Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Our expectations of those we save

goats playing

Sometimes I think that even animal rights activists need to reexamine our assumptions and expectations when it comes to animals. Especially, perhaps, the animals we save.

I notice this sometimes at Poplar Spring, in the way people relate to the animals there. It is not a malicious thing, it is more a desire to do good by them. Yet we sometimes place a burden on them. “I want to interact with you,” we seem to say, “so you need to fulfill that duty for me.” The reality is that they owe us nothing. If they don’t want to be around humans, who are we to be upset? Who are we to have expectations of them at all?

There are many animals at Poplar Spring who love interacting with humans. Simon and Louise, two friendly chickens, love to be held. Some of the goats and one of the sheep love attention. The pigs tend to view us as being there to scratch their backs. There are just as many sanctuary residents who actively try to stay away from humans. I can’t say I blame them.

The point is that while we should be there for them, they aren’t actually there for us. At a sanctuary, especially, we should be paying attention to their needs, even if that means ignoring our own. Isn’t that the point of giving them sanctuary?

They have complex social interactions among themselves, which we can understand only in the most basic way. If letting them be is what they need from us, that is what we should offer. It is nice, for us, that there are some who do enjoy the attention of humans. That shouldn’t be a requirement for our support, however. And when we go to a sanctuary to offer our help or simply view the animals who have been saved, we shouldn’t expect the non-human animals to express their gratitude. Our time, our effort, our money…they should come without strings attached.

chicken dance


10 responses to “Our expectations of those we save

  1. Neva May 14, 2007 at 8:12 am

    This is a very good point. After trauma or neglect or whatever else, it’s certainly understandable if the animals prefer to steer clear of people!

    I think sometimes people have weird expectations as well of rescued companion animals. I’ve found that sometimes people just don’t understand feral cats at a very basic level…

    I do love the chickens at Poplar Spring though–I think for the ones who do like human contact it’s such a valuable tool for education, so we’re really lucky some of them do like to be held and petted.

    Of course support and generosity should be without strings attached. Maybe repeatedly letting people know that these animals have been through a lot will help.

  2. Deb May 14, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    I was thinking of the rescued companion animals as I wrote this entry, but it felt like a topic that could become bigger than a blog entry if I didn’t limit myself! But yes – ferals are good examples, but it can really be even the well-socialized completely tamed cats and dogs that need simple acceptance as well.

    I was talking to a friend today – she has 4 cats, all of them are rescues. 2 were ferals, and one technically still is. She is going away on a long trip, and it is something of a chess game to try to figure out the cat care for her four. Two of them are bonded, and need to be together. The one that is still feral doesn’t like other cats or other people much, and the stress of being moved from the house is clearly a bad option. The second that was rescued from a feral colony is the opposite, and loves people so much, that she needs to be in constant contact with people or I think she’d go a little crazy.

    Anyway, the point is that my friend was really trying to figure out the strategy of how to get all four cats cared for with what they specifically need…even though this really means finding three separate solutions for the five weeks she’ll be gone. It wasn’t even a question that she would do this, the effort was acknowledged, but not questioned. They depend on her, she’ll do her absolute best for them, and nowhere in her attitude are there expectations of how they “should” act.

    I do agree wholeheartedly about the excellent outreach chickens like Simon and Louise, and turkeys like Opal can do. The birds, especially, seem to need to break barriers in people’s minds before they can be seen as sensitive intelligent beings. And they themselves can reach people in a way that all our words just can’t necessarily. I’m happy to see them doing outreach.

    It is really the expectation that I find fault with. Human imposed expecations were at the root of most of the suffering these animals have gone through. We need to put aside our expectations, and offer them acceptance. If they want affection as well, we can see it as a gift from them, but not one we take for granted.

    (I think this officially makes my comment longer than my original post! lol)

  3. Neva May 15, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    I’m sorry to get you going–you can do a whole other post another time. Obviously care for our animals is hard too, which is the main reason we never go anywhere! Our ferals are no longer really feral around us, but hide from other people. They still have some feral traits around us, I guess, but they like for us to pay attention to them now. I bonded with them faster, I guess because I was doing most of the care. It took Torty just over two years to finally accept Sean, and she’s been with us about 7 years now and only this last year has become really affectionate with him.

    The expectations are really unfair. Of people too, but at least we are able to tell people off if they step over some line. The animals don’t have such an option.

  4. Deb May 15, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Oh, don’t apologize! I’m a tangent kind of girl, which is why I held back when I wrote the post, because I could easily have gotten lost in the woods and ended up wondering what I’d intended to write in the first place. I enjoy tangents, but it is frustrating when I’m trying to write a “quick” blog entry if I get lost on one! lol.

    I guess I was thinking about how people can have these expectations that their dog or cat or bird or whoever should act a certain way. Like if they get a cat thinking that he or she will be a lap kitty just because they would like that. I need to think it through a bit more before I’d have a coherant blog entry on it! But the acceptance you and Sean gave Torty is the direct counterpoint to that – it probably took so long you weren’t sure she’d ever accept Sean or become affectionate, but that didn’t change your acceptance of her. And that’s how it should be.

    As a side note, my cat, who was never anything even close to feral, is 8 years old this year and just in the past year has become noticably affectionate. She sits on my lap more, demands more attention. She was always fairly people focused, but previously at more of a distance and strictly on her terms. Natural mellowing, I’m sure. I just thought it was interesting, because it started (or I noticed it starting) when she was around 7, which sounds like about the same age that Torty started becoming more affectionate.

  5. Neva May 16, 2007 at 11:09 am

    I’m a tangenty-type too, which is why I think I don’t get many blog comments. People can’t wade through my ramblings.

    Torty is an odd one. We trapped several kittens/young cats that we weren’t comfortable putting back into the colony after sterilization. We were most concerned about an orange tabby who was “adolescent” but he tamed nicely. Torty bit me up pretty badly and I felt less and less comfortable with sending her off with anyone who might get hurt. The other kittens did great and found new homes. All this time Torty would hiss at me and try to scratch and bite me. But she liked our other tame cats and watched them getting food and love. She started approaching me and begging for treats when Mutt did, but she still didn’t like to be touched. Then one night, after we’d had her for about three months, she jumped up on the couch next to me and just started purring. It was like she said “I’ve finally realized you’re ok.” So three months, that was fairly quick. But it took her so long to accept Sean. I think part of that was like I said that I did more of the feeding, cleaning, care, etc., like when she needed some medicine, I was the one who gave it to her. But also men have deeper voices and can be more intimidating to scared kitties. Now Sean has to shoo her away just so he can read the paper, because she’ll flop down on the paper for rubs.

    But about two months in I had made the decision that even if Torty hated me for the rest of her life, I’d still provide her a home. I worried at first that I was stressing her too much, but since she loved Mutt so much, I figured that meant she could be happy in our home, even if she didn’t like us. But she came around.

    It’s funny, but actually at this point Obi is our most feral cat (we found him as a sick kitten and assume he was feral), but he is the most affectionate with me and leaps into my lap when he’s sleepy or upset. But he’s definitely got some troublesome feral traits, like if someone he doesn’t know comes into the house it upsets him so much that he won’t eat that day and will hide for hours. He plays too rough, and just has his general feral oddness, but he is so bonded with me. So some of it is personality too. Like you said you can have a “tame” non-feral cat that likes people but just isn’t very affectionate.

  6. Deb May 16, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    I always mean to comment on your blog, but your posts are so thoughtful and require so much thought on my end that I end up thinking about them, and forgetting to comment. I keep meaning to do better about that! πŸ™‚

    I love hearing stories about rescued animals that end up happy and settled despite rough starts. One of my local friends is involved with a feral cat group called Catsrule! and the woman who runs it has had amazing success “taming” ferals. Even slightly older ones, that most people would say were beyond taming. I really think that with patience and acceptance they’ll figure out that humans aren’t all bad. And yeah, they might never be lap cats, and they might only be fully comfortable with one or two people, but that still seems pretty good to me.

  7. ariix May 19, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Right on, Deb. I agree completely. One of my former-feral cats is still very feral. I do hope that one day she’ll come around and not be afraid of me, but for her sake, not mine. So that she will be less stressed and won’t feel the need to hide so much, not so that I can “get” to pet her and interact with her – though of course that would be nice if she were to want it, it’s totally up to her!

  8. Deb May 20, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Hey, ariix, neva has a great post on her blog about ferals, which you should check out! I’m betting that yours will become less and less afraid as time goes on. It does seem to be the trend as they get older, and they’re so sensitive to body language, I think that when we let go of our expectations and just accept them…well, I think that makes them less stressed, and leads to them being less afraid. A continuous process. I know you love her regardless, and you’ve been so patient in winning her trust! Think about where you guys started with her – I think she’s really come a long way in trusting you guys. πŸ™‚

  9. ariix May 21, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Thanks for the recommendation Deb; I checked out Neva’s post and I totally agree with her!

    Hmmmm, are you thinking of Azrael though? I didn’t mean her, though she is still pretty feral and I hope she will relax more, too. But she’s attached to me (at the exclusion of everyone else, human or cat…) She still doesn’t trust me anywhere near 100% (as evidenced when I try to come at her with *a brush, OMG* to try unsuccessfully to prevent her long hair from getting matted!), but she loves getting attention from me on her terms. I was thinking of Jasmine who has been here for 6 months now, and still won’t let us touch her at all. Once in a while I try to get her to sniff my hand, but I mostly leave her alone to adapt at her own pace. She arrived from the feral colony with her brother Oliver, who quickly adapted to indoor life (although the brush makes him skittish too), but she’s just a more nervous girl I guess. She’s only 1 year old though, so I’m sure she’ll relax in time.

  10. Deb May 21, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Oh, you’re right, I was thinking of Azrael! I remember when she’d hardly come near you guys, though, so I think given time Jasmine will come around too. Neva had some experiences with that with Torty (as you probably have read by now). I guess you just can’t ever tell how long it will take an individual, or how “tamed” they’ll ever get!

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