Educate, Don’t Intimidate – Blog the Change 4 Animals

Dog Play Group at Tompkins County SPCA

No one at the Tompkins County SPCA made me feel bad for having a dog with bad manners (see those hackles?). But they did invite me to a well-supervised play group and helped me learn more about dog interactions.

I was excited. I was getting my first dog as an adult and could hardly wait.

I dialed the number from the ad: “German Shepherd Rescue of Philadelphia has a handsome, two year old male looking for a home…”

I told the woman who answered why I was calling. She started her list of questions with, “Where is the dog going to sleep?”

I replied, “My husband just build a really cozy dog house under our back porch.”


As a kid our dogs always slept outside. Was this wrong?

How Do You Know if No One Teaches You

For some reason, I took the disappointment pretty well. I only sulked for two days and didn’t spiral downward into a major depression.

I began to ask myself what it meant to be responsible for another life. And I questioned things I had seen growing up.

I took the first step toward entering a relationship instead of owning a living piece of property.

But the process would probably have moved along faster if the rescue volunteer had taken time to educate me.

Yes, I understand that volunteers struggle every day. They never have enough time, money, or support to help all the animals who need it.

But where are the homes for the 3 to 4 million animals killed each year in U.S. shelters going to come from if we don’t encourage new, first time animal adopters?

Golden Retriever and nursing puppies

Honey’s in there somewhere.

Educators Ask Good Questions

When I called Golden Retriever Rescue of Central New York to get a breeder referral, I had a very different experience.

Oh, the volunteer made it pretty clear I had to prove I was trustworthy enough to get the information she had to give. And the questions never seemed to end.

But I was being educated, and didn’t feel intimidated.

We talked about common health concerns of Golden Retrievers. We talked about the personality traits that you’ll never see expressed in the dog food commercial where the dog runs toward the children with fur flowing gracefully before stopping calmly on all four feet. We talked…

The volunteer didn’t just ask questions and I didn’t just answer them.

A New Set of Questions

Here are some questions I’d hope to hear if I call a rescue organization in the future:

  • Have you had animals before? As a child? As an adult?
  • Can you think of any ways your animals could have had a better life? How?
  • What training plans do you have to help your animal adjust to successful life in your home?
  • Who has taught you the most about caring for animals? What did they teach you?
  • Are you willing to have a mentor contact you and spend time with you and your animal after adoption?

Educating, Outside of Blogville

I learn a lot from my fellow bloggers. Being part of this community makes me a better dog person, a better animal person, a better human.

But I’m here because I know there’s a lot to learn. And I’m seeking out new knowledge.

Most people who have animals at home don’t even know what a blog is much less that they might learn something amazing by reading one every once in a while.

So even if we don’t volunteer for a rescue or shelter, we also need to remember to educate instead of intimidate.

When we encounter the clueless (like a certain Pamela, over twenty years ago), are we going to judge and exclude? Or educate and include?

I read two great posts recently by bloggers who made the second choice. I think you’ll like them.

A Challenge

Between now and the next Blog the Change for Animals (October 15), let’s try to find at least one opportunity to turn our desire to judge and intimidate into a way to educate and encourage.

After all, why use a hammer when a slim jim does the same job? And leaves much less mess behind.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Do you believe this proverb has any relevance in advocating for animals? How do you draw the line when treatment of an animal deserves an angry response or an educational one?

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  1. This was such a well written, thought provoking post. It is easy to judge, yet we’ve all been there. I made a ton of mistakes with our first dog as an adult, Harley, and learned so much since then. Most of it online or through books. No one stepped in to teach me either….

    Thanks so much for this important reminder to try and educate, gently, rather than trying to cram our ideals down someone else’s throat, or in your case, judge them too swiftly and hang up the phone. :-(

  2. Great post. :) It’s easy to sit back and be judgemental in so many areas of life, but as was said in one of the posts, we have all been beginners at some time. I would like to think that people would make a bit of an effort to educate themselves before taking on an animal though!

  3. Good post! I think people deserve the chance to learn. We weren’t born the expert pet owners we think we are. I would rather take the time to teach someone than turn them off and lose them forever. Sometimes these people become your strongest advocates.

  4. I think it is important to remember that we all started somewhere. I grew up with dogs, so I did have a lot more intuitive knowledge than I would have as an adult. I’m glad you liked the post from the other day, too! :) I think we all have teachable moments in life, we just have to make the most of them!

  5. great post – and thanks for turning me on to this cause! will definitely be joining in

  6. Pamela, you speak my mind on this subject. Working in rescue, I encounter way too many who have the attitudes and behavior of what you first encountered. It’s wrong, not helpful to say the least, and serves absolutely no good purpose for the pets needing homes. Thanks for encouraging a more open mind!

    Thank you for blogging the change for animals,
    Kim Thomas

  7. Your post gives us a lot to think about! It was well written and it got me to thinking:) Anyway, this is a great cause and hopefully it will help a lot of homeless dogs find a new forever home. We can only hope!

  8. I’ve made many mistakes myself Pamela, education is key. I wish someone had educated me sooner.

    We are such a passionate bunch it is sometimes hard to approach educating people without letting that passion come through. And sometimes people don’t want to hear the message.

    You always have a very reasonable, nonjudgmental point of view, I often times wish I had your finesse. Great post.

  9. “Being part of this community makes me a better dog person, a better animal person, a better human” – I feel the same way! I love it in Blogville. I have become a better pet parent (and more educated) because of it.

    I AM confused though. Everyone says the blog for change is on the 23ed but they are posting today??

  10. What a great post Pamela! This is such an important point. Educating people and not judging them for not knowing is key. We get a lot of people who are not educated about certain pet topics at the vet and what might be common knowledge for me is not for them. It is so important to take this opportunity to educate them rather then shut them out and have them walk out the door without better knowledge.

  11. Great post, Pamela! Jessica, the quarterly Blog the Change date is July 15th. Today at, they asked people to use their Blog the Change post to promote Bloggers Unite for Dog Rescue on July 23rd. Yes, it’s a little confusing. ; )

  12. An absolutely fantastic post. Friends of mine had similar experiences with rescue and ended up going to a breeder or (shudder) a pet store. They’re good people and really wanted to adopt, but felt intimidated and shut down. In some cases, that initial rejection/intimidation pushes people away from adopting altogether, and that is a real shame. I’m still learning even now, and I know that it took me a while to realize that the way things happened when I was a child was not necessarily the right or only way to raise an animal. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that not everyone is so immersed in the dog blogging world as we are – I love that you chose this topic today.


  13. I can’t believe she just hung up on you! That’s pretty rude, regardless of what she thought of you. Thank you for sharing your message from that experience. I’m still picking my jaw off the floor.

  14. I love your list of questions. Rescues would be smart to adopt a list like that. We had a similar experience with rescue (and we were looking for an adult dog). Do you have a fence? No. click We bought a dog instead. What is the likelihood I’ll be going back to rescue?

    I do try to educate on my blog with respect to hunting and retrievers who were bred for a purpose. I welcome all types of comments and questions on the subject. I realize that people may not agree with “hunting”. That is OK, but I like to share the purpose of retrievers.

  15. This is such a hard thing for me as I never feel comfortable in the teacher role. Why should anyone listen to me? I’m still figuring everything out for myself half the time. I don’t take unsolicited advice well and thus I almost never offer any myself. Unless someone asks, I keep my mouth shut.

    But I also work very hard not to judge. It’s not easy, especially if I see someone doing something I know to be potentially harmful, but we all have to start somewhere. No one is born knowing how dogs should be raised or trained.
    For that reason I completely agree that shelters and rescues should make an effort to be more open, even if a potential adopter says something they think is dumb. They are in a very unique position where if they make the time to educate, they can make a difference. People see them as experts and will listen to their advice. It’s too bad that rescue didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt you deserved.

  16. Better a loved dog that sleeps under the porch than an ignored one in the house. Don’t get that rescue person. I’ve met a few odd ones here who set such impossible standards, prospective owners end up going to a breeder. And then, there are those who are so slack, the dogs end up being returned. Lose lose.

    I love your new list of questions.

  17. Great post (I don’t know how I forgot about this month’s Blog the change)!

    I think that information absorption is direction proportional to the manner in which it’s delivered. I can’t always claim to be the best teacher of humans, but I do know what I don’t like to hear ,and how I don’t like to hear it!

    I never had a dog at all growing up, so I pretty literally had no preconceived notions as to how I should be keeping Elka. I mean, of course she would be in the house. Maybe in the backyard once in awhile? Of course she would be allowed on the furniture. Etc.

  18. Thank you for the link.

    I think it can be hard sometimes to try and figure out when to say something and when not to, and what, exactly to say. Sometimes there are multiple options, each of which could be educating the owner, and we have to decide which one is the message we care more about. In my experience, the best way to start a conversation is almost always with a question.

  19. Darby would say walk in my shoes first, then ask; where would you want to sleep, rest and play in your forever home. With the family : )

  20. This is an excellent post! When I was doing research for my book, Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog I became aware of my lack of ignorance about dogs had caused my pet unnecessary suffering. It was an entire paradigm change. Creating that kind of change requires avenues that encourage and teach not threaten and punish. While there are those that overtly set out to hurt animals, I believe that many simply don’t know better. Happy to have found your blog! Great job!


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