Tonight was a Social media battle for me, and in the dog world this is comparable to a heated political Facebook post. You know the kind. You’re just looking through your feed when something pops out that you can’t ignore. Somebody you’ve never met says a comment so abhorrently wrong, that you just sit there staring at it. You type a response of what you REALLY want to say. That response contains curse words, condescending tones, and about 50 exclamation marks. Then you erase and re-write it 3 times. You type it again with less vitriol, and then you just stand there staring at it wondering if you’re really making a difference? Will they really change their mind? Is this going to make things awkward next time you see Jenny at book club? Should you just let this go, or get involved in a heated discussion with somebodies racist uncle because you can’t let that kind of rhetoric stand?
Yep, that was me tonight. Except this post was on a dog rescue group. I’m in several of these groups, because I’m trying to fight the good fight with them. We save 5 suites at our facility for rescue dogs at all times, so we have become intimately involved with the rescue world in Austin. Great Pyrenees, Labs, Goldens, Mutts, we'll take them all. Tonight, this happened on a page full of people all fighting the good fight, trying to save dogs from horrible south Texas shelters. A page full of people with giant hearts, and in the middle of it was one of the worst images that I didn’t want to see.
It wasn’t a starving dog that was pulled from a shelter, or a dog with missing patches of hair or burns like the typical photos that would shock a person. Tonight’s photo for me was a different kind of shock. Before me stood a photo of a dog before and after his adoption. The “before” photo shows him with calm body language, wearing a little blue bowtie with his foster mom. The after photo shows the dog in his smiling owners arms, but his expression is what made my stomach drop. This isn’t something a typical person would pick up on, this is absolute trainer-brain keying in. The upturned lip, the tension under the eyes, the stress wrinkles, the submissive smile. Then I see it around his neck and it all makes sense. His sweet little blue bowtie was traded in for a shock collar. This dog was pulled from a terrible shelter and was placed into shock collar hell. I felt rage, I felt sadness. This little dog is completely voiceless. I feel like I am his only interpreter with a voice, so I have to choose my words wisely if I really want to have an impact for him. Am I really going to make a change on Facebook with my one comment? Am I going to incite a battle of angry dog people who wonder why I can’t just be happy the dog isn’t covered in fleas and dying of parvo in a shelter?
The Facebook thread continues with congratulations to the owner, comments about how happy the dog looks. Nobody sees the expression I see, nobody notices the collar. I sat there pondering how to fight an entirely different battle. How do I respond to this post? How do I get his owner to listen but not feel shamed, or attacked? Their post is intended to show a life that was saved, they are good people, they don’t want to hear my criticism in this moment. The truth is, almost every shock-collar owner I’ve met has been an amazing wonderful person who just wanted to save a dog. They usually experience a behavior issue with the dog, they wanted to fix it, and the Internet gave them an easy automated collar solution, and a Cesar Milan video to cheer them along. Even worse, they consulted a “professional” who assuaged their fears and handed them that collar. Call me a hippie dippie dog trainer, but I truly know throughout my experience that there is no need for force or pain, and the damage of those collars is many times irreversible. The behavior may have stopped, but the emotional damage is there- I see it on their face. I see it on his face.
I sent my response in the most kind, respectful, and curious way that I could. I offered free assistance. I congratulated them on their rescue. I asked what lead them to the choice of that collar. I politely advised them find an alternative route. Then I sat back and I watched as many people came rushing to the owners defense. “ This is just an electric fence collar. They’re super common.” They’re right, they are common, and I know that for the voiceless dogs they’re a special kind of hell. But the dogs can’t tell you that. These collars make life unsafe for a dog, imagine feeling like shocks come from the sky anytime you’re outside. They make the fenceless backyard a danger zone for a dog. You may think the dogs don’t show signs of distress, they’re just happy to be out of the shelter. Trust me, they’re telling you. It’s as subtle as a lip lick, or a nervous glance but it’s there. This is not a life of freedom, of carefree joy that dogs deserve. I know this, the dog knows this, and somehow neither of us are able to communicate it to these droves of people on Facebook who defend this collar.
Tonight, I put my head in my hands and I cried. I cried for that little dog in the blue bowtie and the life I wanted him to have without that collar. Then I brushed myself off and I wrote this journal.
We at Jumping Jack won’t stop fighting the good fight for him and others like him. We will advocate to get all dogs off of prong, shock and choke chains. If your dog is on these, we do not judge you. We will not shame you on social media, we are not shaming you now. I personally welcome you to Jumping Jack, we want to show you a better way. We will be launching our training department in November of 2017 and this is our number one mission. We are all coming together to guide owners, and help the voiceless and it is my hope that our impact can be huge.
Co-Owner & Founder, Jumping Jack Dog Ranch
"All dogs welcome"