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Managing Fear

The following is an article based on People Are Animals Too, Darnit! Podcast with guest Eric Ridgway, LCPC.

Understanding and recognizing how fear plays a role in our lives and the lives of the community members we serve

It may seem overly simple, but humans have five basic categories of emotions: joy, anger, sadness, fear and shame. 

In a previous episode of “People Are Animals Too, Darnit!” Panhandle Animal Shelter Executive Director Mandy Evans spoke with licensed clinical professional counselor Eric Ridgway about understanding these emotions in order to communicate more effectively with others. 

Ridgway joined Evans on the podcast again to delve deeper into one of the emotional categories—fear.  

Fear Isn’t Bad

No emotions, even fear, are inherently “bad”—it’s how you manage and deal with them that is important. 

“If people think about any of the emotions as negative, they’re really limiting their perception and their ability to deal with their own lives,” said Ridgway. 

Fear can keep us safe by preventing us from driving too fast on icy roads or going rock climbing without a rope.

“For most people, fear is going to help them stay alive,” he said. “It’s a gift.”

However, fear doesn’t serve us well when it’s causing us to worry about something like a meteorite coming to strike us at any moment, he said. 

Fear has also long been used to manipulate people. An obvious example is bullying on a playground, but it happens more subtly in advertising, sales and the media, said Ridgway.

What ads essentially do is play on people’s fears that they won’t be as cool, good-looking, likable, happy or some other desirable quality if they don’t buy the product. The news media also often gets the public’s attention by using headlines and covering stories that raise fear and public alarm.  

Reacting to Fear

When people feel fear, they don’t tend to admit it, or even recognize it. Instead, they often become angry.

“Humans want to feel powerful and in control so they can predict and control the environment around them, and if we don’t feel powerful, if we don’t feel in control, things can be overwhelming and scary,” said Ridgway. “If we can dominate the situation … then we don’t feel so threatened.”

However, hiding fear, especially with anger, isn’t productive. 

Instead, it makes it “hard for people to work together to make a better world,” he said. 

An important step to managing fear is first recognizing it, and asking yourself what you’re feeling.

“If people don’t know what they’re feeling, I’m guessing it’s fear or shame most of the time,” said Ridgway. “Those are the emotional categories that we are easiest able to deny … because they’re so uncomfortable.”

Notice how your body feels when you’re scared, anxious or uncertain—are your shoulders tense, do you have a pit in your stomach, or is your jaw clenched? Try to calm yourself. Take a deep breath, relax, and tell yourself there is no immediate threat.

“If a lion jumps out, my body is designed to fire up the adrenaline so I can run real fast and get away,” said Ridgway. “But if there are no lions right now, I may not want adrenaline flooding through my body as if I’m about to die.”

Focus on the here and now, and take things one step at a time, he said.

“We have an influence on our emotions, and we can feed them and make them bigger or we can starve them and make them smaller,” he said.

Fear as a Barrier to Seeking Help

Applied in an animal welfare context, it’s important to understand that fear—along with shame—can keep people with limited financial means from seeking help for their pets, even if there are low-cost services available. 

First, if you’re not financially stable, you probably experience fear related to that. 

If someone is constantly worrying about being able to feed their children, or their car breaking down and affording to repair it, they’re going to have high levels of fear, said Ridgway.

“Our brain wants us to survive,” said Ridgway. “If there is a threat to our survival, the brain is going to have a fear reaction to that.”

This insecurity probably also makes someone feel shame. Shame is self-doubt, the feeling that other people might not like you or that you aren’t good enough.

“The more insecurity we have, whether it’s economic or about my profession, my education, my intellect … we can worry about others judging us more,” said Ridgway. 

That means you’re less likely to want to make yourself vulnerable and put yourself in a situation where someone can judge you for not taking your pet in for veterinary care sooner. 

This creates a vicious cycle, noted Evans. 

“They’re scared to put themselves out there and feel vulnerable, then we shame them for showing their vulnerability, and then we get mad at them for not seeking help again, but why would they?” said Evans. “…It’s actually a really privileged view when you’re able to say you ‘should have’ done this.”

“Should” is the shaming word, said Ridgway. When you say someone “should have” done something, you’re taking the stance that you know better.

“That is setting up a scenario of fear, because nobody wants to be judged. It is a basic human desire to feel secure, to feel valued, to feel appreciated, to feel belonging,” he said. “As soon as we start ‘should-ing’ on other people, they’re feeling like they don’t fit in.”

The next time you’re about to ‘should’ someone, consider your own emotions and why you’re judging them—maybe it’s related to your own fear or shame. 

“Fear serves a purpose, but am I a fear-based person?” said Ridgway. “… If we want to make the world a better place, fear is not what’s going to lead us most effectively to work well with others.”

Episode 41 – Housekeeping and Episode 1 Rewind

People Are Animals Too podcast editor and producer Dan fills in for Mandy this week and goes over some housekeeping items.  There’s also a replay of episode 1 where Mandy introduces herself and the vision for the podcast.

Check out this episode!

Episode 40 – Direct Marketing and Fundraising for Animal Shelters with Meghan Thorne of One & All

Meghan Thorne of One & All joins Mandy to discuss marketing and development for animal shelters.

Meghan has more than two decades of advertising, marketing, and direct response experience.  She has been leading the multichannel fundraising program for Animal Welfare partners at One & All for over ten years, in channels that include TV, radio, outdoor display, digital and direct mail campaigns to acquire and maintain their rich pool of high-value donors and sustainers.  

 

She joined One & All in 2011, after the great recession of 2008 left her unemployed and taking a hard look at where she wanted her future self to be.  Knowing that, more than anything else, she wanted to do good in the world, she applied for, and was accepted in, the University of Georgia’s graduate program for Nonprofit Business Management.  Upon graduating, she found that working for One & All would give her the best of the world she came from, and the world she wanted to be a part of.

 

In her spare time, she can be found running the trails of the North Georgia mountains with her five year old pit mix, “Puppy Dog”.

Check out this episode!

The Unintended Consequences of Animal Shelter Transports

For years, the public and animal shelters alike have celebrated transporting animals between communities to get them adopted—but is that really the best solution?

Years ago, Dr. Cynthia Karsten was working with a shelter in California that was full of small dogs, some who had been there for a very long time, and she had a realization: If these dogs were at an animal shelter in the Midwest, the shelter would be empty. There weren’t a lot of small dogs in the Midwest, and people wanted them.

So it seemed like an obvious solution: Bring these dogs from California, where they were at risk of euthanasia, to animal shelters in the Midwest, and they’ll find homes.

It was kind of like a real estate problem, said Karsten. 

“It’s location, location, location,” she adds. “[There were] places of too many animals and not enough homes, and then there were places with too many homes and not enough animals.”

Over the years, Karsten was instrumental in facilitating the transport of thousands of dogs from California to the Midwest, and many animal shelters followed suit.

The practice of transport—bringing animals from crowded source shelters to less crowded destination shelters—has been a major component of the animal sheltering field in the United States. It has helped save animals’ lives, but there have been some unintended consequences.

Now experts in the field—including Karsten herself—are looking for solutions that better serve both animals and people. Karsten, who is now the outreach veterinarian with the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine program, discussed the topic with Panhandle Animal Shelter Executive Director Mandy Evans in the podcast, People Are Animals Too, Darnit! 

Good communities vs. Bad Communities 

To be clear, animal shelters and industry leaders transport animals with the best of intentions, and it has—and does—save animals from euthanasia. 

“I thought it was a great solution for a long time,” said Karsten. “I was so proud of what we did and all the animals we were saving.”

But the downside of transport has become increasingly clear, she said. 

It has perpetuated mistrust and bias toward source shelter communities. Transports operate under the inherent assumption that source communities are “bad,” and that they do not want the animals in their communities and cannot take care of them. The destination community is the savior that provides “better” homes for animals. 

Instead of keeping wonderful companion animals in the communities they came from, they are getting sent away, said Karsten. 

Another downside of transport is that it is a reactive, stopgap measure; it’s not a long-term solution. It doesn’t address the root cause of why there are supposedly too many animals and not enough homes for them in a community. 

“How does just taking [animals] actually address that problem?” asked Karsten.  

Finding new solutions 

To find new solutions, animal shelters need to challenge assumptions they’ve been making and continue to make about the problem they’re trying to solve. Is the problem really that there are too many animals and/or not enough homes? 

Maybe shelter leaders think there aren’t enough homes for animals in the community because animals end up at the shelter in the first place. But maybe more programs are needed to help keep pets in their homes with owners and prevent surrenders, like pet food banks, low-cost, accessible veterinary care and behavior support.

Or, it might be a matter of a perspective shift, away from a “negativity bias” that makes shelter staff upset with people who come to the shelter to surrender animals, said Karsten.

“That would kind of be like working in a hospital and getting upset with people for coming in because they’re sick,” she said. “…Remember, there are tons of people in your community who never need you.”

Finally, maybe it seems like there aren’t enough homes because animal shelters have impossible requirements for adoption that rule out many community members. 

It’s possible the shelter just needs to trust their community and remove requirements that prevent people from adopting, like having a fence, previously having a pet or not living with children, that don’t affect whether someone will provide a loving home. 

In fact, as the COVID-19 crisis was unfolding, animal shelters had to remove these requirements to quickly get animals out of their facilities, when they were worried about operating during a pandemic. Many saw amazing results, with community members stepping up to provide great homes for animals. 

Destination shelters, too, can start to rethink their roles in the community. Instead of operating as large adoption centers and transporting animals from other shelters to fulfill that mission, maybe they can start to focus more on providing resources and information to community members who already live with pets. 

Overall, if source shelters start looking to their communities more, they’ll build up relationships and support, said Karsten. 

After all, she added: “I can’t believe that it doesn’t feel just as good to do a great adoption as it does to put 50 animals on a plane.” 

Episode 39 – The Importance of the Human-Animal Bond with Dr. Hoy-Gerlach

University of Toledo professor of social work and author of Human-Animal Interactions -Dr. Hoy-Gerlach – joins Mandy to discuss the importance of the human-animal bond and how it impacts social welfare and animal welfare.

Get a copy of Dr. Hoy-Gerlach’s book here: https://amzn.to/2GK6WRk

“Why do we love dogs so much so so much?” article:

https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/why-do-we-love-dogs-so-much-so-so-much

Check out this episode!

Episode 38, Part 2 – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Animal Welfare with Kim Wolf

Social worker and animal welfare expert Kim Wolf joins Mandy for part 2  of the discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within animal welfare.

Check out this episode!

Episode 38 – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Animal Welfare with Kim Wolf

Social worker and animal welfare expert Kim Wolf joins Mandy to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within animal welfare.

Check out this episode!

Episode 36 – Access to Veterinary Care: A New Model with Dr. Sara Pizano and Aimee St. Arnaud

Dr. Pizano from Team Shelter USA is considered a leading expert in shelter reform with unprecedented results. As an accomplished public speaker and influencer, in particular with municipal leaders, she is a positive force helping organizations reach their potential.

As the Director of National Veterinary Outreach for Best Friends Animal Society, Aimee St. Arnaud focuses on how to increase access to spay/neuter and veterinary care in underserved communities to help reach the goal of achieving no-kill nationwide by 2025.

Dr. Pizano and Aimee join Mandy to discuss vet care access.

Check out this episode!

Episode 35 – Knowledge is Power Don’t let “No Pets Allowed” Hold You Back from Renting

Abby Volin founded Opening Doors, which advocates for tenants with pet-related housing issues and helps housing providers manage pets on properties. She is a nationally recognized expert on animal accommodation law and frequently holds lectures for landlords, attorneys, animal welfare advocates, and healthcare providers. Prior to starting Opening Doors, Abby worked as a policy specialist at The Humane Society of the United States and began her career as a litigator. Abby earned her JD from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and BA from Tufts University. She has volunteered with numerous shelters and rescue groups throughout the years and fostered countless pets (much to the chagrin of the resident cats).

Abby joins Mandy to discuss how to can help keep families together.

Check out this episode!

Episode 34 – Pet-Friendly Housing with Todd Cramer and Heather Schechter

Todd Cramer is the former President & CEO at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society (MHHS) in New York’s Capital District. Prior to joining MHHS, he was the Senior Vice President of Community Engagement & Chief of Staff at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey. Todd has also served as the Senior Program Manager, Adoptions at PetSmart Charities and Director of Community Initiatives at the ASPCA. During his time at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, Todd led the Pets Are Welcome, pet friendly housing initiative, pilot program working to encourage rental property owners to go beyond just allowing pet residents and make them truly welcome by eliminating breed, type and size restrictions and providing the tools necessary for pet guardians and their pets to live successfully in rental communities. Under his leadership, the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society successfully partnered with the Sunrise Management & Consultants to create Pets Are Welcome communities. Todd has written for Animal Sheltering Magazine and has been a popular speaker delivering workshops on animal welfare topics at regional and national conferences including Best Friend’s National Conference and the Humane Society of the United States Animal Care Expo.

Heather Schechter, Director of Marketing and Business Development, is responsible for identifying and developing new business opportunities and building and expanding the public presence of the company and its clients. She oversees the marketing of multiple apartment communities, including branding, advertising, public relations, and communications functions. Heather brings to Sunrise her experience in marketing in Albany and New York City. She is currently the Past President and Membership Chair of the Capital Region Public Relations Society of America. Heather is Accredited in Public Relations and a licensed New York State Real Estate Salesperson. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Columbia College and a Master of Science degree in Education from the Sage Colleges.

Check out this episode!