Blog: Finding My Voice

First Do No Harm

Posted on October 22, 2011 at 11:25 PM


The world is a dangerous place....especially if you are a child, an elderly person, someone with a disability, or an animal who has no rights. Members of these vulnerable groups rely on others to care for them, to advocate for them, and to protect them. Every day you hear a story that is terrible, but true. A man "adopted" cats that were posted as "free to good home" on Craigslist and subsequently tortured and killed them. A dog was thrown from a moving vehicle because the family "couldn’t afford to take care of an injury." A man beat his dog on the head with the butt of a gun and then took the dog to his parents' house and shot him in the head. Another supposedly civilized man "disciplined" his girlfriend’s puppy for having an accident in the house by choking him.

     People  who have committed acts that render themselves dangerous to animals are often designated by shelters and rescues as "Do Not Rescue; Do Not Adopt; Do Not Transport." There are good reasons why these people should not have access to animals. They are dogfighters, animal hoarders, people who sell animals to researchers, back yard breeders, puppy mill operators, people who abandon, neglect or mistreat animals, transporters who do not provide proper care for those they are transporting, and people who treat animals like disposable items.

     Unfortunately, not every person designated as DNR, DNA, or DNT poses a threat to animals. It is all too easy to label someone DNR, DNA, or DNT.  Far too many times someone gets angry with another person for whatever reason and then chooses to label them. They post defamatory statements to Yahoo groups, blogs, and forums, and encourage others to cross-post their posts to others. These messages and accusations, which sometimes have no basis in fact, go far beyond rescuers and shelters and take on a life of their own. Once the designator clicks on the “send” button on their computer, the message goes viral. Many people who receive these messages don't make an effort to verify the truthfulness of  the accusations, accept them as fact, and forward the messages to others or post to a group or on a forum without considering the consequences of their actions. When good people are labeled for petty reasons or based on misrepresentations of fact, animals, rescues, and shelters in need of help become collateral damage. It seems as if some "rescuers" have lost their focus and it is no longer about saving lives, but about their egos and "getting even."

     Seven month ago the KY-CENTRAL website and I were labeled DNR. We will probably never know the number of dogs and cats that were euthanized because of the posts and emails that were circulated telling people and groups to avoid the KY_CENTRAL website and its Facebook pages. I do know that if people boycott the website, animals in need get less exposure. All it takes is one person to save a life...and one person to do great harm.

     The next time you receive an email or see a post about someone labeled DNR, DNA, or DNT think a moment before you believe the accusations and pass on the message to others. Has an animal suffered harm because of the alleged actions? Does the individual or group deserve to be placed in the same category as dogfighters, animal abusers, and hoarders? Does the message (and related posts) seem more like a personal attack rather than an effort to protect animals? Will labeling and shunning this person or group cause more harm than good? Has the person or group been given an opportunity to defend themselves against the accusations? Even baby killers, rapists and animal abusers have their day in court.

     One thing I do know: WE ALL NEED TO WORK TOGETHER. One person can make a difference, but the number of animals in need is so overwhelming and the problems so great that only by helping one another can progress be made. Unfortunately, some people try to make themselves look better by dragging others down and trying to hinder the efforts of others.  How many shelter dogs and cats have died because people unjustly labeled DNR have had to defend themselves instead of helping those that needed help?

     I believe everyone involved in rescue, whether they be a rescuer, cross-poster, transporter or volunteer, should take an oath similar to the Hippocratic Oath: Primum non nocere - "First, do no harm." This includes abstaining from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. People involved in all aspects of rescue have chosen to dedicate their time and efforts to savings lives. Taking action sometimes has unintended consequences. Sometimes it may be better not to do something or to deal with a problem in a judicious manner rather than to risk causing more harm than good.

Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity. ~Edwin Hubbel Chapin


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