Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Animal Rescuer Devastated As Shelter Disregards Her Wishes

Image from FreeFoto.com
[Reviewed and updated March 20, 2021]

A reader writes:  I have been saving sick, feral kittens for over five years.  I expend an enormous amount of time, energy and financial resources to heal them before adopting them out.  I used to find them homes by running an ad in our local papers, but on the advice of my vet, began utilizing Animal Humane Shelters so they could be spayed/neutured and vaccinated.  I recently surrendered four beautiful, young cats to one of these facilities.  They were instructed that under no circumstance were they to be euthanized; instead, I was to be contacted and offered the opportunity to reclaim/adopt them.  They disregarded my request and last week, all four kittens were put to sleep.  I am beside myself with grief and guilt.  I do not/cannot understand why I am hurting so bad.  My intention was to find them a home.  Should I have just kept them?  Should I not save anymore of these kittens, as the outcome will be the same?  I cannot cope with this loss.  My younger two children believe they were adopted, so I cannot show any sign of grief in their presence, but when they are absent, I cry; I wail to the point I cannot breathe.  Please, help me to understand, if you can, why this pain is so far- reaching and whatever words of comfort will be much appreciated.

My Response: I'm so very sorry to learn of this awful outcome to your heroic efforts to save these dear little souls, and I can only imagine the depth of your pain.  I'm sure that, intellectually, you know that this was not your fault, since this shelter completely ignored your explicit instructions—nevertheless, the guilt and anger that you feel are real.  It may help for you to remember that guilt and anger are feelings (not thoughts, and not behaviors), and we simply cannot help how we feel.  Sometimes feelings are rational and justified, but oftentimes they are not.  That is to say, sometimes feelings are irrational and completely unjustified and totally undeserved.  We human beings (especially the good-hearted ones) can feel very guilty for things that in reality are not at all our fault and completely beyond our control –and just because you feel guilty over what happened to these kitties, it does not mean that you are, in fact, guilty as charged.  Do you see the difference?

Some time ago, in our online Loss of a Pet Discussion Forum which I moderate, a woman wrote that her beloved Rottweiler had died as a result of her having given the dog a steak bone.  This woman is now consumed with guilt for (in her mind, at least) causing her dog's painful and untimely death.  Can you imagine how she is feeling now, in the aftermath of this tragedy?  Would you be willing to pass judgment upon her and say that she did indeed intend to bring this death upon her dog, and she ought to be punished severely for her negligence?  Or would you consider this to be a horrible mistake for which the death of her dog is punishment enough, and she deserves all the compassion, understanding, and forgiveness we can offer?  If you can offer that level of compassion to another animal lover, are you willing to give it to yourself?  I invite you to follow this link and read what I said to this woman in my response, as I think I could be saying the very same things to you: My Beloved Abbey.

When your anger at this shelter staff has subsided sufficiently enough for you to think straight, you might consider letting them know how you feel about what happened, so that what happened to you and these kitties is less likely to happen to another animal lover in the future.  This could be in the form of a letter to the manager of the facility, or you could request a meeting with that person—just something to think about.  At the very least, when you have the energy to do so, you might consider contacting one of the more reputable no-kill animal shelters for advice on what you could do to get the word out about the facility you used.  (See some of the shelters I have listed on the Animal Rescue ~ Sanctuaries page of my Grief Healing Web site.)

As for telling your children what happened here, that is completely up to you—but once you decide what, if anything, you intend to do in the aftermath of this tragedy, you might consider the fact that this could be a wonderful learning opportunity for your children, and a way for them to see you as a role model advocating for the humane treatment of companion animals.  I think it's always best to tell children the truth.  As long as they know they are loved and they have someone to listen to them, children are quite capable of facing the harder things in life.  Surely your children know you well enough to know that you are upset about something, and when they don't know what's really going on, kids oftentimes will draw the wrong conclusions.  They may conclude that if Mommy's so upset, it must be due to something awful they have done—something so awful that you won't even talk to them about it!  We really don't do our children any favors when we try to protect them from the reality of death, and there are lots of resources "out there" to help you explain such heavy matters to them.  See, for example, some of the outstanding articles and sites I've listed on my Children and Pet Loss page.
Again, my dear, I am so very sorry for your loss, and please know that I am thinking of you.

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