Compassion is more vigorous than sympathy or empathy. Compassion gives rise to a forceful desire to alleviate another’s suffering. Compassion is that essential component in what manifests in our social context as altruism.
In ethical terms, the “Golden Rule” may best embody the principle of compassion: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Compassion doesn’t simply mean caring deeply about someone else’s suffering. Compassion causes you to get involved.
In the face of cruelty, compassion forces you to say out loud, “This is wrong” – and it forcibly moves you to do something to end the suffering.
It is not uncommon for those of us working in animal welfare to encounter cries for help from victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not usually considered within the purview of an animal organization. However, it’s not uncommon for us to receive a call for help that causes us to say out loud, “This is wrong.”
These calls often involve women looking to escape a desperate situation – feeling like a hostage in her own home, unable to leave because her abuser threatens to harm the family pet(s) should they attempt to escape.
Finding a safe place for their pet is a must before they can think about getting the help they need. What can animal shelters do to help when they are already overflowing with lost and homeless animals?
Over the years, I’ve learned that it is important for animal shelters not to be caught flat-footed when these needs come knocking at our door. We must be able to respond better and more quickly; because time is often of the essence.
Domestic violence and partner abuse is not often considered an animal shelter problem. However, domestic violence is a community problem; and animal shelters are an important part of our community.
Abuse comes in many forms, both verbal and physical. Verbal abuse and manipulative behavior can be as destructive to the soul as physical violence is to the body. Women, children and pets should never be victimized or cruelly treated regardless of the situation or circumstances. Such behavior is wrong.
Compassion is what moves us to do something about a wrong. However, we are often ill-equipped to do something alone. These types of complex problems need a community response that ensures victims of violence never go unheard.
That is why I developed a program called Safety Net. This program is designed to help pets when their families are going through difficult financial times, dislocations, hospitalizations, evictions, and yes, domestic turbulence. Many families face a crisis that prompts relinquishment of a beloved pet, even though the crisis may only be temporary.
When properly funded, the Safety Net program is at the ready to help pet owners weather such storms by providing emergency foster placement, veterinary help, counseling and other remedies to help prevent a pet from losing its home and family because of a temporary problem.
Sadly, most animal shelters seldom have enough funds or resources to assist people with these emergencies.
What is needed is a community-wide safety net – a program with financial sponsors and service and product partners. Partners able to provide human and/or pet boarding, pet grooming and supplies, veterinary services, social services and medical doctors are vital.
A community Safety Net Program needs partners who recognize that abuse and cruelty are wrong and they are forcibly moved to do something to ease another’s suffering – rather than just look the other way. Together we can create a community-wide safety net so no one has to stay in a terrible situation in order to protect a loved one.