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Do Judgmental People Inhibit the Ultimate Goal of Cat Rescue?

I believe so: Being judgmental can impede good work that aims to create a better world for cats.

Catherine Holm  |  Mar 31st 2015


I was recently having coffee with Bonnie Geisler, the president of Felines and Friends Foundation (which I wrote about in a previous Catster article), and two other cat lovers. We talked about many things, including the challenges and interesting situations that one can run into when putting trap-neuter-return programs into place in a rural area such as Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Felines and Friends has made (and continues to make) an amazing difference in the cat overpopulation problem in northern Vermont. Part of the reason I think FFF is so successful is that Bonnie and her volunteers work so well with these communities. And this, in my opinion, involves being able to put aside casting judgments. 

People who are judgmental are a hot button topic for me. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been a person who is easily able to see many sides of a situation. At the same time, I’ve experienced people who are judgmental of me (haven’t we all experienced some of this?). It can hurt. In the cat welfare arena, however, being judgmental can cloud good work, impede it, and get in the way of the overall goal — a better world for cats and progress in cat welfare.

Relaxed kitten on green grass by Shutterstock.com’>

Relaxed kitten on green grass by Shutterstock.com

The act of being judgmental often rears its head in the animal welfare world. It’s understandable that many people have strong opinions about the animals they love. People also have different ideas about what might qualify as “good” care. People have a variety of means. Some are struggling to do the best they can for their animals, even with very little means. Others are more fortunate.

It comes up in many areas, such how to handle the everyday care of a cat. My cats are indoor-only cats. I have friends whose cats love the outdoors. I have learned to keep my mouth shut about this, and I have learned to be truly happy for what these cats can have. I know that many cats love the outdoors, but I also know that, personally, I don’t have the courage to risk losing my cats to outdoor predators and other dangers. But I don’t go out of my way to lecture my friends about my opinions. What’s the point? Strangely, I have also been judged (by acquaintances, not friends) for limiting my cats to the indoors. I don’t let it bother me. Why send negative energy after negative energy?

See what I mean? Opinions run rife when it comes to animals and their welfare!

Alone cat by Shutterstock.com’>

Alone cat by Shutterstock.com

Meanwhile, I think that we can often make greater strides for the good of all cats by learning to be aware of our judgmental tendencies. We’re human; we’re going to have opinions. It’s what we do with the opinions that matters. I’m not talking about blatant, horrible situations of animal abuse, for example. I am talking more about the gray areas.

What about the farmer who has a gazillion unfixed kittens on the farm, because he doesn’t have the money or the means to do massive spay/neuter, and the situation has gotten completely out of control? FFF, by the way, works to trap-neuter-release (TNR) in situations exactly like this, and they are making a big difference.

What about the family who some might think are living in squalor, but wants only the best for their dog? Sometimes, situations are not cut and dried. Layers need to be teased out and understood. A little compassion can go a long way and can help the welfare of cats. It certainly will do a better job than inserting judgments into the situation.

Domestic cat by Shutterstock.com’>

Domestic cat by Shutterstock.com

Here are two things that we should consider when we run up against a situation that might push our judging button:

1. Think about the big picture

Says Geisler, “You need to have an open mind and open heart when working with animals and people — both will surprise you every day. Making quick judgments about an animal, person, or situation just isn’t helpful.” Keep the big picture in mind — it’s ultimately about the welfare of the cats and possibly the gentle and skillful education of humans. If the smaller stuff doesn’t really help the situation, then leave it be.

2. Recognize that different people have different means, backgrounds, and knowledge 

Geisler wisely says that meeting people where they are in their lives vs. where we think they should be is the first step to a building a relation based on respect and trust, which is crucial for progress in rescue and welfare programs. “From there, we can help them help their animals,” she says.

Geisler finds that most people, regardless of their income, care very deeply about their pets and that most are doing their best, which might be different than your best. Such people often just need very simple, inexpensive assistance to make a big difference in the lives of their pets.

We do not always know the entire story in any animal welfare work or situation, but we can open our hearts, keep the biggest and best picture in mind, and make a difference. And who knows? We might learn a thing or two, as things are not always what they seem. Says Geisler, “We’ve seen situations in which a person is providing better care for their pets than they are for themselves.”

Have you ever found yourself being judgmental in any work you might do with cat rescue or welfare? Have you ever had unfair judgments directed toward you? Tell us about it in the comments!

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.