November 12, 2020

The Lesson of the Two Borzois

Twenty years ago, not long after I started working at the Ottawa Humane Society, I learned a valuable lesson. One day, a gentleman came in to surrender two beautiful borzois. They were healthy, well-trained, and frankly, stunning. News spread around the shelter quickly, and the questions began, “How could this guy surrender his dogs? Doesn’t he know caring for pets is a responsibility for their lifetimes? What kind of a person would surrender two gorgeous dogs?” The outrage and the judgements went on for a full two days, whipped up by shared righteous indignation. 

On the third day, I found out — I can’t recall how — the gentleman was in the terminal phase of cancer. He surrendered his dogs to the Ottawa Humane Society because he trusted us with his beloved pets. He trusted that we would make the best possible decision for them and that we would move heaven and earth to find them a new, loving home together. 

I have told this story many times in the past two decades. There are lessons in it that I was lucky to learn early in my tenure:

  • There is often more to the story than you know
  • You can’t help animals without helping the people who care for them
  • Judging people doesn’t help animals, it just alienates people

After this, the OHS started hiring more “people-people” and not just “animal-people,” those who could communicate with people and truly wanted to help them as well as animals. We threw out judgements, in favour of helping.

From time-to-time I get emails from people who have surrendered their pet to the OHS. The most common positive comment is that they were expecting to feel judged, but didn’t.

Lesson learned.

Bruce Roney
President & CEO