So there’s this thing with animal welfare that started with Bob Barker. Well, in my mind it did, I have no actual proof to back that up. But back when Bob Barker was hosting The Price Is Right he used to end every episode by saying the famous words “Bob Barker reminding you: Help control the pet population, have your pet spayed or neutered. Goodbye everybody!” Bob Barker donated tons of money to spay and neuter programs, and I’m not insulting him or saying his message wasn’t a good one. But I think he if not started, is the epitome of, the “catchphrase” used in the animal welfare world.
The problem I have with these phrases and slogans is that they’re too generalized for too complicated a problem. Mr. Barker was right, spay and neuter can help control the the pet population, but it isn’t the end all be all of emptying our shelters and rescues of unwanted animals. There are many things that need to come into play for that to happen. TNR (another catchphrase – trap neuter release), a good relationship between shelters and the community, programs to help keep pets in their homes, low cost veterinary care, animal food banks, good trainers using positive methods that help fix behavior problems, not increase them, these are all important things and that’s not even all of them.
Catchphrases aren’t going to save our dogs and cats from the shelter system – people are, responsible, positive, logical, caring animal lovers who educate themselves about their pets the same way they would educate themselves about their children, that’s what will revolutionize the animal welfare world.
So I’ve compiled a list of catchphrases and slogans in the animal welfare world (whether they’re related to the shelter system or breed specific legislation) that I think should be scrutinized a little more closely, because words can affect the people we’re trying to touch in ways we didn’t intend them to.
Spay and Neuter Your Pets
Variants: “If people would just spay and neuter their pets there wouldn’t be so many homeless dogs and cats in shelters”; “Responsible dog owners spay and neuter”; “Spaying and neutering your pets cuts down on health risks”; “If everyone spayed and neutered we wouldn’t need shelters”
All of the above are false in one degree or another. In fact, this is probably the catchphrase that makes me cringe the most. An intact dog or cat is not the Virgin Mary. Just because my dog has a uterus doesn’t mean puppies are magically going to spring from her like a Yellowstone geyser. I should know, I have an intact bitch who has been through 4 heat cycles now and…no puppies. I didn’t spay and neuter (yet, she goes in June 9th), and I also didn’t contribute to the pet overpopulation problem. There’s a little caveat here – spay and neuter your pets if you can’t be responsible to keep them from procreating.
And as to the health stuff – I’ve written more extensively about this here.
Spay and neuter is important, and I’m not discrediting it. I think it’s immensely important in controlling the feral cat population and if you have an indoor/outdoor cat it’s absolutely a must. I firmly believe that every dog or cat that comes out of the shelter or rescue system should be spayed or neutered and breeders should charge huge fees for you to breed your purchased dog. If you have a multiple dog home and have dogs of two sexes, definitely spay or neuter. Panzer, for example is neutered. If he was not neutered, Shelby would be spayed, or we would have to be ridiculously careful as most responsible breeders are. Responsible breeders who only have one litter per year or two have intact males and females that don’t spit out puppies every time a female goes into heat. Again, it comes down to people, not catchphrases.
Don’t Bully My Breed
Variations: “Don’t believe the bull!”; “Sorry my pit bull went against your stereotypes and…[insert something cute here]”; “This is how pit bulls really fight”; any cute picture of a baby and a pit bull with the word “vicious” in it; any slogan that has something about “fighting” for the breed
I actually really liked this one when I first saw it, but I’ve started to see the light. This one has this sense when you hear it like, “YEAH! That’s right! You big meanies!” It’s something that appeals to the inner child in us all. Actually, the promotion of pit bulls and fighting against their stereotypes is one of my favorite animal welfare things ever. For some reason, it makes me all feisty and giddy and gets my adrenaline pumping. It is, admittedly, a little addicting, and I don’t even OWN pit bulls.
But the thing is, this is just individualizing them again, separating them from “other” dogs. By using slogans like this one, you create the sense that pitties are in some way different from other dogs. And they’re not. They’re just not.
Adopt, Don’t Shop!
Variations: “Don’t breed or buy why shelter animals die.”
You can rhyme! Lovely. I have actually ranted to this same effect before in my post about breeding pet dogs. But there are other really important reasons not to breed that are simply not covered in this slogan, and there are perfectly acceptable reasons to buy a dog that aren’t covered either. The slogan itself is too negative, much, much too negative. Don’t tell me what not to do. Granted, I get it starts out with telling me what to do but what about just, “Adopt!” Better. One word, positive, and it doesn’t make the public feel guilty. I’ll have to say, I have been attacked more than once (right here in the comments of this blog included) for having a dog from a breeder. When I explain where my dogs are from to animal welfare advocates I feel like I have to break out into a 10 minute long monologue on why I have a dog from a breeder. That’s not cool. Guilt doesn’t sell.
Punish the Deed not the Breed
Variations: “Pit bulls: Made for hugs not thugs”; anything really that has to do with dog fighting and pit bulls.
This one is sort of related to the above “don’t bully my breed” and its descendants in that it creates an “other” of the pit bull, but it’s a little different, because it is specifically about fighting. I don’t like this one because it kind of makes this sweeping assumption that pits are all used as fighting dogs. I know it’s not intended to, but to an outsider looking into the whole pit bull advocacy revolution, it seems like it’s associating pits with fighting which…isn’t that kind of the opposite of what you want to do?
Rescued is my Favorite Breed
Variations: The variations that play on “mutts” and “mixes”
This one is simple. Rescued is not a breed. And for the record, neither is a pit bull a breed. Furthermore, your dog is more than a “rescue”. Let him/her grow past that, please.
If You Think It’s Sad Looking in How Do You Think I Feel Looking Out?
Variations: Anything that plays on the heartstrings.
Too Sarah McLachlan. I’ve fallen into this trap myself, many, many times over, even when I said I wouldn’t. Sometimes that one heartstrings tug of a photograph can increase a pet’s chance at adoption, but adopting out of guilt is not the way to go. Shelter animals don’t need pity, they need to be seen for what they are – normal dogs and cats who had rough luck who just need a home. They’re not an ad campaign, they’re living, breathing souls who need homes or fosters. As I’ve evolved in my thinking about animal welfare (and I’m evolving every day), I’ve come to believe that a strong, positive message about an individual animal is the way to go, not guilt, not fear, not sadness, but positivism is what they need.
So in conclusion…catchphrases look good on sweatshirts (of which I have a few) and key chains and bumper stickers, but they may be doing more damage than good in some cases. Will I use some of these phrases in the future? Likely. That’s why they’re catchphrases, they’re catchy, and they’re easily used and abused. I’m just saying, we should all be careful about where we’re using them and what the words behind them really mean to the outside eye versus what they mean to us, the animal welfare activists.