Flame Wars Don’t Save Animals – Be The Change For Animals

I hate conflict.

Nothing makes me feel worse than following an online argument. Except maybe when the subject of the argument is really important. And even worse, when the fight does nothing to improve things.

So you can imagine how tense I find the online bickering surrounding animal rescue. Because a flame war never saved a single animal.

Golden Retriever walking in the rain

Sure, it was soggy. But we raised more money at the annual Walk For The Animals than we would have hanging out online.

Fighting Over Caring For Animals

You know how most of the squabbles start.

A rescue or shelter leader makes a controversial decision. Others disagree. Pretty soon there’s a flame war being lodged online.

It’s not that I believe that every leader responsible for making important decisions always decides the right way. And if they’re mistaken, it’s important for caring people to point out their error.

But what if instead of bickering online, we did things to empower animal rescue leaders to make good choices?

Shadow was a beautiful mutt.

Shadow – proof that old, shelter dogs make great companions.

Why Did You Make That Choice

Maybe there are people out there who volunteered in animal rescue for years, got jobs in shelters, worked their way into leadership, and labored for long hours for little money just so they could decide which animals live and die. It’s a power thing, right?

When you read it, it sounds ridiculous.

The truth is more boring. And more easily dealt with.

Kill-shelters remain kill-shelters because they don’t believe they have the resources to find homes for every pet that enters their doors. Low or no-kill shelters will put down a pet because they don’t have the resources for major medical or behavioral treatment.

Yep, it comes down to room and money.

So how do we help leaders in animal rescue help more animals?

Give them room. And give them money.

Here’s how.

Honey the Golden Retriever poses with hound mix Cherie,

Fostering helps our shelter. It helped make Cherie more adoptable. And Honey loved her new friend.

7 Ways To Save More Pets

You can’t do everything. But you can probably do at least one thing.

  • Adopt – find your next companion at a local shelter or rescue.
  • Foster – make room for other rescued pets by sharing your room with those who need time in a home.
  • Give – hold a fundraiser. Put your local animal rescue into your budget. No nonprofit ever (except maybe the National Football League) has too much money.
  • Volunteer – how many more animals could a rescue handle if they have the help they need to walk dogs, clean kennels, socialize cats, and feed animals?
  • Lead – learn about making tough choices by serving on a rescue’s board or advisory committee.
  • Share – promote adoptable pets on social media. Or offer to make flyers and post them around town.
  • Avoid Flame Wars – take the time you’d spend arguing online to do something that actually helps.

Blog the Change for AnimalsIf you want more ideas and inspiration to see how people, families, and communities help animals across the U.S., check out Maddie’s Fund suggestions for how you can help more shelter animals find homes. And check out other posts in Blog The Change For Animals.

And just imagine how much we could get done if every second people now spend in online bickering went instead to help, really help animals.

Your Turn: Do you think I’m unfair? Does online debate actually improve the lives of animals? 





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  1. You make such an excellent point – I see so many online arguments on rescue sites and it’s just so discouraging. I’ve always wanted to just reply “well what are you doing for the animals besides sitting here judging those who are out there doing it?” but I don’t. I don’t want to add to the fire. I’ve seen many negative comments – recently I noticed all of the “why don’t you do some real good and help people” trolls that post on Hope for Paws videos… It’s missing the whole point; saving a life is saving a life – we shouldn’t judge or be negative towards those that are choosing to help animals in need – they’re the ones who are out there spending their time to make a life better, how can you so easily minify that? Ah, I could go on and on it’s just discouraging to see so many arguments when the time could be so much better spent constructively working towards saving the next animal since there’s always going to be a next animal in need.

    • I’ve written dozens of posts on why helping animals vs helping people is a false dichotomy. In truth, doing things that are good for animals are often good for people too. And things that harm animals (just take a look at factory farming) are terrible for people.

      But you’re right to not add fuel to the fire. Let it burn out. And maybe a few people will get tired and go do something productive. Or at least not get in the way of people who are. :)

  2. Great points raised there. We feel that so many people feel it is so much easier to say what’s on their mind online and squeak in haste and anger. Instead hoomans need to stop and think before they post something. They need to ask themselves, would they say that in that way to a persons face or want someone to say it to them? If the answer is no then chances are they probably shouldn’t be posting it.


    • Great point. It’s probably much easier to be unkind when you don’t see the person in front of you. Instead, they’re just a name on a screen.

      No wonder animals are too smart to spend time online. :)

  3. No, I don’t think you’re being unfair. There’s a BIG difference between healthy, objective debate and the “flame wars” as you call them!! Unfortunately, animal welfare is a very emotional topic; and some people are just incapable of keeping their emotions in check. I’m not saying that to be judgmental at all, it’s just the facts. Unfortunately, that difference pervades the vast majority of issues globally; and it seems that people are less and less capable of just relaxing enough to not get ulcers over someone else’s words.

    • Before I moved to Ithaca, I subscribed to the local paper for a year. It was filled with harsh and nasty editorial letters about all kinds of topics–potholes, construction, noisy college students.

      At the time, I was living in a neighborhood that had an increasing drug problem, a shooting in the other side of my duplex, and a slum landlord who had recently set fire to one of his buildings. I simply couldn’t relate to people getting so upset about things that weren’t life-threatening.

      Which led me to think about all the people in the world who can’t get clean water and whose children are starving who would think my complaints about the police and slum landlords were minor in comparison.

      I wonder what we can do to encourage people to think about other people’s struggles before they become intensely emotional about their own issues. It would probably lower the temperature of the argument at least.

  4. Flame wars are awful. I don’t think they benefit anyone involved. I think the world would be such a better place if people stopped judging and gave others a little bit of empathy. Great suggestions on what to do to help animals!

    • Even worse, they make me so tense that I don’t want to do anything. I’ve learned to stay far away from places where I think they’ll erupt.

  5. No, I agree with you 100% – they never helped an animal…although they may have allowed an individual to let off some steam and prevent something else. The best way to help is with positive, proactive aid of two valuable commodities: time and money. Either is good and both are helpful.

    • I have a blind spot when it comes to letting off steam by arguing. I’ve watched people do it and they seem to be having a good time. My husband swears that anger is empowering.

      But arguing just makes me feel bad.

      See, I’m not a peacemaker. I’m just trying to make the world confirm to my neuroses. :)

  6. Love this. Bickering saves NOTHING. And worse than that, it tears rescue workers down and makes it harder for them to do an almost impossible job.

    • That’s what I really think about when the arguments heat up. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to make tough decisions just to have so many people outside the situation judging it.

      It’s a wonder anyone takes on leadership roles.

  7. Totally agree with you. And just think of all the time wasted by the flame throwers and those folks defending the cause. Time that could be productively spent in any of the ways you suggested.

    • My husband tells me that feeling angry can feel powerful. So maybe bickering does benefit someone. But yes, I always think about all the things that could get done in the same hour spent arguing.

  8. In the online argue meant I posted about today someone actually suggested setting up a real, in person debate on the animal rights subject but the instigator of the debate declined stating a preference for social media. People prefer to hide behind a keyboard. And no minds can be changed through flame wars. They are truly a waste of time. You make a great point that if the time and passion of those in olives in flame wars was spent on something productive, animals lives could indeed be saved.

    • olives? That’s quite an autocorrect! I think it should be people.

      • I think “involved” became “in olives.” :)

        But I am curious about how social media affects our debates. As a student of history, I know people are unchanged. You should read the political ads from the 18th century U.S.

        But the big change is that nearly anyone can have access to the internet. While not everyone had their own newspaper 250 years ago. Or even know how to read and write.

        I don’t have hopes that people will change. Or that someday we’ll evolve to only have intelligent, well-argued debates. But I’ll continue to encourage reasonable people to stop feeding the trolls. :)

  9. This whole subject is really not the niche for our blog, so we don’t get involved in it, but we do believe in actions, not words. We have adopted numerous shelter cats, and a dog, and also make donations and donate to a shelter of our choice. The whole thing online is in our opinion so over done right now we are really tired of seeing it blasted all over. It may not be popular how we think, but we prefer to just work quietly, in our own way in the background. Those nasty fights, photos, and headlines don’t really do much in the long run.

  10. Well said….there are times when you get these people sitting behind their computer making comments about rescues. mom wants to tell them to “put up or shut up”. If people aren’t doing anything to help, then just stop…the negative comments don’t help anything.

    • I can only imagine how hard it must be for shelter staff to be faced with so much criticism. Especially when it doesn’t even pretend to be caring or constructive.

  11. Well said!

  12. Oh, man… I’m with you. I HATE conflict, and I’m not sure what it is about the animal welfare (an overabundance of passion, perhaps) that causes SO many conflicts in the name of helping animals. Thank YOU for addressing it and providing a list of productive ways to help that don’t fan the flames! (As I was reading this, my first thought was: Leave it to Pamela to write something so utterly brilliant for BtC!)

    • But as I replied earlier, I don’t know if I’m really a peacemaker or just a neurotic person who can stand arguments. But I strongly believe that we all need to stop feeding trolls.

      Commenting back to argumentative flamers is like taking your gremlin for a midnight swim. :)

  13. Ca’t we just all get along? If for no other reason than for the betterment of the animal…

  14. Conflict doesn’t bother me – but pointless bickering does. And what you describe drives me bananas. How futile, what a waste of precious time! What bothers me even more, I think, is that bickering that happens between groups – it seems to boil down to some idiotic competition, but when there’s a bunch of nit-picking over the leaders in a group or about something in another group….I leave the room. We have too much to accomplish!

    Love your suggestions, and surely anyone can do at least one of them.
    Thank you for blogging the change for animals!

    • When groups start to bicker, psychology takes its toll. Science tells us that the more time we spend with people who agree with us, the more extreme our views become.

      In that sense, the diversity of opinions on the internet could be a real benefit if we didn’t get sucked into pointless arguments and figured out how to work together for our common aims.

  15. This is an excellent post.

  16. Yes. So much yes.

    Flame wars and nitpicking don’t accomplish anything. It’s all about picking your battles, right? So much energy wasted on arguments over the small things, when there are much bigger things to be concerned about. Also, jumping straight into a flame war rather than trying to have a reasonable discussion doesn’t help either. I love your perspective on this issue – as always, you manage to come up with something brilliant for BtC4A. Thanks for joining us again this year.


    • Thank you for keeping BTC going. I’m seeing so many wonderful and positive posts. It’s enough to make me think maybe the trolls are just a loud and vocal minority. :)

  17. Couldn’t have said it any better. I try to keep my page and my dog’s page (Richie the Love Bug) positive, which can be difficult in the animal rescue world. Thanks for this post!

  18. I have to ask, what is a flame war? It’s not a phrase I am familiar with!

    • You’re lucky. Does your lack of familiarity with the term mean you’ve never seen one?

      A flame war is when an online argument/debate devolves into persona attacks via email and social media.

  19. Well said. I’ve found myself in flame wars many times and it is just a waste of time and energy. When it’s done I always ask myself “how many dogs were saved?” I think that we live in a time where people feel miserable and helpless – I see these fights in every group and every forum on every subject. Someone takes a stand, feels important and like they’re making a difference, but then they forget that the world isn’t black and white. It’s fine to have a strong opinion, but we need to remain fluid, flexible enough to hear and consider other POVs if we truly want to make a difference.

    It’s a hard habit to fall into in a world where people are so used to online flame wars.

  20. It’s depressing to see the flame wars – it achieves nothing.
    It seems to be the same on so many issues related to animal welfare. Breed specific legislation is another issue where people who claim to love dogs spend time insulting each other rather than coming up with something constructive to put forward.