First was the incident with Harambe the gorilla in Cincinnati. Everyone was quick to judge: parents’ fault, zoo’s fault, kid’s fault. The only thing internet trolls seemed to agree on is that the only life worth saving was the gorilla’s. Everyone knew just what should have been done, despite not being there and having no working knowledge of the use of tranquilizers in a grown, 450#, amped up ape.
The next witch hunt was local. The Indianapolis zoo announced that they were sending our polar bear to Detroit. The Inquisition tried them on their Facebook page with accusations of discarding her in her old age in an effort to save money. Every time I visited, people were most often overheard remarking on the small size of her enclosure. Yet “fans” were furious she was being sent to live (no longer in isolation) to a four acre modern habitat.
With rising temperatures, local officials posted civic ordinances on how to respond to a animal in a hot car. Step one: if you’re at a business, ask for the owner to be paged. Step two: call animal control or non-emergency police. Posters waxed sanctimonious. “If I find a dog trapped in a hot car, I’m breaking the glass. I don’t care. I’ll go to jail to save a life.” I recently had to stop by a gas station on the way back from an awesome hike with Josie Junebug; paranoia racked me the whole three minutes I was inside the building. I could just see the headlines “Local vet tech arrested for abandoning dog in car.”
I love animals. I’ve dedicated a career to them. I’ve worked at a zoo, with feral cats, in a clinic, and with laboratory animals. No one knows better than me how adorable they can be. Majestic, fascinating, noble.
But you know what, people, you’ve got to stop! Stop criticizing the zoo keepers, the park rangers, Disney World, and shelter workers. Stop picking up every animal you see on the sidewalk, under a bush, in the National Park. Your good intentions often make things worse. Caring for animals is a tough job that requires education, foists much responsibility, and rewards little pay. Your derision is unnecessary; we’re hard enough on ourselves.
In his awesome commencement speech to graduates of the Harvard School of Education, Dean James Ryan warns against the Savior Complex, a common trap where your desire to help misleads you to believe that you are an expert. He advises, “How we help matters as much that we do help.”
The same person proudly proclaiming no hesitancy in rescuing an animal from a situation they know little of, would just as vocally own up to ignoring someone on the street asking (begging, even) for help. Can we really wonder about the violence in our streets when we value human life so little?
This hit home for me a few weeks ago. I met a girl on track to be Valedictorian for a large high school. In one breath, she proclaimed me her hero. She would love to work with animals. In the next, however, she said she planned to go into human medicine. She could never make life and death decisions about animals; someone’s grandma, however, she could handle. I’d like to attribute this position to the immaturity of a teenager. Yet, as I sat and absorbed this at the tables of the Ronald McDonald House, where families stay while their children fight for their lives at Riley Hospital, I was overwhelmed with sadness.
At the end of the day, what good does your outrage do? The next time something happens that stirs your heart, instead of declaring who was at fault, or finding a villain, do something useful. Ask “how can I help?” Channel your empahty to the bigger problem.
Thousands of gorillas and other extremely endangered species are being wiped out worldwide. Donate to a wildlife fund in this gorilla’s honor, not once, but every month.
Volunteer at an animal shelter or donate much needed supplies.
If you love cute bunnies and songbirds, plant some life-sustaining natives in your yard, and think twice about pesticides. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator or park ranger before you pick up an animal that you think is abandoned. Trust the experts.