simple facts: 1) You are not privy to the experiences that shaped the individual in front of you, and 2) you’ll make more progress with someone at your side versus standing in your path. Refusing to cast judgment takes conscious effort. Practice makes perfect and has the potential to pay off in dividends.
By reserving judgment during her most recent experience with local breeders who’d gotten in over their heads Courtney was able to ensure the best possible outcome for all involved, especially the dogs. ‘Because we could focus on building a relationship with them and educating them,’ she summarized in her blog, ‘the outcome for the animals was the best it could be. And that, my friends, is the goal.‘